Chess, quite an intricate sport. Some people know the basics, like me, and could possibly put on a close to decent match. But even fewer people know how to really play it. Openings, middle game, endings, tactics. And when they do play, they are transported into a completely different world, where the soul of chess shines above all things else.
This Victoria Day's long weekend, I had to pleasure to witness the 25th Annual Canadian Chess Challenge, supporting my brother, Derek, who represented Team Manitoba, grade 5. This year, the Chess Challenge was in our nation's capital, Ottawa, at the Carleton University. Arriving there on the first day, May 19th, I was taken over by all those players in different t-shirt colors, representing their provinces respectively. And even with the start of the tournament lurking closely, the spirit of the players were filled with enjoyment, and no air of competitiveness could be perceived, only a friendliness that solely a competition can bond.
As more and the more of the players settle down onto the tables, the nervous tension buzzes more intensely in the room, mostly produced by parents who are trying to cast their eyes away from their children. With a few announcements, it is time to start. An exchange of province flag pins, a handshake, a quick look at the chessboard before setting up the clock, and with the heavy thud of the first piece moved, the games begin. As the minutes tick by, and more results are displayed on the boards, players from all different provinces leave the table, either with an air of defeat, or the breath of victory. Parents rush to their children to give them a little tap on the back, some words of consolation, or maybe a few helpful tips for the next match.
As the first day draws to a close, the race for the top has gotten more intense, and many players already have their fate sealed. Others are either hanging by a thread, or perhaps treading in the top, but still uncertain if it will be a solid position. With their heads full of swarming chess pieces, the players leave the building, avid for a good night's rest.
May 20th. The second and last day. With only three games left each, the players know that this is it. One simple blunder, and that could be the end of their quest for a trophy. As for the audience, they are on their feet. Especially for the last round, as it is the clash of the two titans. Ontario and Quebec. This year, like many others, these two provinces have been undefeated, raking up a win against all the other provinces. It is only natural that their meeting should reside in the last round, as it will ultimately decide which province gets first place. This year. It's Ontario. As for my brother, he ended up with a third place, an trophy, and a content heart.
It was only afterwards, when the remaining players were amusing each other in games of bughouse, that I fully realized the sheer significance of this tournament. That this was more than a tournament, more than just players from different provinces playing against each other in games of chess. This Chess Challenge has bound us all together, us Canadians who are separated by countless miles of flat fields, hills and mountains of different peaks. It has bound us all together by the passion, the infinite spirit of a humble game we call chess.