CSCA Informant – Denver Broncos and Chess

Broncos helmet



(Colorado Chess Informant – July 1999)

By NM Todd Bardwick

A couple weeks ago, I got the opportunity to visit Bronco headquarters in Dove Valley and interview Barney Chavous about the Denver Broncos chess activities over the years.

Back in the summer of 1997, I wrote the first column in the Rocky Mountain News about Broncos chess, focusing on Reggie Rivers. For those of you Bronco fans who missed that column, hopefully you will find this interesting.

Barney - cardBarney Chavous asked me to ask local chess players to NOT call the Broncos and challenge them to a chess game. After the Reggie River’s column, quite a commotion was caused as they were swamped with phone calls challenging Broncos players to a game. The Broncos players put football first, and play chess for relaxation and a break from a busy schedule.


After a hard day’s work, many of the Denver Broncos can be found playing chess in the office of assistant strength coach and former defensive lineman, Barney Chavous. According to running back, Reggie Rivers, Chavous, beats everyone, including (according to Barney), head coach Mike Shanahan.

Rivers, who learned how to play chess as a child, says that the Broncos play chess during road trips, on the plane, on the bus, and in the hotel.

Does chess improve a professional football player’s game?

“Chess has definitely helped me understand a lot of the strategy of football,” says Rivers. “In chess, good offense is often an exercise in putting multiple points of pressure on one square. In football, offensive play design (particularly passes) involves putting multiple points of pressure on one player.”

Chess has also helped Rivers better understand football defensive strategy: “In chess, you often give your opponent a move that looks strong for him, but it turns into a trap,” says Rivers. “Football is the same way. I’ve always thought of defense in football as being totally reactive. But now I understand the ways in which football defenses force the offense to make certain choices.”

From the start of the 1996 season to the present, Chavous holds a 90-34 edge over Rivers. Offensive lineman, John Jones, has beaten Rivers all six of the times they have played. Rivers does, however, have a winning record of 47-16 over defensive lineman, Alfred Williams, and an 11-6 edge over safety, Robert Turner, a recent newcomer to the team.


A popular place at Bronco headquarters at lunch time between practice sessions is the wood chess board in Barney Chavous’s office. Chavous, a Bronco defensive end from 1973-1986 and current Assistance Offensive Line and Strength and Conditioning Coach, took up playing chess seriously back in 1976 with roommate and fellow defensive end, Ed Smith.

In fact, the famous Orange Crush Defense frequently played chess to pass the time on the plane during team trips.

Rubin - cardBack then, Rubin Carter, Steve Foley, Tom Jackson, Claudie Minor, John Rowser, Ed Smith, and later Larry Canada were the most active chess players on the Broncos team. Rubin Carter said, “The strategies of offense and defense are very similar between chess and football. Chess really brought closeness to the team back in those days.”

Chavous also sees the similarity between the two games: “Chess is a very positive way to exercise your mind. It makes you look at the whole picture…what are your options and what is the best thing to do? In football, you are mostly reacting from a defensive point of view…but you always want to be counterattacking….a similarity with chess strategy. Chess and offensive football are quite similar; you sacrifice something now to get something back later.”

According to Chavous, Alfred Williams is probably the best chess player on the current Broncos Super Bowl team. Chavous originally taught Williams how to play and said that Williams has improved a lot and loves to play computer chess.

And the best Bronco chess player of all time?   Probably…Chavous. Carter said, “Barney is really tough and one of the best.”   In his retirement speech on May 2, John Elway took the time to admitt that he was not as strong a chess player as Chavous.