Saturday, March 04, 2017

Man About Willits: It's Your Move

source: The Willits News March 2, 2017

I have been a gamer all my life. From board games to card games to video games to role playing, I love all kinds, every kind of game, and I probably have tried most at one point or another from “Risk” to “Dungeons and Dragons” to “Magic The Gathering,” but there is one game that has had a hold on me for years and has been a constant throughout my life: the venerable game of chess. I often drive the rain soaked streets in Mendocino County looking for a game.

Ever since my dad taught me how the pieces move when I was 10, I have been enthralled by the complexities of the royal game, although I didn’t always play it. I took a long break from the game, not because I wanted to but because life got in the way, but I rediscovered it in college and have played it on and off ever since.

The beauty of chess, apart from the fact it offers many intellectual rewards, is also that you can play it anywhere and everywhere. In Russia and most European countries, the game is almost like a religion, I have read people play it on trains, in the park, and kids partake of it at school as part of their curriculum. Nowadays you can play over the board face to face against your opponent or on the internet and even on a smartphone through an app.

Most people who do not partake of the hobby don’t realize that chess has its own language. Actually, it has many languages, although there are two types of notation, the descriptive and the algebraic. The former was replaced by the latter for ease of use. This notation works by naming the squares where the pieces move on the 64 square board.

It is chess notation that allowed people to play “postal” chess for years prior to the advent of the internet. In postal or correspondence chess, a person will mail their move to another player and wait to receive the other player’s response. A game could take months or even years this way, but the advantage is you did not have to be next to the other player. It also allowed players to enjoy centuries old games and to play over historic matches by replaying the moves of their favorite recorded games printed in books and in newspapers and magazines.

The rise of the world wide web in the 1990s changed a lot in the global society and chess was no different. All of a sudden more people could instantly face each other in fierce battles over the web, internet clubs sprang up as did forums and websites dedicated to strategy and preserving the history of the game. Software which helped with instruction became popular and tournaments, which had once been exclusive to over-the-board play suddenly were also happening online.
I play chess occasionally with my college buddy Michael Chen, even though he resides 536 miles away in Southern California. We play using correspondence through Facebook and he routinely beats me.

Throughout history many famous people have played chess and the chess world has produced its share of celebrated characters and players. Benjamin Franklin was said to have loved the game. He famously said once, “We learn from chess the greatest maxim in life - that even when everything seems to be going badly, we should not lose heart, but always hope for a change for the better.”Another temperamental player, after losing an intense match is said to have grabbed his opponent’s king, hurled it across the room and shouted, “Why must I lose to this idiot?”

When I was growing up I was fascinated and read about the great chess champions of all time. There was Jose Raul Capablanca, the great Cuban master who was also ambassador for Cuba during his lifetime and a world champion in 1920. There was the U.S. champion Bobby Fischer who took on the Russian monopoly of the game and won the world title in 1972 in Reykjavic Iceland in dramatic fashion against the best Russian master Boris Spassky. The celebrated match was like a heavy weight boxing fight to chess lovers, and a microcosm of the Cold War.

In 1996 in Philadelphia, another historical chess match enthralled the world. This one featured chess champion Gary Kasparov playing against a super IBM computer dubbed “Deep Blue.” It marked the first time a chess playing computer defeated a world champion in a classical game under tournament regulations. The match captured the attention of millions and brought a renewed interest in the ancient game.

No one knows who invented it, but the game has been played for centuries by aristocrats, by diplomats and by scholars. I personally travelled by bus for several hours once to Santa Monica beach where there is a section of benches and old Russian masters who play on a daily basis. On another occasion, I was in New York City in the famous Washington Square Park, killing time while waiting on a flight back home. I thought it was a good idea to play one of the old guys in the park, perhaps I could give them a good game?

I don’t recommend it. Fastest $5 I ever lost.
Chess players are sometimes stereotyped as uber geeks, but in my experience this is a misconception as I have met chess players of every age, creed and walk of life during my lifetime. Chess players have a sense of humor. One player told me this joke: A man and a dog were seen playing chess together in a park. One person remarked, “Wow, that’s a clever dog.” The man retorted, “He’s not so clever, I beat him three out of four games.”
I try to find a chess club or gaming store everywhere I go. Ukiah has one and so does Willits. The Willits gaming store has almost every role playing, card and board game available and there are games happening on week nights and on the weekend. I have not seen chess players there.

I am still searching for over-the-board opponents to play during my free time. Come on Willits, it’s your move.