Checkmate


Image by the Author.

My mother has a lovely chess set that she kept beneath her bed when I was a little girl. Both sides are carved from pretty green and red stone, shaped into armies with unique designs that sit on a lovely board inlaid with paintings styled on traditional Chinese artwork on each of the squares.


It was old, bought already used at some antique shop or gifted to her many years before I was born, but it was one of the most beautiful things I'd ever seen. It was the set she used to teach me the rules of the game, and the one I've lost on more times than any of the beautiful sets I've collected over the years.


When I was older, my grandmother gave me my grandfather's old wooden chess set. It's beautiful; solid wooden pieces in a light tan and a dark painted black in a little box he made himself. My dad helped me make my own chess board to match it, and it might be the best thing I own. I love that set so much, and I love playing against anyone who'll sit down long enough.


Chess is a fascinating game of strategy and skill. It's difficult to bluff your way to a victory, and even harder to luck into one. It is a game based on war, and therefore requires an intense amount of forethought and planning, and compensating for losses while trying to prevent them at all costs. Although the point of the game is to protect the king, your strongest defense for him is keeping control of your queen.


I like that idea - that the king may rule the day, but the queen holds the power to make or break a strategy. It's a wonderful insight into what we hold as important against our opponents. In fantasy stories and often in real life, kings rule over militaries and economic planning and expansion, but queens rule over the home and hearth. Queens can conduct diplomatic missions from their tea rooms and curate treaties in carriages as they ride through their kingdoms. They choose champions and have to be careful to respect their king even as they do his job behind his back.


It makes me think of what I hold as king and queen pieces in my own life. What am I fighting to protect and defend? What am I using to defend that piece? If I can narrow down what defines my army and what protects it, then I will be able to plan out my strategy and earn my checkmate in just a few moves.


Yes, it's not a perfect plan. Life is not a chessboard - there's no way to plan out moves upon move ahead with any certainty. But like playing against a worthy opponent, you can't trust just one path to lead you to victory. I think possibly the most important thing I've gained from chess is the ability to consider many options at once and appreciate them all. I've also learned to be happy in a draw - if you match my skills and I match yours, I have a solid respect for your abilities and expect you to respect mine. A useful skill to have.


My mother's chessboard and my grandfather's chess set are still my favorites. Someday, when my kids are old enough, I'd love to teach them how to play, and I'll smile when they finally beat me. Maybe they'll earn their checkmates like I've earned mine. I can only hope they will.

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