The timeworn man abandoned his empty coffee cup and scooped the chess pieces off the end table and into a cloth bag. Picking up the brown and tan checkered game board, Adam headed up the stairs to his granddaughter’s bedroom. As he climbed, he couldn’t quite tune out the daytime news anchors’ daft drivel.
“Like I’ve always said, life is like a game of chess…I don’t know how to play,” one bubble-head tittered.
A second anchor cackled, “Oh dear, I thought you were going to say life is a game of chess that you will probably lose!”
Thankfully their “news” laughter was silenced after Adam entered Sarah’s bedroom and closed the door behind him. Sarah was resting quietly under a blanket and her golden head was nestled in a pillow.
Her blue eyes fluttered open. “Grandpa?”
Adam smiled and pulled up a chair next to her bed. He quietly placed her chess set on the nightstand. “Are you feeling okay? You barely touched your breakfast this morning and then you disappeared.”
Sarah shrugged her shoulders.
Adam felt her forehead; it was warm to the touch. “Yeah, I think you do have a slight fever. I’ll go and see if I have something to help you feel better.”
Sarah leaned herself up on one elbow and looked at her nightstand. “You brought up my chess set? Let’s set it up first.”
Adam smiled again as Sarah dumped the 32 chessmen onto the checkered game board and began setting them up. The 64 squares on the board were lettered A through H along the base, and numbered 1 through 8 along the sides. She worked quickly filling up rows 1, 2, 7, and 8 with the proper chessmen. The white figures were lightly varnished pine, which had become quite yellow with age. The black figures were of the same material but had mostly managed to retain their burnt umber stained finish. Many of the old wooden forms were cracked or chipped, and the white king was missing the top of his crown.
The antique chess set was another one of Adam’s special gifts to Sarah, and just like her little red Bible, it also had belonged to his great grandfather back when the Global Governance Group was simply another council of independent nations. His grandfather had played with it prior to the Great War of Unification that had resulted in the new world order, and it had been passed down to his father long before the amalgamation that had resulted in the new world faith.
Sarah had both sets neatly arranged except for one pawn from each color. She hid her hands under her sheet and separated one figure into each hand. Next she presented her tiny fists to her grandfather. “Pick one.”
Adam tapped her left hand and she popped it open revealing a white pawn. He took the chessman from her hand and placed it in its proper square. Then he positioned the board so that the white pieces were near his chair and scratched the corners of his moustache. “I go first, eh. Since you’re such a fan of the French Defense, I’ll go ahead and oblige you by making my first moves quickly, so we can get on with it.”
In the last six or seven games, each and every match started out with the typical French Defense: white king’s pawn to e4, black king’s pawn to e6, white queen’s pawn to d4, followed by black queen’s pawn to d5. Prepared for a fast sequence, Adam moved his king’s pawn up two squares to e4.
Without a word, Sarah promptly made her move. Not paying complete attention, Adam failed to notice that she had not followed the French Defense, but had instead switched to playing Alekhine's Defense by moving her king’s knight to f6. As her grandfather set his queen’s pawn down on d4, she tried to contain a giggle and literally burst out laughing when he actually removed his hold on the pawn making his turn official.
“What are you laughing for?” Adam asked, but then he groaned. “Oh no.” The realization had hit him a fraction of a second too late. Once he had touched his queen’s pawn, he should have held up and dropped it on d3 rather than carrying on with the French Defense, but he wasn’t paying proper attention.
“It’s okay Grandpa, we can start over.” Sarah snickered again, quite amused at getting away with the trick. Then she offered, “Or you can move your pawn back one square if you want.”
Adam looked at the board and crossed his arms. “No Sarah, I may have made a careless mistake but I’m going to make the best of it. In fact, I believe this opening sequence actually has a name. Go ahead and make your move.”
“What’s it called, Grandpa? The Beginner’s Blunder?” Sarah joked while she inevitably moved her king’s knight to take Adam’s exposed e4 pawn.
“No, that’s not it. What was it? Oh, it’ll come to me. It really isn’t an opening as much as it is a technique…kind of a self-imposed ordeal. Let me get you something for your fever before we get too involved.” Adam stood up. “Besides, it will give me a chance to plan my comeback.”
Adam came back with a big glass of water and a tiny pill. “Here you go, Sarah. Take this.”
She watched her grandfather sit back down to examine the chessboard while she chased the fever reducer down with a big swallow of water, and over the next half hour they battled.
Adam flung himself into the attack with all of his ability in order to regain some kind of advantage. First, he used the now open lines to mobilize his bishops and proceeded to push his assault without hesitation, even sacrificing additional pawns and losing exchanges along the way. He wanted to teach his little second-circle chess master that no matter how grim your situation, there is always hope. Plus, he was just plain tired of losing.
In due course, the chessboard was quite bare, with the captured pieces piled up on both sides. Even though he was still down two pieces, his queen’s rook had one of her pawns skewered behind her black bishop, which she was compelled to move. After taking her pawn on the next move, he had also placed her king in check. “Check. Mate in one.”
Sarah took a prolonged look at her options, only to pick up her king and lay it on its side. “I resign. Great game, Grandpa.” She knew that even if she hadn’t moved her bishop on her previous turn, he would have captured him and still had her checkmated in two. “Maybe if I hadn’t castled I’d still be in the game.”
Adam grinned as he remembered the news gals’ trite comments and proceeded to correct their unenlightened metaphors. “Maybe so. Life is a game of chess; it’s a series of choices. Some decisions we make are good and some are…not so good, but even bad choices can still be corrected in the end.” Adam snapped his fingers excitedly. “That’s it! The end! The last letter of the ancient Greek alphabet! That bizarre opening I played is called the Omega Gambit. I knew it’d come to me!”
Sarah smiled back. “I don’t think you won because of the opening, I think you won in spite of it.”
“You’re probably right. It’s an opening move that’s supposed to inspire overconfidence in your opponent. So much so that he becomes sloppy. I’m not so sure it worked on you,” Adam agreed.
“Well I’m still thinking that I shouldn’t have castled…maybe your Omega Gambit worked after all?” Sarah reflected as she began standing up her chessmen back in their starting positions. “Although, my temperature has cooled off since we started…maybe you won because of my fever. Do you want to play another game?”
“I do indeed,” Adam said, thinking chess, like life, isn’t always about winning. Sometimes it’s simply about enjoying the company.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: Most of this story is a slightly enhanced excerpt from my first book, The Omega Gambit, by David Alan Brown. Published on LuLu, and available on Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook, Apple iTunes, Google Play, and bookstores everywhere.