All The Wrong Moves Review: Part 3 One Night In Bangkok

The third chapter begins, “My headlong descent into an Internet chess wormhole did terrible things to my personality.”

Let me take a moment to inform you, the reader, that I once tried to play the Royal game on the internet. This was at the former Atlanta Chess & Game Center on one of the computers in the back room. It only took a few games before the realization hit me in the form of a question. “What the fork are you doing, man?” That particular form of Chess held absolutely no interest for me and, frankly, I question the sanity of anyone who would do such a thing.

Mr. Chapin continues, “This is because Internet chess is a fertile breeding ground for hatred. When you’re playing someone who isn’t visible, known to you only by their nickname – SchellingFord or ButtSex69 – your competitive instincts are unmitigated by the basic civilizing effect of the presence of a living person before you.”

This reminded me of the time Lester Bedell, after having been away from the House of Pain for about a year, walked through the door just in time to be paired for the nightly tournament. I asked Lester where he had been during the year he had missed and he replied, “I was playing on the internet.” Later, between rounds, I asked Lester why he had returned to the House. “Mike,” he began, “It’s not the same, playing on a computer. I returned because I missed playing a human being.”

Sasha continues, “But on the Internet, the patter is a little different. When somebody asks you what cup size your mother is, you say, “Fuck you.”

“How your mother do it?”

“I ignored his continuous abuse until right before the end of the game, when I offered the gracious message “You lose.”

“Come in hell for cock suck,” he responded.

Why would anyone in their right mind spend their precious time cursing someone via the internet while playing Chess? There was much trash talking in the pits, or skittles room, at the House of Pain, but without the cursing and without involving anyone’s mother, fortunately. What was heard, mostly, was what could be called “good natured trash talk,” if such a thing is possible. I never liked trash talking and never understood why anyone would do it other than to break the concentration of his opponent. I would watch players trash talking each other while those watching the game would laugh uproariously and think of something IM Boris Kogan was fond of saying, “This is not chess.” Writing this caused me to reflect upon something written in the previous chapter, “Badly played chess is kind of like badly played life.”

Because of constantly playing Chess on the internet, “My life was a constant alternation between triumph and ignominy, all delivered through the glow of my MacBook. The ratio of wins to losses was the determinant of my whole emotional spectrum.”

Is that not sad? Then reality struck.

“At some point I became alarmed that I wasn’t actively seeking human company. It wasn’t exactly that I was getting lonelier. It’s that I was disturbed by how little my loneliness was affecting me now that I was playing chess. This wasn’t how it was supposed to be. There was an ideal personality I was supposed to be striving for: that of a witty and urbane writer-type who would fling consequential phrases from his well-compensated fingers before going our in the evening to quip his way through intimate gatherings and win over strangers with lustrous anecdotes. But none of that was happening at all. In Bangkok, a bright and gritty city, totally free to be whomever I wanted, I was becoming a chess nerd.”

Who wants to be a chess nerd, right? Actually, Chess nerds come in various shapes and sizes. To wit:

“So, I downloaded Tinder, in an attempt to prove to myself that I still possessed worldly desires. Resultantly, I met up with a cute girl named Sundae on a lantern-lit patio. She was charming and smart and full of contagious optimism, sure that both of our lives would be forever involved in a state of continuous improvement and joy.”

Oh, to be young again! Her name was Cecelia Jordan, Cecil for short. She had driven a clunker all the way from Sacremento, California, to become a stewardess for Delta Air Lines. She was cute as a button with a rather deep voice like that of one of my earliest crushes, June Allyson. She initiated me into the “Mile High Club.”

I digress…

Sasha and Sundae had a wonderful one night in Bangkok. “But later that week, when she sent me a very felicitous text, I was deep in a chess game. Two days later, she texted me again, at 1 a.m. But I didn’t respond immediately because I was deep in a chess game.”

He fell into the rabbit hole…”My only contacts with non-chess reality were Elena and Sally…”

“So, it occurred to me, in Bangkok, as I started feeling like a sack of fatback left under a heat lamp, that I might be in the middle of this cycle again. Perhaps my chess infatuation was just another vanishing fancy…”

To Sasha it was obvious things had to change because, “I was becoming frightened of my increasingly hostile interior landscape, so I decided that I needed counsel. Therapy occurred to me…Instead, I decided I needed the presence of other chess players, who would steer me in the right direction. I took a shower, got on the Skytrain, and went to meet the Bangkok Chess Club.”

The club met on the upper floor of a pub on the far end of Soi Cowboy, one of Bangkok’s high-efficiency sex markets. Pink lights illuminated pink banners over bars where pink drinks were served by women wearing pink bikinis. Reality was painted one color. Up and down the neon-crated avenue, the working women preened with numbers pinned to their chests. It was a slow night, so the salesmanship was particularly energetic. One woman in a barely existing spandex onesie took my hand and asked me where I was going. When I didn’t offer a distinct answer, she took hold of my crotch. I gently removed her hand from my person, saying something like, “Excuse me, ma’am, I have to go to chess club.”

“At the chess club…Social affiliation has only one cost: the game of chess. Friendship in chess is simple. It isn’t about smartly signaling that you’ve got the right opinions about recent topics. It’s about examining small areas of the game’s infinite tapestry – finding each other in a landscape that transcends the complexities of cultural taste, as well as every geographical boundary. This common bond engenders a positive spirit. With the exception of a few petty jerks, chess players tend to be cooperative creatures.”

“That first night at chess club

brought me back from the edge of melancholy.”

“There are different kinds of players, and broadly, you can sort them by how crazy they are.”

“Strangely, I now remember those pre-tournament days fondly, and not just because of the specialty beverages of Southeast Asia. When you’re devoting your life to chess, even if the devotion is as troubled as mine was, there’s a satisfying purity to it all. You’re surrendering yourself to a search for aesthetic pleasure as well as mental fitness. Chess, to the seasoned player, is pretty like poetry is pretty – it bears the wonder of indelible combinations arising from a simple language.”

It also brought information about a chess tournament, and a chess teacher named Mike. Before the first round of the tournament Mike said, “I’ll be watching you.”

“Do you have any advice? I asked.”

“Be calm,” he said. Ignore psychology, ignore your self, ignore the face of you opponent – just play a good move.”

“I lost the game in fifteen moves, in fifteen minutes – an astonishingly brief amount of time…”

“After I slept for twelve hours, I emailed the tournament directors, announcing my resignation. I would not be attending the remaining six games. This brought me great, instant relief. Clearly, I had been right when I was a teenager – chess just wasn’t my game. A chess hobby would lead only to misery and frustration. I decided to quit, and to keep doing things I was good at.”

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