Life lessons I learned from a lunch recess chess game at age seven: the prequel with a classmate

Two days ago, I wrote about life lessons I learned from playing a chess game against a computer in the 2nd grade during lunch recess.

Today, I’m writing about what I learned from the only other chess game I played on site in elementary school. I played this game much earlier than the computer game; I played it with a classmate who had seen me looking at chess books in the classroom library and challenged me to a game. Let’s call him X. Here are our school photos:

Franklin Chen 2nd grade school photo

Classmate in 2nd grade I played one chess game with

My game with X

I was nervous when we sat down to play, because I had up till this point never played chess with anyone but my father.

Nobody was watching us. It was just the two of us sitting on the floor in a corner where books and games were stored.

The game lasted no more than two minutes; it lasted four moves before ending!!

X was playing very quickly, spending no more than a split second per move. Furthermore, he played completely unlike my father and unlike any of the sample instructive games I had seen in chess books. His first move, h4, totally confused and unnerved me. I tried to play according to vague principles I recalled about how one should play, moving my center Pawns, even as he did a strange Rook lift maneuver I had never seen in my entire life. On his third move, he attacked my e Pawn with this rogue Rook and I protected it. On his fourth move, he attacked my Pawn with his d Pawn. We had reached this position:

My only chess game with another kid in elementary school

I got excited because it looked like he had made a mistake. His Pawn on d4 is protected only once, by his Queen, while I was attacking it with both my Knight and my Pawn at e5. Therefore, his Pawn was “free” for me to take!

Unfortunately, I momentarily overlooked that my e Pawn was pinned and took his d Pawn with my e Pawn. (Note: taking the Pawn with the Knight would have lost it; X was definitely no dummy and may even have been a far better chess player than me at the time.)

The argument

X, who had something of a stern, morose temperament, suddenly broke out into a big smile of victory, grabbed his Rook and took my King, jumped up from the ground, and said he won the game!!

I protested that I had overlooked that I had made an illegal move, and asked him to give my King back so that I could put all the pieces back to where they were before I made the illegal move, saying that we can’t make illegal moves, and Kings cannot be captured in chess, so not only could I not take the Pawn, but he also could not take my King. (I was correct, of course; illegal moves cannot be allowed to stand, and the King can never be taken during a chess turn.)

X refused to listen to me and just gloated. As I had no desire to create a scene and ask for a teacher to adjudicate our dispute, I just walked away. I never played a chess game with him again, and I never told anyone in my life about this incident, until today.

Life lessons I learned

Some of the things I learned from this incident:

What I did with what I learned

X did me a little favor by teaching me all these lessons. I went home and actually studied his Rook strategy and came up with ways to deal with it if anyone ever played it against me again. I also never played an illegal move again in my life. (Note: up till this point, I was still having some problems “seeing” that pieces or Pawns of mine were pinned, and would sometimes play illegal moves against my father too.)

I also decided it was time to go beyond kids’ chess books and learn more about strategy, going beyond just the basic rules and counting piece points. Luckily for me, the Morris County Library had a great chess collection, and I got my father to drive us there regularly, where we took out lots of chess books (as well as books on all the other subjects that interested me). My father never asked me why I was getting so excited about chess, but was happy to get into it more himself. We went over serious game collections and opening books, for the first time in our lives, and in months I felt I was much more informed and stronger as a chess player. That set the stage for my proud accomplishment of obtaining a winning position against a chess computer later in the 2nd grade, which also taught me more life lessons already discussed.

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