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Richard O’Leary faces the fact his son can now beat him at chess, but takes solace in the fact he can still hold his own in a game of handball.


Fair game

Richard O’Leary faces the fact his son can now beat him at chess, but takes solace in the fact he can still hold his own in a game of handball.

Well, it’s happened. I can no longer beat my eldest son  at chess. I don’t mind so much, but he could have  at least waited until after he started  chess lessons so I could salvage  some respectability.

It’s been coming for a while, so I was relieved when he renewed an interest in handball, a game in which my muscle memory still allows me to be competitive.

I’m talking the Australian version of course – concrete squares, a tennis ball (although we use a fur-less version which bounces better) and a few simple rules.

Sorry, just joking re that last point – handball is the only game I know where the rules change considerably from  state to state, suburb to suburb, house  to house.

Ours started like this:

1.When you hit the ball it has to bounce in your square before it lands in your opponent’s square.

  1. If it bounces twice in your square before you hit it you are out.
  2. If it bounces twice in your square after you hit it you are out.
  3. The winner serves.
  4. The loser moves to the end of the squares (we play with three squares in a row as opposed to the traditional four-square formation as the space between the side of the house and the grass is too narrow for anything else).

Simple enough, right?

Well it was for the start of the game. And by the start I literally mean the very first game.

After that it became a war of attrition as I tried to maintain the status quo while  my boys were eager to invent new interpretations of the rules.

The following improvisations occurred within the first 30 minutes:

  1. Every shot had to go above the knees of your opponent to avoid ‘rollsies’ – nobody saw a problem with the different heights of the competitors.
  2. You couldn’t serve until all players were ready – looking like you are ready, and saying you are ready, doesn’t necessarily mean you are ready – apparently.
  3. You couldn’t intentionally bounce the ball so high when serving that it would hit the roof of the verandah and mark the paintwork (okay, that one was mine).

These changes were nothing compared to the anti-tantrum and pro-peace guidelines that had to be adopted to prevent the constant walkouts:

  1. No laughing at other players.
  2. No laughing at all just in case it could be interpreted as being directed at an opponent.
  3. No laughing at your dad when he is in the foetal position on the ground after another claim of misdirected laughing.

Anyone for chess?


Richard O’Leary is a journalist, a political advisor and a father who knows there’s a deeper meaning to life but struggles to find it.

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