Life Lessons Learned in the Game of Chess

The Winter Sea - Susanna Kearsley


Setting:  Scotland, early 1700s.  The true King of Scotland is in exile across the sea.  His subjects wait and plan for his return.


Colonel Graeme,  family friend, offers to teach Sophia the game of chess.


‘I do not have much luck at games,’ Sophia said.

‘’Tis not a game of luck.’ He set eight smaller figures in a row before the others. Sending her a reassuring glance, he said, ‘It is a game of strategy. A battle, if ye will, between my men and yours. My wits, and yours.’

She smiled. ‘Then yours will surely win.’

‘Ye cannot start a battle, lass, by thinking ye will lose it. 


[After several days of playing, she was much improved.  The Colonel showed her something new.]


. . . she stared in disbelief now at the bishop sitting poised to take her king. To her dismayed expression, Colonel Graeme said, ‘Ye have to watch the whole field, lass, and use your wits afore your weapons. When ye saw me move that knight, your first thought was to take the rook that I’d left unprotected, was it not? And so most soldiers who are new to battle think their first directive is to take the ground, to run against the enemy and do him damage where they can. . . In war, as in the game of chess, ye also must defend your king.’ His smile was wise, forgiving of her youth and inexperience. ‘No battle can be called a victory if the king is lost.’


[when the time came for the Colonel to return to his duties, he stopped to say goodby.  Sophia expressed her hope to see him again soon.]


‘Hope,’ he told her, ‘rarely enters into it. ’Tis action moves the world. If ye mind nothing else I’ve taught ye of the game of chess, mind that: ye cannot leave your men to stand unmoving on the board and hope to win. A soldier must first step upon the battlefield if he does mean to cross it.’


With her hand still lying in his own, she said, ‘But I am not a soldier.’


‘Are ye not?’ He bent to kiss her forehead briefly, warm, then straightened and told her, ‘Well, even a pawn plays a part in defending the king.’