Date a chess player. Find them in The Plough on Museum Street on a Monday evening. Find them in The Wargrave Arms, doing their best not to look at the beautiful bar staff. Find them failing, frequently. Wherever you find them, find them in deep thought, dwelling over the complexities of the Czech Benoni. Make sure they look challengingly at their opponent from time to time, for this means they know how affecting eye contact can be. Engage them in clichés and wait for them to talk about the weather. Persevere until their glance lingers and talk nonsense instead. Marvel at their imagination and breadth of vocabulary. Ignore their friends exchanging excited half-whispers by the bar. Write your number on the back of their scoresheet. Recognise that chess players are notoriously bad at making first contact. Insist on having theirs too. Wait until the weekend. Call them. Accept their mumbled apologies with good grace and an invitation to dinner.
Find shared interests and common ground like cricket and the Times crossword. Accept that chess will be more important than you. On a particularly long evening, ask them to teach you to play. Start to understand their obsession while not understanding the concepts. Let the months pass. Give up, but only after scoring 1/6 in the Golders Green Minor. Take up squash. Argue about how your playing partner Charlie is just a friend. Sleep with Charlie. Realise Charlie means nothing and you just needed a break from your partner and their bloody chess friends. At the same time, realise you like all that. Realise you love all that. Realise you love them.
Let the years pass. Marry them. Move to the suburbs where houses are big enough for a chess library. Have children. Watch them respond with indifference to being taught chess. Grow old. Wonder at your partner’s lack of achievement despite devoting 60 years of their life to the game. Watch them die, still hooked on that infuriating mixture of strategy and solitude. At their funeral, notice that, despite being unremarkable in every other way, 300 people have come to pay their respects to their rival, their inspiration, their drinking partner. Their friend.
Do these things, because a chess player understands how a subtle departure from the norm can change everything. How one mistake can ruin a life’s work. How a poor sense of timing can lead to missed opportunities. Do these things, because a chess player is forced to move on after every battle, win or lose. Because, while the little things will matter the most, they’ll still consider the bigger picture. Because not making progress can hurt more than the most crushing defeat.
Do these things, because chess players are as human as anyone else. Possibly more so. Except the ones who don’t wash. Leave them alone.