Queens, New York: Chess without ethnic bounds

11/15/2006 – Queens, the largest borough of New York City, also the most ethnically diverse in the United States, with immigrants making up 46% of its residents. In the MacDonald Memorial Park people from all nations gather to – play blitz chess. Name a country, someone from there is hammering on the clock. David Pambianchi on blitz in the park.

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They came to blitz in the park

By David Pambianchi

Chocolate, vanilla, rather Jamoca Almond fudge – this describes the chess circle at Captain Gerald MacDonald Memorial Park in Queens. Not because the Mr. Softie truck regularly chimes the area, but here resides the most diverse ethnic congregation this side of the United Nations. Drawn by the game, a cultural mix of players gather to play “Blitz” chess.


A respite from Queens Blvd. traffic


A weekend of chess play in MacDonald Park

Like football or tank warfare, the Blitz game is fast. Think quick! Move quick! Don’t panic! The often rapid hand motions and clock slapping can sometimes send pieces flying off the board much to the joy of Christian, Muslim, Jew, Hindu, Buddhist and whatever other flavor you can imagine who compete at five and even three minute games of chess. You must win the game before your time keeper beeps, flashes or drops a tiny flag. If not, no matter how much material or position you have on an opponent, you lose once the clock has spoken.


If only they could see what I see

Indifferent, chess and timer remain blind to age, sex, religion and race. Surrounding one of twelve tables, you might observe four New Yorkers awaiting their turn. An Italian, a Cuban, an Albanian and a retired gentleman of German, Austrian and Hungarian descent study two comrades, a Lithuanian and a young man from Sri Lanka. After parking his taxi nearby, up glides the Indonesian expert, seeking a game with his pal from Turkey who just hopped off the subway. At another table, a Columbian and an Israeli Chess master attract a crowd, including a Greek, a Romanian dentist, Montenegrin, a German lawyer, Afro-American, Belgian and Latino, while a Deli owner from Nepal hurries off to bring coffee. Likewise, Russia, Serbia, Bosnia, England, France, Georgia, Ireland and China have full representation.


Stan (playing left) is about to make something happen

Probably the largest, unofficial, easily accessed, impromptu chess club anywhere, Blitz addicts of various levels and the Long Game find membership free. Across from the Post Office, this narrow park, made fine with a variety of trees, plants and flowers, also plays host to some Domino and Backgammon play as well as respite for the passersby.


Orlando and "Trade 'em off, Paul" on ice cream break

Relatively void of gambling, drinking or drugs, the Park remains a comfortable haven for all. Varied cuisines adorn Queens Boulevard and Austin Street. You can break for fast food, the KFC, Taco Bell, Boston Market and such, or dine at the Italian, Mexican, Chinese and other restaurants, maybe stop for gelato, catch a ballgame or movie.


Everyone loves a good outdoor endgame

Although scarcely six female players frequent the tables, some males remain hopeful for change. Players offer a wide variety of interests and occupations. Besides those mentioned, doctors, stock brokers, computer programmers, court officers, firemen, teachers like myself, also play chess, white collar, blue collar and no collar. Evening socialization includes late night pizza breaks, an audience of EMS workers and the occasional birthday cake. Conversation opens to music, history, science, politics, every topic and issue to stimulate the intellect from the profound to the ridiculous. Argumentation rarely gets out of hand enough to disturb lasting friendships, friendships molded by laughter and trust, created over time and over the chess board.


Simal (left) does not want any advice from Thomas (pointing)

As a newcomer to Speed Chess, I spent a full day of observation before venturing to play. I hoped that I could put up a good fight, but suspected to lose on time. The game lay open to everyone, still, a silent, unknown chess player can create some tension. I remember how the regular players, a conglomerate of cultures, watched me from the sides of their eyes. “Is he a hustler?” I wondered at their thoughts masked in multiple languages, or “some lunatic?” Levity commonly colors the atmosphere around the chess circle enhancing the excitement and seriousness of the game. After watching a respected chess master win, I remarked, “You know, I think I could beat him.” Then, I added through a silence you needed to wade through, “on a good day… if the sun was out… and he had a few beers.”


Marathoner Steve (right) is not running this game

A regular over the past month, my Blitz game improves and hopefully continues to do so from the high level of chess played here. But perhaps most important remains the promise of new acquaintances and friends befitting this World War I Memorial Park. In this sense, no one gets Checkmated. Within this New York potpourri, somewhere between the chess pieces, aggression, affection, sacrifice, defeat and victory, the beeping and flashing digital clocks, amid the thoughts and goals in common, the varied and shared human experiences, race and culture simply translate into what each individual can bring to the table, both literally in a Queens Park chess game and as a human being. We glimpse the promise of liberty, see who we are as a community from many sides and see ourselves clearer through combined expression and communication with others. At games’ end, this is a good place to be.


Evening with chess masters, Gomez and Eras


David and his lion

David Pambianchi is a one-time NYC marathoner, former cross US and Europe motorcycle traveler, writer for local Queens and Brooklyn papers from chess to archery, and general adventurer from skydiving, rock climbing and a Black Belt in Tae Kwon Do to tagging monarch butterflies, acting, and pruning city trees.

David presently teaches writing and art, regularly writes boxing news and fight coverage for internet sites. He is also polishing his first novel “Carrots & Apples,” hoping to do, what he was meant to do.
 



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