Wednesday, July 06, 2005

The Chess Chronicles.
Part six.

For the last week or so I have been serializing a story I wrote about some nefarious dealings at Egor’s chess club. My idea for publishing this came from an insult and a display of… I don’t know, maybe lunacy is the right word on the part of Boris Vasilovich Kostin, Egor’s former coach, last week in front of the chess club. Now, I realize that it has been a long time since this episode transpired, but you must understand that things like this are very dear and important to people here. It has a lot to do with people’s lives and their futures. And especially, I am speaking of our children. I definitely do not agree that such politics as these should be brought into the lives of 8 and 9-year-olds, and more specifically, and this is especially after last week, I do not feel that Boris Vasilovich Kostin and his ego should be allowed to be involved in teaching chess to young people.

Anyway, here is the sixth and final chapter in this saga. Thanks again for your letters.

The Chess Chronicles.

Part Six.

We didn’t say much as we walked and we had just about made it home when the thought struck me that all of this was somehow incomplete.

"You know what?" I asked.


"We should go speak to Linderenko."


"We should tell him that Boris Vasilovich has agreed to allow you to switch


"Because he should know."

"But… I have to do my homework…" He answered.

"YOU, have to do your homework?"


"You are afraid?"

"No. I don’t know where he is?"

"He trains at the sports school."

"But he might not be there."

"We can ask someone where he is?"

"Maybe no one will know."

"He’s the head trainer, someone will know."

"Maybe tomorrow…"

"Why tomorrow?"

"Ok, not tomorrow. Friday, Sunday, Tuesday, next week…"

"What, anytime but right now, right?" I asked.

"I don’t know…"

"Let’s go. Never put off until tomorrow things that you can still do today." I had a hard time getting that last bit out in Russian and we discussed how it should be said properly as we walked. Egor was getting nervous again. I could tell because he was beginning to act like a clown, something he always does when he is nervous. He stayed giddy until we were just around the corner from the back of the sports school.

"I don’t think he is here." Said Egor. We were just around the corner from where you could first see the school.

"Well, let’s look anyway."

"I think he might be playing football." Egor said. We just happened to be passing the football field at that moment.

"Ok, let’s look." We climbed a small hill and saw a group of kids playing.

"Do you see him?" I asked.

"No. Let’s go home." Egor said. Then I pointed at a window at the school.

"That’s him isn’t it? He’s teaching a chess class isn’t he?"


"So let’s go."

"Ok…" I think I was even more nervous than I was for Boris Vasilovich. We walked quietly into Linderenko’s classroom. He had about five students in there with him. I needed to make sure I got this right.

"Leonid Nikolaivich…" I started. I was suddenly aware that aside from a few "zdrasvichi’s" and some tournament questions, that I had never really spoken to Linderenko before. And I had certainly never addressed him by him his "imya ochistva". He nodded when I spoke his name, accepting that we needed to speak and that this would be a formal discussion. "Do you think we might be able to speak seriously for perhaps three minutes?" I added.

"Of course." He answered and led us out into the hall. Linderenko is about my age I guess, also balding, about five seven or eight, and has big smile and smiling eyes as well. He is of a higher chess ranking than Boris Vasilovich, Linderenko is a master, whereas Boris Vasilovich is only a candidate master, and I suppose this is why he is also, aside from being a teacher, the tournament and teaching director for Chess Club as well. He has a very smart manner about him and speaks in a mild tone.

"I am listening." He said when we were out in the hall.

"At the tournament, Tatyana came to you and asked if you would be willing to take Egor here in as a student. You told her that we needed to speak with Boris Vasilovich first about this and that he would have to agree to let Egor leave and join this class. And, I know you mentioned that Egor might have to wait as much as nine months." He nodded at this. "Well, I understand that Egor has not been the best of students and that he is prone to laziness, but we feel that after what has happened at the tournament, that it is time to change teachers. We have just come from speaking with Boris Vasilovich not ten minutes ago and he has agreed to let Egor join your classes right away if you were to agree to take him." This seemed to be somewhat shocking news.

"Boris Vasilovich agreed to let him go?"

"Yes, we have just come from the school. He has agreed that Egor can leave, and that he can start here, if you will take him, right away." Tanya had told me that Linderenko and Boris Vasilovich were always fighting about one thing or another and that this was one of the reasons that Linderenko believed that there would be problems. Linderenko nodded that he understood this and smiled a winning smile. Apparently, Boris Vasilovich’s "agreement" gave him some happiness. This probably hadn’t a damned thing to do with Egor, but what the hell, I was glad he was happy.

