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Chapter 4: Chess Takes To The Streets

CHESS TAKES TO THE STREETS

“We shall fight … in the streets.”

Winston Churchill



In many countries, and especially on the Continent, Street Chess is commonplace. But Melbourne had to wait until 1993 before play in the open air became possible, with giant boards and pieces. This innovation is one of many debts owed by the Club to Dr. Albert Cymons. It was launched at lunch-time on Wednesday 8 September 1993, in what was then “Swanston Walk” at the corner of Swanston and Little Collins Streets, with a 16-board simul given by I.M. Guy West, in the course of which the Lord Mayor, Cr. Allan Watson, and the Member for Melbourne Province, the Hon. Barry Pullen M.L.C. (a keen chess-player), declared Street Chess to be up and running. This was followed by a blindfold simul on four boards given by Darryl Johanssen, two boards being taken by the Lord Mayor and Barry Pullen. The Lord Mayor played in consultation with the Club’s Secretary, the hard-working Patricia Collins, and an early draw was agreed. Rain fell, a harbinger of future difficulties.


Dr. Cymons and a young opponent, March 1997


The City Council provided the board inlaid in the footpath (and still to be seen) and a grant of $3,000 towards the cost of equipment in return for a promise to run Street Chess every Sunday afternoon for at least six months from Sunday 12 September. And so Street Chess became a popular feature of the Melbourne scene. The Florentino and Parkroyal restaurants each donated as prizes two dinners per week for the first four weeks. Club “Street Chess” skivvies and T-shirts were bought and both sold to players and used as minor prizes. Each Sunday there was both the Allegro and a simul, with entry fees and prizes. The simuls were more popular than the Allegro. At times rain washed out play, there being no protection against the elements. On Sunday 7 November 1993 the Street Chess Blitz Championship took place. In 1994 Moomba Street Chess in the City Square was highly successful.


On Sunday 6 April 1997 sponsorship enabled the Club to stage the R.M.I.T. Melbourne Street Chess Open Championship in Swanston Street, an Allegro tournament including a Junior Championship and a Junior Novice Championship. Street Chess had collapsed during 1994 but had been revived in September of that year further up Swanston Street, at the market run by the Council at Little Bourke Street. Street Chess began at Southbank near the end of the 1990’s and was staged irregularly. It was played there throughout the summer which began in December 1998, and trophies were awarded to juniors. In November 2001 we recommenced Street Chess on the corner of Little Collins and Swanston Streets as a harbinger of the Melbourne Festival of Chess. That Festival began in December, featuring the Australian Championships, and Street Chess was played daily in Swanston Street. Elie Beranjia was prominent among the helpers.


Living Chess, where human beings masquerade as chessmen, has long been known on the Continent for its colourful display. It was brought to Melbourne by the Club in October 1988, as part of the Lygon Arts Festival. The Victorian College of the Arts provided the players and the Club the chess know-how. A replayed master game was followed by impromptu ones. It would be good to see Living Chess revived one day in this city. But this is probably too much to hope for.

Living chess in Germany
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