Chess in the park

by Dhananjay Khadilkar
6/7/2016 – On Thursday the Grand Chess Tour begins in Paris and ten of the world's best players will try their skills in rapid and blitz. Maybe the chess fans from the Jardin du Luxembourg will come to "La Maison de la Chimie" to watch Carlsen & Co. play, maybe they prefer to do what they do throughout the year. Play chess in beautiful surroundings.

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Chess in the Jardin du Luxembourg in Paris

It’s a beautiful spring afternoon and Richard Sigman sits down on one of the green chairs typical of Paris parks and starts reading a book. But what he really does is waiting for an opponent to play chess against, blitz chess. He does not have to wait long.

Theirs is one of the dozen odd games that are underway at the Jardin du Luxembourg or the Luxembourg Garden, which is located in the plush 6th arrondissement of Paris. “This garden is my favourite place,” the 25-year-old from Oklahoma City says, while banging the clock.

“To be able to play chess in such a wonderful location is special. And in Paris chess is seen as a cultural and intellectual activity.”

For some players, chess in the Jardin du Luxembourg is a daily routine. Irrespective of the season or the weather, one is likely to see at least half a dozen familiar faces on any day of the year.

While Sigman has been visiting the Luxembourg garden chess corner for the past few months, chess, according to some, has been played here for more than 40 years.

Jeevan Singh, a regular for more than 15 years, visits the garden almost every day. “It’s like an addiction,” he says. “It’s not just about chess. It’s about the people, the familiar faces I see every day. Even if I don’t come here for just one day, I start missing it. And of course, there’s the added attraction of the beautiful garden. For me, just visiting the garden, even for a stroll, is much better than going to a cinema.”

The garden forms the backdrop to the Luxembourg palace which houses the French Senate or the upper house of the Parliament.

Covering a staggering 25 hectares, it boasts symmetrical tree-lined paths, fountains, sculptures, pony rides, tennis courts, manicured lawns, flower beds, a kiosk for cultural activities, a museum and an octagonal pond right in front of the Senate where children can play with miniature sail boats.

Moreover, there is no shortage of chairs and benches, whose last count was around 4800.

16 years ago the Senate decided to provide tables with inlaid chess boards. Christian Poncelet, at that time President of the Senate, attended the inauguration of 12 tables for chess enthusiasts on September 21, 1999. Five of the twelve tables are fixed, seven are mobile. According to the Senate website, the table tops are made of enamelled lava stones that were extracted from the volcanic mountains in the Auvergne region of central France.

Singh says the tables not only made playing more comfortable but also attracted more players. “Earlier, there used to be 10 players on average. People then had to bring their own boards and lay it on two chairs. It wasn't comfortable. After the tables were installed, that figure increased three or four times. On weekends, it’s even more,” he says.

Years of association has resulted in formation of groups. Normally, players belonging to a certain group stick to their tables where they play in turns. The real action occurs on the tables where 3 minute (no increment) blitz games are played.

It is not uncommon to see players vent their frustration after losing on time just as they are about to deliver the final crushing blow to their opponents. Passers-by, who are in the garden for a stroll, crowd around the tables to witness the action.

 “Playing blitz won’t help improve your game. If anything, it could hurt your game,” says Albert Licayan, who has been coming here for the past 20 years. But he adds that playing chess here is interesting.

“There is so much history associated with the garden. There are so many activities around here. It’s such a beautiful park right in the heart of Paris. Just being here is enjoyable,” he says, while gleefully taking a rook his opponent blundered.

Le Jardin du Luxembourg

Dhananjay is a Paris based journalist and a chess enthusiast. While he enjoys playing the game, he is more fascinated by the drama and history associated with it.


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