I sat with my board and pieces like a New Orleans hooker in a window with a red light, displaying my wanton intentions--eager for action.
Last evening in Barnes & Noble.
Tuesdays the Chess club meets there.
I arrived with my infamous black bag of pawns and rooks and other deadly concealed weapons of regicide--an old warrior in a strange land.
Presently, a mother and her son stepped forward.
He was about 12.
Mother: “Oh, Sir--my son has become obsessed with the game of chess and I thought if he
could play some real games with experienced players he might enjoy that. Would it be okay if Kevin played a game with you?”
Terry (addressing Kevin): “Good Evening, Kevin. Did you want to play a game?”
The young man looked like the bold and adventurous Nerd, bloodthirsty for conquest. He was smooth-faced, with golden tousled hair, large and intelligent blue eyes.
He nodded and took his chair opposite me.
Mother: “All the other kids his age are playing such violent video games, I’m glad he’s taken such avid interest in Chess. In fact, it’s all he seems to want to do.”
Terry: “Chess is the oldest video game in existence--except--without the video.”
Mother takes a seat nearby like the overprotective suburban Housefrau of 1950’s sitcoms.
Kevin: “Do you care which color you play, because--if you don’t--I’d prefer White.”
Terry: “Chess is a very Moral game. The rules ensure neither side is given unfair advantages on purpose.
That is why I do THIS!
(I place a white pawn in one hand and a black pawn in my other hand.)
I’ll now mix these up and let you choose in the blind.
Like most things in life, Luck will confer its advantage willy-nilly.”
The boy and his mother are now looking at this old man who uses words like “willy-nilly” with guarded suspicion. However, Kevin selects my left hand and luck bestows the White Privilege.
Our game commences with Kevin’s pawn staunchly planted on the fourth square in front of His Majesty’s throne.
Terry: “ You are an aggressive General like Hannibal of Carthage, who brought Rome to its knees in the Punic Wars.”
(Kevin is now staring at me, wondering what he’s gotten himself into. His mother is nodding and smiling. Her bouncing baby boy is being educated by an old sage.)
I scoot my King’s pawn one square forward. Timidly, like some errant mouse venturing out of its hole, eyeballing the room in search of the famished cat.
In an eager flash of movement, Kevin orders his King’s Knight forward, supporting the center.
My Queen’s Bishop’s pawn launches into the field and prevents a second center pawn.
Terry: “Chess is not only a moral game but a game which exposes and reveals character.
It is moral because--if you do nothing wrong--your opponent cannot punish you. It reveals character because, like life itself, adversity tests who we are inside and what we are made of.”
(Mother’s head tilts slightly to the side, thoughtfully embracing buzzwords like “moral” and “character” with instinctive approval.)
Kevin’s eyes are flicking here and there, dancing over the field of play with impatience for carnage. He reminds me of my son, Nicholas, at that age--keenly intelligent and enthusiastic for any opportunity to display his genius.
Kevin decides to penetrate my territorial sanctity by placing his King’s Bishop on my Queen’s side flank.
Terry: “ 1540s, the Catholic Church sent priests into Japan from Portugal to convert the Japanese to Christianity, teaching them to ‘turn the other cheek’ so that eventually, troops would arrive and conquer the newly minted Christians and establish dominance in Asia.”
(I interposed my Queen’s Knight, blocking his Bishop.)
Mother, I can see, has pursed her lips a wee bit. The wheels in her maternal noggin are turning. She isn’t Catholic. So far, so good.
And so it went.
With each move, I told little stories and sprinkled tidbits of history, philosophy, and religious lore mostly to keep myself interesting (I hoped.)
Kevin’s over-eager aggression got him into trouble quite early. I trapped his Bishop and--like King Henry II’s henchmen, murdered Thomas More in the cathedral--I curtailed the influence of his Catholic emissary.
Step by step. Move by move. The noose tightened inexorably.
I let him take back blundered moves a couple of times--although this is poor sport. I didn’t want to crush his spirit. I advised him when he was going wrong--but in a gentle way.
Finally, it was over.
His king cowered in the corner as my mouse of a pawn advanced to his first rank and transformed into a snarling lion administering Checkmate.
He thanked me with polite acknowledgment and went off for other opportunities with the rest of the club members.
Mother went out of her way to come over and thank me.
I explained to her that her son was quite a bright young man.
"Chess is a moral game because--unless you do something wrong--nobody can punish you.
His only fault was ambition without a plan for success. Blind ambition can be unlearned through developing patience. Patience is an old man's strong suit."
That’s the only game I played. My daughter Helena came by after her class at the local community college. We set off for Starbucks nearby.
And a good time was had by all.
(Except maybe Kevin the Bold whose king was murdered in the Cathedral.)