Short story by Tim Krabbť, translated by Willem M. Tissot
On the tram, Jacobson got a new idea for his Bottomless Pit. He would have preferred to get off at the nearest stop and take another tram back home, to see on the board what his idea was worth. But that was out of the question: he couldnít keep thirty children waiting for nothing.
For the rest of the ride, and during his walk to the school, Jacobson tried to visualize the effects of his idea. He couldnít do it blind; the Bottomless Pit was too complicated. Perhaps, at the school, before the games started, he could find a moment to set up the position. If some of the players were watching, he would explain what he was trying to do. "Itís not correct yet," he would say, "but this is the idea. Mate in nineteen. The mate itself is easy, but Black is going to delay it. He can interpose a pawn, and this one too and one more; a knight, and this knight too. Now a rook, and another one, the queen, and even the bishop: nine sacrifices, all on the same square. And now, finally, White can mate, you see? Beautiful, isnít it? And on the tram, on my way over here..." No, he would rather say: "On my walk over here." On the tram, he could have been looking at a pocket chess set. What he really had to get across was that such an idea could grab hold of you just as well when there was no chess board around.
He hadnít been there in thirty years, but those thirty years were erased when he stood in the dark granite entrance hall and breathed its odor: Wilhelmus Lyceum. He could almost feel his book bag under his arm.
The hall was like an echoing swimming pool. Students were running in all directions, some with their faces painted as cats or mice, bumping into each other and into him without looking where they were going.
No one seemed to have been assigned to meet him.
On a pillar, he noticed a hand-painted poster, announcing:
WILHELMUS ANNIVERSARY, OCTOBER 28
3.00 PM IN THE CAFETERIA CHESS MATCH AGAINST
GRANDMASTER DANIEL JACOBSON
!! PLAY CHESS !! PLAY CHESS !!
Eleven names were listed.
Jacobson stood waiting by the pillar. Nothing happened. The clock in the entrance hall showed four minutes to three, one minute to three. It should have started at three. If nobody showed up by then, he would go home, no excuses.
A boy, who was also a cat or a mouse, came running toward him.
"Are you grandmaster Jacobson?"
"Jos is finishing up in the Ping-Pong room. Heíll be right there."
Jos, that had to be Jos Webster, the former classmate who had invited him. Webster had been a phenomenon, a chubby school clown with coke-bottle glasses whose speech was so affected that he was once expelled from class just for that. At the same time he was one of the best table tennis players in the Netherlands. Back then, he was already playing on the Dutch national team, and for years to come Jacobson had continued to find his results in the newspapers. Webster wasónot counting Peltz, of courseóthe best-known sports figure Wilhelmus had ever produced. It seemed strange that someone like that would ever have busied himself with anything else but table tennis and being eccentric, but now he was a classics teacher and the assistant principal of their old school.
There had been no room in the schoolís budget for an honorarium. Playing simuls for free was against Jacobsonís principles as a professional, but he had agreed to come: you had to know when to set your principles aside. It was at Wilhelmus that he had become a chess player; it was only fair for him to pass on some of his love and knowledge to a new generation.
In light of this, eleven participants was disappointing.
"Isnít it great about Peltz?" said the painted boy.
"Is he going to be world champion?"
"No, but seriously? What do you think?"
"Speculating is not very..." Jacobson started saying, but suddenly he felt irritated by the righteousness of the answer he invariably gave anybody and everybody who wanted to talk chess with him during the last few weeks.
He nodded. "Yes, heíll beat Neishtadt. Peltz is going to be world champion."
"Youíre kidding! Jesus! World champion! Wasnít it great, that last game? The Brisbane Bombshell!"
"Will you be playing in the simul?" Jacobson asked.
"No way," said the boy, laughing in mock panic. "Chess is too hard for me."
Suddenly a little man with a red beard stood in front of Jacobson and kissed him on both cheeks.
"Daantje Jacobson? Jesus, man, have you gotten ugly!"
Music was booming in the cafeteria. There was no indication of any chess simul, not a single board upon which he might have set up his Bottomless Pit. He had expected to see a neat rectangle of tables, with boards and pieces already set up, participants and spectators looking forward to his arrival.
During his own school years Wilhelmus already had a more liberal reputation than other schools, but what Jacobson was seeing now shocked him. A girl no older than fourteen was stamping out her cigarette on the floor, which was littered with plastic cups, pieces and wads of paper, cigarette butts; a fallen streamer was floating in a puddle of coke. The most remarkable thing about a couple of bulging trashcans was that something had occasionally been thrown into them. What a way to host someone they thought was a grandmaster. He really should turn around and get out. This was hallowed groundóPeltz had played chess here; over there, by the window overlooking the courtyard, Jacobson had won his unforgettable game against him.
Now, in the same spot, stood a table covered with little jars of makeup; a girl was painting another girlís face. A sign read: BE A WILHELMOUSE TOO - 1 GUILDER.
So they were mice.
But where were the chess players?
Suddenly the music stopped, and in the midst of the resulting howls of protest Webster came and stood next to Jacobson, and shouted: "Kids, kids, please be quiet for a moment! Grandmaster Jacobson has arrived, the chess match is about to start. Who will help arrange the tables? Will someone please go and get the boards and pieces?"
From the audience came whistles, and shouts of "We want disco!" No one came forward, and Webster didnít look as if he had expected it either. "The chess club here died several years ago," he said to Jacobson, with an apologetic laugh. "I hadnít told you?"
Webster started moving tables himself. Only one fragile-looking boy, his serious expression untouched by the mouse-paint, helped him set up the rectangle. Jacobson almost lent a helping hand himself. But there was a limit.
When Webster walked out of the cafeteria the mousy little fellow followed him; a moment later they returned with the boards and pieces and proceeded to set them up.
And now Jacobson could really smell the old school. These were the very boards and pieces they had used in his day. Among them was perhaps the same black queen that Peltz had blundered in their historic game. Twelve-year-old against eighteen-year-old, don't miss it! And Japie Peltz had not been your average twelve-year-old either; Jacobson was already letting him play on the school team, second board, right behind himself. That little boy actually had a chance to win the school championship; their game would be the deciding one. In those days chess really meant something at Wilhelmus. At home, Jacobson had made signs, one saying PELTZ 1C and the other JACOBSON 6b, which he had placed on the game table. At least twenty spectators had shown up, and a couple of teachers too. Jacobson hadnít needed more than a draw, but it was out of the question that he, a three-time school champion, someone who already played for his club in the national team championship, would play for a draw against a twelve-year-old, no matter how unquestionable his talent.
He could still see the Japie Peltz of that game: a little guy you could almost blow over, uncapping and recapping his fountain pen at every move and giving off a slightly musty smell, from his fatherís pet shop.
He and Peltz had probably been the only ones who realized that "playing for a draw" was always out of the question. Even with Black, Peltz had put him under pressure right from the opening, and with matter-of-fact, powerful play obtained a winning position.
Then he had hung his queen. Jacobson had barely been able to suppress a sigh of relief, and had immediately aligned himself with the prevailing view among the spectators: that the little guy had put up a good fight, but that in the end something like this was bound to happen. Peltz had resigned immediately and walked away, his eyes misty; Jacobson was school champion for the fourth consecutive time. He had written a story for the school newspaper with the headline JAAP PELTZ: A FUTURE CHESS MASTER? and proposed a blitz rematch. Peltz had declined: his homework took precedence.
