on Sportsmanship, Prawns and Ransom

Eldest took up chess at school at the beginning of this year. I learned the game at the age of ten, so eight shouldn’t be too young considering the accelerated development of her young mind when I compare it to my own.

Okay, on that topic, seriously what the hell? She was reading coherently at an age when the entry chosen by my teacher to flaunt my literary prowess in the class yearbook was “a wich is a very scery cat”. She was attempting to sketch items in detail, for example the proportional space that eyes should occupy relative to the size of the average head, at five. I can’t remember my ability at that age, but I’m sure that it wasn’t too far advanced from drooling over how to draw stick-figures and smiley faces.
Proud, I am.

Back to topic. I’ve taught Eldest how to play chess. I told her when we began that it would be years before she beats me, but that she shouldn’t be disheartened. Maybe I’m too hard on her, and maybe letting her win would boost her confidence and motivate her to further practice the game. I don’t think so though, because she throws herself into each game and is consistently plaguing me with requests to play “just one game”, even though she has yet to topple my king. Besides, she’s already beating me on a regular basis in backgammon, rummy, Uno, memory tiles, dominoes, rock-paper-scissors etc.

I’m by no means a pro, or even adequate at chess, and I hope this turns into a learning experience for both of us in years to come. Sometimes my patience fails me and I daresay it’s evident in my tone when she lapses or plays below her ability.

Another thing that the Wife and I can’t abide is a sore loser. Most of the time the kids participate in the banter and general antics of healthy competition. Often though, an utterance or a game result strikes a chord and emotions erupt with accusations such as “she always wins” and “m-o-o-m-m-m-y I NEVER win”. The kids know our take on the matter and are usually quick to recolour their attitudes after a stiff and stern reprimanding, with expulsion from the game an action that we rarely require.

I remember, at that age, my frustration and misery when things didn’t go my way and it seemed that the universe actively strove against me. That does not excuse it. The world doesn’t work the way we want it to, and we lose sometimes.

My Youngest doesn’t give a damn about that last part. Her world is governed by her rules. Last night I took the plunge and finally answered her pleas to play chess with her like I do with her big sister. Quite surprisingly Youngest fetched and set up the entire chess board on her own. If you think you have a higher functioning cerebral cortex than a four-year-old then you’ve never witnessed their learning ability first-hand. But more on that in another post.

So we started with the “prawns” (I just left that one). Her first move was to lift one and then promptly start battering my king with it. I saved my king from the murderous assault by blunt object and explained how the prawns moved. At this stage I realised that linear tutoring wouldn’t be effective, so we practiced moving forward and we practiced “eating” other pieces. I decided to clear the board of all other pieces except the kings and have a prawn vs prawn game.

All went well until I was about to “eat” my first piece. Before I could take it, Youngest plucked it up and hid it behind her back. I asked for the piece. She refused. I asked why, and she replied with, “promise you won’t eat my prawn.” I explained that that was what chess was about but she would have none of it. She then advised me that I could have one of her pieces if I ¬†gave her one of mine. I refused to comply and we reached an impasse. The bizarre hostage situation became a chase when I attempted to free the pawn with a lunge, causing her to flee the table and bolt to her room. The pieces went flying and although the comedy of the situation was not lost on me, I had to supress a laugh as the behaviour wasn’t quite acceptable.

So ended the first lesson in chess. She may be too young after all.