Growing up, my father taught me how to play chess. Nothing formal though; I still can't distinguish Kasparov from Tchaikovsky; but the basics were given clear. Every piece has its unique move, every character, its strengths and limitations.
I may not know the various openings named after the masters but I do know well enough that the game is that of strategy. To ensure your win, you must always be five steps ahead of your opponent. You must anticipate every move and be ready for your counter move. You should be able to weigh the value of every piece and move it about on the board.
And you should be willing to sacrifice a royal if it means getting ahead in the exchange.
It was one of the few activities that my brother, dad and I have bonded with. One of my many frustrations was I could never beat them in three out of five games. And I have this suspicion that they sometimes let me win on purpose.
We loved the game so much, we were able to run through a number of chessboards that seem to mysteriously vanish after a while. Our fondest set was a Simpsons-inspired set, with Bart as pawn; Lisa as bishop; Maggie, the knight (she has a toy horse as steed, the cutie); and Homer, Marge and Grandpa as king, queen and rook respectively. My brother and I pooled our allowances just to get that set; we took care not to scratch the pieces; we even preserved the box it came with. But out efforts came to naught when our little sister used the pieces (they were made of rubber) as chew toys, and threw the rest every which way. I really miss that game board.
Once, during my free period, when I was a freshman in high school, I came to watch our chess varsity play in one of their practices. One of them invited me to play and I accepted. I opted for an aggressive match and soon, I had him on the defensive. It was only through my carelessness (and a little help from his mates) that I lost the game. I enjoyed the game, but the invitation for me to join the varsity was at best, only lip service, so I stopped hanging out at their place. It did teach me the value of a great defensive strategy.
Nowadays, it's very rare that I encounter someone who plays the sport. It's as if everyone has contracted attention deficit disorder, that the time it takes to play the game is a few minutes too long for them to endure. Which is a pity, because as board games go, chess is still the most fulfilling of the lot.
I no longer have anyone to play with, but I don't think I stopped playing. Anticipate the opponent, and always be a few steps ahead of the game, that is what the game has taught me; and while on the offensive, always have a piece or two protecting your attackers. I have been accused of being distant and calculating, and it's probably correct - I'm playing chess, it seems. Even now, I'm still playing, and my earlier defeats have made me stand on the defensive, waiting for the other's attack before I make my move.
And faced with an equally defensive opponent, this game is getting longer and longer to resolve. I have been tracing back the moves made by each side, and I believe I see a pattern. We are down to our last few moves, I believe, and it promises to boil down to one outcome: Stalemate.