It remained the only game Jacobson had won against Peltz, but: he had also never lost against him. During Peltzís early years, they had played a few more games against each other, all draws. After that, Peltz had left him far behind, too far to be able to take revenge. There was something mythical about it: the son who has become strong enough to defeat the father is then forever separated from his father.
The score Jacobson - Peltz would be 1-0 forever.
In the end, twelve students and three teachers were seated behind the twenty-four chess boards. Pretending to have succeeded in obtaining silence, Webster spoke a word of welcome.
"No anniversary of the school that has produced Jaap Peltz," he said, "should be without a chess simul. Therefore I have invited the well-known chess columnist of the Amsterdam Tribune, the greatest chess player ever among my classmates, grandmaster Daniel Jacobson!"
The chess players clapped. Jacobson quickly explained the simul rules and began. Webster himself played too.
After only a few moves it became clear that Wilhelmus was no longer any good. The spirit of Peltz, or his own for that matter, no longer lived here. Even without music, the racket he had to play in was unbearable. A simul against weak opponents was strictly a matter of experience, but the lack of respect revealed by the noise upset Jacobson. He decided to keep in his pocket the copy of his book "My Chess Board is Alive," which he had brought along to give to the best player.
But he began to feel that it would be especially sad for himself if the simul were over in a half hour, and without going so far as to play badly on purpose he tried to avoid situations in which his opponents could blunder too easily.
Perhaps because he was giving that too much attention, he made a blunder himself, hanging a piece against one of the teachers. It was just a Fingerfehler, a transposition of moves, the type of blunder you made precisely because you were a strong player. But gone was gone. The teacher was not to be fooled, and after winning all the other games, Jacobson resigned.
Webster, who amid general hilarity had been the first to be mated after only five minutes and had thereupon abruptly disappeared, was suddenly back again. With an audience of only Jacobson, the winning teacher, and the mousy little fellow who had helped with the boards, he called Jacobsonís score of 14-1 phenomenal, and handed him a bottle of whiskey.
"Now you have to play Ping-Pong with me," he said.
Jacobson found himself in the gym, standing behind a Ping-Pong table with a paddle in his hand. On benches, all around, about a hundred students were waiting in relatively orderly fashion.
"This is my ex-classmate, chess grandmaster Jacobson," Webster shouted. "He has just won all the games in the simul." This was greeted by loud cheers and whistles; involuntarily, Jacobson looked to see if the teacher who had won was there also.
"So we have to teach him a lesson. Shall I do it?"
"Yeah!" yelled the crowd.
"Five games, to eleven!" shouted Webster.
In the old days, Jacobson had sometimes watched Webster play for five guilders with a 19-0 handicap. He had practically always won. And that was somebody whose 21-3 losses against Chinese you could find in the papers!
Webster took a Ping-Pong paddle the size of a checkers man from his pocket, and served. Automatically, Jacobson returned a few balls; a moment later, he had lost by 11-1. The fact that Webster was playing with such a tiny paddle didnít seem to make any difference at all. In the following games, Webster used a baseball bat, a badminton racket, and a gong. He won everything. In the game with the gong, Jacobson had trouble keeping a straight face, but Webster played with grim determination, and it was amazing what he was still capable of.
"And now," said Webster, "chess." He held up a chess boardóthe audience roared.
"No no," Jacobson laughed. This really hurt his dignity. Would Peltz put up with something like that? At least two kids were taking pictures; imagine such a picture ending up in a chess magazine.
Webster laughed and served, holding the chess board by a corner.
He is letting me win, Jacobson thought when he found himself ahead by 10-8. A moment later he had lost by 12-10.
"Mate!" shouted Webster.
He was already at the front door, never again to set foot in Wilhelmus. But a small boy approached him.
"Mister Jacobson, may I ask you something?"
The boy hemmed and hawed, so shy he was barely intelligible.
"May I challenge you to a correspondence game?"
"No," said Jacobson.
In the boyís eyes there was such shocked disappointment, already mixed with resignation, that Jacobson felt bad about his curt reaction. "I donít have enough time," he said. "People often ask me; I am a professional chess player, but if I would agree to play every..."
"I see," said the boy. "I thought... My father said..."
Jacobson recognized him. It was the mousy little kid who had helped with the boards. There he stood, his transparent face awe-struck and twitching as he confronted grandmaster Jacobson.
"You were one of the players, werenít you?"
"Yes, sir. You won."
"Which game were you?"
"Kingís Indian. You got your knight to d5 and then I could hardly do anything anymore."
Jacobson remembered the game: it was the only one that had even resembled a chess game. For a while, the kid had followed a well-known game by Peltz, developed his pieces neatly, made no glaring mistakes, but then let himself be reeled in without a fight. He had resigned appropriately, but surprisingly early for someone of his strength.
"I would always add a self-addressed envelope and a stamp. That way it wonít cost you anything."
That way it wonít cost me anything! Jacobson bristled at the thought. The eternal naiveté of the amateur who thought that you were already making enough if it didnít cost you anything!
"All right then," he said to his utter amazement.
"Really?" said the boy. An incredulous, joyful expression transformed the face.
"In that case, may I play with White? Iíll send you my first move right away. Thank you very much!"
At the tram stop, Jacobson realized that he had left his bottle of whiskey at the table tennis scene. What a waste of an afternoon. How could he possibly have agreed to this correspondence game? Because there had been a flash in which he had seen the boy as a reincarnation of Japie Peltz, age twelve? Certainly not because of the talent.
But soon Jacobson remembered his idea for the Bottomless Pit, and his irritation dissolved. He longed to be home, to set up the position, see if it worked, and so let as many hours pass as he wanted.
It did not work, which didnít surprise Jacobson. With interruptions, he had already spent a year on his Bottomless Pit. An idea for a beautiful chess problem would come to you in a flash; a position that would show what you wanted could be set up in a quarter of an hour, but it could take months to actually make such an idea work correctly. The pieces were stubborn opponents. Certainly in the Bottomless Pit, which had to couple the brute force of a harvesting machine with the precision of a ladiesí watch.
There was a certain urgency. In five months entries had to be submitted for the World Composition Tournament. If the Bottomless Pit was ready in time, and if it were to be declared the winner in the more-mover section, then Jacobson would beóin a way that he would never take too seriously of course, but even soóthen he would be world champion.
When Jacobson, a few days after his Wilhelmus visit, received a letter addressed to IM Jacobson, in which the writer said his name was Pepijn de Jong, his age twelve and his first move e2-e4, he had completely forgotten about the correspondence game.
His first reaction was to propose a draw, and then, rejecting that as childish, to write that pressure of work forced him to abandon the idea after all.
Even more than Peltz, he was a professional. Whoever wanted to avail himself of his chess expertise had to pay for it. Articles, lectures, analyses, access to his archives, simuls, it all came at a price. At one time he had determined a rate for correspondence games: fifteen guilders a move.
