A Chess Game at Zuccotti Park

I enjoyed this short McSweeney’s piece about a chess game at Zuccotti Park:

Despite my hustle alert level being on high, I still agreed to play James for five dollars. I wasn’t in any mood to quit playing, especially if quitting meant I had to join the debate that was going on near the chess table between some “end the fed” guys and a couple of central-casting Bard students over whether or not Obama was to blame for the economic crisis.

The game was uneventful except that neither of us was in the mood to let the other one take moves back anymore. We stayed friendly and jocular over the board, but on the board it was all business. I opened with the Queen’s Gambit, he declined. “A little rusty” my ass. We played a fairly even game and ended in a draw. He seemed disappointed. One of the Bard students asked if we were done and if he could get next.

“We are playing best-of-three.” James looked at me and winked.

Now my hustle alert level was at severe. I figure James just got me for ten dollars. I briefly contemplated just paying him the money right then and there, I was so sure I didn’t stand a chance. We set the pieces up and played on. The Bard student returned to help his comrades win their political debate against the Ron Paul guys.

There are all kinds of seemingly divergent viewpoints here in Zuccotti Park waiting to be arrested. There are libertarians and there are socialists; there are 9-11 “truther” idiots and there are World Trade Center first responders; there are Democrats and there are Republicans; there are anarchists who hate the state and there are public sector unionists who work for it.

My favorite part is the analogy of zugzwang (pronounced ˈtsuːktsvaŋ), a chess term, to life in America and the Occupy protesters:

But the current position doesn’t look good for me. I’m ahead in material, but all of my pieces are committed to defending my king. I’m in zugzwang.

Zugzwang is a term used in chess to refer to a position where every move you have is a bad one. Once you’re in zugzwang, things like having more pieces than your opponent doesn’t matter anymore. If you can’t use them to attack you may as well not have them at all. Often players who find themselves in zugzwang simply resign.

A growing number of people in America know what it feels like to be in zugzwang. For some of them their whole life has been one long zugzwang, they can’t remember ever having any good options. Without catching a lucky break, a lifetime of hard work for most people results in just that—a lifetime of hard work. For others they maybe once thought they had it all—a good job with a pension, a nice house with a payment they could afford, set for life. Then in an instant it all disappeared. House is underwater, ARM is popping on the loan, pension fund bought a bunch of mortgage-backed securities. All that’s left is utter, hopeless zugzwang.

How does it end?

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