My latest for SportsWorld reunites me with Priest Holmes, star running back, eccentric and fantasy football legend. Back when Holmes was scoring touchdowns at will for the Kansas City Chiefs, I was columnist there. And many Fridays, before games, we would play chess.
You can learn a lot about someone by playing chess against them. You can learn a lot about yourself too. What I learned about myself was that I’m a pretty good attacking player who, inevitably and inescapably, will make one horrendous and comical mistake that dooms me. I think this was why Priest so enjoyed playing me. Our games tended to be interesting because I almost always took control early. He would have to make several escapes. But he knew — HE KNEW — that sooner or later I would make the mistake.
As soon as our interview ended — a fascinating interview, I thought, about life after football — he immediately pulled out the chess board and demanded a game. Talking about a chess match you played is, I have no doubt, no different than talking about your golf game or fantasy football team or your poker game — nobody cares. But in a way, I do think it describes Priest Holmes. As usual, I took complete control of the match early. Essentially I got my bishop behind enemy lines and it ravaged Holmes’ arsenal. It was shock and awe destruction.
And then I began my steady attack on his king … and there was nothing he could do. At one point, I made what I thought was a pretty strong move and — here we get to the point — Priest Holmes took 23 minutes to make his next move. It was intense. He just sat there and stared at the board, just stared at it. I tried to match his concentration, but I could not … I began looking outside at traffic going by in San Antonio. I began thinking about whether or not my daughter finished her homework back home. My mind wandered.
And then he made his move … and it was pure desperation. There was no other way to describe it. He essentially had two dangerous pieces left, and he set them up for one last-gasp attack. I meanwhile had a multi-dimensional attack swirling around his king — his attack was hopeless. All I had to do was keep attacking, and there was nothing at all he could do.
So I attacked, and there was nothing he could do — he retreated, and retreated again, and now I was in position to put him away.
AndI looked back at his attackers — they were no more threatening now than they had been before. But something was nagging me about it. My brain kept telling me: “Don’t worry about him, he can’t hurt you back there. He’s trying to get you off-track. Just stay on your attack and you will win. Just stay on the attack.”
But my gut was whispering: “Maybe you should give yourself a little bit stronger defense.”
Brain: “NO! THAT’S WHAT HE WANTS YOU TO DO! ATTACK! DON’T FALL FOR HIS TRAP!”
Gut: “Just give yourself a little bit of a cushion back there, thwart him, then you can go back on the attack.”
Brain: “STOP! DO YOU HEAR YOURSELF? HE’S TRYING TO DISTRACT YOU! YOU’RE FALLING FOR IT! DON’T LISTEN TO YOUR GUT!”
I listened to my gut. I came off the attack.
He checkmated me next move.
“Why did you not keep attacking me?” he asked. But he knew.