Chess Whiz

Emily has taken a liking to Chess. And once that checkered board is on the table my sweet, calm, empathetic daughter becomes competitive, energized, and merciless. The game completely brings out a different side of her that I’ve never really seen before – a side that I kinda like.

IMG_7921During the past school year Emily and her 3rd-grade classmates each received their own chess set and were taught how to play the game. Emily caught on pretty quickly, and from what I was told had no trouble beating almost everyone in her class. This, of course, boosted her confidence enough that when she brought her game home at the end of the school year she felt ready to challenge Jay and I to a game.

Like most things in life that we wish to improve on, chess takes practice. And the best way to build your skills at chess is to play someone more skilled than yourself – someone difficult to beat. Watching your more skilled opponent during a game can reveal new moves and thought patterns that you may not have discovered on your own while playing a less-skilled opponent. Jay is definitely a more-skilled opponent than Emily, but it soon became clear that I was more than a little rusty.

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The first time I played with her I was so sure I had her in checkmate that as soon as I said it I began clearing the other pieces off of the board. Only I didn’t actually have her in checkmate. Oops. The next time I played her I got so confused at the end I couldn’t figure out a single way to get her in checkmate, and I made such a mess of things that we ended up in a stalemate, although I’m pretty sure she was just being nice. The last game I actually did win – I got her in checkmate with a pawn, of all pieces – but forgot the rule that a pawn that crosses over to the other side of the board can become a queen. Clearly, I was not the best opponent for Emily to build her skills on.

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Then one day we discovered that the local library hosts a Chess Club one or two Saturdays each month, and surprisingly my normally happy-to-stay-home daughter was really excited to try it out! 🙂

When we got there, we quickly learned that the club was run and mainly participated in by middle and high school guys who were probably earning volunteer credit hours for school. I was sure that she’d turn around and walk right back out, but no – my normally shy-around-strangers daughter chose an opponent, sat right down, and started a game. Proud Momma moment, right there.

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What made me even more proud though was how she not only stalemated 3 of her middle-school opponents, but even managed to win a game! They also had a drawing for a little prize, and amazingly she won that too – a little yellow knight chess piece on a keychain, which she immediately hung on her bookbag when she got home. And just to add a fun little side note, she even won a chess award at the end of the school year!

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As it got closer to her birthday, Jay and I had one of those moments where light falls from heaven like a spotlight and you hear angels singing all around – we were going to get our Harry Potter-crazed daughter a Wizard’s Chess set, just like in the movie. I said it on Facebook and I’ll say it again here: there should really be a prize for mad gift-giving skills. And I’d win.

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No surprise here, but she absolutely loved it and immediately began playing against my brother, who’s been a chess nut for as long as I can remember. My dad even built him a beautiful chess table years ago since he loves the game so much. And despite the look of inevitable defeat on Kevin’s face here, he is definitely a better player than I am and has continued to beat her when they play. Finally, the perfect opponent!

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I’m not sure how long it’s going to last, but for the moment she’s totally into knights and rooks, castles and pawns. I love that it’s not only teaching her logic and reasoning skills, but it’s also teaching my normally-can’t-handle-losing daughter how to lose gracefully. And, of course, how to be a gracious winner, too. 🙂

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