Ménage à Chess

A cabinetmaker and would be inventor has spent the last 15 years obsessing over his three-way game. He expects to make millions.

Covered with sawdust and surrounded by clamps, vices, buzz saws, drills, and plenty of unstained wood, Jones fishes through large stacks of paperwork -- corporation papers, articles on chess, conceptual drawings of the board, and sleek new game pieces he hopes to manufacture. "I have too much work," he tells me. "I don't have enough time to focus on my chess game. There's a lot to do if I want it in toy stores by Christmas2000." The normally goofball pub character couldn't be more serious; even at the bar, his tall tales give way to a quiet intensity when he starts talking about his invention. "I've run into a lot of people who are all talk. I need serious investors." So far, though, the money has been tight. But Jones and his partner in the venture, his Colorado cousin J.C. Davis, are confident the game will be a success.

"Every person I have ever showed this game to has been mesmerized by it," says Davis, who owns a construction company and sometimes moonlights as a ski instructor. "I was surprised to find out there were other versions that hadn't been successful, but then I found out how complicated they were. Ours is by far the simplest and most elegant."

Jones already has big plans for turning the game into a cash cow and has imagined the television commercials and marketing ploys that will be used to sell it. "I need to talk to George Lucas about getting the game into the next Star Wars movie," he says in all seriousness, pointing out how a 3D chess game that once appeared on the old Star Trek launched a brief craze for the game when it was packaged and sold in toy stores.

Already the cousins have begun work on the Website on which they will announce the game, and they have convinced a well-known graphic artist to help them design the interface for an online version that they hope will debut before the end of the year. Then in February the pair intend to bring a prototype, with a foldable neoprene board and the new piece designs, to the American Toy Show in New York City. Even if the big boys -- Milton Bradley, Parker Brothers -- show interest, Jones and Davis hope the buzz from the Website will help them launch the non-computer version without selling out to a large game company. First, however, they need to get chess fanatics to give the game a whirl.

My South Beach foray into the game left me wishing for a less boisterous setting in which to concentrate on its extra dimensions. After nearly two hours of play, I was still in the game -- barely. An opponent on whom I hadn't kept a close eye had swiped my queen out from under me, and my king was still vulnerable. Neither of my novice opponents was in much better shape though, so we packed it in and called it a draw. Chess for three is not exactly a beer-drinking game.

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