PARSIPPANY, NJ – Somerset County Freeholder Brian D. Levine made a so-so return to playing tournament chess last weekend after a 20-year hiatus, but says the experience convinced him that he needs to get back in the game.

Though critical of his performance – “I won some and lost some,” he said – being surrounded by more than 1,000 other top competitors of all ages was time well spent.

“It’s fun for me, what can I say,” said the former mayor of Franklin Township who last competed in a tournament in 1997.

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The three-day United States Chess Team Tournament over President’s Day weekend drew 315 teams of four players each to the Parsippany Hilton.

“I enjoyed the dynamics, I liked being there, seeing it, being in it,” Levine said, “enough to say ‘you know, I need to do this more often,’ so I’m ready to tackle another tournament,” he added.

Levine competed on the team of International Master Dean Ippolito; the team was named after Albert R. Makatenas, a former NJ Senior Champion.  Makatenas, a World War II vet, passed away last year at the age of 94; he was a benefactor and supporter of chess for over seven decades.

Levine, who was the chess champion of John P. Stevens High School in Edison and the school’s top player in its conference, has received numerous chess trophies and awards through the years.

“Chess is great for kids,” Levine said. “It allows them to slow down and concentrate.  Thinking, being creative, and focusing on a task are some of the skills instilled by playing chess.  I hope to be a role model for our youth.”

Levine hosts chess exhibitions at libraries throughout Somerset County, competing against 12 young players simultaneously on separate chess boards; the next scheduled event will be on the Monday after Mother’s Day in May at the Bridgewater Library.

Ippolito owns and runs Dean of Chess Academy, a school and club for chess players in Branchburg.

Ippolito was a child prodigy in chess.  In 2006, the New Jersey Chess Federation named Ippolito as Chess Teacher of the Year; in 2011, The United States Chess Federation awarded him the Frank J. Marshall Ambassador of Chess Award for his contributions to the chess world.

Each team of four competed in six rounds; Team Makatenas finished with four wins, a draw and one loss – “not good enough for first place,” Levine said.