by Robert Benchley
Second in the list of games which it is necessary for every sportsman to know how to watch comes chess. If you don't know
how to watch chess, the chances are that you will never have any connection with the game whatsoever. You would not, by any
chance, be playing it yourself.
I know some very nice people that play chess, mind you, and I wouldn't have it thought that I was in any way spoofing at
the game. I would sooner spoof at the people who engineered the Panama Canal or who are drawing up plans for the vehicular
tunnel under the Hudson River. I am no man to make light of chess and its adherents, although they might very well make light
of me. In fact, they have.
But what I say is, that taking society by and large, man and boy, the chances are that chess would be the Farmer-Labor
Party among the contestants for sporting honors.
Now, since it is settled that you probably will not want to play chess, unless you should be laid up with a bad knee-pan
or something, it follows that, if you want to know anything about the sport at all, you will have to watch it from the side-lines.
That is what this series of lessons aims to teach you to do (of course, if you are going to be nasty and say that you don't
want even to watch it, why all this time has been wasted on my part as well as on yours).
How To Find A Game To WatchThe first problem confronting the chess spectator is to find some people who are playing.
The bigger the city, the harder it is to find anyone indulging in chess. In a small town you can usually go straight to Wilbur
Tatnuck's General Store, and be fairly sure of finding a quiet game in progress over behind the stove and the crate of pilot-biscuit,
but as you draw away from the mitten district you find the sporting instinct of the population cropping out in other lines
and chess becoming more and more restricted to the sheltered corners of Y.M.C.A. club-rooms and exclusive social organizations.
However, we shall have to suppose, in order to get any article written at all, that you have found two people playing chess
somewhere. They probably will neither see nor hear you as you come up on them so you can stand directly behind the one who
is defending the south goal without fear of detection.
The Details Of The GameAt first you may think that they are both dead, but a mirror held to the lips of the nearest
contestant will probably show moisture (unless, of course, they really should be dead, which would be a horrible ending for
a little lark like this. I once heard of a murderer who propped his two victims up against a chess board in sporting attitudes
and was able to get as far as Seattle before his crime was discovered).
Soon you will observe a slight twitching of an eye-lid or a moistening of the lips and then, like a greatly retarded moving-picture
of a person passing the salt, one of the players will lift a chess-man from one spot on the board and place it on another
It would be best not to stand too close to the board at this time as you are likely to be trampled on in the excitement.
For this action that you have witnessed corresponds to a run around right end in a football game or a two-bagger in baseball,
and is likely to cause considerable enthusiasm on the one hand and deep depression on the other. They may even forget themselves
to the point of shifting their feet or changing the hands on which they are resting their foreheads. Almost anything is liable
When the commotion has died down a little, it will be safe for you to walk around and stand behind the other player and
wait there for the next move. While waiting it would be best to stand with the weight of your body evenly distributed between
your two feet, for you will probably be standing there a long time and if you bear down on one foot all of the time, that
foot is bound to get tired. A comfortable stance for watching chess is with the feet slightly apart (perhaps a foot or a foot
and a half), with a slight bend at the knees to rest the legs and the weight of the body thrown forward on the balls of the
feet. A rhythmic rising on the toes, holding the hands behind the back, the head well up and the chest out, introduces a note
of variety into the position which will be welcome along about dusk.
Not knowing anything about the game, you will perhaps find it difficult at first to keep your attention on the board. This
can be accomplished by means of several little optical tricks. For instance, if you look at the black and white squares on
the board very hard and for a very long time, they will appear to jump about and change places. The black squares will rise
from the board about a quarter of an inch and slightly overlap the white ones. Then, if you change focus suddenly, the white
squares will do the same thing to the black ones. And finally, after doing this until someone asks you what you are looking
cross-eyed for, if you will shut your eyes tight you will see an exact reproduction of the chess-board, done in pink and green,
in your mind's eye. By this time, the players will be almost ready for another move.
This will make two moves that you have watched. It is now time to get a little fancy work into your game. About an hour
will have already gone by and you should be so thoroughly grounded in the fundamentals of chess watching that you can proceed
to the next step.
Have some one of your friends bring you a chair, a table and an old pyrography outfit, together with some book-ends on
which to burn a design.
Seat yourself at the table in the chair and (if I remember the process correctly) squeeze the bulb attached to the needle
until the latter becomes red hot. Then, grasping the book-ends in the left hand, carefully trace around the pencilled design
with the point of the needle. It probably will be a picture of the Lion of Lucerne, and you will let the needle slip on the
way round the face, giving it the appearance of having shaved in a Pullman that morning. But that really won't make any difference,
for the whole thing is not so much to do a nice pair of book-ends as to help you along in watching the chess-match.
If you have any scruples against burning wood, you may knit something, or paste stamps in an album.
And before you know it, the game will be over and you can put on your things and go home.