David Hartwell emailed me that he is taking my story "End Game" (ASIMOV'S, April/May '07) for his Best of the Year. I'm pleased, of course, but since this is the fourth entirely different story chosen by editors for different BESTs, also bemused. However, I've said enough about that particular bemusement in previous posts.
"End Game" is about the fascinations and frustrations of chess. I play chess, a lot and very badly. Last night I lost a U.S. Chess Federation-rated match to a nine-year-old. a very promising nine-year-old, but still... The most frustrating part was that I should have won. I had his king backed into a corner with no fewer than THREE of my major pieces, including my queen. He was also, of course, advancing on my king. A large crowd of people whose matches had already finished and who apparently had nothing better to do, gathered to watch. I find this nerve-wracking. A First Board with a rating approximately equal to light-speed smiled slightly. That smile said: I know how to end this game in one unanswerable move. I did not find that move. I made a different move and the crowd melted away, which said clearly: Game over. And, essentially, it was. The kid beat me, and at home I lay awake for an hour and a half replaying the end game in my mind, trying to see what I could have done.
Chess can be addictive. It can take over one's mind. H. G. Wells called it "a nameless excrescence upon life. It annihilates a man." Several world champions have either gone mad or killed themselves. I'm in no danger of that. But...
It would be nice to be able to beat a nine-year-old.