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online chess

I played a game of chess online against someone whose profile indicated they were from India. The game ended in a draw. Both of us made silly mistakes. I think we made each other reckless. I watched as my opponent slipped up, congratulated myself for no reason, then slipped up as well. This pattern of unforced errors led us into an anti-climactic end game, resulting in no winner.

As soon as the match ended, my opponent requested another. Something in our interplay of flawed, amateur moves must have pleased them. You don't request a rematch unless something in the previous exchange held your attention, or managed to act as a welcome distraction from whatever else in the real, physical world you could or should be doing. I wondered what it was that my opponent had enjoyed, what element ticked the box in their brain that made them click that request button. I wondered if they were trying to avoid doing something else.

The playing of games, particularly those that take place online, is so often a way to escape unpleasant feelings, subtle or not so subtle, linked to the stubbornly non-virtual present.

I accepted the challenge. Somebody won the next match, but I can't remember who.

Games are a trading of patterns. We build patterns by moving pieces or shifting numbers or swapping cards or drawing lines, and we compare the patterns we make with the patterns of our opponent. This is a form of conversation, often non-verbal. It's often better when there are no words.

On the rare occasions someone has offered to start a virtual chat during online chess, I've declined. A conversation still takes place, a call and response. The patterns made by each player combine to form the pattern of the overall game, a shared project that's always completed regardless of how you feel about your fellow players, regardless of whether you know them beyond that brief moment in virtual space.

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