My opponent, Mark Mills, was a professional pool player, or so he said. Pool is not a sport much covered in the UK press, even less so than chess: the death of a professional wouldn't make much news. But it would surely be reported somewhere: in websites devoted to the game, or in the local papers. I searched the Web for references to Mark Mills combined with words like dead or died or death: nothing of relevance could be found. No pool site that I found - though I did not find many - had anything to report.
I looked at his Wikipedia page, which I had seen when playing him in our individual game. At the time (it has been revised a great deal) it had begun like this:
Mark Mills is a British professional pool player.I was surprised therefore to see that it now began somewhat differently:
Mark Mills is a professional bullshitter.I changed the opening sentence back to how it had read previously, on the grounds that assuming he were dead, it was not an appropriate way for his entry to begin. But I also added a note at the end:
It has been reported to his email chess opponents that Mark Mills has died.This, I thought, might clarify the position: since his entry was the subject of contention, any future changes might tell me precisely what was going on.
Why was I bothered? For one thing, pure curiosity, the same reason that the reader has continued to read this far. But for another, a feeling that there was a question of ethics here, that if somebody had dropped out of a tournament claiming to be dead, then that was some distance out of order. A generous description might be "childish": at best, the most pitiful way to evade resigning that I'd ever come across. Less generously, it made fun, for no reason, out of friendly strangers: it invited them to express condolence when nothing had actually happened. I was annoyed: I was sure that Mark Mills wasn't dead and equally sure that we should not have been told otherwise.
I emailed a few addresses that I found on the pool websites, asking if they had any information. Only one person replied, saying that she did not know anything but that she would ask around: and I waited to see if she could come up with anything. While waiting, I had another look around pool websites and this time I noticed something I should have noticed before: that on one site, Pro9.co.uk, there was a bulletin board and that one of the posters on that bulletin board was Mark Mills. And that he was posting currently, more than three weeks after I had been informed of his death.
Now I was aware that Viktor Korchnoi is supposed to have played a correspondence game with the late Geza Maroczy, several decades after the latter's death, and by that standard, posting on a bulletin board less than a month after one's demise is no great feat. Nevertheless, from my point of view it was a perfect opportunity to confront Mills and ask him if he would care to provide an explanation. So I registered on the board (as Chessplayer) and opened a thread entitled Mark Mills beginning with a question:
Is the Mark Mills who posts on this site any relation to the professional pool player Mark Mills whose death was announced to his correspondence chess opponents last month?I also alerted the Tournament Secretary to my discovery, since he of all people had the most substantial reason for taking offence at the charade. He emailed me back:
That is strange, because the message about Mark Mills dead came from his wife, Tracey Mills, where she stated that Mark Mills passed away on the 9th of May.So, what was going on? By this stage my coda on the Wikipedia page had been removed, so - it seemed to me - it must have been clear to Mills (and his wife) that their deception had been discovered and was not to the liking of those who they had tried to deceive. Possibly his reputation as a "professional bullshitter" was deserved, judging from some of the comments that appeared:
he likes to tell porkies
I'm quite sure Mark did not pass away on 9 may and I'm absolutely 10000000% sure he could never be described as a Professional Pool Player
ha ha ha ha ha ha...he told me he was a pro dart player.and a pro crown green player....ha ha ha ha......he is a pro character
jesus i hope he didnt die because other wise he rang me from the "other" side two weeks agoSo why? I mean why would anybody do this? Jesus, I know some people have difficulty resigning but it's not so hard in an email game where you don't even have to look at your opponent, let alone shake their hand. What's the point? Was he trying to disappear and start his life all over again like Reggie Perrin? I'd never come across anything like it in my life. Was he on the run from his creditors and the law? If so, why keep on posting on a website under his own name? Presumably he just thought it was really funny at the time?
Presumably. But presumptions are only presumptions and are often wrong. He posted a reply:
You will find that was my wife who did that when we split up she told a few people the same thing, i could not don't care though she is the one who screwed some else.So it wasn't him, it wasn't his idea, he didn't find it funny and - except insofar as bathos is funny - it wasn't funny at all. Or funny, but only in the grimmest kind of way.
Provided, that is, that we can believe him....