“It’s only a game!”
That’s what Jason told me. We were in the school cafeteria and there were still several minutes before the bell signaled the end of lunch period. Jason pleaded with his eyes as he began to set up the board. It was a challenge by my friend and this time I could not refuse. He had beaten me numerous times before and I promised that if we had time before class, I would honor his wish to play the game. The game pieces were sitting in the box, waiting to be assembled on the board. With the determination of a reluctant general, I fingered each smooth wooden object, and then put them onto their spaces. Jason was being very exact with the placement of his troops. Finishing first, I patiently waited for him to complete his task.
“You go first”, I said sheepishly. “White always goes first, right?”
The gleam in his eye caught me in a spell of entrapment. I feared that I was doomed and imagined the great shame I would endure at the end of the game. Having beaten me yet again, Jason would thrust his fists up into the air, announcing his victory to the entire fifth grade. He made his move and sat back, arms folded across his chest waiting for me to respond. I gathered myself and tried to remember the opening moves that my father used in teaching me the game. Yes, I thought to myself, I’ll use dad’s moves. My fear subsided and a new sense of command took over as I imagined myself as my father playing the game with Jason.
“Think” I murmured quietly, as Jason watched the fear on my face turn to controlled action. I placed my first piece into play, cutting off his attempt to gain control of the center. Moments later Jason was on the move. His battle plan was clear. He would attack my weakest pieces first, and then when enough were out of the way, he would swoop in with his most destructive forces to end the game. I questioned myself?
What would dad do?
Yes, it was clear. Watch the moves as if I were inside of Jason’s head. Then, knowing his mind, I would be able to better counter the moves.
“Think three moves ahead”, my dad always said.
“Remember that there are at least a dozen different possibilities for every move. Some moves are defensive. Some are offensive. Then there are some that seem defensive but are meant to deceive the opponent into thinking that you have given up a piece to save your position.”
I remembered dad telling me that when the center of the board is clear, you must take that position and defend it with force. He also said that if I lost a major piece without gaining advantage or prevented the opponent from gaining the advantage, that I’d be sure to lose the game. I remembered his words and played as if he were sitting there beside me, coaching my every move.
The pace quickened as the clock moved closer to that time when the bell would ring for class. I could see beads of sweat forming on Jason’s forehead as my moves countered his at every turn. I was loosing pieces but so was Jason, improving my position on the board at every turn. My confidence was building and just as my adversary made his last move, the school bell rang. Lunch period was over and students started filtering out of the cafeteria and towards their classrooms. Thinking that he had been saved by the bell, Jason slumped in his seat. But his last move was his first big mistake.
“Not so fast”, I scowled.
In my last move, I placed my queen in position to capture Jason’s white knight and check his king. With my black bishop and a pair of rooks already in position to cut off his escape, I threw my fists into the air and shouted,