I grew up knowing I was no good at chess. My dad taught me the rules when I was a kid, and then proceeded to beat me. After five games (maybe less), I gave up. I clearly had no aptitude for it. I always wished I did, though.
My husband has succumbed to three games of chess in eight years. The first was on the south coast when I spied a chess set and forced him to play. He’s played a lot of chess, but I’m smart. Smart enough to out manoeuvre him, surely?
Each move was so slow it could have been measured in geological time. The game took longer than a Federer-Nadal final. And then he won. After all, he’s an engineer and I only have an arts degree. You can’t argue your way out of chess. So maybe I wasn’t so smart after all. Or maybe I just wasn’t the right kind of smart.
A recent rainy day we ducked into a cafe. A cracked old wooden box with faded black and white squares caught my eye. My husband went to the toilet and I racked them up. Or whatever you do with chess pieces. When he got back and saw what was going to happen, he just sighed. “You start,” he said, resignedly.
I sat for while, the blank slate mocking me. Finally, I asked: “What am I supposed to do?” We talked through the game like an open hand of cards. An hour later I’d lost. But I understood there were strategies, not just rules. I never knew that.
At home, I Googled “chess tips for beginners”, and read one every day. Try to get control of the middle. Castles are more valuable than bishops because they can reach every square. It seemed logical.
A few weeks later, we were back at the cafe. I raised my eyebrows. He conceded, and it began. We traded moves, until I saw it. My winning move. His king was free. I shifted my castle. If he didn’t see it, it would be my checkmate him in one. “Why did you do that?” he asked. I shrugged innocently, willing him to be blind. He furrowed his brow, and then saw it. He moved to safety.
“Good move. You nearly had me there,” he said. I smiled. My first ever chess win.
Got a chess set that’s gathering dust? Why not get it out tonight? Or, why not just think of something you’ve decided you’re no good at, and resolve to get some lessons, read a book, or do a bit of practice? Maybe it will turn out you’ve been wrong all along?