Incidentally, Pepijn had kept his word. He had enclosed a self-addressed return envelope, and a self-made notation sheet on which he had filled in, for White P. de Jong, for Black IM D. Jacobson, and for the first move e2-e4. He had also added two drawings, one an original and the other a copy, of a player sitting behind a chess board on which e2-e4 has been played and from whose head emanated a balloon with the words: My move is... says IM Jacobson.
Coming from a twelve-year-old it was not altogether without talent.
Could he disappoint such a child? A small boy who had been the only one to help set up the chess boards? Who had played over at least one of Peltzís games? Whose love of chess could be crucially stimulated by a correspondence game against a real master?
And then that IM Jacobson. By using his real title, Pepijn touched on a sore point, but also showed that he was no stranger to the world of chess. The ordinary public thought that anybody who could think three moves ahead, or was able to play no fewer than twenty children simultaneously, had to be a grandmaster. By the skin of his teeth Jacobson had managed to earn the International Master title, but he was so consistently called grandmaster, by the editors of his newspaper, simul organizers, and the general public, that he had given up correcting everyone. Anyway, whoever called him grandmaster probably had something in mind that was much inferior to the IM title he really possessed. "Grandmaster" had become a household term, something like "genius," a word used to express awe in general. People had no clue that it was an official title.
Only in that little boy was the flame of Wilhelmus chess still flickering!
Jacobson chose the Sicilian, the best opening for Black against 1.e2-e4 to defeat a weak opponent quickly. He couldnít quite bring himself to filling in "c7-c5" on Pepijnís dots, and he wrote his move on a postcard. Drawings and form he threw in the wastebasket.
He mailed his move that same day, and forgot about the correspondence game again.
"The Brisbane Bombshell" may have been a vulgar sports slogan designed to allow a public that didnít even know how the pieces moved to gloat over Peltzís successesóbut it was definitely on target. Chess players themselves were talking about the Brisbane Bombshell, and although Jacobson would never call it that in writing, at times the term would come to mind when he happened to be thinking of Peltzís miracle move.
In Brisbane, Australia, not long before Jacobsonís simul at Wilhelmus, Jaap Peltz, at forty-two, had achieved the biggest success of his life by winning his match against Feoktistov and becoming the challenger of world champion Neishtadt. It was a completely unexpected and somewhat undeserved victory, but mostly what was still creating a buzz in the chess world was the way Peltz had pulled it off.
With the score even, Peltz had won the last game, with Black no less, thanks to an extremely bold pawn sacrifice in the early opening: 8...d5!óprecisely the move that White had been playing to prevent. It was the Novelty of the Century; in the fifty years that this position had occurred in games, no one, from club player to the world champion, had even considered that d5 might be possible. It was as if Peltz had demonstrated that no parachute was needed to jump out of an airplane.
Immediately after the sacrifice, Feoktistov could have forced a dead-drawn ending, but he hadnít, perhaps because with White he thought that would have been too much honor for Peltz. Instead, he had played to keep the pawn, and that had proven to be a mistake. Peltz had played around that pawn as if it were an old chairóhe had paralyzed and humiliated Feoktistov, and won the most beautiful and important game of his life.
Almost a month had passed since that game, and no one had discovered anything better for White than the drawing line. That was puzzling: if Black, after eight natural moves by White, could at least equalize in such a bold way, something was wrong with the game of chess.
Jacobson too had stared for hours at Peltzís pawn sacrifice, without finding a refutation. It must have been the same for chess players the world over. No one had found anything yet; at least no one had published anything.
Jacobson was wondering who actually had come up with this Brisbane Bombshell. Imagination and daring were anything but characteristic of Peltzís game. It had to be Fajnman, a Russian who had immigrated to the Netherlands and had been working for Peltz for years. Though Fajnman had never won any tournaments, he was famous for his brilliant and bizarre ideas. He looked the part, too: like the crazy scientist in a comic strip.
Peltz had done the right thing: Fajnman added something to his game that he lacked himself: the artistic element.
At the press conference Peltz had given at Schiphol Airport upon his return, no one came away any wiser. More than ever, Jacobson was struck by Peltzís air of insignificance. At the long table, where he sat with Fajnman, his other seconds Loyd and Lindgren, and his business manager Quinten de Jong, any outsider without hesitation would have pointed at Peltz as the person who didnít belong. The chess players looked like chess players, Peltz like the mayor of a small town. A reception on that scale was new to him, but he showed no trace of nerves or excitementówith superior humility the little bourgeois faced the roomful of reporters, photographers, and television cameras, all the while greeting acquaintances with brief, stiff nods. Jacobson got one too, but in that nod there was the special aloofness of their 1-0.
With his characteristic incapability of self-glorification, Peltz, his eyebrows raised in perpetual mild surprise, described his victory over Feoktistov in terms of chance. What was measured in a chess match wasnít who was the better player but who scored the most points; in Brisbane, Feoktistov had certainly not played any worse than he had.
In various terms, Peltz was asked whether he was going to be world champion. In equally varied terms, he said that he hoped so, that Neishtadt was stronger on paper, but that that was no more than one indication of the possible outcome. Even if Neishtadt had four sides of the die and he only two, it remained a die, and one of his sides could come up.
It was interesting that only the regular journalists asked questions while the chess journalists kept quiet. Most of them were Peltzís personal acquaintances; of course every one of them was hoping to get the exclusive story of the Brisbane Bombshell from him personally. Besides, you didnít ask a grandmaster about his opening secrets, certainly not in public.
But suddenly a young journalist, not a chess player, asked the question that was on everybodyís lips.
"Mister Peltz, this Brisbane Bombshell, was it actually bluff?"
It was as if someone had asked the Queen her bra size. After a bewildered silence, the entire audience burst out laughing, even Peltz. He leaned over toward Fajnman, evidently to translate the question, because Fajnman also broke into a whinny. The interviewer himself joined in the laughter, turning beet-red. It took at least a minute before it was quiet enough for an answer.
"Bluffing is impossible in chess," said Peltz. "All the information is visible. You canít pretend to have a possibility if you donít have it."
You could always count on Peltz for a sobering thought, but this was nonsense. Of course you could bluff in chess; even he knew that. You could speculate that the opponent would not use his information correctly; make him believe that you had possibilities you didnít really have. And although it didnít fit Peltzís profile at all, Jacobson believed more and more strongly that the Brisbane Bombshell had been precisely that: pure bluff.
It was as if a chess spirit had floated above the Wilhelmus Lyceum, knowing that a boy was there who loved chess and had to be imbued with talent, and that spirit had blundered. It simply didnít make sense: Japie Peltz of the pet shop a grandmaster, one step away from the world championshipóand he, the son of writers, sitting there with a little notebook in his hand, listening to what Japie had to say. It was Jacobson who was the chess player; the moment was still with him when, seeing two boys playing chess, there had been an explosion of certainty that he wanted that too, always, whatever it would turn out to be. And when the existence of Peltz, so close to him, had made it clear early on that he had no talentóthen so be it, no talent. There were books to write, archives to maintain, endgames to research, problems to compose. A real chess player loved chessóPeltz was Dr. Peltz, economist, author of a series of widely used school books, married young and living in a suburb with his wife and four ugly daughters; a man cut out for train passes and lunch boxes. No Bottomless Pits for Peltz.
