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BOARD DIRECTORS OF ANOTHER KIND

As the global financial crisis was swirling earlier this month, a half-dozen representatives of JPMorgan Chase in Tampa met for a showdown with their nearby counterparts at Citigroup's Tampa campus.

They weren't focused on capturing the next prize in a financial services shakeout; they just wanted to capture the king.

Welcome to the birth of what Citigroup area communications director Lou Buccino hopes evolves into "the Tampa Bay Corporate Inter-company Chess League."

Company chess leagues have been popular in some markets, particularly Northeast metro areas, for years. Buccino, who used to play in a league in Cleveland, figures it's time the bay area gets in on the game.

"We think there'll be a small but passionate interest," Buccino said, describing the league as a way for friendly rivals to gather outside the office - a substitute for company softball, volleyball or bowling teams.

So far, the league consists of just two teams - Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase - but chess enthusiasts from Raytheon and Syniverse have expressed interest in joining. Eventually, Buccino envisions up to 15 participating businesses with upward of 50 players.

Among the advantages: It's cheap (all you need is a chess set), and it's unlikely players will come into the office the next Monday morning nursing an injury as might happen after a softball, soccer or particularly strenuous bowling outing. Beyond spurring mental gymnastics after work once a month, the organizers have some altruistic goals. They intend to create a fund to sponsor chess clubs in area schools.

"You can start a club for $100. ... It's an incredibly modest investment and a huge return at times," Buccino said. "Studies have shown that even kids having trouble in school improve dramatically when they take up the game."

As for that recent battle royale between JPMorgan and Citi players, Citi came out on top, winning five of the six matches. But Buccino isn't about to boast; he wants the competition to keep coming back.

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