Suzanne Tobias

Victory! Kids learn value of honest wins

The weekend's first chess match with my 9-year-old son lasted 45 minutes but I finally won, trapping Jack's king between my rook and bishop.

Ha! Checkmate.

This prompted my customary victory dance, a fist-pumping, hip-shaking prance around the room that a friend once described as "endearingly smug."

Jack calmly demanded a rematch, which he won in five moves.

Karma? Comeuppance? I suppose.

After a few seconds of staring open-mouthed at the board, I smiled at Jack, who wore a gleeful smirk.

Then I shook my head, smacked him a hearty high-five, and persuaded him to forgo a tiebreaker in favor of a trip to Nifty Nut House. Because you know, gummi bears heal the hurt.

In my never-ending mission to raise two children to be good sports, I'm learning to be a gracious loser.

Ever since my first child, Hannah, was old enough to flip the Candy Land color cards, we've played games together. From the beginning, my husband and I vowed never to lose on purpose, never to throw a game just to protect the kids' fragile egos.

That was easy when the games favored luck over skill or strategy, games like War, Cootie and Hi Ho Cherry-O. (Incidentally, does any grownup actually enjoy those games? I couldn't wait for my kids to reach "8 and up.")

When they advanced to games like Battleship and Sorry, I was often tempted to let them win, to shift my submarine right into their missiles or avoid sending their pegs back to start with the inevitable, "Sorry!"

But I held firm. They won some and they lost some. And I tended to win more.

Nowadays, that's not the case. Jack and I learned chess together, and he quickly became much better than me. He soundly beats me at two-square, too (I credit his low center of gravity), and I can't remember the last time I beat Hannah at Blink.

One recent evening we headed downtown to hear a friend's band, and Jack spotted pool tables at the back of the restaurant.

"Rack 'em up!" I told him, and punched four quarters into the machine. Minutes later, Jack was awkwardly directing the pool cue with his little hands, missing the cue ball more than he hit it.

"I stink," he grumbled.

His opponent, my friend Jeff, turned toward me and whispered, "Should I be throwing this game?"

"No!" I answered, and Jeff laughed. "Just play."

Jack sank a few balls and missed dozens. But he came home wanting to play again — lobbying, in fact, to put a pool table in the basement. We'll see, I told him.

And mark my words: He's practicing his victory dance.