Chess is a wonderful game. My father taught me to play chess when I was quite young, and it has been one of the loves of my life for more than 30 years now. Chess is only popular in certain circles, and those circles are certainly not expanding with mind-numbing video games swirling around us like gnats, so I always had trouble finding people to play with.
My wife and I were in the Peace Corps twice, 2 years in Kyrgyzstan and 2 years in China. Kyrgyzstan is a former Soviet Republic; chess was very popular in the Soviet Union, so I finally found people to play with. China has its own version of chess, called xiangqi. Chinese chess is a much older game, and I was fascinated to learn how to play it. After losing miserably hundreds of times to my wife (who was born in Taiwan, and grew up playing xiangqi), I caught on and achieved basic proficiency in the game. (Meaning I could beat the house-pets in our neighborhood without too much trouble.) The culmination of my experience with Chinese chess was in early January 2011; my wife and I were visiting Taiwan, and I had the honor of playing against her grandfather. (See the photo.) The man is so old that no one remembers exactly what year he was born in, but he is sharp as a tack. (And an incredibly nice guy, to boot.) It was an epic battle, with much parrying and feinting, and it doesn’t matter to me one iota who won. (I did.)
Chess, Chinese or Western, is a game for deep-thinkers. For experienced players that sometimes translates to long periods of silence during the game. On the other hand, new players make the game very lively; especially children. Last Friday was a half day at Macomb schools, and Little Brother Jaylen came by the office just after noon. He and his friend went through the board games at the office one by one. “Do you want to play Monopoly?” “No.” “Do you want to play checkers?” “Do you want to play chess?” “I don’t know how.”
Hello, what’s that? Don’t know how? Want to learn? Great!
I have had some great experiences in this job with Big Brothers Big Sisters, but playing chess with kids on a Friday afternoon is the best of them, check mate.