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St. Teresa of Ávila, the Patron Saint of Chess, Always Defended Her King

A surprising amount of my downtime as a lay missionary in Burma was spent playing chess with kids.

I’m hardly what anyone would call a “chess master.” I’m more of a “chess booster.” I like the game. It’s fun to play and it’s a great tool to keep kids sharp-witted, critically-minded and strategy-oriented. I’ve only played competitively once but I could barely keep up against legitimate, authentic chess masters.

My official classification in the International Chess Federation is “Stop Embarrassing Yourself and Quit While You’re Behind.” And yet, I still have fun playing it and teaching kids how to restrict their aggressions on the board and not in real life. But, as long as I was in charge of the Chess Club, the kids saw me as the parish’s Grand High Poobah Chess Mastermind Champion of This World and All Others. But, in all sincerity, I was mostly fakin’ it until I’m makin’ it. After all, you know what they say about the one-eyed man being king in the Valley of the Blind.

Chess interested my students the moment I put up an 8’ x 8’ wall demo board in the school. At one point, we had more than 50 kids in our club. The adults were surprised that we taught chess to the students but, after a while, they came around to this newfangled Western pedagogic idea.

Not only was I able to get the kids fired up about chess but I got them hooked on two chess variants which they appreciated even more — a circular 3-man game version and a two-man three-dimensional version popularized on Star Trek (see photo). Once the demo board was up and operational, the kids wanted to play on it instead of the normal standard-sized boards. They would turn their noses up at the little ones and call them တောသား (taw tharr, or “fit only for the peasants”). They’d break into shoving matches just for the opportunity to play on the wall board. My singular accomplishment was that I got them to fight over who was the better chess player.

I hope St. Teresa of Ávila is proud of me.

Read more at National Catholic Register

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