A good chess player sees all the angles.
He or she sees the next move and all the possibilities that stem from it. Chances are, the experienced player will know what you’re going to do before you do.
Just think of Wayne Gretzky operating below the goal-line in his heyday and you get the idea of what a good chess player sees when playing a game.
Only instead of seeing Jari Kurri or Glenn Anderson operating somewhere in the slot and assessing the situation in seconds, a good chess player sees a knight and does the same thing.
Immaculate Heart of Mary Level 1 student Daley Merrigan is one of those chess players. He is the provincial champion for his age group and a fairly highly ranked player — he rates in the low 2000s.
It’s a system designed evaluate players on a scale and divides them into ranks from grandmaster and lower.
Daley’s score makes him a candidate for a master ranking.
In a month, he will be representing the province at his second national tournament as the 2018 Canadian Chess Challenge is scheduled for St. John’s May 20-21.
With that information in hand, it only made sense that I give his skills a proper test.
Now, outside of some computer chess, I have very little experience with the game. The only prep I put in before this mammoth contest was to refresh myself on how each piece moves.
I don’t even know who starts first.
So, to say test, it is really more like a quiz; one where Daley already knows the answers.
I make the first move by shifting my queen’s pawn two spots ahead. From there, it is all clinical for my young opponent.
After only a handful of moves, I noticed my opponent has maneuvered a number of his pieces in a certain way.
I’m told later Daley is setting up a variation of the French defense. Named so after a match played between London and Paris in 1834, he sets his king in the corner to my right and fortifies its position with a wall of pieces.
During the game, Daley tells me he first started playing chess when he was six years old. After a couple of years, he took some time away from the game, but re-discovered it at the age of 14.
From there, he’s thrown himself into it and he’s gotten good. He has gotten to the point where his dad, Jami, avoids playing him.
He plays games above board and online where he can learn through trial and error.
There’ll be no error in this one.
It is probably only 10 moves and I can feel he is setting me up.
Needless to say, I fall into the trap. After a couple of moves to avoid checkmate, Daley catches me and ends Round 1.
His love for the game shines when he is explaining how he is operating with each move he makes. He said it is because he loves explaining things when asked about them, whether it's math or chess.
Before the second match, Daley takes time to show me a couple of simple openings and various ways players can go.
To borrow a phrase from hockey, Daley lets the game come to him. He doesn’t press the action off the start or lay back in wait.
His moves are predicated by his opponents. I move and he counters. When he sees an opening, he aggressively takes advantage.
Seeing how he dissects what I’m doing, it makes sense that he enjoys the strategy behind each move.
The second game lasts a little longer than the first one. Still he achieves checkmate in 20 moves or so. But I’m learning more.
I’ve adopted the French defense into my arsenal — it is pretty much the only weapon in there — and am confident I won’t lose as quickly in Round 3.
I’m right, but it doesn’t mean I get close to checkmate.
He is really good at this game and it shows.
Any attempts I make are quickly snuffed out in the third matchup and Daley takes advantage of holes in my defense.
I misidentify pieces in the latter stages. It’s a discrepancy he exploits for his victory. It was going to happen either way, but I did help him along a little bit.
At the end of the three-match evisceration, I asked Daley to rate my skills.
Raising his hand to his chin, he begins working out the equation.
Helping me is the notion that I weighed options before I moved instead of just shuffling pieces around the board.
Working against my rating, I went 0-3, failed to put him in anything close to danger and never once had more accumulated more pieces than he did.
After a couple of minutes, Daley rendered his verdict.
Turns out, I’m a solid beginner.