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Mr. Times and His Knights of the Square Table


With the funding cuts, however, t’ai chi and storytelling were out. But now, thanks to Daniel Rose’s largesse, Tirado, a large, simpatico man whose work has been a staple of Latino theater for years, was on the scene, metaphor in hand.

Alarmed that the team was blowing “won” games, Tirado told the story of the shark. “The fisherman pulls in the shark,” he said in his mellifluous Nuyorican accent. “He hangs the shark up by the tail to take his picture. Then, as the fisherman is smiling for the camera, the shark leans over and bites the fisherman’s leg off. So listen: When you’ve got the guy down, don’t relax, stick the knife in.”

Now, however, Tirado invoked the wounded bear. “What happens when a bear is wounded?” the playwright asked.

“He gets angry,” replied Albert.

“He gets dangerous,” said Sammy.

“He gets revenge,” said Yiqing Li.

“Right,” replied Tirado. “He gets revenge. We have been insulted. We have been wounded. Now we will get our revenge.”

It worked. Dionis was out of the playing room in ten minutes, roaring. “When he tried to take my queen, I laughed to myself. He tried to take it again, and I sneered. When he tried the third time, I checkmated him.” Angel’s game proved inspirational. Back from the hives, Angel had played a game Mr. Times called his “epiphany moment.” Often overanxious, thinking only of his own moves while ignoring his opponent’s, Angel had learned the difference between what Mr. Times calls “the monologue and dialogue.” The idea was to have a conversation, a little back-and-forth, while waiting for the instant to pounce.

Angel said, “He said what he said until there was nothing left for him to say.”

One by one, the Mott Hall players arrived back at the room, all winners. Again, John Wang was the last to return. Spaghetti no longer in his head, he smiled and said, “The wounded bear has returned from the hunt with his kill, and it is good.”

Mott Hall was back in it. After three more points in the sixth round, they were tied for first, ready to play for it all.

Prior to the seventh round, Anatoly Karpov appeared at Chess Control in a gray pin-striped suit. Wide smile on his circular head, Karpov, once the youngest world champion in history, was asked if there was ever a time for him when chess was “not the most important thing.” Karpov answered, “No.” After saying his own son learned how to play “before he could speak,” Karpov was asked if he could immediately tell if someone would become a great player. “Absolutely,” Karpov said. Did his own son show such talent? “Not at all,” the champion replied. “No patience.”

Told this, Mr. Times and Tirado sighed. “Can’t even speak and he doesn’t have enough patience.” Then again, you doubted great players at your peril. Patience was certainly a virtue. Mr. Times had been telling his Mott Hall players that from the start.

They’d need it now, Mr. Times knew, feeling “agitated” himself as he made his final body-language check. Diana was perfect, casually sizing up her cuticles. Albert was also fine, aloof, distant, pumping himself up. There was a dark side to Albert, Mr. Times often thought, a turmoil inside. No one on the team was brighter, or more unpredictable. The brothers Tom and Adam stared straight ahead, acknowledging neither their opponents nor each other, radiating a stolid consistency.

Key would be Diego. He was up against Daron Brown, from Detroit. Also a winner of five games, Brown, an African-American kid who looked to be twice Diego’s size, kept rolling his shoulders and pressing his palms together. He seemed more like a fledgling linebacker than a chess player. “He looks aggressive,” said Mr. Times, with a chill.

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