Chess

My son asked, how did I get so good at chess?

When I was seven years old my soon-to-be brother-in-law Frank Lyman taught me the basic rules of chess, and we played quite often. I can’t explain why he took such a liking to me but he was always kind, patient, and generous; and gave me the everlasting impression of  a very caring, soft-spoken, happy-go-lucky gentleman. I thought he was very handsome and bore a strong resemblance to the actor Peter Lawford. He went out of his way to engage me in fun activities. He’d wake me out of a sound sleep at three in the morning just to go fishing. In fact, it was he who took me to the Juneau Park Lagoon where I caught my very first fish (a bullhead). It’s a little known fact but he was named in honor of the President of the United States: Franklin Delano Lyman. I am forever kindly disposed to his memory.

I hadn’t played for many years when, as an adult some 13 years later, I took up the game again while in the Army. In 1970 I was stationed TDY at Forbes Air Force Base, near Topeka, Kansas. We were loading C5-A Galaxies (World’s 2nd largest airplane) and other huge planes with all the neccessary supplies to equip an 11,000 man force (the 1st Infantry Division) for the NATO Reforger War Games in Europe. Between planes we played with some chess sets we got from some Red Cross/USO care packages. After palletizing tons of footlockers, duffle bags, field kitchens, etc. and all manner of other gear and to alleviate the boredom of just standing around waiting for the next truck or plane to arrive we played chess. We played and played, all day long in fact (in 12-hour shifts.) At about the same time period I also read a skinny little paperback book titled: “How to Play Winning Chess”. It sharpened my game considerably.

In 1972 American Chess Grandmaster Bobby Fischer played against the Russian Chess Master Boris Spassky for the World Championship. The Milwaukee Journal published each and every game, annotated, move for move. I cut the games out of the paper, set up a chessboard and replayed each and every game. I might still have them somewhere. Essentially, I studied with the masters. I went right to the top. It was a real eye-opener.

Among my friends I developed a reputation as the man to beat. They all “hit the books” and pretty much caught up to me, but most are still reluctant to play. I taught my son everything I know, but I made it a personal rule to never just “let” him win. If ever he does finally beat me it’s going to be on the up and up, fair and square, and then and only then can both he and I be honestly and justifiably proud.

I’ve never played timed chess. It strikes me as just a distraction; besides which, those clocks are very expensive. I don’t know where I stand in the chess universe but I usually beat the casual player.

Computer programs beat me routinely because they have an unnatural amount of memory, and even when fully focused, I can usually think only about seven moves ahead. Beginner Level chess programs are, or should I say, must be, deliberately dumbed-down to make errors even a human would never make.

I don’t bother playing on the Internet because it’s my understanding that some people are so intent on winning at any cost that they will resort to using a second computer on the side to play the game, so it would be just like playing against a computer program anyway.

Some people believe that being good at chess is a hallmark of genius; a thing I most emphatically deny. I’m not a genius – nor have I ever met one.

I’m not really that good son, but thanks.

As for advice on winning at Chess:

First, as I once explained to an old friend over a game of pool, everybody knows the rules; everybody knows how to play; but in order to win, ya-gotta-wanna-win.

Second, in chess, just as it is in all other games; and all other aspects of life, really, – the man who makes the fewest mistakes always wins.

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About The Twentieth Man

Age 66
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