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Chess: What Retirees and Convicts Have in Common

publication date: Mar 1, 2017
author/source: Marcus Counterman

I was excited to learn how to play chess because I did not yet realize how dumb I am. Chess exposed my true intelligence.

The first thing you need to learn is all the pieces. Pawns, king, queen, bishops (priests?!), castles, horsies. Each piece has specific rules as to how many spaces it can go and in what direction. The problem was that after I memorized all that, I had no brain power left for strategy. I'd say my brain doesn't comprehend cause and effect but that's not true. It's just that my idea of effects aren't realistic. My strategy is not to trap my opponent, because that requires too much thinking, but it's to hope he makes a mistake. Or two. This means I'll send my pawns out in a position to take his queen and hope he doesn't notice. I've lost a lot of pawns that way. Good thing I'm not a war-time President. My invasion forces would be disguised as potted plants. What do you mean 'devastation' on the front lines? Unfortunately, these irrational expectations of my opponent carry over into my defensive moves as well. Why would he take my queen with his pawn? Doesn't he know I'll just kill his pawn then? It's really a terrible strategy.

The game ends with me only having my king left, being chased around the board (bored) one square at a time. This is a tedious process because I'll quickly move my king and then have to wait ten minutes for my opponent to take his turn. He'll spend so much time strategizing how to trap me. This massive waste of time breaks my will, until I start to strategize how to fall into one of his traps. Most people's chess strategy is to sacrifice a pawn to save the queen. Mine is to sacrifice the king to save the afternoon. The next time I play chess I should start with all my pieces gone, except the king. Save the formalities. It'll wind up there in thirty-five minutes anyway.

Ah, the castle piece.  Ironically, one of the more movable pieces on the board.  Could this have been a brilliant medieval wartime strategy, to physically move your castle across the plane of battle to sack your opponents priest?  We may never know.

I played chess with my six-year-old nephew. It was maybe my third or fourth time playing––ever. Even though I play like a fool against adults, I felt I should go easy on him. What happened next is the gospel truth. He beat me in four moves.

He may be the next Bobby Fisher. I may be calling a suicide prevention hotline. Luckily I can say I went easy on him. I'd hate to know the results if I hadn't. To make matters worse, he was too confident. "Are you sure you want to do that?" he'd ask me. Really smart kid. Don't tell anyone, but I've started using him to prepare my taxes.

Chess is a game that's really fun, if you've never experienced fun at any point in your life. But it takes forever to play. Who has time for it? Retirees and prisoners, that's who. Retirees play it to make them feel like their lives are lasting longer. I can't figure out why inmates play it though. Seems like a way to make time drag on. Maybe it is part of their sentence.