I recently watched “The Queen’s Gambit” on Netflix. I know I’m late to the game, but I enjoyed the show.
It also brought up memories of my youth, when my father taught me to play chess. Between the ages of 6 and 10 we played all the time. This was in the early 70’s when chess was a big deal. Bobby Fischer’s exploits were front page news, especially his games with Russian champion Boris Spassky.
A few years ago, I wrote a piece of fiction based on the chess matches I played with my father as a kid. Again, this piece is fiction, but it does capture some of the spirit of that time as well as the nature of my relationship with my father when I was a whiney little kid.
“You’re just an accident waiting to happen.”
I had just nudged my glass of milk with my elbow, tipping it over and sending the contents to the floor. I watched as the last few drops made their way to the edge of the table, curled under the lip, hung for an impossibly long time until they too fell into the white puddle.
My father’s jaw tightened as he stared at me accusingly. “Are you just going to sit there? Clean it up. Then we’ll start the game.”
After being sent back to the kitchen three times to get the “right towels” for the job, I soaked up the mess, mopped the floor, and matted it dry.
“Alright, Spassky, ready to lose again?” My father moved his king’s pawn forward two spaces.
I moved my king’s pawn forward two spaces to match his. “I’m not Spassky,” I whined.
My father would always call the name of my most hated player, no matter the sport. “Throw it in here, Catfish,” he’d say, referring to the A’s pitcher Catfish Hunter.
I hated the A’s.
They always beat the Tigers. “I’m not Catfish,” I’d protest in my little kid voice, “Call me Mickey,” I’d say, trying to emulate Mickey Lolich’s windup.
“Just like a Ruskie, copying our every move,” my father mocked, as I matched his knight’s move. “Can’t think of anything on your own, Spassky?”
“I told you, I’m not Spassky! I’m Bobby Fischer. Besides, Spassky doesn’t even live in Russia anymore. He lives in France,” I said, puffing up my chest and thrusting out my jaw confidently for relaying information that directly contradicted my father.
“Don’t use that tone with me, young man.” My father moved his bishop into play and I surprised him by moving my queen. “And if I say you’re Spassky, you’re Spassky.”
I dropped my chin and focused on the board, pouting and not saying a word for the next fifteen minutes as we traded moves and captured pieces. Then, I surprised him with a move he hadn’t seen before. I sacrificed my queen, which he greedily captured, forgetting to check for my trailing bishop which resulted in checkmate two moves later.
“Nice game, Spassky,” my father said with what I thought might just be a smile of approval.