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An Unusual Chess Gambit Player Quits Job, Moves Into Shelter So He Can Develop Skills

If only he had more time to practice, Jorge Aramuni thought, he could become a chess master.

So the Brazilian native - already a fine player - quit his job and checked into a San Jose homeless shelter, where he gets free health care, meals, even voice mail.

Now he spends his days at a table deep in the stacks on the fourth floor of San Jose State’s main library, immersed in books on chess tactics. “Many persons waste precious time,” said the 6-foot, 2-inch, 240-pound Aramuni, in a deep voice that still struggles with the English language. “If you lose one day, you lose that day forever.”

Homeless shelter officials say Aramuni is simply doing what they want all their clients to do: honing job skills.

“He doesn’t fit the criteria that others in the shelter do,” said InnVision’s program manager, Marty Cameron, “but I felt he deserved a chance. His work, in my mind, is his chess.”

InnVision admits only 15 male clients at a time - each of whom must be highly motivated to end “their cycle of homelessness” - to a program of counseling and job training that lasts three months.

Aramuni, 33, admits he volunteered for homelessness. He gave up a job caring for the elderly in their homes so he could train for the New York Open Chess Tournament that begins April 12.

“When I was working, there was no time to study chess,” he said. “I looked at many books, and asked people about places I could stay for free so that I could dedicate my time to chess.”

Aramuni came to the Bay Area from Brazil in 1993. In his home country, his chess skills made him prominent enough to secure corporate sponsors, and he could concentrate all his time on the game.

But to be really good at chess - and Aramuni wants to be among the 400 or so elite players in the world who have earned the title of grandmaster - one must play people ranked higher than oneself and win. In Brazil, Aramuni said, he had run out of competition.

According to the U.S. Chess Federation, Aramuni is ranked as a Class A player. While the average tournament chess player has a ranking of 1350, Aramuni’s is now 1909. That’s still a long way from the highest international rating ever achieved - 2805 by world champion Garry Kasparov.

Aramuni also lags behind 10-yearold Vinay Bhat of San Jose, who recently became the world’s youngest chess master in November when he scored 2203.

“He’s not a professional,” Eric Johnson, the chess federation’s assistant director, said of Aramuni, “but he’s a very good player.”

Since he arrived in the United States, Aramuni said he has played in tournaments in Reno, Ohio, Sunnyvale and San Francisco, and placed high among those in his class.

And he had no trouble winning a tournament at De Anza College two weeks ago, said his friend Steve Peacock.

“He’s a whiz,” Peacock said.

But so far, he’s had a hard time finding people or corporations willing to become his financial sponsors - which is what many top players do to make ends meet. He blames his problem on his poor English skills.

“I knew it could be a struggle,” he said. “But I like challenges, and I know I’ll win.”

To improve his English, Aramuni decided he had to be around Americans more. Before moving into the shelter last month, he had been staying with Brazilian friends and speaking mostly Portuguese.

Now he practices speaking skills with Peacock, who he met in Santa Clara’s YMCA, and spends many of his evenings writing to companies he thinks might sponsor him.

Peacock said he had been impressed when Aramuni described to him how nice life in a homeless shelter could be.

At the shelter, Aramuni gets what every InnVision resident gets: food, a bus pass, a Santa Clara Valley Medical card, a YMCA membership, his own phone voice mail service and a mattress on the floor of a sponsoring church.

“I was just amazed he had all these perks,” Peacock said. “I said, ‘Hey, do you need another tenant?”’

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