Even if Peltz could play chess ten times better than he, Jacobson was a thousand times more the chess player.
Composing chess problems had proved far more addictive even than playing games. The name Bottomless Pit had come to Jacobson before he realized its double meaning: the great Chess Piece Monster gobbled up all his time. Time streamed into his head and evaporated there by the tankload. But no matter: this was the real chess, not White against Black, but the artist against his medium, against both White and Black together. And even if people like Peltz had no idea what you were doing, the beauty you were chasing after, and sometimes created, held a truth that would survive all of his games.
Jacobson seldom played games anymore. Only Nardus stopped by from time to time to get some columns out of his archive and to play blitz. He always brought snacks, but he refused to look at the Bottomless Pit.
During those blitz games, it was almost with sorrow that Jacobson looked at his pieces. A great master had once said that the chess pieces are alive with desires and feelings. In the games of Neishtadt and Feoktistov, even in those of Peltz, in the Bottomless Pit, that was indeed true, but in his games against Nardus they were washed out like old animals.
At times Jacobson thought, I play just well enough to see that Iím no good. I am the worst chess player who ever loved chess this much.
Now and then Nardus hosted a kind of chess salon, afternoons when Peltz showed his latest games to a group of chess acquaintances, most of them journalists. The tacit understanding was that Peltzís views could be published: this was his way of propagating his own commentary on his games. He himself never wrote about chess.
Sitting among Nardus, Jacobson, sometimes Fajnman, Quinten de Jong, Loyd and Lindgren when they werenít out of the country, and a small number of other privileged insiders, there was Peltz with his birdlike perch, his spry countenance, his decency, looking like a lost citizen from the real world. He confirmed that impression by treating the suggestions of Quinten, who was no more than your everyday amateur player, just as seriously as those of the attending masters and grandmasters. Quinten also seemed out of place; a broadly built, cigar-smoking individual most often dressed in a three-piece suit, bearing no trace at all of his early career as a ballet dancer. These days he had a talent agency, and, attracted by the supposed mystique that shrouded chess, had zoomed in on Peltz. Perhaps Peltz recognized in him a brother non-chessplayer and looked to him for support, but Jacobson thought it was folly to let such a character sit with the group.
Going over the Brisbane games, everyone held their breath at the last one, that of the Bomb. Without blinking an eye, Peltz played beyond it, and at the seventeenth move said: "Is it OK with you all if we start here?"
"Mister Peltz," said Nardus, "was that Bomb actually bluff?"
Peltz gave a quick smile and said, "Bishop e2 doesnít work here, Black takes on f2."
On his walk home after such afternoons, Jacobson felt dizzy at the thought of that little guyís speed and lucidity. None of the insights were in themselves beyond him, but the self-evidence with which Peltz would distill a plan or a move out of all those divergent implications of a position boggled the mind. He didnít calculate, he knew; chess was his mother tongue.
But he wasnít going to be world champion. In light of chess history, Peltz was no more than an amusing late bloomer whose qualification for a world championship match was more than he deserved. Neishtadt was much too strong for him.
During one of those sessions, when it came up that Jacobson and Peltz had gone to school together, Jacobson mentioned their old game and their 1-0 score. He noticed a slight irritation in Peltz that passed immediately, and realized he had committed an indiscretion by mentioning the old score that could never be settled now.
The reprimand had followed immediately. To Jacobsonís astonishment, Peltz promptly showed the old game at dictation speed. Jacobson seemed to be seeing it for the first time; with Peltz moving the pieces, and masters and grandmasters for an audience, he was struck by the crookedness, the stupidity, the horrible talentlessness of his own play; especially compared to the 12-year-old Peltzís crystal-clear effectiveness.
Nardus had asked if he could publish the game, and, after a quick glance at Jacobson, Peltz had shaken his head and said, "That remains our game, doesnít it, Daan?"
Jacobson stood in such awe of Peltz the chess player that it took days before it dawned on him what it meant that Peltz had been able to show that game on command. A grandmaster of his caliber knew thousands of games by heart, but most likely not a thirty-year-old school championship game. He must have gone over that game oftenóhe was one step away from the world title but still couldnít bear having blown that school championship.
Oh, Jacobson would have gladly remained eighteen forever so Peltz would be always twelve: a small boy in tears who had found out that you couldnít overthrow the established order just like that.
Every time Pepijn sent a move, Jacobson remembered the correspondence game again. He received an address change from someone whose profession was "pawn" and who announced his move from d2 to d4; a watercolor representing the display window of a toy shop, inside which, if you looked closely, you could see a miniature chess board showing the new position; a series of Polaroid photos on which Pepijn lugged a pawn across a giant chess board in a park. In a package delivered in his absence, which Jacobson had to pick up at the post office, was a real chess knight, its head fitted onto the base with a piece of paper on which he found, not until several minutes later, the words: "Iím going from d4 to b5 all in one piece."
Without a doubt Pepijn was a nice, sensitive boy who thought he was pleasing Jabobson with those surprise gifts. But they irritated him. He had agreed to a game of chess, not asked to peek into a childís soul.
Early December, toward Saint Nicholas day, Jacobson received a marzipan chess board with an arrow pointing from b5 to a3. "May this put you in a marzipensive mood," wrote Pepijn.
Jacobson immediately ate the board.
The game itself also irritated him. After a few moves it had dawned on himóstupid klutz that he wasóthat he shouldnít have played the Sicilian. Instead, it would have been better to leave theory as quickly as possible. Now it was too late. A correspondence game was no ordinary game; Pepijn could choose the sharpest systems and look them up in books. For the time being an old newspaper would suffice, for Pepijn was boldly following the path that led to the Brisbane Bombshell. And now, after the marzipan move, Jacobson had to decide whether, just like Peltz against Feoktistov, he would dare to play 8...d5.
That was remarkable indeed.
It was out of the question that Pepijn was repeating the moves of the worldís most talked-about game by accident. True, he was following the loser, but if Jacobson now played the Bomb, how would he respond if Pepijn chose the drawing line that Feoktistov had spurned? Simple: that variation was a draw between grandmasters; with his superior technique, and playing against a schoolboy, Jacobson would have no trouble winning precisely such an even endgame.
He had to laugh at himself: what a chess player he was. Here he was worrying about winning a game he hadnít wanted to play in the first place! If Pepijn chose the drawing line he could have his draw. Jacobson would send him a copy of his own column from the Amsterdam Tribune with that variation, and a draw offer. Then the boy would have to be really impertinent to want to continue.
Anyhow, he couldnít let a schoolboy call his bluff, and he played the Bomb. There was some pleasure in the realization that, as the opponent of someone in whom he had momentarily seen a reincarnation of Peltz, he put himself in Peltzís shoes.
Now Jacobson was looking forward to Pepijnís next move. But a week went by and it hadnít come. And after ten days it still wasnít there. And that in spite of the fact that it was a forced move; any novelties wouldnít occur till later in the game.
Was Pepijn no longer looking forward to the next move? Jacobson still could see the joy in the mouse-face when he had agreed to the correspondence game. Suddenly he had the feeling that Pepijn had taken this much time between moves all along. He took out his calendar to check. The simul at Wilhelmus had been on October 28. It was now December 15óa month and a half for seven opening moves! Every one of which had been in the paper.
