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Players and Pawns

How Chess Builds Community and Culture

This book can be downloaded and read in iBooks on your Mac or iOS device.


A chess match seems as solitary an endeavor as there is in sports: two minds, on their own, in fierce opposition. In contrast, Gary Alan Fine argues that chess is a social duet: two players in silent dialogue who always take each other into account in their play. Surrounding that one-on-one contest is a community life that can be nearly as dramatic and intense as the across-the-board confrontation.

Fine has spent years immersed in the communities of amateur and professional chess players, and with Players and Pawns he takes readers deep inside them, revealing a complex, brilliant, feisty world of commitment and conflict. Opening with a close look at a typical tournament in Atlantic City, Fine carries us from planning and setup through the climactic final day’s match-ups between the weekend’s top players, introducing us along the way to countless players and their relationships to the game. At tournaments like that one, as well as in locales as diverse as collegiate matches and community chess clubs, players find themselves part of what Fine terms a “soft community,” an open, welcoming space built on their shared commitment to the game. Within that community, chess players find both support and challenges, all amid a shared interest in and love of the long-standing traditions of the game, traditions that help chess players build a communal identity.

Full of idiosyncratic characters and dramatic gameplay, Players and Pawns is a celebration of the ever-fascinating world of serious chess.

From Publishers Weekly

May 11, 2015 – Fine, an ethnographer who has previously written about the cultures of restaurant work (Kitchens), Little League baseball (With the Boys), and high school debate (Gifted Tongues), among others, turns his attention to the world of competitive chess in a sociological study that examines people, rules, and techniques. The chess world, he asserts, is "built on clusters of tiny publics, wispy groups that appear for a pleasant weekend and vanish like the snow." To dissect it, he draws on five years of field studies, conducted from 2006 to 2010, as well as 50 individual interviews. As Fine gets into the psychological tricks, the great personalities (e.g., Bobby Fischer, Garry Kasparov), and the legendary matches, he shows that chess is both a casual game and a serious business. "Chess reveals the power of a world to build a game and the power of a game to build a host of worlds," he concludes. While this volume will be of most interest to the serious sociologist or ethnographer, Fine's insights into the complexities of the game and its practitioners may prove useful to determined strategists and those interested in more deeply understanding the "game of kings."
Players and Pawns
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  • $17.99
  • Available on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac.
  • Category: Social Science
  • Published: Aug 06, 2015
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Seller: Chicago Distribution Center
  • Print Length: 288 Pages
  • Language: English
  • Requirements: To view this book, you must have an iOS device with iBooks 1.3.1 or later and iOS 4.3.3 or later, or a Mac with iBooks 1.0 or later and OS X 10.9 or later.

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