COLUMBIA — It only took four minutes for my dreams of a free Chipotle burrito to be snatched away from me, one chess piece at a time.
I was playing Justin Hull, a master at the game of chess. He's been playing for 15 years, and for the last two weeks, he's been challenging Ninth Street pedestrians to quick games of chess. If you win, he'll buy you a burrito; if he wins, he takes nothing more than your pride.
I love getting free things; I love free meals even more. How could I resist a chance to win a barbacoa burrito with extra guacamole?
I'll confess, I'm no chess whiz. I really didn't even expect to win against a man who was willing to bet $6.50 on a game of chess. But I also didn't expect to be completely destroyed in less than four minutes.
I took my seat across from Hull. He quickly reviewed the situational chess moves castling and en passant. He explained how to use the intimidating timer, which allotted each of us three minutes and two seconds of time to make our moves. Each time we pressed the button to signal the end of our turn, the timer added two seconds back to our time.
The message was clear: this guy was no amateur.
He began by advancing a pawn; I countered. Within a few moves, my first pawn had been captured with a swift and practiced flick of his hand, replaced with one of his own pieces. Before I knew it, his practiced warriors had closed in on my ragtag militia. He promptly corrected my missteps as I accidentally threw my king into check ... twice.
I'm confident he let me flounder for a few extra moves before he captured my king, but the end came quickly enough.
"You have two moves left," Hull told me as I desperately looked for a way out.
He was right, of course, and after my king was toppled, I assessed my damages. I had captured three of Hull's pieces. He had half of mine. I had two minutes and 14 seconds left. He had three minutes and 14 seconds — he'd managed to gain 12 seconds.
I left the small table on the sidewalk without a burrito. No surprise there. My agonizing loss left me with a little more humility than before. But I also had to leave with some respect for the man who hasn't bought anyone a burrito yet.