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Sunday, September 05, 2004

The King of Kings

(An attempt at a short story. Literary license to bend historical facts with impunity may please be granted.)

"My son is the King. King Robert I". That's what Robert James's doting dad would always say. And because Rob's dad was an honourable man, Rob believed him.

Robs' parents had emigrated from Germany to the US after WW-II. Rob was born soon after. Rob's mother was a brilliant but radical German authoress. She had died in childbirth, but the boy survived. It seemed she had passed on her talents to her only child. Rob was a child prodigy. As a precocious child of two, he already spoke in three languages -- his native German, American English, and Hispanic. He could rattle off his times tables until twenty by the time he was four.

The first time he saw a game of chess was when he was six. The wealthy old German neighbour had invited the family to dinner, and after the table had been cleared, had taken out an old chess board and invited Rob's dad to a game. Little Rob sat perched on a little stool, swinging his little legs, watching the game intently, not saying a word even when he saw his dad lose game after game.

At 3 am that night, Rob's dad was disturbed by a sound in the kitchen. He cautiously went down to investigate. What he saw sent a thrill coursing through him. Little Rob was seated at the table. In front of him were thirty-two pieces of cutlery -- sixteen silver, sixteen plastic. They had been arranged in a crude replication of a chessboard. Rob was whistling softly to himself and murmuring continuously under his breath.

The next evening, Rob's dad bought a chess set from the neighbouring Supermarket.

When he sat down that night to teach Rob the basic rules of the game, he was stunned that Rob already knew the fundamentals, simply from observing the previous day's games. Rob was introduced to more advanced concepts that night and the next -- the relative values of the pieces, simple sacrifices, some openings, and basic endgame mating combinations.

On day three, Rob defeated his dad in four consecutive games. On day four, Rob lost two games to their German neighbour, but only because he was not familiar with the intricacies of the Queen's Pawn Gambit Declined. Rob did not sleep that night. On day five, a bleary-eyed Rob thrashed the German neighbour four games to one. He had worked out counter-strategies to both the Sicilian and the Queen's Pawn openings overnight.

The next week, Ron's dad took his little son's hand and walked the five blocks down to the nearest chess club. The Warden of the Alekhine Chess Club, famous in Brooklyn as ACC, was Grandmaster Bruce Pandolfini. He had been US Open Champion three decades earlier, still had Elo Ratings which touched the top thirty in the world, and was known as the "God of the ACC". He brought his beetling bushy eyebrows together and his appearance became even more forbidding when little Ron was brought before him as an aspiring member of the elite ACC.

"How old are you?", he asked Ron grimly.

"Six, sir."

"And since when have you been playing chess?"

"Since last Wednesday, sir."

Pandolfini turned menacingly towards Ron's dad.

"Give him a month's trial, sir", pleaded Ron's dad. "Then you may throw him out. Take my word, he's got something in him."

Pandolfini agreed, though he charged the full year's fee for the month's trial.

As was his custom, Pandolfini walked between rows of competitors in the ACC the next day. His eyes fell on Rob. He walked over and, for thirty minutes, quietly saw him play a promising young prospect thrice his age. At the end of the game, which ended in a bitter stalemate, but only after multiple zugzwang opportunities had been missed by each player, he called Rob to his office.

"Have you really been playing only since last Wednesday, boy?"

"Yes, sir."

"Okay. Come an hour earlier from tomorrow. And come straight to my office."

Thus it was that Grandmaster Bruce Pandolfini became Rob's first and only coach. It had taken him just a day to agree with Rob's dad that there was indeed something in the child.

Rob went from strength to strength. He became World Under 12 Champion when he was eight. At ten, he FIDE conferred upon him the status of International Master. At twelve, they named an opening variation after him. At fourteen, he became the world's youngest grandmaster. He became the youngest winner of the US Open two years later, a title he retained for a record five consecutive years. His academic records indicated an IQ of 180 with an incredibly retentive memory. His USCF rating climbed to a previously untouched 2374, making Rob the greatest chess player in the history of the ancient game.

