Stan tagged along behind Lawrence,
feeling out of place but determined
to try his hand at the chess club,
because it mattered to Lawrence
and that made Stan curious.
Lawrence led him to one of the activity rooms
alongside the library reserved for student groups,
already full of a dozen teens from various years.
Mr. Marshall was taking attendance,
and his eyebrows went up when he saw
the two of them come in. "Hello, Lawrence,"
he said. "Stan, I wasn't expecting to see
you here; what a pleasant surprise."
"I, uh, Lawrence invited me,"
Stan said to the science teacher.
"All right, that's it for now," said Mr. Marshall.
"Lawrence, keep a lid on things and
I'll check back here at closing."
"Your supervisor doesn't stay?"
Stan whispered to Lawrence.
"It's not required, so no," said Lawrence.
"Actually we made a deal. Mr. Marshall
wanted another person for the science team
and I wanted a chess club, but we're both busy.
So I joined his team as long as I don't have to
come to the extra practice sessions, while
he agreed to sponsor my club as long
as I do all the real work of running it."
"That's a good arrangement," Stan said.
Lawrence made quick introductions
around the room, because not all the kids
were in the same classes with Stan.
Some of the freshmen started whining
about Stan and how boring it was
to get stuck playing a novice.
"What's the rule about bringing a friend
to chess club?" Lawrence asked.
"You bring 'em, you play 'em,"
several of the older members chorused.
"So I'll set up some things for people to do,
and then I'll work with Stan," Lawrence said.
"If anyone else wants to play him, just ask,
and remember that it's polite to accept a game
if someone invites you to play with them."
Lawrence bustled around distributing equipment
and setting up the first round of matches.
It was strange to watch the players and
realize that they really did act more
like acquaintances than friends.
They didn't behave the same way
as Stan's troop of Activity Scouts did.
They were civil enough to each other, but
they scarcely touched except to shake hands.
They didn't jostle each other playfully, nor
did they chatter about their current projects.
Some fidgeted with restless energy while others
sat still as statues, but all focused on the game.
"Okay, your turn," Lawrence said,
finally sitting down with Stan.
He was alight with energy in a way
that Stan had rarely seen before.
"These are the pieces and the basic rules ..."
Stan listened as Lawrence explained;
he had played before, but not much,
and felt grateful for the refresher.
Besides, Lawrence tended to describe
everything better than other people.
Then Lawrence cleared the board
except for the two rows of pawns.
"What's this supposed to be?"
Stan asked with a frown.
"It's a minigame," Lawrence said.
"Those teach specific chess skills.
This is Pawn Parade, and it helps you
get used to playing the pawns. The goal
is to get as many as you can to the far side."
"Now it makes more sense,"
Stan said, moving his first pawn.
He lost, of course, because Lawrence
had far more experience -- but Stan
felt that he learned a lot in the process.
"Watch the other players for a minute,"
Lawrence said, then went to set up
some kind of chess puzzle for another boy.
Chatura Pai was between games,
and Stan knew her from Home Economics.
"Hi," he said to her. "I liked your curry recipe."
Chatura gave him a sidelong look
that made Stan wonder if he had
broken some rule that wasn't
on the cardboard list that Lawrence
had propped on the center table.
"Thanks, I guess," she said,
and grabbed the nearest boy --
a quiet, focused brunet named Wyatt --
to partner in her next game.
Lawrence came back and set up
the board with queens, kings,
and rooks in addition to the pawns.
"This is Queen-Rook Checkmate,"
he said. "Try to take the king."
This proved more challenging, though
not as confusing as a whole game.
Stan could see how adding pieces
a few at a time made it easier
to learn their interactions.
Something about it tugged at him
the whole time he played.
Some of the other students
started watching him,
and he wondered why.
This time when Lawrence left
to go arrange some new matches,
one of the freshmen bounced up
and said, "Wanna play? I'm no good,
but I like playing just for fun.
Han usually plays me but
he's got a gym meet today."
Arnold, that was his name.
"Sure," said Stan. "I'm just learning,
but the more we play, the better we'll get."
Arnold stuck out his hand,
they shook over the chess board,
and then set up the pieces in a new pattern.
"This is Last Man Standing," he said.
"It's a fork game."
