How can I transform chess from a solitary to a social activity?
February 4, 2007 4:16 PM   Subscribe

How can I transform chess from a solitary to a social activity?

Although I enjoy playing chess on the Internet because it's easy to find partners anytime of the day, I do wish that I could play a game on a real board against a real player. I think it might be more enjoyable to play chess if it were accompanied by human interaction.

However, how would I go about finding chess partners? None of the people I know like to play it. Although I am sure that the Boston area is replete with chess players, it's probably foolish to use Craig's List to try to find chess partners. After all, how many people would be willing to spend their precious time commuting to a certain spot in the city for a few minutes of chess? Even 30 minute return trip for a chess game would seem ridiculous to most people, never mind a longer commute.

Anyhow, despite all that, I think it must somehow be possible for a person to play face-to-face chess in the Boston area. Please give me your suggestions. (The only thing I would not willing to do is to pay people for a game.)

P.S: Though I do enjoy playing chess, I am still an amateur so don't advise me to join any tournaments or anything.
posted by gregb1007 to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (26 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Have you tried the local city clubs to see if there are chess groups there? I am certain the Boston City Club has a chess group, as do some senior centers and they are always looking for bright young people. You should call around to schools and ask to speak to their chess club advisor and see where he/she goes to play chess outside of working hours.
posted by parmanparman at 4:32 PM on February 4, 2007

Oh man. When I was a kid and my dad was at Harvard doing some lecture I remember walking around boston square (or... some big square in boston) and there being stone tables with chess boards engraved. I was amazed that chess players had a public forum to congregate like that...

I've since seen similar set ups at DuPont circle in DC. Every city has a place like this, you just need to find that one in boston.
posted by phrontist at 4:37 PM on February 4, 2007

Though I do enjoy playing chess, I am still an amateur so don't advise me to join any tournaments or anything.

That's nonsense, there are tournaments for every skill level.

And I think harvard square was what I was thinking of. The wikipedia page even has a picture of the people playing chess there.
posted by phrontist at 4:41 PM on February 4, 2007

One block east of the pit, an outdoor cafe features always-busy tables for chess players, including Murray Turnbull, with his everpresent "Play the Chessmaster" sign.
posted by phrontist at 4:42 PM on February 4, 2007

Response by poster: Actually, phronist, chess at Harvard Square doesn't suit me because it is a commercial enterprise. . The chess tables are occupied by chess professionals that charge a fee for a game. Other than charging money, they also play at a very high level. I have no desire to pay chess professionals to beat me quickly at chess. I want to play with people of all levels and without paying them for it.
posted by gregb1007 at 4:46 PM on February 4, 2007

I played at the Metrowest Chess Club for about a year. It's in the 'burbs, but its one of the best clubs around.

It was fun, in that I was playing against real humans on a real board, but it was also frustrating because most of the people there were serious about chess. They were all into learning openings and playing "by the book." Levels there range from grandmasters to beginners.

Once in a while I won a game but mostly I was getting my ass kicked by ten year-olds with Asperger's. Everyone was concerned with their rating. It was a fun activity once a week though.

I stopped going due to some personal reasons but if you want to kick it up a notch, I recommend it.

If you want to play a casual game once in a while against someone else who doesn't wish to turn it into a game of memorizing openings, drop me an email. I enjoy playing humans over physical chess boards but the club wasn't quite for me.
posted by bondcliff at 4:52 PM on February 4, 2007

How about asking any of your friends if they know how to play and want to some time? You might be surprised...

BTW, if you're registered with chess @ work, please feel free to challenge me (same name).
posted by wilful at 4:52 PM on February 4, 2007

Try this: Go to a popular coffee house on a Saturday afternoon with a chessboard and pieces and a magazine. Get a table, set up the board, order something, and then read. I think you'll find that after not too long a period someone will offer to play you.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 5:23 PM on February 4, 2007

ask your friends, bring a clock, limit time to 30 minutes total. Makes the game much more accessible if this limitation is imposed, as hopeless games seem much less moronic to finish.

