In my other life I am a wrecker of kingdoms. But I admit that sometimes I’m the wreckee.
Either way, it’s a blast.
Gamers, as they are affectionately known, are capable of sitting in front of computer screens for long hours blowing each other to bits with extraordinarily gruesome detail.
I’m not criticizing video games, when taken in moderation. It’s a lot of fun to command an army, or an AK-47, and blast your way through your opponent. I’ve done it myself a few times.
It may seem hard to believe, but once there was a world without video games. There have always, though, been gamers. In the old days, pre-1972 to be exact, those who lusted after imaginary blood, carnage and world domination had a different name for war games. Back then it was called chess.
Chess has been around for so long that we don’t even know how long it’s been around. Best guesses are it evolved about 500 AD in India, and from there has gone around the world. Today the people who estimate things say there are about 600 million chess players.
Chess entered the Huston household in the mid-80s. I was walking around a Dollar Tree-type store and saw a plastic chess set for $2.19. I was in my early 30s and my oldest son was 10 years old. I bought the game and a “Chess for Idiots” book at a used bookstore. I dragged my son into the living room and said, “We’re going to play chess.” It took about 20 minutes to get straight on the rules. It took a little longer to get used to how the horsey-knight thing moves with that funky L-shaped maneuver.
In my experience, people are mostly scared to death of chess. They think it’s a game for brainiacs and crazy people, which in some cases isn’t far off the mark. The history of high-end chess is filled with some genuine oddballs — Bobby Fischer being a recent example.
But you don’t have to be a brainiac to play chess and beat people. All 11 of my kids know how to play, and about half of them have stuck with the game into adulthood. We’re all pretty good, but that’s all. Actually, one of us is very good, and it isn’t me.
Like just about everything else, chess used to be just for guys but isn’t any more. I know several women who play well, and for the record I dislike losing to them just as much as losing to members of my own gender.
So here’s the deal. Chess is cheap. Ten bucks gets you a basic board and plastic pieces. Learning the moves takes a few minutes. Learning the basics of strategy takes a little longer — this isn’t checkers after all. But if you know someone who plays, get him (or her) to show you how it all works. There are also a million tutorials online.
It’s a game of skill, not chance, so you’ll probably get kicked around for the first few games. But you’ll figure it out, and soon you’ll become the occasional kickee. No matter where you live (even in Idaho) there’s a chess club where you’ll find someone as good, or bad, as you to match wits with.
Yes, there are chess geniuses out there, and I don’t understand what they’re doing any more than you do. But it doesn’t matter, because you and I won’t be playing geniuses any time soon.
Meanwhile, there’s lots of research about students doing better in school after learning chess. It improves their math scores, teaches them to focus, think clearly, and accept responsibility for their actions. It’s also one more way for parents to connect with their kids.
Perhaps best of all it gives you an excuse to turn off the TV.
And as you’ll one day come to discover, there is no better feeling than when you suddenly see the win, slide a piece across the board, smile at your opponent with just a hint of pity, and quietly say “checkmate.” No better feeling. I’m probably kidding, but not by much.