xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns#' The Font of Noelage: The Chess Match.

Monday, 28 July 2014

The Chess Match.

My two late and much loved cousins, Maurie and Raymond Carr, were like brothers to me. Their father, Maurice,  died when Maurie and Raymond were three years and three months old, respectively. They spent a lot of time at our family home in Inglewood, where my father, Jack Bourke, was like a father to them. Between the ages of 10 to 13, while our new family home was being built in Mt Lawley, the Bourke family moved in to 8 Aberdeen Street in Perth, where my cousins' mother, my much loved Aunty Millie, was the landlady.

The "Babie" mentioned in the story is my mother, Valerie Myra Bourke (Ryan). She was the youngest of 11 children and throughout her life was invariably called Babe, Babie or Bubs, even by my cousins.

 I particularly enjoyed the company of my cousins, who were 8 to 10 years older than me. We had great fun together. I wrote a great deal about life at Aberdeen Street in my book, LEON, of which the following is an excerpt. I called my book  LEON as I was uncomfortable  constantly writing that  Noel did this and then Noel did that. I also thought that LEON was not a bad title for a book about a boy called Noel looking backwards at his boyhood. It also explains Maurie's rhyming slang nickname for me.

Another popular game for Maurie, Raymond and Leon was chess.
It all started one Saturday morning when the family was still living in Inglewood and Maurie said he was going down to buy a Chess set.

He had just started university and apparently, chess along with bridge and snooker were his best subjects. He returned about an hour later with, not only a Chess set, but three very thick books on how to play the game of Chess. They were all written by Russian Grand Masters with unpronounceable names and explained, not only the history, rules and conventions of Chess, but also strategies, ploys and famous manoeuvres made in world championships.

Maurie then locked himself in the lounge room and told Babie that he did not want to be disturbed...not even for lunch. Leon thought that this Chess, whatever it was, was obviously very important business. He asked Jack what Chess was all about because Jack was very good at Draughts, Dominoes and Chinese Checkers. Leon had also heard he was also very good at Bridge, Rummy, Crib and Poker. These were the games that he and Babie played with other family and friends at their weekly "Card Nights".

Jack said he couldn't play Chess but it was an ancient game from China or Russia, where various pieces could move in different directions to capture opposition pieces. He said it was a very complicated game that could take several hours to play and people used to think very carefully, not only about their own move, but what their opponent would do next. Furthermore, Jack said, some Grand Masters could think about ten moves ahead to work out how to remove or trap their opponent. Some of them could play five or six different opponents at the same time. The game ended when the King was captured or ‘checked’ and could not move because to do so would mean being captured. Jack said when the King was trapped like that the winning player would say, "Checkmate" and the game was over. This term really surprised Leon. He could not imagine any Russians or Chinese players calling each other "Mate".

After three hours in the lounge room Maurie emerged. He announced that he could now play Chess and went in to the kitchen to help himself to some cold meat from the ice chest. After he had eaten, Maurie invited Raymond into the lounge to learn all about Chess.

"C'mon, Tricky, I'll show you how to play."

Maurie liked using nicknames and often called Raymond "Tricky". Sometimes he called him "Tricky Dicky" or "Trick" or just "T.D." for short. He often called Leon "Toad in the Hole" or "T in the H".

In fact Maurie, like Jack, really liked rhyming slang. One of his favourites in later years was “My Frankie wouldn’t Bondi.”  Maurie said that it was derived from “My Frankie Laine wouldn’t Bondi Junction" which meant "My brain wouldn't function." Of course. 

He often referred to people who were drunk as “Johnathon Taurus” of JT, which was from the Latinised version of “John Bull”, rhyming slang for full, or drunk in other words.

Maurie and Raymond stayed in the loungeroom for several hours as Raymond was informed of the intricacies of the fascinating game. They obviously had their Frankie’s Bondi-ing like crazy. When Leon returned from the Saturday Matinee at the Civic Theatre they were still locked away, like cardinals voting for a new Pope. When they emerged at about 5-00pm, Maurie said that Raymond could now play Chess and that he had just beaten him in their very first game. Maurie was very competitive and did not like to lose any sort of sporting contest. Leon asked Maurie if he also could learn to play Chess.

