A Chess Game

One reached for a box at a corner that comes handy at times like these. As the late-spring cleaning period commenced, one should make decisions on things to keep, to let go, and to keep but rather not see very often. Covered with dust and spider webs, it keeps things one still deems valuable yet falls under the junk category, things one should have let go but could not, for one reason and another. So far, it has kept a piece of short story by a friend, a broken black umbrella, a number of decaying journals (not dairies!), a photograph, and an old wooden chess set.

The chess set had been Grandpa’s. He was the one who taught one chess properly. One remembers that first game, when he silenced one in less than five steps and turned one’s understanding of the game upside down. Before, one would move the pawns forward merrily since the game rule that had stuck with one had been that pawns that reach the opponent’s last row can be exchanged for any piece one loses in the game.

“Don’t use the pieces for nothing. They are precious, including pawns. Each must further your gain or inflict disadvantage on your opponent,” Grandpa had said.

One recalled a piece of advice from a friend that contradicted him, “They are just pawns! They are there to be used however you see fit.”

He frowned and asked, “Why is the queen precious?”

“Because it could move freely compared to other pieces.”

“And why would you not swallow my pawn and move your queen here?”

It’s obvious! “The queen will get seized by that pawn over there!”

“And you say they are just pawns? When they can alter your course of action, ruin your plan, and change your strategy?”

One had learned a lot about life more than chess from him in those first proper games.

Well, one did not become a strong player although one could boast a bit here and there about chess. But the game itself has given one friends (and frenemies) and wisdom.

One of them was this boy in school. Once, one saw him in front of a magnetic miniature chess set. He was small, wore glasses, nothing special academically and socially. In those days, as many of us had been caught up in the malicious social game and peer pressure to fit in certain group, associating with him gave neither benefit nor harm to anyone’s standing. He was someone whom most of one’s friends, including one at the time, would consider insignificant. But the sight of him deep in thought in an invisible game with invisible opponent intrigued one. So one came to him and asked for a game of chess.

He had been a tough one to beat, with a strong defence (he had very strong partiality for sicilian defence), determination, and resilience. It had been one of the best game one had had and lost at. But one had gained a friend and formidable chess opponent that day. Whenever one of us experienced a particularly bad day at school, one would issue a challenge to the other for a game of chess and, during the game, complained about life (mostly silently), and moved on.

The sight of the old wooden chess set made one realise that one has not played one against another human for a very long time, face to face. Sure, there are computer games of chess. In college, one had created a chess game in Prolog for AI class. People now cheer on the idea of a super computer winning games of chess. Chess has been regarded more as exercises in logic within a set of finite number of moves, and less a mean to learn about yourself, your opponent, and make connection with people.

That’s sad.

One looked at the old wooden chess set again, a reminder of important people and advice, and decided to keep it a little longer.

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