Friday, March 12, 2010


Friday afternoon, I was allowed to leave work early at 2:00 PM to shop for steel-toed boots. They are required to be worn when I visit construction sites for my new job. I drove to Old Town Winchester, at the pedestrian zone area where there are countless shops, restaurants, coffee shops, etc. I was told that this was where I can find Wilkins, a store which sells safety shoes. I found a metered parking spot a few blocks away and only had to feed the meter one quarter for 30 minutes. Imagine that, 25¢ for half an hour.

I found the store easily and was able to find the shoes I wanted in the store. I got out of the store within 15 minutes. On my walk back to the car, someone was yelling at me from a coffee shop across the street. The man, mid to late fifties in age and long-haired wearing western duds with a straw cowboy hat, was smoking outside the coffee shop. He was smoking a long, thin brown colored cigarette – thicker than a normal cigarette but not quite as big as a cigar. I was not sure what he was yelling to me. So I crossed the street to find out. It turns out that he was asking me if I wanted to play chess against him. It was drizzling and a bit cool, so I figured it wouldn’t be bad to grab a cup of coffee, stay inside the coffee shop for a while, and indulge the cowboy to a chess match. I had the rest of the afternoon off anyway.

He introduced himself and I did the same. He seemed friendly enough. Once I got my coffee order, the cowboy already had the chessboard ready and proceeded to offer both of his closed fists facing downward to me. This is the way a chess match starts – by picking one of the fists to determine if there was a white or black pawn hidden inside. This establishes who plays white or black pieces. I selected “white” so I got to make the first move. As the game starts, he starts talking and boasts that he has been in the coffee shop the whole day. He has not found anyone close to challenging him in a chess match. All the while, he is telling me that most of his matches have gone quickly and he expects this match to be the same. Initially, I thought this was going to be a friendly match and couldn’t care enough if I won or lost. I can’t remember the last time I played competitive chess, let alone, a friendly game. Anyway, his boasting and his challenge were enough to get my competitive juices flowing.

I had learned to play chess in the Philippines when I was young, probably as a first or second grader, from my oldest brother. It was one way to while away the hours by playing against and learning from my brothers. I got good enough at it as a young kid that a few older cousins used to take me to neighboring villages and would front me for chess matches that involved money betting. I don’t remember ever losing any matches to guys that were much, much older than I was. There were the occasional draws. I was usually rewarded with a snack and soda from a local store.

I played competitive chess during my last two years of high school as the number one player on the team. Yes, I will admit it – I was a geek and a nerd in high school. But I was also in high school sports team (varsity cross country and jv tennis), as well as other high school extra curricular activities (yearbook staff and other student clubs). I had to add the previous sentence, so people will not think that I was a total geek. Our chess team did okay, but the highlight was beating Lakeside School my senior year. Lakeside is probably the top school in Seattle area. It is an expensive private school. The school is always top academically, and usually does well in athletics. West Seattle High School beat Lakeside 3-2, with our #1 and #2 players winning, #3 and #4 drawing, and our #5 player losing. We celebrated our win with a stop at Herfy’s Burger on our way back to our school.

I continued to dabble with chess, playing every so often against my oldest brother, a cousin in Seattle who was seriously into chess playing, and a nephew who challenges me once in awhile. My oldest brother and I are probably equal in talent; the best I could do against my cousin, who has since passed away, was a draw; and as far as my nephew, he has beaten me a few times that sometimes I have to prove to him that I was still better than he was at this game. I will play chess with anyone who asks, when I have the time. Usually, it’s with a younger relative who is just learning the game and I will take it easy on them by allowing them to redo a bad move or let them beat me.

Anyway, my intent with the cowboy was to play a friendly match. But after his boasting, I decided to play the match seriously. It was a close and strategic game, but I got him early with a pawn lead. I was able to position my king well via “castling” and as a result was able to have a group of three pawns tactically positioned near my king and rook. This proved to be an important position at game end. The cowboy was not able to position his king as deftly as I had done it. With one pawn up and a position advantage, I was confident in trading chess piece by chess piece. My opponent was also willing to trade pieces.

During the middle of the match, I realized the parking meter on my car had already expired. But I wasn’t about to drop the game, call it a draw, and leave the coffee shop to avoid getting a parking ticket. I had more pride than that and was willing to risk possibly paying for a parking infraction. I wanted to finish the match and take my opponent with his feet back firmly on the ground.

Near the end, both of us had only pawns left with our king. I was able to “queen” one of my pawns after some calculated steps. Usually at this point, the opponent surrenders the match because a queen advantage is too overwhelming to overcome. He didn’t surrender. At this point in the game, his only chance is a stalemate. Stalemate is the condition when the only move(s) left for the king piece is/are “checked” position. The game is then deemed a draw.

So I took his failure to surrender as an affront to me. I proceeded to take all his remaining pawns and methodically “queened” my two remaining pawns, just to rub it in. With three queens and ensuring that I was “checking” his king on all my moves, I was able to prevent a stalemate and cornered his king fairly quickly. Checkmate!

I did not celebrate with glee in front of him. I offered my “great match” acknowledgment to my opponent. We dissected and analyzed the match afterward, as most chess players do after a bout. We talked about the focal points of the game. After a friendly handshake and offering of our best wishes to each other, we parted ways.

And what was awaiting me on my windshield as I walk back to the car? A parking ticket. Yes, my pride gets me in a predicament again. But you know what, winning that chess match felt so damn good.

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