Knight of Checkers
By Brendan Rizzo
"I, Robert Anson Berkeley, ninth grader at Cherokee High School, hereby make it my mission… to be awesome!"
That noise was the sound of everybody in the hallway staring at this boy in utter bewilderment. Not even his friends could avoid embarrassment simply by being associated with him. This was hardly the first time that Rob had declared that he would do something, and then fail to do it.
Skeptical as always, a blonde in his year asked, "And how are you going to accomplish that?"
"Um… I don't know, Sally," retorted Rob, "but it has to be cooler than what you've done freshman year."
"I do not know what you are talking about," his sister said.
"I think it's obvious," said Rob. "Trying to cozy up to the juniors and seniors in an attempt to be…" he sighed. "Popular."
Now Sally was peeved. Her brother had some truly strange ideas at times.
"That's not what it is at all!" she exclaimed.
"Yeah yeah, sure sure."
One of the bad things about having a twin of the opposite sex, both children knew, was having a twin of the opposite sex. That meant they had to live under the same roof as somebody who was the same age, yet had completely different attitudes and interests. Generally, it was not a good idea to end up in the same room as those two, or else one would be subjected to endless verbal volleys of voluminous vigor.
The two Berkeley siblings walked down the hall, finally free of any classes. And under ordinary circumstances, these few minutes of arguing would be all there was, as here was where they would split up.
Just before they were about to go their separate ways, Sally asked her brother, "Are you sure you don't want to join the chess club?"
Rob said, "Of course I don't. No offense, but everyone in the chess club has a reputation for being a geek. What would happen if I were to join? I know hardly anything about the game anyway. And isn't it a little late in the year, anyway?"
True, school had been in session for several months. Most people who had wanted to join clubs had already joined, and though Sally had made her decision, her brother was one of those people who just went home when class was dismissed, and he liked it that way.
Unfazed by all this, Sally said, "Well I think you oughta at least meet some of my new friends. Come on, it'll be fun!"
And so, completely ignorant of any reason he could think of for why his sister actually wanted him to know her friends, before he knew it Rob was inside the room in which met Cherokee High School's chess club.
Cherokee was one of the largest schools in Marlton, New Jersey, as could be expected. For some reason the municipal authorities and the school board thought that it was a good idea to have only a handful of very populous secondary schools, such that although Marlton was a large enough township to be home to seven different elementary schools, there were only two middle schools and a single high school—Cherokee. Not counting the few students who went to private schools in neighboring towns, everyone in Marlton between the ages of fourteen and eighteen attended Cherokee High. So even though the chess club room was relatively big, it was still one of the smaller clubs. In fact, this largeness left Rob a little bit confused.
"Um, are you early or something?" he asked.
Most of the tables were empty. Only a few people towards the other end of the room had chessboards set up.
"Not really," said Sally.
She appeared to know the two older girls in the back, because she called over to them and told them that she had a new applicant, much to Rob's annoyance. His protestations that he got dragged over there fell on deaf ears.
One of the girls had to turn around in order to see Rob and Sally… and stared right at the unsuspecting boy. He tensed up and took an involuntary step backward. The upperclassman looked intimidating, between her black hair that stretched down to her knees, contrasting with her pale skin, and the fact that her eyes seemed as if they were looking right at his soul.
Now Rob faced a dilemma. He did not wish to be rude, but he could hardly say anything. Good gracious, would she ever stop looking at him like that?
Fortunately his sister began the introductions as if nothing unusual had happened.
"Rob, this is Kylie, she's a junior… Kylie, this is my twin brother, Rob."
Was it just him, or could Rob have sworn that Sally had shot him a glare while saying that?
Now that somebody had spoken, Kylie stopped staring straight at Rob and gave her own introduction, though strangely it seemed as though she was putting far too much effort into finding the right words to use.
"Hello," she began. "My name is Kylie Swanson. Yes, I am in the eleventh grade. Did Sally say you were her brother?"
"Um, yes she did," Rob answered. Actually, it was much easier to speak with Kylie now that she was not staring at him, though something about her still seemed, for lack of a better word, off. "So, um, nice to meet you?"
