The Chess Gambit

Several baboons responded on Tuesday to a comment about the 6-part Netflix mini-series called The Queen’s Gambit. It’s based on a book by Walter Tevis (who is also author of three other books which became movies: The Hustler, The Color of Money and The Man Who Fell to Earth).

Apparently chess sets have been flying off the shelves, both in-store and online. I have located our set here, a Christmas gift years ago from son Joel. I’ve never really taken to chess – though Husband has tried to teach me, I never thought I had enough…  desire, mental acuity, or stamina to be a competitive player.

Because of this movie, I’ve become aware that women have been serious chess players for centuries first documented during the Middle Ages – this from Wikipedia:    “Chess games between men and women were a common theme of European art[2][3] and literature in the fourteenth through 18th centuries.” By the 19th Century, the field was dominated by men, and “during the 20th century, female players made significant progress in breaking male dominance on the game.” The first female International Grandmaster was Nona Gaprindashvilli, who received the title in 1978.

Back on the home front:  It wasn’t that I thought women in general wouldn’t be good at chess, just me. I am willing to rethink that and, with a long and at-home winter facing me, I think I just might take another stab at chess. I will, however, need to do a quick room-arrange to accommodate a table where we can leave a chess board up. And wouldn’t it be fun to paint our own chess board right on some old table?   

Here’s a puzzle:  Imagine you’ve decided you need a chess set and there are none to be had in all the land. By what art or craft would you create the board?

What found objects around the house could stand in for the various pieces – pawns, rooks, bishops, knights, king, queen ?


Because you may be home-bound for several weeks (or months), what other sort of learning might you tackle, that you would otherwise not have attempted?

66 thoughts on “The Chess Gambit”

  1. Tomorrow I am showing Husband everything I have discovered on Ancestry about his maternal grandfather’s mother, who has interesting early American roots.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. I talked about this before. After I finished transcribing abolitionist’s letters in the spring, I started taking online courses through Harvard and Coursera. They were diverting, but not rigorous as I would have expected and failing one would be almost impossible, so I am skeptical of their value as credentials.

    All chess pieces should be edible and delicious.

    Liked by 3 people

      1. Speaking of Whitmans and genealogy, one of our native friend’s mother was a Whitman. One of the Whitmans was an officer in the US army after the Civil War, was stationed in ND , and took a native wife when he lived here. They had a son with the last name of Whitman. The officer in question left her and the son and returned to his home in the southern US somewhere, and his family are the candy company people.

        Liked by 2 people

  3. About a year ago I decided I wanted to learn some Italian. I’ve always thought it had a nice sound. I got the Duolingo app on my phone but I will admit that I didn’t get to it every day. If you do just one section at a time it only takes about three or four minutes so there’s not a whole lot of Italian learning going on at that rate. But when we all got sent home from the office in March to work from home, I decided I should really get going. I probably spend about 10 minutes a day on it now so I’m not learning quickly but it feels nice and I have now done 200 days in a row.

    The other thing that I made a commitment to in June was to read more and learn more and challenge myself more on the issue of race and racism in the US. I will admit that this hasn’t always been the most pleasant of learning experiences, but it has been extremely eye-opening and I’m glad I’m doing it.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Rise and Shine Baboons,

    Starting in 2004, and concluding in 2008, a polymer clay friend and I made a “Politics” chess set. It now lives in a Chess Museum in NYC after my friend sold it on an online art site (this was before etsy). It was such a fun project. The real challenge was coming up for a symbol for the Bishop figure, since in the US constitution there is a separation of church and state. I dimly remember from my research that the pieces reflected feudal English figures in which the Bishop reflected an arm of government that our Constitution does not allow. I think it was the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Beckett, who is the Bishop. So we used the Constitution’s Bill of Rights forbidding the establishment of a state religion.

    I really enjoyed making the chess set, but I have no interest at all in actually playing chess. I find it crushingly boring. Go figure.

    I will be spending much of the rest of our COVID time learning the coursework for the Master Gardener program while I am in AZ. I also have several blog posts to write (maybe I should add pictures of the Chess set—would that interest people?)

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Yes, I’d love to see it.

