Introduction: a "sad waste of brains"?

    Introduction: a "sad waste of brains"?

Exeter Chess Club is now better than one hundred years old. That's four times my age. Likely as not, this institution is already older than I will ever live to be. This is an easy thing to shrug off, perhaps, but it astonishes me.

The existence of this club (and others like it), hangs on the barest thread of goodwill. It relies entirely on people to come in off the street and administrate and hustle and cajole and organise and generally sort things out, free of charge (and generally costing them a fortune in telephone calls), just so that they and others will have somewhere to go to play chess.

And this has been enough to sustain this club — a meeting ground for a group of individuals with widely differing playing strengths, styles, politics, backgrounds and haircuts — for a century.

What is it then about chess? Why has this, and so much else, been accomplished on behalf of this board game, this jumped-up draughts, this miniature war, this pastime described by Sir Walter Scott as "a sad waste of brains" (but then, what did he know, he couldn't even make it to the North Pole)?

Well, there's undoubtedly a simple and logical answer to that. But I don't know what it is. And neither does anyone else.

If you have no particular feeling for chess, then I suppose there is no reason for you to understand, or care, what we players get out of the game. For me, chess is mysterious and exhilarating and cruel and joyous, and I love it. I'm not particularly good, but one of the great things about a chess club is that it doesn't really matter. There's always someone around your level. I'm not qualified or inclined to go into the details of u7npronounceable openings or strategical niceties, I just love to play and that's all you need.

Exeter Chess Club has provided an arena for me to indulge this strange passion, and will continue to do so, and for this I am profoundly grateful. One hundred years, already? Here's to the next century!

Mark Blackmore

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