Chess-fever is sweeping Ōtautahi. At least, it's sweeping my household - and seems too to be propagating amongst acquaintances and friends. The popular Netflix show The Queen's Gambit (also a novel) starring the otherworldly Anya Taylor-Joy likely has something do with this, or perhaps it's just a collective swivelling towards an activity that can be a place of connection, amusement, and sustained keen attention.
I’ve become sort of obsessed, and have a yearning to play that is seeping into most areas of my life a lot of the time. The chess sets at Tūranga are well-used by excellent players, and I'll occasionally cast a longing eye towards a game underway while otherwise gainfully engaged in library tasks. My sweet domestic companions are also both very good chess players, and seem to have a patience and problem-solving acuity that I presently lack - I tend to prefer a chaotic and feeling-driven game. Chess, for me, is a site of emotional response, of growth and knowledge-seeking - a realm in which to observe aspects of being, writ small. This is probably why I'm actually quite bad at chess.
But I have a really nice time. And my chess-lens is proving illuminating - some lessons thus far:
On numerous occasions I've been annihilated in chess, be it by an elegant four-move checkmate, a marauding Queen, or as I looked on in ineffectual dismay while precious back-row pieces fell to a rampaging chaos-knight. I'm humbled, by the smooth, confident play of my opponents. I feel my place in the cosmos. Chess teaches humility.
LOSS, RENEWAL, UNCERTAINTY
And yet - in spite of the depletion that accompanies loss, I return - day after day, to the chessboard, renewed in my appetite for the tumult of what may unfold. I'm ever drawn back - fueled by a curiosity to see what happens, the allure of the unknown. Chess reminds us of our mortality, of the pleasure and pull of the abyss.
The joys to be found are varied and sustaining. Only yesterday, I revelled in the unexpected delight of a stalemate draw result, which came out of the blue as I careened towards what I thought was a sure loss, my king on the run. Redemption! Then there are the shared joys of watching a friend play with sophisticated skill, or the joys of a humble, aspirational pawn, elevated to Queen status after a perilous journey to the far side. The joys shimmer amidst the turbulence. There is hope in the dark. Chess is a joy-fountain.
Consider - each time you decide to deploy a pawn over a knight, or to slither your Bishop to a far-flung square, you are creating a split in spacetime, and out there, somewhere, a universe in conjured in which you made an alternate decision. Wonder what it's like there? Chess is the creation of universes.
Need more chess?
If your interest is piqued, and you're keen to join the chess-aissance, consider exploring some of the wealth of resources available at the library to hone your skills and tend to your chess-garden. See below for a few picks of the books in our catalogue. Drop into Tūranga, or your local community library, and avail yourself of the joys of playing with other chess-heads, perhaps even making a new friend :).
There are local chess clubs you can join - find them on CINCH. And, of course, there are a number of websites where you play chess online for free.
Let chess be a conduit - connecting you to the complexities and joys of living. It's a beguiling, accessible melodrama.