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capitol-pool-checkers-club

VIA THE WASHINGTON POST:

Clack. Clack. Clack.

White jumps black.

“Crown me, mister! Just crown me! You don’t have a move on the board.”

“Put him down. I put him there for a reason, for a season.”

“You talkin’ way, way, way much too much trash!”

“This is checkers, man! This ain’t no damn chess!”

It’s a Tuesday evening at the Capitol Pool Checkers Club, at Ninth and S streets NW, and outside the air is cool, cold and gentrified. Inside, nothing much has changed since the ’80s. The yellowing tiles of a linoleum floor still yellowing. Wood paneling still buckling. Refrigerator singing. Scent of intensity.

Six checkerboards and 24 men. Their shoulders curled, hovering over a game that mesmerizes them. Brings them out nearly every evening like a sweet addiction. The coolness of a checker in hand. The flatness of the board that rises before them like an empire.

The checkers club is a throwback to the days when men gathered across class and income lines to compete and play the dozens. No women around — fussing, nagging — to mess with the mind. Just men and their conversations and games in a competition that will go down to the wire, way past midnight.

“Man, what kind of checkers are you playing?”

“You don’t have a move on the board, mister. Not one have you got.”

Slap. There goes a flying king.

Slam! “What’s that? I can’t hear you.”

Here comes Fletcher Clark. He is 80, been playing checkers 50 of them. They call him “the Champ” — all the men have nicknames here — because “I be spanking their butts,” Clark says. He credits the game with “keeping me — what’s that word? Vibrant.”

He sits down near a table, back against the paneled wall. “We really talk trash here,” he says. “If you’ve got a guy in trouble, you talk all the trash you can.” Clark plays checkers whenever he pleases. He gets in his car, drives from his home in Baltimore to the club, where men have been coming for more than 25 years in this rented storefront, and each pays $30 a month in dues. Sometimes, he says, his wife grumbles: ” ‘You shouldn’t go over there,’ she says. ‘You should stay home.’ ”

“I don’t say anything,” Clark says, hands on his knees. Black Kangol cap. Gray beard. “I just get in my car and go. I wear the pants.”

You get the sense he might not say that at home.

But then this is a man’s domain. Not necessary to explain. The club, a member of the American Pool Checkers Association, was started in 1980 in Barnard’s Barbershop at the corner of Seventh and S streets NW. The club grew and moved to the storefront in Shaw where dues pay the rent.

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