by Jo Slade - Story: 71481
Feb 27, 2012 / 5:00 am
Feb 27, 2012 / 5:00 am
My life would have continued as a chess-less existence had my six-year old grandson not received a chess board for Christmas. In the tradition of such gifts the game by rights should have been stashed a few weeks after the fact and quickly forgotten. But no, Andrew is his own kind of boy, and he took to chess like a duck to water, he loved it from the get-go. He is in kindergarten, but has, without so much as an adult even suggesting it, joined the school chess club.
I was proud but a little worried, knowing that eventually he’d notice me as a potential chess opponent. It didn’t take long. I told him, “Sorry, kid, I don’t know how to play chess.” To my credit, I did not add, “So bug off.” Andrew was singularly unimpressed with such faulty logic, he isn’t a kid to accept tawdry excuses about something he plans to make happen. Besides, in his eyes, my desirability as a chess opponent went up several notches because clearly I’d be the perfect
sucker person for him to win against. The obsessive and determined little rat even bought a book on chess, which he brought over for me to borrow so that I’d get with the program.
I ignored the book. People learn stuff in different ways; some read to learn, some watch a video to learn, and some prefer to be taught by another person. I’m none of the above. My way is to stumble blindly and alone through the tangled maze of trial and error until I finally, gasping and exhausted, get it. So, in order to do it my way, I fired up a chess game on my computer, set it to easy mode, and started playing. The computer was delighted, it saw ‘sap’ written all over my moves, and it happily slammed me to the ground, at least at first. I think it giggled at my efforts until I started using the undo feature, which helped to even the playing field at first.
There are two big advantages to playing against a computer. First up, a computer won’t let you make an ‘illegal’ move (well, except for ‘undo’, of course), which not only keeps you on the straight and narrow it also teaches you what you can and cannot do. Furthermore, it reduces you to ‘humble’ in very short order, because computers, it turns out, like to win. Humble is a good mindset for learning anything, and in particular, I think, for learning chess.
Within a couple of days I had stopped losing to the computer and stopped using the undo feature, but I was still not winning. Instead, everything was ending up in a draw or stalemate. From what I can gather, if you’re about to lose a game you can take steps to end it in a stalemate or draw instead of losing. Clearly this is what the computer was doing, the petulant bastard, but since I refused to read the rules I didn’t know how to stop it from happening. I am still fairly unclear on that, but I’m learning, it’ll come, just as everything else is coming, bit by bit. Most of the matches are now ending up in stalemate, draw or win for me, but there is so much more to learn. And oh how I love it. I love the game of chess.
I’ve had exactly one ‘real time’ game with my grandson so far, a game on a physical board instead of a computer, and even though I won, he played a good game (not that I’d know a good game from a hole in the ground, really). The real time game is more fun than I could have imagined, and now all I want to do all day is play chess, be it on the computer or on a real board. I am totally smitten.
My new obsession was introduced to me in such a peculiar way, I might have missed out altogether had it not been for the strange gift of chess to a kindergarten kid. This made me think, here I am, old as dirt, finally discovering what is easily my most favourite game of all time, what on earth was I thinking years ago when I didn’t give it a fair shot? What kind of things do we miss because of an unwillingness to try? Because of fear of failing? Or falling? Or thinking that it might be boring?
So now I want my readers to write a column for me. I’d like you to think about something you’ve never tried because you couldn’t be bothered, or you thought it would be too much effort, or you were afraid of it or whatever. Then just go do it, see what happens. Surprise yourself. Then send me an email firstname.lastname@example.org and tell me about it, what you tried and why you hadn’t tried before. Tell me if you’re glad you tried, or did it confirm everything you suspected you’d hate? Send in your stories, I’ll be writing a column with the ‘best of’ in a few weeks.
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The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet presents its columns "as is" and does not warrant the contents.
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