Now Rob felt that he was brought here without very much to do. He scanned the room to find a chair, but before he could sit down, the other girl whom Kylie had been playing against stood up and saw his presence. How could he have forgotten about her?
"Hiya!" she exclaimed, fairly loudly as a matter of fact. It was a good thing that there was only the four of them in the room, or else people might have gotten angered by that sudden noise. The loud volume had startled Rob yet again, though everybody else present brushed it off.
The girl who had given that performance certainly looked energetic. Since she was standing up, Rob noticed that she was a few inches taller than he, so she was probably in a higher year as well. (The student body at Cherokee was so large that it was unlikely that a freshman would know all of his classmates very well.) She actually looked a little bit like Sally, as both had blonde hair, though aside from being taller, her hair was longer, and there would still be no difficulties in telling them apart even if it were otherwise. Before Rob could react again, she grabbed his hand and shook it forcefully.
"I'm Coco Thanatopoulou," she said. "So are you a new member? It's kind of late for that but I'm sure we can arrange something… I'm a senior so I'm one of the oldest people here. I'm usually the one in charge when the teacher isn't here… just like now!"
Rob did not think he would be able to handle being subordinate to her for very long. Coco looked like the type of person who would charge into things without thinking much of the consequences.
She spoke with a distinct accent, though Rob could not exactly place where she came from… definitely someplace in Eastern Europe but he could not figure out more than that. Her complexion suggested more towards the Mediterranean, which just made trying to solve that mystery more impossible. All said, she definitely spoke English well… she was using contractions and knew how the grammar worked. Rob was a bit curious how long she was in this country, but knew better than to ask.
Rob said, "Well, you probably already know who I am by now. You know, I was teasing Sally earlier today about her hanging out with upperclassmen… I guess they're you guys?"
Coco mused, "Why do they say 'upperclassmen', even when the students are girls?"
"I dunno," said Rob.
Then he remembered something important.
"WAIT A MINUTE! I never said I was joining this club!"
Then Kylie moved a piece on the chessboard and said, "Checkmate, Coco."
Coco darted her eyes to the board and scanned the entire play area. Sure enough, she had lost. Kylie had caught her king between two rooks.
Somewhat despondent, Coco accused Kylie of messing her up.
"You just took advantage of me talking to the new guy!"
"Not really," Kylie said, brushing her off. "Even so, you only had a few seconds left on your clock. You would have lost anyway."
"That was cheap," Coco sighed. She looked up and said, "Sally, you distracted me by bringing your brother here. That was objectionable. And you, Rob, for being an accomplice, will play a game against Kylie here."
This whole situation seemed more than a little silly.
"Because I told you to," said Coco, whilst staring down at him.
Well, that settled it, then. Argument was futile.
Coco stepped out of her chair so that Rob could sit across from Kylie. The board was cleared of pieces, but before Rob could pick any, Kylie interrupted him.
"The way we generally do things is alternate who goes first," she said. "Because I was playing Black in the last game, I shall be White this time around."
"Hey Rob, you know that White always goes first, right?" asked Sally.
"Um, of course!" he exclaimed.
Sally then told Coco and Kylie, "He really doesn't know much about chess."
"I can at least set up the pieces," Rob said. "Um… I think."
He glanced at the board in confusion. Now his sister understood why he was so dead-set against joining this club. He could hardly play.
Coco looked oddly pleased at this turn of events.
"This calls for a tutorial!" she exclaimed.
Rob looked at her like a deer facing a car's headlights. He did not even want to play, and now he was going to be humiliated by having them tell him how the game works as if he were a child.
"I think I can figure it out," he said.
Coco ignored him. She said, "Remember, pawns can move one space ahead, or two spaces on the first move. Rooks move horizontally, bishops move diagonally, knights can jump over other pieces, the king can move one space in any direction, and the queen can move any number of spaces in any direction! If your piece lands on the same square as your opponent's piece, the opponent's piece is removed, and if your king is going to be taken, you lose."
Everybody else present just looked at Coco in that she had stated the obvious.
Rob sighed and stated, "Yeah, I think I knew that already."
Coco continued, "And by the way, in clubs we play with clocks. You have two minutes to make a move, and if you take longer than that, there's a penalty!"
