Chess boy

Our accommodation, set on the only calm part of the river outside of Jinja, where a hydroelectric dam had calmed the waters, sat on a ridge on the edge of the Nile, with dramatic views down to the great river. Because we had arrived on boda bodas from the minibus station relatively early in the day, we were able to fit in some school work and ”neuroplasticity development”, as I like to call it.

In her 2013 book, The Autistic Brain, Temple Grandin explains her discovery that not all people on the spectrum think in pictures like herself, as she once believed; that there are actually three types of dominant thinking patterns.

In an article in The Smithsonian she describes it thus:

Autism is a developmental disorder that ranges from very severe, in which a child remains nonverbal, to mild, including in highly intelligent people with specialized talents. After I wrote my book Thinking in Pictures, I talked to many people and I learned that there are three types of thinking styles that are common in people with autism. In addition to visual thinking, there is pattern thinking and word thinking. Each of the three types of thinking is a continuum. People without autism may have some specialization, but people with autism are often on the extreme end of a continuum…A pattern-thinking child typically has great ability in math and difficulty reading.

Chess was one activity I decided Sam should learn while we were travelling. He is pretty clearly at pattern thinker, being quite gifted at maths but having a below average verbal IQ. He is also naturally adept at reading music, although this aptitude has unfortunately not translated into enthusiasm for piano lessons!  Chess seemed a natural fit.

With this particular game of chess, I finally let myself win; actually I was having to really try to win as Sam’s game continues to improve. He took the loss with surprising grace, but insisted on concluding it was actually a draw as he took the king off the board rather than tipping it over. Whatever. What was obvious was he was enjoying the game more. In his ‘writing challenge’ for the day, he described the game this way:

This is the description of chess.

They are 16 pawns, 4 knights, 4 bishops, 4 rooks, 2 queens and 2 kings.

Chess was invented in the UK. A pawn can move 1 or 2 platforms straight and can take 1 piece sideways. A knight can jump of a shape of a capital L and can take 1 piece if it does that. A bishop can go any sideways but only on the certain color and can take 1 piece. A rook can go anywhere straight and can take 1 piece. A Queen can use both the rook and the bishop’s moves and can take 1 piece if it is able for the Queen to move on the platform.

A King is the most important and it is nearly impossible to be taken and can use the Queen’s moves except it can only move 1 square but it can take any piece and if other that are able to take the king it is check and if it is worse and it’s checkmate and game over.

Checkmate is a bad thing it is game over and you can lose when you are in checkmate.

Overall I love chess because it is fun.

And this was from a boy who had never played chess before we left Australia.

The next day we had another game. Sam was more determined and had me on the ropes. He refused to enforce the checkmate that was available to him, insisting on taking every single piece before trapping the king.

‘You are annihilating me!’

‘I am the enforcer.’

‘You are smashing me like the Romans smashed Carthage – not a stone unturned.’

‘I am the Smashing Pumpkins.’

I don’t think Billy Corgan was at the fall of Carthage, but there you go.