Chess player shares philosophy of life with Iowa State students


Maris Cameron/Iowa State Daily

David Skaar wears his favorite party hat while playing chess at the Memorial Union.

Maris Cameron

Many students have seen David Skaar sit at a table in the Memorial Union with his chessboard and boom box, waiting for someone to join him. You may have even sat down to play a game of chess with him before.

“Chess is like a game of life,” Skaar said. “Win, lose or draw, it has its limitations and we can’t dwell on the moves we did or didn’t make.”

Retired at 66, Skaar now devotes his time to showing students various chess game strategies. Wearing his favorite party hat and listening to The Beatles on a portable boom box, Skaar studies and teaches chess regularly at the Memorial Union, North Grand Mall and Welch Ave.

Born in 1955 in Story City, Iowa, Ames resident David Skaar discovered his passion for playing chess early on in life. The youngest of four children and a graduate from Scott Community College, Skaar, at 27, traveled and competed in various chess tournaments in Los Angeles.

Skaar worked as a motorcycle mechanic for many years until his mother passed away in 2002. Prioritizing his family, Skaar moved back to Iowa in November of 2003 to look after his father for the next seven years of his life.

By referencing books like Bobby Fischer’s “My 60 Memorable Games,” Skaar shares valuable lessons about chess, including the difference between descriptive and algebraic notation on chess boards and how to get an opponent into “checkmate” within five moves.

“I try to be a positive element in these kids’ lives while they’re here,” Skaar said. “As a teacher of the game, it’s my job to simplify the rules, so they can understand and lose any self-doubt regarding their abilities. If I can’t do that, then I failed as a teacher.”

In addition to being an avid chess player, Skaar shares his philosophy of life and love with the Iowa State community.

“Tell your parents you love them and enjoy your youth,” Skaar said. “Time passes by for all of us and it’s fun to learn, grow and experience all the possibilities that are ahead of you with the ones you love.”

Skaar encourages students to seize every opportunity presented to them at Iowa State, as life can be full of surprises, too.

“Like the knight piece in chess, life is most surprising,” Skaar said. “It has the special ability to jump out at you in all kinds of directions, and you never see it coming.”

Skaar tells students to become the best version of themselves and find happiness in their work and hobbies far past the time they receive their diplomas. Skaar himself shows students how he finds joy in the arts, drawing and listening to his favorite rock music.

Skaar not only plays chess with Iowa State students in his free time, but he also plays poker and Yahtzee with residents of the Alzheimer Unit at Mainstream Living in Ames. Skaar became a certified nurse’s aide and was a caregiver at Mainstream Living before retiring.

Skaar continues to promote chess by working with the Iowa State Chess Club, playing matches with other students and solving puzzles as a group. Students interested in joining can attend the club meetings from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays in Carver 204.