Monday, January 30, 2012

You Should Date A Chess Player

Date a chess player. Find them in The Plough on Museum Street on a Monday evening. Find them in The Wargrave Arms, doing their best not to look at the beautiful bar staff. Find them failing, frequently. Wherever you find them, find them in deep thought, dwelling over the complexities of the Czech Benoni. Make sure they look challengingly at their opponent from time to time, for this means they know how affecting eye contact can be. Engage them in clichés and wait for them to talk about the weather. Persevere until their glance lingers and talk nonsense instead. Marvel at their imagination and breadth of vocabulary. Ignore their friends exchanging excited half-whispers by the bar. Write your number on the back of their scoresheet. Recognise that chess players are notoriously bad at making first contact. Insist on having theirs too. Wait until the weekend. Call them. Accept their mumbled apologies with good grace and an invitation to dinner.

Find shared interests and common ground like cricket and the Times crossword. Accept that chess will be more important than you. On a particularly long evening, ask them to teach you to play. Start to understand their obsession while not understanding the concepts. Let the months pass. Give up, but only after scoring 1/6 in the Golders Green Minor. Take up squash. Argue about how your playing partner Charlie is just a friend. Sleep with Charlie. Realise Charlie means nothing and you just needed a break from your partner and their bloody chess friends. At the same time, realise you like all that. Realise you love all that. Realise you love them.

Let the years pass. Marry them. Move to the suburbs where houses are big enough for a chess library. Have children. Watch them respond with indifference to being taught chess. Grow old. Wonder at your partner’s lack of achievement despite devoting 60 years of their life to the game. Watch them die, still hooked on that infuriating mixture of strategy and solitude. At their funeral, notice that, despite being unremarkable in every other way, 300 people have come to pay their respects to their rival, their inspiration, their drinking partner. Their friend.

Do these things, because a chess player understands how a subtle departure from the norm can change everything. How one mistake can ruin a life’s work. How a poor sense of timing can lead to missed opportunities. Do these things, because a chess player is forced to move on after every battle, win or lose. Because, while the little things will matter the most, they’ll still consider the bigger picture. Because not making progress can hurt more than the most crushing defeat. 

Do these things, because chess players are as human as anyone else. Possibly more so. Except the ones who don’t wash. Leave them alone.

Based unashamedly on this. Thanks to Lisa Thompson for drawing my attention to it.


Alex 'Dash' Spencer said...

Alex 'Dash' Spencer said...

(is what this reminded me of. And now that other piece it was actually based on, now I've gone and read it. That is strong.
So is this, but I actually think it's better the less it leans on the other work.)

Alex 'Dash' Spencer said...

(I don't like the moderation wait. I've changed my mind, a little, and I can't edit or delete. Leaving my inexorable skidmarks on this corner of the internet. Sorry, moderator.)

Jonathan B said...

This comment moderator isn't wild about moderation either A'D'S. Thanks for contributing anyway, and remember - one man's skidmark is another man's ... well, something else.

Until I got to the end of the post, btw, I thought it had been inspired by the 'things you should know before dating a journalist' thingy that went around a week or two ago
(written by tubby balding single Andrew Gilligan, possibly)

PJM said...

I've had this written in my head for months. It just needed to be written.

Alex, rant away by all means, my friend. :)

Campion said...

Have to say, as someone who reads a lot and used to play a small amount of club chess, that the piece being linked to leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth. Is "illiterate" meant in the literal sense, or "someone who's not heard of Baudelaire and John Irving"?

Niall said...

I’ve often wondered about the cliché that chess players don’t wash. Is there any truth to it, that is to say, do chess players have worse personal hygiene than the general population, or is it just that chess is a game where people are packed tightly together (compared to say, football) in over-heated playing areas, thus increasing the chances of sweatiness and the chances of it being noticed?
Also, whilst dealing with clichés, let’s not be shy, I’m going to add another one. As someone who lives and plays in France, there to seem to be quite a few, exclusively male, players with BO problems. Well, they’re the ones with the BO, everyone else has the problems with it. Having played in England a couple of times, there seems to be a lot less (i.e. none) BO going around. Are English chessers cleaner, or is it that I’m going to tournaments that attract higher quality people so no smelly riff-raff?

Tom Chivers said...

I washed yesterday, twice.

PJM said...

Campion, I think the Warnke piece is deliberately full of pathos, bathos and other os words.

I don't think he's seriously advocating that approach. Just that ladies who read a hell of a lot (especially classics) can be frustratingly perfectionist with their expectations of a man. I'm very guilty myself of basing my expectations of a relationship on something fictional.

Niall, the final comment was simply an attempt to subvert the soppy nature of the article with something humorous. It's also good advice, no? I don't think the chess player subculture is particularly plagued with smelly people any more than other subcultures.

Niall said...

Aye, I realise that PJM but the thought did strike me regarding cleanliness so I thought I’d throw it out there.
On a more literary note, Gustave Flaubert’s novel “Madame Bovary” deals with this very theme i.e. having unreal expectations of life based on novels one has read. Although the eponymous heroine's need for escapism is understandable considering she's married to a boring fart of a husband in some rural backwater.

ejh said...

I might note, probably too late for anybody to notice, that I reviewed the book to which Alex Spencer refers in a past issue of Kingpin.

I wasn't as impressed as many other reviewers.

ejh said...

On the subject of Madame Bovary, I tried to read it once but the Wordsworth Classics translation was so awful I couldn't get anywhere. Suppose it serves me right for doing it on the cheap (though I've never liked Constance Garnett's apparently acclaimed translations from the Russian, either).

Actually I couldn't read the Warnke piece, either.