With all the ‘favorites’ lists I’ve been seeing lately (Top Ten Tuesday, Book Blogger Appreciation week, etc., etc.), I noticed that I usually find it difficult to answer questions of the “what’s your favorite ____” variety, and I thought I’d share a quick story which gave me an idea…
I’ve written often before about my “chess years” and once before about former World Champion Mikhail Tal, of the Soviet Union (via Latvia, in his case). I met him at the “National Open” chess tournament in Chicago. As a former world champion, he was naturally one of the main draws of the tournament, I’m sure boosting participation and entry fees significantly. Tal was known as “The Wizard of Riga” for the sometimes stupendous nature of his play and his nearly hypnotic glare over the chessboard. He often took wild and crazy chances in his games, risking much in hopes of bewildering his opponents. In 1960 he defeated defending world champion Mikhail Botvinnik, a player known for his especially sound and unflappable style of play. It created quite a stir in the chess world. “How can he get away with playing like that!? Especially against the mighty Botvinnik!?” Sadly, Tal lost the title back in a rematch soon thereafter. Plagued by health problems the rest of his career, he likely never reached the heights that his potential promised.
One of the side events at the 1988 National Open was a “simultaneous exhibition” by Tal. Even if you don’t play chess, you may have seen photos or heard stories of famous masters taking on many players at once, usually surrounding the master in a circle (or square) of tables, with the master making a move on one board, then moving to the next game and so on, and so on, until all the games are over. The players challenging the master are instructed to wait until he reaches their board to play their move – even if they’ve already decided on one – to allow the master to quickly ‘get back into that game’ rather than take a moment to see “what’s changed” on the board (which he could certainly do, it would just ‘waste’ a few seconds). Anyway, one of my friends and fellow competitors, (and also a former teammate), Les, also took part in this tournament and got to speak to Tal afterward. I remember Les telling me that he had asked the grandmaster “What is your favorite (of all the games you have played) game?” and Tal replied – I’m sure not for the first time – “The next one.” Les always thought, and I agree, that this was a great answer.
So the next time someone asks me what my favorite book or short story or horror story or non-fiction book is, I’m going to reply in kind and simply say, “The next one…” 🙂