I’ve never been one for board games. My family didn’t really play indoor games growing up, and I guess I just never developed a taste for them. We did occasionally play Chinese Checkers, Scrabble…and chess. I was pretty good at Chinese Checkers and Scrabble. I’m terrible at chess. Not average, not passable…full-on terrible. I played outdoor Chess this summer with a friend of mine, with big giant pieces you had to pick up with both hands, and he kept having to say stuff like “you can’t do that” or “no…the game is over. You lost.”
So when I found out that my local library in White Rock has a Chess club, I cleared a night to go.
Maybe it’s the years of watching Searching For Bobby Fischer in rapture, but I’m amazed by people who can play Chess well. So naturally, I wanted to be one of them. I imagined being surrounded by wise older chess players who could teach me everything they know, and I would grow wiser about life, just by playing Chess once a week. It turned out to be different than I thought, as most things do.
First, it was mostly Asian elementary school kids. Not sure why they were all Asian, but they were incredibly good at Chess. There were a couple of older guys who played each other, and they weren’t at all crotchety or rough around the edges like the movies suggest they would be. The man in charge is named Henry. The first thing he did was look me up and down and ask me if I was there for Chess. I said I was. Then he asked me how old I am. I paused, and he quickly explained that most of the people who show up get entered into categories by grade. I told him I have no grade, that I’m 29 and that he could write that down if he needed to. He blushed and told me he’s 58, then started mumbling about how he could be my father. I smiled.
Because so few kids showed up that night, Henry spent the whole night teaching me chess drills. One on one lessons usually cost money, but he said he had time to do it even though I wasn’t paying. I never knew there was such a thing as a “Chess drill”, but these games are apparently used for beginners to teach us how to check our opponent. Henry said you can play a whole game of Chess, but if you don’t know how to check (go for the kill), then the game is useless. That made sense to me. So we practiced my “electric fence”, the way you drive your opponent’s King against a wall so he’s trapped. It was hard for me to think in Chess terms at first, but it got easier over the two hours.
I realized why I haven’t been great at it all these years; it’s an entirely different way of thinking. In Chess, as in life, I don’t really think ahead. I typically make a move, prepared to handle whatever may come my way as a result. I pride myself on quick spontaneous thinking, not deliberate strategic thinking. In a game of Chess, you could possibly win by fluke moving spontaneously…but it’s highly unlikely because your opponent most likely has a plan, and since Chess is strategy you’ll be rendered defenceless. I started to wonder if maybe I need to change the way I approach my life strategy; not just my Chess strategy. I do like spontaneity, but could I use a little more strategy, a little more deliberation?
At the end of the session, Henry showed me the Chess website he uses to teach the kids. He asked if I could spend an hour a day on it learning. I said I could, but didn’t say if I will. I like Chess, I want to be better at it…but something the kids have over me is more time to devote to non-career related pursuits. Henry also asked if I could come play on Saturdays. It seems that there are more people there on the weekend, and he seemed pretty excited that someone from a demographic he’s not seen before had showed up to play.
I left the library that night feeling like I’d accomplished something; I stepped out of my comfort zone and challenged my thought processes. I never got to play an actual game of Chess…but I will. And if I practice a little, I may even win one someday. Maybe.