a game of kings

December 7, 2006

 nice piece from the “henry daily herald online” in northern georgia.. captures the spirt of those who learned to play with their fathers.. kudos to mr silliman..

A game of kings

My dad bought the set in Mexico, I think. He gave it to my uncle on Christmas and after they had assembled all the bicycles, opened all the over-packaged toys and added batteries where they weren’t included, my dad and his brother sat down to play.

The board was green, with squares of dark green stone flecked with white spots and opposite squares of white stone with green flecks. The pieces were onyx — a word I had trouble saying and tried to say two or three times before I was told onyx was just a type of rock — and I couldn’t see any way to tell one piece from another, how the different pieces moved, or what was the object of the game.

My six younger brothers, later, were always first fascinated by the pieces of a chess game. They like the horses and the castles, the kings and the bishops and the pawns which always got called “little men.” When I first saw the game I saw none of those things and I didn’t know to ask to play with the pieces that were killed and lined up off the side of the board.

The thing that captured my imagination was the picture of these two men, brothers, intensely staring at a board, looking and looking like there was something to see even though obviously there were only 34 pieces on a small square board, and then carefully, slowly, moving a hand to pick up a piece and move it.

My father, when he moves a piece, moves slowly. He holds his hand on the top and lifts his arm to look at the board again, double checking.

My uncle looks longer, waits another second, and then takes a piece from the side, the piece my dad was looking for and didn’t see, and picks it up and moves it into the center and kills my dad’s thing.

My uncle plays to the center, trying for control of the middle of the board. My dad plays to the sides, always trying to work a combination into the weaker edges and move from the edges inward, eating away at the pieces.

We played a lot of games, when me and my brothers and sister were little. We played board games and ball games, real games and made-up games and games with the rules changed around. Of all of those, though, it’s chess that really captured me and which I most remember playing with my family in those all-day unstructured tournaments we called Saturday.

My oldest brother and I learned to play at about the same time, learning the way the pieces moved and being befuddled by the way dad would always waste our checkerboard armies. We learned the way the pieces worked together, in combinations, and would watch, frustrated, while he moved behind our lines, holding a finger on a piece to look around, and saying slowly, “Checkmate.”

We learned, finally, theory — how to evaluate the board and plan an attack and calculate the strength of a position and we watched (finally!) while dad’s side of the board crumbled under our attacks and his king would be pushed into a losing corner.

I loved those days and those games and I’m only slightly joking when I say that when I retire I want to move to a city park and play chess all day.

They call it the game of kings. It’s just a game and I’m just an amateur, but it’s a great complication of 34 pieces on an eight-by-eight checkered board.

I spoke to my dad on the phone the other day. We were just talking, like we do, and he started laughing.

“Hey,” he said, “guess what your youngest brother’s doing?”

“What?”

“He’s on the Internet. Playing chess. He’s only four, but apparently he’s playing online.”

“Tell him,” I said, “to take control of the center of the board.”

Daniel Silliman is the crime reporter for the Clayton News Daily. His column appears on Thursdays. He can be reached at 770-478-5753 ext. 254 or via e-mail at dsilliman@news-daily.com.

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