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As a five-year-old, I would regularly sit down with my dad in front of 64 squares and 32 pieces of plastic to play a game that has existed in some forms for over a thousand years. Even though I couldn’t read at the time, I knew how all of the chess pieces traversed the board. I didn’t really know what I was doing most of the time, but I had a blast every time I sat down on the board and set up the pieces. For the few minutes the games lasted, I felt like I could act as an equal to my dad in a battle of the wits, despite my inability to recite the alphabet correctly (I always forgot “Q”). Finding the concentration necessary was tough for my undeveloped brain, but it felt like working together to solve a puzzle. Although chess is inherently competitive, the focus required and time spent creating interesting games created a sense of camaraderie between us.

Chess matches against my dad and my brother were a mainstay of the Sethi household, as I learned more and more about how to be a better player as a part of the chess team at my elementary school. Whenever it rained during recess, I would convince one of my classmates to play chess, knowing which teachers had boards and where they kept them. Eventually, I competed with my school chess team to win some sort of tournament (region? state? who knows?). I have a vivid memory of climbing onto a stage with my team to hoist a trophy that felt like it was bigger than us.

Incensed by our victory, I started to spend more time studying and attending tournaments as I entered middle school. I found moderate success, but for reasons that I don’t remember, I eventually decided to live up to my self-anointed reputation as a serial quitter. After many years of loving chess, I let it go, saving it for a friendly game with my brother when we wanted to add some spice into the rotation of the games we typically would play

Recently, I found myself on Twitch, a website dedicated to livestreaming. Usually, I go to watch people play video games that I enjoy, like Call of Duty or Animal Crossing. But this day, I noticed a man named Hikaru Nakamura streaming to thousands of viewers. He was on, attempting to reach a 3000 rating in blitz chess over the course of a multi-hour stream. As I started to watch, it became clear that this guy was no pushover, as he completely destroyed players while barely paying attention to games, declaring victory 10-12 moves before the game actually ended. With some quick research, I discovered that he was one of the best chess players in the world, who had decided that streaming was a fun way to make chess more accessible. Watching Hikaru play chess is an incredible experience, as he bounces between answering questions from the chat and explaining what he’s doing, sometimes several moves in advance. At the same time, he also spends some streams teaching other streamers the basics of chess, showing how anyone can learn to play the beautiful game he’s dedicated his life to. 

Seeing all of this, I started to remember the joys of the game: searching for the perfect move, thinking you found it and trying not to flip the board when you realize you missed something. I’ve started playing chess a lot more recently, from puzzles to games with my brother and matches online with strangers. Despite the fact that most games start with one of a small number of openings and the fact that I’ve probably played hundreds of games in my life, I’m always surprised by the way that games go. I know that with time, I’ll soon start to recognize the possible directions a game can go, but for now, I appreciate the newness of each set of moves. More than anything else, I’m happy to be able to enjoy the game again. 

As I challenge players from all over the world online, I think about how it’s totally likely that I don’t speak the same language as my opponents. Despite that, we’re able to come together to create interesting combinations of moves. We’re able to come together for a few moments of concentration for a bit of fun and frustration. I didn’t realize how much I missed it.
Things are starting to feel normal again, but the fight against systemic racism continues. Reminders:

Ways you can help

Anti-racism resources

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Nikhil · 325327 Georgia Tech Station · Atlanta, GA 30332 · USA

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