By Matthew McGovern for Boston Compass (#124)
June 29, 2020
The match was slated to start in ten minutes and we were huddled in a side room that Johnson had strong-armed from the librarian. Inside this room there was a circular table that almost touched the four walls, over which four players and one ‘coach’ huddled.
We convened in the side room because we feared losing, and Johnson had noticed. Our opponents’ reputations preceded them to the public library.
Firstly, they were known to have two brutal players at the 1 and 2 positions, like cats, who would play with their food, unwitting chess amateurs, before the coup de gras. Secondly, they flew under the flag of ‘Homeschool,’ which we were convinced gave them some mysterious and unfair advantage.
‘Did you hear what they did to Gloucester's team? That was downright excessive.' ‘Their number 2 hasn't lost a match since October…’ ‘I saw the number 3 player eating prunes just now, so odd.’ ‘Who even let them join the league?’
Among these and other eclectic arguments we found justification to bend the rules, or just bend ‘etiquette,’ which prevents a team from ‘stacking the lineup.’ The first match was a lock: our number 1 was a child prodigy, who served as our de facto coach and unappeasable drill sergeant. Our number 4 rarely spoke a word, and his name eludes me, but he tended to win his games.
Number 2 and I often butted heads, and our record suggests that he was a better player. I object on the grounds that I play a very scrappy game, less calculated than Buxbaum, who himself was a prodigy of sorts in math. As I said, the numbers were in his favor.
Five minutes after it was first suggested, we arrived at tacit agreement: I was to play in the second position, and Buxbaum was to earn a win in the third.
Lackluster objections were raised on moral grounds, tenets were half upheld, arguments were made then made exceptions to; we wouldn’t let the decision be quick and unanimous. Once Johnson had indicated this option, it was a fait accompli. We had no more intention of backtracking than baseball umpires, who hold counsel after a questionable call without any intent to overturn it.
My duty became to play and make it look like I deserved the two-spot. Granted, I had no chance of beating this smooth-skinned and almost frail juggernaut. I was a straw man charged with not losing too blatantly, not attracting suspicion by way of a blow-out loss.
And it was a blow-out loss, lasting about as long as our discussion about changing the lineup. That being said, I was good enough to resign, which I’m told is how gentlemen lose their games of chess.