Of Bees and Chess

December 10th, 2011 by Kel Smith | Filed under Attitudes of Disability, Innovation, Inspiration, Sample Chapters

Second in a series of sample excerpts from the book Digital Outcasts.

Chess BoardWhen Paul Hoffman was attacked by a swarm of bees at the age of five, his father took the opportunity to teach him how to play chess. Feverish, unable to move and generally in great discomfort, young Paul immediately took a liking to the game.

Within a year Paul was school district champion; by the time he reached the fifth grade, he was studying chess matches from the previous 130 years. His favorite pastime was reviewing move-by-move strategies by the old masters, such as the “sacrificial” technique employed by Adolf Anderssen when he famously beat Lionel Kieseritzky in 1851.

By the time Paul was 13 he had subscribed to Chess Life, a glossy magazine listing upcoming regional tournaments. During his first tourney he won four games without a loss and two draws. While he was there he learned of an upcoming simultaneous exhibition in New Haven the following weekend, featuring grandmaster Bent Larsen. In a “simul” (as they are called), a grandmaster plays several games at once against anyone who shows up.

Simuls can involve as many as 400 simultaneous games. The format is high-stress – the grandmaster walks briskly around the room, moving pieces on each board without breaking a stride. Underlings who participate in simuls rarely win; the goal, rather, is to force the grandmaster to stop and think before making her/his next move. Merely stopping a grandmaster’s train of thought is considered a moral victory for a simul participant.

Young Paul spent the entire week reviewing Larsen’s entire game history. One sequence in particular stuck out, one called a From’s Gambit. Larsen had executed this technique during his match against the Swedish master Sture Nyman. Paul exhaustively studied the move, which involves taking control of the board’s center squares without actually occupying them. Paul was convinced that if Nyman had not made one crucial mistake, he could have won the match.

The day of the simul, Paul’s sat in his seat with his heart pounding. Larsen predictably raced through the simul with a word or expression, never once acknowledging his competition by name or face. Paul replicated the match with Sture Nyman move by move, the exact same sequence, until the particular move he had studied all week finally arrive. At that moment, Paul felt the sickening yet exhilarating sensation one gets when they’re about to do something special. His entire arm went numb, as if injected with painkillers, and the tips of his fingers seared as he touched the chess piece in preparation for his move.

Paul’s fingers did not betray him. Drenched in sweat he made the move, sat back confidently and waited. Larsen continued his rounds. When the grandmaster finally arrived, he broke stride just as Paul had hoped. All time stopped as Larsen studied the board position for six entire seconds.

Larsen looked as his young competition and smiled. “That’s a better move than the move Nyman made,” he said, “but no matter. I will destroy you just as I destroyed him!” Within three turns of the room Paul was checkmated.

Paul’s ranking in the world of chess climbed, but he was still unsatisfied. The more he understood the game, the more he realized how little he really knew. Failure was a necessary component to his growth process, like the proverbial well that never runs dry but also expands in volume. It’s a viewpoint that could be deemed irretrievably dismal, this idea that increased knowledge will never completely satisfy our lack of capability. Although our field of vision grows rapidly, it ultimately reveals greater distances to be covered in the cognitive and physical spectrum of needs.

tag_iconTags: |

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

1 Response to “Of Bees and Chess”.

  1. […] Second in a series of sample excerpts from the book Digital Outcasts. […]