CINCINNATI (AP) -- On the Checkmate Bridge, they play the game of life with kings and queens, rooks and knights, bishops and pawns.
"Chess teaches you how to live," said Stephan White. "It's the ultimate pastime."
That said, his right hand swooped in to pluck a pawn from his opponent's side of a well-used, roll-up chessboard. Moments before, White had unfurled his battered board atop an oak table on the glass-walled span straddling Ninth Street. The bridge connects the north and south buildings of downtown's main branch of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County.
On the library's map, White's match was taking place on the Reading Room Bridge. But, to him -- and the dozens of men and women from all walks of life flocking to the sun-splashed space every afternoon for a quick game or two -- his chess pieces were locked in cerebral combat on a space players have dubbed the Checkmate Bridge.
"In chess, as in life, you are on your own. Luck is out the window," said White, a 48-year-old soap factory worker from Price Hill.
Before falling silent to ponder his next move, he added: "In chess you learn to make a decision before you act. You learn that your actions have consequences. If you make a move without thinking, you are in trouble."
His opponent, a man known only as Buck, was in trouble.
Buck was down to his last piece. He fidgeted in his chair. He rubbed his palms on his brown, paint-splattered corduroy pants. One hand reached for his carved cane. The other reached for his last piece.
"Checkmate," White whispered.
Buck nodded and shook White's hand. Grabbing his cane, he bolted from the table.
"He was playing too fast," White quietly noted.
Buck had sat down quickly and made his moves quickly. He lost at the same pace.
"He remembered his last defeat instead of thinking about his next victory," White said. He placed the game's 32 pieces in their starting positions on the board. Then, he sat back, folded his arms across his chest and waited for his next opponent.
White did not have to wait long. Ralph Shank of College Hill slipped into the chair before it had a chance to cool.
"Look who's here," White said. "My buddy, Ralph."
Shank had some time to kill before helping a friend move some belongings. Before starting to play, he assembled a set of tunes on his iPad.
White described Shank as "an example of all the different folks you meet when you play chess on the bridge."
Shank, 43, is a retired Army veteran. Over the years, he has seen the bridge attract chess players in three-piece suits as well as homeless library patrons wearing all of their clothes on their backs. He's heard such between-game remarks as: "He came in early today. He's working the late shift." and "She won't be playing this week. She's at a seminar."
"All ages and classes show up on the bridge to play," said Norman Holloway, a librarian who has seen pilots between flights land on the bridge for a game of chess.
Holloway and two other library employees brought chess to the bridge shortly after it opened on Jan. 15, 1997. Others saw them playing and joined in the ancient board game. Soon, the span came to be known as the Checkmate Bridge
"The lighting, the carpeting, the heating and cooling and the height of the tables are perfect for chess," Holloway said as he cruised by while Shank and White got ready to play.
"This is the ideal setting for thinking," Shank said and inserted his earbuds. He started listening to some oldies by Smokey Robinson & the Miracles.
To beat White, Shank needed a miracle. But he never got one.
"I have other things on my mind today," Shank said. He turned off his iPad and prepared to move on after White emerged victorious.
Next up, Reginald Lindsay, a 53-year-old ministerial student from Clifton. No iPad for him. Cell phone turned off. He was all business.
Lindsay has been playing chess since he turned 22.
"I learned the game while I was in prison in Detroit for drugs," he said. "Had I known the game as a young man I would not have done so many stupid things in my life."
Lindsay believes chess should be taught in schools. He sees the game as a stay-out-of-jail card.
"We live in a society of instant gratification," he said, "a society where people don't think before they act. Chess teaches you to think."
Thoughtless actions, he noted, created a subculture that deals drugs and a business mindset that fostered the 2008 meltdown of the banking system. If only those bankers and dealers had played chess in their youth.
"This game," Lindsay said, "can keep young men and women out of trouble."
Kendell Lackey listened to Lindsay's words. The 16-year-old high school junior from Colerain Township belonged to the crowd taking in the five simultaneous games that afternoon on the Checkmate Bridge.
Lackey agreed with Lindsay. "Chess keeps you thinking," the teenager said. "When your mind is working, you don't have time for the stuff that gets you in trouble."
DeAngela Stanley encounters lots of down time in her line of work. The 47-year-old Walnut Hills woman sets up conventions for a living. She turned to chess years ago. "When I have time on my hands, it gives me something to do that's turned into a healthy addiction."
She admitted approaching the Checkmate Bridge with some trepidation. Stanley feared "the men on this bridge might not want to play with a woman. They might not like losing to a girl."
Her fears proved to be groundless. Stanley found that the players on the bridge do not discriminate. "Chess," she said, "is not a gender specific game.
"No matter who comes to this bridge, no matter how you are dressed, no matter what the color of your skin is, everyone is treated equally."
The players on the bridge have a calming effect on their corner of the library. Stanley feels they give off "an aura that makes people shut up. They can be talking real loud on their cell phones. But when they come by us, they get quiet. They show us respect."
Chess can also teach respect among the sexes. Holloway tells young players that chess "shows young men how to treat women with respect.
"The Queen is the most powerful piece on the board. You have to treat her with respect," he said. "I tell young players that if you leave her exposed, I'm going to take your lady out on a date. And, she may never come back."
By now, the sun was setting on the bridge. White carefully gathered his pieces and placed them in a cloth sack. Rolling up his board, he nodded to the other players.
"This game has humbled me," he said as he walked along the bridge.
"I first came down here all full of testosterone and thinking: 'I'm the man!'"
He has come to realize that on any given day: "I can be beaten by any given man or woman."
Now he knows that chess is the man when they play the game of life on the Checkmate Bridge.