My love affair with Caissa, Goddess of Chess

My love affair with Caissa, Goddess of Chess

In 1763, English poet and philologist Sir William Jones wrote a poem about the legendary mythological creature known as Caissa, the Goddess of Chess. Ever since then chess players have been trying to get her to smile on them. For over 60 years I have been one of her followers, hoping she would smile on me. But she has not! I’m still just an average player. Every time I get close to reaching the master level Caissa turns her face away from me.

I have played in many strange and unusual places against many strange and unusual chess players. I have played on Boston Common in the dead of winter. Wearing as many clothes as possible. We would have to stop and brush the snow off the chess table. I still have the wooden peg set that I carried in Viet Nam with the matchstick as a pawn. I have played in pools, bars, cafes, libraries and back seats of cars. I have even played in prison. No, I was not an inmate! I was there to give a talk on chess and give a simul. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of wearing my work clothes, which were very much like what the inmates wore. They had changed guards after I entered so when I went to leave they thought I was an inmate too. It didn’t help to have over 30 inmates telling the guards I was not one of them. They finally got the guard who let me in to let me out. From then on it was suit and tie!

Once I showed up for a tournament game and looked at my opponent. He had painted himself bright blue and wore a silver helmet. I asked him why? He told me that aliens were telling him what to play. What a nut! He became Oregon State Champion 6 times! I think I’ll go look for some blue paint. A kid from Norway I was playing took a break in our game (which looked like a draw), got a banana, peeled it and ate the banana. Then he ate the peeling. He beat me and won the tournament. I have seen players wear their PJs so they could nap between rounds and others who wear gloves because they were afraid of getting germs.

Between rounds we think about how badly Caissa treats us and lick our wounds. At one tournament we were on the top floor of a hotel and would go outside and sit on the patio and enjoy the sun until the next round was posted. One of the players yelled, “LOOK!” Across the way in another hotel, a young couple were taking off their clothes. We all were watching to see what was going to happen when the tournament director stepped out on the patio and said, “Pairings are up and thr round starts in 5 minutes.” All the players made a mad dash for the door and the tournament hall.

So, if you thought chess players were crazy, there’s your proof. They’ll worship an imaginary goddess rather than watch the live porno show right in front of them!


Why learn chess? Simple: It’s a great mental workout that helps children perform well in the classroom. Chess is a logical game where kids have to plan ahead and adjust to new situations. But most of all, it’s fun!

Larry Ball (Coach Larry) teaches students of all ages at the Steinitz Chess Academy in Beaverton. For more information, email Larry at