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Chess & Love

Chess is also a good way to bridge gay characters with straight moviegoers. “[C]ultural divisions over race have been supplanted in the pop-

ular American consciousness by a debate over gay rights,” says E! Online writer Jennifer Arrow. She’s referring to the tacit love affair between future archenemies Charles Xavier (Professor X) and Erik Lehnsherr (Magneto) of Marvel Comic’s X-Men saga. The 2011 summer blockbuster X-Men: First Class includes a chess game between them that’s all too reminiscent of the famous sexually-charged scene between Faye Dunaway and Steve McQueen in the 1968 crime thriller The Thomas Crown Affair. Arrow points to scenes in which the two mutants (i.e., gay) “loll

around together on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial while ‘play- ing chess’ and gazing at the oh-so-phallic Washington Monument. No, seriously, ‘playing chess’ is obviously PG-13 movie code for ‘And then Magneto and Professor X did it ... again.’” And there it is, a modern-day take on the Medieval associa-

tion of the image of the (mixed-sex) chess match with romance. In fact, according to Yalom, the image of chess play between a man and a woman came to be so strongly linked to romance in the Middle Ages that the mere use of it as cover art suggested love and sex as subject matter, whether or not actual game play factored in the content. But alas, though it’s 2011, proponents of gay marriage believe

that we’re still living in the Dark Ages. Unlike Chen and Al-Modi- ahki, Professor X and Magneto must remain closeted forevermore. “They should be married and living happily ever after,” insists

Arrow, but for now “they’ll spend the rest of their lives in mis- erable devotion ... facing each other from across the line, instead of living together in Westchester mansion splendor, ‘playing chess’ until they’re too old and creaky to ‘move the pieces’.”

My own miserable devotion was to an online player named

“peaceart.” That “marriage” lasted a month. He was a trash-talk- ing, 45-year-old Aquarius from Canada, miles ahead of me in rank. A rather abusive relationship. Our chat box would be just as often littered with at-sign bleeps as with civil digressions on the nature of peace and art. He had a crush on my avatar, a curly-haired brown girl in a blue halter top, back-dropped by soaring dolphins. Yes, I’m a blundering fish of a player. And peaceart’s aggressive game aroused me. We flirted in English, Spanish, and Italian. He mentioned his amazing trip to the Dominican Republic, the beaches, the music, the women, how an Italian stallion and a Dominicana would be explosive—a remote possibility, further sabotaged by his constant play on the word “checkmate,” along with a porn clip he e-mailed that went straight to my spam folder. After two weeks of humiliating games, peaceart was the devil

I knew. He played in that romantic chess style of the 19th cen- tury, gambits galore. Cheap tactics included chats in all-caps

about spirituality and the state of the Middle East. But Carl had taught me a thing or two about perseverance.

One day, two of my queens mated peaceart’s king to death, and I haven’t played him since.

Kibtizin’ The mating game seems to amount to a certain type of chess

problem addressed by Vladimir Nabokov in the preface to his novel The Luzhin Defense: “... the point is not merely the finding of a mate in so many

moves, but what is termed ‘retrograde analysis,’ the solver being required to prove from a back-cast study of the diagram’s position that Black’s last move could not have been castling or must have been the capture of a white knight en passant.”

In other words, a good part of the pleasure we derive from

romance is not merely in the culmination of the sex act itself (a petite mort lasts seconds), but in the chase (pre-mort) and in the Monday-morning quarterbacking (post-mort). Before and after the king is dead, then, it’s off to the skittles

room for all matter of pre- and post-mortem kibitzing, of wheel- ing and dealing and quickies. In The Chess Artist, writer and chess enthusiast J. C. Hallman recalls his first visit to a World Open skittles room in Philadelphia with the kind of melancholy a church boy would on being introduced to a brothel:

“I watched them play for a time, two or three dollars a game ...

and the room’s mood was lively. But I found the Skittles Room depressing ... I wanted organized chess to be a thing that elevated culture ... Here in the Skittles room, chess was still just a toy ...”

Yes, kid, sex is just a toy, is the message proposed by a good

number of self-published “dating-advice” books geared towards men. I’ll reluctantly mention Bettor[sic] Off Single: Why Commit- ment Is A Bad Gamble For Men by one Ray Gordon, if only because it’s chess-sex kibitzing gone wild. In this e-clunker, a mid- dle-aged, self-avowed “PUA” (pick-up artist) and amateur chess player performs “a meticulous post-mortem on his entire career.” The manual, priced at a whopping $0, is geared towards the

“seduction community” and divided into two volumes, comprised of 44 lessons further subdivided into Field Reports. Each field report concludes with an Obligatory Postgame Network Press Conference, followed by an After Further Review. (It’s worth men- tioning here that the character of Grandmaster Luzhin in Vladimir Nabokov’s novel suffers a nervous breakdown). “Chess was my way of making seduction my top priority ...

and this is why I was getting results: I was actually trying, while most of my peers were living on autopilot, not developing any alpha gimmicks,” writes Gordon in what has to be the most

Gift ideas for the afficionado...

• White- and milk-chocolate chess sets—$45 to $300 • “Love Chess Heart” sticker by HappyDoggies—$6

• RockLove Jewelry’s “King and Queen” sterling-silver earrings (or any same-sex pair from the Chess Earring collection)—$96

• Donation to 9Queens, an organization that “provides chess instruction to those most in need of the game’s benefits,

especially girls and at-risk youth”—$1 and up. 28 Chess Life — February 2012

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