[English grandmaster Geoff Scorebook writes a regular column for the Streatham and Brixton blog. Geoff is well-known as a hardworking professional and a regular on the European club and tournament circuit.]
Who'd be an author? I have a book coming out soon, or maybe I don't, having had a rather terse meeting at the publishers' office the other day. I should have known something was up when they invited me into the office to "have a chat about your manuscript" instead of just sending me an email like they normally do.
Well, they showed me into the office and we chatted about the weather and the Hertfordshire Congress - I finished just out of the prizes - for about thirty seconds before my editor - I'll call him Ed for the sake of anonymity - mentioned with his head towards my manuscript, which he had in front of him on his desk. "Anyway, Geoff", he said, "your MS. Ah....interesting."
I wasn't sure I liked "interesting" - it's a word grandmasters say about moves they think are bad but not having yet worked out precisely why. "You think so?" I replied, rather than ask him directly what he meant.
"Mmm, yes," he said. "Winning with the Queen's Gambit Declined. Well, I can't say you're not an....ah....optimist. Still, we have to be as professional chessplayers, don't we?"
To the best of my knowledge Ed last played a serious game of chess in the Blackpool Open about four years ago and lost to a local club player, after which he was heard saying, very loudly, in the nearest pub, that that was it for him, as he could make more money watching other people play than he could make playing himself - a reminiscence I thought it best not to discuss at that particular moment. "Yeah", I laughed instead, "if we weren't optimists we might as well give up, mightn't we?"
He gave me an odd look for some reason and then shook his head as if trying to dislodge something he'd misheard. "Ah, yeah. Right. Well....the...er.... book. That is your final draft, isn't it?"
You cheeky bastard, I almost said, but did not. No, I thought I'd send you a half-finished version for a laugh, I almost said, but did not.
"Er....yes", I actually said. "Why do you ask?"
"Oh, certain....ah...eccentricities in your....ah...approach", Ed replied. I wished he'd come to the point, but he always did fart around too much when you should have been decisive, that's why he couldn't make his living playing chess.
I inclined my head, inviting him to explain what he meant. "Well....for instance", he continued, flicking through the pages, "specifically, here on page...29. You write this whole variation needs more research".
"Well, so it does", I said. "Most variations need more research when you think about it. That's what I do. I research them."
"Mmmm.....yes," he replied. "But I don't seem to actually...see any of it here. Let me give you another example. Here on page 53, you write: readers will find it rewarding to carry out their own analysis."
"And so they will", I said,. "They'll learn more from getting off their lazy arses and doing some work themselves than they'll ever get just from reading what somebody else has written."
"Yes, I don't...doubt it", said Ed. "But that does...ah...raise the question as to why they should actually bother reading what 'somebody else' - specifically...ah, you - has written. Not that you...ah, have, or not that much, anyway. Besides, sitting on their lazy, mmm, arses, is what they actually want to do. Not to mention what this...ah, company would like them to do. Needs them to do, in fact."
I raised my eyebrows, not too offensively. "Look, Ed", I said. "I'm just starting them off. Pointing them in the right direction. You know, give a man a fish and he eats today, teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime."
"Yes, I see", Ed said. "Brain food, isn't it, fish? And they're certainly going to have to do a lot of...er...fishing themselves." He flicked through the manuscript again. "Another...ah....thing. We've been compiling the game index for the back. Something very...ah...strange."
"Go on", I said, examining the ceiling.
"Well, it's an....eh...interesting cast of names..."
"Yeah", I said, "I've got Kamsky, Kramnik, Botvinnik, Petrosian, everybody really."
"Well, not quite...ah, everybody. Hamlet, but no prince. Specifically, no Scorebook. The narrator is absent. Like in Proust, ha ha."
"But I don't play the Queen's Gambit Declined," I said. "I'd rather play almost anything else. I'd rather play the sodding Benoni."
"Mmm, yes, I know" he said again, pressing his fingertips together. "Which makes it all the more...ah...strange that you take the opposite approach in this....manuscript", he said, leaning heavily on the last word, presumably to make it clear that he had deliberately not said book. "We have a collection of...mmmm...lines that you do not play, suggestions that...you do not analyse and games in which you, eh, do not....appear."
"Well," I said, cheerfully, "I wouldn't want to give away all my best ideas, would I?"
"No...mmm...apparently you would not", he said. "Although you do appear to have just, ah...given something away".
And after that he said a few things, not all of them polite, one of which was that his firm were not Everyman and didn't put out just anything provided most of the page numbers were in the right order. And that, ah, specifically, if I wanted to be paid anything on top of my initial advance I would have to, ah, produce something, ah, different, something ah, better, and something ah, soon.
So for the last couple of weeks your correspondent has been sitting at home with his computer and his chess set, trying to whip up winning chances in unplayed lines that are unplayed for good reasons. Still, at least it's original analysis. Very original analysis. If it were any more original I'd be making it up as I went along.
Who'd be a grandmaster?