Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Chess Hustling in Bend

"There used to be a Bend Chess Club here."

My side of the board was in shambles. Routed in five moves.

I had been lured into a game of chess with a local Bend blogger in spite of my objection that my chess-fu was abjectly miserable.

We met at Di Lusso Bakery Café on Franklin. It was a safe place to get my butt kicked, I figured. The place doesn't have great coffee, and in the middle of the afternoon, only a few bored housewives and twelve-steppers would see the ass-kicking happen.

He had his hand-crafted Russian chess set already set up on the table when I got there. He didn't seem very interested in small talk.

I ordered an "Oregon Chai" and sat down. It was 2:40.

"You play a lot?" I wanted to know if he was as lame as I. "Do you know what a gambit is?" I probed. (I know chess has lots of gambits in it.)

He shrugged. "I've heard of gambits."

I nervously sipped my chai.

"White goes first?" It had been a long time. I was unsure.

"Yeah. I can see that you know what you're doing."

By 2:45 he had me in a queen-king fork. I resigned.

His eyes gleamed like wet mushrooms under the shadow of his hat brim while his fingers deftly put away the game pieces. The bone and wood pieces rattled softly inside their black leather bags as he folded them inside the elephant-ivory and sadeli chess board.

He lit a Turkish cigarette, drew on it. "A little practice you'll be better than me. A lot better. I could teach."

"How often do you play?"

"With real people? Once in a while. Not a lot. Mostly Internet."

(I have not played for 30 -- thirty! -- years.)

He tapped the cigarette's ash into his coffee cup. "There used to be a lot of guys to play with. A club. The Bend Chess Club. Yeah, we were somebody in those days. People respected us. We played a lot. I won a lot of bets, too. A lot of bets, sure, and not everyone was happy about it. Money changed hands. A lot of it may have ended up into my pockets -- I'm not sayin' it didn't. Those were good days.

"I dunno what happened to those guys. There used to be 20, maybe 25 of them. But after a few months, most of them stopped coming. Pretty soon only old guys with no money and less to do came to the meetings."

He snapped the set shut. "Next week?"

"What -- me play chess with you again. That was totally one-sided!"

"I could use the practice. Tell you what -- you get a good book on chess, learn a few book openings. Take $50, a hunnert bucks outta your wife's checking account, we meet in maybe two weeks."

Chess hustlers in Bend.

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