Arnold didn't notice, though,
and the game was interesting to play.
Stan didn't see any particular connection
between it and people who hated superpowers.
Stan lost himself in the contemplation
of different options as the pieces moved.
When Arnold finally beat him, they
shook hands again and the kid said,
"Thanks for the game. It was fun."
"Any time," Stan said easily.
He could already imagine himself
coming back to this club, now and then.
"So what else do you like besides chess?"
"I dunno," Arnold said with a graceless shrug.
Lawrence returned with a book in hand.
"Let's do some chess puzzles," he said.
"Stan, I'll start you on three-piece problems.
Arnold, you can try one a little more complex."
"Puzzles?" Stan asked, leaning forward.
"The board starts with a specific pattern,
and you have to meet the goal to win,"
Lawrence said, laying out two kings
and a queen. "Checkmate in one move."
It took Stan a minute to see how,
and then he made the move.
Meanwhile Lawrence had arranged
Arnold's puzzle with a lot more pieces.
When Stan finished, Lawrence reached over
and tweaked the pieces into a new configuration.
"Checkmate in two moves," he said.
Now Stan had the hang of it,
so it didn't take him much longer.
Arnold finished his too.
Lawrence reset the boards for them.
"Checkmate in five moves or less,"
he said to Stan.
Stan looked at the board,
struggled to visualize the moves,
and looked at the list of rules that said,
You touch it, you move it. You let go, you're done.
Then he looked at Lawrence and asked,
"Can I have some scratch paper?"
"You can," Lawrence said slowly,
"but that's a bad habit to get into.
Chess is best played in your head,
although Chatura and I are the only ones
good enough to play without looking, so far."
"Why is it better that way?" Stan wondered.
"It's about strategy," Lawrence said.
"Think of it as battle practice -- after all,
chess was inspired by military history.
In a fight, there's no time for scratch paper."
"Okay, now I get it," Stan said.
He rested his chin in his hand
and studied the board, thinking hard
as he made his way through the possibilities.
Then the answer popped into his head,
the way he could sometimes guess
what people would do in a fight,
and he swept through the moves.
"You're ready for more of a challenge,"
Lawrence declared. "Try an assessment puzzle.
Look at the pieces on the board and figure out
what they're doing." He laid out the pattern.
"White to move and mate in two moves."
This was a lot more complicated,
with a handful of pawns plus two rooks
for each of the kings. Stan frowned
as he tried to work out what to do.
Then he remembered Lawrence's hint
about seeing what the pieces were doing.
There was a funny little twist inside his head
and suddenly it made sense, as if the pieces
all had little labels and arrows like the notes
on a blackboard for football plays.
Stan sat up straighter and showed the solution,
briskly tapping the pieces across the squares.
"Hey! He's got board vision already,"
Arnold piped. "That's pretty quick."
Lawrence smirked and said,
"Now you see why I invited him."
"What's board vision?" Stan asked.
"It means you can see the potential
in the static position of the pieces,"
Lawrence explained. "Tactical vision
is about spotting safety issues.
Strategic vision is planning moves."
Stan thought about that, then said,
"I'm good at seeing what's in front of me."
"Ready to try a full game?"
Lawrence asked him.
"Sure," said Stan, collecting pieces
to set up the white side of the board.
Stan played with deliberation,
planning his strategy in advance.
Lawrence was a formidable partner.
He made each move in moments,
and spent most of his time studying
a second game that he was playing
against Chatura on the other side.
He won both games anyway.
"Well played," Stan said as they
shook hands, because he had heard
other players saying that.
"Are you okay?" Lawence murmured.
Stan became aware that his head
felt like it was stuffed with steel wool,
full of a scratchy ache between his ears.
"I've been better," he admitted,
rubbing his eyes with both hands.
"Chess headache," Chatura said.
"You should lie down," Arnold advised.
"But stretch before you do that," Wyatt added.
"And cover your eyes," said Lawrence.
Something about the quick patter
seemed familiar to Stan, and
he realized that they sounded like
Lawrence rattling off concussion replies.
It wasn't that any of them were experienced
with first aid, but rather that they had
seen this particular complaint often enough
to have memorized the responses.
That meant their advice would probably work.
