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kottke.org posts about Stephen Tyler

The Last Chess Shop in NYC

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 04, 2018

From directors Molly Brass and Stephen Tyler, this is a really lovely & poignant short film about Chess Forum and its owner, Imad Khachan, a Palestinian refugee who came to America to get a PhD in American literature and ended up as the owner/operator of a classic NYC establishment.

Anybody who doesn’t speak any language or different languages, they can sit here and play chess. You can still hold a meaningful conversation without saying a word.

In the 90s, Khachan opened Chess Forum across the street from another chess shop, The Chess Shop, after a disagreement with its owner.

After an ownership agreement between Khachan and a former business mentor fell to pieces, Khachan opened the Chess Forum directly across the street from his former partner’s shop, The Chess Shop. His move triggered what, in New York chess circles, is still known as the Civil War on Thompson Street.

“Sometimes attack is the best defense,” Khachan said of his decision.

His move tore New York’s tight-knit chess community in two. A ceasefire eventually settled in, with each shop courting its own customers and suppliers. His business rival closed in 2012, but the feud taught Khachan a lesson as strong as any he learned on the board.

“Like any chess game it’s the thinking ahead that keeps you one step ahead of the guy who’s shooting after you and not hitting you,” he said. “You have to keep moving.”

Update: Speaking of “holding a meaningful conversation without saying a word”, Gregor McEwan sent in links to a pair of papers he co-authored that argue that game play should be considered conversation: Chess as a Conversation: Artefact-Based Communication in Online Competitive Board Games and “I’m Just Here to Play Games:” Social Dynamics and Sociability in an Online Game Site.

Our analysis provides new evidence that even simple turn-based games contain a great deal of interaction richness and subtlety, and that the different levels of communication should be considered by designers as a real and legitimate vehicle for social interaction.