By Jorge Fuentelsaz / EFE / New York, USA.- Two horse heads guard the entrance of the Chess Forum in downtown Manhattan, a gateway to a store and social hub where the traditional 64-square board still reigns supreme despite the relentless onslaught of the Internet.
Imad Khachan, proprietor of the store since it opened in 1995, describes himself as something of a dinosaur and the Chess Forum as his Jurassic Park, a time capsule for the ancient game.
Inside, chess enthusiasts sit across from one another on simple wooden tables, engrossed in the duel.
All sorts of themed chess sets are on sale at the store in Greenwich Village, some inspired by World War II, others by Ancient Egypt or the characters of Alice in Wonderland.
A simple, plastic set will set the customer back $20.
To play a game on one of the dozen tables set aside for competition, the price is $5 an hour or just $1 for children and senior citizens.
An unexpected savior
Businesses suffered during the pandemic, and the Chess Forum was no exception. Khachan was forced to close for four months while New York City tried to get a hold of the spread of coronavirus.
He was on the verge of closing for good but then the success of Netflix miniseries The Queen’s Gambit offered a lifeline.
“The series saved us,” he told Efe at his store. “Because suddenly 62 million people saw that series, and every one of the 62 million maybe wanted to learn chess so it increased the demand on books and the demand on sets.”
“That’s why we are, to this day, we’re very low on merchandise because nobody has anything. “We were expecting a shutdown in December. So we didn’t buy anything, because either you pay rent, or you buy stuff,” he added.
A life invested
Khachan, born to a Palestinian refugee family in Lebanon, came to New York to study literature but his life plan changed after he opened the Chess Forum. He has invested his body and soul into the business, which has prevented him from achieving another life goal — raising a family of his own.
It has, however, given him a sense of home.
Some of his earliest memories of chess transport him back to the Lebanese Civil War (1975-90) and the 1982 Israeli invasions, when his father would risk his life to meet with his friend for a game of chess in Beirut.
He is proud of the fact that his business was once owned by late grandmaster Nicolas Rossolimo, who gave his name to a variant of the Sicilian defense, and that Fabiano Caruana, another grandmaster, played at Chess Forum when he was just four.
Beyond the champion players, people from all walks of life come to the store to socialize.
The tables are open for play until midnight, according to the rules, although Khachan admits that he often lets customers stay well into the early hours of the morning. (July 19, 2021, EFE)
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