View Full Version : Story Time

Alan Shore
23-06-2004, 04:16 PM
A friend of mine sent me this story in an email, I guess it illustrates the simple pleasure one can get from sitting down to a chess game.

The Man with the Chessboard

A couple of weeks ago, I was walking through past the food court in my local shopping centre, laden, of course, with ill considered purchases. I was heading home around midday for a free afternoon that Saturday with plenty of time to get prepared before meeting my boyfriend to go to a party that evening. It was then several metres away through the crowd that, I saw a man.
He was an older man of approximately 70-75 years old, with white hair and of eastern European appearance, I thought at the time. He was dressed in a dark vest and tie, suit trousers and respectable shoes with his hat lying on the adjacent table. He sat there quietly and alone, with nothing more in front of him than a chessboard; fully set up, white pieces invitingly standing in front of the vacant seat opposite him.
I stopped and waited for a while - was he waiting for someone? What was he doing there? Nobody came. The Saturday afternoon shopping crowds moved around him while he, at the eye of the consumer storm, was the image of calmness and mental concentration.
I have rarely played chess and the times I did play it I was hopeless. The only thing I know about the game is where the pieces can legally move, and even sometimes I get that wrong, but nonetheless for reasons completely incomprehensible to me I found it impossible to move past this man.
I walked over and while still standing, moved a white pawn.
He smiled at me, gesturing me to sit down.
I did, we played.
He had infinite tolerance to my slow moves, clearly, he knew what he was doing. Clearly, as our games went on, I didn't.

His English was poor and there was little communication other than gesturing and broken English throughout the games. After the first game, which he won easily, I pointed out to him I had only played a couple of games in my life. He told me that given that, I didn't do too badly. From that point we continued playing. He told me that I was the youngest person who had stopped to play him, and the only female. He told me his name was Yvgeni and he and his wife were brought to Australia from Russia with the assistance of his daughter and her family who have lived here for 20 years. He kept reminding me to take my time and think about what I was doing. It didn't change the fact that he was clearly a good player, and I was an obvious novice.

By 5:00pm Yvgeni conceded I had improved during the afternoon, but did not feel it was from his tuition. I shook his hand and left completely oblivious to the fact this man had commandeered my entire afternoon until I saw the three missed phone calls on my mobile from my boyfriend who had tried to contact me.
I was now running late, but the experience of the afternoon is something that has stayed with me.

It was the game of chess in this instance that facilitated a relationship that transcended culture, language, age and gender. When I arrived at my boyfriend's house I told him about my afternoon, and he agreed that he too would find it difficult to walk past the old man with the chessboard and not sit down and play him. When I asked other gamers I knew, who play all types of games, every one of them agreed the same thing. That they would find it impossibly difficult (if they had the time) to not sit down and play the old man with the chessboard.

I asked non-gamers the same question. Their answers differed enormously, with none out of the twenty or so I asked making the effort to stop and play the old man, even if they had a free afternoon.

I found this interesting for several reasons. Sport is always plugged as the ultimate unifier between races, culture and people. The Olympics is all about that base philosophy of global unification through appropriate competition and a peaceful blending of cultures. Millions of dollars are plugged into sport at a national level in Australia, sometimes at the expense of education and health care, partly fuelled by this belief of the philosophy of what sport does and of course many other reasons.

Yet even on a local level, this game of chess appeared to accomplish everything the philosophy of global sport does. The competition, the unilateral understanding of the game irrespective of culture, gender, age, nationality or status. Yet, only a small percentage of the population would embrace this opportunity to accomplish so much by doing something so little.

It made me wonder, if more of an emphasis was placed on children learning more intellectually based games, like chess and even games like Magic: the Gathering, which require a certain level of intelligence to be able to grasp the basic concepts, perhaps the same could be achieved. Perhaps those kids that always fall into that "more academic less sporty" category might also be encouraged rather than ostracised for their contribution to a more intellectual kind of sport. In the end, there is no reason why the base philosophy can't be the same.

I wondered that if you asked sports people the same question, if they instead saw a person in a park kicking around a soccer ball on their own if they would ask to join in. I would like to think that they probably would join in under similar circumstances.
In essence I would like to think that there is something in all of us, as gamers, which facilitates us to be open-minded when it comes to the opportunity to sit across from any opponent in the name of competing in our chosen game. I think it's something that we can site that makes us all quite special and something positive that being involved in our communities has to offer to our own personal development and where we find we sit in the world.

We are fortunate to see it here in the Magic community every day, though I wonder how many have realised that the game while fun for us all can also be responsible in helping us form relationships with people we may never have thought to due to barriers in culture, age, gender and language.

I have been to the same shopping centre several times since but I haven't seen Yvgeni again. Maybe he was put off by my very bad chess playing; maybe he vanished like the enigmatic character he was. Maybe his wife was embarrassed by his public chess-playing antics. I know however, that if I did see him again we would remember each other, and that we could pick up where we left off over a simple game of chess.

Samantha Hepworth

15-07-2008, 09:03 PM
My friend for some bizarre reason googled my name and found my article here. I am chuffed that you enjoyed it enough to post it.

With thanks
Samantha Hepworth

15-07-2008, 09:18 PM
I happen to love chess but sadly enough I never seem to have the time to play, let alone finding a good opponent to play against. Meeting a strong European chess player by chance to practice against will make my day.

15-07-2008, 09:50 PM
I consider myself extremely fortunate to have had that afternoon with him. It was surreal. If we're lucky, he may return to Castle Towers in Sydney, that is where it all took place.

15-07-2008, 10:13 PM
I consider myself extremely fortunate to have had that afternoon with him. It was surreal. If we're lucky, he may return to Castle Towers in Sydney, that is where it all took place.
Did this man have a distinctive tattoo on the back of his hand ?

16-07-2008, 10:24 AM
No, he did not have any tattoos on his hands.

16-07-2008, 10:39 AM
No, he did not have any tattoos on his hands.
ok, just checking.
refer: http://www.chesschat.org/showthread.php?t=4366 and http://www.chesschat.org/showthread.php?t=6076

Duff McKagan
16-07-2008, 05:09 PM
Nice story. I cannot believe that I missed it at the time it were posted, nor that it's taken four years to reply!
What is true in this world if it ain't sport? - Scott Muller

21-07-2008, 10:47 AM
Yes it was a freak of circumstance to find the article that I had written so long ago. Thank you for all the kind words and feedback though, everyone.