The new chess culture in Vienna

by André Schulz
2/13/2020 – In Vienna, chess is back in the public space. People play on streets and squares, in the Main Library, and even in coffeehouses where chess once was very popular. The driving force behind this movement is the Dutch chess activist Kineke Mulder. Who is very active indeed.

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Coffeehouse chess

The coffeehouse is the cradle of European chess club culture. A lot of clubs were founded in coffeehouses and the coffeehouses in Vienna arguably provided the archetype of a cultivated atmosphere that came with a cup of coffee, intellectual conversations and a few games of chess. Coffeehouses also offered an opportunity to play chess for money and to enter heated debates about the best move while analysing.

But in the last decades the classical chess coffeehouse has been on the decline. However, in Vienna, formerly a stronghold of the game and coffeehouse culture, chess is in the process of reconquering public space. Driving force behind this development is a woman: Kineke Mulder. Who hails from the Netherlands, from Groningen, another stronghold of chess. Which is fitting because in its heyday the chess culture in Vienna was also very international.

Chess connects

The idea was born in 2015/16, at a time when many people had fled their homes, were travelling around Europe and were looking for a place to stay. Many stranded in Vienna, did not know where to go and were literally living on the street. Kineke Mulder saw this and came up with the idea to give them at least an occupation: chess. Chess is easy to learn and connects people. Even if you do not speak a common language, you can quickly play a game of chess with each other. "We are all equal when we play," is Kineke Mulder's motto.

Soon Kineke Mulder found supporters and the project grew. Chess is now played regularly just like that on the squares and streets of Vienna and at street festivals. But not only there. The Main Library is also regularly imbued with coffee house atmosphere during the monthly chess tournament.

In the Vienna Main Library

Chess is also played at the junk goods market 48-Tandler. The blitz-tournament even attracted almost the entire women's national team of 1996, that is WIM Helene Mira, WFM Jutta Borek and WFM Maria Horvath.

The trio

Christian Hursky, president of the Austrian Chess Federation and member of the Austrian Landtag took part in the simul. Incidentally, this year the Austrian Chess Federation celebrates its 100th birthday. 

And it is even back in its old stronghold — the coffeehouses. Not in each and every one but nevertheless getting more and more popular.


E.g. with the "Chess Unlimited Krampusturnier" in the Café Ritter, with sociable Dieter Chmelar (journalist, TV host, cabaret artist), Nikolo and Alma Zadic, minister of justice.

Prominent people at the Krampusturnier

The house was packed...

...the games exciting.

The feminine touch

With Kineke Mulder and her friends chess in Vienna has also become more feminine, and thus more sociable. There is even a women's chess club in Vienna, for a few years now. For all women who want to start with chess, but don't quite dare to make the move, comrade-in-arms Eva Husar has a tip from woman to woman: chess can be crocheted first.

Photos: Little hussar chrochet. P.S: All materials are recycled. The little extra: the board is also the bag for the pieces.

As a trained advertising designer Kineke Mulder is also able to show what she and her chess friends do and recently she published a brochure (PDF) with the chess events of the last year. There were plenty of them.

Meanwhile, chess columns, e.g. Ruf & Ehn in the Standard, have noticed this new chess culture in Vienna and expressed their joy in a number of articles.

There's also a video about the new chess movement:

Translation from German: Johannes Fischer


André Schulz started working for ChessBase in 1991 and is an editor of ChessBase News.


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