I’ll Play Chess Anywhere

I’m going to tell you a cautionary tale regarding the appropriate time and place to play chess, rather than offer any practical advice on improving your skills. Think of this as a life skill lesson regarding what not to do. While most people work chess into their often busy lives, I schedule my life around teaching and studying chess. It’s the nature of the obsessive, compulsive type. I have very mild OCD or obsessive compulsive disorder and have used it to my advantage when it comes to studying various subjects, such as chess. However, it’s been brought to my attention that I sometimes take my love of the game a bit too far. I play chess everywhere even if it’s not appropriate. Case in point.

A number of years back, a man I knew from the music scene had died and I decided to go to the service because I heard food would be served afterwards. Everyone at the service had tears and kind words for this fellow. Truth be told, he was a self serving insufferable jerk who I didn’t like. I was sitting in the back with a few friends. Our eyes were glazed over from the tedious lies being spewed from the pulpit regarding the love and kindness of the dearly departed. I had a travel sized chess set in my bag. I motioned to the guy next to me, seeing if he wanted a quick game to which he gave me a thumbs up. I know you’re probably thinking this is in bad taste, which it would be if I actually cared about the guy in the casket. I set up the board and we started to play, occasionally nodding our head to let whoever was speaking know that we cared. Things went well until my opponent, who was rather drunk, accidentally knocked his Queen off the board. I was starting to bend down to find it under our pew when my drunken friend screamed “where did that god damn Queen go.” When one of the ushers came to shut him up, he started a fight and everyone in our pew got thrown out. I refused to leave until I found the Queen. Make a note, don’t play chess at funerals. I still do but have smartened up, playing on my tablet which won’t say a word because I keep the volume down.

I’ve played chess at weddings as well. Trust me, it’s a great way to un-waste the four or five hours of your lifespan you have to commit to such celebrations. When I got married we got the entire event finished in three hours. Our guests thanked us for this months later. I once was at a wedding and the speeches were getting a bit ridiculous. I’m all for pontificating about how you grew up with the groom and what a fine man he was, etc, etc. However, the groom at this wedding was a womanizer and his bride found out about it thirty minutes before saying “I do.” While playing a few games, again, on the back pew in a church, the parents of both the bride and groom had a verbal argument over the groom’s terminal case of wander lust. Fortunately, we didn’t kicked out but the groom sure did. Was there any fallout from playing chess during a wedding? Absolutely! The bride’s sister said to me to me, years later, that I was a self indulgent psychopath because I played chess during what was supposed to be the happiest day of her sister’s life. I suggested she might want to vent her anger at the groom. After all, I wasn’t the one cheating on her sister.

I also play chess when I either play music live or go see others play music live. This is the one place where no body seems to mind you playing. I do it before my own gigs because it helps me both relax and focus my mind. The only time it became a problem was during a barroom fight in which a body was thrown across our table and the position ruined. For a brief moment, I thought about hitting the guy whose body ruined my winning game. However, looking at him crumpled on the floor, I realized that he’d already been punished. Besides, I’m a Buddhist and we’re not allowed to participate in barroom fights (it’s in the small print of the Staying Out of Trouble section of Buddhism for Dilettantes).

Playing chess on a tablet or your phone is great during family reunions. Rather than spending time listening to family members recalling precious moments that never actually happened, you can improve your game. Rather than remind your ninety eight year old mother that you didn’t fall off the boat while traveling down the Amazon because you were never there, you can improve your game. However, you have to train your family to put up with it. My family, because I earn a living teach chess, decided that they’d put up with my playing chess at the dinner table because they think I’m working. Actually, I’m avoiding being dragged into conversations that make me want to jump off the roof. Play freely, play anywhere, enjoy the game and disregard those who don’t Here’s a game to enjoy until next week.

Hugh Patterson


Author: Hugh Patterson

Prior to teaching chess, Hugh Patterson was a professional guitarist for nearly three decades, playing in a number of well known San Francisco bands including KGB, The Offs, No Alternative, The Swinging Possums and The Watchmen. After recording a number of albums and CDs he retired from music to teach chess. He currently teaches ten chess classes a week through Academic Chess. He also created and runs a chess program for at-risk teenagers incarcerated in juvenile correctional facilities. In addition to writing a weekly column for The Chess Improver, Hugh also writes a weekly blog for the United States Chess League team, The Seattle Sluggers. He teaches chess privately as well, giving instruction to many well known musicians who are only now discovering the joys of chess. Hugh is an Correspondence Chess player with the ICCF (International Correspondence Chess Federation). He studied chemistry in college but has worked in fields ranging from Investment Banking and commodities trading to Plastics design and fabrication. However, Hugh prefers chess to all else (except Mrs. Patterson and his beloved dog and cat).