SI Vault
Fred Waitzkin
September 19, 1988
For the father of a prodigy, chess is hardly child's play
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September 19, 1988

My Master, My Son

For the father of a prodigy, chess is hardly child's play

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"That was a mistake," Pandolfini said. For the past half hour, since he had entered the lobby, he hadn't said a word about the game. He had watched with a strange little smile and explained to everyone who asked him about the position that he couldn't distinguish the pieces on the monitor. This wasn't true; it was just that he didn't want to talk about it.

"Jeff should have moved his bishop. That would have increased the pressure," Pandolfini went on.

"The position is still lost; there's no saving it," answered Litvinchuk, who was higher rated than Bruce and one of the strongest teenage masters in the United States.

"There is a chance for a draw," Bruce said, speaking evenly and still looking directly at the screen, "if Josh moves his knight to the opposite side of the board, to hi, apparently out of play, and allows Jeff to pick off his remaining pawns with his king. It might work." Bruce seemed to be straining to make something out of nothing. According to his unlikely scenario Josh could salvage a draw—and win the tournament—by taking his one remaining knight out of action, temporarily sacrificing another pawn, which would put him in precisely the necessary position to win back all his material. Even if it were theoretically possible, Josh wouldn't think of it; perhaps a strong master would, and maybe he wouldn't. Litvinchuk began to analyze. The entire maneuver would take 15 or 16 moves. Litvinchuk said he wasn't sure; it was very complicated.

Josh sat rigidly for 10 minutes, began to make a move and then drew back his hand and thought again. Then he moved his knight to hi. Downstairs in the lobby parents and children gasped.

"Now when Jeff takes the rook pawn with his king, Josh pushes his g-pawn, using it as a decoy to lure the bishop away from a defense of the queenside," Bruce explained.

Jeff took the rook pawn. "Push the g-pawn, Josh," said Pandolfini.

"Push the g-pawn, the g-pawn," the kids and parents watching the game urged. They had no sense of the value of the move; they had simply fallen in step behind Pandolfini. When Josh pushed the g-pawn, people cheered.

Jeff thought that his opponent had given up and was giving his material away without a fight. But Bruce and Josh were sharing the same vision as surely as if they were talking to each other through the monitor. As Pandolfini calmly laid out his fanciful idea, Josh made the moves. He didn't even seem excited. It was like one more afternoon in the living room analyzing an endgame position with his teacher.

"If Jeff doesn't take the second pawn, bring your knight back to the queenside and start winning them back," said Pandolfini. By now Litvinchuk was beginning to be convinced, and as Bruce called out the moves, he nodded while, like a chorus, parents and kids urged Josh on.

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