There is no ‘bucket list’ - Lynne and I are both well, thank you – but we have arrived at a point in our lives where we have the time, the money and the good health to indulge in a passion for travel. We know how lucky and privileged we are to be able to do this, and we know it won’t last for ever, but while it does…..

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Street Chess in Armenia, Bosnia and Vietnam

I am not much of a chess player. I can beat the computer on Microsoft Chess Titans at level 2 more often than not, which probably puts me at the level of a very average ten-year-old. Nor do I wander round the world looking for chess players to photograph, but when they fall into my lap......

Gyumri, Armenia

Armenia's second city Gyumri, formerly Leninakan (and before that Alexandropol, and before that Gyumri) is situated in the northern highlands some 130 km from the capital Yerevan. We visited in 2002, 14 years after the city was devastated by an earthquake that forced Mikhail Gorbachev to cut short his visit to London. Damaged buildings were easy to find and there were still people living in shipping containers. Worse, we saw several relief projects that had been abandoned when the money ran out, and there were signs that some foreign donors (Americans, to be precise) had been more interested in rebuilding churches than rehousing people.

A game of chess
Gyumri, Armenia
These chess players were sitting on a wall at the edge of a street near the city centre, completely absorbed in their game and oblivious to passers-by.

Sarajevo, Bosnia

This oversized chess board is in Trg Oslobodenja (Liberation Square), the centre of Sarajevo's Austro-Hungarian quarter. Whenever we went past a game was in progress and there was usually a large crowd of people watching - and advising. How they decide who gets to play we never discovered.

Trg Oslobodenja ,
Sarajevo, Bosnia
Sarajevo went through hell in the 1990s. The stylised, bloodless form of warfare that is chess is a vast improvement.

Can Tho, Vietnam

Chinese chess, or Xianqi, is a closely related game. Each player has a general and soldiers, advisors, elephants, horses, cannons and chariots who all have different moves. The 'board' is often made of cloth, plastic or paper and can be unrolled anywhere. The game is widely played and can be seen in any park or open space, and often in the street.

Chinese chess,
Can Tho, Mekong delta

Chinese chess is also played in Vietnam. These two were deep in concentration on a street corner in Can Tho, the largest city in the Mekong delta

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