Chris is sick, so I’ve been moved up from Board 1, A Reserve to Board 4, A grade, and bugger, it’s the semifinal. Scary: my opponent is a boy of maybe 12. Gotta be a genius. I have white, so play an oddball opening, hopefully to get out of his book knowledge: Bird’s opening. Few people play it.
He is slow, measured, steady, playing safe moves. I know this opening, so can get ahead on the clock. Each move, look at all checks and captures, same from what he can do, maybe three, four moves ahead. Pick a move, check what’s wrong with it. Move, quickly, quickly, click the clock, write it down.
Strategy is working. He is well behind in time. I need to complicate. What if I… No, it won’t work but if first… Right.
Three preparatory moves, then I sacrifice a bishop.
His clock is ticking away. He is immersed in the position. His eyes are moving as he imagines moves, lips twitching as he is talking to himself. As he is thinking, so am I. My sacrifice is not sound. I can see how I’d counter it, but then I am not under time pressure.
He makes the right move, but I am ready. Two seconds, and it’s his move again.
He makes a quick waiting move to gain time.
I need to complicate more. Push a pawn to attack a knight. He has to retreat, and I again switch to the kingside.
Here is his first mistake. I grab a pawn. Two pawns for a bishop is not too bad, and I still have the initiative. Set up an X-ray attack on his queen, a simple thing. He sees it, but hesitates a little about where to move. More seconds on the clock. And while he thinks, I think.
We’re well into the middle game, and he has 10 minutes left of the two hours. I can think deeply four moves ahead.
His hand hovers over a rook, then he captures a defended knight: a counter-sacrifice. Brilliant: he has freed up his game, and now I am the one defending. We rapidly exchange pieces, and he has a passed pawn I cannot stop.
I am the one thinking now and everything disappears. I don’t exist, but am the position.
There it is. I again sacrifice: my second knight to expose his king. Now, my queen has free room, and I can force a perpetual check.
Draw! We both stand. My knees are shaking, I wonder if I have enough energy to drive home. He also looks exhausted as we grin at each other and shake hands.
How can life be so good?
I recently posted the story of the distance runner, which gives you a feel for “flow:” the exhilarating feeling of bursting through the pain barrier. Another way of getting the same benefit is from a major mental challenge. These twin stories are part of my current fun: Lifting the Gloom: An antidepressant primer of short stories.