      I, too, made a chess set in a metal-smithing class back in 1970. It was cast in metal. All I recall about the process is how tedious and slow it was, and I have no idea what became of it, although I do remember getting an A in the class. I suspect I sold it at the yard sale we had when we left Carbondale a couple of years later.

      Wasband and I played a fair amount of chess. My dad had tried to teach me how when I was a teen, but he was too impatient with me, so I didn’t learn until Tony taught me. I love the game, and can recall following the moves of the championship matches between Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky in Iceland in 1972. That was really something.

      I haven’t played in years, and don’t enjoy playing with current husband because he’s too slow. I think his strategy is boring his opponent to the point where they’ll make a stupid mistake just to be put out of their misery.

      Liked by 3 people

  5. When I was a boy, my dad made a set of chess pieces for me out of nuts and bolts. Somehow he managed to make each major piece easily identifiable. I played with that set (among other sets) for several years, then lost interest in chess. I have no idea what happened to those pieces. But if I needed to make a chess set out of available materials, I’d head to the nuts and bolts containers for sure.

    I believe chess is the greatest board game ever invented but I don’t seem to have the time to play (or I’m not motivated enough to play). It’s easy these days with online chess communities and all sorts of electronic sets where you can play against a computer. So I have no excuse other than inertia. Every once in a while I’ll dabble with my vintage electronic set (made in about 1980 and still works!) or play some computer chess. I rather enjoy the chess puzzles or the “mate in x-moves” challenges. Don’t seem to have the patience for a complete and thoughtful game. Maybe it’s short attention span syndrome.

    Chris in Owatonna

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Sometime in the early 1980s, I bought an electronic chess set as a gift for my dad. I played it on the airplane on the way to Copenhagen to test it out.

      Dad was skeptical at first, but soon discovered that it was a worthy opponent. Dad would make a move, and say: “if the computer is smart, it will do such and such.” Often the computer would, but on other occasions it would surprise him with a completely unexpected move. Then he’d scratch his head and try to figure out what the computer had in mind. He discovered the computer, unlike him, had no emotional attachment to any of the pieces. It was one of the better gifts I ever gave him. It did have one drawback, though; if the game lasted too long, it would run out of battery toward the end of the game.

      Liked by 5 people

      1. I was lucky that mine had a power cord so I could play all day if so inclined. I agree that chess is a great way to focus one’s mind and lengthen one’s attention span. Hmm, maybe I’d better start playing computer chess regularly. My attention span seems to have dwindled to seconds rather than minutes or hours. 😦



  6. king and queen from salt and pepper mills
    bishop from pop bottles rooks from pop cans horses from toilet paper rolls with 1/2 of paper left on and pawns would be small spice jars or pill bottles. two sides require different colored pop bottles pice lids and maybe toilet paper gets a colored piece of tape to differentiate

    i enjoy chess but online today o would imagine you can practice all you want

    Liked by 2 people

  7. With some games or skills or sports you have to do your homework before you can be effective. I suppose it is like learning an instrument. Before you can make music you have to practice your scales. As a kid I thought I liked tennis, but my first tennis lesson made it clear that I’d have to work to learn the grips. Well, that settled the matter. I quit playing because I didn’t have the discipline to learn to do it properly.

    Chess was like that. I quickly learned to beat my sister, but anyone could do that. I had to confront the uncomfortable truth that I was too impatient and shallow to learn the game properly. My personal history is a museum of projects and skills I toyed with and then abandoned when they began to feel like work.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I spent grades 9 and 10 studying chess. Read four books or so. Learning about openings, middle game, end game. Gambits, pins, two prong attacks. Castling, etc. but had no one to play with. Then learned a classmate with whom I never quite got along played chess. So we did a remote game, passing each other notes in the hallway. This was so long ago chess notation was different. But we played only one game. You can win a chess game in very few moves, like 4 or 5. I don’t remember. There is a term for it. Somethingmate. I won that way. He never wanted to play again.
      When I went to U of Chi, there were many chess players of course. But they had played many games. My roommate had never really studied it, just played some games back in Thief River Falls. He beat the crap out if me, as did others. I discovered I just did not have the mind for it. Slow patient careful thought does not suit me. I can handle complexity, and enjoy it, but somehow not on a chess board. So I have not played a meaningful game since 1964. Taught my son and grandson to play. Neither pursued it far. My son learned that his mind, so much more brilliant than mine, was also ill-suited to the game.

