17. Rock Tuff, P.I.: A Mule’s Fate

I arrived at the school gym, the site of the tournament, half an hour early. At one end of the room, refreshments were on sale; at the other end, chess sets from inexpensive wooden ones to high-priced metal works of art. Another table sold tee-shirts with mottoes such as “I'd pawn my castle to have you as my queen” and “I'm a knight in shining amour.”

Thirty-two numbered tables were set up with boards and men (and stop watches). A large sheet listed the first-round match-ups. My opponent was Ruth Leslie.

She turned out to be a pretty twelve year-old with blue eyes and a blonde pony tail. Probably her parents had pressured her to enter; she would likely be happier at a rock concert. Maybe I should go easy on her. She was very polite, calling me Mr. Tuff and “Sir” and I called her “Miss Leslie,” but her politeness, I discovered, ended at the edge of the chessboard. After the twelfth move, she announced: “Check-mate”.

I stared at the board in disbelief. She was right. She had beaten me, and, what was worse, using the same moves the physics major had used. I felt like a silly ass. “Fool's mate”? Perhaps for me it should be called “Mule's Fate.”

Oh, well, I rationalized, the defeat left me free to circulate and watch for any irregularities. Many first-round games were ending. Gary Fisher had won his match quickly and easily and had joined the crowd around the table where Bobby Kasparov was having trouble with a low-seeded opponent named Larry “Duke” Wellington. The underdog, I noticed, was wearing a hearing aid in his right ear. There was nothing unusual about this; there were blind chess players and some who played blindfolded. The spectators were too fascinated by the mental battle to cause any trouble.

“Check mate.”

“The game was over. The long shot had beaten Kasparov. The anticipated final would not take place. The trophy may as well be given to Fisher now, unless the upstart Wellington could beat him.

That wouldn't happen, however, because “Duke's” next opponent easily defeated him. Everyone was amazed by Wellington's Jeckyll and Hyde performances, including me. The only difference I noticed was that he was no longer wearing his hearing aid. Maybe he didn't like noise, but except for a smattering of applause when a game ended, the gym was as quiet as a cemetery at midnight.

While Fisher was disposing of his next opponent, I stood beside “Duke” and said quietly: “I'm sorry you won't be in the final.”

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Gary E. Miller spent 29 years trying to teach English at several high schools in Ontario. In 1995, he made his greatest contribution to education by retiring. He now spends his time in rural Richmond, reading voraciously and eclectically, and occasionally writing stories and poems which do nothing to elevate the level of Canadian literature.
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