Always Have a Strategy Until the Bitter End

Somewhere around the year 1983, I had come across a beginner’s chess game set at the local toy store. Each piece in the set had an inscription on a plaque which informs the player what this pieces’ functionality is like the pawn: first move can be 1 to 2 spaces forward, all other moves forward are 1 space, it attacks diagonally.

In the early years, I tried getting either of my brothers interested in playing and neither ever really enjoyed it. Eventually a couple of other local kids around my age popped up in the neighbourhood. We played occcassionally when we were allowed to be in doors because in our day, we were told by our mothers’, “you kids go outside and play.”

“Bishop to d5,” a voice inside my head thinks as I am surveying the pieces and board in between us, “that’ll take his knight and put me two moves to check,” my opponent sits in his chair in the local community center gymnasium. There are fifty 10-to-13 years old minds battling it out over a grandprize of a marble chess set, a cash prize of $500.00 and a very large trophy with a plaque stating County Champion 1986.

My skills were honed through countless hours playing chess against my father and brothers and ad such I was average at best. On that particular afternoon I faired well in 3 of 5 matches which got me into round two than quickly eliminated by players with greater skills and a determination to win.

After that afternoon I played the occassional match here and there against friends or family members to pass the time. It wasn’t until my first year at the local community college around the age of 18, when I came upon a consortium of guys playing card games and chess in the common areas between classes shooting the proverbial breeze.

It is here where I became obsessed with playing tirelessly against guys with a far greater understanding surrounding strategies, movements, two move checkmates and extensive back log history of repetetive playing.

My rusty skills were no match to their own. And yet they allowed me into their circle of chess-trust. Quickly, I realized my mediocre skills were going to always lose. Into the library at the center of the building I went, to research, locate books, read about moves, strategizes and never quitting. For all I wanted was to have a win in my column.

These guys and gals were devastatingly good at beating me in under ten minutes. Which is why I had to bring victory to my between class repetoire. My hunger was thirsty to avenge that long lost trophy which I sought after as a kid.

And that is when I said to, Thane, Brian, Scott, and everyone within the common room lounge, “I will play anyone here for $10 bucks a match. Who wants to take this from me?”

They scoffed at my gesture of competition and smiled shaking their heads no, knowing that everyone including Angela and Jamie were able to whoop me in under five minutes. But none of them knew, I had been reading books and playing against others to hone my skills and strategies for which I had researched in the library. All I needed was one of them to take that chance.

Alas, Thane caved and slapped down $10 beside the board, “okay. You win. I will take your money. Come on. Would you like to be white?” he smiled. “No thanks buddy, you can start us off.”

From the start Thane could tell something had changed in my usual move-first think-after strategy. “Not your normal shock and awe, huh?” he said, as I pondered my third move.

With a hint of sarcasm, I replied, “Nah, I’ve upgraded to a simpler strategy! To kick your butt!” As the comment left my lips the onlookers laughed and encouraged more witty comentary.

Literally forty-five minutes had passed, Thane had captured 35% of my pieces and I only 18% of his. This new strategy, although time consuming and utterly slow, had him confused and on his haunches. There was an eery silence from the crowd as I placed a piece at c4 and exclaimed, “Check!”

Again the onlookers erupted, into whoops, hollers and cheering some went as far as laughing and others simply applauding my efforts. “Seriously?,” Brian began, finishing with “didn’t see that coming, did yea?”

“No, I most certainly didn’t see that. Nice move but its not going to prevail,” Thane said picking up his knight to move him in front of my bishop to block the check move. And unbeknownst to him set himself up for the final strike of this strategy.

“Nice,” I said, holding my breath in. I wanted to jump up from the table and surprise him with the final winning dagger! Instead, I sat starring at the board, waiting for the moment to pick up my own knight two spaces over and move him into the checkmate location.

Reaching across the board, I picked up the knight who was lost just below Thane’s jaw. It had been sitting there for at least twelve minutes and was probably long forgotten. Slowly, my hand moved the knight, up over a pawn and a spread of other pieces and as I slowly lowerd it into its final resting space at e3, in a very quiet voice, “checkmate!?”

Thane’s face fell into dismay, his eyes darting back and forth surveying all the pieces as his jaw dropped. “What?” a perplexed look on his face. My ears were ringing from the onlookers as they were SCREAMING and CHEERING. Thane astonished looked up from the board, opened his mouth and nothing came out.

Before anyone could confirm the checkmate call, Thane’s left forearm dropped next to the board and as I looked into his eyes, a devilish grin peaked at the corner of his mouth as his left forearm like a snow plow exploded across the board sweeping all of the pieces off the table and onto the floor.

“Are you serious?” came a light voice behind me. I turned to see Katy peering over my shoulder, “you beat Thane? And took $10 bucks off him?” A broad smile on my face appeared then, “I certainly did. And I’d show you the move that won, had Thane not just dismantled the board!”

The moral of this story is when faced with adversity there is always a path forward to make yourself a better player. And when it comes to chess, you always have a way to win even if you only have two pieces left. Or quit simply you can save yourself from a lose and pull the game into a stalemate (tie).