I had a vivid dream about playing in a chess tournament last night. I haven’t played in a tournament in nearly two years, which was the last time I even played a game. My life is much too busy these days to go back to playing chess because of the all-encompassing nature of my professional life, as being an academic is a 24/7 kind of job. When I am reading for fun I can always put the book down, and when I am watching sports I can always turn the television off, but chess is a hobby that quickly becomes an obsession and also fights for one’s attention all the time.
However, I do go through phases where I miss the game keenly. Sometimes I’ll find myself playing through a few moves in my head, but what I really miss is the material culture of the game. There is, of course, the rich print culture surrounding the game, which I am especially drawn to as a bibliophile. There is also the game equipment itself. I love being at a tournament and seeing the variety of sets, boards, and clocks in use. Not only is it aesthetically pleasing, but it also serves as an archeological history of the chess community because well-made sets last for decades, and the basic equipment never changes, so it’s not necessary to buy replacements unless one is a collector like me. I still have my first chess clock, a basic BHB analog from the mid-1990s that is still in perfect working order. I have a digital clock now, too, that I use for tournaments, but it is merely functional rather than beautiful. I also love wooden sets, and have three sets of wooden pieces and one wooden board along with two high quality folding cardboard boards, which are much nicer than the more common vinyl roll-up boards. Wooden pieces make the game more regal; one can be losing terribly and be reminded by the wooden pieces that it is still a beautiful game. Likewise, a win with a cheap plastic set, though ultimately satisfying, feels a little tawdry, too.