Fiction Drama Teens & Young Adult

Seventeen-year-old Nigerian-American Elijah was a chess prodigy–a new force to be reckoned with in East Bay's competitive chess circuit. For the past two years, he dissected famous chess matches like a surgeon. The infamous 2005 showdown between Carlsen and Nepomniachtch flickered on his screen when his little sister, Zuri, burst into his room.

“Hammy is…gone!” Zuri wailed, tears streaming down her cheeks.

“Zuri, don’t interrupt me while I’m studying!” Elijah snapped, his mind spinning with chess moves. But he immediately felt regret seeing how distraught Zuri was about her pet, and now, with her older brother. “I’m sorry," Elijah softened, "let’s have a look.”

Zuri tugged him with her little hand toward her room. The empty fish tank that normally held her hamster, was full of wood chips and veggie scraps, but held no sign of his sister’s little furball.

Elijah scanned the room. No sign of Hammy anywhere. Last time Mr. Hams got loose, it took hours to find him napping under the refrigerator.

“You shouldn’t ever let him out,” Elijah muttered.

“Please help me find him!” Zuri’s eyes pleaded.

“Ok, sis. Let’s start with the kitchen.”

They looked under the refrigerator, the dishwasher, and every cabinet. Nothing. As they hunted for Hammy, Elijah mentally rehearsed his opening moves for tomorrow’s chess tournament. He was the first African to break into the West Berkeley Chess Club, and he didn’t want to blow it. Especially with Brad Johnson, the club president, breathing down his neck, opposing him every step of the way.

Mr. Nisihmura, Elijah’s chess sensei, had advised patience. “Bide your time. Wait for the endgame. That is where legends are made.”

Elijah had met the old man through Oakland Plays Chess—a community group that visited Oakland Charter High School. Every Sunday, Elijah absorbed knowledge like a dry sponge. Nishimura taught him not to jump at every chance to attack, to avoid the traps set for an unaware player.

Nishimura was discriminated himself back in the 1990s. “Play the long game”, he advised. His calm presence made Elijah feel different, that his problems today weren’t the end of the world, that he could operate above his anger.

Tomorrow was his match against Philip Glassman, ranked #23 in the club. After speaking with his sensei, just for a moment, Elijah didn’t care if he won or lost. That moment didn’t last long. He desperately wanted to win.


Jake’s creative writing teacher, Adrianna, read the story about an aspiring chess player and peered at Jake from above her eyeglasses.

“You hit the beginning plot points perfectly, and you are the first student in class to not literally save a cat, but rescue a hamster in a laundry basket. Bravo.”


“But, whoa! Right now, your story is way too serious. Too heavy. That’s where the next beat of save the cat comes to the rescue,” she said. “It’s all fun and games.”

Professor Adrianna explained how a diversion into small, almost inconsequential fun adventures was needed. What filled the middle pages of most novels. She helped him brainstorm a few ideas. The MC could forget his mom’s birthday, overhear some juicy gossip, or have a meet cute with a romantic interest. He took notes.

On his way back to the STEM side of campus, Jake was relieved the appointment went so well. Jake always dreamed of writing a novel about chess, but his first short stories were a mess of details about matches that didn’t have any points to make. He hadn’t realized a story should be structured like an engineering project.


“Creativity without structure is chaos. No one wants to read a mess,” his teacher had said at the introduction to the current section.

Being an engineering student, Jake wasn’t exactly on the same wavelength as all the MFA and English majors in the class. In the beginning, it had felt like the entire class was laughing under their breath when he read his essays aloud, but Professor Adrianna urged him to keep trying.


At the next day’s chess match, Elijah followed what Nishimura had taught him about sticking to the standard openings and closings. Diverging from these was a recipe for disaster. The chance for creativity in chess was in the mid-game. 

After going through the Scheveningen Variation, Elijah’s attack sprang into action like a ninja. His piece swept across the board and soon toppled Philip Glassman’s king. But Elijah wasn’t just battling Philip, he was waging a silent war against Brad Johnson.

