Online Speed Chess as Self-Soothing, Tetris, or Collaborative Troll Art
In the pall of first quarantine, the grocery-washing, Deborah Birx evenings, quiet but for distant sirens, while others in the house attended iPad school or Zoom subcommittees, I played speed chess online. Three-minute games, mostly. Sometimes one-minute games.
My opponents were hidden humans, not the machine. Playing not as a member but a guest of the site, the interface allowed us to commune only in hostile bursts of scurried pieces. At some point the managers added emojis, so we could mock and harass one another, if we found spare seconds for the extra clicks.
The chess wasn’t instead of one thing in particular. It was instead of everything.
Among us in the house we’d played Hearts, Dungeons and Dragons, ping-pong, Othello, Twixt, Exploding Kittens, and some chess, with an old board and some pieces of my mother’s. We’d analyze moves, rework sequences, warn of traps. When they came to my desk and peered over my shoulder, they saw this wasn’t that kind of chess.
I sighed, I twitched, I muttered. I pressed “Play Again”. I said, “This will be my last one.” An hour later, I was still at the computer. I said, “Go brush your teeth and go to bed.”
If I was shameful that I mostly lost, it was more shameful when I learned to win. I’d race the pieces in rehearsed patterns until my king fled naked, suffering attrition so speedily I’d beat my hidden opponent on the clock, not the board.
Here’s a characteristic triumph. I won, I won! Then see what lay behind the congratulatory pop-up:
Clock-watching, and the seizure of my cramping fingers on the mousepad, produced degenerate thrills. Sometimes I’d meet another speedster and survive a true skin-of-my-teeth contest. Chess, that noble cognitive pursuit, had been reduced to an action of the nerves, barely more interesting to contemplate than Tetris (which I’d once had to have removed from my computer). Check out the time-code on this masterpiece: