James Smart's Philadelphia
Of All Things
November 20, 2019
by James Smart
Playing board games, computer era style
There was an item in a magazine about the latest thing to be taken over by the computer: a game board. It seems that now someone can play chess or checkers or something archaic like Monopoly or Parcheesi, and the board itself is the opponent.
Not only that, but a player can connect with an opponent’s board and they can compete on line. I’m not sure how players roll dice or whatever, but I’m sure the programmers have it all figured out.
Poker, bridge and pinochle have already been computerized. I looked into it; and find dozens of web sites that make it possible to play these games somehow. But I think that having a table with the game board on its surface is something new.
If I’m wrong, I’ll hear about it right away, from readers who will tell me how uninformed I am.
I’m used to being behind the computerized times. I’m still feeling obsolete as I produce these columns on a screen, and mysteriously zip them off to the newspaper office.
When I was a little boy, I played checkers with my grandfather, and all we needed was a checkerboard and some checkers. I suppose that electronic checkering is just as easy. Maybe easier. But now I’d need a computer and a keyboard, and soon, a flat screen on a table that pretends to be a game board.
Thinking about chess, I imagine that chess competition between chess clubs, even in different cities, must still be happening now.
I was interested in chess for a while when I was a young man. I used to spend some time in the Franklin Mercantile Chess Club. It was founded in 1868, and boasted to be the second oldest chess club in the country. It was upstairs in a building on Locust St. near 16th in those days. I hear it’s in a basement on Walnut St. now.
As a reporter for the Bulletin, I often worked the 4 P. M. to midnight shift, and sometimes stopped in at the club after work. There were always a few night owls still playing.
The club would hold tournaments against chess clubs from other cities. One afternoon, I sat in on a competition with a club in Boston. Men here were sitting at tables, chess boards in front of them. When a player made a move, a fellow who was watching would go to a phone and tell the opponent in Boston what the move was. He would jot down plays from the Boston competitors and report them here.
Yes, it was as slow as it sounds.
Now, we’re presumably going to have chess boards here that connect with boards elsewhere. Maybe we already do; I’ll likely be getting e-mail from chess players, scolding me for being out of date.
The game’s history is complicated. It’s said that chess originated in India in the sixth century.Some historians say that it was at one point called shah, which was “king” in Persian, but British merchants in the East mispronounced it. It seems like an odd jump from shah to chess, but then, I’ve never been a British merchant, so what do I know?
Now people play chess on line, and also bridge, another ancient and popular game. There may be ways to play table tennis or golf or volleyball on line too, and maybe sculling or mountain climbing. Soon, people may just sit in front of a screen and do everything.