Chess by Shelby Lyman
on August 22, 2015 – 12:01 AM
According to the grandmaster and chess historian Yuri Averbach, chess was played throughout most of Europe by the 11th century,
Originally, a training tool for the warring upper classes, it gradually gained popularity among the populace at large.
The game, says Averbach, “attracts people with various talents, personalities and mentalities.”
This was no more apparent than in Russia, as was attested to by an 18th century visitor who observed:
“Chess is so common in Russia that during our continuance in Moscow, I scarcely entered into any company where parties were not involved in that diversion. And I very frequently observed during my passage through the streets the tradesmen and common people playing it before the doors of their shops or houses.”
We saw a similarly broad appeal during the Fischer-Spassky World Championship match in 1972. Suddenly chess was everywhere.
In Manhattan, casual wayfarers thronged spontaneously before department store windows displaying television sets. PBS coverage of the match also replaced Major League Baseball in “a majority” of bars, according to a New York Post journalist. Wagers were reported of as much as $1,000 a move.
Street hustlers proliferated and set up tables on busy urban sidewalks, ready to play for a negotiated stake and odds.
Given the enormous momentum created by the charisma of Fischer and Spassky, the game continues to grow in popularity.
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