      Liked by 3 people

    2. In chess, I’ve found, you have to want to win more than you want the game to be over so you can go back to whatever you were doing before you were interrupted. I never have.

      Liked by 4 people

        1. Agreed. I learn to play chess in college, the same year I learn to play Go. I have the same feeling about both games (and also Risk) …that they are too long and I just don’t want to work my brain that hard when I’m playing a game.

          Liked by 1 person

  8. Morning-
    My brother made chess set as a 4H project one year. Like Chris, it was bolts, Nuts, pipe, whatever he could find in the shop. I’m sure it was a last minute attempt to have something to submit to the fair. He made the board out of black and red contact paper. I think he got a Grand Champion on it. It was around here for a long time. Not sure if he still has it?
    I played chess a bit; never got real good at it and kind of enjoyed it…wasn’t a real serious player, but, did enjoy the strategy of it.

    I have been using this slow time in the theater to expand my lighting console knowledge. There’s a new ‘visualization’ aspect that came with the latest software update. I need to learn that. I’ve played with it a little bit. It’s pretty cool. I’m also working on rigging math. Bought some books. Did a few exercises so far. But then it started talking about sine and putting letters in for numbers again and well, we all know that’s not right!

    Liked by 4 people

  9. I am learning the rules of cricket. Channel 338 Willow is broadcasting live matches. Live commentary is online. Like many folks, I knew matches could last for many days what with tea time breaks. Also that one side bats until retired and then the other gets their turn. Of course, there is much more to it. There are numerous formats. Many relate to the number of “overs” played. Right now I’m watching a T20 (20×6=120 balls bowled). Last night, a One-day International between Australia and India began at 10:30 pm EST. I watched until 1 am and woke up at 7am just as India was finished losing. 50 OVERS. 600 total balls bowled (or pitched for Twins fans). Cricket reminds me of the election and Trump’s thinking. He saw himself waaaaay ahead but failed to understand that the other side had yet to be counted.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Cricket is a game that I’ve never really been exposed to, but I would not rule out that I’d enjoy it if I understood the rules.

      Many years ago, I saw a former world #1 ranked squash player, Jahangir Khan, play at the squash courts at the Commodore Hotel. I had never seen squash played before, but I can see why that would have great appeal, both from a player’s and a spectators’ point of view. Jahangir Khan played an exhibition match against America’s topped ranked player at the time, and it was obvious that he was toying with him.

      I recently discovered a game called Teqball, and thought that was really fun to watch. Here’s a link to a world championship match a couple of years ago. I watched the whole thing, and loved it.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. There is as much action in cricket as baseball. Knowing the rules and strategy enhances the experience. For example, is a Twins starting pitcher known for his knuckle ball? The first cricket bowler might be known as a slow bowler. I have an increasing contact with people from Asia and the subcontinent. Cricket is a link. Admitting my ignorance has been a plus in gaining friendships

        Liked by 2 people

  10. I have not expanded my world. Just keeping up is too exhausting, plus the exhaustion of constant pain.
    Remember if you are going to make a chess set, there is something you have to make 16 of. Pawns. I scattered carving the pawns among making the other pieces. I decided early not to make 16 identical pawns. That would be tedious carving 16 identical little things. So I made them all different: hat, beard, placement of hands, etc. 8 have green shirts and hats and 8 red. But their pants are in different colors.
    My son inherits the set. I would give it to him now but Sandra objects.

    Liked by 3 people

  11. I never learned to play chess nor do I care to watch it being played. I consider it a bored game. But my 5 year old grand nephew is learning it from his dad and grandpa. It is quite amusing to listen to him explain his strategy.

    I haven’t tackled anything new during this pandemic. For the past 10+ years I have mostly played choral accompaniment on my piano. Now would be a good time to brush up on the classical and popular pieces I used to love and could play from memory. Mostly I have been reading voraciously – 70+ books since mid-March. The list of books still to read is over 40 and I just keep adding more.

    My older sister started researching our dad’s side of the family through Ancestry. My younger sister and I have dug though old family documents and other papers that we “inherited” from our folks. But none of us has really descended into that rabbit hole yet.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. It is one thing to admit you’re too pokey to play some games. For example, I quickly learned I would need to practice a lot to even be mediocre at racquetball. I nevertheless loved it for exercise. If you make an errant shot you don’t have to walk forever to retrieve the ball (which is another reason I stopped playing tennis).

