Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Chess on a Sunday

Chess is a great game - in the right circumstances.  The time and place have to be appropriate, the company has to be particularly conducive, and atmosphere should allow thinking, plotting, and strategizing.  Let me explain:

Wrong context: in the middle of a party at someone's house. 

I have a couple of friends who used to - and maybe still do, though it's been over 9 months since I was at a house party with them - pull the chess board out into the middle of the room at *every* party (obstructing passage from one side of the room to the other, and also therefore the conversation and the dancing).  They would get very serious (despite the beers in their hands and the alcohol already circulating through their bodies), act like they were world chess champions in training, and get *really angry* if any person frolicking or otherwise enjoying themselves at the party touched, knocked, jostled, overturned, or in any other way interfered with the board.  No matter how many people insisted over and over that this was improper comportment at a party, these friends of mine would not have it, and there was always a youngster - a philosophical protege - around somewhere who was willing to jump onboard the chess-at-parties train to encourage them.

Right context:

In Parc des Bastions on a sunny and mild Sunday afternoon, when everything else in the city is either closed or a museum.

Drew and two friends and I got together on Sunday afternoon to play Knee-High Chess on the big chess boards in Parc des Bastions.  Not quite as cool as the Giant Chess board that came alive in Harry Potter, but upon reflection it's probably safer and less stressful this way.  I would still love it if these boards were actually life sized, but I guess the pieces would be much harder to move around.  In any case, we played with knee-high pieces on a big board surrounded by tons of other people playing chess and checkers on similar boards.  Every board was taken, and one of our friends who arrived first had to guard the board we ended up playing on and fend off eager chessers until the rest of us got there.  I was impressed that people still play checkers, as somewhere in my mind I assumed that one started with checkers, but graduated to chess and didn't look back.  That's clearly false - these people were serious and were also really good at the game.

Our game of chess was so much fun.  Chess at parties is not fun for anyone, but chess in the park is great.  We played in teams - which I think makes chess so much better to start with - and took a ridiculously long time plotting out our moves, standing in the sun, pointing a couple of meters away to demonstrate to partners where the pieces could move.  It was intense!  We started out well, but towards the end it was a bloodbath.  We ended up with a stalemate, our King alone on the board against their King and a Rook.  A couple of times I thought we had them, but I think that the other team had the stronger chess players. 

A stalemate isn't overly satisfying, but not overly disappointing either.  Pretty neutral really.
I couldn't help but notice how very Swiss of us it was.

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