Back when I was in high school, I devoted a lot of my energy towards a world conquest of being the first grandmaster chess champion from Flushing, New York. Flushing doesn't have much going for it. Two or three decent McDonald's and a somewhat acceptable Chinatown district. A chess champion would do this place good. I figured the best thing to do was make my mark on the high school circuit, and go from there.

To actually make it onto the chess team wasn't so easy. The team was made up of ten students of varying skills who each played a certain 'board' for the team. This meant that board ten was the lousiest, compared to board one who got all the girls. (My high school, through some weird intervention of Christ, actually bestowed upon our rag tag group of alpha geeks chess groupies. Cute ones, too. No one ever really understood how that occurred. But I digress.)

Getting a board on the team required you to beat board one and the chess club moderator. Beating board one was a sham. The kid only really played our game till he had a good grasp of the level of my proficiency. After fifteen or so piece movements he hung his queen and we went out for pizza. Beating the chess moderator wasn't so easy. He was a fat, jaded fifty-year-old bio-chemistry teacher. And he had issues with most of us on the team. At my high school, being on the chess club didn't necessarily mean you were the best students in the school. Or nice. Or even moral. Far from it. Boards two and three played blitz games for drug money in the city on the weekends. Fourth, fifth, and sixth boards never made practice on Wednesday because they had to serve detention. And these were detentions received for social deficiencies like peeing down stairwells or getting caught with blowjob giving sophomores in the gym. (Girls gave a lot of blowjobs in high school. It was a Catholic preparatory high school. I'm not meaning to say that there's a trueness to the stereotyped Catholic school girl but I'm not saying I never got blowjobs in our gym, either.) Having sexually active, drug doping kids playing the top five boards obviously led to some issues with our moderator. I'm not jealous of the moral predicament this put our moderator in. He had to deal with students USCF ranked 1400 or better (that's really good for a sixteen year old, by the way) who smoked pot and had numerous pants-down-by-the-ankles encounters in our gymnasium. It was Catholic High School for God's sake. We wore uniforms with ties and matching ugly slacks. Anyway...

I had done enough research and gotten enough advice by team members to know that playing him piece-wise was a no go. He's too good. He studies the openings. Don't try and match him on that level. Especially for a 5 minute speed game. I had to hand it to our moderator. If keeping potheads and sex addicts off the team was his only real joy in life, he certainly put a lot of effort into it. The general advice I got in my three weeks prior to my match was to play him positional.

Fuck. This is the kind of advice that doesn't ever really feel like advice. More like bad news than advice.

A quick gist of positional vs. piece play. Piece playing in chess is the standard that most aficionados consciously or subconsciously play by. From your first piece movement, you are making a very conscious effort to maximize your tactical ability through the use of your pieces. As the game continues into mid game, you will try as hard as you can to only lose your pieces on significant trades. This would mean hanging your rook to capture an opponents rook, bishop for a bishop, pawn for a pawn, etc...

Piece playing is thorough, complete, and a very sound way to lead a campaign on the field of battle. It allows you to develop various offensive postures while still having the capability to protect and issue counterattacks on piece retreats. You know when people say that you become smarter from playing chess? They're talking about playing chess in this manner.

Piece playing, it's what's for dinner.

Positional playing {sigh}, is the other side of chess. The mentality of a positional player is altogether quite a different ball of wax. I've been a positional player for about three years now, so if you will, allow me to speak from the first person. Playing for position is the most addictive, thrilling form of game play ever. It's young, rebellious, and bloodthirsty. It's like hunching behind a blown out access-bay hatch with a humming pulse rifle in each hand, locked and loaded to rain death upon the oncoming hunters of the alien hive. It's like standing alone on a red soaked hill, bloodied katana in hand, quietly waiting for the second wave of enemy ninja. Positional players are part crack addict, treacherous ninja, and gut screaming colonial marine all rolled up into one violent package of "kill 'em all and let God sort them out." Chess comes ALIVE when you play this way. No other type of player can demean, decimate, and really give an opponent that "If you had a girlfriend I'd be fucking her, too," feeling like a positional player can. Checkmates administered through positional tactics really do come out of nowhere. Quick, fast, and brutal. It's awesome.

Sadly though, it almost always involves the most dangerous, sometimes ill-conceived, blindingly half-assed ways of board play you could ever attempt for a checkmate. Losing a game while playing for position can really, REALLY, make you look like a moron. The positional player doesn't give a fuck about the pieces he's so calmly hanging to his opponent. He/she won't even flinch at the sight of his queen, two pawns, and a king against his opponents obvious advantage in pieces. It's all part of the plan, man.

Whereas a piece playing tactician sees an advantage in having more pieces to control the fate of his game, a positional player plays for the POSITION of where whatever pieces he may have are controlling. I might drop two knights and a pawn just to get my queen safely to the last rank of the board. I'll probably offer some engaging commentary as I do this, too (i.e. I trash talk like a mutha as I play). The positional strategy is simple. Chop off as many limbs and kill as many soldiers as you need to in order to control the field of battle you need to direct your campaign. This, to the layman, often looks like me thoughtlessly losing pieces for no apparent reason. And that in itself is a victory. If I can put my opponent in a false sense of mental security while subtly moving in the only 2 or 3 pieces I need, checkmate is usually more or less assured. But I've come to notice that winning isn't even the best part anymore. Just watching my opponent smile and carry this sarcastic attitude while I give him piece after piece is the best part. Him feeling secure over his obvious victory over me. That's what's rewarding. Because in that 30th move, I'll calmly push a pawn and give him a discovered check. And the tempo changes as I let loose my dogs of war. Suddenly, out of nowhere, my opponent is fighting for his life with the few pieces I have left on the board. Positionally, I am flawless. I sacrificed a lot of my men to get my warriors to those squares, but now I am in control. His surplus of pieces creates choking points all over the place as I slowly check and check him to a losing, mating position. I don't even remember the win. All I remember is that smug, bitch-ass expression he had on his face all throughout our game.

Maybe it is immature to play chess in such a crippling way. Some might argue the childishness of trash talking. I couldn't argue them, I'd have no sensible defense to such opinions.

I didn't beat the moderator that day. Playing good, positional chess takes a lot of practice. And there's a certain asshole quality that I didn't really have mastered yet. I just ended up looking like an idiot patzer who didn't know how to keep his pieces. It would be another year until I was good enough to play on the team. I even made board one. But as it was, by then I was too into my blowjob-giving girlfriend and college applications to really give a damn.

I play a lot more speed nowadays. It's great fun.

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