Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Chess, Two Ways

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.

6 comments:

The Pondering Tree's Alpha Site said...

Well, you're already a science fiction writer. Doesn't that qualify you in some circles as been certifiable already?

Respects,
Murph
Lee's Summit, Missouri

P.F. said...

But, Nancy, beating a kid can be worse! My dad used to be a good player, and when I was in my early twenties I used to tag along with him, entering weekend tournaments just for (I know, I know) "fun".

Once I beat a twelve year old and my dad made a nuisance of himself, continually coming over to my board and making me uncomfortable. When the game was over, he was so proud of me, he was almost in tears. It was completely inappropriate, because I was never anything more than a middling fireside player, and had no ambition in the game at all. And of course, my father knew that. I was absolutely mortified and never played in a tournament with him again.

Mike Flynn said...

For endlessly replaying the chess game you should have won, see George RR Martin's "Unsound Variations" in his collection _Portraits of His Children_

Ben Payne said...

Endgame would have been my pick too... very thought-provoking story...

bluesman miike Lindner said...

Yo, chessplayers! When did algebraic notation take over from descriptive notation? And why?

karen wester newton said...

The saying "Age is just a number" counts for youth as well as getting old. Just think how all those Austrian musicians felt when seven-year-old Mozart appeared on the scene!