Christopherson Column: Chess fascination growing during pandemic

Mike Christopherson
Crookston Times

    It’s possible to be wary of something without being afraid of it. If you modify your behavior somewhat as a result of that wariness, it doesn’t make you weak, and it doesn’t mean you’re letting the thing you’re wary of “dominate” your life, as has been suggested.

    I’m wary of COVID-19. If I could best articulate the logic behind my wariness, I would say this: I don’t want to get it. I’m in somewhat good health, I suppose, but I don’t want to personally find out what this devilish little virus is going to do to my lungs, my heart, my brain and my immune system.

    I don’t want others in my inner circle to get COVID-19, either. Like my parents, who have health issues. The same goes for my wife; her parents have health issues, too.

    So we have changed our ways. The so-called “new normal” is becoming, simply, normal. Do I wish we were still existing in the pre-COVID, old normal? Sure, but - and I’m only speaking for my family specifically - things sure could be a hell of a lot worse. In times like this, you can greet each day with crushing despair, and depending on your particular situation that would be perfectly understandable, but I’m trying to wake up in a positive frame of mind and be grateful. You know, for things like a paycheck.

    We haven’t eaten inside a restaurant for several months, or enjoyed a beer or a drink indoors at a bar. When you hear about mask rules being, at the least, stretched, and, at the most, ignored in some of these establishments, it’s enough to make you feel like you’re in a petri dish or even claustrophobic, when all you want to do is grab a bite and shoot some pool with a buddy, or enjoy a drink and some apps with your spouse.

Home time

    While there are too many TV shows to choose from on all these streaming services, I think my wife and I worked through the plethora of  series categorized by our friends and family as “must-binge” a few months ago.

    So, while, yes, sports are on TV and I’m watching a bit, it’s also game time. Mostly, it’s card-game time.

      It took more than 20 years, but I finally taught my wife one of the best card games there is, smear. She smoked me in three straight games the other night. A casual reader might assume she’s a quick study; I will counter that I was dealt the worst run of hands over a trio of games in the almost four decades I’ve been playing the game.

    But, now, we’re looking to up our game, so to speak.

    My wife came home with chessboard the other day.

    I have been fascinated with this game for as long as I can remember.

    As a young child in the Pacific Northwest, there is a picture of me in a family photo album, kneeling at the coffee table in our den in front of a chessboard and moving a piece. My mom made that particular board in a ceramics class, my dad tells me.

    Then there are the films with chess at the center of the plot that I obsess over, such as “Searching for Bobby Fischer.” Watching young prodigies become masters at a wide variety of skills is always exciting, but, for me, it’s extra special when the child prodigy is extremely gifted at chess.

    The new Netflix series, “Queen’s Gambit,” spurred my wife to make the chessboard purchase. It’s about an orphaned girl in a time decades ago who, aided by pharmaceuticals her orphanage made her ingest every day, envisioned the game of chess in a way no one else could, and she was soon dominating masters three times her age.

    She could beat me blindfolded.

    I asked my parents about the old photo of me in our Washington home, when I was probably five or maybe six. Was I actually playing a game, I asked, or just moving the knight because it looked like a neat-o horse head? Although a definitive answer was not provided – this was a long time ago – I’m going to guess I dug the horse.

    Queen’s Gambit is a chess junkie’s fix. But the lead character and the people she competes with and their rapid-fire exchanges on head-spinning strategies and defense...it’s obviously very intimidating to a guy who, while playing his wife on a Friday evening with the fresh-out-of-the box chessboard from Walmart, has to refer to the instructions every time he picks up a piece while wondering, “What can I do with this one? What is it, anyway...is this a bishop?”

    After a half-hour or so, perhaps because she was moved to boredom by my incessant, cautious tip-toeing of my pawns near the center of the board, my wife started making aggressive, even reckless moves. I questioned her motives while also pouncing on my opportunity. Soon, she was leaving such gaping holes in her defense, even the little kid at the coffee table who thought the horse head was cool could not avoid victory.

    At least I think I won. Both extreme novices, neither of us was certain. But I managed to gloat, a little.

    It’s safe to say it’s on.

Crookston Cartoon Commentary by Trey Everett