Once a year, when summer ends and schools begin in Cagliari, children are reminded of the ancient games, the dices, the cards and the boards, as they play in park. As children we invent our spontaneous plays and then play according to age-old rules. So we learn about competition (Agon) , chance (Alea), simulation (Mimicry) and vertigo (Ilinx). As long as we do not forget playing we are Homo ludens and only then we also remain Homo sapiens, like the saying goes: ‘We do not stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing’. Besides, you really learn to know yourself and others during play, like Bette Davis once remarked: ‘I will play with it first and tell you what it is later’.
Maybe the giant chess game is the greatest game of all. Originating in India more than 2500 years ago, it reached Persia 1000 years later and was brought to us by the Moors of Africa. Still we call out check (‘Shāh!’, Persian for ‘King!’) when attacking the opponent’s king, and checkmate (‘Shāh Māt!’, Persian for ‘the king is helpless!’ ) when the king is attacked and cannot escape anymore. I was taught the basics of chess in the same way as the children of Cagliari, although the giant chess pieces were lacking. Later I joined chess clubs at school and university. Without the discipline to study much theory, do the notation of the draws and obey the rigour of the clock, I often retreated to playing in the night, with smart company and good drink, until sunrise and bedtime. When I started losing from my computer, a couple of years ago, I stopped playing chess, so maybe I am growing old now?