My son, Ethan, is 9.
Tonight, I played chess with him for the first time ever.
He recently returned to Fiji after spending a few summer months in the United States where he stayed with my family, attended summer camp and basically lived the life of a nine-year-old without a care in the world. At some point, my father taught him how to play chess.
As often as we stayed in contact when he was stateside, it was difficult to fully grasp how into chess he got but my father kept telling me how much he was playing. In early August, Ethan took the initiative and signed up for a local chess tournament. Although I know my son is far from an introvert, I wouldn't have expected this from him so was pleasantly surprised to see him take such action. The day of the tournament, I keep calling back home to see how he had done.
Chess is a great game. Some of my earliest memories are playing with my own father using the set his father had given him when he was twelve. The pieces are magnificent. Red and white and made from ivory. Even when I was a child, the leather case the board and pieces lived in were tattered. I imagined how that case must look now. This was also the set Ethan was fortunate enough to learn on. I could envision him back in my house, sitting opposite my Dad, hunched over the board staring down upon the view that I had done so many times before him. That vision brought me closer to him when he was away.
When we played this evening, I wasn't fully prepared for how adept he actually was at the game. It has probably been almost ten years since I played a but felt strongly that I should be able to take him without a problem. We sat on the edge of his bed and began our game. Almost immediately, I was struck by the seriousness of his face as he contemplated move after move. He also tended to talk a LOT of shit which, in my opinion, has no place in chess but as he's only nine, I let him get away with it for a little while.
After a bit of time and the capture of a few pawns on each side, Ethan took my queen in a dramatic moment of personal mental weakness. At that point, I sat up a bit more serious to face my son guffawing in my general direction, overly cocky for a boy without any real sense of the strategic wrath he was about to take on. I have no recollection of my father EVER intentionally letting me win a game of chess against him either. Although I'm not an overly competitive person at times like this, chess is just an activity which, to me, demands seriousness, respect and a certain amount of honor. I don't care if I'm playing against a five year old...it's my responsibility to try my best to win.
So there I was, down a queen and at a distinct disadvantage when playing my son. If I lost this first game we ever played together, I really did feel that it would set a bad precedent in the years ahead. I wanted him to continue to work hard, up his strategic planning skills and beat me fair and square. Just not today.
I took a rook. He took a bishop and a rook. I took a pawn. He took two pawns. I watched him move his own queen around the game board as if it was Super Mario grabbing coins. This would be his downfall. He was losing focus with a blood thirsty playing style.
My patience paid off and I nabbed his queen, so quickly and with such surprise, that I turned the juice up and didn't let go until I uttered the words "check mate" and the game was over. Actually, it was a bit less dramatic than that and Ethan "checked" me more times in this game than I "checked" him. He played awesome and we both enjoyed ourselves so much. I can't wait to share this with him over and over again.
My son plays chess and he plays it really well.
The tournament he joined back in the United States was an all-afternoon event and I sat in Fiji, on the other side of the world, waiting for my family to get back home to tell me how he did. My wife came home first and as we were talking on the phone, Ethan entered the house. He hurriedly grabbed the phone and as I anxiously asked him how it went, he uttered a few words that would make any parent proud.
"Dad, I won first place."
This boy has got a future.