By In Stuff

Chess With Priest (Again)

My latest for SportsWorld reunites me with Priest Holmes, star running back, eccentric and fantasy football legend. Back when Holmes was scoring touchdowns at will for the Kansas City Chiefs, I was columnist there. And many Fridays, before games, we would play chess.

You can learn a lot about someone by playing chess against them. You can learn a lot about yourself too. What I learned about myself was that I’m a pretty good attacking player who, inevitably and inescapably, will make one horrendous and comical mistake that dooms me. I think this was why Priest so enjoyed playing me. Our games tended to be interesting because I almost always took control early. He would have to make several escapes. But he knew — HE KNEW — that sooner or later I would make the mistake.

As soon as our interview ended — a fascinating interview, I thought, about life after football — he immediately pulled out the chess board and demanded a game. Talking about a chess match you played is, I have no doubt, no different than talking about your golf game or fantasy football team or your poker game — nobody cares. But in a way, I do think it describes Priest Holmes. As usual, I took complete control of the match early. Essentially I got my bishop behind enemy lines and it ravaged Holmes’ arsenal. It was shock and awe destruction.

And then I began my steady attack on his king … and there was nothing he could do. At one point, I made what I thought was a pretty strong move and — here we get to the point — Priest Holmes took 23 minutes to make his next move. It was intense. He just sat there and stared at the board, just stared at it. I tried to match his concentration, but I could not … I began looking outside at traffic going by in San Antonio. I began thinking about whether or not my daughter finished her homework back home. My mind wandered.

And then he made his move … and it was pure desperation. There was no other way to describe it. He essentially had two dangerous pieces left, and he set them up for one last-gasp attack. I meanwhile had a multi-dimensional attack swirling around his king — his attack was hopeless. All I had to do was keep attacking, and there was nothing at all he could do.

So I attacked, and there was nothing he could do — he retreated, and retreated again, and now I was in position to put him away.

AndI looked back at his attackers — they were no more threatening now than they had been before. But something was nagging me about it. My brain kept telling me: “Don’t worry about him, he can’t hurt you back there. He’s trying to get you off-track. Just stay on your attack and you will win. Just stay on the attack.”

But my gut was whispering: “Maybe you should give yourself a little bit stronger defense.”


Gut: “Just give yourself a little bit of a cushion back there, thwart him, then you can go back on the attack.”


I listened to my gut. I came off the attack.

He checkmated me next move.

“Why did you not keep attacking me?” he asked. But he knew.

11 Responses to Chess With Priest (Again)

  1. wogggs says:

    I read the article on SportsWorld. Tremendous, and sad. As a Chiefs fan, I loved him on the team. It is too bad it has ended up this way for him, even though, as he makes clear in the article, he has no regrets.

  2. Fun question: Any idea what your ELO rating might be?

  3. BIP says:

    So he had mate in one and you made a defensive move that didn’t prevent that? I don’t get it.

    • jposnanski says:

      He didn’t have a mate in one until I made my stupid move. And I probably had a mate in three because I could have kept him in check.

      • Mark A says:

        So really you went double-dumb, because you didn’t need to defend, and when you did try to defend, you actually made your defenses worse?

        Sort of like you intentionally walked a batter who hits into many double plays with 1 out and runners on first and second, and the next batter won the game on a sac fly?

  4. KHAZAD says:

    Great article.

    I have been watching football for over 40 years and Priest in his short prime was the most fun I have ever had watching a player.

    From the time the Chiefs gave him the ball in the Washington game you described until the last game of his great run on Halloween 2004, (By coincidence, I was at both of those games, one in Washington and one in KC.) it was only a 52 game stretch, but he averaged 148.5 yards from scrimmage (106.7 rushing 41.8 receiving) in those 52 games and scored 77 touchdowns.

    I loved the part about the three steps. If you make a list of the fastest runners, the most powerful runners, the most athletic or best open field guys, Priest probably would not appear on any of those lists. But he was the most precise and patient running back I ever saw, and he got every yard he could get on every play.

    I still proudly wear my vintage Holmes jersey on Sundays. There will never be another Priest.

  5. Pete Ridges says:

    Chess, golf, fantasy football…somehow, they’re not the same at all.

    So how about posting the last few moves?

  6. dlf9 says:

    Thanks Joe.

  7. Dr. Baseball says:


    Sort of off topic, but I’m interested…

    Over the years you have written a lot about Strat-o-Matic Baseball. In my life, I have probably played 45 million games. Throughout my childhood, I played constantly. When I was a young dad, with young sons, I played with my sons.

    Then, they grew up…

    I’ve followed football over the years, but never as passionately as baseball.

    My youngest son, though, started enjoying football games in elementary school, and we began watching week after week.

    Once his brothers left for college, I suggested we get Strat-o-Matic Football.

    To get to the point – we have really enjoyed playing this game. We each have a roster of teams and a schedule we developed and when we can, we get a game in.

    Thinking about board games (chess) and football players (Priest Holmes) made me wonder if you ever played Strat Football and if that game gave you the same sense of fun the baseball game did. It’s actually a great deal of fun. I didn’t think it would match the enjoyment of the baseball game, but it does.

    Happy Thanksgiving.

    I give thanks for you and your writing. You have a gift. Thank you for sharing that gift with us.

  8. Richard says:

    What a brutal game.

    I still watch college football, but many/most of those guys will be OK physically if they quit the sport after graduation.

    Being on the wrong side of 30 (really, 35), now, I can just imagine what it feels like for a 30 year-old to be hit by the equivalent of a small car multiple times week after week.

    I haven’t watched the NFL in decades now. Just can’t get enjoyment out seeing men getting crippled.

  9. Phaedrus says:

    Let me guess…you castled, your king was stuck on the back row, and Priest mated you with a rook.

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