Kabul Chess Club

Now that the Taliban has been ousted, it is legal to play chess in Afghanistan again. I just happened to see this wire service photo of the Kabul Chess Club.

See that man in the white hat in the curved building across the way to the left. That man is standing in the entrance to the Kabul Chess Club.

I know that because I played chess there many times in 1976, 1977 and 1978. In 1977 I met a man there who invited me to his home to play chess. He turned out to be a wealthy man with a beautiful family and a beautiful daughter. He had assembled some of the best chess players in Afghanistan in his home, one of whom beat me.
Kabul Chess Club
Photo of the Kabul Chess Club, where there is a celebration that it is legal to play chess there again

He worked for the Ministry of Interior. One year later when I returned to Afghanistan I could not find him. I am sure that he must have been dead already because by then the Taraki Communist Regime had taken over and Taraki killed all people like that right away. I wonder what happened to his beautiful daughter.

Naturally, you will be wanting to play at the Kabul Chess Club, but beware. It is very dangerous to play there because everybody plays the French Defense. (1. e4 e6). I do not know the reason for the predominance of the French and all I can say that you had better be careful!

The Kabul Chess Club was located in a tea shop and all the strong chess players in Kabul went there to play chess and to drink tea.

It was across the street from the Yama Hotel, where I always stayed when I was in Kabul. I do not know if the hotel survived all the bombing, but I can see from the photo that the chess club and tea shop is still there.

The best players there were about 1900-2100 in strength. The only master I played was the young man I played in the rich man's house. I wonder what happened to all of them. I suppose that if I make it back to Kabul I can go back to the same place and find the chess players there again. The fact that tribal people with no real book knowledge could play at the expert level was interesting.

I do not remember the name of the rich man, but I remember the name of his friend, who I met at the rich man's home and who drove a fancy new Mercedes. His name was Ali. They both worked for the Ministry of Interior. They were almost without doubt killed immediately during or after the revolution on April 28, 1978, unless they realized what was happening and fled the country immediately.

The strongest player I played at the Kabul Chess Club itself was a man about 40 who wore a white skull cap similar to the man in the picture above. Who knows, it might even be the same man. We played a large number of games and broke even. I estimate his strength at 2100, which was my strength at the time.

All of them seemed happy, prosperous and doing well. Nobody could have imagined that they were about to be plunged into 23 years of civil war.

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