WE WILL BE LIKE CHE(SS)

19 06 2010

CAPABLANCA IN OLVIDUM

Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

Every Cuban should know how to play chess, and how to play it well.

I, like every child prodigy who is respected in the island of Capablanca, also defeated my father very early. His name was Manual Dionisio and he could well have been my grandfather. He had a 52 year advantage on me, in life as in chess.

He was a starting player, a brilliant indoor student, but a negligible force for winning live games: too noble to concentrate faced with the screaming fury of the neighborhood opponents (“frogs,” mutually offended with each other in every match on which bets were laid).

It was my father who taught me to “move the pieces,” after they were baptizes “pieces” and even after being honored as “chessmen.” Until he died, at 81, he resisted using the system of algebraic notation. It sounded like another Soviet invention. He preferred the old way and taught me from the time I was very young the name the plays in Spanish and English: P-4R, P-K4…

My father, like me, like every Cuban alive in the seventies (a splendid era in my childish ignorance), was a fanatical fan of Fisher. It was like being a fan of the United States, living another reality in secret which in contrast would have to be spectacular, like denying the socialized pragmatism of the USSR in exchange for the archetypal Western hero.

We bought magazines, old and new, about chess. We also had antique from the nineteenth century romantics (we rehearsed the King’s Gambit to practice sacrifices). We read everything about Fisher, of course. We listened to programs on Rebel Radio We participated in simultaneous games (I remember with a particular sadness one of a Hungarian supposedly called Istcan Csom). We engaged in problem contests and in a fleeting illusion of chess-by-mail. We tried it blindfolded (I was the household champion in that). We castled at length and took pawn for pawn. We didn’t always ask the Queen. The national time passed slowly and productively, honey-colored afternoons where we were happy at home, and the unbeaten shone in the championships on the corner of Fonts and Beales, in Lawton.

We progressed like athletes of the squares, my father and I (now a teenager, he modernized to the point of letting it go with the queen’s pawn). I stopped playing ball to watch the matches. One day I dreamed that I was a Grand Master and woke up crying, I wanted to grow up and be one and travel the world that same night. Another time I dreamed that I moved like a bishop (only within the dream of my lost homeland of the twentieth century is this explicable).

We had a Staunton set made of wood of the most common kind, but it was beautiful and well balanced, an aide to thinking, until the white castle was stolen and a cabinet maker replaced it with the worst possible (the new piece wasn’t even weighted). We had a board painted with black ink, also of wood and very heavy, to confer a sense of gravity to the game. And we didn’t have a timer until well into the nineties (the kinetics of game was so free and slow like a good dose of philosophy).

Then I played regularly in the Caribbean University Games. I never did anything, obviously. Knowing what to do and when, in competitive practice is a permanent mistake. I suppose this meekness of the adult was an inheritance from my old father.

After that I stopped playing. Since the century and the millennium turned over I barely do it. I don’t know who won the championship or who is the world champion (before I knew the list from Anderssen and Steinitz or maybe Morphy). I seems unlikely that a Cuban would cross the cosmic barrier of ELO 2700 (a fluke, I studied biochemistry with the daughter of our first GM Silvino Garcia). Now I no longer understand the tele-classes of Chess for Everyone on TV. I don’t know why I showe3d up at the Capablanca 2010 Tournament in the shabby room at the Riviera Hotel in the year zero or two thousand (for the public, a single magnetic board and another paltry paper one.

I miss my childhood tournaments. Almost all were in the winter. It was cold then and at night the light from the streetlights was a haze from another latitude. Never was reality as real. I wanted to live forever and be good and true in this country.

I’m sorry, Dionisio Manuel Pardo Fernandez (1919-2000). But all the same I confer on you now the ELO minimum of 2200 points to start you in the amateur and anonymous Olympiad of eternity.

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