Murder in the Cathedral (Chess at Barnes & Noble)

by TerryWalstrom 14 Replies latest jw friends

  • TerryWalstrom

    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.

    Kevin: “CHECK!”

    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.)

  • oppostate

    Very visual and engaging story, Terry. As a chess player myself, I followed every move in the fun of the competition as I read it. Thank for your recount of the story and sharing it with us.

  • TerryWalstrom

    I was a member of a local chess club around 1999--2003 but stopped going
    when the only chess anybody wanted to play was Blitz!

    Heck--I have trouble not embarrassing myself with a slow game--let alone getting myself humiliated ten times in one hour with speed chess!

    It's only in the last 6 months I decided I needed chess in my life again
    because of my age. I want to postpone senility any way I can :)

    I find playing against a computer online is soulless. Mainly because I can only win 1 game out of 4. (Crushes my soul )

    It is a wonderful pastime and reveals to me my many character flaws.

    I highly recommend this novel by the author of that great pool book

  • Giordano

    I have read the Queens Gambit....

    Engaging and fast-paced, this gripping coming-of-age novel of chess, feminism, and addiction speeds to a conclusion as elegant and satisfying as a mate in four.

    Terry, I play each week at our local Library where anyone is welcome to join us. I also play for the mental exercise.

    I also have a story re an eleven year old chess player who joined our table one day. He played five of us over a three hour period and handily bested every one of our players.

    So after my loss I observed him. And while he was the real deal I did notice a flaw. He was impatient....he moved quickly....... then watched the other games that were in play.

    I didn't share this observation with the other players. The following week he returned and I invited him to play me. Normally I play fast. But on this occasion I really slowed down my game. He sat there fidgeting waiting for me to move then became distracted as he watched the other games around him. When I finally moved I would wait for him to notice. I have heard that among some players this is called cooling down the board.

    I was able to win more times then not. As he got older....... he played with us for over a decade.......he remained our best player and a likable young man. By then he could play a 2 minute game which of course...... us old timers couldn't do. We settled on a five minute per side game.

    Best single line re chess.......One professional said about another...."How did I lose to this idiot?"

  • dropoffyourkeylee

    I am an avid chessplayer too. I play occasionally on

  • Earnest

    Thanks, Terry. Well written. Have you read Frances Parkinson Keyes book "The Chess Players", a fictional work on the life of Paul Morphy, easily the best American player until Bobby Fischer? A most enjoyable read.

  • hothabanero

    whats your rating @dropoffyourkeylee?

  • neat blue dog
    neat blue dog

    Very engaging read, thanks 👍

  • TerryWalstrom

    I have read Frances Parkinson Keyes book "The Chess Players."
    A classic!

    For me, the human nature of my opponent is the most fun.
    I observe their temperament, tendencies, skillset, and whatnot.
    After a while, I do find the stylistic preferences which are most likely
    make preparation against them easier. Nothing is more motivating than losing!

    When I was actively playing, I only played in maybe 2 tournaments toward the end of the 1990's. I was barely a 1500 player at that time.
    In later years, I could inconsistently beat players up to about 1800 level.
    Only on a GOOD day with my mind straight.

    Today? I have no idea. I would guess somewhere around 1700.

    I have read extensively and know the biographies and history of the famous players.

    I've read the theory books, too.
    My favorite player was Jose' Raul Capablanca.
    My favorite teacher, Yassir Seriwan (I think his name is.)

    My favorite YouTube channel is a fellow named


  • dropoffyourkeylee

    My otb rating (uscf) is in the low 1700’s. I’ve played two tournaments in the past year.

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