The Master of Chess

“A Zugzwang!” – exclaimed Grandpa.

“So it seems” mused the other old man. He laid his over-sized black-framed glasses down on the floor and turned to me with a grandfatherly smile. “Your Grandpa will be stuck for a while.” He turned towards the old chess board again and gazed at it for a while before smiling back at me. “Do you know what a Zugzwang is?”

I nodded my ignorance. His grin became wider, and those stained yellow teeth, by themselves, were grinning at me now.

Grandpa seemed to come back to this world with a sigh – “Am resigning myself to resign today.” Before I could smile at the pun, he went on “I need a tea now. Yes, I think I need a tea now.”

I made them both some tea. These tea requests were always special to me. Grandpa loved the special Darjeeling flavor. His friend seemed to not mind. They sipped on it and the game continued.

Their chess was legendary in this part of the world. Grandpa was himself a national level player; FIDE rated players didn’t take his old school defensive game lightly. These days, he had picked up some of the newer styles and was runner up in the 80+ category last year.

Surprisingly, his friend had kept up somehow. Loans, deaths, and disease seemed to have not affected him; or at least, not his chess. He was here everyday morning; and Grandpa started each game with his old rival with a keenness that bordered on obsession.

The games went on. Grandpa won some, but lost many. Tea was served always.

Both of them are now dead. When grandpa’s rival died, I had gone there to pay my last respects. Few dusty books were lying around. I hadn’t known that he could read. A worn out chess book caught my attention and as I was going through it, I could see his wife smiling at me through similar stained teeth. She looked at the book in my hand and grimaced a little – “He hated chess. But he loved your tea.”