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Chess's rules and strategies make it a losing game for some

There should be a game that is halfway between checkers and chess, tough enough to keep us interested until the final move but easy enough for simpletons like me. They could call it "check," perhaps, or "chessers."

I learned checkers as a kid, along with the more colorful Chinese checkers, which added marbles into the mix. Chess didn't come along until years later, and by then I was past my learning curve; more likely, chess just revealed my lack of a calculating mind required for games of strategy.

I was introduced to chess in military boot camp, where 70 or so of us were so deprived of all forms of entertainment that we actually looked forward to receiving letters from home. Any property beyond military issue was considered contraband, but we were crafty.

One of my fellow recruits, Walter, was a bookish-looking fellow who lived up to his appearance. Having recently done well in an East Coast chess championship, he was eager not to be limited by rules and regulations that didn't involve chess.

He devised a plan with the tools at hand, abetted by several of us who figured that even chess would be more fun than having to respond to our families' letters.

We each had to carry a spiral notebook for our classes, folded to fit into the back pocket of our dungarees. We also had to use a mechanical pencil, clipped to the front of our denim shirts, between the second and third buttons, at exactly a 45-degree angle. No joke; I couldn't make that up.

Additionally, each of us had to keep a box of extra erasers for those pencils.

Walter drew a chess board on the inside back cover of his notebook, where no one was ever likely to look. Next, he collected our little red cylindrical erasers and used an ink pen to draw symbols on top of them to differentiate king from knight from pawn.

Then, during our one day of leisure that weekend, he bent over the tiny chessboard and furtively taught several of us to play the game. We learned which piece could move in what direction, always taking care not to upset the cardboard rows of tiny rubber pieces with our fingers.

That I actually was able to hold my own in the games did not speak to my understanding of the art. I was something like Lou Costello when he tried to understand the names of the players on Bud Abbot's baseball team in the comedy duo's "Who's on first" routine.

Even as Costello eventually figured out, for example, that I Don't Know was on third base without really comprehending what that meant, I was blindly moving the chess pieces in ways that kept the game alive.

I never learned to see past the next move, though, and my beginner's luck never evolved into intermediate learning and expert winning.

Not long afterward, I gave up the game. Life was too short, I decided, and it doesn't take a grandmaster to know that Who's on first because he's the first baseman and that's his name.

(Reach Glynn Moore at (706) 823-3419 or

Web posted on Thursday, July 29, 2010

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