Home > Uncategorized > PARD and Me (or, How I became a Chess Player)

PARD and Me (or, How I became a Chess Player)

Note: This essay is a draft of a post to my profile on Chessgames.com  (user: BishopofBlunder ), originally published around the 2006-2007 time frame.  It was inspired by another user on the site, Richard Taylor, who asked in one of the forums to hear members’ stories on  how they started playing chess.  This is my story.

When I was a boy in Garland, Texas (USA), a municipal organization called PARD (Parks And Recreation Department) used to run a recreation center during the summer months in the gymnasium of the junior high school located a half of a block from my house. They offered activities to children who were out of school for the summer months (June, July, and August). It had a ping pong table, basketballs, and a few board games, but most kids, myself included, went there to play wiffle ball. Basically, wiffle ball is baseball played with a hollow plastic ball, usually with some holes in it for aerodynamic purposes, and a plastic bat.  I wiled away many a hot summer day here.

Sometimes the older boys wouldn’t let the younger ones play wiffle ball with them. On one such occasion, when I was one of the younger boys, a friend of mine and I were looking through the board games when we came across a chess set. Oddly, there was no checkers available. My friend asked if I knew how to play chess and I said no, but I think it is similar to checkers only you don’t jump the pieces, you land on their square and capture them. I had seen chess on TV, but didn’t know the first thing about it. Having no idea how to set up the board properly, we put the pieces down at random using the same type of set up used for checkers. We started playing, just moving one square at a time, regardless of the piece, and capturing as we went along. One of the older boys saw this and asked what we were playing. “Chess”, we replied.  He laughed and said, “that is not how chess is played.”

He asked if we wanted to learn how to play chess properly and, always being a very curious young man, I said yes. My friend didn’t seem interested and excused himself. So this 16 or 17 year old boy, who looked all grown up to me, and whose name I cannot recall, started teaching me the game of chess. He taught me the starting position, the names of the pieces and their movements. I was fascinated by the complexity of the game and the characteristics of the different pieces.  They were like characters in a fantasy, each with their own strengths and weaknesses.  My favorite piece was the Bishop. I liked the way it moved diagonally, slashing its way, serpentine-like, across the board.

We played a few games and he trounced me completely, of course. I even fell victim to the dreaded “Fool’s Mate”. This was not long after the Fischer-Spassky World Championship Match, and he would tell me about Fischer and how he was the first, and only, American ever to be World Champion. I continued to play at the gym occasionally with my “teacher” or one of the few others who played chess. Or I would watch one of their games and try to soak up some knowledge.

That Christmas my parents bought me a small table that had a chess board and some plastic pieces. The table was particle board with a cheap veneer finish and the pieces were cheap molded plastic, but I thought it was the most beautiful thing in the world. They also bought me a copy of “Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess”. I read that book a dozen times, working all the problems over and over.

The main problem I had was finding someone to play chess with. None of my friends were interested in chess. They were only concerned with “normal” sports like football, basketball, and baseball. I talked my sister into playing with me. But after I beat her 3 or 4 times she lost interest and started to avoid the subject. Eventually, the table got broken (from playing ball in the house) and we got rid of it.

I gave up chess until 11 years later in 1984, I shared a room with a friend of mine in Fort Worth, named “Truck”, who played some chess. We both worked nights and when we would get home from work, we would stay up all night playing chess and listening to Pink Floyd. Neither of us had any clue about opening principles or tactical combinations. We simply moved the pieces and tried to gain material. It wasn’t great chess but it was a load of fun! We were pretty evenly matched but I came out on top more often than not.

The next year, I moved back to Garland and lost touch with Truck. I didn’t play, or even think, about chess again until 1988, shortly after I got married. Late that year, my wife’s stepfather passed away. I was helping my mother-in-law move some stuff, that she was going to sell, out of her house. In the stuff, I found a beautiful ceramic chess board with ceramic pieces. The board was very large, bout 2-1/2 feet square, and separated into four square sections. I commented to my mother-in-law on how much I liked the chess set and she gave it to me.

We had a large square coffee table with a glass top that the board fit on perfectly. Once again, though, I was without an opponent.

Not long after this, I went to work for Domino’s Pizza and met a man, Scott, who knew how to play. He had played in some tournaments before and knew some traps. When we first started playing, he beat me consistently. As I said, my favorite piece is the Bishop. I could use them well. But the knights were a different story. I had no idea how to use them effectively. Scott was the opposite. He was brilliant playing with his knights, but he hated the bishops. He would trade his bishop for a knight every time, but would hold on to his knights like they were gold.

I am a very competitive person. I don’t like to lose at anything. So, in order to compete with Scott, I knew I had to do something. I went to the library and found some books on chess. I studied some opening principles and simple tactical combinations.

It took a while, but eventually I managed to draw a few games with him and even win a couple. I learned the secret to beating him was to get those darn knights of his off the board as soon as possible. Knights were to Scott like hair was to Samson. We spent many enjoyable hours hunched over the board.

Then Scott went and joined the Army, so I lost my partner again. I went on another hiatus from chess for a while, though I would still play an occasional game against my computer (Chessmaster 2100, baby!).

I became interested in playing chess again a few years ago, updated my chess program to Chessmaster 9000 and began studying again. Thanks to the users on Chessgames.com and some other internet advisors, I am now learning the game of chess backwards, so to speak. I have begun with simple checkmates and tactics and will work my way up (back?) to opening theory.

My chessmaster rating just reached 1000, so I have a long way to go. Looks like it is going to be a fun ride.

And that is how I became a chessplayer. 

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