Jul/Aug 2001 Miscellaneous

Mate, a story in 42 moves

by Robert Castle

GAME 2 (1986-1987)

Few interested in the play of Grand Masters have found much to say about the follow-up to one of the more interesting games in the entire Match. Called the "Cute Baby" game because of an offhand remark that resulted in the only excitement. Experts of Larkin-Pillsbury, however, say that close study of this game explains much about the overall outcome of the Match.


Larkin: White

Pillsbury: Black


1 (White). "Do you want a boy or a girl?"

An opening as powerful, and as stultifying, as marking an X in the center square of tic-tac-toe. All subsequent moves being equal (among Grand Masters), the result should be nothing less than a draw for White. Larkin's choice of opening surely was dictated by her victory in GAME ONE. The pressure on Pillsbury will be tremendous. Other similar moves include 1 (White). "You wouldn't mind much if we had a girl" and 1 (White). "Do you think we should have waited longer before having a child?" The latter traditionally has gotten more winning results.

1 (Black). "It doesn't matter."

Standard reply. All moves being equal (although they never are), this should guarantee no less than a draw. The equivalent to putting an O in one of the corner squares to stop a centered X every time. Black has decided not to put up a fight until the kid is born.

2 (White). "Do you want to know what it will be?

2 (Black). "Only if you do."

3 (White). Cynthia worked until one week before giving birth.

3 (Black). Bill told his in-laws that he would prefer she stay home and took care of the kid until he went to school ("kids are going to school earlier and earlier," he guffawed.)

4 (White). She informed her in-laws that Bill should request sick leave from his job the first month she's home from the hospital ("This will be the most important time in our child's life.")

4 (Black). He is in the hospital but not present for the birth of his daughter.

5 (White). "Where were you, honey? I have never suffered worse pain."

Very effective move to couple the question with her pain, suggesting (and who knows if Bill will buy it) that the pain would have been very much eased by his presence. After this remark, Bill could very safely advance skeptically given that his wife had never before expressed the ameliorating effects of his personal bearing.

5 (Black). "I only went out to get a cup of coffee. You were in labor so long I thought..."

Is that sarcasm? In the very limpness (in the sense of not trying) of the excuse. And it continues. Not exactly Hall-of-Fame moves. The only thing that keeps one on edge is the expectation of a slipup--or, better, a more profound intervention by the in-laws.

6 (White). "But for our first child..."

Subtle. As an H-bomb. Pillsbury would have been vaporized had he said anything else than what he said.

6 (Black). "We'll have more opportunities, babe."

What strikes one more greatly: the nonchalance of his "babe" or the utterly preposterous sincerity of the words coming from the lips of a man who never wanted kids.

7 (White). Her version: they had decided on Emily for a girl and Lawrence for a boy.

7 (Black). His: Lenora and John Patrick.

8 (White). To be named after... well, every student in Cynthia's classes could have told you the name of her daughter-to-be.

8 (Black). He liked the sound of Lenora (no,it wasn't an old girlfriend)and he had no reason for the double patrick-nymic save that it sounded noble.

9 (White). Could she disappoint the 50 or so students (she kidded herself to believe) who so much enjoyed studying those short poems?

9 (Black). A compromise. Name the baby after Cynthia. He loved the name and would love having two under the same roof.

An attempt to win the match with this boldly assuaging move. Its obviousness is what makes it so sly. Yet this move has been tried in previous matches (including Pillsbury-Fremont, which lasted 89 moves before Bill's father resigned after getting the son he wanted on the fifth try) and never carried the man to victory. Why? A baby girl already diminishes the man's advantage, many times leading to a move, as in Cargill-Ramley, when Ramley initiated sexual relations with his beautiful five-year old daughter and a year later bludgeoning the girl to death. His victory in that game and, eventually, the match was the result of not getting caught, yes, but also persuading his wife not to tell the police anything. On the other hand, a male child creates an advantage for the father for several moves until the father realizes the kid always wants his mother. Thus, the player stupidly insists on naming the child after himself or, worse, manufactures a name (see game one of Pillsbury-Larkin) which would cause untold damage on the child. This generally applies only to the first child born in the marriage. Besides, the woman guarantees she loses automatically should she assent to naming the boy after the father and roman numerals must be attached to the name (II, III, IV, etc.). Better: 9 (Black). Suggests a boy's name for their daughter.

