The Press Enterprise

Amy Bentley, contributing photographer
By Amy Bentley / Contributing Photographer
Published: Aug 31, 2016 Updated: 10:32 p.m.
Murrieta checkers champ decries downfall of the game | Lopez Article Link...

At the age of 94, Murrieta checkers champion Gerry Lopez is still one of the most skilled checkers players in the United States. Lopez was the top-scoring player at the Western States Checkers Championship in Las Vegas last year, and he’s looking forward to competing again next year.

In today’s digital age, this life-long enthusiast of the old-school board game ponders how to entice younger players to play checkers. Video games where people shoot at targets or other characters have no interest to Lopez, a retired foreign languages professor who taught at UCLA and East Los Angeles College. He taught Spanish, Italian, French and Portuguese before retiring in 1980.

“These shoot-em-up games don’t do anything for the brain,” said Lopez, who would like to increase awareness of checkers and encourage others to learn and play.

He is considering starting a local checkers club that would meet at a park in Temecula or at the city’s senior center, perhaps.

One newer way to entice younger people is to encourage them to play checkers online, said Lopez, who also plays online sometimes for practice. Playing checkers online has brought in new, younger fans of the game, but it presents its own challenges, he said.

“I found that I was playing computers most of the time and I can’t beat the computer. It cheats. It makes millions of moves in one second,” he said.

Still, Lopez proved even a smart computer is no match when in 1992 Lopez beat a computer at the game at a tournament – the only player present to do so.

Lopez has always loved checkers, which he learned as a child growing up with his Spanish immigrant parents in New York. About 50 years ago, Lopez joined the American Checker Federation, an Ohio-based organization that hosts competitions nationwide that draw top players. In 1966, Lopez was ranked third in the country.

Lopez attributed his current mental sharpness to checkers, as well as his love of reading – he owns some 20,000 books, about 1,000 of them in a foreign language. When asked why he loves checkers, he said, “It’s a thinking game. And it’s competitive.”

Lopez keeps busy doing many things, including traveling locally with Margie, his wife of 38 years, and visiting his grown son and daughter. He also writes for the newsletters of several checkers organizations. Lopez is a Lakers and Clippers fan and he is currently preparing a dictionary of English and Spanish basketball terms.

Lopez noted that many physicians play checkers.

He recommends the game as one way to improve memory and ward off or slow down the progression of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

The Alzheimer’s Association agrees. The key to keep the brain sharp, the association says, is to keep it active.

Activities the Alzheimer’s Association recommends to keep the brain healthy include reading, writing, taking a community college course, and playing games like checkers.

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