When I was a child my father taught me how to play chess. He has told me stories of how I would try and make the pieces move in my own way, or attempt to change the game to fit my desires of the moment. I remember getting several chess boards together with my brother and creating a battlefield for our amassing armies. I know it took years for me to take the game seriously, and yet he still taught me to play.
As I got older and began to play for real we would have fairly regular games. I remember sitting across the table from him in the living room, playing the game well beyond my bedtime. I remember feeling so grown up and smart, sitting there with my Father, playing this very challenging game on this grown up board. I even remember the smell of the pieces, and the way the wood sounded when it was clinked together while a piece was captured. I remember my mother coming downstairs, exasperated because it was a school night, and there I was, playing chess until way past my bedtime.
When I got older I kept playing. I still remember the first time I was able to fully understand the game, able to visualize the possible moves of all the pieces on the board. The first time I really got why it could take half an hour to decide where to put your next piece. I remember feeling a sudden shift in my thinking, as if I had only been able to see out of a small window and then suddenly someone had opened the entire wall. To this day I still think this moment started me on the path towards being a lawyer. I often get the same sense looking at a case as I do looking at a chess board.
I have kept playing over the years, not as much as I used to, but I’ve broken a board out from time to time and played with a friend or two.
Sunday I played with a new partner. Marlena and I played our first game of chess together. At six, she is far more focused on the pieces and their unique rules than I ever was. She was able to understand and keep track of all the individual moves, and was able to tell me what pieces could capture hers when she moved to a certain square.
We had so much fun! We laughed together as we made up sounds for each piece, and discussed strategies for the game, such as when it’s wise to sacrifice a piece and when it’s not. We played for over an hour, and even went past her bedtime. Now the board is sitting in a corner with our game still in tact, waiting for our next free hour together.
I haven’t had that much pure enjoyment with my daughter in a long time. Usually we are so busy dealing with the stuff of life that we don’t get an hour or two to just play. I am so glad we did it, and I plan on spending a couple evenings a week playing with her. I got a chance to see the young woman she will be peeking out of the corner of her little girl eyes. Best of all, I got to feel the joy of continuing a family tradition.
So Daddy, you better get your board out for Christmas! This year you have two girls waiting to play a game.