"You know," he said "this chess business is a difficult deal. All parents think that their children should be first or second, but the reality is that there are really so few places in chess. We never really look at a child until they are twelve insofar as whether or not they have a future as a teacher or as a player. Often, chess is only a means of teaching young people how to be better people. It’s a way of thinking and approaching the world. And maybe this is all we have to offer them."

"I completely agree." I said. He made a face. I guess he wasn’t expecting agreement in the "reasons not to be in Chess Club" part of the speech.

"I have no expectations of Egor making grandmaster," I offered "I just think he should get his chance to play." Linderenko liked that reference to grandmaster and laughed at the thought too.

"Do you know how few ever make it?" He asked? "This is a terrible game if you have high expectations." I nodded. He looked at Egor a second. "And we have some very serious boys here in Chess Club. When you watch Kosty play his eyes are always on the desk. And Grib! Oh, how serious he has become…" I understood the implication. He was saying that he didn’t believe in Egor’s seriousness and was specifically referring to how Egor has in the past seemed as if he could really care less about being in the tournaments at all while he was playing. At least this is what it had looked like. And this had been true, and to a certain extent still was.

"We have been working to change things over the last few months and there have been results." I said.

"You can see how it is when they play." He went on, cupping his hands around his eyes like blinders on a horse. "They are very serious people." He looked right at Egor. He was asking us to quit. I knew I had an argument though.

"But what about Kachaiv?" I asked. I had caught him. Kachaiv is the town chess genius. He is now eleven-years-old, and has won almost every tournament he has entered for the last four years. The kid is in fact so frighteningly good that people are genuinely afraid to play with him and the odd moments when he loses or gives up a draw are seen as career highlights for his opponents. But Kachaiv, when he plays is anything but gentlemanly. He sings to himself He sings to himself and calls out the attacks and defenses both you and he employ by name and sometimes rubs his hands together in glee when he sees an inevitable victory- even if it is as much as 15 or twenty moves ahead. Playing with him is, for lack of a better word, a nightmare, or at least an experience in humiliation. "Kachiav plays like he is an Indian," I said, "he plays like he is sick in the head, but at the same time, he is a genius." Linderenko smiled at me and waved his finger.

"Well, that is of course a special case…"

"I understand what is being said about Egor and I understand that it has been true that he has not been the best of students. We are working with him very hard to help him to understand the importance of doing his work and knowing is responsibilities. But regardless of whether or not he was right, or how lazy he is, he proved he could play. He proved it at the tournament when he sat for game six, at table number one and played for first place. After that, no matter what you may have to say about him personally, he proved that if nothing else he actually can play with anybody here and that he had as much right as anybody to be in that tournament. He was good enough to be there and he should be allowed his chance to see how far he can go."

There were now a few others who I didn’t know who were standing nearby. They were waiting to speak to Linderenko. They all nodded at what I had to say. Linderenko turned towards Egor and his voice softened a bit.

"So Egor, what do you have to say? Do you understand what we are saying?" Egor nodded. "You have been with Boris Vasilovich for a long time. Changing trainers is a big decision. Have you thought about what you want to do?"

Egor spoke up just as bright and as clear as day. "I want to study here." Bingo. I don’t think anyone was expecting the kid to be this direct, least of all Linderenko.

We were all quiet a second. I broke the silence.

"He trains at home on the computer. He wants to win and he is getting better. I know there is a tournament coming up in February. He needs a trainer. If you give him tasks, he will do them. If you ask him to do some reading he will. He just needs some good direction." Linderenko seemed to be a little shocked by this remark as well and I think he realized that Boris Vasliovich had probably in fact been neglecting Egor a long time. And by Linderenko’s reaction to what I said, I realized that the consensus of opinion against Egor probably had as much to do with Boris Vasilovich’s bad mouthing (and ass covering) as it was about what Egor may or may not have done. I went on. "I heard that you were a serious man, and that you were the best possible choice for trainer. We wanted to come to you. If you will agree to take Egor, he will do his best for you." Linderenko nodded and then looked at Egor again.

"OK, Egor. Why don’t you come back here next Saturday at 11:00 and we will see how things look. Is that OK with you?"

Egor nodded his head. I shook hands with Linderenko, said thank you and left with Egor in tow.

We left the back way and walked across a small field next to the football grounds. Egor was kind of stunned which I thought was very cool. After about five minutes I spoke up.

"So, you have a new trainer."


"You’ve now got the best trainer in Pinsk."


"And you know that this is like a second chance for you. You weren’t really studying for Boris Vasilovich and that was why all of this started."

"I know."

"And Boris Vasilovich, he will be against you now. Things won’t be easier, they will be harder."

"I know." We were quiet a minute.

"Are you happy?" I asked.

"Yea." We were quiet some more.

