Getting into chess today is easy. You can play every waking hour of the day if you want and some do. But, there is a core part of the chess experience missing from the online grind. Sure, when I do a session online, I have a small audience on Twitch to hold my hand through every blunder and brilliant move, but the real attraction of playing chess is, ultimately, meeting other people who also play chess.
Thankfully, I found a home at the Nook’s chess club, which runs on Tuesday nights. Populated by a community of diverse thinkers, from casual chess enjoyers to expert analysts of the world’s oldest game, Bushwick Chess is a hub for conversation on and off the board’s 64 squares. Last week, I sat down at our biweekly social night and chatted with some of the regulars, over a game of chess of course. As opposed to the more structured tournament nights, these casual hangs offer an easy-going inclusive environment, one that’s less engaged in going for the win and more focused on getting to know the person on the other side of the board.
First up was the fairly new Kattoo King, who’s name perfectly matched her style of chess. “I don’t think I’ve won a single game,” King tells me, laughing. Understandable, even on casual nights, the Nook is filled with regular players looking to practice for the following week’s tournament.
First up was the fairly new Kattoo King, who’s name perfectly matched her style of chess.
“I was part of another chess group that met on Sundays. Someone from this group came to ours,” she says. But the Nook was closer to her apartment so she gravitated over here. “Right now, my goal is to do a tournament in 2023. I don’t need to win, just enter and play.” she says.
Tournament night features two styles, a “swiss rapid” style that consists of five ten-minute rounds of chess, along with the quicker-paced “swiss blitz” style that features seven five-minute rounds. King says she needs to work on her pace before she can take that jump. What’s her go-to opening? “I’m an e4 player, but working on d4 now,” King confides.
Next up was the founder of Bushwick Chess, a competitive skiing enthusiast and a close friend, Alex Seldan.
“I’d been passing by this coffee shop, so stopped in and thought ‘wow this place would be perfect,’” Seldan told me. “I peaked at USCF 1760,” he added, citing the rating system used by the United States Chess Federation and regarded as the ultimate show of credentials among American chess players.
“I fell back after a terrible tournament over a hundred points, so now I’m sitting around 1653,” says a reflective Seldan. After telling me that he’s beaten “a few noted experts and a couple masters,” he admits that “I’m better at skiing than I am at chess.”
Then there’s Glo Liu, an intermediate level chess player who’s skill level grew quickly following the “Queen’s Gambit”-chess boom.
“I feel like I put myself around 1300,” she says. “I started coming in October of last year, I live like two blocks away and came to New York looking for housing and stopped by Nook when I noticed a chess club…when I was in the Bay Area I would play with a group of friends at Golden State Park, it was just friends and friends of friends but no real community outreach.”
The last game of the night was with another close friend, Shreyo Banjeree, who says he regularly takes night classes to continue his journey to expand his mind; he’s one of the club’s longest-tenured members.
“Well I used to come to Nook a bunch anyway, I would stop in for a Connect Four tournament occasionally and I remember telling people in my life I wanted real life people to play chess with,” says Banjeree.
“I’d sometimes play at the park and then Bushwick Chess happened. I just kept coming.”
Images taken by Bryant Pickford.
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