The Female World Record--Part 3 ("The Middle")

Apr 23, 2010, 8:00 AM |

(In the previous installment, Cassandra managed to learn to make a few simple chess moves and then entered middle school.)

Cassandra joined the middle-school chess club on the first day of sixth grade, despite her father’s warning that she would fail. “Why not join the ping-pong team instead?” he suggested. “Or any team where you can be competitive.”

In the first week of the first term of the seventh grade, Mr. Smith, the chess-club coach, called Cassandra’s parents into his office for a private conference. “Last year when Cassandra first joined the team,” he said, “I had high hopes for her. She’s such an excellent pupil in all her classes.”

Mr. and Mrs. Aragon hung their heads in shame. They knew what was coming.

“It isn’t a matter of intelligence,” said Mr. Smith, “or lack of desire, as I’m sure you know. I’ve tried everything I can think of to help her understand the knights.” He paused so the Aragons could offer him an insight, but they remained silent. He continued. “The biggest problem seems to be that she just doesn’t understand what the game’s all about.”

Mrs. Aragon glanced up and gave him a sheepish smile, but Mr. Aragon doggedly refused to look Mr. Smith in the eye.

“I’m afraid,” he said, “that Cassandra has some sort of learning disability as regards chess. A sort of chess dyslexia, if you will. It isn’t anything to be ashamed of.”

“Dyslexia?” said Mr. Aragon, skeptically. “She can read. She’s reading at the eleventh-grade level.”

“Of course,” said Mr. Smith. “I meant it as an analogy for some sort of impediment when it comes to chess. A mental block. Ms. Herschel, the school psychologist, would like to talk to Cassandra about this, with your permission. She may be able to suggest a therapy or recommend a developmental psychologist you could consult.”

The Aragons had no objection to the plan. A few days later Ms. Herschel called Mrs. Aragon with her recommendation. “Right now, Cassandra’s only learning difficulty is with chess, but without resolving the problem now, as she continues in school you might find she has similar difficulties with advanced subjects.”

“Such as?” asked Mrs. Aragon.

“Well, I’m only speculating, but difficulty with geometry, for example. You see, I can’t help but wonder if her problem is actually with the chess board, not the pieces. It’s almost as if Cassandra is looking at a Moiré pattern, not a checkered pattern. She seems to have a perception problem. I tested her and she has difficulty with optical illusions.”

Terrified that their otherwise perfect child might suffer from a rare learning disability, the Aragons immediately made an appointment for Cassandra at the local university’s neuroscience-research center.

To be continued . . .