Monday, March 12, 2007

Chess (part one)

My father was stricken with Alzheimer’s disease sometime around age 75. If you know much about Alzheimer’s, you know that pinpointing the exact beginning of a person’s struggle with the disease is next to impossible. Sadly, there is as of yet no cure for Alzheimer’s, and my father succumbed to complications caused by the disease on June 4, 2004. Dad’s nearly 10-year struggle with Alzheimer’s was extremely hard on both him and all our family. There are few things that I can think of that are more tragic than watching a family member gradually lose all memory of all his loved ones, and ultimately, of himself.

Since Alzheimer’s disease can be transmitted genetically, and since my Grandma Early also apparently had the disease, I have legitimate cause for concern. In my own study of Alzheimer’s, I have discovered several studies that have shown that keeping one’s mind active in a variety of mental activities throughout life can at least delay the onset of Alzheimer’s, if not ward it off completely (sadly, my father did not do this). After hearing this several times, I decided that I would start working crossword and Sudoku puzzles, studying Spanish (still working on it!), and solving complex nuclear physics problems (okay, I’m lying on that one!). Also, at the suggestion of my daughter Audrey, I decided to take up the game of Chess as a hobby.

As most people know, Chess is a game that is easy to learn but very difficult to master. So, I bought a few books on basic strategy and tactics. I started playing several students and teachers at the school where I taught at the time, and I found that I could win with ease almost every time. With the summer just ahead, I decided to start playing some serious players to see just how good I was.

How good was I? After I started playing in informal tournaments at the Houston Chess Club, I found the answer to my question: not very good! In fact, I soon realized that I was really bad. After I lost for the 18th time in a row, I decided that I needed to study some more and perhaps play some easier competition (pretty much everyone at the club is an outstanding player).

So, the following spring, I signed up for a tournament in which I was able to play in a section that was only for lower-rated players. I thought, “This time I’ll have a chance!” My record for the tournament? 0-3! I was quickly about to achieve a new Chess record: the most losses without a win.

In spite of my stellar record, I still did not give up. I read more books, played online a lot, and even went to a few free local chess classes. Then, a year later, I played in two more tournaments. In the first, I won one (finally), and lost two. Well, I thought, now my total record is 1-23, but at least I got rid of the goose egg in the “W” column!

In the first game of the second tournament, I faced a 10-year old boy genius. I battled him hard and remained neck-and-neck until about the fortieth move, after which I made a foolish move and quickly lost. My opponent’s proud father watched over his shoulder the whole game.

In the next round, I found that my opponent was a tiny boy who was only six years old. I thought to myself: surely I ought to be able to beat THIS little guy! Boy, was I in for a surprise! While we played, there was a repeated pattern: I would stare at the board and agonize for a minute or two (sometimes several minutes) over what move to make. He, meanwhile, would get up from our table and wander all over the room, looking at all 100 or so of the other boards while I was thinking. When I would finally make my move and punch the clock, he would rush back, glance at our board for about 10 seconds, make his move, and—BOOM!—slam down his hand on the clock. Then I would start agonizing again, and off he would go. This pattern repeated itself over and over, until I found myself to be hopelessly behind. Finally, I conceded.

After the game, I was looking at the board that had the overall standings. The father of the 10-year old that had beat me in the first round came up to me and said, “Did you know that the boy that just beat you is in kindergarten?” Through clenched teeth, I said, “Yes, I know.” He went on, “I can’t believe you lost so badly to him. You were playing so well against my son!” All I could think to do was to quickly walk away.

Then my thoughts went to the next round. At the rate that the ages of my opponents were declining, I was expecting my next opponent to be a 2-year old. I figured someone would push him up in a high chair, and that he would beat me too! Fortunately, this was not the case. The next several people (except one teenager) that beat me were all adults. My final score for the tournament? 0-6! This brought my overall record to an unbelievable 1-29. That was almost as good as my batting average my last year in Little League.

What did I learn from these experiences? First, I learned not to play in any more chess tournaments. Second, I learned humility. I think that God uses things like my Chess tournament experiences to help us attain “lowliness of mind” (Philippians 2:3).

I think that there are other spiritual insights that can be gained through Chess, but to see them, you will have to tune in tomorrow…

Soli Deo Gloria!

1 comment:

FDR said...

Fr. bless! Thats pricelss!