Sunday, July 20, 2008

Chess players of Baku

Last night I went down to find the chess players – only to discover that they had fallen victim to renovation of a restaurant. As far as I know, the chess players had inhabited a corner of this outdoor café for time immemorial. To be accurate, the corner of the café was occupied by men – average age of about 60 – playing chess, backgammon, and dominoes.

It was the chess players, however, who interested me. Most of them played a “blitz” style game. Very fast. Punctuated with the players reaching over to slap the timer. Kibitzing expected. Bystanders felt perfectly comfortable offering free advice. And some of the players kept up a lively obscene patter. (I only understood the Russian obscenities – but I assume that there were some Azerbaijani obscenities in there too.)

Anyway – the chess players have been evicted from the café where they used to play. Now – they are located in a section of tables not really connected to the café. I was on my way somewhere else – and so I decided not to visit last night. But I’ll be back later this week. It’s one of my favorite after-dinner activities: taking a walk by the sea and stopping by to watch some chess games. Good clean fun.

I should note that chess has a secure place in Azerbaijani culture. Most cities of any size have a chess school, for example. Often these schools incorporate a chess motif in their design. And - of course - World Chess Champion Garry Kasparov is a native of Baku. He is, however, of Armenian and Jewish heritage. Not Azerbaijani.

Here is a picture of the scene that I took earlier this summer.