Adventures with the Nightwatchmen

A few weeks ago, the Expert and I, tired of sitting in the dormitory all day, decided we’d head across the street to the khinkali restaurant, or as we’ve named it, the misery cafe, to eat some lobiani (beany bread), drink some beers, and play some chess. As we were heading out the door, the security guard on duty was sitting with my very close dorm friend Old Man White Hair.

I don’t know what Old Man White Hair does in the dorms. He might live there, I don’t know. But he’s my buddy. We have deep discussions in Georgian which have gone to the point of: Hello! How are you? I am well. And you? I am also well, thank you. Goodbye. He made a toast to me at a supra, and he and I did a Georgian dance together. So as we were heading out to the cafe, Old Man White Hair pointed at the chess board, then gesticulated his arms wildly. Ah, he must want us to come back and play chess.

After a few frustrating rounds of making blunders I didn’t quite understand against the Expert, we headed back to the dorm for a round with the security guard. Old Man White Hair didn’t want to play, he just wanted to watch. The security guard didn’t speak English, but it wasn’t necessary. Old Man White Hair said that I was Bobby Fischer, and the security guard was Boris Spassky. (Now, Georgia might be a bit isolating, but I hope it hasn’t made me quite like Bobby Fischer!) I wished that one of them spoke English, especially when the security guard illegally castled himself out of check, whilst I had forked his rook and queen, but oh well. It was an exceptionally boring game, with him playing conservatively. But after an extremely long end game, I emerged the victor. My first victory in a real game of chess, full of all sorts of mistakes. Hooray.

Since then, I’ve begun playing chess with another one of the security guards as well. There are three of them. There’s the old, boring nice guy (who doesn’t want to play chess with me anymore), there’s the old, big surly guy (who is a bit scary and I don’t want to play chess with. Oh, he’s dreadfully frightening. Were I to play with him, I’d be advised to use the strategy “let the wookie win.”), and the young guy who speaks a bit of English (I’ll call him Lasha.) We’ll go down there late in the night with the chess set to see if he’s up for a game, and he’ll click his flashlight and ask if it’s him or us that’s really insane. (But Louise, she’s alright, she’s just near…)

So about a week ago, the Expert had abandoned me for Batumi for the weekend, and I didn’t have anyone to play chess with. What would I do with myself?! But Lasha the security guard flagged me down after I came in from wandering around for a while, and said that after I ate, I should bring the chess board down and we should play. Ah, this will be fun. How silly they are, my new adventures with the nightwatchmen.

So now I’ve taken to playing chess with Lasha when he’s working. The Expert played him, but defeated him so handily that he doesn’t like to play the Expert anymore. He and I are at about the same level. When I’m white, I always play the King’s Gambit, and when I’m black, always the Scandinavian defense. (Until a few weeks ago, I would not have known what these meant at all, but they are standard opening moves that basically mean I sacrifice some of my pieces for good control of the board leading to wild, blitzkrieg attacks.) Lasha always curses me, because he doesn’t like how I always play them. My furious, mad hacks! Oh, they are fun. The Expert has also been teaching me how, when I’m in good position, to make moves that are just a bit annoying for my opponent. Just to get him a bit flustered. Unfortunately, I still don’t quite know how to actually attack. I get all my pieces in good attacking positions, and corner my opponent quite effectively, but then lose all my pieces in a spectacular show of ineptitude. (I don’t know… I am unable to see it as a game of itself, I can’t separate my association of chess with the way I live my life. So all the time I’m playing games, I’m thinking: Oh, oh dear. Oh, yes… yep. I’ve been here before I believe…)

We learned from Lasha what the schedule is for the security guards. Steven, will you go today? No, I think I’ll be here for most of the day. Come and play chess if you want. Okay, how long do you work today? Today I work all day. Okay, until when? I work all night. Oh, so how many hours do you work today? Today all of them. Then two days off, then I work again.

So there are three security guards, and there is just one 24 hour shift. Then they have two days off, when the other guys work, then the 24 hour shift again. Lasha explained to me it’s nice when I come down to play chess with him, because it is difficult to work the 24 hours. His job is basically to watch the door, to see who comes in and goes out. He has a television in the room, so he can watch the popular Mexican soap operas which have been dubbed into Georgian (in which one, sometimes two voices, do all the characters), and there’s a bed in an adjoining room. Lasha has a laptop that he brings and watches videos on youtube when the internet is working. Now that it’s just the Expert and I in the dorms, their job is basically to unlock the door when we come back late. Sometimes they’re asleep and we have to wake them up, and sometimes they’re in there drinking beer or cha-cha. But most of the time if it’s late at night, we have to pound on the door for a good 10 minutes to wake them up.

The Expert and I like to hang out down in the security room with Lasha, because we’ve finally met someone who’s more bored than we are. The other day we went down and played with Lasha and his friend, who were spending the shift drinking beer. I played excellently but lost, and then the Expert played to redeem the scores of the Westerners against the Georgians.

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