The Learner Has Become the Master

I remember the moment so clearly in my head. Unlike every other member of my family in the room (lazily watching The Mummy on the big screen television), I was trembling. I examined the chessboard with the intensity of grandmaster, but I knew I was missing something. Like a computer programmer trying to jam faulty code into a compiler, I couldn’t comprehend the complexity of what I was looking at. My grandpa’s queen sat hawk-like in the upper corner of the board; she simultaneously watched over her king and poised herself to execute mine diagonally a good seven squares away. 

My precious travels to Idaho typically went this way; relaxation, yes, but also blind panic. I’m still unsure if my grandpa held any prestigious awards for his chess-playing capabilities, but one thing was certain: no grandchild (or child, for that matter) had ever beaten him fair and square. In fact, it was well-known in the household that whoever managed to beat him would win fifty bucks, right on the spot. I wasn’t the only one trying. I sat in direct competition with my cousins, some my age, some older, some younger. I didn’t immediately worry about being overtaken by my younger cousins, as grandpa was just pleased as punch to teach them the basics. No, I only worried about one, my main rival: my cousin Kyle. Sure, everyone would get the fifty-dollar grand prize if (when) we beat him. But there was more than a little bit of prestige on the line for reaching that monumental moment first. 

To quote the Modern Bard, my palms were sweaty, my knees weak, and my arms heavy. In my panic, I didn’t even notice that no one else was paying any attention … not even Grandpa. It only occurred to me later that The Mummy would be instrumental in the final outcome. 

I had to get rid of that blasted queen. I only had two turns, maybe three before he pincered me between his corner rook, his bishop, and Her Majesty. My queen had long since been excommunicated by that holy bishop, and all I had was a knight, a rook, and an off-color bishop of my own. Meanwhile, my bishop must have been Protestant, as he wasn’t in the right alignment to threaten the royal couple. My knight secured a single square beside the enemy king, but as any chess player knows, there’s only so much a knight can do on its own. 

And then I saw it. I didn’t need to take down the queen at all. Two turns. I could do it in two turns. 

“Check,” I said, moving my knight into position. Grandpa looked down at the board, examining his queen and king. I’d made this move before, but his queen hadn’t been in her position before. He moved his king sideways and returned to watch the movie. 

My eye twitched. His queen couldn’t dive out of the way. My knight didn’t need to move. Neither did my bishop; it blocked the remaining escape route. And more importantly, it provided cover for my assassin: my last rook. 

“Checkmate.” 

The entire room snapped to attention. My grandpa glared down at the board. 

I won fifty dollars that day. And The Mummy became my favorite movie. 

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