Also, you can try bughouse, makes the game less hopeless if a big skill variance is out there, as the differences force veterans to abandon traditional openings, etc.
posted by wuzandfuzz at 6:05 PM on February 4, 2007

I think agree that phrontist is thinking of the tables near the main entrance to the Harvard Square T, which are now in front of an Au Bon Pain. Sometime after February, this would definitely be a good place to bring/find partners.
posted by whatzit at 6:20 PM on February 4, 2007

Go to Harvard Square. Walk past the guy charging for chess. Walk up Mass Ave (towards Central Square) until you see a tobacco shop on your right. Walk in, ask if they still have chess upstairs. My friends used to go all the time. They had a ton of chess boards and players waiting for you. It was a chess haven. I'm not sure if it exists anymore, but it was a great place, and I hope you find it is still there. (BTW, my friends mostly went there to smoke when it was cold outside, but I'm pretty sure they're not allowed to smoke in there anymore).
posted by nursegracer at 6:32 PM on February 4, 2007

Just to confirm what a few people more-or-less already said: if you've got a set and clock, you can just set up shop in Harvard Square outside Au Bon Pain. Grab a table near where the guys who charge are playing -- not one of the stone tables, but one of the metal ones. When I did this I always went in and bought some tea or something, since I felt like these tables are somehow ABP property; I don't know if that's strictly required. Make sure you have another chair, and before too long, someone will come by and play you.

Of course, this works better when it's not too cold -- I'm not sure if you would get any takers now.
posted by em at 6:45 PM on February 4, 2007

Response by poster: em, a clock? my chess set sure didn't come with a clock! i don't think i am gonna rip one off the wall to bring to a chess game!
posted by gregb1007 at 6:53 PM on February 4, 2007

I recommend getting a Chessboard Bandana. I'm not sure if it's much more portable than a "pocket chess set", but you could probably get a nice little set of pieces to compliment it that are portable and stylish.
posted by krisjohn at 6:54 PM on February 4, 2007

The Boylston Chess Club is in Davis Square and has tournaments (yes, that dreaded word) almost every weekend. You'd probably be near the bottom of the field, but so what? There's lots of social interaction, with people going over their games after they're finished, or just chatting.

Other than that I'd also recommend the Au Bon Pain in Harvard Square option.
posted by dfan at 6:55 PM on February 4, 2007

My chess set sure didn't come with a clock! I don't think i am gonna rip one off the wall to bring to a chess game!

That would be a chess clock.
posted by !Jim at 7:35 PM on February 4, 2007

as a chess nerd in my distant youth, your question made me laugh. yes, you can play chess in a club, but it's an odd society, i can tell you. your apprehension of chess tournaments is unwarranted; they're the big social events in this society. to be taken at all seriously, you have to join the u.s. chess federation, which will enable you to play in serious tournaments and earn a rating. for best enjoyment, you have to pleasurably anticipate improving your game while remaining nonchalant about losing a lot of games. learn the word "patzer", because you will hear it all the time in clubs; a patzer is anybody whose game is weak relative to the speaker.
former champion of the los angeles city schools here!
posted by bruce at 8:04 PM on February 4, 2007

Response by poster: Bruce, your perspective is certainly appreciated, but I gotta say that you speak from the point of a view of a chess pro. I am an amateur. I don't need to be taken seriously as a chess player. I just need to have fun playing chess. Trust me, I am not looking for to join tournaments so that I could lose to bunch of a pros and prove myself an amateur. I can already predict that scenario ahead of time. No need to put it to the test. I'd rather get together with people and play just for the fun of it.
posted by gregb1007 at 8:09 PM on February 4, 2007

Once you find the partners, I suggest the following.
posted by utsutsu at 8:23 PM on February 4, 2007

Maybe try calling/going to your friendly local boardgame store (anyplace that sells "German games", not just miniatures and role-playing stuff), and see if they have an open games night. You would be likely to find a mix of people there - a few serious gamers, and a larger number of people who like to play interesting games socially. Good place for informal chess, and maybe you can connect with a regular chess buddy. They may also have a bulletin board for this purpose, where you could post a flier explaining that you want a regular chess buddy who's not too expert.

Here's a map with locations of game stores near Boston. You can enter your location in the search box at the top to get more specific.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:24 PM on February 4, 2007

I second the recommendations to A) just set yourself up and wait for a spontaneous partner and B) have a chess clock on hand.

Given infinity time and infinity space, Destiny will produce a partner. Man[kind] cannot resist a chessboard. Someone will approach you.

