Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Chivalry at the Chessboard

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Chivalry at the Chessboard

Article excerpt

On Saturdays from 10 a.m. till 5 p.m., I welcome and dread the chance to see my daughter compete from a glass window.

I join the hushed parents outside closed doors, occasionally peeking in. Sometimes a youngster will run out with one of three phrases: "I won," "I lost," or "They called a draw."

Somewhere in that room sits my daughter, arranging the pieces, calculating moves, the only girl among 20 boys playing competition chess.

Natasha began her journey after finding a chessboard in our playroom. We encouraged her, wondering if this would be a passing interest. But soon Natasha could beat me and give her father a run for his money.

"Chess is a man's game!" he would insist, having played chess at the university level. His love for the game was greater than mine.

"But what of your daughter?" I would ask.

With a nod, as she beat him on his third game, he said wistfully, "Perhaps Natasha's unique."

At the competition, the boys were at a loss to know what to do with my daughter. She was a girl. What happened if she cried when she lost? They didn't know how to approach her.

The parents were the same. After one boy defeated her, his mother came and apologized and said she hoped my daughter was OK. Perhaps I should go in and console her, she offered.

Heeding my own mothering instinct, I checked, but I didn't have to. My daughter smiled at me, put her thumbs down to show me her score, and set up for her next opponent.

Eventually, the boys found they really didn't have to treat her any differently. She was not a china doll that was going to crack because she lost. She had the same love of the game they had. She could be a cunning opponent, a challenge, and yes, she could compete on the same level.

Sometimes when they would sit with tearing eyes, it was I who felt the need to console. But I didn't have to; my daughter already had done it for me.

After she won, I would see her reach across, shake her opponent's hand, and whisper, "Good game, you nearly had me."

Each game she would say the same thing. It started to rip away at some feelings I'd had as a youngster, having been locked outside many closed doors. …

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