PLOT: 4/5

“He told me once that sometimes, with some people, it’s not about winning or losing, That with some people, it’s just about playing. Though for the longest time, I didn’t really believe him.”

Ali Hazelwood, Check and Mate

We’ve all read sports romances featuring hockey and football, but never one set around an indoor sport like chess. Enter Ali Hazelwood, bestselling author of “The Love Hypothesis,” who brings us “Check and Mate.”

For fans looking to explore something different within this genre, “Check and Mate” checks all the boxes.

The plot of Check and Mate

Mallory Greenleaf has stopped playing chess. It was chess that led to her family’s destruction. Now, Mel’s focus is on her family, which consists of her mom and younger sisters. She’s responsible for caring for her ailing mother, who on her bad days can’t seem to leave her bed. Mal juggles mom duties, dropping off and picking up her sisters from school, while working a dead-end job as a mechanic at a garage.

Her best friend convinces her to join their team in one last charity tournament as a favor before she leaves for college. When Mal starts playing chess again, it’s as if she never stopped, and she beats Nolan Sawyer, the “king killer,” current world champion, and viral TikTok sensation.

Mal’s victory thrusts her back into the world of chess, and she’s offered a paid fellowship at ZugZwang. She’s forced to accept it after being fired from her job with no other options to pay the bills. However, keeping this secret from her family is necessary to avoid the heartbreak they endured in the past.

As Mal continues to play competitive chess, her ranking rises, and her love for the game deepens. But it also puts her in the spotlight, something she wanted to avoid at all costs.

On the hand, we have Nolan, who is shell-shocked by his loss and intrigued by his opponent. He’s determined to play against Mal at any cost, and perhaps they’ll get a chance in one of the major tournaments. However, it’s not just the mind games; there’s also mutual pining and attraction at play.

My Thoughts

Firstly, let me start by saying I have zero knowledge of chess. Did that affect my enjoyment of the book? Did I find myself bored and lost? Absolutely not. I enjoyed it and remained engaged throughout.

Of course, even if you have basic knowledge of chess, you’ll likely enjoy it more, gaining insight into all the moves and manoeuvres mentioned in the book, which enhances the reading experience.

Now, onto the plot. Chess incorporated into a fiction story was refreshing. There’s a uniqueness to the story, a big plus, though some parts were predictable. However, that didn’t deter me from reading it in one go.

Moving on to the characters, the book mainly focuses on Mal. Being the eldest, she bears the weight of the whole family by sacrificing her love for the sport. Her passion for chess is evident, but she tends to keep her emotions guarded, hoping to avoid heartbreak.

Nolan is charming and understanding, despite his past. His love for chess shines throughout, and he’s determined to improve after his loss to Mal in the finals of the charity event. His relationship with Mal’s family and his best friends is endearing.

A special mention goes to Darcy, a sweetheart and a staunch supporter of Mal and chess.

Ali Hazelwood’s writing shines, especially when it comes to describing chess. However, her romance scenes (though few) felt reminiscent of her previous works, along with the use of pop culture references (like Riverdale and TikTok).

This isn’t your typical YA story; both main characters are in college, and it’s not your typical coming-of-age tale. I just wished we had more insight into Nolan—his past, his love for chess, and for Mal.

Overall, whether you’re a chess player or not, “Check and Mate” will make you rethink the idea of playing chess!

Can’t wait to read it? Buy your copy of Check and Mate right away!