Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Grandmaster

We were sitting in the lounge room of the Rosemount House on a weekend, or weekday, afternoon and quaffing either Wild Turkey or Teacher’s or, god forbid, Ballantine’s.

And during conversation a mutual friend of a friend of a friend came up: Hartley. Dean was telling us that recently he had played Scrabble in a park with Hartley for Hartley’s birthday.

“Hartley!? He’s a loser,” I declared. “Plus he’s a junkie – what teeth ain’t missing are black.”

I was shouted down by the others in the room.

“I don’t know that Hartley doing heroin matters at all,” said Dean. “He’s really good at chess.”

“Yeah, he’s a grandmaster,” confirmed Bec.

I was dubious at the claims of proficiency. They told me the story. There was this speed-chess hustler from America. Or he might have been Brazilian-American. He was collecting money for his sick father. He was playing speed-chess for five dollars a game.

I said stop. When I was in Sydney, a while back, I was out one night on a Friday night. I was out in the city, on George Street, near the Town Hall. The streets were as busy as anything I’d ever seen. And there was a speed-chess hustler. I remember ‘cause chess hustlers are rare Down Under. The hustler was American, or maybe Brazilian-American, and he had a cardboard sign explaining he would play anyone for five dollars a game and was collecting money for his sick father.

Anyway, turns out this guy was an itinerant speed-chess hustler and was now in Perth, months later, playing for a Kidney Dialysis Machine, Heart Transplant, cure for cancer.

One day Hartley was stumbling down Murray Street mall, eyes like a Great White, and came across this guy with his chess game. He said he wouldn’t play speed chess, but he’d play normal chess. A huge stake was agreed upon and placed on the board: ten bucks.

And Hartley won.

A week later, the Brazilian-American, at a party, or a bar, bumped into Hartley, and bails up Hartley in a corner. He said, “I have to play you again. I can’t stop thinking about that game. In the last six months, you are the only person who has managed to beat me in a game of chess.”

I knew the chess hustler was real and, well, Hartley must be a grandmaster.

And sitting in that lounge room, quaffing Ballintine’s, listening to that story, these times that went forever, we wondered if they would ever end and they did and now we wish they would come back.