On a Tuesday afternoon I presented myself to the doorman at the most exclusive gentleman’s club in town. I was ushered into a large, wood-paneled room off the main hallway. Mr. K sat reclining in an armchair that looked older than my grandmother and more expensive than my car.
“Please sit down,” he said, offering me the armchair opposite him. It almost swallowed me as I sat down. On the carved walnut table between us was a chessboard, set up and ready for battle.
He ordered a bottle of mineral water and two glasses, and when the waiter closed the door behind him, we sat looking at each other.
“Are you here today on behalf of your employer?” he asked, after a pause that seemed like minutes.
“Well Mr. K,” I replied, “you know who my employer is and what he’s looking for, but today, I’m here for a game of chess.”
“As you like.” He smiled and picked up two pawns from the table. The waiter returned with our water, and I nodded toward Mr. K’s left hand as I took a sip. He opened it and revealed a white pawn. I had first move.
“Ah, the Queen’s Gambit,” he said, then made his move.
“Ah, the Baltic Defense.” The atmosphere in the room changed, as he realized I knew what I was doing.
The New Job
My company had been around for ages, and while it’d never really become the industry leader, a lot of people in the telecommunications business watched us closely. To combat the glitz and glamour of our competitors’ over-hyped offerings, my employer opted instead to provide the best customer service in the industry, and while it was expensive, it worked.
I was 19 when they hired me. I had no degree and very little experience, but thanks to a misspent youth (and the digitized collections of manuals and DIY projects for phreakers) I knew my way around a telecomm system.
I loved my new job. The people were nice, the pay was great and I had lots of cool toys to play with. Instead of tapping away at SimCity, I was building and refining real systems and infrastructure that affected how thousands of real people went about their daily business. Better yet, the stakes were higher, which gave me all the more reason to play the best game I could. When the Operations Manager retired after a few years, I took his office.
I first saw Mr. K at a trade show. My colleague pointed him out to me. He said he was a man who was hard to get hold of and even harder to talk to. He was also a potential investor for our new project. At the after-show cocktail party, I found myself standing next to him at the bar. He was waiting for a martini.
“Good show this year, isn’t it?” I asked.
“Yes, there are a few interesting things here,” he said.
I introduced myself.
“Oh, yes,” he said. “I believe your people are shopping that new thing around at the moment. Sounds interesting, good luck with it.”
I saw a woman – presumably his assistant – weaving through the crowd toward us. I expected her arrival would signal the end of our conversation. Then I noticed something: His tiepin was a very elegant but understated gold king, the kind of king you’d find on a chessboard. I still don’t know why I said it – and in retrospect it sounds like a gay pickup line from the ’20s – but I opened my mouth and asked, “Would you fancy a game of chess sometime?”
He gave me a dubious look for a second, then reached into his jacket pocket and handed me a business card.
“Meet me at my club next Tuesday at three,” he said, just before being promptly whisked off to talk to more important people.
After the initial exchange, Mr. K and I played in silence for just over an hour, until he finally checkmated me. I’d decimated the better part of his army and lost a great deal of my own in the process. Mr. K looked up at me and smiled.
“You put up an excellent fight,” he said. “I haven’t seen anyone play like you do for years.”
“How do you mean?”
“You’re hard to nail down. You jumped from a passive attack to an aggressive defense when you didn’t need to. Smart thing to do, as it turned out. You know where you went wrong though?”
He chuckled to himself.
“So tell me, how long have you been with your employer?” he asked.
“About five years.”
“And how long do you think you’ll stay with them?”
“I don’t know. Until this new project is set up, at least.”
“Will you be taking a big role in the project?”
“Yes, but I’ll be doing the behind-the-scenes work. Other people will be on the spot for all the main things.”
“I see. I think I’ll be calling your boss about it tomorrow, but if you’ll now excuse me, I have some other things I need to get on with,” he said, as he rose to shake my hand.
“Thank you for the game,” I said, “And please do call us.”
I walked to the door and was half way through it when I remembered something and turned back around.
“Who did I remind you of?” I asked Mr. K, who was now taking some files from his briefcase.
“You said you hadn’t seen someone play like I did for years.”
“You play like my grandfather did,” he said.
I smiled and left the old gamer to his papers.
The next afternoon, my boss called me into his office. He told me the company had secured the investment capital it needed to fund its latest initiative, and I was going to be the project manager.
Alex Hardie lives in Sydney with a girl and a cat. He will happily accept offers of venture capital funding and C|-|3aP \./14Gra at [email protected].