10 (White). "Emily," she said as her daughter first suckled at her breast.

Larkin's decisive strength in many of her battles with Pillsbury can best be seen in her simplest moves.

10 (Black). Bill suggested that Larry Field, his friend for five years in the landscaping business, be the godfather.

11 (White). Her cousin Jeanne is the godmother, they were like sisters growing up; Bill's brother, Peter, became the Godfather after Bill named his second choice.

11 (Black). Larry and he were thinking of starting their own landscaping business.

Black doesn't want to admit the loss of a piece. The only means of retribution is to persist with the argument long after the issue's been settled. Why? He wants to plant a seed and, should it not help this game, certainly he will benefit later in a game when work, money, and a good life become the issues. Her choice of godfather had effectively deprived them of income which would have given them a better house more quickly, more time to have fun together, and proper gratification of their children's consumer demands. In effect, he will have convinced her that their divorce was her fault. Albeit, this will be but one of many similar strategies to get Cynthia to feel this way. Who knows: this may be the single move that will have allowed Bill to win the entire match!

12 (White). His family completely ignored her mother and aunt at the party after the christening.

12 (Black). "My mother talked to them."

13 (White). "She was the only one."

13 (Black). "And she bent my mom's ear about not being invited to my niece's wedding."

14 (White). "She thought she should have been."

Better: 14. "We invited your niece to our wedding." However, there was nothing White could do about the following jabs (in one move) from Black:

14 (Black). "She doesn't know her, for God's sake. Besides, didn't you tell she was working that weekend?"

15 (White). "She could always get off."

15 (Black). "You said she was glad she wasn't invited."

16 (White). Cynthia returns to work a week after the christening.

Not: 16 (White). "I was just saying that."

16 (Black). Wasn't her school paying full benefits until the end of the semester?

17 (White). "As yearbook moderator, I have to be there to keep the students on the right track."

17 (Black). "You could have had someone else saddled with it. You're always saying you'd ditch that job when you had the chance."

Black's error: assuming the logical move (the logical thing to say) was the logical move.

18 (White). Yearbook was an extra $1500 a year.

White's error: Thinking he would both absorb and forget a reference to her making more money per year.

18 (Black). Bill's mother took care of Emily twice a week, Tuesday and Wednesdays, saving the Pillsburys'$150 per week on Daycare costs.

19 (White). Mrs. Larkin would have gladly taken care of Emily on one or two other days, had she been asked.

What one might interpret a weak response contains a particle of strength. Cynthia didn't want her to take care of the child. Although she believed Emily should see her grandmother, and vice versa, Cynthia herself didn't want her mother in or around her house, the mere thought of seeing her gave Cynthia high blood pressure.

19 (Black). He drove Emily to the daycare center on the way to work.

20 (White). She picked up Emily in the afternoon on the way home from school.

20 (Black). Changes diapers two or three times daily.

21 (White). Often remarks that he only handles the shit-free Pampers.

21 (Black). Tries not to express impatience when the baby cries for long periods.

22 (White). "Are you still attracted to me?"

22 (Black). Throws a shitty diaper into the kitchen trash bucket that is later torn in ten pieces, several being transported to the bedroom.

Not: 22 (Black). "Why would you say that?" Prompting 23 (White). "You haven't touched me in months. Followed by the disastrous 23 (Black). We've both been too tired to..." Disastrous partly because he didn't finish the sentence but most disastrous because...

23 (White). "I told you to always throw them in the outside trash."

23 (Black). He was going to do that later but forgot.

Some commentators believe Black's apparent misstep was the result of 22 (White). "Are you still attracted to me?" Such questions by wives cannot be ignored. Others say that his 22 (Black). Throws a shitty... was the best way to handle it because it gave White the impression that the move had greater importance than it really had (whereas Bart was the real winner).

24 (White). You know how Bart gets into everything we put in there.