"WHAT?" Rob exclaimed. He certainly was not used to that concept. He had not noticed the chess clock when Coco and Kylie were introducing themselves. It was going to be hard for him to play with that clock breathing down his neck, metaphorically speaking.
"All right then," Coco announced, "Let the game BEGIN!"
"…Thank you for that, announcer," Rob muttered. These girls did not strike him as the type of people who played chess. They were kind of… weird, to be perfectly honest. Rob did not really know what was up with either of them.
Without saying anything, Kylie moved her center pawn, the one directly in front of her king, forward two spaces. Rob followed in kind.
Sally muttered to herself, "At least he has some idea what he's doing." Fortunately for her, Rob could not hear her.
Aloud, she said, "Rob, stop your clock and start hers."
"Oh yeah, I forgot. Not used to these things."
No sooner had he pressed the button on top of the chess clock than Kylie moved her queen through the opening she had created, to the extreme right of the chessboard.
"Moving out the big guns, eh?" Rob asked. "Then I guess I'd better—wait a minute, if I do that, you'll take my queen! Fine, I'll do this then."
It is a good thing that Rob had not actually touched his queen, because then he would have been obliged to move it. Instead, he moved his queen-side knight towards the center of the board.
At this point, Sally instructed him on some chess etiquette.
"You're not supposed to say anything during a match except when checkmating. Otherwise you could distract the other person."
"Oh. Well no one told me that," Rob mused.
Unfortunately for him, his talking had already annoyed Kylie. She did not show it, of course, but she moved her king-side bishop such that it was on the same file as Rob's knight.
Now it was Rob's turn. He was in a bit of a bind. This early on in the game, there were so many pieces on the board that a novice such as himself could not think of any one particular move to play. He really wanted to get as many big pieces as possible on the board, but since the only pieces Kylie had out were a pawn and an out-of-the-way queen, it would be a while before he could succeed in taking any of her pieces. And that clock was ticking, reminding him that he could not waste so much time thinking of possible moves. He did not wish to be penalized. It was making him nervous such that he was idly tapping the table with his fingers.
And then, out of nowhere, he saw a move. He got an idea.
"What should I do…" he muttered. "Oh look, my side is asymmetrical. I'd better fix that…"
After he moved his other knight in to the center, on a square where it could attack Kylie's queen next turn, he realized that he had been saying that aloud and said a quick, "Sorry!"
Observing the board, Sally sighed. She knew her brother was new at chess, but to fall for a trap that early…
"I'm afraid he's doomed," Coco observed, though spoke softly enough that only Sally could hear her. "Kylie knows what she's doing; he does not."
Sally nodded. Meanwhile, Kylie smiled. And as far as Rob was concerned, nothing good could come from his opponent smiling. The next thing he saw was Kylie's queen moving two spaces diagonally, taking one of his pawns. Even so, he was not prepared to hear her say the following:
Rob did not believe that situation. They were only a few moves into the game; he thought there was no way she could have checkmated him already.
"Your queen's right next to my king, so I can just take it," he said.
"Look again," said Kylie.
Rob's eyes darted across the board, inspecting it and wondering what she could possibly mean by that.
Coco told him, "If you try to take the queen, her bishop will put you in check again. You're trapped."
It was true. There were no other spaces to move because the chess pieces blocked them all. Nothing could protect the king. Rob swore, incredulous.
"See, I told you I sucked," he said.
Kylie stood up, and said, "That particular checkmate in four moves is a classic. Many beginners fall for it."
That did not make Rob feel any better. In fact, it only made him think Kylie was even more annoying.
Coco said, "It's okay; practice makes perfect! Just play more games with us and you'll do better. Besides, you'll need to be better since you're in the club now."
At that, Rob jerked his head in Coco's direction.
He said, "When did I join? I don't remember that."
"Just now. You have to. We need as many people as we can get."
"And why is that?"
"Because, we only have a handful of members. What you see here is average turnout."
Rob had a feeling that there were not many people in the chess club, though what surprised him the most was that all the members were girls, though those girls were his sister, a twelfth-grader who was going to run him ragged, and an eleventh-grader whom he thought was obnoxious. How did he get dragged into this.
Well folks, this was just a teaser. If you like it, review, and if you don't like it, review, because I need to know how to improve. Have a nice day, everybody!