I’ve been engaging in an activity the past few weeks that seriously has me questioning my sanity from time to time. I’ve been participating in a long distance chess game with a friend in another state. Nothing peculiar there. The technology makes it an easy thing to do, and in these Covid days, it can be an entertaining diversion. Also not a crazy thing to do. What does make me want to count my marbles is the knowledge gained after a few embarrassing games that I am sorely outmatched. My playing partner is clearly a superior player. And yet I persist in seeking a rematch after every miserable loss.

As a kid I was as competitive as the next guy. I was told, I learned, I intuitively knew that to succeed one must work with those better than you. If you seek the lowest level of competition, you will win, and you might feel grand for a while, but in the end, you will never be better than you are, there will be no improvement. I guess I’m hoping that’s the case with my chess playing.

I keep trying different strategies, different openings, keeping my knights active, diagonal bishop lines open, queen in the fray. So far, to no avail. I did deduce early on that I was playing a defensive, reactive game without a driving offensive strategy. I’d see what moves my opponent made and then try to defend against what I think he’s up to. Not a direction toward victory, I’m afraid.

And the opposite tactic does not fare better for me. I imagine the game as in Queen’s Gambit, play it out in my mind before making my moves. That, of course, includes a presumption that I know what my opponent will do in any given scenario. Hasn’t worked for me, yet. And I still persist in accepting or asking for a rematch, time after time. And that’s really where the question of sanity comes in.

But maybe, just maybe, there’s another reason I persist. Maybe it’s not really about chess at all; maybe it’s the human connection the game allows that’s important. In these days of social distancing, we force ourselves to be isolates, loners, bubble dwellers, afraid to look outside ourselves and see the beauty of the Universe that still exists, has always existed, in spite of the current hiccup of a virus. The virus, too, is part of the Universe. We’re just at a point in time where our paths have crossed. Unfortunate for those of us who die, and sad for those who bear the loss, but manageable in time, and definitely not fodder for insanity.

As for my chess game, I only hope to improve my play before my opponent gets tired of beating me. That would be a sad day, indeed.

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