Wednesday 10 June 2020

An Interview With Kineke Mulder: Part One

Yesterday we posted a teaser for our interview with the inspirational Kineke Mulder.

Today we present the first of the three parts of the interview.

How long did it take you from having the initial idea to setting up your first outdoor chess session?

Actually my very first action was taking the chess sets to the train station, which is a kind of outdoor environment. Wind and rain find their way easily into to the main hall; the huge doors are always open. 

Photograph © FM Christian Srienz

Were people initially reluctant to approach your chess sets or was it an instant success?

Since its beginning – the initiative was born in 2015 and named in 2016 – all chess events Chess Unlimited has organised have been very well received! My experience is that chess sets are magnetic. People just pop up as soon as you set the table. I think they hide in trees and jump down as soon as here is a chessboard in sight.

Were you nervous about the first sessions?

Yes. Very. And every time I come up with a new idea and execute it for the first time, I am anxious again.

What does chess bring the people that other activities do not?

Chess is magic. Almost everybody knows the game. Even if they can't play, they like the look of it; it's a graphical feast for the eyes. Also, there is the concentration, tension, fun and interaction, children, women and men feel while playing chess. 

Photograph © Kineke Mulder

A significant number of the people with whom you engage are refugees. Do their stories affect and/or upset you? Do they have stories for you?

Most of them don't tell stories. At least not in so many words. But, for example, I remember Mustafa telling me, he doesn't mind losing a chess game, playing chess is always fun for him. Losing his family on the Afghan-Pakistani border, that is something that troubles him. (Mustafa's story can be found here).

Photograph © Kineke Mulder

Several refugees are scared and therefore very polite to everybody. If there is brouhaha around, if people start talking more hectic to another and use more gestures, you see them getting alert. They try to understand what the fuss is about. Most refugees who participate my urban chess sessions are very adaptable with all kinds of flâneurs and city roamers.

Have you ever encountered awkward moments or trouble at your events?

Well ... sure. Imagine a bunch of strangers, a continuous changing group of people, for hours at one table, all “being themselves”. Around that table there is the always moving crowd of a city. People of all ways of Life, who stop to see what is happening, to take pictures, to interfere, comment or join the chess. Or simply ask for spare change.

But, especially with that being said in mind, really very minor issues. We managed to settle almost everything among ourselves, no police needed.

Have you encountered any people who have been negative about your plans (perhaps in terms of the men of the chess scene having negative thoughts about a women taking the lead in a chess initiative?) If so, how did you combat their negativity?

No, never! Not even with my lousy chess skills in mind. Funny thing though, when people have chess related questions, they ask the man who seems in charge. In my case recommendable – remember the mentioned chess skills – but still ... Therefore, if they want to know where they can buy a beer or find toilets, I am the one they ask.

What is the largest number of people you have had at one of your outdoor events?

Around 70.

70 is a significant number of people, as any tournament organiser here in the UK will confirm. Stay tuned for part two of our interview, which will be posted tomorrow.

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