Friday, March 3, 2017

I Don't Know From a Double Dribble, But I Do Know an En Passant

My favourite sport is none.  I have never had a great deal of athletic prowess and therefore never enjoyed playing many sports; when you couple that with not being a preferred choice when teams were being picked my flippant attitude toward sport is easier to understand.  I did give organized sports a few tries, baseball and football, they just never were my thing.  The only positive that sport ever brought into my early life was that basketball introduced me to chess.   

It was 6th grade in St. Mary’s Catholic School in Oklahoma, when that change started that took recess from being a free form playtime into a formally structured gym class.    It was when I suddenly found myself on a basketball court, with no formal education in the hoop arts, holding a just passed basketball, and being yelled at take a shot.  Somehow, I was supposed to know all the rules as well as how to dribble, pass, and shoot -- I took the shot and it bounced off the rim.  There were two guys in class (Sully and Brian) who had older brothers and fathers who had been preparing them for a life in the pros.  If memory serves, they were not any better than anyone else; but their knowledge of the game made them the leaders in this arena and as a result they got more play time every day and that did improve their skills.

I did not have a basketball hoop at home, so the sum total of my playtime was lunch recess during the week when I would be passed the ball, at most, once a day.  When I did get control of the ball, I would either be called for traveling, until I found out what dribbling was, or I would take a solitary shot at the basket. Those 3 or 4 throws a week were insufficient practice to ever show any improvement at the game and so I spent my lunch hours just filling in the court so that the two “experts” could feel good about themselves.  Given my internal need to excel this was totally unsatisfying.

Then one day a friend brought in a travel chess set and invited me to play during lunch.  This was 1971 and there was growing interest in the game as a lead up to the Fischer - Spassky World Championship Match.  My friend, whose name escapes me now, taught me the basics of the game and from that point until the end of the school year, we would play daily at lunch and through practice I got more skillful and learned to enjoy the game.  Eventually, I taught my kids how to play and I even play the occasional game of Star Trek Three-Dimensional Chess.

Now, I have grandsons who have started to learn and play basketball in a formal setting and are being taught the game’s rules as part of it.  They seem to like it and that is great for them and the exercise will do them good.  But at some point, they may want a more cerebral challenge, and that is when Grandpa will teach them to play chess.

MacBeth plays a pretty mean defense, but I doubt he will ever understand the nuance of a perfectly executed and timed Castle move.


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