In Santiago’s Plaza de Armas – built by Spanish conquistadors in 1541 to defend the fledgling city against Mapuche and Inca attacks – hundreds of battles are fought, castles sacked and kings dethroned everyday.
The drama takes place in a small pavilion at the square’s western end, home of the Chess Club of Plaza de Armas and one of the charms of downtown Santiago – a bustling melting pot of people from all walks of life in this city of 6 million.
Its members reflect the city’s huge diversity – this is one of the only clubs in the country that brings together rich and poor, young and old. Here corporate executives take on taxi drivers, well-groomed old gentleman play long-haired university students.
Some games are played with all the theater of a 17th century duel, as opponents slam their pieces down and gesticulate wildly. Others appear to be more of a chat, with the pieces providing a convenient prompt for lulls in the conversation.
Some games are played unwatched and in complete, absorbed silence; others attract large crowds as players banter with their audience and needle their opponents.
All take place on the same picturesque little card tables, crammed together under the pavilion’s roof and spilling out into the plaza on busy days.
Around this island of stationary, concentrated individuals swarms the endless stream of commuters, of buskers and comedians – sure to playfully pick on passing tourists – of mimes and preachers, fortune-tellers and lovers.
Completing the scene are the square’s imposing historic buildings – some of the finest colonial-era architecture in the country – including the Catedral Metropolitana and National History Museum.
The club is open from 1 pm until 9 pm every day of the week, with the most busy times coming at the end of the work day during the week, and during mid-afternoons on weekends.
Plaza de Armas is bordered by 21 de Mayo and Estado streets on the eastern side, Compañía on the south and Paseo Ahumada and Paseo Puente on the west. It can be reached by the taking the metro to the Plaza de Armas station.