Wednesday, June 29, 2005

The chess chronicles
Part one.

Today I am putting up part one of my story about Borsi Vasilovich Kostin, Egor’s former chess teacher and what all was behind that tirade and refused handshake I mentioned in the last blog. This piece was originally written between January 12th and 16th of this year, at the time when this was all happening. It was originally intended as a private letter, but it turned into a story as I was writing it and so that is how I am presenting it. And I am sorry that you have to flip around to read it because of how the posting works., there is nothing I can do about that.
Anyway, let me know what you think about all of this.

The chess chronicles
A multi-part serial
Part one: “Egor says there was a problem.”
Originally from 12 January, 2005

Well, I have a story to tell today. Not a happy one, but interesting I think as these sorts of life experiences go. At the moment, I am not really sure if the choices I will be making during the next few weeks will be the right ones or not. I hope I am right, but they will be very difficult and probably a little against the grain. I will try and make clear all of what has happened over the last few days.

The story starts last Saturday morning. Egor had a chess class in the morning and so was out of the house for a while. All was quiet and we fed and took care of Anya and cleaned up a little around the house. At about 1:00 in the afternoon, Egor returned from chess, said that he wanted to play on the street and mentioned in passing that he needed 5000 rubles to play in a chess tournament that afternoon. Now, to be honest with you, my first thought was that he was trying to pull a fast one on us and get some money for some candy or something. I mean, what kind of tournament would be announced three hours before its start?

To get to the truth of what was happening, we called Egor’s trainer, Boris Vasilovich Kostin and asked what was happening. Yes, he said there would be a tournament, and in fact it was a rather large "Spartak" Tournament in which children from all over the region would be competing in both a team format as well as for an individual prize. Apparently Egor had failed to mention the tournament to us for what had probably been a couple of weeks because. I suppose, the reason for this was that that he had not actually been chosen for his trainers three man teem and was perhaps a little embarrassed to have to play independent. Maybe this was why, or maybe he really just forgot, it is hard to say. And maybe it was because chess has in fact kind of been on the back burner around here for a while. Egor has not had a computer to train against since I blew up our laptop trying to kill a virus and that mistake sort of put us into a "worry more about school then chess mode". So this might have had something to do with it as well.

But nevertheless, there was actually a fairly big and important tournament that day and so we gave Egor the money and he, after playing with friends outside in the unseasonably warm weather for a while, took a notebook on which to write his games and left to go play. He came back at about 7:30 and told us he had played twice, won once and drew the second. The win was not against anyone particularly strong, but the 1½ points had him in second place. He told us tat the tournament would resume the next day at 3:30 in the afternoon.

In actuality, the tournament was to start at 10:00 the next morning. How we learned this is sort of interesting. I mentioned that I had been having computer problems. On the previous Thursday night, and this was Russian Christmas Eve, the television decided to blow up. We were lucky enough to find a repair guy who was willing to come out on the holiday and the guy was so sharp at what he did, we asked if he knew anything about computers. He didn’t himself, but he knew a guy who was both really good and was also the local black market cable dish guy in case we were interested. We called and the dish guy came out and checked out my laptop. He invited me to come to his house on Sunday where he would work on it in his private shop. I asked him if it would be possible to make sure that Egor’s chess program would be on the computer once it was fixed and he asked me to bring the disk for the chess program along with me.

Now I had loaned this disk to Kosty, Egor’s chess nemesis after he and Janna, his mother came over to look at little Anya. I mean, we are friends, right, and Kosty is a great player; so why not let them copy the disc? Janna told me that Edward, Kosty’s father would be at the tournament the next morning at 10:00 in the morning and I could pick it up from him then. So that was how we learned when the tournament was really starting. Kosty’s father by the way is a cop and for what it is worth, so it turned out was Valara, the black-market cable guy.

To be honest, the thought had crossed my mind to let Egor wander over to the tournament at 3:30 and allow the lesson to sink in about listening and paying attention but I didn’t. And so at a little before 10:00 we walked over to the sport school together. I didn’t stay and watch but instead took the disk over to Valara’s and was with him while he worked on the computer (I am now writing on it so he was in fact as good as recommended) until a little after 8:00 that night.

Egor I found out after I returned had been in fine form on Sunday winning twice and losing only once to a girl who was a first rank player (Egor plays in the third rank). His 3½ points had him in the upper third or so in the tournament and in good position for the final two days. Final two days?! Wasn’t that all? Egor was only now gracing us with the information that this had been in fact been a four-day affair and the last two days would even preempt school. Egor even had a note for his teacher. Needless to say we had to call and verify this as well. But, it was true and his teacher understood and so grudgingly, we paced our Monday morning around the tournament’s start rather than school.

Neither Tatyana nor I went to the tournament that morning. I had a lot of things to do and Tanya would of course be with Anya. Egor doesn’t seem to care very much one way or another if we come and to be honest is probably happier not to have the extra pressure. I didn’t get back to the apartment until after 1:00.

When I came through the door though, Egor was lying sadly in an armchair, his feet draped over the side, quietly talking through something with Tatyana who was kneeling on the floor beside him. I could see on the kid’s face that something was wrong. Tatyana told me he had been crying. What happened? Well, Egor had won both of his games that morning, both against second rank players and had found himself in second place. Ok, that’s great. So why the tears? The tears were because apparently, after receiving handshakes from all of the other trainers, Boris Vasilovich had started to yell at him. He had told Egor that he was supposed to have lost his second game because the game was against one of his team’s players. This was the team that Egor was left off of because he is only a third rank player and the three who were on the team were all seconds. Egor was telling us that he was afraid to play in the upcoming game because he though that Boris Vasilovich might beat him.
Now, of course this was nonsense. Boris Vasilovich is an old man, retired from his director’s job at a local factory and would never beat a child for winning. Would he? Of course he wouldn’t. But what exactly had happened that morning? We listened to the story from Egor again and again, trying to find some reason to all of this. We told him, specifically not to worry too much what Boris Vasilovich had said and that it was probably a joke and he just didn’t understand it. No, Egor said, he was really mad.

"Well, fuck him," I said to Egor "you are not playing for that team. You are an independent. Who cares how they do without you." I went on for a bit about how Lance Armstrong received a bike from a teammate after a crash and how that situation was nothing like this one. "Firstly," I went on "that second biker would never win the Tour de France and you can win this tournament. Secondly, that second rider would receive a hell of a lot of money if Lance wins and so it is in his interest to help Lance along. What he hell do you get from losing? Nothing. Go and win the tournament." He didn’t get it. "Listen, if you ever win a tournament, what have we promised that you would receive?" The answer was of course a chess clock that the kid has been wanting for two years. "Is Boris Vasilovich paying you to lose? No. Is he going to hand you a chess clock if you lose? No. Go and win!"

But in fact he was worried and so I went along with him to the third game on Monday night. We told him Egor I would be his bodyguard, an idea Egor liked quite a bit because anyone could see that I could kick Boris Vasilovich’s ass in my sleep.

Tune in to Part Two Saturday

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