Anyway, Chess. I am not sure when I first played a game of chess, but I do have very vivid memories of playing my granddad when I was young and he said to me “keep playing, you’ve got a lot of promise”. That one little line has stuck with me for more than twenty years and is, quite possibly, one of my most cherished memories of him. If nothing else, it took a vague interest in the game and made it something personal.
We had chess lessons at school as well (yes, Hogwarts, I know!) and whilst I can’t remember if it was a regular thing, or just a one off, I do remember that I was one of the only members of my class who 1) enjoyed it and 2) ever won a game. I’m sure the teacher tried to show us things like strategy and the like, but none of that consciously sticks with me. What is ingrained in me is a knowledge of where the pieces should go on a board, the ability to see how a knight can move without having to count out the “L” shape, and an abiding sense that this is my game.
And a love of chess sets.
At last count I have eight or nine different sets of varying sizes and antiquity, not including the two sets I made for myself. Something about the black/white alternating squares on an 8×8 grid. The myriad of shapes and characters that the standard pieces can be carved into. The smell of an old polished wood set. The little indentations and knocks that show it has been loved. I just impulse bought set number Nine, the Oxford Set. I tried to play mum on my little travel set which is all I’d brought to Oxford, but it was just too cramped. Yes, I could wait till I got my main set back from Glastonbury (an inlaid agate board with carved Indian agate pieces I got for my 21st birthday) but… Where’s the fun in that? New house, new chess set. It is a basic 12″ wooden folding set, with the pieces stored underneath the board, but already I treasure it. I think the sheer ugliness of the knights is what drew me to it. The poor things look like they’ve been carved by a blind Trobriand Islander who was going by a description of a horse his great grandmothers third cousin had heard from his uncle’s brother’s wife’s father.
As I said, I love the variety sets come in.
I think this love of the set – the whole ritual around a game of chess, settling down across from someone, a drink to hand, for an hour or so of concentration and joking – might have something to do with how I never got into computer chess. I should point out, I don’t claim to be a chess grand wizard or anything. My game is far too reactive and impulse driven. Playing my mother I can win two games out of five (more if I can get her drunk). Playing my brother I win four out of five – one of the few things I can reliably trounce him in actually! Playing a computer just isn’t the same, not to mention demoralising when you loose time after time.
But no one these days seems to play chess. And that is a problem, because I’m lucky if I get in two games a year, and I need the practice.
So… Anyone out there up for a game of correspondence chess?