Elijah knew the trick Brad had up his sleeve. He had done his research. The next higher ranked player, Kristin Gordon, #22, was volunteering in the Sierra National Forest that summer.

“Congrats Elijah!” Brad announced, the club members politely applauding. “Next up, you’ll face Kristin Jensen. I’ve added the match to the calendar for October 1st, to give her time to catchup with her play when she gets back from the Sierras.” 

Kristin was a pawn sacrifice. Buying time for everyone else higher up in the club.

Fortune favors the bold, as Elijah’s drama teacher often said. So, he invoked his secret weapon.

“Rule 17.3 of the Northern California Chess Foundation, says as a new unranked member, I can challenge anyone to a match. I challenge Brad Johnson.”

The crowd oohed. 

“You can’t do that!” Brad said.

“Yes I can.” Elijah shared the link to Northern California’s unusual rule to the club’s WhatsApp group. 

The crowd oohed, and Brad’s face turned grim.


“Well then, game on!” Brad’s voice cracked, and the room crackled with tension.

Brad’s rank towered twenty-three levels above Elijah’s, but Elijah had watched his games. Brad was textbook-as predictable as the lunch bell. Elijah saw every attack he needed to make, every pawn he’d sacrifice, to shatter Brad’s careful style of play.

That Sunday, Elijah pedaled up the Oakland Hills to Mr. Nishimura’s chess studio. It was a work-out for his whole body and brain every Sunday morning. He spilled the beans to Nishimura–his gambit to jump to the top of the club. He explained how he’s developed an off the books opening attack to throw Brad off balance.

Nishimura’s eyes held decades of wisdom. “Don’t you think Brad will be expecting that? Your opponent will have his own basket of surprises.”

“But…” Elijah stammered, knowing that Mr. Nishimura was right as usual.

“The answer lies with Sun Tzu,” Nishimura said, leaning back in his creaky chair. “Know your enemy. Study his every move, his likes and dislikes, when he sleeps, what he eats…”

The next week, Elijah shadowed brad after club practice. From a careful distance, he traced his route to a Chipotle on Telegraph Avenue. Elijah couldn’t fathom how learning Brad’s choices would help him win a chess tournament. He would definitely ask Mr. Nishimura about next time.

Brad collected his order and sat facing away from the street, and pulled out a textbook. Nothing unusual there. But then Brad reached under his shirt, extracted a tech gadget and placed it on the table. Weird. Elijah moved in closer and took a photo.

Fortune favors the bold! Elijah marched into Chipotle, ordered pork carnitas tacos, and carried them across the dining room. Brad’s surprise was palpable when Elijah sat across from him. He quickly grabbed his gadget off of the table and dropped it into his backpack. While they ate, Brad avoided talking about chess, and rambled on about his pre-Law classes at Berkeley. 

“Apply before you graduate high school,” Brad advise, sipping his iced tea. “You’re a smart kid.”

Elijah listened, content that he might have some secret intel on Brad. What was that gadget, something medical?

As soon as he got home, he opened the photo and zoomed in. The gadget had a label–Pensor 13. A Google search revealed it was a chess computer. Hackers had linked it up with a tactile input/output device that let amateur chess players cheat at tournaments. 

Using a computer was grounds for immediate disqualification. Elijah grinned. Game on! He needed to be careful, chose the right moment. Find out when Brad uses the computer and wait until the club’s top leadership was there. 

That Friday, Brad played a fast game with the club’s #3 player, Justin. After each move, Brad would slip his hands under the table and tap his leg. 

Elijah wanted to scream, “Cheater!” But he realized, even if the handful of club members present didn’t cover up for Brad, the best that would happen would be that Brad would be suspended and Justin would move up the ranks. Elijah’s own game against Brad would be cancelled, and he would remain at #23 for an eternity. And only the top five players could travel to the regional championship in Lake Tahoe at the end of the year.

