07 April 2007

An Easter Chess Story

When I was a boy I was a member of the Boy Scouts. Every year, in the Spring I think, our scout troop would go to a camporee to set up an overnight camp, to meet troops from nearby towns, and to compete in the things that scouts do, like making a fire or pitching a tent.

The only camporee that I can remember in any detail took place on the Indian reservation in the same town where I went to school. The Indians were long gone and the reservation then served as some kind of a park. It wasn't a place that you would find unless you knew where to look and I imagine it didn't have many regular visitors.

The weekend of the camporee we hiked from the local high school, where I was in seventh grade, along typical New England country roads, wide enough for two cars to pass each other, but without a white line down the middle to separate the two lanes. It was a beautiful day and we all sang hiking tunes punctuated by the scoutmaster's rhythmic chant of 'hup-two-three-four' repeated over and over.

A few miles from the high school, the reservation was off the main road, down a dirt path just big enough for a car to pass. The campground itself was in a typical Connecticut woodland setting -- leafy trees, boulders, dry leaves and twigs everywhere -- on flat ground surrounded by rising slopes on all sides.

I remember thinking it was a magical place, as did my two closest friends, Hank and Frank. Lying in our sleeping bags after taps had sounded, we talked about school, other friends, families, girls, and wondered about the Pequot Indians who had long before lived where our tent was pitched.

The next day we didn't do particularly well at the scout competitions, although we won the pancake flipping contest. We had to build a fire, make a pancake, cook it in a griddle, run to a string stretched about six feet high between two poles, flip the pancake over the string, run back to the fire, and eat the pancake. When we signalled to the referee that we were finished we were almost disqualified because the remains of our pancake looked like soup. After all of us explained simultaneously and excitedly that the pancake was so hot that we had to drown it in water to eat it, the ref accepted our explanation and declared us the winners.

Every Easter for the last few years I've thought about that scout camp. Easter weekend is when the annual Foxwoods Open takes place. The tournament name is taken from the Foxwoods casino where the chess event has been held since its inception, the casino was built by the Indians who had returned to the land given to them for their reservation, and that land is the same place where the scout camporee was held so long ago.

A few years ago I wrote an article on the Foxwoods Open for About Chess. Although it had little to do with the tournament itself, I researched the story of those Indians on whose magical ground three 12- and 13-year olds discussed long ago the deep issues of their young lives.

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