The Last Chess Shop In New York City
December 7, 2018 6:19 AM   Subscribe

King of the Night is a short documentary about Imad Khachan, the owner of Chess Forum, the only remaining chess shop in New York City. (SLYT, published by The Atlantic)
posted by carter (16 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
*seethes quietly* Ok, yeah, there used to be a bunch of chess shops on Thomson and they're mostly gone now, but do these people ever go to fucking Brooklyn? There is a chess shop with a big storefront on Flatbush, like, three blocks from where I am sitting right now. I mean, it's even called NY Chess and Games!
posted by phooky at 6:50 AM on December 7, 2018 [18 favorites]

How long has his shop been open? If I’m not mistaken, I have a distinct memory of passing its windows when I was a girl, and being fascinated by the elaborate display sets. It was my first trip to NYC—in fact, my first trip north of the Mason-Dixon Line—and the city was just as spooky and magical as I could have hoped. An entire store for chess! It was like something from a story.

Khachan said something I needed to hear. Of himself, he said, “Maybe when I was younger I would think this person is pathetic, but life breaks us all down.” I truly hope that means he is now content with who he is, because that person looks pretty amazing to me.
posted by Countess Elena at 7:03 AM on December 7, 2018 [8 favorites]

There was some discussion of this in a previous post. I remember two chess shops on Thompson St. south of Washington Square park (where the video on the previous post was filmed): Chess Forum of this post and Village Chess Shop, the latter now closed but apparently opened in 1972.
posted by exogenous at 7:18 AM on December 7, 2018 [2 favorites]

There's a little more to the story. Jason Kottke had a post about this a few days ago:
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.

I used to go to both shops on occasion. Both wonderful. It saddens me that in a city of 8M+ people, there isn't a 24 hour chess spot anymore.
posted by gwint at 7:25 AM on December 7, 2018 [2 favorites]

Imagine how much it saddens the rest of us: that block of Thompson, iirc, is the same stretch where the Little Lebowski shop operated. If even NYC cannot support anything beyond the Subway/Starbucks/Duane Reade homogeneity that slowly envelops the rest of the US, what chance does any other city have?
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:36 AM on December 7, 2018 [10 favorites]

(Well, other cities have lower commercial rents, so... More hope?)
posted by kaibutsu at 8:05 AM on December 7, 2018 [5 favorites]

Regarding how his younger self would have viewed the shop and his youthful hubris, "Life takes care of everybody. Life breaks everybody"

The truth hidden in a 6 minute youtube video. Everyone is broken.
posted by mikelieman at 8:35 AM on December 7, 2018 [3 favorites]

I used to work at Chess Forum in the nineties. Imad used to work at the other store across the street. Basically, they underpaid him for a long time, promising that one day he would inherit the business. He finally figured out it was a scam and opened his own rival shop on the same street.

It was a pretty amazing place. For a cup of coffee, you could play a game, basically a free lesson, with a grand master. A lot of the regulars were some of the best players in the world. Many of these same players were virtually homeless. They would hang out all night, playing games with each other or just whoever was around. They lived for chess.

A lot of the other regulars were hustlers. They made a living studying chess at the shop and then playing tourists for $10 games. I quickly picked up all the stratagems and quick traps used to quickly beat novices. Honestly, I should have been paying Imad money to work there.

The shop was not about making money. It was a lifestyle. A second home for the regulars. Imad ran classes for local kids on the weekend. He was there all day, all night, every day. He let regulars without money stay for free. When I left, he gave me a really nice chess set. I still have it. Hand carved wood, triple weighted.
posted by xammerboy at 8:49 AM on December 7, 2018 [42 favorites]

*sigh* Thompson Street.
posted by praemunire at 9:05 AM on December 7, 2018

I didn't know that the other shop closed. How sad.
posted by Splunge at 10:07 AM on December 7, 2018

What a beautiful, haunting film. Thank you for sharing it.
posted by MythMaker at 11:18 AM on December 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

I remember visiting a friend at NYU and stumbling into the Village Chess Shop at about 2:00 AM on a Saturday night (Sunday morning, I suppose). It was, for Vermonter me, probably the most vivid moment of realization of what New York was or could be - you could play chess and drink a Snapple after getting a dollar slice at any time of the day. It was wild, and I'm sad to hear it's gone.

Of course, seeing this video and reading xammerboy's account, this seems like the better store and an amazing man.
posted by papayaninja at 12:28 PM on December 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

I guess after the end of the going-out-of-business sale, he'll put a 'closed' sign in the window next to where he hung the last bishop in the shop.
posted by zaixfeep at 2:00 PM on December 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

Beauty portrait. Classic and classy business. Look how it compares to franchises and online shops! What do they know of their customers, what do they care? Which has a richness, which has a poverty?

LokI always hope that such places had the foresight and wherewithal to purchase their own spaces. Because paying rent means they're in constant peril. When a classic shop passes, along comes another nail or bike-exercise shop, and a city's humanity dies a little.
posted by Twang at 8:38 PM on December 7, 2018

A great short. Thank you for posting it.
posted by Soi-hah at 9:19 PM on December 7, 2018

Venezuelan beaver chess?
posted by The otter lady at 8:09 PM on December 13, 2018

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