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WITH THE POSSIBLE EXCEPTION OF the U.S. Amateur Team Championship tourna- ments, there is one thing that all major North American chess events have in common: afterwards, someone is going to decry the role played by money in our country’s “big tournament” chess culture. Whether the perceived greed is attributed to the organizers or to the players, the list of grievances is endless. We hear that sets and clocks aren’t provided; that the entry fees are too high; that the prize system is unfair; that the events are too impersonal; that local clubs can’t compete against the “chess machine”; that the large prizes encourage cheating; that the playing schedule is too intense; and that chess in the U.S. has been reduced to, in the words of one international master, “gigantic, disgusting, gambling orgies.” As someone who grew up in the North American big-tour- nament atmosphere and had never belonged to another country’s chess culture, I had always tended to dismiss such statements. Then, one day, I found myself in a magical land where all of the problems caused in the chess world by money didn’t exist.

Chess in Chile: A World Without Money Welcome to Concepción, Chile—a serene

city of lush forests, cobbled streets lined with palm trees, and infinite patience. Concepción is the nucleus of the Chilean population living to the south of Santiago, and the metropolitan area sports just over a million people. I have been continuing my undergraduate studies here since August and have benefited both psycho- logically and philosophically from the city’s Mayberry-like pace of life; everyone, including my professors, cultivates an attitude of small-town tranquility. Like most of Latin America, efficiency takes a back seat to hospitality. Nothing ever gets done, but then again, nothing ever had to. The tiny chess club in Concepción lies

just one block from my apartment. It’s an elegant building on the inside: it has spotless hardwood flooring, polished tables, and a surplus of nice sets and digital clocks. A glass case crammed with plaques, aged trophies, club memora- bilia, and medallions of all sorts forms the centerpiece of the first floor. The second floor features a scattering of cozy skittles rooms. The building is open every night of the week and is staffed by a señora who sells coffee and snacks. The club isn’t a profitable business—monthly member- ship dues are small and never enforced.

There is no government support, either. Like most things in Latin America, the club exists simply because it does. Cul- tural enterprises are not expected to turn a profit; everyone was short on money in the first place. I made my first trip to the club after hav-

ing been in Chile for only a couple of days, that is to say, before I had absorbed much of the country’s culture. I expected to find something similar to what I had encoun- tered in Nicaragua the year before: a hustling scene with small stakes. But in this land so far removed from gringo influ- ence, I discovered that no one was interested in my money. The Concepción natives (or penquistas, as they call them- selves) prefer to play blitz all evening without once worrying about anything other than the position on the board. It fol- lows that they are poor trash talkers—it takes ten penquista spectators to think up half the number of jibes made by one Washington Square Park player. The Chileans make polite conversation instead. Tournaments in Chile aren’t expected to

make money either. Back in the States, the entry fee for a Friday-night rapid can eas- ily be $25 or more. Here, a person can play four rounds of Game/20 for about two dol- lars. The entry fee to my first local tournament, a seven-round team event, was slightly higher at five dollars a person.

The price included a full lunch of chicken and rice, salad, yogurt, and a banana. My “conditions” as a foreign player in the event were also top-notch: in the spirit of Latin American hospitality, the tourna- ment director, Daniel González, invited me as a guest so that I could play (and eat) for free. González is a colorful, talkative man who organizes events for the love of the game. When it comes to his tourna- ments, money never tempts him. He prices his entry fees so that he will break even and doesn’t accept entries on site, some- thing which would delay his events from getting started on time. The general disregard for money held by

the penquista chess community surprised me at first, but in hindsight, I understand it well. Given Chile’s status as a develop- ing nation, it is logical that chess here has been free from the kind of commercializa- tion we have in the States. Central American chess may still take on a slightly commercial flavor given its proximity to the capitalist forces of gringolandia, but a city like Concepción—some 4,000-odd miles away—lies further outside our sphere of cultural influence. Considering the short- age of funds, it makes sense that the penquistas have avoided making chess about money. In lockstep with the rest of Chilean society, they have formed a chess culture based on community instead.

Chess Life — August 2011 25


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