Tuesday, May 21, 2013

An Ancient Game - Played with Beer Tops

As I was waiting at Phuket Aquarium for the local bus to take me into town I noticed something high up in the tree. 

It was a full plastic bag, a big wooden board and a baseball hat. I was curious as to what it was, but the bus had arrived so I had to go before I could walk up to take a peek.

As I entered into Phuket Old Town I noticed that a bunch of motorcycle taxi drivers were grouped around a couple of men huddled next to a similar wooden board as the one I saw in front of the aquarium. This time I had to find out what it was so I walked closer to see what all the fuss was about. 

The big wooden board was actually a make-shift chessboard that had its lines drawn with a marker, and instead of chess pieces, they were playing with colourful recycled beer bottle tops! I watched and realised that they were playing Makruk – an Asian version of chess that is apparently the closest “living” chess variant to the earliest known form of chess, the Chaturanga. The Cape Panwa Hotel also has a Makruk set, although a little nicer with proper pieces and a proper board. 

The board spread looks a lot like the Western variant, and as I was told, the only major difference is in the strategy since the chess pieces have different movement rules. 

Ever since that one encounter, I see this game played everywhere. In tuk-tuks, on the sidewalk, in cafes, or even people playing the game on the trees! I love how the best games are usually the least expensive. An ancient game of chess now played with recycled waste on the streets of Thailand – good for the environment, and a great excuse to have a beer and catch up with friends. 


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