It did not take him much longer to reach the zenith. At the tender age of twenty four, Rob became the youngest ever World Chess Champion.

His striking good looks, overt aggressiveness and powerful oratory brought popularity to chess which had hitherto been reserved only for baseball and the NBA. Single-handedly, Rob transformed the image of chess from a "drawing-room intellectual pastime" to a gladiatorial combat where, in his own words, "losing a game means losing my identity, being defaced, wiped off the face of the earth. I would much rather kill or be killed than lose a game."

This happy state of affairs terminated abruptly, just two months after Rob had demolished a strong Russian challenge to retain his FIDE World Championship crown. In February 1974, Rob's doting father passed away in his sleep. Rob was heartbroken and went into mourning. Eight months later, in October of the same year, Rob's mentor and coach Bruce Pandolfini died mysteriously.

This back-to-back double blow hit Rob hard. He became a recluse and cut down on his tournament participations. He made no further public appearances and was never seen in public without his personal security cover. It seemed as if Rob was mortally afraid of something ... or someone.

Exactly a year later, Rob vanished.

The public, the media and the police went into a frenzy. Was Rob dead? From all accounts, no. Was he kidnapped? Again, from all accounts, no. Where then was he?

The case was personally taken over by the Director of the FBI. The President of the US paid a high-voltage visit to the FIDE Secretariat in Geneva to discuss the issue. The US Army was deployed thrice to control frenzied mobs who were demanding their idol back.

But Rob was never seen by any living man again.


In the mountains of Ithaca, in Latin America, there is a little triangular valley at the base of three high mountains. The place is virtually inaccessible to mankind. However, if anyone had been observing the valley closely, he would have seen, one fine summer morning, a solitary figure parachuting into the valley from a chopper above.

A closer investigation would have revealed that the figure stayed in the valley for over three months, subsisting off nuts and roots and berries, before perishing of cold and starvation.

And next to the storm-ravaged skeleton of the figure would be found a diary. A secret diary, never seen by any human being save its creator.

The entry dated 12th January 1974 reads ...

"I am the King. King Robert I.

Can I be King while my father is alive? No! How then can I tolerate this man who calls himself my father? I must kill him. I must kill him!!! I will smother his face till he stops breathing ... !!"

The entry dated 12th October 1974 reads ...

"Who is greater than I? No one.

On the chessboard, I am the creator of life. I re-create my depleted army at will by queening my phalanx of pawns.

On the chessboard, I am the the destroyer of life. I can checkmate any living mortal at will.

On the chessboard, I am God.

If I am God, can I have a teacher? No! How then can I tolerate this man who calls himself my teacher? I must kill him. I must kill him!!! I will strangulate him to death ... !!"

The entry dated 17th September 1975 reads ...

"At last! I now have no parents. Nor do I have any teacher. For I am God. I am the King of Kings.

And the Truth is now crystal clear to me. The Truth is that the world has been created for me. I am the King and all this world are Queens, Bishops, Knights, Rooks and Pawns.

But is there anyone worthy of ever succeeding me as the King of Kings? No!

Is there anyone worthy of ever marrying me and becoming my Queen? No!

Is there anyone worthy of ever becoming my Son? Or my Daughter? No!

For I am God.

But I am a lonely God. And this world is undeserving of me.

I feel stifled by the mediocrity, the selfishness, the pungent odor of failure that abounds all around.

I shall not stay here any longer. I must not stay here any longer !!!"

The final entry dated 23rd December 1975 reads ...

"I am the King of Kings. Then why am I feeling so ill and weak and hungry?

Why am I feeling so lonely ... ?

No, I cannot be checkmated. No, I must not lose the game!

For I am God.

I am God.

But why am I feeling so weak?

Oh God, my God, help me. Please help me.

Please ... "

His self-created epitaph reads ...

"Here lies the King of Kings.

Robert James Fischer

Alias Bobby Fischer

World Chess Champion, 1972 - "

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