The Billion Dollar Chess Tournament
Win or Die!

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[The story you are about to read is a micro-tale (less than 1000 words) written by a chess grandmaster who is concerned over his ability to cope with the “real” world. The names, except for Satan and Enoch, have been changed to protect the innocent.]

Life as I knew It After Eight Moves

The publicity office in Hell, keeping in mind the Rule of Fives, prepared a brochure announcing a billion-dollar chess tournament. These rules come from a laboratory process designed by CSI investigators, to be a determinate of an individual’s intellect, degree of commitment, and sobriety; the theory does not measure stupidity. The concept is not well known and is far from scientific. The widely distributed brochure included an application to participate.

The tournament sponsor will be Satan himself. He will stand before those who dare to compete and announce that the games should begin the next time the clock reaches five minutes to five o’clock on the fifth Saturday of the fifth month. Enoch, the first of the fallen angels, handled the organizational details. His status as a chess grandmaster is legendary; he is yet to lose a match.

Contestants were easy to find. The first prize money is quite the come-on!  One billion tax-free dollars will go to the winner at the end of the weeklong competition. The brochure, however, made no mention of other prizes, but it cautioned that all contestants except the winner will be considered second-place finishers.

I learned chess around age nine. I had a natural flair for the game. I loved rainy days at school when we stayed indoors to play board games instead of running in circles like fools on a cold and windy playground. By Junior High School I had years of experience and was recognized as a prodigy. In High School, I played on the only undefeated team in fifty years. At college, I was captain of the Chess Team and President of the Chess Club. I once developed my own opening gambit while playing white and I had been lauded for my dazzling play: p>K3; Kn>b3; Q>R5 (pawn to king 3; knight to bishop 3; queen to rook 5).  It had never failed me; I too, like Enoch the fallen angel, had never lost a match.

I was among the first to mail my application. This would be my first professional tournament. I was ready to play; the thought of losing never occurred to me. My confidence was solid, my nerves intact.

When the day in May arrived, I entered the hall to find myself in a room bedecked by Lucifer himself. The hot sticky atmosphere was syrupy, it was as dark as the bottom of a witch’s kettle, and the smell of sulfur was nauseating. Worst of all, I found myself playing black. Me, play black, this is intolerable. I thought black was for second seeded players not medaled players like me. Players of my status never play black, what was happening to me? Help, someone, please help! Find me a seat where I can play white.

Then I met my opponent. His name was Enoch. At the sign to commence play, the white king’s pawn was lifted and then slammed onto K4 (king 4). My hand trembled as I reached for the black king’s knight in answer. After stopping my clock, I paused to wipe the hot sweat from my eyes then witnessed the white queen move to R5 (rook 5). I tried to reply with p>K3 (pawn to king 3) but I knew what would happen next and knew there would be no relief in my future. It was time to abandon all hope of victory. I conceded defeat in just nine moves and within seconds I was whisked away to receive my second-place award. Remember, it was win or die. My choice was a firing squad or the gallows.

I have this dream every time I drink too much.

My mother’s living room, circa 1928.

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I also preferred “indoor recess” to the outdoor variety, as I could play “Password” or read when it rained.

I play chess with my daughters who love it just as much as I do great story also

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