Skip to main content

Players and Pawns

How Chess Builds Community and Culture

A chess match seems as solitary an endeavor as there is in sports: two minds, on their own, in fierce opposition. In contrast, Gary Alan Fine argues that chess is a social duet: two players in silent dialogue who always take each other into account in their play. Surrounding that one-on-one contest is a community life that can be nearly as dramatic and intense as the across-the-board confrontation. Fine has spent years immersed in the communities of amateur and professional chess players, and with Players and Pawns he takes readers deep inside them, revealing a complex, brilliant, feisty world of commitment and conflict. Within their community, chess players find both support and challenges, all amid a shared interest in and love of the long-standing traditions of the game, traditions that help chess players build a communal identity. 
Full of idiosyncratic characters and dramatic gameplay, Players and Pawns is a celebration of the fascinating world of serious chess.

Read an excerpt from the introduction: "Chess as Art, Science, and Sport".

288 pages | 4 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2015

Anthropology: Cultural and Social Anthropology

Culture Studies

Sociology: Sociology of Arts--Leisure, Sports


"Fine demonstrates above all that chess is not an individualized activity, but rather a communal one. The logic of chess is not impersonal, but embodied and social. It is not merely a game, but an important part of the way that many people make their lives together. It is a significant and masterful achievement."

Mark Jacobs, George Mason University

"Whether you are a casual player or a grandmaster you will find something of interest in this book, which takes a bemused look at the extensive activity that goes into making chess communities. Even if you have never played chess, you will still learn a lot about social life from this book, the best yet by this prolific author."

James M. Jasper, author of The Art of Moral Protest

“A traditional ethnography, Players and Pawns combines rigor with a wry lightness of touch. Even those for whom chess has always seemed a bizarre mixture of obsession, paranoia, and sublime mastery, will see it revealed as a wondrously diverse landscape of contrasting temperaments, climates, and folkways.”

Les Gofton, teaching fellow in sociology, Durham University | Times Higher Education

“A rich account of community norms, values, boundaries, status systems, and organization.”

American Journal of Sociology

Players and Pawns would make an excellent addition to a game studies course at either the undergraduate or graduate level. . . .That said, the concepts Fine develops are useful to folklorists working with other subcultural groups, and the book should be of interest far beyond game studies.”

Journal of American Folklore

Table of Contents

Prologue: A Tournament Revealed
Introduction: First Moves
Chapter One: The Mind, the Body, and the Soul of Chess
Chapter Two: Doing Chess
Chapter Three: Temporal Tapestries
Chapter Four: Shared Pasts and Sticky Culture
Chapter Five: The Worlds of Chess
Chapter Six: Status Games and Soft Community
Chapter Seven: Chess in the World
Conclusion: Piece Work

Be the first to know

Get the latest updates on new releases, special offers, and media highlights when you subscribe to our email lists!

Sign up here for updates about the Press