by Samantha Pell
PHOENIX — Milwaukee Brewers pitchers Taylor Jungmann and Tyler Cravy are fierce competitors off the field.
Their game of choice? Chess.
And these guys aren’t rooks.
Cravy and Jungmann have played chess almost every day of spring training. It’s an unusual game to see in big-league clubhouses, where card-playing is the primary pastime.
On Tuesday at Brewers camp, Jungmann and Cravy played a quick 20-minute game of chess, with the two pushing each other to go as fast as possible for the sake of cameras capturing the action.
Jungmann stared intently from across the table with his steely eyes locked onto Cravy as he made move after move. This intensity only increased as the game went on. The silence between the two was only broken when Jungmann made a few quips here and there to try and lighten the mood.
Cravy kept a serious face throughout the game, keeping his hand on his cheek as he constantly studied the board. He wasn’t going to be fazed by Jungmann’s distraction techniques.
(Video by Sydney Cariel/Cronkite News)
Cravy’s method worked. He won.
“I’m not good at speed games,” Jungmann told Cravy. “I’m not giving you credit for that one.”
Jungmann and Cravy enjoy playing chess rather than the typical card games in the clubhouse because of the skill and strategy the game requires.
Maneuvering one king, one queen, two rooks, two bishops, two knights and eight pawns around the board with precision is a difficult skill to master.
Vladimir Kramnik, world chess champion from 2000 to 2007, said: “Chess is an infinitely complex game, which one can play in infinitely numerous and varied ways.”
Jungmann and Cravy both admitted they aren’t the “best” at chess, but they know enough to challenge one another.
Jungmann said the biggest piece of advice he can give is to use all the pieces on the board and not just to rely on one.
“A lot of people will either try to play just with your queen or just with your knights or just with your bishops,” Jungmann said. “But you have to get all your pieces involved. Basically if you don’t use a lot of pieces, a lot of pieces will get stuck and then you just screw yourself.”
Chess is a more intellectual-based game rather than chance. The complexity of the game is why the duo of pitchers enjoy playing.
“I think the card games are 90 percent luck,” Jungmann said. “It’s whatever the cards are dealt. I think it (chess) is a game of skill and that’s why a lot of guys don’t like to play because they like the games of luck where they can have a chance to win even if they aren’t any good. I think that’s what we like about it. It’s a game of skill and if we are going to compete and talk (trash) to each other we want it to be something we control.”
The two started playing against each other last season after one of their teammates, Jeremy Jeffress, who is now with the Texas Rangers, routinely brought a chess board to the clubhouse. During this year’s spring training, a new chessboard owned by the Brewers routinely sits on one of the tables in the middle of the clubhouse at Maryvale Baseball Park.
Who wins the most games overall?
“I will say we are usually pretty even,” Jungmann said. “Start of spring training I think I was crushing him a little bit. But he started kind of getting in the groove of things and mixing it up, and I think we are about even right now.”
They plan to continue the competition throughout the season.
“We always have so much downtime in clubhouse, home or away,” said Cravy, 27. “Mostly away. After BP (batting practice) we will have two hours before the game so we will sit down and play chess.”
Jungmann and Cravy are the main chess players in the clubhouse, but pitcher Corey Knebel also plays a little. Jungmann said Knebel often gets “embarrassed when he gets beat really quick so he doesn’t like to play a whole lot.”
Jungmann added: “I think they (other players) are a little bit intimidated because they think they know the rules, but they aren’t sure how to play. And that’s kind of how we were at first. Or at least I was.
“It’s nice when other guys try to play, but like I said, they try, but can’t really do it.”
Despite all the big talk, Jungmann didn’t play chess when he was a child. He only knew the rules and what the pieces were. Cravy actually taught Jungmann how to play when they started competing last year.
Jungmann got so into chess when he first started learning that he researched chess techniques online.
“I’m going on chess websites, learning strategies, historical games and stuff like that,” Jungmann said. “You can really learn a lot from strategy and kind of stuff you want to do.”
Cravy learned how to play chess from his grandpa when he was about eight or nine. Cravy didn’t have much interest in it, but now uses those skills against Jungmann.
Chess isn’t for everyone though.
Brewers pitcher Zach Davies said the game was “too slow” for him, and Jungmann went even farther and joked that Davies “isn’t very good at chess, so he chooses not to play. If he did, he would probably get crushed.”
Chess isn’t the only game Cravy and Jungmann play. They play cribbage in the clubhouse, and outside the clubhouse, they play video games and Monopoly.
“Every year it’s something different,” Jungmann said. “We play a lot of cribbage. A lot of guys don’t know how to play that either so it’s another game that has a little more skill than some of the card games. We play a lot of that.
“Anything me and Tyler can compete at, we are going to play it.”
And when it comes to chess on the Brewers, they aren’t the rooks — they are kings.