After a long game, Brad won again. Elijah took a photo of the chess moves recorded on the whiteboard by the acting club secretary.

That night, Elijah woke in a cold sweat. His dreams were a chaotic mix of chess pieces and hamsters. He knew he had to act. Online, he forked over $19.99 for a Windows version of Pensor 13. Elijah set the skill level to Superhuman, hit “play”, and entered Justin’s opening move. Pensor responded with the next move in the match's history. Play by play, he went through the game. Pensor mirrored every move Brad made.

He could expose Brad at a tournament game, get him suspended for three years. But what if there was another way?

Elijah reset the program and faced off against Pensor. He played his own style. The AI crushed him, but he rewound the game, and analyzed each move until he found where his attack went wrong. He tried a different move and played through. A loss, but not as bad.

He tried again, and again, variation after variation. Over the next three days, he remained holed up in his room, playing against the chess computer. And finally, he did it. After a Durking Opening and a midgame surge, he cornered Pensor’s king.

The screen blinked: Human Player - WIN.

He was ready.

The next Saturday morning, the entire club gathered to witness a noob be humiliated by Brad Johnson. The room buzzed with anticipation. A Nigerian high school kid from Oakland was about to be taught a lesson.

Elijah made his first move. After looking at the board, fiddling with his hands under the table, Brad moved his pawn to e5 just as he planned.

In the hushed silence, the monotonous clinking of chess pieces on the board echoed through the room, as the play went on move by move. . Elijah listened to the murmuring from the club’s members. Not bad. Clever. Good move. The positive vibes were growing as loud for him as they were for Brad. The club hadn’t seen a game this close and uncertain for a long, long time.

No one else noticed, but on every move, Elijah saw Brad’s hand under the table, tapping his leg, reading the next move from the chess computer’s Braille interface. And move by move, walking into the trap Elijah had set for him.

Elijah advanced his bishop to D7, beginning the surprise attack on Brad’s third line.

Without even thinking about it, Brad picked up a Rook and moved it to f5. 

The wrong spot.

Overconfidence had blinded him. He didn’t listen to the computer, but made his own worse move. This game would be easier than Elijah thought. He would capitalize on Brad’s slipup and grab that rook.

But wait. No piece could threaten Brad’s rook immediately. Elijah delved deeper, searching for an attack. Instead, he saw how Brad’s rook threatened both of his knights.

He retreated, moved a knight back for protection. Brad advanced. Elijah retreated again and again. Move #87 arrived, and Elijah saw the writing on the board. All was lost.

Elijah flipped his king, stood up, and faced the room. “This game is void because my opponent cheated! He has a chess engine in his pants.”

“Ridiculous,” Brad scoffed.

Professor Haskell, the arbiter, leaned in. “A serious allegation. Show us what’s under your leg, Brad.”

Brad’s face flushed crimson. Sweat dripped down his forehead. He nudged up his pants leg and pulled out a box. “Embarrassing, but did you mean this?”

“Yes. What is that?”

In his hand was a red box of Meiji Chocolate Almonds. He opened the package and offered one to Professor Haskell. “You got me. I’m carrying the box of lucky chocolates I got from my chess teacher to the tournament.”

Professor Haskell took a studied the box of chocolates, and looked around Brad’s legs and waist, to make sure nothing else was hidden there, before making his announcement. “That is obviously not a chess device, so this match is awarded to Brad Johnson.” He took a deep breath. “And for making an unwarranted allegation against a fellow member, I will need to suspend Elijah from tournament chess for six months.”

Elijah stared at the floor. How did this go so wrong? Had he been imagining everything, and dug his own grave?

After everyone had left the crowded chess room, Brad passed Elijah and turned around. He put his hand on his pants leg and tapped his fingers.

“Your newbies fall for it every time.” An evil grin spread from ear to ear.

Elijah looked around for support, but all the other members were avoiding his gaze, apparently disgusted with him for stirring up trouble.