"O.K., Champ, come in here and I'll tell you all about it." Leon followed Maurie in to the loungeroom, eagerly anticipating his three hour induction into the mysterious game. Five minutes later it was over. All Maurie told him was very basic information about how far and in what direction each piece could move.

"This is the Bishop, it goes diagonally like this, so does the Queen, who can move in any direction. This is the Rook, or Castle, it goes horizontally, like this. The Knight moves two up and one across or two across and one up, or backwards. Pawns can only go forward two places on their first move and only one space after that, either straight ahead or at an angle. The King can only move one space at a time, except you can "Castle" by exchanging the King with the Rook. To win the game you have to get the other bloke's king into a situation where he will be captured which ever way he moves. Then it's Checkmate. That's about it, Champ. Want to try a game?"

Five minutes! No mention of the strategies and ploys. No mention of the Russian Masters. No mention of classic opening gambits. Leon lost his first game of Chess against Maurie in less time than Maurie had taken to explain the rules.

"You need to think ahead a bit more, T in the H", said Maurie, as he invited Raymond to have another game. Their game lasted well over half an hour. Maurie won again.

In the years that followed, Maurie and Raymond had some very memorable encounters. In Aberdeen Street they would leave the Chess pieces set up on a card table between the beds in their room and come back to the game from time to time. Some games lasted for days. On the other hand, when Leon played either Maurie or Raymond, the game would be over relatively quickly. Although, as he gradually picked up the strategies and ploys, Leon was able to sometimes have a game last for an hour before Maurie or Raymond would look across the board, give a triumphal grin and say, "Checkmate!"

Generally, Leon would sit on one of the beds eating a large Granny Smith apple and watch Maurie and Raymond lock horns across the chessboard. In those days a large truck from the Apple and Pear board used to travel the suburbs giving away surplus apples which householders used to collect in sugar bags or wheelbarrows. There was never a shortage of Granny Smith apples at Aberdeen Street.

Raymond and Maurie would sit hunched over their chess pieces, staring at the board, calculating their moves. Occasionally one of them would put their hand on a piece, ponder awhile, look into the other's face for any sign of a reaction and, after a bit more pondering, remove their hand. This would happen several times before they eventually made any move. Their deep concentration would only be affected by Leon crunching noisily into a big, juicy, Granny Smith.

"Be quiet,Leon" they would growl and then go back to their pondering. Leon tried to chew as quietly as possible as he did not want to be evicted from the room. He enjoyed the contest between his cousins. He was also learning about the game by watching their moves and thinking what the next move would be.

One afternoon, when he was about twelve, Leon was playing a game with Maurie and Leon had the feeling that he was getting the upper hand. He did not get too carried away because Maurie often played him along before getting serious and suddenly saying, "Checkmate". This day however, Leon was pondering pretty well (getting his Frankie to Bondi!) and was even weighing up the options on various moves that could be made.

It came to a point where Leon could see that in three moves he would have Maurie in Checkmate. He carefully moved his Knight into a key position and sat back to watch and enjoy the moment as Maurie came to the realisation that finally, at last., after five years of thrashings, Leon was going to beat him at Chess. Maybe he already realised it.

Maurie gazed at the board. He scratched his chin. Several times he put his fingers on a piece and then removed it.

"Gotcha" thought Leon. The writing was on the wall. Chess history was about to be made.
Just as Leon was preparing to bask in the glory of his famous victory, Maurie let out a fearful yell, clutched his right calf muscle and leaped up out of his chair. Naturally enough the card table, chess board and strategically placed chess pieces went flying across the room. He lay on the floor clutching his right foot and moaning loudly.

"Sorry about that, Champ. I just had a terrible cramp. I'd better go to the kitchen and drink some salty water."

That was the last Chess match they ever played together.

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