Playing a Grandmaster

When I was in High School I belonged to a large  Chess club with members from throughout the Rochester area.  I considered myself a decent player, always in the upper third of the club ladder, but I had no illusions about my ability or potential.  I just enjoyed playing the game.  There were a few players in the club that I had no chance against.

The highlight of my membership in the club was playing against a Grandmaster in a Simultaneous Chess Exhibition.  He was an elderly Russian whose name I no longer recall.  Somewhere in my boxed archives is the autographed score sheet of our game, but I don’t want to tear the garage apart to find it.  He was quite well known, however;  I had studied many of his games in chess books.

After demonstrating his brilliance by going through a replay of one of his great wins against a former World Champion,  he told us the ground rules for the games. There were about 40 of us arranged in long tables set up in the form of a U.  He would play White on every board.  After he made the first move  at each board he would continue around the U in order. When he reached a player, the player was expected to make is move immediately. He would permit one pass.

He varied his opening moves so that no two adjacent boards were the same.  At first there was quite a delay between moves because he had to make a complete circuit before arriving back at your table. As players dropped out, defeated, the wait between moves shortened. He was amazing.  I would study the board at length, and finally make my decision when he was nearing my board.  He would stop; I’d make my move, feeling quite pleased with myself;  He’d take a quick glance of the layout and make his move within seconds and move on, leaving me open mouthed. It was similar to a pool player looking at the table, planning his shots so that he would leave the cue ball in a great spot when the balls were re-racked, except that this was Chess and he did it in seconds – and did the same thing at every board.

Every move he made put pressure on.  At no point was I ever in a position to do anything but try to defend, but I was able to hold him off for 40 moves. That really pleased me.  All exchanges had been even, the board position was even, but he never gave up that first move advantage. Finally, he forced me into a position where I was going to lose a rook in the following exchanges – so I resigned when he got back to me.  It was fun, though, and I lasted much longer than the club’s best players.

However, there was an embarrassing incident which ruined things. One of the players, a college aged kid,  was giving the Russian a real challenge – so much so that the Grandmaster would actually stop and study the board for a minute or two before he made his move.  When there were only a few players left the time between moves shortened drastically.  The others were losing but holding on until they were mated. The kid took his pass, and later asked for another which the old man granted even though he didn’t have to.  But when he asked for another pass, his request was refused.

When the kid implied that he was only refusing because he was afraid he was going to lose, the Russian went ballistic!  He started screaming, calling the kid insolent, impudent and disrespectful.  He shouted that he had even granted an extra pass that he didn’t have to.  He grabbed the board and threw it, the pieces going every which way.  He then announced that the exhibition was over and stormed out of the room. I don’t blame the old fellow, but it sure put a damper on things.


1 Comment

Filed under Reminiscences

One response to “Playing a Grandmaster

  1. naturgesetz

    Unfortunate that it ended that way.

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