Rooked, first chapter

Something like this. Names, details, word choice, subject matter — anything could change and probably will. Resemblance to actual events or persons is merely a jumping-off point. Feedback most welcome.

World Chess Champion Viktor Kravchuk, narrowly leading a small tournament field in Copenhagen, picked up a knight to make the 27th move of his fifth-round game and dropped dead of a brain hemorrhage.

The chess world greeted this news with a collective shrug.

Of course the tournament organizers called for an ambulance. That was mostly a formality; the Ukrainian was clearly dead before he hit the table. And a few mainstream American and UK newspapers found space on a slow news day to mention the spectacular way the Grandmaster died, along with vague speculative warnings about the dangers of thinking too hard.

But in the chess world, death by brain hemorrhage was not remarkable. The Cuban prodigy Jose Capablanca, after all, suffered the same fate in 1942. Harry Nelson Pillsbury, one of the few Americans of world class talent – well, Pillsbury actually died of syphilis in 1906, aged 33. Same difference.

The chess world had another and more critical reason to shrug. Kravchuk’s World Champion title had been gathering dust for more than a decade. Championship matches cost money, and chess had no money.

The international federation IDCF was in disarray. The global economic recession meant grants and private sector patronage withered and disappeared. Municipalities and local businesses did fund occasional smaller tourneys like the one in Copenhagen; Kravchuk hand-selected and thrashed a marginal title challenger every few years. Otherwise: No money, no prizes, no championship cycle matches.

Kravchuk died, the title became vacant, and life in chess trudged forward without breaking stride.

But three months later, on July 7th of the same year, an American laundromat chain owner named  Robert McCurdy issued a brief announcement via his Welsh-Irish press attaché: McCurdy was purchasing the assets of the bankrupt IDCF. To find Kravchuk’s successor, McCurdy would finance the most comprehensive World Championship Cycle in decades.

And with a top prize of $7 million dollars, the most lucrative in history.

That’s when things really started to come together.

11 thoughts on “Rooked, first chapter

  1. And here I was thinking you were joking. All right. So far, I like it. Then again, I am used to editing manuscripts for spelling/grammar errors and proper word choice, not actual content. And most of what creative writing training I got was in poetry, not prose.

    I’m giving you the only useful praise I know: This has made me want to read more. Now gimme.

  2. Also, I meant to tell you this:

    Your blog is awesome. I don’t pretend to read it because it’s not good, I pretend to read it because I’m from Alabama so my reading skills are terrible.

  3. Howard – ha! Awesome :) I appreciate the honesty. From a chessplayer POV chapter one probably reads like nonfiction. The plot starts to thicken in chapter two. (Alternate possibility: It’s simply boring end-to-end.)

    Katrushka – I went to high school in Kentucky so we should be able to communicate. – But thanks for the highest compliment possible!

  4. Actually, I’ve re-read this a couple of times and the very last line sounds a bit…cliché. Cliché to the point of almost hamfisted, which is sad, because the opening is quite good, even if as Jason says, it’s very “non-fictiony.”

    I honestly think I would leave that sentence out entirely. Depending on how you start the second chapter, readers will understand that idea implicitly: the prize money made things “come together.”

    Does that make sense?

  5. Thanks, it does. That sentence is actually a hint about the bigger theme of the book, but there’s an old writers’ adage to the effect of “The sentences where you think you’ve been most clever are the ones you should cut immediately”

  6. I like the historical references of Pillsbury and Capablanca. Unfortunately, I will probably be the ONLY one who appreciates those.


  7. My gut reaction. You could drop a few dead words. Remove “of course” and “almost” and it gets stronger. Also I think there should be some kind of reaction to the death of a world champion, at least within a circle. Sadness, relief, but not total indifference. Relief seems more appropriate in the context. Some people seeing an opportunity?

    As the setting indicates that the world may have largely forgotten about chess, maybe only a few cared, and they were more relieved than saddened.

    Also I agree that the last sentence should be removed. The reader should think this, but the writer should not write it… I think it works here. It is still there if you remove it.

    The most constructive advice you already got. Give us more.

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