Chess and the World Cup

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The master chessman.

One of the best things about traveling with Rick Steves is the company of your fellow tour members. I’ve always found them to be personable, generous, charismatic and interesting people with amazing life stories. 

The most remarkable in recent memory was a middle aged man named Pat. Pat went out of his way to get to know everyone on the tour. He’d ask you questions like “whats the most dangerous thing you’ve ever done?” It seemed like he had a specific question for each member of the group. It didn’t matter who you were or what your interests were, or if you had anything in common, he’d manage to hold a conversation with you for over an hour. 

My favorite quirk of his was his knowledge of the game of chess. While in Lauterbrunnen, there was a small lobby with a TV just inside the hotel entrance. Many of us on on the tour would start and end our day here with coffee in the morning and several cold beers at night. Especially since the World Cup was on! We watched several matches together throughout the trip, and some of the most exciting while in Lauterbrunnen.

In the middle of the group of chairs we congregated at was a small coffee table and a chess board, its pieces set up in orderly fashion. Pat would come in to the small lounge, sit down across the board from you, without speaking. Only after you made meaningful eye contact with him would he reach down and advance one of the pawns on his side of the board. The game had started. He’d converse pleasantly with everyone over these games - young or old, it didn’t matter. He’d coach you on your moves and strategy, and it was hard to tell sometimes if you were being baited into a risky move. You were never quite sure.

Eventually, you could always tell if Pat had made it back from his hiking at the end of each day in the valley, because the chess board would be set crisply, all pieces in their starting positions. That is, except for one, lone pawn, advanced forward in the classical starting chess move - the optimal two spaces.

And if you sat down to counter the move, Pat would likely appear, suddenly, right before your very eyes.