Check Mate

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checkmate 2

I’m sitting opposite Bryan, black and white chess pieces scattered across the table between us. Alan, the organizer of the club, unrolls a chess mat with a quick flick of his wrist and hands it to me. A ‘casual club’ the email read – the only requirement to join being that ‘you’re still breathing’. But looking around the room, I realize this isn’t a casual club, it’s a league of masters.

Clocks and minds tick in unison – their gears cranking with every subtle move across the checkered boards. There is no chance here, only strategy. Suddenly I feel acutely aware of my complete lack of knowledge for the game, but Bryan seems up for the challenge of sharing his wisdom with this complete Newbie.

And so we play. Bryan distills pieces of advice with every move in turn. I ask him how he learned the game because, it turns out, Bryan is a chess master just like the others. He was the president of the Chess Club in high school. He tells me about how he missed his graduation ceremony because the school principal challenged him to a match. “Who won?” I ask. His principal. I can tell this bothers him still. Trying to make light of the subject I ask “what’s more fun – a grad ceremony or a chess game?” to which he replies “chess”. Not a moment’s hesitation. Like I even needed to ask.

Our game slowly progresses. Though Bryan is a patient and thoughtful teacher, I start to lose pieces, one by one. It dawns on me that this is one of those games that becomes exceedingly more difficult the more you know. With this realization comes a new sense of admiration for Bryan and the other chess masters in the room.

“Check mate” Bryan announces, a bright grin accompanies his words. And, with one smooth gesture, Bryan’s queen assassinates my king. He laughs and I can’t help but join in. Bryan will return here to take on the chess masters time and again. He won’t always win, but he will always enjoy the game and the people he’s meeting.