And today will be no exception. I almost feel sorry for him sitting there, an emaciated figure in his shoddy threadbare clothes. But pity has no place in this arena.
The Czech has opened with the King’s Gambit Reversed. If that really is the best he can do then I should relax. But I don’t. I never drop my guard. Chess is no mere game to me. It is life. And it is death.
The doctrines of Sun Szu are as relevant to the sixty-four squares before us as they are to the field of battle. I respond with my own variant of the Budapest Defence.
I’m eyeing my opponent now; watching intently as he drums his thick wet lips, deep in thought. I can detect a small patch of neglected stubble on his cheek, like a copse of stunted trees. A careless hurried shave is revealing; suggesting nerves and preoccupation. His weakness makes me queasy.
Sion is the author of The Sleepwalker’s Introduction to Flight
Háček’s hand flutters over the board like a frightened sparrow and I see the snout of a cheap grey shirt bursting through his jacket at the elbow. He tweezes his bishop between thumb and middle finger.
I know what’s coming next – the Háček triple-tap – and sure enough, he plants his bishop and taps its mitre three times with his index finger before releasing.
I suck in air sharply. Not because I’m troubled by the move but because I wish him to believe that he has made an error. He slaps the clock, rattled. ‘Ah…hah,’ I murmur. The D’Aguilar murmur is not yet famous in chess circles. But it will be. I begin to establish the Gurgenidze Counterattack. Háček positions his Queen with another triple-tap. Pathetic.
I force a sharp intake of breath.
‘Ah…hah,’ I mutter as though I knew he was going to do that some weeks ago.
Háček rubs his elbow vigorously as he surveys the board. I’ve studied the videos and I know exactly why he does this: he’s nervous now. No wonder that thin woolen jacket is fraying so badly. He takes my rook with his queen and triple-taps her crown as though rewarding her for such dismal, predictable play. But I see his game now. It’s as though I have second sight today.
The almost infinite permutations of the pieces lay themselves open before me like a great flower in bloom. I allow him to take my Knight. A deliberate sacrifice for the greater purpose. He slaps the clock, beating the flag by a matter of seconds. His pace is slowing.
I drop my bishop on his flank and give it an ironic double-tap, just to let him know that I’m on to him. My pieces are now deployed like the ‘horns of the bull’. This is no chess gambit but a genuine Zulu battle formation in which the two flanks gradually encircle and enfold the enemy. That’s what I love about chess, it’s so much like life.
Háček triple-taps a pawn. We’re well into the middlegame and I have to admit that his ploy is beginning to get on my nerves. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not rattled but frankly, it’s sportsmanship of the worst kind. He gazes over at me for the first time through owlish watery blue eyes. It’s lucky he’s not smiling, otherwise I might just be inclined to triple-tap his rather prominent front teeth with my bunched fist. ‘Ah… hah,’
I murmur instead, very much in control.
I’m not taking pieces here. I’m taking the metaphorical high-ground. Háček seems oblivious to the trap I’m laying for him, blundering up through the centre like a crazy blind man. To those unfamiliar with the intricacies of chess it might appear that the Czech has the upper hand. But as I’ve pointed out, this game is a microcosm, possibly even a macrocosm of life itself – to achieve one’s ends one must be prepared to make sacrifices.
The more intense the desire, the greater the sacrifice. I allow him to take my queen. I know that my opponent is an unsophisticated man, but really, I wish he could be persuaded to make his captures with better grace. The Háček triple-tap is unquestionably setting my teeth on edge now.
I consider an appeal to the judges.
But no, I’m a bigger and better man. Each time he captures a piece, I tap my own teeth ironically with a defunct pawn. I can see that it’s getting to him. He’s playing faster now; that frail bird-like hand chopping down on the clock faster and more frequently like some kind of Shaolin Adept.
My king is on the move. ‘Check,’ announces the Czech. It’s unbelievable – the way he ambled right into my trap; a net of the most exquisite intellectual mesh.
If only this sneaky Czech weasel hadn’t already taken out my Bishop and Rook…But he put me off. With his infuriating triple-tap thing. And now I have but one move left: a faint. But be careful here… you might think that I’m referring to a ‘feint’. But I’m not. I know what I’m talking about. It’s a faint. And so I make myself look a bit wobbly-headed and delicate for a second before slamming myself face down onto the board.
Of course, it is regrettable that the two remaining pawns ended up puncturing both of my eyeballs. I’m told that when they eventually raised my head, I resembled a cartoon character in shock – two huge white discs in place of my eyes. But if you knew me, you’d realize that I don’t really care: I can always see the board and the moves in my mind, and when all’s said and done, it’s a small price to pay.
At least I didn’t lose to the Czech.