Chess With Benefits

Chess With Benefits


I love how one can play chess anywhere, anytime and with anyone who knows how to play, despite their age, gender, language, background etc. I love how it brings people together, sometimes those who are complete strangers and how it fosters friendships. I love how despite speaking different languages, chess players across the world can speak the language of chess and understand each other perfectly.

And one day, I got to experience all of the above benefits of chess in Paris, France, circa 2005. My mom, sister and I decided to go on a trip to Paris for two weeks. We rented a beautiful two-bedroom apartment in the heart of Paris and rummaged around the city admiring its magnificent beauty.

Strolling through the Jardin de Luxembourg one day, we noticed a dozen local men playing chess in the garden. Street-chess shall we call it? I stood there watching them play, hoping they would invite me to join but they didn’t. Someone told me before I was going on that trip, that French people are not very nice, but I didn’t believe that stereotype. And yet, here I stood, being totally ignored by all these men. I figured that they didn’t want to play me because I was a girl, and ironically and stereotypically speaking because “girls don’t play chess well”. I gathered the courage to speak some French with them and asked for a game.

One man yielded reluctantly and invited me to play his opponent. “Merci” I said, as I pushed the clock. It didn’t take long for me to win the game. My win caught everyone’s attention and now players who had finished their games started to gather around my next game and watch. I won again …

Chess In Paris
Caption: Playing my first chess game against a local Parisian man, in Paris, France. 2005.

Whereas before no one wanted to play with me because they (probably) thought I didn’t know how to play, now no one wanted to play with me once again because I was too good and they didn’t want to lose … to a girl 

At last, I heard some French brou-ha-ha and a brave soul stepped forward, accompanied by three other men. It looked like they were placing bets on him or maybe on me. “Voulez-vous jouer avec-moi?” (would you like to play with me?) the man asked. “Oui, merci” I replied in my shy French.

Caption: The four local chess players who took us on the tour-de-Paris.

This game was a tough one, but I still managed to win. I drew the game after that. My opponent was good but his buddies were cheering on my side it seemed. Each time I made a good move, they would applaud and cheer, to my opponent’s dismay. “D’où êtes-vous?” (where are you from?) one of them asked. I told them we were just visiting Paris for a couple of weeks. “Would you like us to show you around? A mini-tour?” the other one offered. “J’aimerais ca beaucoup!” (“I would love that a lot”!), I jumped at the offer, still speaking French*, but with more confidence now.

And that’s how mom, my sister and I got a free tour of Paris from four local Parisians. They took us to some less known beautiful streets and venues, offered some wine (but of course!) and told us about the life in Paris. Not once, did I think that French people are not nice. On the contrary, I was impressed with their welcomings. 

We ended the day with merci’s and au-revoir’s, even though we all knew we wouldn’t ever meet again. It was just a beautiful day-in-life … all thanks to chess! I love that game!