24 (Black). Bart becomes susceptible to epileptic seizures and must be taken to an emergency veterinary ward.

Black is not beyond accepting help from the canine brigade. The dachshund's poor physiology deflates White's gambit to make her husband feel really stupid. However, she must follow through, as did Philip II with the Armada to England.

25 (White). Maybe if Bill thought...

Complete the thought! Complete the thought!

25 (Black). Should they get rid of Bart?

By posing the tough questions, Black puts White on the defensive.

26 (White). "I hear Emily crying," she says at three o'clock in the morning.

26 (Black). Bill checks in Emily's room and finds the baby sleeping.

27 (White). "I hear Emily crying," she says four days later around the same time.

27 (Black). "Check for yourself."

28 (White). Brings back the crying infant.

28 (Black). "Oh, what's wrong with her."

Possibly better: 28 (Black). "Did you wake her up to prove you heard her?"

29 (White). Cynthia asks Bill whom he thinks the baby looks like.

29 (Black)."I don't know."

30 (White). Mrs. Larkin had said that Emily looked like Mr. Larkin.

30 (Black). Bill had never met Cynthia's father, who died fifteen years ago.

Just when you think it safe. A move like Black's here--a move handed to him by fate--should have led to a peaceful, amicable draw. Little did he know how much work it would take to get that draw.

31 (White). Her mother has never been "right" since Mr. Larkin died.

31 (Black). Bill remarks absently that Emily's ears stick out.

32 (White). Cynthia tearfully runs into the bedroom and locks the door.

For Black to counter with "What did I say?" would have been woefully inadequate here.

32 (Black). He immediately follows and knocks on the door asking her to come out.

The reparation process begins quickly, quietly, effectively. 32 (Black). Leaves the house and 33 (Black). Goes to a bar or 33 (Black). Goes to his mother's might have been sufficient to deal with the matter, showing White that she was overreacting and that he's better things to do than wet nurse his wife.

33 (White). "Go to hell you motherfucking shit."

Indicating compliance to his salutations would not be useful here.

33 (Black). "Not until we talk."

Humor doesn't hurt in this situation. Bill's flexibility in an apparent crisis, besides showing a modicum of compassion (even false compassion), usually is not a trait exhibited by those in the landscaping trade. Equally important, he must ignore White's moves until he sees a chance to better his position. Reacting to her emotion is what she really wants.

34 (White). "We didn't have a boy and you think Emily's ugly."

34 (Black). "I'm not continuing this conversation through a closed door."

35 (White). "Your mother feels the same way."

Can Black avoid: 35 (Black). "I actually heard your mother say... 36 (White). "Lying prick." 36 (Black). "At the Christmas party she mentioned the ears, just like your Dad's." 37 (White). "Your family never invites my mother to any of their gatherings." 38 (Black). "You don't want her there." 38 (White). "She's still my mother!" MATE

35 (Black). "What did I say that was so bad?"

The poison as antidote?

36 (White). He had mocked their child to anyone who ever would listen.

36 (Black). She was the only person he had mentioned this to. He was kidding.

37 (White). That was nothing to kid about.

37 (Black). Bill lifts Emily from her crib and plants kisses on her ears.

Pointing out that her cousins and aunts were saying the same thing would have been an inappropriate move, merely continuing a bad line toward incompatibility.

38 (White). "Do we have to go to your parent's house for dinner Sunday?"

38 (Black). This was the first he had heard about it.

39 (White). He should call his parents more.

White matches Black's strength in changing the subject quickly.

39 (Black). He doesn't know to which statement to respond to now.

40 (White). "I can't believe I forgot to tell you."

Then twist back again to surprise him.

40 (Black). "I made plans..."

41 (White). He should go ahead with what he was doing.

41 (Black). "Maybe we should go..."

42 (White). Whatever he thinks.

Leaves him room to move.

42 (Black). They didn't go.


Sorry, Bill, your voice lacked conviction to scare Cynthia into a mistake like 42 (White). "I think we should." This would have continued the match and Bill could have turned the guilt trip inside out and suggested they take Cynthia's mother to dinner.


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