Speechwriting: Corporate, Weddings, Retirement

2/9/08

Chess in the Face of Friendship

I beat Level 2 on Chess Titans this morning. Coffee in hand in these wee hours, I sat, as I am sitting now, on my couch.

Classic two rook end game, while my opponent. Mr. Computer, was short staffed, unable to respond due to a brilliant fork I enabled at his expense. Rooking a pawn later after some strategic sacrifices caused my worthy adversary to shudder, or, it would have had it been human, when it realized I forced a reduction in its defense.

Level 2. Don't be impressed. There are 10. Like my running, I last played chess seriously over 20 years ago. And, like my running, the skill I had then has waned from lack of use.

I played on my high school chess team. Made it as high as fifth board, but my usual spot was six (of eight) boards. This meant I was the sixth best on our team. Getting that far was a victory. Our team was good, eventually taking a tie for seventh place in Illinois. And, as I was a neophyte to chess just a few years earlier, it was an accomplishment I'm proud of.

When I changed from Marist High School to Shepard, I knew only a few people. One friend was the top player on the chess team, soon to take second place in the state. Give it go, I thought. I knew how to move the pieces, but had no concept of strategy, openings, end games or middle games. Pawn structure? Nada. Center control? What's that? Tim, and others tutored me into a level of average play, and a chess player I became.

Ultimately, I became a pretty good beginner. I never played beyond that level, but, in knowing the basics, I was able to hold my own in college. Two frequent opponents were Dylan Bauer and Dan Leavitt. Dylan lived nearby, and Dan was my roommate. Eric Hanson, a friend and landlord, and I sat on his (and mine, via rent) porch for a few games along the way.

Through the years, I have played my tutoring students, including Ryan (whose last name escapes me), and, more recently, Daren Ziegner. Daren, in fact, and I would play at Borders after studying, and it was then we transitioned from student/teacher to peer/peer. I even let him beat me a few times.

Friends during my grad school days would lay down a few pawns with me: Jefferson Smith of Sulphur Springs, Texas and Glenn Jablon of Maine were among the valiant and often successful foes I faced. David Weichelt, a more recent friend, and I pushed a pawn or two.

I have played inmates through thick glass, using telephones to communicate moves. There have been random games in coffeeshops, and teaching games with children of friends. The playing field is level, no matter what the rest of our daily responsibilities and freedoms are.

What chess offers that relates to running is its social nature. Face-to-face, a friendly game of chess provides for a great conversation. An eight mile run lasts about as long as a game between two seasoned players. For two men playing, or running, this is an achievable, safe intimacy.

Unlike running, however, chess can be enjoyed by a decent player and strong player at the same time. While the stronger player is more likely to win, each player has a shot. Same board, same pieces. Running has some of this equality, but the faster runner must jog to maintain with the slower runner. Similarly, I can see things one day on a chess board I might never see again. I will never run 'extra-fast' outside of my general fitness and ability. Over a chess board, no one runs out of breath.

Not everyone sees it as social as evidenced by the insane insecurities relished by chess' most famous infant genius, Bobby Fischer, but for the average fan, the idiocies of Fischer do not exist.

Now, to come full circle, I am playing some chess on the computer, as it came up that a guy in my small group from church would not mind a game or two. I am rusty, at best, so I figured a few practice rounds would not hurt. And, so far, they do not hurt. A few more at Level 3, and I'll keep moving forward until I find my resting spot for sparring against not-so-Deep Blue.

Then, onward to try my skills at chess and friendship. (Look out, Jud Aulie!)

(I am pleased to announce that this afternoon, I beat Level 3, though it made a dumb move or two.)
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