    But I’m too slow to even see some sports! Hockey confuses me because I can’t track the puck with my eyes. When I was in college my roommate discovered he was a whiz at fencing. But I stopped watching when I realized I couldn’t even see the lightning-quick touches that fast players made.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. I have that same trouble with hockey. I attended one North Stars game sometime in the late 70s, and spent most of the game trying to figure out where the puck was. Besides, I didn’t know the rules, and I hated all the violence; not my cup of tea.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. For TV broadcasts they invented technology that tracked the puck with a long streak of color. I don’t know if that caught on or not. I’m sure it helps to know the game so you aren’t totally surprised when someone takes a shot.

        Liked by 1 person

  13. cricket update. England defeated South Africa. SA batted first and put up very respectable target number 179. England started poorly but figured out the SA bowlers much as baseball batter,’s second AB is better. The match went to the final over. At the second bowl (pitch) the batter hit it out of the park for six runs ending the match. FYI singles are a run.

    Liked by 4 people

  14. I played chess with a club in FM. One tournament was held in Moorhead at a park “down the the haller”.
    Woodlawn park. I was paired against the secretary of the club. I cannot remember his name but I remember he was a professor at NDSU. The venue was an open air Pavillion. At some point our game attracted the attention of the players. Several guys were watching from the open beams to us below. Pressure! I was playing defensively. Down to rooks and pawns. I made a move and my opponent resigned. I had no idea what I had done but immediately the people above demanded a reset for analysis! I hand no clue what I had done but took the win.

    Liked by 4 people

  15. My family had a standing tradition of attending the multicultural event held in MSP spring each year. The ethnic food, music and dance was always a great experience. I hope the Twin Cities has continued the event. Hungarian Chess Masters was the location of choice for me and my son. You paid a few bucks and the master played all commers. Winning got you 5 dollars. When the master came to your table, you played and then he immediately played and moved on leaving you to contemplate your next move. You could Always pass. So, I had battled one guy and then there was a shift change. New Hungarian. Moves taken. He comes to me. I move. He moves and a split second later COMES BACK WITH A TAKEBACK!!!! His move was a losing move. Taking back a move is NOT allowed. Son and I protested. Players to the right and left agree. “It’s just a friendly game” was the excuse. Now attracking a little more attention. I said’ it’s not about the money”. He ignores me. I knock over my king with emphasis and walk away with my dignity.

    Liked by 4 people

      1. Held originally at the old Civic Center, and later at the Xcel Center. I remember those chess games well. And the dances, food, bazaar, costumes and exhibits. I used to participate, but now it’s been years since I’ve even attended.

        Liked by 2 people

  16. One more chess story. Not many years ago, myself and a fellow workmate began playing at a local bar. I know. Chess in a bar?! It was quite popular. I was pleased to be challenged but mostly won. After a number of matches with requisite beers, I was challenged again and this guy was intense. Middle game I made a blunder and before he made his move I resigned knowing i would eventually lose.. He was confused and po,’d. My buddy told him that he had won. I said similarly and attempted a hand shake. For a second it looked as though I would have to take a punch but he walked out. He didn’t understand that I was honoring him.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Back in 1964, during my stay in Moscow, I’d take “my” kids to the Gorky Park. There, even during colder weather, would be old men, in heavy coats and fur hats, playing chess. I have several photos of this, it was as common as people doing T’ai Chi in Beijing Parks when I visited there in 2011.

      Liked by 3 people

  17. I have a table painted with a backgammon board, and river rocks for markers. The chessboard could be done in any number of ways – stained glass, patchwork quilt, needlepoint, counted crossstitch – but the chess pieces are a bit tricky. I suppose you could use stones and mark the rank on them with a paint marker. The royal pieces would be larger than the rooks.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Hi, Barbara:

    “What found objects around the house could stand in for the various pieces…”

    This is a very cool idea!
    Thank you for this fascinating post: I’ve only just come across the show, and I’ve also been pulled to get back into playing chess (as soon as my other WiP is finished!), as I used to play a bit back years ago before career got in the way.

    Do stay safe,

    Best regards,



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