By Bernie Lopez, eastwind
if you are the greatest
you must be the humblest
otherwise you somehow lose
your greatness in the end
for greatness with humility is wisdom
and greatness with arrogance is ignorance
there is a long hard road to true greatness
and there are but a chosen few who get there
At the age of four, Justin was playing chess with his grandmaster dad. He learned all the complex tournament tricks at such an early age. Watching grandmasters play on television, he was intrigued by their composure, and wanted to be one himself. Slowly, he was becoming a great chess player.
At such a young age, Justin began playing with the best chess players everywhere, young and old. He had many crucial battles before the age of ten. One such encounter was with Francis, three years older than him, and with better track record and experience. Francis was, like Justin, a child champion. But unlike Justin who stayed in the shadows, Francis had been featured many times in the newspapers as a wonder boy in chess who had not yet been defeated in any tournament.
And so the day for the great battle came. Francis wore a white suit and had an entourage of aides. Justin wore a T-shirt with a photo of his idol Karpov. He was alone because his father was in the hospital that day. Francis grinned at Justin in a condescending way, confident that he had never lost. Justin felt that condescension but was unaffected. He smiled back courteously. He had no fear even if he knew he was facing a giant. Justin was totally confident because he remembered his father’s words about winning and losing – “Even if you lose, you have nothing to lose if you have no ego, your greatest enemy.”
Justin was excited because he played black. The grandmasters he idolized always won in black. Black was the underdog’s choice, where one was out to prove the odds wrong and do not count in chess. Black offered the challenge in a match where the enemy had the first move. Having the initiative in white, Francis lost no time in a quick vicious two-pronged attack, like a Panzer division in a blitzkrieg. Francis had intense dagger eyes, but Justin simply looked down, which irritated Francis. Justin long before knew that kind of game. He employed a solid precision defense. His dad said a solid defense is an offense. There was not so much of a creative strategy, only standard protocol ‘defense’ when attacked. There was one rule – never lose your ability to launch sudden counterattacks while you go on defense, and always look for such a weakness or opening from an attacking foe.
Then came the opportunity. Francis left his queen side defenceless in his intent to finish the game with a quick offensive. Justin saw the opening, the weakness. It was partly due to Francis’ over confidence facing a seemingly timid younger less experienced kid that made him a bit reckless in the blinding light of the media coverage. His father’s words echoed in Justin’s mind, “Ego is the enemy.”
And so Justin launched a vicious counterattack with his queen, horse and rook. Francis’ grin changed into a hidden frown. His moves were taking longer. The clock was now against him. Justin sat calmly, making quick sure moves. He now had the initiative. Under extreme time pressure, Francis made the final blunder, one he could have squeezed out of if Justin did not see the subtle error. But, alas, Justin saw it four moves before. Once Francis touched his rook, Justin knew he had won the game.
Justin was trying very hard to suppress his joy, his smile of triumph. So he bowed his head again. Francis thought the absence of Justin’s body language meant he did not see the blunder. He tried to distract Justin by staring at the quiet side of the board. Very gently, very quickly, Justin moved for the kill. He did not even say ‘checkmate’. Francis went into a violent fit. He pounded on the chess board. The chess pieces flew and scattered on the floor. Quietly, Justin calmly picked up the pieces one by one and reconstituted the board by memory. Grandmasters have photographic memory. They know the exact position of chessboards and every move until the end, on games they played two tournaments ago or seven years ago.
Justin slowly raised his eyes and was devastated by the contorted face of Francis. Francis pounded on the board a second time, and stormed out of the room in tears, in the first ever tournament game he lost. All this was in front of the very media that pedestalled Francis. Justin picked up the pieces calmly once more so that the game officials and the camera could record the end game. Then he ran after Francis to comfort him. Justin eventually became the youngest grandmaster ever at the age of 12, and Francis the second youngest.
Justin beat Francis black and blue two more times in subsequent events, perhaps because of the psychological pressure of his first defeat. Finally, on the third game, Francis won. He waited for Justin to frown but was disappointed when he smiled and offered a hand. Francis said, “It is no good winning this way. You’re supposed to feel bad. I have only half a victory.”
Justin replied, “It is all in your mind. Your ego has distorted your view of reality. You have won fair and square whether I frowned or smiled. You just can’t stand a good loser. You just can’t make me run away in tears like you did. For you it is vengeance, not winning a game. You could have beaten me in the last game if you just knew. Your ego simply ate into your chess skill.”
Francis froze in silence. Justin’s blunt words hit home. Justin offered his hand once more. It was hard to smile, but finally Francis did, a genuine smile, not a sarcastic grin. He took Justin’s hand. From then on, they were the best of friends.
In subsequent tournaments, under the glaring media lights, they embraced, and raised each other’s hand no matter who won. And there would be a thunder of applause. They were the two best child champions of history. They played to win against each other, but the loser would be happy for the winner. And so, Justin would recall his father’s words –
never think you are the best
even if you have beaten everyone
for one day, when you are off your guard
defeat may come like a lightning bolt
on that day, you will be totally devastated
when you lose for the first time
what devastates you is not your defeat
but your ego, inflated by many victories
and your thirst for fame
Justin would recall his retort –
but why then should I have an ambition
to compete and win
if I do not want to be the best?
i will have nothing to motivate me
and his father would reply –
it is alright to be great
and to work hard to win and be the best
but don’t let it go into your head
greatness is different from fame
fame is a by-product of greatness
never be greedy for fame
for fame builds and destroys
you and your greatness all at once
if you are the greatest
you must be the humblest
otherwise you somehow lose
your greatness in the end
for greatness with humility is wisdom
and greatness with arrogance is ignorance
there is a long hard road to true greatness
and there are but a chosen few who get there

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