Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Short Fuse: Jeremy Lin — Chess Fantasy

Originally appeared in the 2/24/12

Jeremy Lin and I played a few games. Let me say, so far as Xiangqi goes, he wasn’t an all-star. Then again, neither am I.

Jeremy Lin, Jeremy Lin: the name sounded familiar. The face was for sure familiar. I couldn’t quite recall the details when he was outplaying Kobe Bryant. But today, when he was shooting a three pointer over seven foot Dirk Nowitzki, leading the Knicks to a win against Dallas, last year's NBA champs, it came back in a flash: Jeremy Lin was the Harvard kid I played Chinese chess (Xiangqi) with in Harvard sq. couple of summers ago.

I like to sit out in Holyoke Center. with a Chinese Chess set in warm weather. There are plenty of Asian tourists who are surprised to see Xiangqi played by a non-Asian. Sometimes I get to play Chinese elders. I always give them the satisfaction of winning. Actually, I have no choice. Chinese men above a certain age are unbeatable. Everyone of them is a sort of Xiangqi Kasparov. But I enjoy playing and learn something losing, maybe.

Sometimes Harvard kids cross Mass. Ave to get espresso or watch the chess masters, misters, monsters, and misnomers play international chess (the formal name for what we in the west think of as the only chess there is) on the Holyoke tables. So that's how it happened that this young, athletic looking guy, obviously Asian so far as ancestry goes, noticed me sipping a coke, browsing a New York Times magazine section, and fronting a Chinese chess set.

The set got his attention.

He asked if he could play. I gestured: of course, my pleasure.

And so we did.

He told me he grew up with Xiangqi but hadn't played it much since he was a kid and wanted to get back into it.

I asked if he played much chess at all.

Staring at our Xiangqi position — I had moved my horse out early and had mobilized my right chariot — he shrugged and said, nah, mostly he played basketball.

Mostly just basketball.

I still have that double-sided Xiangqi set.

Xiangqi pieces are discs identified by the Chinese characters inscribed on them. When I was learning, I thought I might have a rough time remembering these characters. So I got a set that showed, for example, on the flip side of the piece identified by the Chinese character for horse, an image of a horse. Same with the elephant, the cannon, and so on. A nice learning set.

I don't use double-sided sets any more. I know the pieces. But I still do have that set.

I wonder if Woody Allen, big Knicks fan, would like to have it. He was there at Madison Sq. Garden today, as was Spike Lee.

Jeremy Lin and I played a few games. Let me say, so far as Xiangqi went, he wasn't an elder. Then again, neither was I.

His main game was b'ball. He said he was a point guard.

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