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The Bloodless Battlefield

By Jeremy Flannery · August 5th, 2009 · Living Out Loud
My life’s motto is “Mercy in all things but chess.” I admit to being a coward, a fool and a procrastinator during moments in my adult life, but I shall be none of the above if you are der brav soldat willing to face me on the chessboard.

Chess is a game of honor. Two players face off in a battle of cunning and strategy with the only element of luck being the choices of the player’s opponent. Each player must accept his mistakes and learn from them to enhance his game.

Enjoy the thrill of defeat along with your victories and thank your opponent for showing how to defeat her next time. No person is injured when the commanders sacrifice their soldiers to achieve objectives on this battlefield.

My parents taught me the rules and basics of the game when I was an adolescent, but I never nurtured the interest until I worked at a bookstore with the former champion of the Cincinnati Chess Club.

He would play store patrons before and after his shift. I played a few games with other co-workers, but we unfortunately never faced each other. I wasn’t even a casual player at the time.

Then I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in the spring of 2006. I could feel my knees swelling, but I shrugged off the pain and worry to avoid the medical expense.

In late April of that year, my knees swelled to nearly double their diameter. I was unable to seek health care for months because I didn’t have health insurance, so I surrendered my body to chairs. After a few weeks of being sick with depression, I realized I needed to exercise my mind to cope with my crippled legs.

I discovered Yahoo! Chess in that wooden chair facing the computer that I used to interact with the world from my home.

Playing the game online distracted me from the physical pain and mental anguish it causes. The first few games were quite humbling as I earned perpetual losses — but each defeat led to new victories as I learned to implement new tactics into my game.

Chess requires discipline and critical thinking. The player moves each piece to coincide with the rest for an evolving attack strategy while establishing defensive measures to counteract the opponent’s advance. The game demands that before committing to action, the player assumes her opponent will make the next best move. Every move can lead to victory or defeat, and the possible outcomes are infinite.

The female piece, the queen, is the most powerful in chess. The objective is to place the king in checkmate, unable to move to another square. Never stray from that objective — aim for checkmate, not snatching more of the opposing pieces.

The best defense is a strong offense because it’s a game of momentum. By initiating the attack, the player forces her opponent to respond. This gives the attacker the advantage to remain on the offensive.

Chess offers social interaction. Playing in person is the most obvious form, but many players from around the world join online Yahoo! Chess lounges. Habitual players pour their personal experiences and opinions into sites like Social Lounge between games.

Social Lounge is usually abuzz with political discussions about taxes, health care reform, foreign policy and drug laws, along with interests in sports like the football World Cup and the love of music. I've talked with people through Yahoo! Chess I would otherwise never meet.

A man in Pakistan relayed news of Benazir Bhutto’s 2007 campaign for parliament to Social Lounge until she was murdered Dec. 27, 2007, and news of the violence that ensued in Islamabad. A woman in Brazil expressed gratitude toward her nation’s free college education as she saved money to afford Harvard School of Medicine.

A man in Wales boasted about the daily fresh fish flowing into the markets of his island culture. A man from Louisville mocked my residence of Hamilton County for having to pay the sales tax for the Bengals’ stadium.

Some European players advocated for Americans in the lounge to vote for Barack Obama during the summer and autumn months of the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign.

The possible conversations are endless — like the possible results of a chess game. I have faced opponents online who have proven to be masters of the game, but some of those very opponents have expressed shallow-minded hatred.

I have read statements from some like “Cold is God’s way of saying, ‘Throw more Muslims on the fire.’ ” A man in Arizona once suggested laying land mines across the U.S.-Mexico border to curb the permeation of illegal immigrants into his state. Chess teaches you to use tactics to place the opposing king in checkmate. Such heartbreaking statements have taught me to use words to place that madness in check.

I always thank such opponents for conquering me on the chessboard. While Yahoo! Chess provides the option to permanently ignore other users online, I insist on keeping open communication with such players to contend the opinions with which I disagree.

I still haven’t emerged the victor on the chessboard against some of them, and we continue to argue our perspectives between games, but I refuse to be defeated by hatred.

I would rather die armed only with words on the battlefield for hope and peace.

CONTACT JEREMY FLANNERY: editor@citybeat.com



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