The Chess Life Style
Chess is a game that holds a lot of intrigue, including to those who don’t play. It’s challenging, and to be really good at it, you have to have something special. But the big secret behind chess is that it’s not just a game, it’s actually a lifestyle. For those who connect with chess it becomes addictive, something they squeeze into small time gaps where they can find them. Chess is like a good book you can’t wait to get back to and see how the story unfolds. The events of last game you played sit in the back of your mind as you’re walking down the street or eating your dinner. As a result, people who really play incorporate it as a major part of their lives.
Hollywood has a rich and glamorous history with the chess lifestyle. Movie stars played between takes on set and then socialized at the original Hollywood Chess Club in the evening. The private club was overflowing with Champagne, piano, and spirited chess matches with members such as Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Charles Boyer, and Jos. Ferrer. One match between Bogie and Spencer Tracy became so heated that it culminated in the chess table being flipped in the air and broken in two. The club was the place to be and chess was the thing to do.
Since the old Hollywood days, chess culture has become splintered. While chess lovers have always been out there, the way our culture spends its free time has made it very challenging to find venues to play the game, and partners to play against. Back in old Hollywood, nighttime entertainment wasn’t as prominent and accessible as it is today. There weren’t countless bars and restaurants to choose from everywhere you went. You often had to create your own venue, your own group, and party. It wasn’t just handed to you. Movie stars hosted late night chess parties at their private houses with music, cocktails and dancing. It was glamorous, sexy, and intimate. Today with table turnover and overly crowded restaurants and bars, it’s hard for chess players to find a space and connect with each other. There are chess clubs these days, and they are certainly a chess friendly space. However, many of them have lost the glamorous past on which they were founded. They serve more as functional spaces rather than as alluring, vibrant venues.
In popular American culture, chess seems to have been replaced by television, social media, video games, and other quick and easy entertainment. All of which can lead to isolation. As a culture, we need pastimes to connect us within couples, families, and in our individual lives beyond drinking, eating, social media, and general routine. Rather than binge watching or zoning out, chess is for those who are looking for ways to connect. Deep down we all crave to engage with each other directly, develop our critical thinking skills, and live a more mindful life. Moving pieces is tactile, intimate, and engaging. And there is also something innately enticing about the game. Perhaps this point was illustrated when Kim Kardashian West tweeted:
“I WANT TO LEARN HOW TO PLAY CHESS. WONDERING IF LEVON ARONIAN CAN TEACH ME!” —Kim KardashianWestVerified Account, @KimKardashian
Besides its glamorous history, chess players have a reputation for being smart, savvy, and clever. What’s sexier than that? There’s a movement in society towards learning, science, and curiosity — and the game of chess, referred to as a “sleeping giant”, is undergoing a revitalization.
The chess awakening has swept me up as well. I’ve been chess obsessed for years. I study the game every morning for at least an hour, have taken countless lessons, play with grandmasters and hustlers at every opportunity, own sets for every occasion, and am a US Chess Federation Coach and teacher. My wife Rebecca has serious game as well. Chess has really become a lifestyle for us; it’s much more than simply a game we play. It’s one of the ways we connect as a couple. We almost always have a travel set with us, and when we have some free time we incorporate chess into what we’re doing. We play on the beach, on a long train ride up the coast, at a cafe, and our favorite is bar hopping between chess matches. We’ll grab a drink at one bar, finish a game, and then jump to the next bar for a rematch and another cocktail. If you go to Bar Marmont late afternoon you might see us moving pieces with one hand and a cocktail in the other.
By the way, we play at home too. And Rebecca’s come up with an entire chess culinary menu, determining that there are certain foods that work best with chess. They’re usually a little decadent, require no utensils, and have a great drink pairing. She’s brought out duck rillettes on rye crackers with a glass of Bordeaux and also made a caviar dip once with creme fraiche, mini blinis, and a glass of Champagne. Warm cookies with tea work pretty well too. And we eat it all while playing on Bogart’s actual chess table that he had flipped over. Only it’s no longer cracked in two.