Wednesday, October 22, 2003

check mate

I've read Nabokov's "The Defense," I've seen "Searching for Bobby Fischer," I've read some great articles about that nutcase, I followed the Kasparov/Deep Blue match with interest, and even had a passing acquaintance with some members of the R.L. Turner High School state championship chess team. None of this has ever made me want to learn how to play chess. Oh, I learned the basic moves back in high school during the many long nights at Grinders Coffeehouse. But I never had the patience to examine the board, think through strategy, or do much else other than blindly flick a horsey across the board and yawn until somebody knocked my king over. I always felt that to play chess, you have to really study the game and devote yourself to its intricacies. Frankly, I didn't feel like bothering.

So you can see why I didn't expect Foreign Affairs magazine to drag me into my first chess game since '95.

I was on the bus, rattling home from work, reading about the diplomatic back-and-forth that lead up to the Iraq war and the UN Security Council's failure to pass a second resolution on Iraq. It suddenly struck me that I had never developed any thought processes attuned to strategy, manipulation, anticipating the moves of opponents and allies. Hell, I would never even play Risk because it stressed me out too much. Whenever I played "Civilization" or some such game on the computer, I just sent diplomats everywhere so that I wouldn't have to negotiate war and peace. (my diplomats were regularly beheaded. I then spent all my money on libraries and lo and behold, my nation had the Bomb while my foe [Ireland] was still in the middle ages.)

ANYWAY. I realized that learning how to play chess might help develop that part of my mind that was so woefully undernourished. And I had to do it fast, before my natural aversion to the game kicked in and any chance of learning was gone for another decade. So I called in my resident chess expert (Kriston) who was more than eager to comply, seeing as how he has been trying to get me to play chess for approximately 2.75 years. And to tell the truth, it wasn't nearly as horrible as I expected. I tried my damndest to piss him off, but he was impervious. I called them "horsies" and "castles" and regularly referred to "my guys" "eating" "your guys." I yelped when he put his hand on a particularly threatening piece, and I gloated when he showed me how to eat one of his guys. Halfway through the game he stopped telling me all my moves, and no amount of whining and stalling and begging and snivelling on my part [don't I sound FUN?] would bring aid. "Try to figure out what I want to do," he'd advise. "EAT MY KING!" I'd answer. In the end, he let me win, because he knows it was the only way I'd ever play again. Apparently, I should have taken his king about 25 moves before I did, but I am a slow learner.

I don't feel particularly strategic quite yet, and Risk is definitely not on the horizon, but I do have a new respect for Kriston's pain threshold.


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