NONE OF US felt particularly at the top of our form on New Year’s Day, 2013. Dan was sitting at the breakfast table wrapped in a blanket, staring blankly at the wall. The rest of us were stoically drinking coffee around the kitchen table, moving our heads slowly from side to side to see if the hangover was still sloshing in them (it was), and trying to come to terms with a new morning, let alone a new year.
More out of habit than anything, Ian set up the chessboard, and more out of habit than anything, I took the black pieces. Within minutes, Zach came to Ian’s side to kibbitz, and Alistair aimed to wake the house up with some really discordant dubstep. Ian decided all this was boring and started doing pullups between moves and yelling at me when I messed up: “What are you doing, you weenie? I totally just owned your horse!”
I should add here that I’ve known this particular group of men for ages, from the days when they were college roommates. All are gentlemen and scholars and very intense outdoor athletes — Ian’s a professional kayaker, while Zach and Alistair are some of the better climbers I know. Being absurdly competitive about chess was somewhat of a tradition in their household, so I should have been forewarned. However, when I ventured the opinion that all of this was maybe a bit much for 8:30 in the morning, Alistair just said, “If you think this is intense, you should see chessboxing!” Registering my blank expression, he added, “Alternating rounds of chess and boxing. Victory either by checkmate or knockout.”