The Handbook
The Handbook

Checkmate: Is Chess Really Cool Again?

Chess is back for 2020. Well, it never actually went away but apparently it’s cool again. Was it ever cool? Anyway, it’s back in a big way with clubs, cafés, theatre shows and even chessboxing (more on that later) popping up in the capital. Even Vogue’s been writing about it which must mean it’s officially cool, right?

First up there’s Casual Chess, the Central London café run by female chess players who gather every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday (upstairs at Leon on Tottenham Court Road of all places) to battle it out for top spot. Everyone is welcome – men too even though the club is female-only run. Those looking to get involved can use their helpful Facebook group to arrange to meet a player of a similar level – could chess be the new Tinder?

If you’re rated FIDE 2000 or above (I imagine this is very good) you can post it on the group and the organisers will hook you up with a top player to compete against. As someone who doesn’t know their pawns from their bishops (I’m ashamed to say I’ve never played), this chess malarkey sounds very civilised.

Plus, it’s completely free. Well on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays it is, you just need to buy something from the Leon counter. And on Fridays the team collect a £3 donation towards running cost, but offer free lessons to women and people underrepresented in the mainstream chess world. Again, so civilised.

For the braver chess fans out there, let me take it up a notch and tell you about Chessboxing.

Chessboxing is an unorthodox mix of two of mankind’s oldest sports (is chess really a sport, though?), in which opponents slug it out over a chessboard in the ring with alternate rounds of chess and boxing until there is a winner either through checkmate or knockout. Civilised? Chess players are wild!

The next nerd fight will take place on St Patrick’s Day at The Dome in Tufnell Park and promises to be the ultimate test of brains and brawn.

For the more voyeuristic among the chess curious, AKA me, make your move into chess with Ravens: Spassky vs Fischer, the play currently showing at the Hampstead Theatre.

Set in 1972 Reykjavik, it takes a look at players, Boris Spassky and Bobby Fischer and what became “the Match of the Century” – the first chess game to attract such global media attention. It’s set against the Cold War and showcases an intense face-off of superpower, fame and superiority from both sides of the Atlantic.

You’ll need to be quick as it’s in its final run – last show is on 18th of January – but there are still tickets left. Get them here.

Looks like pawns and bishops are pretty badass after all. I might take the café up on their free chess classes for girls and get involved.