Checkmate

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I remember the time my father taught me chess. On a Sunday afternoon, I sat cross legged at the center table in the drawing room, silently watching him put the pieces in place. “This is the queen, and this is the king”, he said, holding up the pieces. My eyes widened. I reached for them, running my fingers gently along the piece, examining it closely as he set up the board.

He went on to explain the rules to me. “The aim is to protect the king at all costs” he said, showing me how the different pieces moved across the chessboard. It was the most beautiful game I’d seen. I stopped listening. All I saw was a story. A story of two kingdoms, equal in strength, competing for supremacy.

I saw a battle begin before my eyes. The pieces charged towards each other, falling by the dozen as the game unfolded before me. Pawns were mercilessly sacrificed to save the knights and knights grabbed the opportunity to face certain death for their king. The king stayed quiet, almost complacent, surrounded securely by his fortress of devoted subjects while those on the battlefield continued to fall.

Their bodies lay scattered across the table. The fallen whites and blacks tossed carelessly aside as the war waged on. I looked sympathetically at the black Rook, as he lay still on the corner of the table. Overthrown by a mere pawn, he thought, for shame. He hoped his partner would avenge the insult. He lay still, struggling to stay awake, his eyes glued to the battle until the other Rook, with one swift move brought the white Pawn down. The Pawn fell slowly, hitting the ground as the blacks broke into a roaring applause that resounded through the battlefield. The Rook looked at him as he twitched in pain, the piercing wounds in his own body disappearing, if only for a minute. He breathed deep and finally closed his eyes.

Back in the fortress, I saw a woman married to a man who didn’t deserve her. A smart, able, powerful woman who had sworn to protect her husband. A husband who was lazy, unskilled and unfit to be a warrior. He stayed in the fortress, anxiously watching the battle, as pieces fought and fell. He shifted nervously, taking a step any direction he pleased as the enemy got closer. The Queen stood by his side, getting ready for battle, as the fortress shrunk with every minute. She wondered how different it would’ve been if she was the ruler. A trained warrior, she had mastered every move in the book. She could move in any direction, for any length with unmatched skill. Her heart breaking as she watched her soldiers die. She ached to step onto the battlefield, wondering how many lives she could have saved if she wasn’t sworn to the king. Yet, like any gracious woman, she knew her place. She would stand beside her husband until it was time to sacrifice herself for him.

There were few pieces left on the battlefield. The queen bravely took her place in front of her shivering husband. He stood still behind her, as the enemy got closer. The queen lunged forward, striking the white bishop that seemed to be getting too close. The King heaved a sigh of relief. Until, “Checkmate” the voice echoing through the battle field. The Queen turned around in horror as the white Rook and knight laughed menacingly through their yellowing teeth. The king looked at her helplessly as the rook toppled him over, letting him fall off the board and onto the table.

The white King seemed pleased. Looking around at the lands he had conquered. He looked dully at the bodies that lay at his feet. Knights, Pawns, his Queen. He scanned the barren chessboard, his eyes travelling to the fallen king. It seemed like he was lost in deep, peaceful sleep. A pang of jealousy stung him as he stood alone on the cold, lonely battlefield, suddenly craving the luxury of everlasting sleep.  He looked around silently, unsure who had really won the war.

“Tutu, do you understand?” my father asked me. I broke out of my trance and blinked softly. “Yes”.
“Good. Enough for today.” He said, picking up the pieces. I helped him, picking up the fallen pawns, knights and kings to drop them into the box. I marveled at how they looked so peaceful. The different pieces, tangled up in each other, oblivious to the war, the bloodshed, the loss.
Until the same time, next Sunday.

264 thoughts on “Checkmate

  1. Hi there, I think chess is one of the most awesome games ever invented. You just made it even better. I am very new to this platform, and just recently posted my first piece of writing. Your brilliance has inspired me to work on my writing, and hopefully, one day, I will also be able to use the written word to make simple, everyday things even more awesome than they actually are. Greetings from sunny South Africa.

