The Power of Youth

March 13, 2016


I was party to something last night that I found remarkable. I’d just finished a game of chess with Peter–a game I’d actually, miraculously, won… first win in years, but certainly in this particular phase of chess obsession. He asked if I’d indulge him in a blind game.. just a few moves.. to see what it’s like. I agreed.

Basically, in a blind game of chess, one player covers his eyes. The other person moves the pieces–his own, and, at the blind player’s direction, his opponent’s. Peter was the blind guy.

We begin.

He’s white, and opens. “E4.” I move his piece, then mine in response, and announce E5. You probably know, the chess board is a grid, all squares identified by their placement in the A-H, 1-8 configuration. It’s not hard to figure out the name of each square… but if you’re on the upside-down side, as I was, you have to think backwards. I had to carefully count squares each time before moving pieces. I’m sure it’s something you adjust to quickly. I didn’t. But that’s beside the point.

It’s also besides the point that, were I the blind guy, after two moves, I’d be done. I’d no longer know where anything was and I’d react in total frustration by sweeping my arm dramatically across the whole board, sending pieces flying in every direction. But that’s me.

The remarkable thing about this game was it went on and on. At one point, maybe seven or eight moves in, I, the sighted person, the one carefully counting squares, made an error in announcing a move. Peter questions it: “Knight to C 6, are you sure?” “Oh… oops… you’re right, D6, my bad, sorry, honey.”

We didn’t finish the game, but I’m going to guess we each moved about eight or nine times. Each. That’s about 16-18 moves to hold in your head. When he removed the scarf (actually a cloth napkin) from his eyes and swiveled around he recognized the board, but admitted he’d lost track of a couple of the pieces.


I know kids have amazing brains. They have amazing capacities for memorization. But chess is, on its face, complex, in that pieces move so differently up and down the board–some at right angles, some not. This is NOT checkers. One bishop’s zipping back and forth diagonally on white squares, while the other’s on black. AND you have the added dimension of remembering the grid’s naming system.  AND your opponent’s pieces. AND strategy for god’s sake.

I almost cried.

A little for the brittleness of my own brain and a LOT for the power of his. Mostly what gets me is his eagerness to master things and the intensity with which he pursues that mastery. (Not ALL things, mind you, but many things.) It was sweet and amazing to witness.

I’m so in awe.

I think I need to teach Peter bridge, where card counters and rememberers thrive. Then make sure he’s always my partner.




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