He himself had always mailed his move on the next day at the latest; Pepijn had done all the dawdling. Why? Did it have something to do with the fact that Pepijn had no address but only a post office box number? Was there some reason it took a long time for him to receive Jacobsonís moves?
Or was Jacobson falling into the trap that threatened every master who agreed to play a correspondence game against an amateur? The thought had been with him all along. Frequently, the amateur had assistance, strong assistance. Before you knew it, you were playing against an entire club. At that point you had on the one hand a master who really didnít feel like playing the game, and on the other some good amateurs who did nothing but analyze the position. Jacobson wouldnít be the first to lose such a game; world champions had gone before him.
Was Pepijn making him play against the Wilhelmus chess club? Webster had said that there was no more chess club at the school. Against a regular chess club? Was Pepijn getting advice from a strong chess player he knew? By mail perhaps, which could be why it took so long? And what did the Brisbane Bombshell have to do with thisówas Pepijn connected with chess players who knew a refutation and was that why he was following Feoktistov?
But whatever the reason, a twelve-year-old boy who was allowed to play a correspondence game against a real master was definitely expected to show some enthusiasm for that game.
Jacobson took a postcard and wrote: De Jong - Jacobson: 0-1 (overstepped time).
He cut the unused stamp off the self-addressed envelope, threw away all Pepijnís drawings and forms that he still had, and mailed his postcard.
He forgot about the correspondence game.
Peltz was a candidate for Sportsman of the Year. Enjoying the prospect of feeling embarrassed when watching as prosaic a man as Peltz appearing at something as pseudo-festive as the Sportsman of the Year show, Jacobson turned his TV on. But Peltz didnít come; he was absent due to "personal circumstances." He was chosen just the same, and now the show host announced the scoop that Peltz was to have contributed: the city of Amsterdam was a candidate for the organization of the Neishtadt-Peltz world chess championship match.
Nine defensive sacrifices on one and the same square was something that had never been achieved before, so what did it matter if the city was full of sounds, and of people carrying bottles of wine on their way to one anotherís places. But whenever the Bottomless Pit was finished, there was always a dual solution too, and if Jacobson eliminated that, the mate would be gone or it could be done in three moves instead of nineteen. It was as if he was trying to write a perfect detective story and suddenly noticed that the second chapter was about irrigation projects in Ethiopia. If he scratched that, all the women in the story would be called Rodrigo, and if he gave them their own names back, then the corpse would be alive on the odd pages.
It was driving him crazy. And finally, Jacobson didnít care anymore whether the Bottomless Pit would be beautiful, or whether it would be appreciated; now it was only his will to create the Bottomless Pit, against the Bottomless Pitís will not to be created at all.
Peltz came in fourth in a tournament in Spain, two points behind Feoktistov, and also behind Katsnelson, a seventeen-year-old Latvian, and his own second Loyd. The interesting thing was that with Black he had not played the Sicilian, as if he wanted to avoid the question whether he still dared play the Bombshell.
Jacobson looked at Peltzís games with a certain irritation. Frequently, players had a style that was the opposite of their character: the dull ones would play wild, the wild ones dull. Peltz was dull and played dull. All his games went to the park or to the beach; there was never an emergency landing in the Azores. It made you wonder if he was aware of the irony that he had achieved his greatest success with something as uncharacteristic of him as the Brisbane Bombshell.
Was it because he momentarily couldnít think at all anymore?ósitting in the chair at the dentist, Jacobson suddenly saw how the Bottomless Pit had to be constructed. He knew that it would still take an enormous amount of work, but from now on that would go automatically. Just like the Bottomless Pit would be a machine that produced a mate in nineteen moves, so he would be a machine that would at one point have produced the Bottomless Pit.
One evening he shifted a knightóand there it was: the Bottomless Pit. It existed, it lived, it worked. In awe, and with a lump in his throat, Jacobson stamped the umpteenth diagram, the last one. One day, a chess researcher would find that diagram among his papers, and it was for him that he wrote underneath: Mate in 19; "The Bottomless Pit," Daniel Jacobson, hour, date, year. He got up from his table, walked over to the window and, although he didnít like talking out loud when he was alone, he said it: "The Bottomless Pit is finished."
Now he wasnít any longer the creator of the Bottomless Pit, but the first person to actually see it. Pawn, pawn, pawn, knight, knight, rook, rook, queen, bishop ... mate! Again and again: firework ignition, clockwork precision.
The next morning, on the tram he took to go see Nardus, who had agreed this one time to be shown the Bottomless Pit, Jacobson suddenly had a horrifying thought: what if Black on his eleventh move didnít play rook to e4 but rook to e3?
He felt sick.
Nardus was unable to help him: after rook e3 there quite simply was no mate.
He was going to have to start from scratch.
"Come on, letís play blitz," said Nardus.
Almost two months after he had declared himself the winner, Jacobson received another letter from Pepijn de Jong.Dear Mr. Jacobson:It was an altogether different letter from the ones before, an impersonal computer printout without return envelope or drawings. What was it again that he had written? Overstepped timeóJacobson wanted the ground to open and swallow him up. Pepijn, in the hospital with tubes coming out of his nose, his head one great white bandage, had been told that IM Jacobson was no longer playing. He had been so happy with that game; chess was his only pleasure in life.
I have to apologize for keeping you waiting such a long time in between moves. But I have to go to the hospital from time to time, and then Iím unable to answer you. In fact, I have just spent another month in the hospital, otherwise would have wanted to write to you sooner. I really hope you will continue playing me. In case you do, Iím sending you my next move: 9.c4xd5
Iím really hoping the game can go on.
Pepijn de Jong
Jacobson wrote back immediately. He apologized, expressed his hope that Pepijn would be spared further hospital visits, and made his countermove.
This time Pepijnís reply came within two days, and after that the game continued at a normal pace. Just like Feoktistov had done in Brisbane, Pepijn disregarded the drawing line; he continued on the path that had led to Whiteís demise. He had to have an improvement, or think he had one. It was now four months after Brisbane, and still no one had published a refutation of the Bombshell. And yet, there almost had to be oneó"Anyone still playing 8...d5 is naïve," a French magazine had written. No one had dared to do it.
The overstepping of the time had left its mark. Jacobson was no longer IM Jacobson, but Mr. Jacobson. The post office box had been replaced by an ordinary address. There were no longer any surprise gifts or return envelopes. Every time, Jacobson received the same spare computer printout with the gameís notation and the new move added and underlined.
He had murdered Pepijnís spontaneity.
The Neishtadt-Peltz match was awarded to Amsterdam. At a press conference, Peltz made a brief speech that, Jacobson decided after hearing three words, might just as well have been given by the third secretary of the chess federation. Not a word about the mincemeat Neishtadt would be made ofópropaganda for the game of chess. Jacobson knew once and for all that it wasnít jealousy that made him hope Japie Peltz would not become world champion. Chess was too regal for the boy from the pet shop.
On his twelfth move, Pepijn played bishop e3. Feoktistov had castled hereóthis was the long-awaited first move by Pepijn himself, his attempt at refutation.
