WCCM: Playing and Drinking in Moscow

If you happen to be in Moscow in May for a World Chess Grand Prix you will probably end up at the World Chess Club Moscow on one of the evenings — to mingle with the fellow chess players and friends, have a drink named after a chess great, and check out what is billed as the world’s only chess club with a bar.

Located in one of the most iconic buildings of the Soviet Era, one of the Seven Sisters, the club shares the wall with World Chess, the publisher of this website. Looking like a lobby of a hipster-friendly East Berlin hotel and hosting a curious mix of patrons, the club offers a glimpse into the future of chess establishments as the sport becomes less of an educational device for kids but a favorite pastime for millennials who grew up with chess installed on their smartphone.

World Chess Club Moscow, established following a spike in popularity of chess in Russia, that took place when a Russian grandmaster Sergey Karjakin almost won the match against the incumbent World Champion Magnus Carlsen (Karjakin was ahead for several rounds and lost on tie-breaks) became a metaphor for the chess revolution: from a very conservative sport for nerds, it became a combination of a hip computer game and the Nobel Prize.

“This is not so much a typical bar, but a community bar for chess fans,” — says Kenan Assab, head bartender for the club who was named the top bartender in Russia by Esquire Magazine. “Just a very, very good one!”

Before the bar opens at 4PM, the work area behind the counter looks curiously similar to an alchemy lab, with complicated equipment producing steam and bubbly substances. The team is operating a distiller, an expensive device deployed to create house distillates necessary to produce bespoke cocktails that have been developed to celebrate the chess champions.

There is Capablanca (a mixed cocktail based on Cuban rum, sherry blend and clarified pineapple cordial with smoky spray), Euwe (based on Dutch jenever and vodka, a blend of vermouth and white port and a cardamom shrub with a rose extract) and the crown jewel of the collection, Spassky (a mixed cocktail based on smelt and sprat distillate, with the addition of tomato water, spices and sherry vinegar).

After 4PM the club is filled with patrons who play chess, take lessons and follow live broadcasts of chess events from around the world on large projectors.

“When you come here for the first time, you don’t know what to expect, but in five minutes you will already be playing a blitz game with one of the bartenders or guests, and feel very much at home,” explains Roman Volkov, the club manager. “We know many visitors by name and also know how well they play chess. We are able to match them with a playing partner instantly. We have lots of tourists and I speak Enlgish as often as Russian here. And thinking that I need to pick up some Chinese — we are getting a lot of Chinese visitors and have even created a cocktail after one of the Chinese players”.

For many, World Chess Club Moscow is a curious little bar where one can bring a friend who is visiting Moscow from abroad. But for World Chess, the organizer of the top chess events, it’s a way to show what the modern chess is like to partners.

On workdays, the club turns into a chess pitching room with impeccably-dressed people showing up from advertising agencies and the media to discuss the next World Chess Championship cycle. “Chess is popular, and we have numbers to prove it,” — says Nadia Panteleeva, head of partnerships for World Chess. “But it’s also lifestyle position. We are meeting for drinks here and our partners see what kind of people are spending time playing chess. Usually, they are very impressed”.

During the World Chess Grand Prix Series, the World Chess Club Moscow will be the official fan zone for the event, with live broadcast of the games, appearance of the Grand Prix participants and friendly chess games. The World Chess Club will also exclusively carry official merchandise of the event. The Moscow Grand Prix runs from May 17 to May 29 and starts at 3PM Moscow time.