Last night’s flying lesson was canceled again thanks to a quiet and steady Columbus rainfall that quickly turned to snow. I’ve rescheduled for next Thursday and refuse to look at weather.com to see what the sky has in store for me that day. Instead, I’ll hope for low cloud cover. Starry skies because we’re still planning a nighttime run.
This means I still don’t have a story to tell for 36×37 assignment #28. Maybe I’ll just skip ahead to the assignment I actually did pull off this week.
I learned to play a little game called Chess.
In this case, “play” has a loose definition. Really, I just expect to meander around the board for a bit until all my pieces fall prey to the unmerciful.
It’s Sunday, and GB is setting up the board. Until now, the only things I’ve known about Chess have come from the lyrics of that excellent Yes classic, I’ve Seen All Good People (Your Move):
Take a straight and stronger course to the corner of your life
Make the white queen run so fast she hasn’t got time to make you a wii-ii-ii-ii-iiife
‘Cause it’s time it’s time in time with your time and it’s news is captured
For the queen to use
Move me on to any black square, use me anytime you want
Just remember that the goal is for us all to capture all we want, (move me on) yeah, (to any black square)
Don’t surround yourself with yourself, move on back two squares
Send an instant karma to me, initial it with loving care….
Between those words and my peculiar, lifelong obsession with Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, I mistakenly assume I know enough, anyway, to at least hold my own.
I remind resident Chess expert GB to keep his unfair advantage in check. As a child, he was invited into his school’s gifted and talented program, where he played untold hours of the game because nobody knew what else to do with him.
Now we sit across from each other, our shoulders squared, elbows on the table. He lines his white pieces in two rows and tells me to follow suit.
“First, place your king and queen. Bishops go on either side, then your knights, then your rooks. All your pawns line up in front, like this.”
I align my black pieces to mirror his. Already, I like this game.
“Ok, here are the rules…” he says.
- Protect your king at all cost. If the king is captured, the game is over. He can move one vacant square in any direction. [An aside: He can also make a special move known as castling no more than once each game. I don’t know what castling is yet, but trust me, I’m going to find out when I’ve finished writing this post. Methinks GB has been holding out on me.]
- Your queen is the most powerful piece on the board. [As well she should be.] She can move as many vacant spaces as she wants, and in any direction.
- Your bishops are similar to the queen in that they can move as many vacant spaces as they want, but only on the diagonal.
- Your knights can move only in an “L” shape: two squares, then one perpendicular square. They’re the only pieces that can jump over others without being blocked.
- Your rooks can move as many unoccupied vertical or horizontal spaces as they want.
- You have eight pawns. They’re the only pieces that can never retreat. They can move forward up to two vacant squares on their first move, and only one vacant square on all subsequent moves. They can capture only those enemy pieces that sit in either of the two squares diagonally in front of them.
Wow—really? I had no idea. This is serious business. Or at the very least, it certainly ain’t Checkers, is it.
GB gazes at me steadily. He looks like he’s daring me, so we begin to play.
Instantly I feel like the atmosphere is all wrong—like we should be listening to Vivaldi and swirling brandy in our cups while we sit in smoking jackets, filling our pipes and talking about metaphysics. Instead, the kitchen is chaos. O wriggles onto my lap and H launches into some diatribe about Batman and Robin.
We play for a while but take a break to put the kids through their bath time routine. When we resume the game, it takes just twenty-five minutes to finish it. I’ve captured five of the enemy but GB has lifted my king.
“Bastard!” I say.
He smirks. “This is how you learn.”
I love Chess. I find myself dreaming up moves. In my spare time, I teach H about the game because he’s interested in learning it. He’s a quick study, too. It’s almost eerie how fast a six-year-old can pick up complicated strategy. We sit, again square-shouldered, with looks of rapt concentration. This time, there is Vivaldi.
“My rook could capture your pawn,” he says. “But then your knight would take my rook. And then my queen wouldn’t have protection. I can’t let you take my best piece.”
I feel like I’m equally matched. I figured I’d make quick work of a six-year-old, but I guess a beginner is a beginner, no matter how old you are.
Still, I’m impressed by the way his mind works. I don’t know why I’m surprised. This boy is exactly like his father: A steady gaze and unflagging concentration, laced with a nimble ability to strategize.
I wonder…maybe I should ask him about castling.
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