Kansas City Chiefs starting safety Justin Reid is a cerebral guy and an avid chess player.
On Monday afternoon, he was asked what his favorite opening in chess was, and — without missing a beat — Reid replied that he likes to play the "Scotch Game" when he has the white pieces and the Sicilian Defense when he's playing as black.
These are both fitting for answers for an NFL safety — the "Scotch Game" consists of starting the match by advancing the king's pawn e2-e4, then following it up by moving the king's knight g1-f3, and completing the opening by bringing out the queen's pawn d2-d4.
The "Scotch Game" is an effective opening because it virtually guarantees you a space advantage in the middle of the board, and in chess, whoever controls the middle of the board has a significant advantage.
It's easy to see similarities between this strategy and the Chiefs' Cover 2 defense. In the "Scotch Game," the goal is to get two pawns in the middle of the field to control as much space as possible, while, at the same time, having over-the-top help from the knight and bishop.
Reid said that he sees a lot of parallels between football and chess.
"It's kind of similar," said Reid. "You plan your moves ahead. You try and see what the opponent is giving you, [by] what they're putting on tape and see if they're going to expose their hand."
Getting the opposing team to expose their hand brings to mind the other opening that Reid mentioned — the "Sicilian Defense."
The "Sicilian Defense" is played in response to white's opening attack— moving the pawn from c7-c5. It's a simple opening, but there are a plethora of complex variations built off this single move.
How you proceed with the "Sicilian Defense" highly depends on your opponent's actions. Like the "Scotch Game," the "Sicilian Defense" is about staking claim to the center of the board.
What happens next is up to the players. You can deploy a very stout defense and try your best to frustrate your opponent by foiling their attack — or you can all-out blitz and hope to catch your opponent off guard and press them into making a mistake.
"You try and make moves in a way that are deliberate and intentional," continued Reid, further describing the similarities between chess and football, "but you don't want to put yourself at risk of getting checkmated — or [having] a touchdown scored on you."
Reid's chess skills were on full display in the latest episode of The Franchise, where he deployed the en passant move in route to dominating Joe Thuney.
Playing smart football
As far as intelligence goes — Reid said that this Chiefs' defense is the most brilliant group of players that he has been around since entering the league.
"This is the highest IQ defense that I've been a part of," said the former Houston Texan (2018-21). "Guys just understanding football, being able to talk bal l— not necessarily having to even go practice it. Just being able to have a verbal conversation about it and everyone being able to understand what the coaches are trying to get done and be able to go out and execute it."
With cutdowns looming and his space on the 53-man roster secure, Reid was asked what advice he would give to any of the younger players who are on the bubble and trying to make this team. Reid said the most important thing is to simply play within the structure of the defense.
"It's not always about being so hungry to make a play that you get outside of the technique and scheme of the defense to make those plays," he said. "You can have a great game and not have any stats on a production chart by being consistent, by doing your job the whole time. And it just so might happen for that game that the ball didn't come your direction.
"But when it does come, don't miss the layup."
Reid added that sometimes it can be common for younger players to overthink things.
"At the end of the day, football is football. It's the same sport we've been playing since we were kids, so pin your ears back and go.
"We want to help bring those guys along because most of them are going to be playing some football for us, and they're going to play a pivotal role in us getting some big-time wins down the road."