Arnold was already tossing people's backpacks
and jackets off the couch at the end of the room.
"There's a list," Wyatt said, handing a page
to Stan and already turning away.
"Thanks," Stan said, and Wyatt blinked at him
before delving back into his game.
The page showed neck and shoulder stretches.
Stan tried a few of them to work out the kinks
from leaning over the table to play chess.
"Couch's clear," Arnold announced,
then went back to his puzzle.
Stan stretched out on the couch
and stuffed his jacket under his head.
"Here, put this over your face and it'll help,"
Lawrence said, offering him a wet paper towel.
Stan followed the suggestion.
It left him in his own niche of darkness,
only able to track the action in the room
by listening to the quiet click of chess pieces
on the boards and voices murmuring "Check,"
"Checkmate," and "Good game."
He felt a little lonely.
Nobody stayed with him
to keep him company or
make sure he was okay.
He wasn't used to the idea of
ignoring someone who didn't feel well.
Suddenly it hit him: they weren't doing it
to be thoughtless or rude. They were
doing it because it's what they preferred,
dealing with a problem without fussing over it.
It was weird, but Stan could live with it.
His body would bounce back
in a few minutes anyway.
Across the room he could hear
Chatura challenging Lawrence
to a speed match, and someone
kibbitzing on Arnold's latest puzzle.
They were nice kids, really,
just a bit disconnected.
Stan could see the tenuous links
between them, fine as spider silk,
that simply needed more attention
to build into solid relationships.
Soon enough, the headache faded,
so Stan was able to sit up and toss the towel.
Arnold popped up beside him.
"Are you better now?" he asked.
"Yeah, I'm okay," Stan said.
He glanced at his vidwatch. "I think
I'll sit out the rest of the time, though.
There's not a whole lot left today."
"Too much chess can make your brain tired,"
Arnold said. "Happens to most people sometimes."
"It's a cool game," Stan said. "I like a lot
of strategy games -- Struggle of Empires and
Shadows Over Camelot are some of my
other favorites. Do you play anything else?"
"I like Trivial Pursuit," Arnold said.
"It relies a lot on random luck,
but you have to know stuff to win."
"Not my best game," Stan admitted.
"I don't mind playing along if other people
want to, but I almost always lose."
"Why's he keep going off topic?"
Wyatt whispered to Lawrence.
"He just does that," Lawrence said.
"You get used to it. As long as
the background chatter doesn't
distract anyone from a game, it's okay."
"He's weird," Wyatt said.
"So're you, deal with it," Lawrence said.
A timer on his vidwatch chimed.
"Okay, that's it for today. Wrap up
and hand in your paperwork."
"What paperwork?" Stan asked.
"Don't worry, I did yours this time
so that you could focus on the game,"
Lawrence said, showing him a sheet.
It recorded what activities he'd done,
how long things took, and who won
the games (everybody except Stan).
"So it's like ... a badge worksheet,"
Stan said slowly, tracing the lines.
"I guess you could see it that way,"
Lawrence agreed, packing up materials
that various club members brought to him.
They had the boards and pieces
all put away in minutes.
Mr. Marshall came back into the room
to recheck the attendance and
sign off on the paperwork.
"Thanks for coming, everyone,
and I'll see you next time," Lawrence said.
Stan noticed that he stood by the door
as the other students filed out,
patting them on the back in a final count.
As they walked toward the bus,
comfortable in their partnership,
Stan said to Lawrence,
"You make a good leader."
"You're just saying that,"
Stan let him get away with the deflection,
but added, "I like your friends too."
"They're just members of the chess club,
Stan, we're not really friends,"
Lawrence said, shaking his head.
"Yes you are," Stan said.
"You just don't know it yet."
* * *
Bruce Marshall -- He has fair skin, brown eyes, and wavy brown hair with a short beard. He wears large geeky glasses. He favors ties with geometric or scientific designs. Mr. Marshall teaches high school science in Omaha, Nebraska. He also sponsors the science team and the chess club. He has a good eye for which students can handle more responsibility or need extra help.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Science Teacher, Good (+2) Dexterity, Good (+2) Negotiation, Good (+2) Patience
Poor (-2) Overworked and Underpaid
Chatura Pai -- She has tinted skin, black eyes, and long wavy black hair. She is in the chess club with Lawrence. Chatura is uninterested in dating, but her parents want to hire a matchmaker to find her a good husband, and she's amenable to that.
