If the Kids are alright, then why do they drive me so crazy?

Chess humor by Tom Chandler. First appeared in the September 1995 CHAT, Compuserve Chess Forum newsletter. Reprinted here with permission.

First of all, let me clearly state that I do not think all children are vermin. At least not most of the time. In fact, except for the vegetable- slinging mini-thugs who always seem to occupy the next table at restaurants, I usually tolerate kids just fine -- provided they aren't screaming, whining, wretching, or soiling themselves in my vicinity.

My indifference to children fades rapidly, though, whenever I see one of their chocolate-smeared faces staring back at me from across the chess board. In fact, aside from the dream where I find myself naked in the middle of California's Largest Shopping Mall, my worst nightmare is seeing a pre-teen slide into the seat across from me at a tournament. And apparently I'm not alone in this; I've talked to plenty of adults at chess tournaments who fear a pairing with a child more than anything they care to mention. I have to point out that these are the same adults who savage their co-workers in ruthless corporate meetings, drawing blood over weighty issues like the color of the company logo or exactly who is leaving the paper cups lying around in the cafeteria.

High-powered adults? You bet. Afraid to play children at chess tournaments? You better believe it...

Why I Hate Playing Kids, Part I: Respect.

Small, chess-playing kids don't seem to care that I'm a sophisticated, mature adult with a car payment and my own business cards; like Rodney Dangerfield, I don't get no respect, despite the fact that I:

1) Have been personally responsible for many successful advertising campaigns;

2) Almost finished college;

3) Have successfully wired a boat trailer;

4) Once nearly set Paul Sondreal's house on fire when I overestimated the amount of lighter fluid needed to fire a potato out of a large plastic tube.

Despite the above extremely impressive list, these kids -- who consider tieing their own shoelaces a major achievement -- treat me with stunning indifference -- and this in spite of the fact that I've probably lost their weight in hair over the past year.

A game from my last tournament illustrates the "Dangerfield Principle" perfectly: I was outplaying a small-boned, chipmunk-cute little girl from the Black side of a Sicilian. I had just gathered in a pawn, and I was all- powerful on the dark squares. Plus I had a crushing queenside expansion in the works. All in all, she was lost. Had she given me the respect I deserved, she would have folded up right then and there. Instead, the little monster traded off my good dark-square Bishop. After I blundered in recapturing, her queen slid to within clubbing distance of my king and the friendly dark squares suddenly took on a sinister aspect.

My response? I wanted to scream at her; "Don't you know I've read Reassess Your Chess' from cover to cover? Don't you know I've got a 70,000 game database running on a RISC-based workstation? Don't you know I once fired a potato from a plastic pipe?"

If she knew, she didn't care. I went on to win after a tough struggle, but not before I completely missed a nice sacrificial mate in two. Even in victory, the chipmunk robbed me of my self-respect...

Why I Hate Playing Kids, Part II: Stupidity.

The problem with most of these kids is that they're too smart for my own good. Their devious little chipmunk minds are frighteningly quick; strategies that have taken me 15-20 minutes to devise are thwarted in seconds by opponents who needed phone books on their chairs just to reach their advanced pawns. Even worse are the chipmunks who need so little of their brain power to defeat you that they spend almost no time at the board; later you discover they were hustling blitz games in the hall to stave off boredom.

Most of these kids couldn't tell you the difference between a Nimzo-Indian and Pocahontas; yet all my high-powered openings preparation seems to mean nothing to these brats, who get by -- and prepare to be outraged here -- by doing nothing more than simply making Good Moves. I despise them.

Making the "stupidity factor" so much worse is the public nature of the game; your friends can wander by and see you firmly in control of the vital center squares one minute, and then find you a rook down in a busted position the next. The fact that your opponent's feet don't reach the floor couldn't be more obvious. Plus, should you get beaten by an adult opponent, you can always take refuge in "Ha! He's a sandbagger. He got lucky. He distracted me by breathing." Lose to a chipmunk, however, and there simply are no excuses...

OK -- What Happens Should You Actually Win?

Finally, we arrive at the crux of the problem -- should you actually triumph over one of these little wonders, no one's going to love you for it. In fact, the best you can hope for is that you don't get spit on by a parent as you leave the tournament. Face it: you don't hear a lot of applause when the hunters blast Bambi's mother -- you can expect no better after you've crushed a small child under the heel of your Sicilian jackboot.

This, of course, is the sad paradox we all confront when playing kids; even if you win, you lose.

It's this kind of pressure that has warped me as a chess player and as a human being. When I watch "Searching For Bobby Fischer" I always root for the adult players. When I see the smiling faces of sub-teen prodigies at local tournaments, I'm reminded more than anything of Damien (noted adult-killer and antichrist). And when I see a chipmunk slide into the seat across from mine at a tournament, I start worrying not about my openings preparation, but about finding escape routes from the building. As I set myself for another beating at the hands of a chipmunk, the best I can hope for is that I find an exit that takes me out of sight of my friends. And out of spitting distance of my opponent's parents...

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