Pawn to King four. The opening move had been made, the time clock
begun, and still only one man sat at the center-stage table. Had it not been for the
repeated supplications by the tournament host, the match would have been forfeited.
The Grandmaster shifted irritably in his chair. It was an affront, he
felt, unforgivable under the circumstances. For this, in fact, was not a tournament but an
exhibition. He wished now he had declined the invitation. After all, what was there to
gain? He checked the time, casting another impatient look at the nervous referee. This
brand of theatrical "one-upmanship" was insolent, regardless of the upstart's
Yet the indignity of waiting for an unranked player, before a small but
astute audience of chess enthusiasts, was not his prime vexation, for underscoring the
Master's pique was a latent apprehensiveness about the match's outcome. His unpunctual
opponenta boy, a prodigyhad played eleven top-ranked players to date, and
beaten them all. The games were unofficial; the U.S. Chess Federation had no record of
them. But their contents, replete with unique positions and radical lines of play, were,
nonetheless, being analyzed in clubs across the country. Julian Papp was well-known. So
much so, that to refuse his challenge and keep one's credibility intact was becoming
The seconds ticked off. Perhaps the boy would no-show. From past
accounts, arriving late was not among his characteristics. Concentration, uncanny skill,
innovative movesthese traits were invariably citedbut tardiness, never. The
crowd was already anxious. These exhibitions had brought prestige to their otherwise
unheralded club. Julian Pappsobriquet The Albinohad become their
standard-bearer. Annihilating the local competition at the age of twelve, he had been
awarded the honor of playing a visiting Grandmaster.
He had won!
In a similar match the following year, his victory was repeated, and
thus the legend began. But his remained a strictly word-of-mouth fame, for when Julian was
invited to compete in the more publicized major tournaments he declined, announcing that
he would participate solely in exhibition play, and this only locally. Then, with a
self-assured arrogance reminiscent of Paul Morphy, he issued an open challenge to any
Grandmaster who was willing to meet him on home ground. Much to the delight of his chess
club, the challenge was sometimes acceptedat first rather lightly by visiting
Masters curious about the boy's talent, then later, as his winning record became
nationally known, in earnest.
By tradition a single game was played. The challenger chose for White
or Black. A draw precipitated a second game. Three draws and Julian conceded defeata
concession he had never made during his entire eight years of competitive play.
Relief nuzzled into the Grandmaster's fidgety nerves. Time was running
out. Failure to appear was admission of defeat, and though this was hardly the most
satisfying means by which to achieve a win, certain statements by the vanquished implied
it might be preferable to running the risk of losing. For rumored more indomitable than
his caliber of play was the young man's eerie mien across the board. Its effect had been
expressed in terms like "intimidating" and "unnerving"and by
those unused to being flustered. Whether this indeed were true, or merely the
rationalization of wounded vanities, was perhaps a matter that should best be left
The thirty-minute grace period was almost up. Beyond that, waiting out
the hour was at the discretion of the player present. Judging by the huffy agitation in
the Master's manner, it was unlikely he would prove to be magnanimous.
The audience stirred. At the side of the hall a door opened. With a
steady, unhurried step, Mr. Julian Papp entered. He wore white; he was white: white
sneakers, socks, pants, suspenders, long-sleeve shirt and tie, white hair, white
skina pasty shade of corpselike pallor. In fact his skin color seemed to have no
depth, but lay on the surface like an opaque mask: anemic, static, inhumanly
expressionless. It was easier to keep one's face averted, for if one did brave a
surreptitious glance, it was apprehended, caught and swallowed up by the case-hardened
blue-black lenses that enshrouded the chess player's eyes. Invariably they drew
focuslike twin black holes.
Having mounted the stage and crossed to his seat, Julian imperceptibly
nodded, sat, and immediately answered the opening move with Pawn to Queen Bishop's four.
The clock was punched, the tone established. Total silence reigned.
Stiffening in his chair, the Grandmaster sucked in his disgruntlement
and directed his gaze toward the sun-shielded eyes of the anomalous Julian Pappwhose
dark glasses proved impenetrable. Discomfiture suddenly threatening, the Grandmaster's
scrutiny returned to the board. He deliberated long and hard:
Instantly Julian answered:
Thus the pattern of play was set. Every plodding move by the Master was
to receive a lightning reply. It was an effective tactic, particularly in combination with
Julian's remarkable appearancewhich his opponent seemed determined to ignore.
The pawn was snatched with a startling covetousness. It was as if the
boy in white were reclaiming a portion of himself. His moves were reflexes. Then, after
each, he returned to a cataleptic calm.
The match continued. For the benefit of the spectators, each move was
reproduced on a video screen erected at the back of the stage. On move twenty-four the
Grandmaster blundered. Awareness of this, like an electric shock, went rippling through
the crowd. Julian's retort was instantaneous, implacable. And though the game was far from
lost, White's position was seriously weakened.
Then a change came over Julian, a subtle movement. With his hands
resting on either chair arm, his thumbs commenced to beat an irregular time.
Wind breathing soft gentle meadowscents and meadowcolors walking
(touch me touch me) passing through the air molecules of air pulsebeat footfall time
adrift (she) yes (touch me hold my hand) the meadow smiling as we walking floating
reaching touch to touching palm to palm two palm prints pressing lines whose fates
conjoined inscribe the way so clear so clear so clear
It lasted only seconds, then it stopped. Those familiar with
Julian's play recognized the motion. He had always done it. This seemingly involuntary
tapping was popularly thought to be triggered by fluctuations in the mental rigors exacted
by the game. It was not, however, a reliable barometer of how a given match was going, for
as often as not the thumbs started up without anything overt happening. And since Julian
himself offered no explanation, his fans simply shrugged off the quirk, as they did so
many of their champion's idiosyncrasies.
By the fortieth move, White's earlier mistake was beginning to take its
toll. Julian had kept up his high-pressure pace, and alsomore than ever
beforehis interludes of tapping. Increasingly aware of the precariousness of his
position, the Grandmaster seized on the inaudible thumbs as the cause of his predicament.
When next they resumedat move forty-twohe complained to the referee.
"Would you kindly ask my opponent to desist from that interminable
With White's position nearly hopeless, the referee was not surprised,
believing, as did all those present, that the Master should resign. Nonetheless, he
the air molecules of air pulsebeat time adrift (she) yes (touch me
hold my hand) the meadow smiling
yes (touch me hold my hand) the meadow
The twitching in his thumbs crept up his arms. His shoulders
quaked, as did his head, his legs. He clenched the chair as if to squelch the tremors.
Suddenly a birdlike cry erupted from his lungs.
A violent spasm sent Julian rocking. His chair tilted back. It balanced
nervously on end for a second, wavered, then crashed to the floor. Crowd members rushed to
"Loosen his clothing!"
"Take off his shoes!"
Julian's face had turned blue.
"Stick something between his teeth!"
He seemed to be gagging.
"Watch that he doesn't swallow his tongue!"
His chest heaved for air.
"Give him some room. Back up. Everybody back up!"
"Shouldn't we hold him down?"
"No, call a doctor."
"But look at him!"
And while the people sought ways to be helpful, the spasms continued:
mindless, grotesque, irrepressible.
Then it was over. What seemed to have gone on forever had, in fact,
scarcely lasted a minute. Stunned and bewildered, Julian's senses staggered their way back
to consciousness. What happened?
He was desperate to know. The horror-struck faces suspended above him
provided a sobering clue. For the rest, he would have to rely on the competence of his
physician, who would later determine he had suffered a brief "grand mal
seizure." Diagnosis: EpilepsyTemporal Lobe.