Monday, December 29, 2003

Chessboard plays four

New take on ancient game invented locally

By John Eckberg
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Pals Ricky Ruckel and Rick Naegel did not set out to develop a new brand of chess, creating a partnership in the process.

Rickey Ruckel, of West Chester, left, and Rick Naegel, of Batavia, posed alongside a chessboard in Naegel's Batavia home.
(Gary Landers photo)
But about six months ago when the lunchtime chess crew at Basco Co. in Mason outgrew the number of boards available, Ruckel, 44, and Naegel, 40, knew it was time to bend some rules and create a new game to let more than two players battle it out.

The game they created, Ultimate Chess, has an angel investor who has spent $8,400 to hire a Coral Gables, Fla., product development firm to market the game.

They are keeping a game board under wraps until a manufacturer signs on to bring Ultimate Chess to the rest of the world.

"People who play chess are just going to love this game," said Ruckel, a West Chester resident who specializes in closet doors and shelving for Basco Co., a bathroom enclosure company founded in 1955 with products distributed in 44 states.

"Kids, older adults who we've tested it on - they all find it's a fun game. And what's great is that four people can play, beginners and experts alike."

Like most start-ups, Ultimate Chess has a long way to go before P-QB4 - chess notation for an opening move called the Queen's Gambit - ever turns into any kind of financial win for the three partners: Naegel, Ruckel and their silent partner/investor, who wants to remain anonymous.

While Invention Technologies is handling marketing and promotion for the game, much depends upon the next step.

That firm hopes to convince a manufacturer that Ultimate Chess has great sales potential among the more than 25 million people who know how to play chess in the United States. Invention Technologies has also signed up dozens of entrepreneurs for other products: from a man who invented a hockey puck for night matches to a speaker belt for pregnant women.

They are hopeful that Ultimate Chess will be the next blockbuster game.

"A product can take off at the drop of a hat," said Brandon Motta, inventor relations specialist at Invention Technologies.

"We need to get a manufacturer with the resources so we can secure licensing agreement. Seek out established companies to sell and make product at national and international level."

Changing chess to make it more inclusive has been a challenge for inventors for eons, said Glenn Petersen, publications consultant for the U.S. Chess Federation, a Windsor, N.Y.-based organization with 90,000 members.

It is, after all, a field that is as crowded as a chess board after 10 moves.

"There are well over 200 variations of chess in one form or another," Petersen said.

They include:

• 3D chess on Star Trek reruns.

• A circular chess board.

• Three-handed chess.

• Millenium Chess with two sets of pieces.

• Cyclops chess.

• Boards designed with safe squares.

• Fairy Chess and variations, where the knights have special powers.

"But I suppose with a good marketing agency, they can do something with it," Petersen said. "They should do a very thorough search through the patent office - that's my advice."

Naegel, of Batavia, said the game has already resonated with one key audience: his family. His son, Matthew, 14, and daughter Whitney, 13, love the game.

An appealing feature is the possibility for two players to gang up on a third. "But that can come back and haunt you," Naegel said.

So far about 20 prospectuses about the company have gone out to potential investors, Ruckel said.

"We can see a computer game at some point. We really think this has all the potential," Ruckel said.



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