Checkmating Your Opponents!

By Sam Trailerman

Checkmate! A distinctive word to utter to your opponent towards the end-game in chess when the king is threatened and the latter cannot be moved out of danger or the threatening piece cannot be taken out, thus allowing you to win the game!

As one of the most recognisable words from the game of chess, it’s often found both in its original sense (referring to placing an opponent’s king in an inescapable position) and in a figurative one, that’s to thwart.

It’s just one of a number of words in English that that either originated in, or gained popularity from chess before developing into an extended metaphorical or symbolic sense.

Chess is an abstract strategy game that involves no hidden information or elements of chance. Several theories abound as to where chess came from, but we can zero in on three — India, Persia (Iran) or China.

Chess can be highly stressful and competitive as players strive to outsmart opponents. The pressure to perform well and win can be extremely intense. Sometimes to the extent of having nightmares like ending up dreaming that your giggling opponent had run away with your king!

That’s the reason why I surmise that many of my students are not willing to devote their time to the game in comparison to creating Tik-Tok videos. Only two of my former students, Uvanes and Ah Yeow, would be willing to spend at least half an hour after class to duel with me.

On the bright side, chess undoubtedly involves intense mental challenges that are good for your mental health. It can even raise your IQ, especially when you’ve to make a quick decision to anticipate an opponent’s next move.

In simple terms, it helps you to read your opponent’s mind. Predicting what another person will do next, a player can develop an ability to “adopt” another person’s perspective and infer whatever action that may be taken.

Wouldn’t it be super great if you could be predict what your history teacher has in store for you in exam questions? In real life, perhaps you’ be able to tell whether your mom is going to use, either the hanger or broom, on you for not being up and about although it’s already past midday on a weekend!

I’m told that a normal human only uses 10 percent of the brain. The left and right sides of the brain control different functions in the body, with the left better at language and rhythm, while the right triggers emotions and melody. Chess connects both sides of the brain, thus reducing chances of getting Alzheimer’s.

Thus, in 50 years from now, you can still relate as to your why your ex broke up with you and married your best friend! Don’t believe me? I can still remember how my granny would tick me off for taking only ladies’ fingers from a pot of fish curry when I was only five years old!

Somehow my chess set was gathering dust from many moons of inactivity. Lately, it came out when Khisha, a primary six student, said she’s attending chess classes.

The next best thing for me to do was to give the chess set a proper shine to activate both sides of my brain to unlearn what I’ve learnt to zap an opponent! Some suggested that I play against the computer. But I’m more of a tactile and physical touch person, and I find joy in reading expressions on my opponent’s face.

Spotting and interpreting micro-expressions are often difficult, but it’s a skill that can be learnt by playing chess. A dropped jaw could signal that the opponent is surprised when a move seems irrelevant while covering the mouth could indicate something is being hidden.

The only other game I like is billiards or snooker. It’s time to relive the pleasures of this game with my writing mentor, Jeff. I remember some 15 years ago when I briefly became his mentor in this game instead in Bukit Mertajam.

It was fun beating him hands down in every frame. It made him insert more coins into the coin slot for more practices. It was a time when Jeff was under pressure to learn something new as his ever-supportive best friend forever had surprisingly invited him to play the stick and ball game.

Sadly, that game didn’t materialise for one reason or the other. It was one game that Jeff didn’t get to play with his inspiring BFF who had crossed over to the Big Divide after an illness on March 18, 2022. Jeff’s world changed ever since.    

Trailerman Sam is a popular tuition teacher in Penang. If he is not teaching, he is writing, drinking plenty of coffee and probably star or planet gazing. He can be reached at

The views expressed here are that of the writer’s and not necessarily that of Weekly Echo’s.