I could write 15 pages of how I feel about what happened in Orlando over the weekend. I’d get about 50% of my friends agreeing with me, and the other 50% defriending me. Well, perhaps not. The thing I like about all of the friends I have is that when we disagree, we don’t hate each other, we listen to each other’s opinions, and agree to disagree, and then talk about what we’re going to do this weekend.
So, for this post I want to get away from all of that. I want to talk about me. From a long time ago.
Back when I was in high school chess was a hobby of mine (it still is). Some of you know that, and how I’ve posted recently about the death of Viktor Korchnoi, the person I deem as the greatest player ever never to win the world chess title. I’ve stayed interested in chess my whole life, although my skills aren’t nearly as good now as they were in my youth. When I was in high school, spring of 1978, I entered the Madison, WI city championship tournament. I believe it was a 6-game Swiss system, meaning you play six random opponents out of the whole pool. I ended up taking 5th place. Not bad for a 16 year old.
That summer, I was nominated by someone in my high school faculty to help represent Madison in a student trip to Europe. There were four of us from Madison, and our entire group of thirty included kids from Tennessee and Michigan. We all became great friends during that summer.
I have two great memories from that trip. The first was staying for a week with an Austrian family. They knew no English, I knew no German. But, their kids played the baritone and the accordion, which were the two instruments I played back in the day. I was so honored on the last day of my stay – we went to a festival where they invited me to play accordion for a couple of songs in the polka band my homestay brothers were in. It was great.
After the homestay, the next stop was Lucerne, Switzerland. I loved Lucerne. Beautiful city, and we happened to have arrived during their 800 (!!) year anniversary. There were fireworks that no others rivaled over Lake Lucerne. But that wasn’t the second memory I cherished.
In the town they had a giant chess board. You know the kind, where the pieces come up to somewhere between your knees and waist. I waited patiently for a game to finish, and I was able to offer a challenge (in German, with a lot of help from bilingual folk) to the winner.
I had the black pieces. After two hours of play I had a winning position. Three more moves and I would have beaten my opponent. The picture here is from early on in the game. I was concentrating so hard I had lost all awareness of my surroundings. At the point of certain victory I looked up from the board and saw over 100 people watching us. I had not known they were there. Nerves kicked in. He made a move. I thought for a bit, and made a move, and to my horror I saw that I had blundered a pawn. Five moves later I was lost. I resigned. I still remember the game vividly, but I can’t remember all of the moves. A little while after the game some local came up to me and said in English “You almost beat the Lucerne city champion. No one does that”.
That made me mad and happy at the same time. To be complimented for a great game, and kicking myself because my nerves got the best of me. To think a 16 year old kid came that close to beating the local champion.
I will always remember that trip, and specifically those two incidents. They really made the whole trip for me.