It got me thinking. Almost every major city in the world has at least one decent chess cafe, where lovers of our game can gather and while away their days, playing blitz and analysing positions. They provide a key meeting-place for visiting chessplayers, who can always find a friendly face and a warm welcome. In Amsterdam, I always loved the famous Gambiet cafe, on Bloemgracht, just a stone's throw away from the Anne Frank museum in the Jordaan district. This was a true chess cafe, populated by the usual eclectic mix of amateurs, and whenever there was a strong GM event taking place in the city (which used to be quite often), one could guarantee to see a few of the GMs in Gambiet of an evening. Sadly, the place closed several years ago, following the death of the owner, but I still know of at least three other chess cafes in central Amsterdam, and there are probably others, of which I am unaware.
But what of London, that large municipal toilet that passes for our own capital city? Alas, I know of no equivalent of a proper chess cafe, open all day, where visiting chessplayers can camp down to pass a few hours. There have in the past been various attempts, but they have rarely lasted long. The last one I recall was the Chequers Cafe in Chalk Farm, but that was controversial for being owned and run by an Egyptian psycho called Aly Amin, who banned more players than he ever allowed in. As far as I recall, the cafe only lasted 2-3 years, before closing down. Murray Chandler attempted to set up a similar permanent chess centre in Clapham, which combined a playing venue with a shop selling chess books and computers, but that too lasted only a relatively short time, largely thanks to repeated break-ins.
It seems a great shame that London, whose venues such as Simpsons Divan dominated the chess scene 150 years ago, and which is now home to the London Classic, and looks likely to host a Candidates tournament and possibly a FIDE Grand Prix in the next twelve months, still has no central meeting place for visiting chessplayers. In fact it's a real bugger, because I am in London on Monday for lunch with a friend, and an evening concert - I could really do with a chess cafe to camp down in for the intervening few hours!
"Coffee-house chess" has become a term of art. Here is an amazing example of the genre, played by one of the strongest regular haunters of the Amsterdam chess cafe scene, Manuel Bosboom. The notes are by my friend, IM Gerard Welling: