In the sixth grade at Navy Base School in Lakewood I would watch my fellow classmates play chess. It’s like Yogi Bera said, “You can observe a lot by just watching.” I bought a cheap chessboard and some plastic chess pieces and looked for opponents.
That summer some contractors who were working at Ft. Lewis became regulars at my parents’ motel in Ponders Corner (La Casa Motel). One of them brought his son Joey along, who was about my age. We played chess at a patio table on the lawn in the middle of the court. The contractors would play after work. I didn’t watch them play, but they watched Joey and me. Soon I was playing them. They beat me early on, but that began to change. They were better and more experienced than I was, but I played a steady game of catch-up. The games became longer and I started to win my share. When the contractors finished at Ft. Lewis, I was disappointed to see them go.
“Prior to 1849, there was no such thing as a “normal chess set.” At least not like we think of it today. Over the centuries that chess had been played, innumerable varieties of sets of pieces were created, with regional differences in designation and appearance. As the game proliferated throughout southern Europe in the early 11th century, the rules began to evolve, the movement of the pieces were formalized, and the pieces themselves were drastically transformed from their origins in 6th century India. Originally conceived of as a field of battle, the symbolic meaning of the game changed as it gained popularity in Europe, and the pieces became stand-ins for a royal court instead of an army. Thus, the original chessmen, known as counselor, infantry, cavalry, elephants, and chariots, became the queen, pawn, knight, bishop, and rook, respectively.” – smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/how-the-chess-set-got-its-look-and-feel-14299092/
By myself, I bought books on chess strategy, but they are kind of like books on making love. They were mechanical and devoid of joy. I was in concert band and orchestra at Clover Park High School. I played baritone Saxophone. I had an old alto sax. I loaned it to a friend in the band who played tenor. When Brian returned the sax to me, he had replaced a couple of the pads (on the keys) and replaced one of the springs with a rubber band. I was impressed. He invited me to his house after school. He was a strange kid, who sometimes wore an ascot. Believe me, nobody at Clover Park wore ascots. He lived in a nice brick rambler. Soon we were playing chess in his kitchen. I noted gallon jugs of wine on the counter. Brian’s mom and dad came home. The father looked at the board and asked, “Who’s winning.” I had won two games and this was the third. I shrugged my shoulders and offhandedly said, “I am.” Brian’s dad nodded and said, “It figures.” I felt sorry for Brian that I had admitted winning.
Chess is a lot like fencing. Both opponents can’t attack at the same time. Fencing and chess matches are composed of attack and defense. For almost a hundred and fifty years, white moves first (attacks) and black moves second (defends). White wins more. It’s like the old adage, “Fortune favors the bold.” In fencing either opponent can move first, but it’s still a series of thrust (attack) and parry (defense). Brian just moved pieces, he didn’t really attack. In both chess and fencing, if you don’t attack, you’ll be constantly attacked yourself until you lose. Brian’s problem was that he should have given up chess and taken up fencing . . . and then run his dad through. “Touche!”
I also remember playing my uncle James. I don’t remember who actually won, but I learned a valuable lesson about chess in that one game. Somehow, not by design, I had both knights in the middle of the board . . . and well protected. If you control the center of the battlefield you usually win.
The most important aspect of chess is choosing your opponent. If you want to learn, then choose someone better than you. If you just want to monkey around then it doesn’t matter too much . . . but defeating someone with few skills is unsatisfying.
I stopped playing chess for years, but took it up again when I was working at Boeing in the early 70s. I would play during lunch every day with a friend. It took a number of games to get rid of the cobwebs in the chess part of my brain, but one day when the bell rang signifying the end of lunch, my friend sat staring at the board and said, “You can’t beat me!” I said, “You were saved by the bell.” He never beat me again. When I came home a few weeks later with my chess board and books under my arm on January 1, 1971, my wife knew that I had been laid off from Boeing.
Our life changed. I made a bold move and my wife and I began buying houses. We did well until interest rates soared and then we became video producers. I haven’t bought a house in nearly forty years . . . and haven’t really played chess over that same time. I fear I have lost my aggressiveness . . . and with it . . . my skill.