This story is inspired by Filipino-American Grandmaster Wesley So, who recently won an award in a chess tournament, and who was himself a Child Grandmaster at the age of 15 in 2009. The youngest Child Grandmaster, as of this writing, was Russian Sergei Kajaski at the age of 12, followed by Norwegian Magnus Carlsen at the age of 13.
eastwind journals, September 13, 2021
By Bernie V. Lopez, email@example.com
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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. He read a lot of chess books. His mother would tell him to stop reading and go outside and play. But he refused. He was obsessed with chess.
At such a young age, Justin began playing with the best chess players everywhere, young and old, at the park or with his dad or his Grandmaster friends. In no time, he became a child Grandmaster, and joined a Child Grandmaster Tournament for the first time.
There, he met Francis, three years older than him, the reigning champion, often featured in the newspapers as ‘the wonder boy in chess’. He held the record as the only undefeated player in all his past tournaments.
The media celebrity Francis wore his famous white suit and had an entourage of aides. The unknown underdog Justin wore a T-shirt with a photo of his idol Bobby Fischer. 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. Francis was trained in psyche-warfare. So was Justin. Justin smiled courteously. He had no fear even if he knew he was facing a giant, because his dad once told him, “Remember, son, even if you lose, you have nothing to lose if you have no ego, your greatest enemy.”
When Francis felt his psyche-war tactics had no effect, he began to worry. Face-to-face at the chess table, Justin felt Francis’ veiled fear, which made him even more confident. He won the first psyche-war encounter with a smile.
Justin was excited because he played black. He knew Bobby Fischer played best in black, and won all the time in black. Black was the underdog’s choice, a challenge where one was out to prove the odds wrong. Black offered the challenge in a match where the enemy had the first initiative.
Having the initiative in white, Francis lost no time in a vicious lightning two-pronged attack, like the Blitzkrieg of a Panzer division. Francis had intense dagger eyes after every move, but Justin simply smiled at him, which irritated Francis even more. That was the counter-psyche-war his dad taught. Never show fear. Show absolute confidence by being calm and by smiling.
Justin knew all about the white Blitzkrieg when he played with adult Grandmasters. He employed a solid precision defence. His dad said a solid defence is an offense. There was not so much of a creative strategy, only standard protocol ‘defence’ when attacked. There was one rule – never lose your opportunity to launch sudden counterattacks while you go on defence. Always be sensitive to a weakness or opening from an attacking foe.
Then came the opportunity. Francis left his queen 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, twirling his pen, 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. Justin saw it six moves earlier. 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. 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. Instead of offering the protocol handshake of defeat, realizing he lost to an unknown kid for the first time, Francis pounded on the chess board. The chess pieces flew and scattered all over the floor. Calmy, Justin picked up the pieces one by one and reconstituted the board by memory. Grandmasters have a photographic memory. They know the exact position of chessboards and every move made until the end.
Justin remembered how Fischer knew every move of every tournament game for the last 20 or so years. At a young age, he played blind (from memory, not looking at the board) with 14 players at the same time, and won all the games. Not a single draw.
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, and to an unknown kid. 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. Justin eventually became the youngest grandmaster ever at the age of 12, and Francis the second youngest at the age of 15.
Justin beat Francis black and blue two more times in subsequent events, due to the psychological pressure of his first defeat. Finally, on the third game, Francis won. He waited for Justin to band the board like he did, but was disappointed Justin smiled and offered a handshake.
FRANCIS – It is no good winning this way. You’re supposed to feel bad. I have only half a victory.
JUSTIN – Ego is the enemy. Without ego, there is no pressure, nothing to lose. It is all in your mind. Your ego has distorted your view of reality. You have won fair and square. You just can’t stand a good loser, because you were never one. 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, then embraced him. From then on, they were the best of friends. Humility was just as contagious as arrogance.
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.
JUSTIN – My dad told me to never think you are the best even if you are. For one day, when you are off your guard, defeat will come like a lightning bolt. 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.
FRANCIS – I know, I know. You told me many times. To be truly great, you have to be humble. Greatness with arrogance is not greatness. So now, we are both great, right? (They laugh.)
JUSTIN – My dad also told me that fame is a by-product of greatness, but do not look for it, as it builds up and destroys you once you taste greatness. It is addictive.
They played regularly together away from the media lights. When they played at the park, they would draw a huge crowd. They sharpened each other’s skills to face the veteran adults with confidence in the big tournaments.
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Author’s Credentials. Blogger – ex-Columnist (Inquirer) – Healing Ministry – ex-Professor (Ateneo University) – Documentary Producer-Director (freelance, ex-ABS-CBN, ex-TVS Tokyo) – ex-Broadcaster (Radio Veritas) – Facebook “Bernie V. Lopez Eastwind” / Pages “Eastwind Journeys and Journals” and “Mary Queen of Peace”.