“Checkmate,” Brad said, and walked away.

Elijah felt more totally alone than he ever had in his life. That week, a sense of betrayal and disillusionment consumed him.

There was only one person he could talk to about chess. One person who knew how unfair things could be in America for an immigrant. That Sunday, Elijah peddled his bicycle up the long slope to Nishimura’s chess studio. The warm summer air carried the scent of the California pines as he ascended the hills. When Elijah arrived, he rang the bell. A gardener opened the front door, and looked confused to see him standing there.

“Can I help you?”

“I’m here for my Sunday lesson with Mr. Nishimura”

“Haven’t you heard? Mr. Nishimura passed away last week.”

Elijah’s knees turned to jelly, and he collapsed to the ground. The loss of his mentor, Mr. Nishimura, left him alone, drowning in a sea of uncertainty.


“Bravo, Jake,” Professor Adrian declared. “You’ve taken us on a rollercoaster of fun and games, and delivered the reader to All Is Lost.” 

Her review was positive, but her facial expression didn’t match the praise she had given the story.

“But I have some other news. Your classmates have said your story has violated the university’s rules for cultural appropriation, and have spoken to the dean’s office. I’ve been asked to suspend you from class for until there is a committee review, and that won’t be until next year.”

“But Elijah is the hero of the story! The OG. The main character.”

“Sorry, but there’s nothing I can do about actions taken by the dean’s office.”

“This is unfair!” Jake’s inner monologue screamed harsher words, unsuitable for print.

“Go home and think about what truly matters to you. There are bigger things than this class.” She handed him his story and opened another binder on her desk–teacher body language for case closed.

Jake clutched his rejected manuscript and trudged out of her office. The hallway echoes with the sound of his writing dreams disappearing.

She had said to think about what else was important to him, but Jake couldn’t think of anything more important than failing a course in his first year at UC. The sting of rejection cut deep. On the way home, he bought a bottle of Smirnoff.

Back In his room, he unscrewed the bottle and took a swig. He’d drown his sorrows one drink at a time. On the now useless manuscript, he scribbled down a title for the next chapter: The Dark Night Of The Soul.

And then, a knock. Ava, his little sister, barged in holding her guinea pig, Piggy Sue. Jake hid the bottle of vodka. 

With joy in her eyes, Ava sat beside him, and recounted the escapades she and Piggy Sue had that day. Mom said Ava was on the autism spectrum, so he should forgive her for being too direct sometimes. The soft fur of her guinea pig tickled Jake’s hands as it wiggled between them.

“Ava, would you like to play a game of chess with your big brother?” Jake asked.

“Sure. But I want to play monopoly,” she said, pointing to the board game on his bookshelf. “And Piggy Sue wants to play too.”

They set up the board and game pieces.

“Your move.” Ava handed him the dice. “Why do you like games so much?”

“To escape,” Jake mused to his sister, as he rolled the dice. “To be in a world where things make sense.”

“I think so, too.” She grabbed the dice, rolled for Piggy Sue, and moved her race car onto Chance.

April 17, 2024 08:32

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Paul Littler
16:09 Apr 30, 2024

Using a story within a story using a short story to do so is a bold move. Loved it.


03:33 May 01, 2024

Thanks, just thought I'd put out a few meta writer stories ! save the cat, hero's journey, not sure what comes next...


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Philip Ebuluofor
19:43 Apr 18, 2024

Exactly your way when in the mood. Lengthy one here. Fine work.


03:33 May 01, 2024

Thanks Philip!


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Darvico Ulmeli
18:20 Apr 18, 2024

Like the story. Kept me interested to read till the end.


03:33 May 01, 2024

thanks for reading darvico!


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Crystal Wexel
11:06 Apr 18, 2024

I don’t necessarily think it needs to be shorter , but I’m thinking if you went in and edited it further , you could find areas that you as the author felt could be cut if you felt passionate about making it shorter .


