Now all Josh had
to do was to play knight takes bishop. Then Jeff would take Josh's last pawn
with his king, but Josh would be able to pick off Jeff's last two pawns before
he could bring his king back to defend. A chorus of voices, including mine,
screamed, "Take the bishop, take the bishop," even though I was too
overwrought to understand the position. Bruce was still calmly talking to Josh,
as if he could hear, while all around us people were shouting.
But instead of
taking the bishop, Josh stood up and offered Jeff his hand. For one awful
moment no one could figure out why. Was Josh confused and resigning because he
was down two pawns?
draw," Josh later told me he had said to Jeff.
agree," Jeff had answered in his formal manner.
My son sat down
again. "Take the bishop," people pleaded in the lobby, but Josh paused
and wrote down the move he was about to make on his score sheet the way he had
been taught. "No need to hurry, Tiger," Bruce had always said.
"Take your time. Play like a big boy. Be sure." My son put down his
pencil and looked at the position again for another few seconds, relishing the
ending as if it were a favorite dessert he couldn't quite bear to finish. Then
he took the bishop. Soon the last two pawns came off the board, exactly the way
Pandolfini had predicted 16 moves earlier, and there were just two kings left
on the board, separated by a single square.
In the lobby,
kids and parents were cheering, men slapped me on the back, a man Bonnie didn't
know hugged her. A group of people checking into the hotel for a business
convention walked over to the monitor filled with a nearly bare chessboard and
looked at one another in bewilderment.
When Josh came
out of the tournament room, his face was flushed. "Could you believe I
pulled that out?" he said absently, as if he were still in a distant world.
Litvinchuk grabbed him by the shoulder. "How did you do that? How did you
do that?" he screamed.
Later Josh would
recall winning the National Championship as the greatest experience of his
life, but at this moment he seemed to be in a trance, not so much excited by
winning as relieved not to have lost, and still caught up in the game. I gave
him a hug and suggested that he ought to see his mother, Bruce and his friends,
who were waiting for him downstairs. But just then Morgan came out of the door
to the tournament room in tears. He had lost his game. If he had won, his score
would have tied Josh and Jeff's. Kalev approached his son, but Morgan put up
his little hand, and his father stopped in his tracks. At this moment Morgan
couldn't accept his father's consolation and regret.
Josh put his arm
around Morgan's shoulder and whispered something; then the two of them walked
through the crowded hall, past all the little players and their parents, to a
large parking lot outside. Josh was only 18 months older than Morgan, but he
looked much bigger and older; he was growing up. In a few more years people
wouldn't make such a big deal of it when he beat grown-ups in Washington Square
Park. Maybe by then he would be embarrassed to have his father hovering over
his games like a protective hen. What would I do with my Saturday
A few people
congratulated Josh as he walked by, but he paid no attention. He knew what
Morgan was feeling; it had happened to him the year before. For a few minutes,
the two of them embraced while Morgan cried on his friend's shoulder. Then they
walked around the parking lot for half an hour. At one point seven-year-old
Morgan confided to Josh his fear that for the rest of his life he would be
remembered as someone who couldn't win the big game. As if his own prodigy days
were decades in the past, Josh replied, "Morgan, I'm going to tell you a
secret: You're a much stronger player than I was at your age."