Why a clock? Because it makes you treat the game as a game and not a do-or-die, Harry Potter must win the movie! type of sport. Set it for 10 minutes [each side] and if you lose, you lose. Big deal. Play again. Or play against a pro and give them 2 minutes versus your 10. Fast games are fun.
posted by yeti at 9:39 PM on February 4, 2007

Go on Craigslist and start either a Chess club where you meet at cafes or bars and play, or just post asking for chess partners. I have done it and it works. Trust me. And, I am an amateur, too. And, I am not good.
posted by sneakin at 1:07 AM on February 5, 2007

gregb1007, I wouldn't discount Bruce's advice, as it is good advice. Chess tournaments are filled with many players at all skill levels. I played at my first tournament in Phoenix, AZ and there were professional players there, but there was also a kid rated 234, which is astonishingly low. Usually tournaments are divided into sections with the Open section being the hardest.

Getting a chess rating, just like online, is the best way to see how you're doing and match yourself up against opponents that will be around your skill level.

Chess clubs are the other good option. In Albuquerque there are about 8 local chess clubs, most of which meet at least once a week in various places around town. Some are more welcoming to newcomers than others, so try a few before you give up.

As for equipment, the easiest thing to do is get a cheap roll up vinyl board, a set of pieces (I highly recommend triple-weighted) and a chess clock. USCF sells all of these things as do many other sites. I can specifically recommend the DGT Easy Game Timer which costs about $30. As I recall you can find vinyl boards for under $10 and probably the same for pieces (although weighted ones are more). This is pretty much the standard set of gear for club and tournament players everywhere I've been.

Enjoy! Playing chess OTB (over the board) is a lot different than on a screen, but it is a lot of fun.
posted by metajack at 8:00 AM on February 5, 2007

Hi gregb1007, I find myself in pretty much the same situation as you, only in NYC. I know these other posters here mean well by suggesting you join tournaments, but if you're like me it's probably not the scene you're looking for. There are many rules you may not be aware of (if you touch a piece, you must move it; talking is entirely prohibited -- even for short comments like "nice move"; and of course nearly everyone takes the game very, very seriously), and you may find that these additional rules take away a lot of the advantages of playing in a social setting.

Around here I've found local chess clubs to be meeting places for tournaments and not really big on friendly games, devoting only 3 or 4 nights a year to social chess as opposed to silent interaction between you and the board and your opponent and the board, but not between the people themselves. I suggest, though, that you try online meeting places such as and craigslist. is an especially good place to look for chess partners as there seem to be a lot of other people looking, and if none of the rules of their groups catch your interest you can always make up your own meeting and attract other like minded players.

Although I have not had success with these places for finding chess groups myself, I've had a lot of success with finding other social groups through these sites (rock climbing), and haven't tried to use them for chess because lately I've been happy with playing online (through FICS -- same screen name as here).
posted by ducksauce at 10:25 AM on February 5, 2007

Hi, boston chessplayer here.

You should consider joining either the Boylston club (in Davis Square) or the Metrowest club (in Natick). A good option for a intermediate or novice player is to play in the evening swiss tournaments. Metrowest's are tuesday nights, and boylston's thursday nights I think. But call them to check.

The way these work is that you play 1 game each week for a month. Each week you play someone with the same record as you, so if you lose a couple games against tough competition you will end up playing your final games against players closer to your own skill level. There are novice players up to masters at these, so you'll meet a lot of people. You will have to pay, but you'll support the club (they are providing indoor space after all) and it's not per-game into someone else's pocket.

I would *not* recommend playing blitz in harvard square. First, people are very competitive and sometimes disrespectful, and there can be arguments, physical clock abuse, and taunting. Plus there's a general win-at-all-costs attitude, which is silly.

Second, there are a lot of weirdos and less sociable people there, and you don't know who you'll find. The players at the club tend to be nicer. Once you know some of the local players, you'll then be able to run into them in harvard square and play 5-minute games for free -- though this is a summer-only kind of thing unless you want to run into the weirdos or pay to play a Russian chess master.
posted by cotterpin at 10:42 AM on February 5, 2007

Oh, one more thing gregb1007, about harvard square,

Most the games there aren't played for money. It's just that the free tables are busy, so the open tables are the guys waiting to charge for a game. To get a game with people who don't pay to play, you just have to be aggressive -- walk up to 2 people playing and ask if they have a third.

But I really wouldn't recommend it until winter is over, and even then ... it's strange, the worse players there are the ones who are rude.
posted by cotterpin at 11:15 AM on February 5, 2007

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