On a fateful winter day when we were cooped up indoors, I downloaded a chess app and told Katy, “It could be fun to work on my chess game.” I hadn’t played in years but had fond memories of playing occasionally with friends in high school and college. Chess is a perfect blend of control and chaos, traps, sacrifices, and the thrill of victory. Even in loss, it’s easy to marvel at the way your opponent beat you, and every game you feel connected to thousands of years of history. So, I started playing ten-minute games. It’s hard to find ten minutes of uninterrupted time with three kids and they, as well as Katy, grew weary of hearing me say, “I just need a few minutes to finish this game.” So, I started playing three-minute games.
In a timed game, each player has three minutes to play. The clock runs during your turn and you win by either putting your opponent in checkmate or having his time expire before yours. Three-minute games were also hard on our family, but there were even faster games called, “Bullet Chess” where each player only has one minute for the whole game. Often, you “pre-move” or tell your piece where it will go on the next turn before your opponent makes his move. It’s lightning fast with whole games happening sometimes in less than ten seconds. It’s wicked fun! You’re playing the person just as much as the game, making bluffs, and forcing them to run their clock out just as much as putting them in checkmate. Best of all, you’re facing off against real people in Australia , Norway , and India who might have their toddlers hitting them with pillows whilst yours hits you with hers.
I play chess too much. I’m a little embarrassed I’m not better, but I did get my bullet rating past a respectable 1200. A few days ago, Katy asked how many games I had played this year. It would be awesome if apps didn’t track that, but it turns out they do, and I looked it up. 3500 games. The line between passion and addiction is a blurry one. I’m not allowed to play a one-minute game if Katy leaves the room to get something, and we’re in the middle of a conversation, and I try to only play during designated times.
With a couple boundaries in place, I’ve started memorizing opening sequences and doing daily chess puzzles. Best of all, Makayla asked if I could teach her how to play chess. We’ve played five games so far, and here’s a picture of her first one. She’s quick to learn, knows how all the pieces work, what check and checkmate are, and is delighted when she comes down in the morning, and I’ve setup her daily chess puzzle. Katy too—who had no interest in learning chess—has found a place for it in her love of logic and puzzles. I suspect with a little time, she’ll be beating me regularly.
Joel and Katy