Mike Knox – “Rub your cats upon the board before I arrive”

I coach chess at a Toronto high school, but “coach” is an exalted term for what I do. Chess is, as far as we need be concerned, a game too complex to be mastered and (apart from the basics of tactics and strategy) to be really taught by someone with my level of ability. The vast majority of players are scarcely generals overseeing a coordinated and prescient strategy, we are closer to brawlers tumbling over one another until one person ends up on top. Some of us might be a little faster, able to see a little deeper into the murky future of possible combinations, and thus able to regularly beat certain opponents, but ultimately chess is beyond us and we are botching it. Our games are myopic affairs: blunder after howler after catastrophe on both sides, often no one really realizing how badly they are actually playing. This, I must remind the gentle reader, unless you are a top international player or expert, is true of your games too. Who could argue against this? How far ahead can you see at the best of times? Three moves? Four maybe? It is absurd to feel that we can be masters in the vast finitude of chess. Fortunately, for myself and for my team, mastery is not really the point.

Mike Knox – “Rub your cats upon the board before I arrive”   Chess PoetryOur team practices are not coached clinics; they are more like meetings between enthusiasts. Practice is collegial and conversational, each of us has spent time toiling away alone in our own area of interest. Practice exists to bring us together as a group. We meet at lunch-hour to play or work through problems. Maybe I’m working on the Icelandic gambit; someone else will sit across from me, munching a sandwich and playing through possible lines. Perhaps someone has come across a trap in the Accelerated Dragon variation of the Sicilian defense (a hugely popular opening among my players, though I personally detest it); two Sicilian practitioners will sit down and run through it together. We play clocked games when we are preparing for tournaments but I keep my players on a strict regimen of patience, rather than their preferred diet of bullet-chess. Sometimes I will bring in problems to work on; I will set the board up and we sit around it, writing out our best continuation lines to be discussed after. The only rule is that no one is allowed to touch the pieces; it must all be worked out internally, even if we are talking through it together. We watch famous matches on the internet on my classroom projector. We joke around and kid each other. Then we go off and spend anywhere from a few minutes to a couple of hours playing or studying at night.

I’m not convinced that gaining chess aptitude itself does anything for a young person’s mind, but the training undoubtedly improves memory and concentration, and the discipline that attends its pursuit is useful to anyone. It also doesn’t hurt that our team wins matches and earns medals for their efforts, which positively reinforces hard work and is good for the confidence of any young person. I am simply happy to spend my lunch-hours in good company, happy to come along for their competitive ride, and happy to return from victories or defeats to the place where we come together and work through this fabulous, torturous game.

 White Poem

a finger over spoon
carefully sounds a lock or
this flavour, any plaster
ground curl and live product
mechanizes or knots deserted tomb
single piano temptingly and temptingly
sounds resistive ruin within
any unification wastes click
the sum skins smothered redundancy
mirrors act, each perfection


Black Poem

memorized wink criss-crosses my binary
busts conspiratorial riddle and instant

What is weedy man?
slight yelp!

made-up dark or that tide

break rustically memorizes hour behind
and toward that heavenly revision

this sublime or whale, quantity
soothes question, beach in background

each resignation? each iron!
equivalent bug


1          e4        e5
2          Nf3      Nc6
3          Bc4      Nf6
4          Ng5     Nd5
5          Nxf7    Kxf7
6          Bxd5   Ke7+
7          d3       Kd6
8          Nc3     a6
9          a3        h5
10        h4        b6
11        Bg5     Qe8
12        Qf3      Rh7
13        0-0-0    Bb7
14        g3        Nd4
15        Qe3     c6
16        Ba2      Rc8
17        Na4     b5
18        c3        bxa4
19        cxd4    Kc7
20        dxe5    Qxe5
21        Bf4      d6
22        Bxe5    dxe5
23        Qg5     Bd6
24        g4        hxg4
25        Qxg4   c5
26        Rgh1   g6
27        Qxg6   Rch8
28        Rgh1   Rd7
29        Bd5     Bxd5
30        exd5    Rf8
31        Rd2     Rf4
32        h5        Rd4
33        h6        Rxd5
34        h7        Rxd3
35        Rxd3   e4
36        Rdh3   Bf4
37        Kc2+   Rd2
38        Kc3+   Rd3
39        Kc4+   Rd4
40        Kxc5+ Bd6
41        Kxd4+ Be5
42        Kxe5+ e3
43        fxe3     a5
44        h8=Q   Kd7
45        Qhh7   Kd8+
46        Qgg8#  1-0 (Knox wins)


Michael Knox lives in Toronto where he teaches high school. Both of his books, Play Out the Match and The North End Poems were published by ECW Press.