Tag Archives: chess

Bill, I had a space dream, and you were in it

Dear Bill Simmons:

I had this dream last week where NASA offered you the chance to hop on a rocket ship and captain a deep space mission. “Bill,” they said, “We want you to spread sports across the cosmos. Get out there, find some alien life, and teach them all about basketball and football and hockey. Show them about sportsmanship and being a team player and the importance of picking a good mascot to represent their species. If there’s anybody that can not only show the aliens what Earth sports are all about, but can also get them actually interested, it’s you.”


And you were like, “I’ll do it.” And everyone smiled, but you continued, “On one condition. I pick the crew.” And they were a little skeptical, I mean, what do you really know about staffing a spaceship? But eventually they realized that it was the only way they’d get you on board, and so they agreed, “All right Bill, we hope you know what you’re doing.”

You did know what you were doing. You picked me to join you as your first officer. I was sitting here on my computer, dicking around, killing some time before I had to go to work, when I got this call on my cell phone from an unknown number. It was you.

“Hey Rob, Bill Simmons here. I’ve been reading your letters to me every week on your web site asking me for a job. Well, here it is, your lucky day!” And at first I was really excited, like, yes, finally, I’m going to get to work at Grantland, me, a full-time writer at one of the best sports and pop culture web sites on the Internet. My imagination went crazy, I started picturing what kind of posters I’d use to decorate my office, or how I’d casually drop by your office around three-thirty to ask if you wanted anything while I went out to Starbucks.

It was a shock when you told me it wasn’t exactly the offer that I’d been dreaming about, but of course I still accepted without hesitation. Because seriously Bill, I’d do anything to work with you. I’d leave all of my family and friends here on Earth as we set out on a one-way trip to explore the galaxy. That’s the kind of dedication I’d bring to your team, in both my fantasy dream world and in real life.

Yeah, the dream kind of went in a weird direction after I said yes to the mission. Like most dreams go, there were huge gaps in the narrative, weird tangential events that didn’t really make much sense in terms of context or continuity. For example, all of the sudden we were both deep in space, and you told me that the months of isolation were starting to get to you, that routine spaceship maintenance work wasn’t as satisfying as you thought it might be.

But I was like, “Bill, why didn’t you say something earlier? I brought a chess set. We could learn to play, together.” And yeah, you lit up at the idea of a new hobby, something to really challenge your atrophying mental faculties. But we discovered pretty quickly that playing chess in zero-g isn’t really possible pastime. Maybe if I had thought it out a little better, like if I brought some Velcro, something to keep the pieces from flying off the board. But no, I didn’t have anything, and so we both gave up after a few minutes of futilely trying just to keep everything still on the constantly floating surface.

And then pretty soon after that, we weren’t in space anymore, we were at a McDonald’s. It didn’t make sense at all, but neither of us questioned our new surroundings. In fact, now that I’m thinking about it, you didn’t even remember being in space at all. And when I was like, “Bill, don’t you remember? The spaceship? The chess set?” you were like, “My name’s not Bill, it’s Fred. And can you hurry up a little with my order?”

It was then that I looked down, and I was actually behind the counter, I was wearing a McDonald’s uniform, and my name tag didn’t say “Rob,” it said, “Jean.” Which, yeah, that doesn’t really make much sense. The rest of the dream went on for like another minute or so, in dream minutes anyway, who knows how long it was in real life. Everything got fuzzier and fuzzier until I woke up, it was ten-thirty, I was late for work. But I still thought, I’ve got to write this down. I’ve got to tell Bill.

And now that I’ve written it all out, I’m actually kind of sorry, because for real, I know how boring dream stories are. Whenever anybody starts telling me, “Rob, listen to this dream I had …” I automatically shut down, because regardless of how interesting the dream may have been in the dream, it’s never even remotely worth retelling once you wake up. And so I don’t know why I thought this one was going to be different, because it wasn’t, and again, I apologize.

All I can say is, when you hire me to work at Grantland, I’ll never talk about my dreams. Unless you order me to. Then I’ll do it. I’ll do whatever you say. That’s the kind of employee I am. Unless you order me to stop following your orders, because I’m not that clever, I won’t really know how to respond to one of those logical paradoxes.

Anyway, I hope you have a great weekend. And I hope that whichever team you predicted to win the Super Bowl wins. And I’ll tell everybody, “See? It’s just like Bill Simmons said would happen. That guy is the best.” Me? I predicted the Giants would win, way back when they were 0 – 6. Things were looking pretty good for a while, until Dallas scored that field goal. I hate the Cowboys.

