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Remembering Chess

I recently got around to watching the replay of the Virginia Tech- Florida State game. It was immensely satisfying to observe Frank again flinging the Bowden Monkey off his back and relieving to see that between the end of the game I saw and the time Comcast replayed it Tuesday night Bobby had not found some way to continue his mastery of Frank. Tech won again. What really caught my eye, however, was what happened at the very end.

Frank and Bobby met at midfield and embraced, no doubt congratulating each other on what had been a very hard-hitting and well-played game. As could be expected, Frank gave the impression of being one very happy man. Interestingly enough, so did Bowden. As the coaches spoke at length and Bobby continued to smile, laugh and pat Frank on the back, I got the feeling that the ACC’s dean of coaches was almost as happy for his understudy’s breakthrough as was Frank. Once it again it popped into my head that coaches generally take a much different view of this whole sports business than do the more rabid elements of any school’s fan base. It is an altogether healthier attitude.

As I watched them, for some reason I was also reminded of the guy who taught me how to play chess about thirty years ago. I knew the game, of course and considered myself a fairly good player. I wasn’t, until Bill taught me.

I met Bill when I had the good fortune to sell him and his bride a new house I had built. He was well-known around town as a newsman for a local radio station. He was about twenty years older than I. For some reason, Bill and his bride took a shine to the young couple comprised of my wife and me.

Bill and his wife had a house at Smith Mountain Lake. This was at a time when ‘house at the lake’ generally meant something a little more modest than the million-dollar McMansions that encircle Smith Mountain Lake these days. Still, it was a house at the lake and looked pretty good to a twenty-something couple just starting out. For that matter, it would look pretty good to me now.

Bill and his bride would occasionally invite my wife and me to spend weekends with them at the lake. We never turned them down. After a Saturday afternoon spent on the lake in their boat, again not exactly what one sees tooling the waters these days but a boat nonetheless, we would head for their house.

The girls would sip cocktails while Bill would give instruction in the other thing he taught me, which was how to cook. Bill was a master chef who did all the cooking in his house while I had been married long enough to determine that if there was going to be any good food eaten in my house, I was going to have to learn how to cook it.

After dinner, the girls would at least clear the table so Bill and I could sit down with his chess set. As stated above, I had harbored the delusion that I knew the game. Compared to a guy who had won city championships, I did not.

Bill pounded me unmercifully. If there were RUTS in chess, he was engaging in it. He must have beaten me a hundred straight games [at least] over the course of several weekends. When a game was over, he would never offer any advice or instruction as to how I might improve my pitiful game, only “Let’s play again.” I was a glutton for punishment and would always agree.

I did notice that as the time went by and the losses mounted, I was succeeding in stringing the games out a bit from the handful of moves it would take him to put me in checkmate in the early going. I got closer and closer to beating him, thinking I had him a couple of times only to lose at the end.

There finally came an evening when the stars aligned and I finally won. As I contemplated grabbing his King and flinging it from his deck into the lake in celebration, his only comment was “Congratulations. Let’s play again.” We did and a funny thing happened: Bill never beat me again.

After a year or so and a few weekends spent at the lake, my wife decided those occasional weekends were not worth keeping me around. When we were no longer a couple, the invitations to the lake dried up. Some time and another failed marriage later, I moved away from Danville for a period of time. Bill and I lost touch, although I did notice him in the crowd a few years later when I won a city chess championship. The last time I heard from him was a few years ago when he called me out of the blue. He invited me to his house to play chess. I won. Bill was not a well man and not long after our last game, he died.

There are reasons other than wins and losses that keep me so passionately involved with Virginia Tech football. The best ones are the very good friends I have met along the way and whose company I very much enjoy. I very much want Tech to win each and every game, but am aware that there are some aspects to the whole business that are more important.

Bobby Bowden wanted very much to beat Virginia Tech last Saturday and continue his Beamer Streak. His team gave it its best shot, but he did not. It says much about Bobby Bowden that he was able to put aside his disappointment and congratulate his friend Frank Beamer on Frank’s accomplishment of finally beating him, Bobby Bowden.

I attended last Saturday’s Tech- FSU game but it was not until I watched the interplay between Frank and Booby that Tech football caused me to remember that I was very fortunate to have known Bill Schwarz. Among other things, he taught me how to play chess.

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