The envelope still in his hand, Jacobson felt disappointed. Bishop e3 was a patzer move. He still remembered looking at it for a second at the time, probably like everyone else, but Black just exchanges on e3 and White has an ugly weakness.
So here it was. He almost felt cheated now that it was clear he had not been cheated. He had indeed been wasting his time on a schoolchild. The touching self-assurance of the boy: he wasnít going to be fooled. Stupid Feoktistov, Pepijn had thought, why doesnít he just play bishop e3?
Jacobson wrote his countermove on a postcard: bishop takes bishop. But something told him he had to watch out. For the first time in his game against Pepijn he set up the position on the board. If there was something hidden in the Brisbane Bombshell, it was well hidden. What he remembered about Pepijn from the simul was that he had studiously avoided positional errors like bishop e3. If he wasnít careful, a game Pepijn de Jong (12) vs. IM Jacobson might soon be publicized around the world, a game in which the naïve master had played the Brisbane Bombshell and been clobbered by a schoolboy who had found a sensational refutation.
And suddenly he saw it. If Black captured the bishop, White would not recapture, but would win the black knight with a Zwischenschach. And then all of Blackís pugnacious pieces would suddenly be ten years older and he would simply be a pawn down.
There it was, just like that, on the board at his place, the move that the world had been looking for. If Feoktistov had seen this, Peltz could have kissed his world championship match goodbye, and if it became public knowledge, the Brisbane Bombshell would go down in history not as a triumph of the imagination but rather as a holdup with a toy gun.
He took the bishop: there was nothing better.
For two days Jacobson kept hoping that Pepijn would recapture. In that case bishop e3 would be a fluke, and then Jacobson would reveal that move, together with the Zwischenschach, to the worldóand he would be the one who had refuted the Brisbane Bomb.
Pepijn didnít recapture; he gave the Zwischenschach.
How could it be that the miracle move turned up in the game of a twelve-year-old boy who, as Jacobson had been able to see for himself, was not good at chess?
In the correspondence game Pepijn de Jong - IM Jacobson, Black was a pawn down without compensation.
The registration period for the World Composition Tournament expired without Jacobson having been able to correct the Bottomless Pit.
That was a defeat, of course, but he was now becoming more and more absorbed by his game against Pepijn. There was something very strange about that game. He thoroughly understood the position and set profound traps, but Pepijn wasnít falling into any of them and was holding on to his advantage. OK, it was correspondence chess; the normal differences in strength didnít count; diligence made up for the lack of insightóbut would Pepijn be devoting even more time to the game than he did?
He was reminded of a classical chess story. He knew it from one of the first chess books he had ever possessed and had retold it in one of his own.
Three chess masters are passengers on a ship: two younger masters and an older one. The old master is losing all the blitz games and is being laughed at. But, says he, that is because of the limited time. His insight is greater, and if only he had more time, that would show. Therefore he proposes a wager: in a simul against the two of them he will score at least one point. One game with White, and one with Black, blindfold.
He is laughed at even more loudly. A simul? And blindfold? What nonsense. The wager is accepted, and the young masters agree to sit in separate cabins so that they could not help each other. Ship stewards deliver the moves.
Of course the old master makes the two younger ones play against each other. No matter how it goes, he will score precisely one point and win the wager.
Jacobson had always thought it a weak story. Why did the young masters have to be in separate cabins? Only because for the sake of the story they shouldnít be able to see each otherís positions. But they would discover that they had been playing against each other right after the games, so what did the old master gain by his deceit?
In blindfold chess it didnít make sense, but a correspondence game was perfect for something like this. The cabins were houses, the stewards mailmen, and in the middle sat, laughing, the old master: Pepijn.
Who was the unknown opponent? A suspicion, almost too wild to think out loud, occurred to Jacobson.
When he had put his nineteenth move into the mailbox, Jacobson sniffed the air: springtime. He was in an excellent mood; the move he had just mailed was his response to his mysterious opponentís missed opportunity to push his advantage to where it might become decisiveóhis first weak moment.
Jacobson decided to go for a walk. At the entrance to the zoo, he suddenly saw a girl whose face seemed familiar, and a second later he noticed next to her Jaap Peltz and another, younger girl. They were Bianca, Peltzís oldest daughter, and one of her sisters. That Bianca was by no means so ugly anymore, although still awkward-looking. She had to be about seventeen.
Peltz also noticed Jacobson.
"Hello, Daan," he said.
"Hey, hello, Jaap," said Jacobson.
They shook hands and became silent; they had never been relaxed in each otherís company. The 1-0.
Jacobson shook hands with the girls too, and was about to be on his way, but Peltz also seemed to be affected by the spring air. "Are you free?" he said. "Weíre going to the zoo. Come on, join us."
A couple of times Jacobson saw heads turning toward Peltz. Once he had to sign his autograph, which he did hurriedly, with an apologetic gesture toward his daughters who werenít stopping.
At a kiosk, Jacobson, after asking Peltzís permission, treated the girls to ice cream. He and Peltz also had some. Suddenly the girls burst out in high-pitched laughter. Jacobson saw the reason: an elephant had an erection, and a slimy thread trailed down from his huge member. Jacobson felt greatly embarrassed having to see this in the company of a father and two young girls, and he expected Peltz to lead his daughters along in a hurry. But Peltz stuck around and joined in the laughter. He seemed more at ease, more approachable than ever. Had success actually changed him?
Peltz reminisced about Wilhelmus. They had been there together for only one year, and they hadnít had many of the same teachers. Suddenly Jacobson knew, with alarm, that he was going to say what he had kept inside, ready and phrased, for at least twenty years.
They got to the sea lions just as they were being fed. The animals were swimming by with tremendous tail strokes; Peltz let himself get splashed, laughing. Jacobson followed the sea lion who had done that and who now, willy nilly, played a role in the history of chess.
"Hey, Jaap," he said. "We never have much contact."
"No, thatís true."
"I mean the two of us specifically. It seems sometimes we avoid looking at each other on purpose. Thatís not necessary."
"No, of course not," said Peltz. He nodded, embarrassed; Jacobson realized that this conversation was just as difficult for him.
"Itís because of this one-zero. The game I won against you that time. It still stands between us."
A smile appeared on Peltzís face, and he nodded slowly. "Yes, maybe itís time I did something about that," he said.
"You want to know my fantasy?" Jacobson said, swept along by the unprecedented intimacy. "Itís your last game against Neishtadt, with the score still even, and you adjourn in a winning position, but heís got a rambling rook. You know, that's what I call this rook that keeps checking, and you can't take it on account of stalemate. I have mapped that sort of thing out. And then you call me, and you win because I tell you how you can get rid of that rook."
"This rambling rook doesn't happen that often in practice," said Peltz. "But if it gets to that point Iíll certainly take you up on your offer."
They were sitting by the water, opposite a group of motionless flamingos. Peltz was telling an anecdote in which Bianca, one of his economics books, and a headstrong teacher played important roles, but Jacobson was only half listening.
In front of his eyes, a bishop was dancing on e3, surrounded by jubilant little exclamation marks.
"Hey, that last game of yours against Feoktistov," he said when there was a lull in Peltzís story. He had to swallow hard, and felt the eyes of the chess world upon him: no one else would get a chance to discuss the Brisbane Bombshell with Peltz this casually.
