“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. When he finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it.” - Mathew 13: 45-46
Somehow I had taken a wrong turn. Instead of my beloved Club, I found myself in a madhouse! I guess it wasn’t the hardest mistake to make as the doorway to this place was left ajar and unwatched, literally inviting anyone to enter and make themselves at home. However, once I was inside, I couldn’t but ask why anyone would want to do so.
As I made my way across the place, being jostled and shoved by the crowd with every step, I eventually spied someone who seemed to be in charge. He wore olive cargo shorts and a black sweatshirt and sat atop a homemade throne comprised of empty shipping crates. There was a mock paper crown upon his head, along with a sloppily painted papier-mâché scepter in his left hand. I approached and asked if he knew the directions to my Club, but he paid me no mind and instead fixedly stared at two men who seemed to be engaged in heated debate of some sort. This struck me strange as I could clearly hear that each was speaking a different language and neither seemed to care a whit about what the other said in response. Eventually one threw a punch at the other and both wound up on the floor wrestling. The self-styled emperor sneered with perverse pleasure and applauded. However, after a few minutes, he eventually bored of the fight and bellowed “Kick him!” while pointing to the fellow who was pinned on the ground and was being mercilessly pummeled by his opponent. A bouncer appeared and bodily dragged him out of the warehouse while the surrounding crowd shouted “Kicked! Kicked! Kicked!” and laughed with glee. With the show over, the crowd went back to bumbling into each other.
I once again tried to get the emperor’s attention but he continued to ignore me. It was at that point that an oily-looking man, attired in a torn T-shirt and faded jeans, approached me. “He’ll pay no mind to you,” he said.
“Why not?” I asked
“You have no clan affiliation. You’re a nobody; beneath contempt,” replied the unshaven fellow.
“Oh. I see,” I said dejectedly, wondering if I would ever find my beloved Club again. “Let me ask you: why didn’t the emperor kick both of them? Why just the one who was getting the worst of the fight?”
His unshaven face smiled, “Because the other guy was of his clan, of course. You can’t kick a fellow clan member.”
That seemed quite unjust to me. I inwardly shrugged as it was none of my business in this peculiar realm. I turned to my convenient companion and asked if he could help me find my way. “I seem to be lost. Do you know the way to….”
The oily man cut me off. “Yeah…yeah, that’s all interesting and whatnot. Look, you wanna join my clan? We’ve all the soda you can drink and all the weed you can smoke….”
I waved my hands, “No thanks. What I really need is to find…,” but before I could finish, the oily fellow shoved me and walked back into the throng.
My temper flared and I squared my shoulders in preparation to go after him when I noticed that some of the people around me stopped their bumbling and watched me with rapt attention, expectantly licking their lips at the prospect of another fight.
I swallowed my temper and headed out the way I came, followed by a bombardment of empty soda cans and snack bags from the disappointed crowd that quickly resumed its mindless bumbling.
By retracing my steps, I found where I had gone astray and found myself in front of an imposing oaken door. I knocked and smiled politely as a tuxedo-attired doorman slowly pulled the door agape. He dourly stated “Membership card, please.” I pulled out my card and handed it over. With a thorough once-over, he handed it back to me and his officious frown slowly transformed into a gracious grin. “Of course, sir. Welcome back.”
I stepped through the portal and into the rarified air of the Club, surveying the scene as I made my way to the center of the spacious hall. Above me, an ornate Schonbek crystalline chandelier sparkled as it hung from a distant, domed ceiling of neo-classical inspiration. I smiled here and there as Club Members jovially discussed topics du jour in groups of friends and sometime rivals.
The plush red carpet swallowed my footfalls as I meandered my way to an empty brown leather club chair. Within moments of sitting, a butler hurried over with a Riedel Sommeliers glass and a bottle of twenty year old Single Quinta vintage Port on a silver tray. Graciously accepting, I took a sip and savored the flavor as my mind drifted with the delicate harmony emanating from the chamber music ensemble that lilted their way through Corelli’s Concerto Grosso.
“Did you hear the news?” I looked up and found a partner – as all Club Members were by definition ‘partners’ – smiling down at me. I just shook my head, not quite ready to dispel the magic of the beguiling combination of Port and Corelli. “Carlsen out-maneuvered Jakovenko again! This time with a knight vs. bishop ending!”
“Marvelous,” I said. I took another sip and smiled appreciatively at my colleague, for reasons he didn’t fully comprehend. “I guess we shouldn’t be surprised, though.”
“No, I guess not. I was just in the Club’s library and found a similar win by Carlsen in the archives. Look here,” he said as he pulled over a chair of his own, sat down and produced from under his arm a slim volume of recorded games with the appropriate section thoughtfully bookmarked for me. As I examined the page, he pulled out a pipe from his suit jacket and proceeded to fill the bowl and then strike a match. Soon, the delicate odor of smoldering Schermerhorn reached my nose.
As I examined the PGN, itself an elegant alphanumeric symphony, some quick movement at the periphery of my vision caught my attention. I feared for an instant that one of the bumbling wildmen from that lunatic place had followed me in, but was quickly relieved to see that it was one of the Club’s younger members rushing to the just opened door of the Club president. Just twelve or so, our junior member with the frayed manners waited excitedly for his King to notice him. As I watched, the statuesque figure of our premier chess player strode out of his well appointed office like a giant amongst men, en route for some important task unfit for mortal delegation, when he noticed the young partner gazing hopefully in his direction. He stopped, came to one Gieves & Hawkes clad knee to better meet the youngster eye to eye. With a tousle of his neatly combed hair, he asked with a perfect smile “What can I do for you today, young sir?”
“I was…hoping you could help me…with my Bishop and Knight endgame studies,” he stammered, his excitement quashed by sudden trepidation. “Everyone says you’re the best at it!” he implored.
Our King graced the boy with a beatific smile. “Do you know Fine and Benko’s four conclusions?” he enquired, beginning the chess catechesis.
The young partner thought for a second and started reciting from rote. “One: In general the bishop is better than the knight. Two: When there is a material advantage, the difference between the bishop and knight is not very important. However, the bishop usually wins more easily than the knight.” King nodded with encouragement. “Three: If the material is even, the position should be drawn. However, the bishop can exploit positional advantages more efficiently. Four: When most of the pawns are on the same color as the bishop…,” his knowledge suddenly trailed off.
King completed the unfinished recitation, “…the knight is better.” Again, a flash of the saintly smile. He stood and put his right hand on the young partner’s shoulder. “Come, I have some time yet. Let’s see what Benko was talking about,” he said and led the way to the study to find an open board with which to instruct.
The exchange had only left me with one thought: It was good to be back in the realm of Chess.
Sorry for the Swift-sonian trip, but that was the best way I could express what it is like to return to the Royal Game after “slumming it” with more, let’s say, ‘conventional’ entertainment.
Even though I have experienced this phenomenon time and again, it never fails to arrive with the shock of having a bucket of cold ice water dumped on one’s head. Every gaming community really does have a distinctive character; its own mores and complex social interactions. For better or worse.
Ultimately, I suppose that is part of what attracts us to a specific hobby. It’s not so much about the activity itself as it is about the quality of the community that surrounds the activity. With that in mind, while I enjoy visiting another gaming community from time to time…I wouldn’t want to live there.
To each his own, I suppose.
And now for the musical tie-in: Home Again by Blackmore’s Night: