Monday, May 31, 2010

2010 Europe Trip: Amsterdam - Men Playing Chess

In addition to the pictures I posted I'm also going to write some posts about the trip.

I found the men playing chess at Max Euweplein near the Leidsplein, the main entertainment square. I had walked around the Museum Quarter neighborhood and was getting tired since I'd landed in Amsterdam only a few hours earlier. Jet lag.

At first I was drawn to the game because of the novelty of the huge chess pieces and board. Very Alice in Wonderland, or more accurately, very Through the Looking Glass. I've always been enthralled by large chess boards/pieces but have never seen anyone playing a game with them. I watched and took a single picture. I told myself I would watch for a few minutes more and then move on. I didn't. I kept watching and listening.

It became clear that the two men were serious chess players and many of the men watching the game all knew each other. And yes, they were all men.

The chessboard at around 7:30 am the next day. You can see the men take good care it.

There were also men sitting on the metal mesh benches you see in the photo above. They sort of formed a kind Greek chorus. The bench closest in the picture seemed to consist of the most serious hardcore players/observers. This bench was crowded and it seemed like some of the younger enthusiasts of the game kept trying to sit on that side. One young man, probably in his late teens, managed to sit on the bench but the others kept trying to shove him off as the game progressed. Everyone watching from that side, even if they were standing next to the bench, was loud, enthusiastic, and highly opinionated. Occasionally, a guy from that side would breach etiquette by boldly striding onto the board and moving a piece for one of the players. This always caused a minor but heated argument with the players and the observer would be heckled by everyone else.

Other observers would stand on the sidelines and watch. And by observers, I'm talking about men who knew the others and played themselves, not the general public who would walk by, take a picture, and move on. The other bench was less crowded and the people who sat there were chess players but they usually sat for a short time before bidding their friends goodbye and leaving so that bench was in constant rotation.

As for the players, the guy in white, playing "white," was relaxed but serious. He kept smiling at me. The guy in orange, playing "black," was super focused and would occasionally shout "Shut UP and let us play!!" to the others. The men on the sidelines were talking to each other about the game and yelling at the men about what their next move should be.

I don't know much about chess. I have an idea of the basic moves for the pieces but I know nothing about strategy and couldn't play a game of chess even if I wanted to much less understand what was going on in the current game. On top of that, almost all the conversations going on, including between the players, were in Dutch with occasional English sentences sprinkled in here and there. Just listening and watching these guys talk to each was fascinating to me because they would speak in Dutch and then say couple of sentences in English, then continue in Dutch. I wondered why they did that as it seemed all of them would switch in and out like that. I began to wonder if they said certain things in English to give what they were talking about special emphasis or perhaps it was just a habit.

The players would sometimes take a long time pondering what their move would be. They argued and talked with each other. One guy watching was clearly a shit disturber. He never walked onto the board to move a piece but he did walk onto the board several times to tell one of players what he should do next. The players tolerated him, would get into shoving matches with him, even if they had to tell him to get off the board more than once. He was fun to watch.

The guy watching from the side with his arms folded is the Shit Disturber.

After a while, my feet and back were getting sore and I noticed the bench in rotation was open so I sat down. By then I'd been there for at least an hour, smiling, watching, not saying anything. All of the men kept staring at me. I guess a woman alone watching them play chess for that long is rare. Eventually, a couple of guys sat next to me and the one nearest seemed to be working up the nerve to talk to me. He never did, none of them did. I knew they would talk to me if I said something but I was enjoying observing them so much that I didn't want to change their interactions with each other so I said nothing.

It didn't take me very long to come to the conclusion that men playing chess are super sexy. It didn't matter what they looked like or how old they are, men engaged in that kind of intellectual past-time seem to get sexier with each passing moment. Or maybe it was just the jet lag.

Some quotes I heard from the men:

Black Player: "There's your 'holy banana!'"
(I soon figured out that "holy banana" means "check.")

Black Player: "Shut UP! Let him play. He's a good player."
(I really liked hearing him say that about White Player).

Shit Disturber: "You see how the game is going to turn out just by looking at the pieces on the board. After a while you can see it."
(He was talking to his friend but looking at me when he made this comment).

And this:

"Just KILL him," shouted by an observer to White Player during the endgame.

"Maybe I don't want to kill him. Maybe I want to keep playing," White Player.

In the end, White Player won near as I can tell. The two men shook hands and a new game was set up between the Shit Disturber and one of the guys from the crowded bench. Black Player got some coffee and water from a nearby cafe, White Player unlocked his bike but stayed on to watch the game. I'd been there for at least two hours and was shutting down from jet lag. I didn't want to go, even wanted to talk to them by that point, but left anyway. I never saw the players again and now I wished I had talked to them.

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