I liked this story a lot about how Benjamin Netanyahu phoned Nathan Sharansky several times to discuss Boris Gelfand’s performance. Of even greater interest, in my view, was how Sharansky kept his sanity during solitary confinement by playing chess against himself in his mind. This recall’s Stefan Zweig’s story, The Royal Game, in which Dr. B does something similar and becomes an incredible chess player in the process.
For me this epitomizes the idea of chess as an inner meditation, a way of focusing the mind so as to shut out everything else. An entirely different aspect is represented by the symbolism of chess, using the pieces to represent something else, such as a ‘conflict’ between two sides. A good example of this would be a ‘live’ chess game with people dressed up as pieces, the kind of thing they’re planning here.
Which of these aspects is more valuable to the chess improver? Without question it is the inner side, manipulating the pieces in your mind. And for this reason you shouldn’t take coffee table sets, and the culture that surrounds them, at all seriously. An ornate set is the mark of a non player who wants to look clever (‘Look everybody, I play chess!’), not someone who wrestles with the delicate matters of attack and defence that are hidden within the chess matrix.
Accordingly I recommend binning any coffee table sets forthwith, they are just a distraction. Of course a nice wooden Staunton is another matter entirely.