K-3 Drama at the Board

While directing at the National Youth Action Chess Tournament in November of 2009, I snapped this shot. From time to time, I would wear a camera around my neck during play. As I was busy tending to chess matters, I often snapped a shot without even looking through the view finder. This is a skill that is worth perfecting, but with multiple lenses and different focal depths, it does take some time to get right. Brendan Duffy, seen in this photo having a cry at the board, was literally shot from the hip.

I was called to the board by Duffy’s opponent to solve a touch move dispute. Touch Move is a rule in tournament play that states the player must move the first piece he touched. It's a rule that is often invoked yet rarely enforced, because it is difficult to determine whether the rule was violated, unless the the violation was witnessed by a director or the guilty player confesses.

Duffy’s opponent, who was playing white, told me black had picked up his queen, captured one of white’s pieces and then white captured the black’s queen. Duffy protested, saying he moved his queen to a different square from which white could not capture it. The opponent did not relent, and Duffy burst into tears. I then asked Duffy to show me what he did. Often a player will claim one thing then when asked to reenact the move will show something contrary -- the truth.

I reminded Duffy of the rules, after which his crying increased. I handed him several tissues and gave him a moment to pull himself together. I returned the pieces on the board to the correct position then let Duffy know he could make his move when he felt ready. I took a result from another game two boards down then looked back to see if he had moved. Before I could study the game, Duffy's opponent’s hand flew up and he locked eyes with me.

I returned to the board and Duffy's opponent told me Duffy wouldn’t move. I reminded the opponent that he had a lot of time and would make his move when he was ready. He retorted, “If he is just going to cry then I should win.” Duffy’s nearly dried tears became newly wet as he let out a cry of pain at the thought that he would lose. After talking both players down, I left them to finish the game but not before I decided to capture the moment and snapped the shot.

I passed by the game several times during the round, and while Duffy was still putting the tissues I gave him to use, he was making regular moves. As the games around me drew on and my camera became heavier around my neck, I decided it was time to put it away. As I placed the camera into its bag, I took a look at the photo of the crying little boy. I was happy to see I was able to get a clean shot, but I felt bad for capturing a child in misery. How could I ever let others see this picture? I felt that I must be heartless to sneak a picture of a kid crying over a game of chess.

Before much longer Duffy’s hand went up, and I hurried over to his board. He was smiling, but his opponent was not. Duffy had checkmated -- a clear clean mate -- and won the game. I was happy for him, and I was also happy for myself. Since the story of the photo now had a happy ending, I didn’t have to feel guilty about sharing it.
Side Note: This was only the third USCF-rated tournament Duffy played in. He was one of 130 children playing in the Kindergarten through third grade section. He finished 88th over all with four wins out of nine games.