Waiting for Bobby Fischer?
Max has become obsessed with chess. He’ll play as often as he can find a partner. He’s beating everyone at school, has pushed his brilliant father to the brink, and is evenly matched with his brother.
Their inter-sibling rivalry is problematic, frequently devolving into insults and tears.
“Boys,” I explain to them, “the reason you play each other is so you can grow strong, and go out into the world and beat the pants off of people from other families, so that they–not you–will feel impotent and valueless.”
I discovered that there’s a chess club that meets at la biblioteca once a week. I took Max there to find someone he could learn from.
Four men in their fifties and sixties sat around a table in the courtyard engrossed in their matches. The level of play was considerably higher than anything I have ever managed. A fifth arrived, clearly a regular, and I told him mi hijo was looking for a game.
“Does he know how to play?” he asked.
“He’s good,” I said.
They set up the pieces and began.
Max was quiet. I wondered if he would be intimidated playing with an older man. Someone clearly skilled. A stranger.
They moved deliberately with little talking except for an occasional warning from the man. “Are you sure you want to do that?”
Max would nod.
I sat some distance away, browsing a book, giving Max room to have his moment, resisting the urge to tell him to stop wiggling his chair back and forth.
The man steadily ratcheted up the pressure on Max. Except for a single rook deep in his opponent’s territory, Max was on the defensive.
Then Max drove his queen the length of the board so she was facing down the man’s own rook, unprotected. I watched, thinking that Max had decided to commit suicide to escape the pressure of the situation.
The man pointed out the danger. “You know that your queen is your most important piece?”
Max said yes, he knew.
The man took Max’s queen.
Max pushed his own rook into the row the man had just vacated, where the man’s king was pinned in behind a fence of pawns.
“Checkmate,” said Max.
The look on the man’s face was priceless. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing the moment when people realize that they like my children. But I’ve never witnessed such an obvious and precipitous elevation of respect.
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