Chapter 58

From association for gentlemen to chess club
 In the first decades of the 19th c., representatives of the highest social classes from the Netherlands began to gather network with other members of their class. They were, of course, not open about it. No, they wanted to play chess, the game so much appreciated in France, they said. See for this subject chapter 56.
 It was a social event in big cities as Amsterdam and The Hague. Big by Dutch standards; a visitor from Paris, London or Vienna considered these Dutch cities as big villages.
 In his thesis (1999) Hans Scholten, a Dutch chess player, described the evolution of these first Dutch chess clubs ‒I write chess clubs, but in fact it is not the right word, playing chess was only a pretext, a story, to meet each other. He distinguished stages, from clubs where playing chess is a passtime, a recreation, to sporting clubs. Clubs where people play a game but where winning and lossing have become important. To what extent the character of chess as a recreation has got lost?

A new public
 In the first half of the 19th c. also Dutchmen from outside the city discovered chess. They were middle class people (doctors, pastors, jurists). Jan de Ruiter found the first village club in 1825, later clubs were founded in 1831 and 1833. After 1850 the number of clubs increased.
 The number of interested people was limited, so that founding a society was not possible: the members visited each other at home. Was here too the meeting, the extension of the social network, the central point and was playing chess not more than an incidental circumstance? Also middle class people who had become wealthy by economical activities joined the clubs. Just like in the city there was a need of the men who did not belong to the middle class by birth to seek contact with the elite.
 There was an identical development in the city: since the middle of the 19th c. the governors of the societies accepted the economical elite as members, so manufacturers and traders with money [Scholten 1999:272].
 These developments coincided with some social democratization by the rise of Dutch beer houses after German example, which draw visitors of all walks of life, contrary to coffee house and society [Scholten 78].

German beer house

 Another development becomes visible in the 1870s: chess clubs were founded by groups with a particular political or religious conviction. The result of the emancipation of groupings that earlier were neglected, as the Roman Catholics [Scholten 371,422]. Also workers, say the wage slaves, started their emancipation, albeit some decades later, at the end of the century. A few chess clubs for workers appeared, but only temporarily. Not the wage slaves joined the clubs, the members were skilled laborers and members of the lower middle class [Scholten 246-7].
 Another neglected groups were women. Some women put themselves forwards as a member for a chess club, although only a small number. The most of them, however, soon droppped out, because they were hardly accepted by male chess players [Scholten 216,223]. In our days we can hardly imagine this blunt macho behavour. Although…

Ignored and despised by Dutch chess players

Play becomes sport
 During the greater part of the 19th c., gentlemen played chess for relaxation: they played quickies, solved problems or composed them. Around 1890 the Dutch uplifted chess from relaxation to sport. By that chess won: the players increased their understanding of the game. But chess also lost: it’s true, a chess evening did not totally lose its character of meeting, encounter, but it was relegated to the background.
 Many a writer on board games refers to the Dutch historian Johan Huizinga and his standard work about play (1938). Well then, Huizinga blew up at chess and draughts as his compatriots played it. He considered draughts and chess played as a sport as “an absolutely sterile ability, which only one-sidedly sharpens the mind and does not enrich the sole” [Huizinga 1950 V:130]. And even that word sharpen is wrong: modern inquiries reveal that the general conviction that chess and draughts give a boost to the intellectual power is far from true; I will return to this subject.

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