May 23, 2011


In the fifth or sixth grade, I got a chess board and a how-to-play-chess-and-always-win book. Being the total nerdface that I was (and still am?), I devoured the book and played anyone who was willing. At that age, I soaked up all kinds of new information without trying, and chess became my game. I felt smart, maybe smarter than my opponent, even when I lost. The appeal was strategy. You rarely win at chess through luck; when you win, it’s because you planned and implemented attack after attack, counterattack after counterattack. You don’t gloat. You just know.

My sixth grade crush was better than me and beat me every time. He was a skater kid with a sling (remember that haircut?) and baggy clothes. I was late getting my Chuck Taylors and still rolling up my jeans. We were unlikely partners, but I loved it. I packed my board in my backpack every day, and we would sit in the reading center and play after we finished our work. Pretty soon, our classmates wanted to learn how to play, so we became their teachers and coaches. I liked that he was better than me and challenged me as an equal. I’m not a feminist by any stretch, but it is important to me to feel like an intellectual equal, an old insecurity that lingers into adulthood.

He went to a different middle school, and that was the end of my childhood crush.

I never joined a chess team. I was a cheerleader instead, though I could never hide my inner nerd completely. I still played from time to time at home with the boys who were never serious. I won sometimes, but for me, that’s not nearly as satisfying as a solid challenge.

PJ and I met when I was 15, and of course, I made him play with me. He almost always beat me.  In fact, I'm not sure that I ever won at all.  He drifted in and out of my summers for a few years, and by the time I was 17 or 18, there were other things on both our minds besides chess…

I had an unfortunate boyfriend in college for seven or eight months. It was a relationship that I knew was going nowhere from the beginning, but I was feeling rebellious. It happens. I remember challenging him to a game one night around Christmas, a time when I always feel a bit nostalgic. He was good, matching me play for play. I tend to vacillate from competitive to insecure, doubting my ability, desperately trying not to seem too confident, and I’m certain my attitude during this match was no different. He should have won, but he made a stupid move right at the end.

Check. Mate?

There were only two possibilities: either he was really stupid or he let me win, which meant that he thought I was stupid. He didn’t last much longer.

I think tonight I will pour two glasses of wine and set up the board. I’m sure PJ and I are both rusty, but I’m also sure he would never just let me win.


  1. Really? Really really? Did you actually meet your hubby when you were 15 or is this fiction? Or am I reading it wrong? Such a great story!

  2. Not fiction; we actually met when I was 15. My grandmama told me I was going to marry that boy the first time she met him. :-)

  3. Sweet! It's good to appreciate the man who loves you!

  4. I enjoyed reading this post! Let us know who wins ;)

  5. My husband is a fairly good chess player, while I've never been taught :( Reading this made me want to make him teach me.

  6. I've only beaten my husband at chess twice in our entire relationship, but they were hard fought battles. I'm way too impulsive for chess, unfortunately!

    Good Post!


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