"You know," I added "it’s like I said, all of this is like a great big game of chess. I mean, all we did is make the best move we possibly could." He nodded. "So you know the next move is yours. It’s your game after all, you are the one who really wins or loses. It’s your deal… You understand this: it’s your move now, not ours?"

"Yea." He said.

"OK…" There didn’t seem to be anything more that needed to be said. But I couldn’t resist one final thought.

"Ok, Egor just one more thing about this last chance of yours."


"Don’t fuck it up."

The next day at school Egor had a letter from Boris Vasilovich handed to him. Egor brought it home unopened. Tatyana had a doctor’s appointment and so it was only Egor and me in the house. We took a shot at reading the letter while we ate some of the potatoes that Tatyana had prepared for our lunch, but between the two us, we could not really decipher Boris Vasilovich’s scrawl. So we decided to wait for Tatyana to come home.

Tatyana was much calmer when she returned. She had been pleased when she heard the story the previous night and was surprised and happy that we had followed up with a visit to Linderenko as well. She was also happy that Egor had gotten an invitation for Saturday but she still had her reservations about whether or not we were home free.

The letter had her worried and she read it to herself, a very concerned look on her face while she was feeding Anya.

"Well, what does it say?"

"I think it is an insult." she said, "He says he doesn’t care anymore."

"Read it!" This is how we translated the note:

To Tatyana Victorovna!

It was very difficult to talk to your husband. This was because I felt a pain in my heart. To try and make myself right with you will be impossible because you will not (will not want to) understand anything I say. You don’t understand what goes on in the tournaments and a mother’s feelings will always be on the side of the child anyway. Egor doesn’t understand a lot about life and during this last three and a half years we were not only speaking of sport, I was not only his trainer, but I was, in a lot of our travels the cook and the nanny. Like a man with much difficult living experience I know there is necessity for discipline which all children don’t like. As they grow up they will understand the real price of this.
This change of coach will be for Egor a "bears service"*. I don’t ask him to stay with me. He is not my best student. I have two champions of the region and something near ten town champions. I just respect him and it’s a pity to let him go.


Well that was something. We offered to Egor that it was in fact an insult to him and asked what he thought. He said he understood but reminded us that he now has a new trainer and that what Boris Vasilovich said was not as important as what will be.

Give credit where credit is do; the kid can say some cool things now and again.

I do not know that this story is over. On Saturday, Egor went to Leonid Nikolaivich Linderenko for his lesson. He said he enjoyed it, had played a game and won, and had received some good-natured ribbing from his new friends for having done so. Everyone understood the joke.

On Saturday night, we decided to answer the letter. Tatyana’s first thought was that there was no need for this, but I thought that there was. I mean, all of this is a conversation really, and people do need to interact together. And I don’t want any hard feelings, or at least any more than are necessary. In the end, Tatyana agreed to write the letter but only if we would all say a little something in it. And so, as the letter had technically been addressed to Tatyana, this how we finally answered Boris Vasilovich.

Boris Vasilovich,

We made the decision. Egor will have the new coach. Thank you for everything. But I don’t think this will be the "bears service". The life will teach Egor and this is always useful. Adam wanted to say to you that when you spoke together at the school, both he and Egor understood every word you said. And now after hearing your letter, he believes he understands both you and what happens in the tournaments a little better. He adds that "in life we all need all the luck we can get. But most of what we get we make ourselves".

And Egor wrote:

I understood everything. I understand that I will go to another trainer. This I think will be better. Probably it is not important with whom you study because you study the same subject. But I think I am right in this 80%

Thank you.


Tatyana Kopus

From 01/16/05

*(A bears service means that you are doing something that you don’t understand and therefore will make things worse, will make a mess by doing them. i.e. like the sort of mess a bear would make if he did what you are trying to do.)


Egor of course did not go to Minsk for the state tournament but both Kosty and Grib did. Kosty however did not have the sort of tournament that was expected of him and finished in 12-15th place. And, as might have been expected, immediately after his poor showing, Janna told me several times that Boris Vasilovich seemed to be distancing himself from Kosty. I guess Kosty disappointed him. But Pinsk chess did in fact end up having a star at the tournament. Roman Grip shocked pretty much everybody by finishing 3rd in the whole country and earned for himself a first reserat at the age of 8. And he is one of the youngest players ever to achieve such a ranking in thehistory of the chess club.

Egor is, as of the momennt I am writing these words, sitting next to me and playing a game against the computer. This year he will step up to the 10-11 year old bracketandface isupposee some tougher competition. Both Kosty and Grib will remain in the under 10 group. and either one has a good chance to take the state this year. Egor has been studying with Leonid Linderenko and seems happy there. And as of only a week or so ago, with 61/2 oout of nine in a summeer tournnament, he finnally received his second reserat.

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More soon…


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