Chess With Priest (Again)

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.