I looked across the table and could barely contain my excitement. I had to play it cool and appear indifferent – such was the proper etiquette. What I really wanted to do was jump up and scream at the top of my lungs; I wanted to high-five everyone in the room, people I knew and people I’d never seen before. Here I was, a 14 year old schmuck, and I was about to totally demolish a bona fide, legitimate grandmaster! Call it a case of pure luck or the divine intervention, but I had ripped through my opponent’s position from start to finish, leaving him with only a handful of pieces on the board. I sat there in quiet exhilaration, waiting for my opponent to give up and extend his hand in defeat.
Despite being absolutely and thoroughly crushed, the man across the table remained calm and collected, acting as if everything was perfect and going as planned. I wanted to get up and yell at him: “Give it up, it’s all over, quit already!!!” – I looked around the room at the people watching the game, catching the reflection of my emotions on their faces as well. The entire place wanted him to stop the game and acknowledge the loss already, and yet he kept playing on, visibly relaxed and unmoved by anyone or anything.
As I captured another one of his remaining pieces, I again quizzically glanced at my rival, however, this time his iron-strong eyes were looking back at me. And that’s when I knew. I looked at the board, and I wanted to cry… I wanted to be invisible; I wanted to turn back the time! In my aggressive and premature celebration, I gave the man precisely what he was looking for – a stalemate! He had no moves left and it was a draw, despite him seemingly being on his last breath.
He quietly got up and left, while I just sat there, amazed by my own stupidity and immaturity, yet in total awe of my opponent. He had one chance to survive and he hung on until the last possible moment, ignoring the looks and disregarding opinions. Had I been in his place, I would have quit long ago, succumbing to the pressure and hopelessness.
What a lesson in resilience and fighting until the true end! Giving up is the easiest thing in the world – anyone can do it. But what an incredible strength of character it must take to hold it together when everyone wants you to quit and actually prefers that you fall apart. Perhaps the onlookers want the strong to quit, because that justifies their own tendency to give up easily. But then there are those who will always want to try one more time, explore one more possibility and hold on to one more hope. And that’s when the unprecedented happens.