Qualities: Good (+2) Chess Player, Good (+2) Dexterity, Good (+2) Dutiful, Good (+2) Student, Good (+2) Zardozi Embroidery
Arnold Hamilton -- He has pinkish-fair skin, deep blue eyes, and floppy dark blond hair. He is restless and whimsical. He plays chess for fun; it's a way to be around other people. Arnold is an only child and doesn't have many opportunities to make friends. He really likes Stanley Wood.
Qualities: Good (+2) Carefree, Good (+2) Smart
Poor (-2) Lonely
Wyatt Dunn -- He has olive skin, brown eyes, and brown hair. He is quiet and determined. Wyatt plays chess to win. He has a sharp competitive edge, likes to beat people, and isn't always careful about sportsmanship.
Qualities: Good (+2) Concentration, Good (+2) Stealth
Poor (-2) Sports
Han Gordon -- He has short black hair, brown eyes, and golden skin. He is a friendly acquaintance of Lawrence in the chess club. While not very personable, he shares Lawrence's determination to make the club work and he's good at the same kind of logical solutions to social challenges. He's dependable for playing the younger and less-skilled members so they get practice. Han is also a gymnast.
Qualities: Good (+2) Chess Player, Good (+2) Limber, Good (+2) Student
Poor (-2) Prickly
* * *
Board Vision -- The ability to look at a chess board and quickly see what all the pieces are doing (statically). For example, seeing that a bishop on a1 is attacking h8. In Rapid Chess Improvement Michael de la Maza calls this "Chess Vision."
-- Chess Terms
Chess is a popular strategy game that you can learn. Understand how to teach chess, including to people who aren't nerds. Notice that Stan is not a nerd but is a talented strategist who just needs a little boost to figure out how this game connects with the abilities he already has. Minigames offer a fun, easy way to learn basic principles of chess before trying the whole game at once.
Chess problems or puzzles are small arrangements of chess pieces meant to be solved a particular way. Here are some sorted by difficulty.
Fork -- A double attack, usually by a Knight or Pawn (thus forming a pattern like a “fork” in the road).
-- Chess Terms
Fork -- a bigot prejudiced against people with superpowers, usually not distinguishing between superheroes, supervillains, blue plates who use their powers in more ordinary professions, or crickets who hide their powers. They often hate supernaries too, on the premise of guilt-by-association.
-- Terramagne superpower slang
Running a chess club requires managing its function according to chess etiquette, some of which is very different from the etiquette of other clubs or subcultures. Since Lawrence really wanted a chess club, but knew diddly about people skills, he did it mechanically: he looked up guidelines for how to run a chess club and followed those by rote. When he found challenges particular to his group, or things that didn't work, he amended the rules to account for that. So it's not much on social interaction, but it's a perfectly functional club for young people to come play chess in.
Football notation uses geometric shapes and letters to illustrate football plays showing players, positions, and moves. Here are some instructions for drawing a playbook. This is one of many mental maps that people make to visualize concepts. Stan is relating something new to something he already knows.
Tactical Vision -- The ability to spot basic safety issues (motifs like pins, double attacks, removal of the guard, and Counting) when first analyzing a position.
-- Chess Terms
Headaches can come from thinking hard. Common headache types include tension and eyestrain. They are often nicknamed for context, so you'll hear things like "chess headache" or "test headache." Thinking hard, leaning over a table, and peering at game pieces can combine to cause a chess headache. There are general palliatives steps and simple muscle stretches to relieve headaches.
Strategy games require methodical thinking to win. Struggle of Empires and Shadows Over Camelot feature strategy. Trivial Pursuit relies more on luck and knowledge, with minimal strategic thought.
Friendless Background is a common trope associated with nerds. Some kids just need a little help to make friends, and there are many reasons why a teen may have few or no friends. Technology can be one culprit that interferes in how children make friends. There are tips on how to be friendly and make new friends. Stan knows much more about this friend business than the regular members of the chess club. However, there are different types of friendship from casual to deep; Stan and Lawrence are coming from very different angles in terms of seeing those and recognizing how relationships work.