Friday, March 24, 2006

Be careful what you ask for. You just might get it.

Late last year I extended an invitation to Sexy Amy from Boardgamegeek to write a piece for Gone Gaming. Due to various circumstances we had to wait until March to finally coordinate, which turned out to work quite well for me. I have been rather busy this week. I was working extra shifts and preparing to attend the only game convention in Alaska, BRIMFROST, which will be held this weekend in Anchorage.

I must admit that I was duly warned. Amy told me several times that if she wrote something it might not be your typical boardgame blog. She worried that I might need to edit it for Gone Gaming, to which I replied, don't write anything you don't want me to post, 'cause I ain't gonna edit it.

Well, it isn't nearly as trashy as I had hoped, but I'm going to resist temptation, stick to my guns and not
edit in any gratuitous sex and violence.

For further reading, here's Amy & Friends' boardgame site
Amy's Artifacts. It's not a blog. It's a website.


Chess and the City

Part III: The Fianchetto

I have this girlfriend. For the sake of this story, let’s call her Carrie. We grew up on the same block of one of those tree-lined streets in the Magnolia District of Burbank. One summer when we were twelve and just beginning to discover boys, our parents sent us away to chess camp. That kind of thing happens when your fathers are, respectively, an academic and a rocket scientist—even in LA.
I remember how, right in the middle of one of our chess games, Carrie leaned over the board and said, “You are really cute. And that pisses me off!” But Carrie was smarter. A few months later when our school tested our IQs, she scored a full ten points higher than me. “That pisses me off,” I told her. “Good !” she said. “Now we are even.”

OK, now skip ahead ... wait, I’m counting ... yeah, skip ahead eleven years.

Carrie is now some kind of programmer for some kind of Silicon Valley startup. When the company went public, she made a killing in the IPO and bought a million-plus house in Palo Alto—in California real-estate terms, an 1100-square-foot cottage on a busy street. Still the address is prestigious and carries just enough cachet to peg her as an up-and-comer in the coding world.
Carrie and I are now in the process of reconnecting. We meet for coffee on campus or at the local Borders. Occasionally we even play chess.

One day she calls and asks me if I can meet her that evening for drinks in Sunnyvale. I recognize the name of the place—a bar famous for its geekiness—where the next great thing—the next iPod, maybe—gets invented on the back of a paper napkin.
I get caught in traffic and arrive thirty, maybe forty, minutes late. I find Carrie playing chess at a corner table—with a guy.
“Hi,” he says. “I’m Kev.” And, oh god, this guy is gorgeous. I see that right away, even in the light from the fifteen-watt bulb that hangs above the table. He’s wearing a polo shirt that he totally fills out, and he has these dazzlingly attractive arms that he’s built up to the point that they threaten to burst out of their shirtsleeves. Apparently this Kev saw Carrie alone with a chessboard and invited himself over for a game.
As it turns out, Kev is a pretty bad chess player. When I arrive he is already down a knight and a bishop. But then, all of a sudden, Carrie starts to blunder badly. She is playing quickly, so maybe that’s an excuse, but I can’t help wondering if it has something to do with me. By the time they reach the endgame, their positions seem about equal.
Out of nowhere, Carrie announces, “I need to go to the ladies’ room. Amy, you want to come with me?”
“Look,” she says when we are down the hallway and out of sight. “He’s already given me his number. Would you mind leaving now?”
So I do.

Two days later, I’m going through my purse. I find a slip of paper with a phone number. “Call me,” it says. “Kev.”

Now any reasonable person would tear it up, right? But I don’t. “I’ll tear it up later,” I say to myself. “I’m not going to call anyway. So what’s the rush?” My god, I’m pathetic.
Later, my cell rings. It’s Carrie. “Sorry about the other night,” she says. “But Kev and I hit it off right away. I know you understand.”
Yeah, I do understand—all too well.

Women don’t play chess as well as men. Statistically. Many explanations for this have been asserted. The most common one is this: Women lack the killer instinct. Well, I can think of about half-a-dozen explanations. Lack of killer instinct isn’t one of them. Look, there are a lot of ways to kill. I prefer not to use a gun. Most women don’t. It’s way too messy.
In chess I’ve always preferred the fianchetto defenses. You, sir, open with the aggressive d4? I reply with the shy Nf6. You stake out even more territory with c4? I meekly try g6. Most of the time it doesn’t work. I get lazy or can’t figure out what to do with my bishop or end up with doubled pawns. But it’s a style that fits my personality.

When Carrie and I meet for coffee now, she usually talks about Kev. At first their relationship seems hot and heavy. For a few months, while his house is being remodeled, he even stays with her in Palo Alto. But honestly— and I see this right away—there is no spark. It takes longer for Carrie to see it.
Kev is a weak chess player, despite his biceps. And that bothers her. She laughs about it, but it is the first chink in the armor. Those little things add up.
In the meantime, I stall for time. I push a pawn here, retreat a rook there. Inevitably my cellphone rings. “Kev and I broke up,” Carrie says. She is in bad shape—crying, almost hysterical. Of course, I commiserate. We have been friends for a long time. All the way back to Burbank, all the way back, even, to chess camp.
When she hangs up, I’m surprised at how calm I feel. I cross my bedroom and open the nightstand. I pull out my copy of Modern Chess Openings. I remove the bookmark and look at it. “Call me,” it says.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well, the opening moves you describe start either the King's Indian Defense, Grunfeld or the Benoni...all brutal, razor-sharp defenses. Bobby Fischer's weapons.

Maybe you aren't as meek as you think.