Chess in the Jardin du Luxembourg
My wife is a primary school teacher. This means she's incredibly busy for much of the year but, in return, she gets six weeks off over the summer. This year, she decided to take the children to Paris for the whole of August. They have rented a pleasant apartment in the Latin Quarter and have filled their days with relaxing, cheap things to do.
As my daughter is a keen chess player, it's only natural that they would spend much of their time in the beautiful Jardin du Luxembourg. The Jardin du Luxembourg is a very traditional French park, and houses the French Sénat. Unlike parks in many other cities around the world, here you may not, generally speaking, walk on the grass. However, there's a lot on offer. There is a lake, where children can rent miniature boats by the hour, that they prod around the lake with sticks. There is a fabulous playground and carousel. And, in one corner of the park, there are several chess tables where Parisian men (and a few women) congregate every day to play chess against each other.
If chess at grandmaster level is the equivalent of Test cricket, then this is the Twenty20 game. Playing often with treasured, broken pieces, one of them will pull a timer out of his pocket, set it to five minutes each and the game begins. Every capture is executed with an extraordinary snap, as they quite literally smash your piece off the board. And they move at dazzling speeds, somehow managing to assess and analyse the threats on the board in a single glance. Some of their games draw crowds of people just to watch this incredible spectacle.
Of course, there are some more relaxed players among them. And they welcomed my daughter with some initial amusement but eventually respect as they appreciated her bravery and (for her age, at least) ability. They would smile and tap an attacking piece if she had overlooked it, offering her the opportunity to take back if she wished. And they would grin, and bear it, when she pulled a move on them that they themselves had overlooked.
On Monday, I got to go play with them. I played two games, winning the first thanks to a stranglehold on the centre which my opponent unwisely tried to break apart with a bishop sacrifice; and losing the second to a much stronger player who bamboozled me with the (unfamiliar to me OTB) Polish Opening, then shrugged off my doubled rooks on an open file with ease.
As has been remarked elsewhere on the forums, it's a shame that there aren't more opportunities to play chess in the open air in an informal gathering where players gravitate to their natural ability. It's simply brilliant for sharpening up your game. And, as a south-east Londoner, I'm loath to let Holland Park take all the honours!
There are some pictures of chess of us playing in the beautiful Jardin du Luxembourg here.