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Travel & Chess: From Paris to the French Quarter Print E-mail
By Jamaal Abdul-Alim   
July 11, 2014
JARDIN_1164.jpgParis — If ever you should find yourself in the City of Light, make it a point to visit Jardin du Luxembourg — an elaborate garden that harkens back to the days of French royalty.

Not only will you find the place bustling with all sorts of activity and people — from joggers to lovers — but for those of us who are forever enthralled by the game of kings and queens, the garden serves as a hub for players of all strengths from diverse parts of the world.

That’s what I found during a recent trip to Paris one Saturday afternoon earlier this spring.

It took me a while to find the chess tables in the garden because I entered from the faraway side on Boulevard Saint-Michel. That ended up being a good thing because otherwise I might not have seen everything else — from alluring statues to rows upon rows of manicured trees — that the garden has to offer.

But if you’re eager to go right to the chess tables, just ask someone where the tennis courts are because the chess tables are close by.

JARDIN_1168.jpg The tables are situated on gravel amid trees I’m told were imported from China. The day I visited, about a half dozen or so tables were occupied by players and varying amounts of spectators.

I easily found a table where I surmised that the players were about my strength — which is currently in the 1400 to 1500 range.

I ended up winning about half the games so I must have been in the right place. But if you’re in search of stronger players — or weaker ones, for that matter — they are there.

One table, for instance, had a constant bevy of spectators where the players looked intense, smoked cigarettes and made curiously strong moves. One of the players was said to be a homeless man who plays at the level of a strong master.

There were other tables — such as the one where I played — where it was acceptable to call out when a player blundered away a winning position.

Another custom is that the winner has to defend his reign with the Black pieces.

I spent hours in the garden playing enjoyable yet challenging games. The people I met worked a variety of occupations — from a broadcast engineer to rocket scientist.

New Orleans

Moving onto a taste of France in America: If you should ever find yourself in the French Quarter, be sure to visit the “World Chess Table” on Decatur St.

That’s what I did during a recent trip to the Big Easy.

I didn’t want anything to do with the palm readers and the folksy art held no appeal. But the local artists pretty much all know where the lone chess table is in the vicinity.

It belongs to U.S. Chess Master Jude Acers.

Jude.jpg I found him there late one Saturday afternoon engaged in an intense game that at one point it looked like he might not win.

“Is he gonna lose?” a passerby with some chess acumen asked.

I didn’t answer the question because I felt it was inappropriate to comment on an ongoing game.

The passerby left and the game wore on — and Acers managed to outmaneuver his opponent to the point where his opponent went from having winning chances to no chance at all.

And so his opponent resigned.

The game had lasted nearly an hour.

Even though I’m nowhere near the master level, I wanted next.

“Pay your $5 and have a seat,” Acers said.

Acers said he was impressed with the fact that I waited so long to play a game. Most people, he said, lose patience. He doesn’t play on the clock and he doesn’t seem to mind if you take a fair amount of time to find the best move. He’s busy searching for moves himself.

It’s an interesting place to play chess. The day I visited, the background noise included a blend of a live jazz band, music blaring from a karaoke machine across the street and a solo trumpet player in the street.

You might see a horse-drawn carriage with a tour guide pass by one minute and a brightly-lit motorcycle blaring loud music the next.

If you engage Acers in conversation, be prepared for an onslaught of opinions about what’s wrong with the world of tournament chess and how difficult and costly it is for the average player to compete in the U.S. Championship.

But you can also expect to hear about Acers’ encounters with various personages in the chess world, such as Professor Arpad Elo, creator of the chess rating system; his recommendations for good books, such as Irving Chernev’s “Logical Chess: Move By Move,” and some practical advice and post game analyses to help you improve your game.

One of the things Acer told me is to avoid “feel good” moves that don’t accomplish anything.

That advice alone made the four games I played well worthwhile.

You can find out more about Jude on his official website http://judeacers.com/ including info on a documentary project, “The man in the Red Beret.” 

Jamaal Abdul-Alim is the 2013 Chess Journalist of the Year.