  2. I was simply checkmated by your beautiful writing on chess.It recreated my own memories when my father taught me chess when I am a young boy.I am an ardent chess lover, but more than that I loved your way of writing and the emotions you expressed. In the end I also observed your dislike for those real wars where there is always more bloodshed and hatred.But in chess there is no real bloodshed and hatred.Some losers in the game of chess start praising their opponent’s wisdom and become the real winners in the game of love.

    Yuvaraj.

  3. So beautiful! I am blown away by the intricacies of emotion and drama you have portrayed, through such a simple game of chess. I don’t think I’ll ever look at a chessboard again, without thinking of this piece of writing 🙂 Brava!

  4. This is a fantastic narrative of a game of chess. It almost sounds like an episode from “a game of thrones”. You might even consider it as such, since the queen is not the king’s wife, but his mother, and will protect her incompetent son at all costs

  5. It amazes me the way a child ingraines their memories with their parents. Parents often have a different recollection and they are usually two different stories entirely

  6. I enjoyed in every word you wrote. I love chess myself and consider it the most beautiful game. I hope one day I’ll have my little princess and teach her how to play.

  7. I do not know if anyone has looked earlier at the game of chess as you have done !! Shows your brilliance. I am not if the players get as emotional, they can continue with their game and capture the opposite king!!! keep blogging

  8. I have shared your story as metaphor and as chess lesson several times and have found it to be the best description of chess I have ever read. I wonder how many men and fathers truly understand the lessons of the daughter being taught by the daughter in it.

    I thought you might be interested in this excerpt from a larger article written in April 2009 (National Geographic about the She-King of Egypt, Hatshepsut)

    “What induced Hatshepsut to break so radically with the traditional role of queen regent? A social or military crisis? Dynastic politics? Divine injunctions from Amun? A thirst for power? “There was something impelling Hatshepsut to change the way she portrayed herself on public monuments, but we don’t know what it is,” says Peter Dorman, a noted Egyptologist and president of the American University of Beirut. “One of the hardest things to guess is her motive.”

    Bloodlines may have had something to do with it. On a cenotaph at the sandstone quarries of Gebel el Silsila, her chief steward and architect Senenmut refers to her as “the king’s firstborn daughter,” a distinction that accents her lineage as the senior heir of Thutmose I rather than as the chief royal wife of Thutmose II. Remember, Hatshepsut was a true blue blood, related to the pharaoh Ahmose, while her husband-brother was the offspring of an adopted king. The Egyptians believed in the divinity of the pharaoh; only Hatshepsut, not her stepson, had a biological link to divine royalty.

    Still, there was the small matter of gender. The kingship was meant to be passed down from father to son, not daughter; religious belief dictated that the king’s role could not be adequately carried out by a woman. Getting over this hurdle must have taken great shrewdness from the female king. When her husband died, Hatshepsut’s preferred title was not King’s Wife, but God’s Wife of Amun, a designation some believe paved her way to the throne.

    Hatshepsut never made a secret of her sex in texts; her inscriptions frequently employed feminine endings. But in the early going, she seemed to be looking for ways to synthesize the images of queen and king, as if a visual compromise might resolve the paradox of a female sovereign. In one seated red granite statue, Hatshepsut is shown with the unmistakable body of a woman but with the striped nemes headdress and uraeus cobra, symbols of a king. In some temple reliefs, Hatshepsut is dressed in a traditional restrictive ankle-length gown but with her feet wide apart in the striding pose of the king.”

    We can be Kings.

  9. Pingback: Blogging 101: Be a Good Neighbor | Untitled, Unfinished

  10. Great post. Brought back memories when I witnessed two friends literally fighting over a chess game because one tried to retract his move. Thanks for sharing

  11. Interesting analogy. On another note, chess is a great game to help develop cognitive skills such as pattern recognition and strategic thinking. I encourage those that are interested to join the USCF and find a local club to play in.

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