They sat across from each other, quiet except for the occasional word or glance across as they placed pieces on the chessboard between them.
Their attention was on the board — perhaps already on the war they planned to wage — and their focus such that each pair might have been alone in the large, glassed-in atrium at Harvard’s Smith Campus Center on Sunday.
But they were in a crowd. Every two made up a pair in a row of pairs, sitting at a chessboard in a row of chessboards, and they all had something in common: Each was about to battle someone who just might understand their life’s passion better than anyone else.
In addition to the rows of players, observers sat a few feet away, cordoned off from the tables but peering anxiously. Beyond them was the bustle of the campus center’s busy foot traffic as another semester careened to a close.
The quiet broke when the blitz began, adding a new, peculiar rhythm to the space. Move, slap. Move, slap.
In blitz chess games are timed, and on Sunday, each player had five minutes to complete all the game’s moves. So after shifting a piece, players immediately slapped the two-faced clock next to the board, stopping their own timer and starting their opponent’s.
Move, slap, move, slap.
Of necessity, the games went quickly. After each, the players shuffled opponents according to how well they did, winners playing winners and losers losers. A loss in the first round didn’t spell doom, however, as a victory in the second would boost the player into a match with another winner. As the rounds progressed, winners and losers shuffled and shuffled again.