Sunday, November 4, 2012


Two weeks ago, I went to watch some games in the fourth round of the Western States Open. I watched the games unfold on the top boards. The openings seemed vaguely familiar, but they also looked strange. Between the motion and the act had fallen a shadow that obscured the idea. I felt I was seeing, but not grasping.

I laid eyes on a tiny Asian girl in the Class A section. After checking the wall chart, I found out it was Joanna Liu, or should I say National U-8 Girls Champion Joanna Liu. Seeing her reminded me of The Joy Luck Club's story of Waverly Jong.

I transcribed the dialog near the end of the clip because the words seemed rather apropos to my relationship with chess of late.

WAVERLY: Guess what? I've decided to play chess again.

MOM: You think it's so easy. One day quit, next day play. Everything for you is this way. So smart, so easy, so fast. Not so easy any more.

[Back in chess tournament. Waverly is losing in front of an audience including her family.]

NARRATOR WAVERLY: What she said, it was like a curse. This power that I had, this belief in myself. I could actually feel it draining away. I could feel myself feeling so ordinary. All the secrets I once saw, I couldn't see them any more. All I could see was were my mistakes, my weaknesses. The best part of me just... disappeared. But I can't put it all on my mother. I did it to myself. I never played chess again.

One of Amy Tan's big breaks was a short story called Endgame. I was somewhat keen on trying to find a copy, but then I realized that it's likely that the best parts of Endgame were cannibalized for The Joy Luck Club.

I showed up at the club Thursday ostensibly to collect on a few debts, but also to see how the Holiday Swiss began. Round 1 produced the usual 500-point mismatches, but there were quite a few upset draws and one upset win. Again, I simply spectated. I didn't feel an urge to play, but after I left, I could almost envision myself among the players, returning to the world of silent cerebral intensity.

Throughout my life, computers and chess have exchanged positions as my favored hobby. The past three years, computers have dominated, drowning out Caissa's siren call. But the season is turning again. Recursion. Reversion. I feel my interest turning back to chess. Waverly's words haunt me: curse, powerlessness, blindness, mistakes and weaknesses. Confident and powerful or drained and ordinary? Perhaps it's time to test myself again.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Tiger Mom for the loss!