Randy Greenwald

Concerning Life as It Is Supposed to Be

Chess Clocks and Coffee

Before breakfast Monday morning, I drank three cups of coffee in honor of my daughter. In fact, every cup of coffee I drink is in her honor. That, though, is a story for another day.

The connection between my daughter and coffee centers around the bi-weekly games of chess we play at local coffee shops, a tradition at least five years old.

This Monday afternoon we took our game to a new level of fun-ness.

My daughter, brilliant girl that she is, has a clever strategy. She takes so much time between moves that if I ever have a coherent plan, it is, by the time my next move comes around, long forgotten. So, just before Christmas I decided that ‘we’ needed the discipline of the chess clock.

A chess clock consists of two timers connected by a switch that switches one off when the other is switched on. Thus, when black, for example, is contemplating his move, his timer is counting down. At the end of his move, he pushes a button which stops his timer and starts white’s timer. A player can take all the time he needs for any particular move, but if his time runs out before the end of the game, he loses.

When I last used a chess clock, the Beatles were still a band, Richard Nixon was still an honest president, and Americans were still dying in Vietnam. I had, no surprise, forgotten how the thing was supposed to work.

My daughter gave me an Amazon.com gift certificate for Christmas. I transformed this into a chess clock, and we were therefore armed and ready to go.

Monday was the first opportunity to use it. It used to be, my imagination tells me, that people would go home from a coffee shop and tell their families that they saw this strange sight: an old white guy and a young black girl playing chess. Now they will go home shaking their heads and reporting a yet stranger sight: an old white guy and a young black girl playing chess using a chess clock.

For our first game, we set the timer for 25 minutes. That is, each of us would have 25 minutes to make all our moves. Such a game would, you see, last no longer than 50 minutes. Ours probably lasted forty or forty-five. But the thing is, we finished it. With time to spare. We actually finished a game. A miracle.

With some of the consequent ‘time to spare’, we decided to try our hands at a ‘blitz’ game. This is the chess one sees being playing in Washington Park in the highly recommended movie Searching for Bobby Fischer.

In Bobby Fisher players play whole games in under two minutes – it is a sight to see. (See the YouTube clip below.)

We were more modest in our goals. We set the timer for five minutes each.

Oh, was that fun. Hectic, intense, sloppy, but fun.

The ranks of ‘grandmaster-dom’ are not threatened by our play. But I have this hope that many years from now, when my little girl is a mature woman of fifty and I am, presumably, long gone, that she will remember the day she and her dad broke out the chess clock for our bi-weekly game.


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  1. TulipGirl


  2. MagistraCarminum

    We love that movie 9and the book it came from!) Haven't seen it since we were "chess parents" with our guys playing in tournaments. What fun! I can just picture you and J. playing your blitz game!

  3. Matthew

    That's awsome! Did the daughter enjoy it as much as you? Also are you planning on starting at 50 and going down from there? Ps I am offically a subscriber! I feel like I'm spying on your life

  4. Randy Greenwald

    Welcome, Spy.You will need to ask the daughter that question. I think she did.

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