I misplayed the Caro-Kann Defense when I was nine. Father fed me only bread for three days.
Chess is everything, everything is chess. Everyone moves in patterns. A boy will never lose if he knows the patterns. A boy must only focus.
A boy faces nine pawns, a bishop, and a knight, all neatly arranged in black cloth chairs around a white table to which the judge sent us. The others all say guilty for now. There are two windows through which they uneasily glance for escape. A boy does not. A boy focuses.
“Blood is sensational. It is memorable. But when one views blood dispassionately it does not prove guilt,” I say.
The bishop holds forth with enmity not evident three hours before; his position is exposed. “Fine! Blood by itself proves nothing. But that man showed his character,” he says. “His poor girlfriend, don’t forget, found a flash drive full of violent, degrading pornography. Disgusting pornography.”
“And they fought about it,” nods pawn f2, but I’m observing pawn a2, whose eyes look down at the mention of degrading pornography.
“Many people watch many kinds of pornography,” I reply, “and your personal repugnance for it gives you no right to condemn a man. Or a woman, for that matter.” Nearly imperceptible gratitude softens the features of pawn a2. The athletic woman likes it rough.
A boy focuses.
“He punched the wall!” the bishop thunders. “She confronted him about—I’ll say it again—disgusting pornography, and he put a hole in the drywall. He’s a vicious, angry killer.”
His hold loosens with his temper. Mine remains firm and even as a tower wall. “That was the day before, and are we also to condemn anyone who has ever punched a wall?” Pawn f2 considers. “If you’re determined to lock up or execute every person who has ever accessed an adult website or hit something inanimate, then you’ll find yourself in a very lonely society.”
“Literal blood on hands.” The bishop, obviously immune to irony, pounds the table to emphasize each word: “Blood. On. Hands.”
Rook takes bishop. “You admitted not two minutes ago that blood by itself proves nothing. You have no evidence of his guilt. You have only your personal dislike and easily explained blood. He found his girlfriend’s body. He held her. But it does not follow that he made her bleed. It’s just as possible that she went out that night for some sordid Tinder hookup with the wrong man.”
“That’s uncalled for.” The knight sallies forth from the back row, and a few adoring pawns watch him gallop by. “There is no reason to slander the poor woman by saying she was cheating.”
“Supposing is not slander.”
“Yes, it is,” the knight answers. “Lay off her.”
Into the Lasker Trap. An aggressive opponent attacks a deliberately weak position. A boy takes the unsuspecting knight in four moves.
“Very well,” I say. “She met a suffering and unstable friend but misspoke and pushed him over the edge. Or she met a cousin with a dissolving marriage who came on to her, and who took her sainted rejection badly. Or she met her brother, who has sat in the front row every day of this trial with eyes so dry they must burn. Did you not notice his unweeping face?”
“You’re just confusing everyone.” True. The pawns shift in their seats and flick their eyes between us. “It had to be him. The earrings which he bought her were ripped out post-mortem. Why would a brother or a cousin do that?”
“Yes,” I say, “her diamond earrings were gone, nowhere to be found. Certainly not in the pockets of the accused. But very tempting for a random hoodlum.”
He hesitates to think, while the dizzy pawns cannot. The bishop remains out of play, and the endgame becomes inevitable.
Afterward, the athletic pawn told me I had done a good thing.
I replay the game in my study that evening. It amused. Perhaps next time a boy will play the white position.
By now the pawns question how reasonable their doubt was, and whether they were wrong to press the bishop and the knight into a corner. They lack conviction. They lack information.
I take up the diamond earrings from their fellow keepsakes in the drawer. Atypical and perhaps risky to play in one’s own county, but she looked fetching in the mornings with her latte.
A boy must take an unprotected queen.