"When dawn spreads its paintbrush on the plain, spilling purple... ," Songs of the Pioneers song from TV show "Wagon Train." Dawn on the mythic Santa Fe Trail, New Mexico, looking toward Raton from Cimarron. -- Clarkphoto. A curmudgeon's old-fashioned newspaper column, cross-breeding metaphors and journalism and art, for readers in 150 countries.

Friday, November 13, 2009

It's your move!


His hand paused, reached for the wooden piece with the pointed top, hovered  over it for a moment.
I held my breath. He'd been studying the checked board for 15 minutes after
I'd last moved.
Didn't he see?
He always did, but...
Then he changed, reached for the piece shaped like a horse head, moved it
three squares, and sighed.
I smiled, started to touch on of my pieces, but waited.
Then I slid a piece with a crown down the white squares.
"Check."
I thought I had him.
An hour and a half later, the game still wasn't over.
***
When I was a little boy, my Dad taught me how to play chess. Usually, I'd
watch him and one of my uncles, or a neighbor, sit at a table on a  rainy
Saturday and spend a couple of hours studying the black and white board with the neat-looking pieces on it. If you didn't know about the basic moves, the  game was a mystery.
I learned the basic moves, and years later, the game is still a mystery.
Oh, I played some in college, and a little by mail, but then I went years
without even seeing a chess board. With the advent of computers, I tried
playing a little, but even rudimentary chess programs would beat me almost
every time.
A few years ago, , I saw a student playing chess on the Internet, and I
couldn't resist. Since, I've played people all over the world, some who don't
even speak English. I can win some games, and lose more. I've
improved, but I know my "level," and it's just fair. A good chess player who
has studied the game will beat me almost every time, because to me, it's a
diversion, not a subject to study.
Still, I hate to lose.
Then I found people in Border's Bookstore, and saw people playing real chess. I stood and watched, and eventually was invited to play.
 I still can't beat the really good ones, but there was sort of an informal
chess club there, no dues, no meetings, no officers--you know, the really
good kind of organization. Now I play a retired optometrist almost every week…we go to Steve’s Rib in Edmond…the best barbeque in town. We’re such repeat customers that the cute waitresses all know what we order and always  take an interest in us.  Steve’s Rib is another success story, which is a different story, but I know part of it is that all the staff is friendly and real.
Chess is still a mystery--it's a mystery to me the attraction of being able
to actually touch pieces, rather than clicking on a computer mouse. Your
personality influences how you play chess--aggressively, impulsively,
defensively, sulkily, cheerfully--and there's so much psychology involved.
And no game is ever the same.
It's a mystery why someone like myself so pressed for time, so impatient, can sit for more than an hour and match wits with someone else, on a slow-moving game that is at least 1,500-2,000 years old. It’s fascinating to me that thousands of people in this hurried world still take time to slow down and play a game invented when there was no electricity and time was measured by a sun dial.
Do you know where the term Check mate comes from? It’s Persian for Shah Mat...”the king is dead.”
It’s interesting to me that chess is often used as a metaphor today for all sorts of things b y people who never play it…sports, war, etc. But I’ve never heard a metaphor for chess. Curious power. I’ve written one piece that described what I’ve learned about chess from the Civil War.
Remember when you were a kid? What was the favorite board game? Monopoly? Clue? Checkers? Something else?  Today there are zillions of games on the internet that can become addictive. I know this first hand. But…
How long since you've sat down with family or friends and taken the time to lose yourself in a game? Too busy? Tell you what playing chess has taught me: if I'm too busy, I'd better hurry up and take the time. What are you doing on these long dark evenings?
Now...it's your move.




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