11:30 Apr 18, 2024

Thanks for check in out, and good to hear it made sense. Yeah, I usually try to forget my story for a day or two, and then reread it and delete whatever bits feel slow.


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Crystal Wexel
11:03 Apr 18, 2024

The story flows very well . I like how it’s two stories in one, but they compliment one another . Very clever . I commend you on your layout , and pre planning .


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Mary Bendickson
16:27 Apr 17, 2024



02:15 Apr 18, 2024

haha, I was trying not to put too many "checkmate" dad jokes into this while I was writing.


Mary Bendickson
03:03 Apr 18, 2024

I did it for you. Thanks for reading my 'Blow Your Head Off'


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Alexis Araneta
15:52 Apr 17, 2024

I quite like this, Scott. The pacing was really good; it kept my attention throughout. Good descriptions too. Lovely work


02:14 Apr 18, 2024

Thanks for checking it out Stella!


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05:06 Apr 19, 2024

I usually write to the prompts where you have a sentence to weave in. Didn't this time, as no story came to mind for that aspect of 'fun and games' Ages ago I wrote a story about a cat (a real cat), included the qualifying phrase but it must have been overlooked and the story disqualified. (I wove it in too deftly?) But it was there! Weeks later I decided to appeal, and the story was submitted late. Barely anyone read it. This time I decided to write a story about a game that takes a turn. Haha. Your story could have fitted that prompt as we...


05:13 Apr 19, 2024

Jake the student needed a low point to mirror the "All Is Lost" plot point of Elijah, just wanted something quick and unfair to happen to him (that he would redeem himself from in a long story). Agree the 'cultural appropriation' was the one thing i wasn't 100% sure about (the idea authors aren't supposed to write in 1st person experience of other ethnic groups) but I didn't want to dwell on explaining. Maybe "plagiarism" or something would be simpler, will have a think. This story moves on from "fun and games" and ends sort of in the mid...


05:36 Apr 19, 2024

Hopefully a sequel? Yes, there is a low all is lost part to the Save a Cat structure. Plagiarism could work. I use a plagiarism checker and it's surprising what comes up. Most of it is totally innocuous as it is partial quotes from totally unrelated contexts. But the checker finds them. Mind you, apparently you can use a checker as a tool to actually plagiarize by tweaking the offending quotes. What next! I can't imagine Elijah turning up in a Japanese outfit to the chess game so I wouldn't try that. LOL


06:13 Apr 19, 2024

hmm.. going all the way with Save the Cat, and the "B" story leading to a big win, Jake writes a story about his sister that gets widespread acclaim. Elijah gets a gift left behind for him by his mentor, and the good luck,etc helps him win a national high school chess tournament, something like that. BUT, i have a new idea to do a satire of the "heroes journey" if the prompt fits next week


11:33 Apr 19, 2024

Satire sound cool.


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02:04 Apr 18, 2024

The Save The Cat plot structure: 1. **Opening Image**: - Set the scene with an impactful visual or moment that captures attention. 2. **Theme Stated**: - Introduce the central theme or message of your story through dialogue or symbolism. 3. **Setup**: - Establish the protagonist's ordinary world, their flaws, and their desires. 4. **Catalyst**: - Drop a plot bomb—an event that propels the protagonist into action. 5. **Debate**: - Show the protagonist wrestling with their decision to embark on the journey. 6. **Break Into...


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Unknown User
15:50 Apr 17, 2024

<removed by user>


02:12 Apr 18, 2024

Thanks dude. I know zero about chess, this story def needs some fact checking before the Netflix version is produced lol, But a few years ago I did spend a pleasant 3 days hanging out by the UC Berkeley campus at an airbnb, dreaming that I could have been a student there instead of freezing my ass off in Wisconsin back in the day. The school was serious than I thought though, and not the Jack Kerouac 70s hippy mecca I was imagining.


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RBE | Illustration — We made a writing app for you | 2023-02

We made a writing app for you

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