Your friend,

Rob G.

I can’t stop playing this one game of chess

I never play chess, but apparently neither does my friend Bill, because we’ve been stuck playing this same game for like three hours now. I don’t even know where he found this chess set, probably on the street, it has a distinct yard sale look. It’s one of those crystal chess sets, or fake crystal, whatever, but you know, the kind popularized by the first X-Men movie, when Professor X is playing chess with Magneto, but because he controls metal, he’s in a plastic cell, and everything’s made out of clear plastic.


That was like the go-to Christmas present for everybody’s dad across the country that Christmas. “Look dad! I got you a present!” and the dad’s like, “Gee … thanks son … it’s a chess set. Thanks.” And the kid is so oblivious, so pumped about how cool it looks, he can’t tell his dad’s blatant lack of enthusiasm, “You want to play dad?” and what’s the dad going to say, no? It’s Christmas. “All right, set it up, let’s do it.”

One game of chess, one painfully slow game of chess, during course of which, I’m sure even junior realized his total lack of chess abilities, that just because you know what each piece does doesn’t mean you know how to play. Ten minutes later, the pieces are back in the box. Ten minutes after that, the set is lodged permanently underneath the coffee table, where it sat unused, for years, for over a decade, and that kid doesn’t even live here anymore, he never came back after he left for college.

“Let’s have a yard sale!” from the mom turns into, “Look what I got for only five bucks!” from my friend Bill, and he looked so happy, jeez, he’s not an unhappy guy or anything, but it’s rare to see him this happy, and so I’m scratching my head, “Sure man, set it up, let me know when you’re ready to go.”

And chess, Jesus, I’ve read articles about chess, how the pros spend so much time looking at previous games and mastering moves thought out seven turns ahead, that it’s not even about an individual piece, they’re playing patterns, brainwaves are working at a level that would take me probably the rest of my lifetime to dedicate just to learn how to think that way.

I remember one night while I was in Ecuador, the power went out and, for lack of anything else to do, I spent ten or fifteen minutes just staring at my Internet-less laptop screen, going through the hollow motions of pointing and clicking and opening up folders and there I found it, the built-in chess app. I said to myself, I know how to play chess, I was in the chess club.

Yes, I was in the chess club, but so was everybody else in my school. We had this rule, you had to belong to at least two extracurricular activities every year, and the two default clubs that required practically zero effort whatsoever were chess club and social studies club. Social studies club is a whole different page of crazy, but it more or less amounted to an extra social studies class once a week after school, sitting in a desk and listening to the crazy old social studies teacher get lost in tangents about when the UK and the USA were finally going to merge into the United States of the North Atlantic. Insane stuff.

But he made us sit there the whole time. At least the chess club moderator let us put our names on the sign up sheet before chess club started. So it was basically sign up, sit around and pretend to play chess for a while, and then leave. Chess club.

I wondered if Bill was in chess club also, and he confirmed it, not in anything he said, but by his opening move, he took the castle right from the back and jumped over the front row of pawns. Whatever, I really didn’t feel like prolonging the agony, so I let it slide. The game would have been cool if we at least had those timers, the cool things the pros slam down on when they’re done taking their turns, but we didn’t have anything.

And as we each started accumulated pieces, our attitudes turned surprisingly competitive. No, I don’t think either of us were exactly following the rules, I mean, I didn’t jump any pawns, but I did execute a very questionable castling maneuver, like I know it’s possible, but I just kept assuring Bill, “No, it’s totally legal. That’s exactly how it’s done,” and finally we got down to just two kings, his and mine, pointlessly circling each other around the board.

“What do you say Bill, call it a draw?” and he smiled, “Sure, if you want to forfeit, we can stop playing.”

Of course I wanted to stop playing, these were some of the most boring minutes I had spent all week. But forfeit? To Bill? I would have been hearing about it for years. This guy doesn’t let anything go, the most trivial successes have a way of echoing down the ages, I could see it now, he’d be over my house years from now visiting my family around Christmastime. He’d see the chess set my son bought for me, and he’d throw in, “You know, I used to beat your dad in chess all the time when we were roommates.”

Bullshit. “No way Bill, it’s either a draw, or we keep playing.”

And that’s been it. I feel like I’m being fair here, I’m not demanding Bill gives up. Why is he being so stubborn? Isn’t this boring for him too? How long are we going to keep this up?