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Capitol Checkers: Shaw, Washington, D.C.

Published August 4th, 2012

Capital Checkers is one of those inconspicuous places in D.C. that exists right under your nose. It's in an old dilapidated building in the Shaw neighborhood that's surrounded by new growth that's encroaching from every direction. On the one hand, you've got the remnants of past legacies; public housing, Howard University, and a black church right across the street. On the other hand you've got condos popping up in all directions, little Ethiopia starting at 9th and Sst. NW, and the general foot traffic that the Ust. corridor brings in general. Still, if you were to walk by Capital Checkers, you would never think that the facility is still in use, and that men gather there to play checkers.

What caught my attention was the big mural on the side of the building of a kid playing checkers. I thought that it was just a building that was certainly flagged for demolition to make way for a group of newly built row-houses in the classic D.C. motif; tall, narrow houses with the cone-shaped roof in the front. After spending a few hours in the street with my camera one evening, I passed by Capital Checkers to find the door open, but the grill locked. I peeked in and made a note to return the following day. I returned and was treated to a couple whoopings in checkers, great conversation, and lesson in the history of the club. Turns out that I wasn't the first outsider to take an interest in this Capital Checkers. Peggy Flemming already wrote a book and filmed a short documentary of the club.

Check it out here: http://vimeo.com/9742450 .

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Capital Checkers

  • Canonet QL17
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Chicago Sees a Lane

Chicago considers his moves as the other members watch.

  • Canonet QL17
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Friendly Competition

The games move very quickly. During the games players take the opportunity to tell their opponents their true feelings about them. Anything to get an advantage during the game.

  • July 10th, 2012
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Table-level view

  • July 10th, 2012
  • Canonet QL17
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On looker

This fella schooled me in three games back to back. It took me some time to readjust to checkers after not playing for several years. Even still, I didn't win a game.

  • Canonet QL17
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"Chicago" Turner

Chicago looks on another match. At this point he had just arrived, so he hadn't gotten quite warmed up. However, he lit up when I told him I was from Nashville. He told me that when he's not singing gospel, he's at the club slamming checkers. We talked about the gospel scene in Nashville, specifically the Bobby Jones Gospel Hour on Sundays in Nashville. I don't know if there's an equivalent in D.C., but needless to say I don't listen to gospel these days. He told me he was headed to Tennessee to sing the following week.

  • July 10th, 2012
  • OpticFilm 7400
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One Touch

Once you touch a checker, you've committed to moving it.

  • July 10th, 2012
  • Canonet QL17
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Movement

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Hand, board, and cell

  • July 10th, 2012
  • Canonet QL17
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Hurry Up

This was the most heated game at the club, although it was all in jest. Chicago (not scene) and this guy were definitely the most confident of the group. They also provided the most laughs as I moved around with the camera.

  • July 10th, 2012
  • Canonet QL17
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Score Cards

Even though these were friendly matches, keeping score was mandatory. I never understood how someone kept score checkers. Maybe it was "number of games won". That didn't apply to me because I never won a game that night.

  • July 10th, 2012
  • Canonet QL17
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Tournament Scorecard from 1999

This score card added to the legacy of this place. Had the card really been hanging on the wall since 1999? The guys told me that they travel to tournaments throughout the country, and they were headed to the national tournament in Atlanta. The club had also won several tournaments in the past.

  • July 10th, 2012
  • Canonet QL17
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History

A brief history of past and present members of Capital Checkers.

  • July 10th, 2012
  • Canonet QL17

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paulblakeman
Paul Blakeman  about 5 years ago

Hey man, really really love these photo's and their subjects! Great work :)

KyePrintup
Kye Printup  about 5 years ago

That's for the compliment.