"Yeah, yeah," said Peltz, laughing.
"What do you do if he plays 12. Be3?"
He saw a nervous glint in Peltzís eyes, but he immediately regained his composure. Jacobson held his breath: he had touched something.
"Hey, Dad, you guys are not going to...," said Bianca.
"I just take on e3," said Peltz.
For a moment, Jacobson didnít know what to say. Peltzís answer was ludicrous. Even insulting: at the level where you "just took" on e3, bishop e3 was a patzer move.
"Queen a4 check," said Jacobson, and his heart was pounding in his chest.
Peltz tried to remain serious, but couldnít, and an awkward grin spread over his face.
"Jesus," said Bianca, "In that case I think Iíll go pee."
"To the bathroom, sweetheart, you go right ahead."
"Pawn gee seventeen eighteen," said Bianca, and then she really got up and walked away, followed by the younger sister.
Peltz looked straight at Jacobson. "I see," he said, and he nodded. "Good move. Where did you get it?"
"I saw it."
"How do you mean: saw it."
Jacobson had it on the tip of his tongue to say that a twelve-year-old boy had played it against him in a correspondence game.
"We lowly creatures see something once in a while."
"I thought you were only interested in chess problems these days."
"Are you going to publish that?"
"Are you going to play that?"
Peltz shrugged his shoulders. He had already recovered. "They donít play d5 anymore, do they? I guess itíll show up in a correspondence game or something like that."
They fell silent, looked at the silent flamingos. The girls returned, their faces ready to look bored as soon as their father started talking about chess again.
Peltz continued his story about the teacher, but precisely because he was doing his best to make the conversation seem as relaxed as before, you could sense that it was awkward now.
Bishop e3 had touched something.
On the way back Jacobson was besieged by breathtaking thoughts. So Peltz also knew the refutation to the Brisbane Bombshell. That in itself was not so amazing. It was natural that he had kept that knowledge to himself. But now a twelve-year-old boy and the challenger of the world champion were the only ones, as far as Jacobson was aware, who knew the secret of 12.Be3.
Did they know each other? Had Pepijn got bishop e3 from Peltz?
And now Jacobson saw something that he had always seen but that only now entered his mind. Pepijnís name was Pepijn de Jong. Quintenís name was Quinten de Jong. Both De Jong, both close to bishop e3. They even looked alike, if you knew.
Pepijn was the son of Peltzís manager.
Shivers ran down Jacobsonís spine. I guess itíll show up in a correspondence game; maybe itís time I did something about that 1-0...
The mysterious opponent was Peltz. And Peltz knew he was playing against Jacobson; he had invited him along to the zoo to sound him out and see if he knew also.
He was using Pepijn to get evenóhe could not live with their 1-0.
After he got home, Jacobson looked it up. Agency Quinten de Jong had a post office box number he recognized: from Pepijnís letters written before he had overstepped the time.
This must have been the scenario: Pepijn had started playing the correspondence game himself. Perhaps he had asked Peltz for advice one time, or else Quinten might have said somethingóin any case, Peltz had heard about the game and had seen his chance to get even with Jacobson. The long silence around the overstepped time must have related to that: Pepijn had resisted when they were taking his game away from him. But why had it taken two months before Peltz came up with the excuse of Pepijnís hospital stay?
Jacobson checked old issues of his chess magazines. Right after the tournament in Spain Peltz had been on tour in Africa. He had returned on February 22nd.
It was late February when Jacobson had received Pepijnís letter asking if he could please continue to play.
It was of course cheating on Peltzís part to have wanted to get even in this manner, but Jacobsonís anger subsided quickly. This was actually very beautiful. It wasnít only he who recognized in Peltz the central opponent in his life; Peltz also saw in him a father he had to defeat at least once.
For weeks on end Jacobson was on the verge of disaster, but he fought, supported by the feeling that holding on to the 1-0 would mean that, of the two of them, he was the true chess player. He analyzed down to the deepest depths, wrote pages and pages full of notes. Never before had he felt he understood a game this completely. And like a seriously ill patient who slowly recovers, his position improved. He took advantage of every small inaccuracy that even Peltz would commit, and as the summer went by he got counterplay, he didnít have to lose anymore; a draw came within reach. Sometimes he had the feeling that he was the one who was cheating. Peltz had his family and the upcoming match against Neishtadt, while Jacobson could devote himself completely to their game.
The Bottomless Pit was forgotten; at best he could now shrug his shoulders over the fact that he had misled himself for such a long time. That lofty struggle of the artist against his medium had been a pretext, a self-imposed exile for failed chess players. Scavenger hunts instead of voyages of discovery; the real chess was simply one-on-one, a street fight with an uncertain outcome.
And what if this titanic battle was a metaphor for his life? The opening was long past, and he had come out of it in a losing position. But he had arched his back, he had fought, and everything was possible once more.
He would not make the mistake of thinking there was still a future for him as a tournament player, but why not as a correspondence player? The normal differences in strength meant nothing there. Insight against diligence; so what if he represented diligence? Diligence sprang from loveóthat was precisely the beauty of it: in correspondence chess, oneís love for the game was part of oneís strength.
He wrote to the Correspondence Chess Federation for information about the proper channels one needed to follow to get a shot at the world championship.
Once in a while he thought: Iím crazy. It isnít Peltz at all. Iím putting all my soul into a game against a twelve-year-old boy.
In early September Pepijn announced he would be absent for two weeks. During those two weeks, Peltz held a brief training camp with his seconds in Tunisia.
On his arrival in Amsterdam Neishtadt declared that he thought Peltz was an interesting opponent and that it wouldnít surprise him if Semyon Katsnelson would be his next challenger.
Because of another inaccuracy by Peltz one week before the beginning of the match, Jacobson even got an edge. He wondered how things should go from there. Peltzís situation was already having an effect, and if Jacobson played on it might be taking advantage. Maybe Peltz would let his seconds continue the game. That would do it injustice; it had to remain a pure Peltz - Jacobson.
But winning was unimportant. To have battled Peltz under even conditions and to have held on to his 1-0 was enough. Jacobson decided he would make a gesture: he would offer a draw. In a way, a draw was more honorable than a victory; a lesser god simply didnít beat Peltz without creating the impression that Peltz hadnít really tried.
The opening ceremony of the match for the world championship between Neishtadt and Peltz took place in the Muziektheater in Amsterdam. Jacobson was one of only a few people to attend wearing black tie. He could understand the way he was being looked at; he wouldnít have done it if he had not planned his own ceremony there as well.
There was a ballet for sixteen dancers dressed in white and sixteen in black; a choir sang a chess song composed for the occasion. Jacobson kept a steady focus on Peltz, right next to Neishtadt in the front row. So this was where life had taken Japie Peltz, who had blundered a queen against him. Now, the prime minister, the Russian ambassador, and the Queen had gathered to celebrate the coincidence that there were a few connections in his brain that facilitated chess insight. None of them had any idea that that same brain held a raging obsession with a blown chess game for a school championship.
