One of the great Chess venues was the famous Café de la Regence "Place du Palais-Royal" in Paris, just beside the Louvre. The chess tables are gone, alas, but once they were frequented by the likes of Voltaire, Diderot, Rousseau and Ben Franklin.
Voltaire contested a postal chess match from there with Frederick The Great, dispatching his moves to a waiting courtier. Corporal Napoleon also spent a lot of spare time there absorbed in his favorite pastime.
The story goes that a beautiful girl disguised as a man checkmated Robespierre and then revealed her identity to plead for the life of her condemned lover. She got an order for his immediate release.
A kibitzer who always watched the games in total silence was asked to settle a dispute. But he had no idea how to play! He was simply a married man, said he, who preferred to spend his evenings away from home.
George Walker, an English master, described the congenial coffee-house in 1840:
"Stove-heated to oppression, gas-lighted, mirrors in abundance and slabs of marble to top its tables. On Sunday all keep their hats on, to save space, and an empty chair is worth a ransom. The din of voices shakes the roof as we enter, like a beast-show at feeding time! "Can this be chess, the recreation of solitude? We sigh for cotton to stuff our ears. Mocha is brought. We sip. Manners are to be noted and chessmen are to be sketched. "The English are the best lookers-on in the world, the French the very worst. They do not hesitate to whisper their opinions freely, to point with their hands over the board, to foretell the probable future, to vituperate the past. I have all but vowed that when next I play chess in Paris, it shall be in a barricaded room. "Midnight is long gone. Players are thinning, the garcons yawn, the drums have beaten the round, and the good wives of Paris are airing their husbands' nightcaps. I reluctantly prepare to face the cold. Farewell, at least for a season, to the Café de la Regence."
In 1858 the American Paul Morphy won acclaim by playing eight strong opponents at once without sight of the board. After ten hours he won 6 and drew 2, thus breaking Andre Philidor's record of three blindfold games there in 1783! His secretary F. T. Edge caught the moment:
That's the way it was. Today the blindfold record stands at 52
White: PAUL MORPHY Black: HENRI BAUCHER
Philidor Defense 1858
Source: Evans on Chess - Jan 26 1996 from Chess
'Total Chess' by David Spanier