Endowed in perpetuity by the Glenna Luschei Fund for Excellence

3:33 Sports Short #41 // The Kindness of Heart by Mark Budman

After a break during the Summer (how did the Olympics in Rio treat everyone?) the final batch of Sports Shorts is on the way. Mark Budman's piece explores how the mental sport of chess now exists in the digital realm. Enjoy this, and stay tuned for more in the coming weeks!


Kindness of heart is little use in chess.
—Nicolas Chamfort

You don't imagine yourself a spider or vampire sitting in the dark cave in front of a game computer and catching the weak and naive to suck their blood and spit the cask out. You're above the melodrama. You're a grand master. Your chair is calf leather. Your pajamas are silk and your scarf is cashmere.  And your monitor, with its screen that you dimmed to the bare minimum—the bright light hurts your eyes—is the state of the art.

You obviously can't see your opponents' faces. They probably are young men and, most probably, not Americans.  Americans don't play this game. But you do see their ranking and they see yours. They are mostly amateurs.

Everyone's avoiding you now. Your ranking intimidates them. You're quietly proud. While the lack of new points makes you pale, thirsty, and bloodless, you're patient.

At last, someone challenges you.  You lick your canines in anticipation.

You're whites. You click your mouse and make your move. Your opponent and you both get three minutes cumulatively for all the moves you make, so the game can't last more than six minutes, but you usually win before that.

Your opponent is unusually fast. It takes him seconds, even fractions of a second for each move.  Moreover, each move is flawless. Is he a hacker? But how? No one can hack the game computer, which can only record the moves. It's not much more than a dumb terminal. Unless, at the same time, they enter the moves into another computer that would spit out suggestions. But no one is that fast.

Maybe there are two of them, each manning his own computer? Still, the process is too fast even for two; their coordination would need to be out of this world. Maybe your opponent came up with a gizmo to enter the moves into both computers at the same time? That's what you did. Even with that, he must be inhumanly fast.

Your opponent is now close to checkmating you, and you have only 10 seconds left versus his 59. You practically feel his teeth at your pallid, slender throat, and you wrap your scarf tighter.  And then your opponent stops. You watch the counter spilling out his remaining seconds. 58... 57... 56...

After all, he might be in a country with a slow Net. He might have made his move, but the server didn't register it. In that case, you'll win. The server is inhuman.

55... 54... 53...

 You loosen your scarf. You might still quench your thirst and increase your ratings. 52... 51.. 50...

Let the best man win. That's sport, mates.

And then the screen explodes into your face in a sun-like brightness. He's a hacker! You rise your hands to protect yourself. But it's too la—


Mark Budman’s fiction and non-fiction writing has appeared or is about to appear in such magazines as American Scholar, Huffington Post, World Literature Today, Daily Science Fiction, Mississippi Review, Virginia Quarterly, The London Magazine (UK), McSweeney's, Sonora Review, Another Chicago, Sou'wester, Southeast Review, Mid-American Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, and elsewhere. He is the publisher of the flash fiction magazine Vestal Review. His novel My Life at First Try was published by Counterpoint Press to wide critical acclaim. He has co-edited flash fiction anthologies from Ooligan Press and Persea Books/Norton. He is at work on a novel about Lenin running for president of the United States.

Categories: