He never lost a single game in all the tournaments he'd played. In the world of chess he was a legend.
I'd never played with him because he always chose to go against the best of us, sometimes the worst. Those who did play against him described the experience as surreal.
They felt like they were playing with their lives hanging in the balance.
With a stroke of luck, good or bad I can never say, he chose to play against me on a fine day. I was pretty excited to go against such a formidable opponent.
But, by the time the board and tap-timer were set up, I was sweating profusely. I felt my throat dry up and clicked my tongue against the back of my mouth.
I felt a knot tighten in my stomach as he smiled at me and chose black.
I made my first move. D2 to D4. After that everything was a daze. He played with precision and speed, not breaking a sweat, while I fumbled around unplanned. Now my heart was racing.
The match was drawing to a close and I was losing my powerful pieces nearly escaping with my king's life now and then.
Then I saw it. An opening. He'd slipped up. A ray of hope. The knot in my stomach loosened and I began breathing normally. I made my move. G7 to G1.
"CHECKMATE!!", I screamed, looking around for approval and applause. But nobody seemed to notice either me or him. I looked back at him. He just let out a mildly surprised "Oh!" and got up to leave.
Before he did, he took out a newspaper from his coat and held it for me to take.
Awkwardly I reached out to take it. As I did, my fingers made contact with his.
It was brief. But the pain...
Imagine white hot knives being driven into your skull. Then he broke contact, smiled and took off. The experience was surreal and leaves me chilled when I think about it.
Even more so by the fact that his fingers felt like bones and that he'd given me tomorrow's newspaper with a note taped to it.
The newspaper bore the headline :
Plane carrying 547 passengers crashes. All killed except one survivor, now in hospital, awake and alive.
And the note read: