Loss, chess and happiness

Lured by the exquisitely constructed pieces, we eagerly swallowed the rules and played our first game.

After having our queen ruthlessly taken by a loved one, we swear through tears and snot we will never return to the table again. For many, this is a two-minute history of “How I got over chess.”

If you are hanging out nightly and having fun, you are not missing much. As a current dabbler and lifetime loser in chess, I understand your decision.

There are tons of alternatives to make full use of, and occasionally, make fun of our intelligence that do not involve putting our egos at stake.

It hurts getting your ego rebuilt and re-shattered every Tuesday night at the Chess Club meeting. Rough-edged experiences like this will make you question your raison d’être and wonder what other hidden masochist tendencies you might have.

That’s what I do while playing on the wooden tables of BuffaLouie’s, usually with a bottle of chilled Heineken in my right hand. Left hand is for the clock. Earplugs for blocking out noise from the TV. The atmosphere there is second to none, with curious patrons peering admiringly in our direction. I can read their minds.

“That poor gal seems really troubled.”

Except for rare cases, we seldom talk about player ratings, as it is believed to be as inaccurate a measurement of a player’s worth as money and status are of people.

Instead, we talk about winning and losing, but only in the most general terms.

As a matter of fact, we can’t even go into this subject without first defining our own “chessboard,” that is, the particular game you choose to play.

For many, their “chessboard” is limited to the 64 squares. You’d recognize them by their swinging and humming when doing well, and their rebuke of opponents for offenses as negligible as hiding taken pieces.

A considerable amount of players are serious only about games that merit a winning. In other games, they seek challenges.

Week after week, for the people, the talk, the music, the beer we had alongside the games, I went to the Chess Club. Pretty much the same reasons people go to the bars.

In short, you get a tougher, harsher and more sophisticated version of everything at the Club, alcohol excluded.

For all of these, chess has become the only sport in which I can still call a night well spent even after straight losses. Sometimes, rather than a meaningless win, I’d prefer a loss after intense plotting, painstaking struggle and grand escaping. It’s the hard-edged experiences like this we crave and think about on our deathbed.

Although happiness is often elusive, tough experiences are attainable. You will for sure experience this laboriously seeded happiness through the lens of time in the future.

New York Times columnist Tim Kreider describes this idea best in an August 2009 article, writing, “... it resembles averted vision, a phenomena familiar to backyard astronomers whereby, in order to pick out a very faint star, you have to let your gaze drift casually to the space just next to it; if you look directly at it, it vanishes. And it’s also true, come to think of it, that the only stars we ever see are not the ‘real’ stars, those cataclysms taking place in the present, but always only the light of the untouchable past.”

In a period long enough to turn the present into the “untouchable past,” you might not remember who wins the game, but you’ll remember the good time spent in the presence of chess.

So, come to Chess Club at 7 p.m. every Tuesday at BuffaLouie’s.

­— zhoujing426@gmail.com

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