The Last Gambi
by Om Swami
Genre: YA Coming of Age
Release Date: February 2017
Harper Element (Harper Collins)
Success by design is infinitely better than a win by chance. Vasu Bhatt is fourteen years old when a mysterious old man spots him at a chess tournament and offers to coach him, on two simple but strange conditions: he would not accompany his student to tournaments, and there was to be no digging into his past. Initially resentful, Vasu begins to gradually understand his master’s mettle.
Over eight years, master and student come to love and respect each other, but the two conditions remain unbroken – until Vasu confronts and provokes the old man. Meanwhile, their hard work and strategy pay off: Vasu qualifies for the world chess championship. But can he make it all the way without his master by his side?
Inspiring, moving and mercurial, The Last Gambit is a beautiful coming of age tale in a uniquely Indian context.
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‘You are a genius, Vasu,’ he said. ‘I’m investing all my time in you because I know some day you’ll surprise everyone, including yourself.’ My chest swelled with pride. ‘And that day is not far,’ he added. I felt as if I had won the world championship. He thinks I’m a genius! I couldn’t contain my smile and adjusted myself in my couch. ‘But,’ he said, gently bringing me down a notch, ‘you are not consistent. You do play some brilliant moves, but they don’t add up.’ As always, he had a nugget of wisdom. ‘Every move, Vasu, every move must put greater pressure on your opponent. To win, you must play good moves and do so consistently.’ ‘The same goes in life too,’ he continued. ‘A consistent and persistent man of average intelligence is more likely to succeed than an erratic and lazy genius. A hundred well played draws, or a hundred lost but well-fought games are better than one victory by fluke. Success by design is infinitely better than a win by chance.’
Success by design is infinitely better than a win by chance – this got etched in my mind. This was it. The missing link. I had been playing in the hope that success would come, that it would just happen. It dawned on me that success was a sculpture that I had to carve and chisel at patiently. I had to design my success.
‘Do you know who the finest teacher is?’ he asked. ‘You!’
Ignoring my answer, he continued, ‘Experience is the greatest teacher, Vasu. Always replay your own games to see where you went wrong and what made you play the way you did. People don’t lose because they make mistakes, they do so because they repeat their mistakes. The first time, it’s not a loss but a learning.’
‘So, how do I avoid making mistakes?’
‘Just don’t repeat them,’ he said after coughing and clearing his throat. ‘Be it life or chess, that’s the only difference between a grandmaster and an amateur. An amateur expects to reach a different destination by walking the same path. He hopes for miracles or serendipities. A grandmaster, on the other hand, relies on his own effort and intelligence. He does not commit the same error twice.’
‘But Master,’ I said, curious, ‘I do try my best to not repeat my mistakes. Why do I still lose?’ ‘Because you nourish the body and starve the soul.’ I gave him a blank look because I didn’t have a clue about what he just said. ‘Do you know the soul of chess, Vasu?’
Saving a few times, like when he was sleeping, living with Andrei was a continuous challenge. He was just not designed with any sense of living in a world sans chess. He couldn’t even pour tea without spilling it in the saucer. He would never remember to turn the gas off after cooking. And the only thing he knew how to cook was an omelette. It was scary to be in the same car with him because he would just stop anywhere and start making notes on some game.
He would forget his wallet in the restaurant and keys in his car. It’s hard to imagine that the genius Andrei, immaculate on the chessboard, would be so clumsy in real life. The man who could think through lengthy lines of variations in his head could not string together two words to hold a conversation. He never spoke to my parents. He would say he didn’t have any conversational skills. Surely, he could have learnt these skills, if only he had made an effort.
I kept my hopes up for six long years and then one day I realized that ‘if only’ doesn’t work with people like Andrei. If it could, he wouldn’t be Andrei then.
About the Author
Om Swami is a monk who lives in a remote place in the Himalayan foothills. He has a bachelor degree in business and an MBA from Sydney, Australia. Swami served in executive roles in large corporations around the world. He founded and led a profitable software company with offices in San Francisco, New York, Toronto, London, Sydney and India.
Om Swami completely renounced his business interests to pursue a more spiritual life. He is the bestselling author of Kundalini: An Untold Story, A Fistful of Love and If Truth Be Told: A Monk’s Memoir.
His blog omswami.com is read by millions all over the world.
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