Jacobson felt pleasantly sentimental now that the last minutes of the last, decisive game between Peltz and himself were ticking by. It almost seemed that those dancers and singers were performing for no one but Peltz and himself. What a splendid décor for the big moment! Peltz would accept that the score between them would forever be 1-0 for Jacobson, and at the same time he would accept that the chess spirit had made the error of choosing Japie Peltz.
Peltz won the draw and chose White for the first game.
In a space roped off with braided cords there was a reception for dignitaries, chess officials, and other special guests. Jacobson observed, from his side of the cord, the Queen being introduced to Neishtadt and his entourage. A moment later she was standing among a group of people that included Peltz and his wife and children. Once she burst into laughter; perhaps one of the girls had said she thought chess was just a bore.
It was only after the Queen had left the reception that Jacobson was able to get Peltzís attention.
They stood facing each other, separated by the cord. Jacobson held out his hand, and Peltz, looking a bit surprised, shook it.
"Iím offering a draw," said Jacobson.
"A draw? What do you mean?"
"I donít think it is reasonable to play on." He had to restrain himself to keep from saying: my position is better.
"What are you talking about."
Peltz looked at him glassy-eyed. "Our game? What game?"
"Our correspondence game. I know that you are Pepijn. I already sensed it before bishop e3, but I didnít dare believe it at the time. You became Pepijn in February." But the way Peltz was looking at him made the words harder and harder to get out.
"Pepijn de Jong."
Peltz backed away. He shook his head and looked at Jacobson as if he was afraid of him. There was a moment of silence.
"I can play queen c6 now," said Jacobson. "Iím better then. But Iím offering a draw."
"There is some mistake here," said Peltz. He hesitated, wanted to say something else, but then turned on his heels and walked away.
Jacobson stood by the cord, looking in his direction. A couple of times, Peltz looked back as if to see if Jacobson was still there, but as soon as he saw him he looked away.
At the agency of Quinten de Jong, he got the answering machine. Jacobson called ten, twenty times, but each time the same lifeless voice answered. On his chess board, with the position after 51...Qc6, the pieces stood around as if there were no chess rules anymore. He couldnít bear being in the house, went out, paced up and down the street, got an idea, ran back to his telephone.
Webster asked if Peltz was going to be world champion.
"There is something I want to know about a student," said Jacobson.
"That all depends, it may be none of your business."
"Pepijn de Jong. He plays chess. He played in the simul that time."
Even as he was talking he could hear Webster get very quiet.
"Pepijn de Jong?"
"How close are you to the boy?"
"Better grab a hold, all the same. Heís dead."
"Dead? Thatís impossible."
"I was at the funeral," said Webster. "Really awful."
Pepijn had died almost a year ago, on December 8. Just after Saint Nicholas Day; just after the marzipan chess board that had been his last move before the "overstepped time." Overstepped timeóhow must that have struck the parents? The stamped self-addressed envelopes, the drawings had ceased to come because Pepijn was dead. Someone else had continued to play for him. But not Peltz.
Jacobson again called Quinten de Jong, and this time he left a message.
A few minutes later he got a call back.
Paintings covered the walls, but all Jacobson could look at was a large framed photograph of Pepijn, laughing, with a pawn in his arms at a giant chess game in a park.
"Two weeks before his death," said Quinten. "At that time we also took those Polaroids for you." He had continued the correspondence game, and now he apologized. "Iíve gone too far. But that way he was still a little bit alive. Thatís why I did it."
Pepijn had had leukemia; he always knew he would not live to see twenty. He had been in seventh heaven with his correspondence game against Jacobson, but during that same period his condition had rapidly deteriorated; during the last weeks he had been in and out of the hospital.
Some time after his death, as he returned from a trip with Peltz to Spain and Africa, Quinten had thought of continuing the game for Pepijn. He had seen bishop e3 once when Peltz was analyzing with Fajnman. Quinten had never asked Peltz for advice because he didnít want him to notice that he had filched bishop e3, but especially because he wanted to play for Pepijn all by himself.
"But sometimes I almost forgot him," said Quinten. "Iíve spent entire days analyzing the game, Iíve passed up work for it. It really was an exciting game, didnít you think?"
"At times Jaap would ask me what was the matter with me that I was spending the whole day staring at a pocket chess set. Said he couldnít use a manager who wasted his time on chess. Iím well aware you guys think Iím a ridiculous patzer. But now I have shown you something. And against a master like you!"
"Youíre a pretty decent player," said Jacobson.
"I could never have done it in a regular game, but in a correspondence game things are different. Of course I started with an advantage, because of bishop e3. I had good chances, but now I think itís a draw. Iím offering a draw."
Whatís he talking about, thought Jacobson. He really is a patzer. He doesnít even see how bad his position is.
But he felt that in this particular case it would be inappropriate to refuse a draw. What the heck. He shook Quintenís extended hand: draw.
Quinten made a funny noise and disappeared from the room for at least five minutes.
"I have taken advantage of you," said Quinten. "After all, youíre a professional. I figure you normally charge a fee for correspondence games against amateurs. What do I owe you?"
Jacobson made a quick calculation. If he wanted to get paid for what he had really put into this he could easily ask a hundred guilders a move.
The game had lasted fifty-one moves, but the premature draw had cost him a few moves. Fifty-one times fifteen... what if he were bold and asked for fifteen hundred?
Once again he glanced at the photograph of Pepijn holding the pawn in his arms; a little kid he had thought to use for an errand boy. Pepijn was not a name you should have to die with when you are twelve.
"Would two thousand guilders be OK?" asked Quinten.
Jacobson shook his head. "It was nothing, really," he said.
"Thank you," said Quinten. "Thatís quite a gesture."
They analyzed their game until early morning. Jacobson felt funny seeing the pieces of his game in the hands of this odd customer of a ballet dancer. But Quinten wasnít one of those annoying players who only want to prove they were better all along, and he treated Jacobson with the respect he deserved as a chess master. He deferred to his judgment, and when shown some of the brilliancies Jacobson had seen, he said: "Wow, thatís beautiful!" Of course, over the board he couldnít forever hide the fact that he was after all an amateur, a beginner, a patzer. But that made only more admirable how resilient he had been, how much he had seen for Pepijn.
For a patzer, Quinten had turned in a top performance.
Jacobson had fled the commotion of the press room and was sitting in the dark hall peering at the stage where Peltz and Neishtadt were playing their first game in the match for the world championship.
For Neishtadt, it was pretty near the hundredth time, but Peltz, no matter that he was sitting on that podium for the very first time, remained Peltz, insignificant and unmoved, someone who didnít quite know how to deal with being the vessel into which had been poured such a strange thing as chess talent. Playing chess was just something he found he could do, the way someone else finds a pot of gold in his back yard.
Maybe Japie Peltz would actually become world champion.
Jacobsonís thoughts wandered to his game against Quinten. He had been crazy to accept a draw. He had had another look at it: after queen c6 Black was practically winning. It also irritated him that he had refused those two thousand guilders. An uncalled-for gestureóQuinten paid his psychiatrist too, didnít he?
He should still try to get that money; after all, he was a professional chess player.
© Tim Krabbé, 1995
© Translation Willem M. Tissot, 1999
This translation, which first appeared at The Chess Cafe, was made possible by a grant from the Dutch Literary Fund.
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