A Novel (er - Novice) Victory!

May 29, 2010, 8:54 PM |

I read somewhere that the later on in life you study chess, the less likely you'll be able to reach Grand Master status.  The book went on to specify that if you're past the age of 24, you can pretty much forget about it.  Well I'm 34.  And I just started playing chess.


I recently got into it because my friend, Yeghia, invited me to his house to hang out and play some chess.  Sure, I'd played before, but I can honestly say that prior to a month ago, I have probably played less than a few dozen games over the course of my entire life - most of them when I was 11 years old with my mom.


So there I am, hanging out with Yogi (Yeghia's nickname) playing chess, and I feel like my mind is waking up.  We're both sitting there, across from each other - to the outside observer it would look like two statues frozen in time - but both our minds are going a mile a minute trying to figure out what our next move should be, what the other guy's move might be, and the multiple branches of possibility recursively stemming from the seeds of those thoughts... it was pretty intense.  After a couple of games I went home and started thinking about some of the cool moves he and I pulled on each other - pinning here, forking there, sacrifices,... not to mention our blunders.  Lord, the blunders!!! There's nothing like the feeling of realizing you've just made a huge mistake that you wish you could take back! 


Maybe it's because I'm 34 and looking at the game as an outsider, but I can honestly say that after those game, on my drive home, I felt like there was a very deep and perfect philosophy behind the whole thing.  A kind of truth and balance to it like you might find in nature somewhere... just like the logarithmic spiral of a nautilus shell, or the Fibonacci sequence emerging from the scales of a pine cone.  Here you have this perfect square with 64 alternately colored spaces capable of producing trillions of trillions of trillions of trillions of moments of defeat, victory, stalemates and draws - each one with a story infinitely profound.  And yet, entirely contained.  It made me want to know more.  It nearly compelled me to want to know more.


So I go home and pull up the Wikipedia article on chess: Rules of; Notation for; History of... then I start rabbit hole-ing every little hyperlink into their own respective pages: Openings; Middle Game; Endgames... it was daunting.  Nevertheless, the next day I go to Borders and buy myself two books on chess and I download a chess app to my Blackberry that connects to the FICS server.  I also decided to join this site - which I now love.  And can I just say that for the last month or so, I have had my ass handed to me on numerous occasions.  It's embarrassing.  The other day I played a game with a 24 year old guy from Jordan on this site.  He was killing me.  But here's the coolest part: towards the end game, on move 32, he pulls his rook accidentally into the path of my bishop.  I could tell he didn't mean to do it - as if he accidentally let go of the mouse while he was dragging it to its destination.  So I chat him up:


Me: Why'd you do that?

Him: It was an accident - it's ok - LOL.

Me: Darn it - do you want me to waste a move so you can correct it?

Him: Sure, ok.


So I move my rook on the "a" file up (I’m black) one rank to 3 (an inconsequential move that neither benefits me nor acts to my detriment) and he pulls his rook to the spot he meant to place it.


Him: Thanks. :-)

Me: No problem.


So we continue with the game.  Anyway, he keeps cutting me down and pulverizing me until I'm on the run with my king.  He backs me up all the way to the 8th rank and instead of coming down on me with a checkmate, moves his queen into a position forcing the game into a stalemate.


Me:  Why didn't you just finish me off?

Him: No worries.


No worries.  I love that.  7500 miles away and a decade between us - yet a complete understanding of what it means to be a gentleman springs out from 64 squares on a computer screen.  Even Pythagoras' theorem isn't that beautiful.


But I digress.  Lord, do I digress.  This all really has nothing to do with my post other than to set the backstory for a great game I just had against my Blackberry.  Yes.  Against my phone's brain.  I guess if I had just posted the game without an explanation, one might remark, "...and why is this such a big deal?"  Well, it's a big deal because I suck at this game and goddamn it, even though it's a small victory against the 2nd level AI setting on my phone, I still am pretty darn proud of myself.  I had a plan of action, I followed it through, and I freakin' won!  I’m 34 years old with a lot of life’s lessons in my pocket, but when it comes to chess, I’m practically an infant.  And even though I got the odds lined up against me on becoming a Grand Master, it really doesn’t mean squat to me – I’m too busy digging for the epiphanies buried under those squares.  


So here it is, in all its glory:  James vs. Blackberry Chess 2010.05.29.  Read it and weep.