Howard Roark was a chess genius. He had known this, utterly securely, since his sixth birthday, when he had discovered the chess set in his attic and immediately known how to play. Sitting on pile of magazines which contained the dreary, identical thoughts of the chess ancients, he had there and then created his own unique and devastating attack. He knew that any any honest chess player could not beat it.
Growing up, Roark was a strapping but silent child. He was deeply unpopular at school, but when his fellows came to pound on him, he simply straightened up and a strange, cold light would come into his eyes. Deeply impressed, they would slink off, and would later whisper amongst themselves about how great they really thought he was. Their biggest fear was only that he would one day find this out.
Roark was bothered through his whole childhood by inferior adults wanting to play him at chess. He didn’t feel sorry for them – no, rather he felt embarrassed for them and thought how they weren’t proper people, when you get down to it. His floozy of an Aunt was the first, barely interested in the game as she made eyes at his father. Amazingly, his father played even worse then her, and Roark knew this man had no talent. Roark did not feel regret the man was his father – rather he knew his talent came only from him, and he had no influences of any sort. The doctor clearly just wanted some vicarious thrill of seeing the young play so well, and his enthusiasm was sickening to see. When he brought Roark some old books and articles on chess, Roark handed them back to him in silence, and told him he did not mind the insult.
After his father died, Roark made an honest and good living from playing chess in all the great towns of Europe. A lesser man would have tried to impress others, like our readers, with this, but he would never talk about his experiences with anyone. One day, some silly flighty woman handed him back something she thought he had dropped – of course, Roark never made mistakes like that, and simply handed her back the handkerchief. When he saw how she was kind and perceptive, he lost interest completely, and advised her to find a more suitable man and station in life.
Roark played against opponents as little as possible – he preferred to play thousands of games against himself, lost in his own brilliance. Roark was very selfish. Sometimes, he would have to play in tournaments, which he only did to bring money in because he knew they were all corrupt and meaningless. One player, the suave and calculating Turati, would follow Roark around and try to play him whenever he could – cared only for what people thought of him, and made sure he was always photographed, looking suave, while Roark sat next to him stiff as a board with a neutral expression.
Turati approached him before the tournament began. He smiled and extended his hand – Turati knew that this made him look affable – and started talking of the many great players at the tournament, and the mechanics of his new defence.
“Bongiourno, grandmaster Roark! I am so pleased to see you here. I am a great admirer of your – what do you call – relentless, homogeneous attack. It has something of the late Luzhin about it – but more direct, I think. But I have been thinking long and hard about how to beat it – I often spend most of my time thinking about others, I try to be selfless in that way! But not to blow my own trumpet!”. Turati smiled, suavely.
“Yes”, said Roark
“Anyway, now we must start the game. I think there my opponent is just over there. May the best man win, grandmaster Roark” oozed Turati
“Yes”, said Roark
“Please give my regard to your charming wife” … for a moment Turati looked puzzled, and then smiled warmly again .. “ah no, I must be thinking of someone else. Anyway, my apologies, and good luck again”.
Roark looked at him flatly – turned – and walked away.
Roark obviously beat every player in the ladder, like a machine. He played the same way every time, and looked with disgust on the dishonest and self-deceiving ways some of the players tried to manipulate the game. Eventually he had to play Turati in the final round.
Turati was panicking. He could see Roark’s essential brilliance, and knew he could not honestly win against it. He had tried to charm Roark with his suaveness, and now over the gleaming golden chessboard he tried every trick that had made him an European grandmaster.
“Grandmaster – do you want to look at these erotic photographs of my many mistresses? They are extremely erotic,” he simpered
“Grandmaster – I think I have dropped my money down there. What a shame it would be if another grandmaster might – accidentally – pick it up,” he cajoled
“Grandmaster – don’t you feel terribly sorry for me? Why don’t you just let me win. I might cry otherwise,” he intoned
“Don’t – call me grandmaster” – was all that Roark said.
Nevertheless, Turati’s sneekiness and dishonesty was somehow burying Roark. He simply would not play decently in response to the attack, and even seemed to be anticipating Roark’s beautiful, pure, decent, individualistic moves – and playing them back at him mockingly. Roark just couldn’t win in four or five minutes as he usually did. He could see he would maybe only get a draw.
Suddenly, he was at the other side of the chessboard. The spectators saw him in a violent motion shoving a pawn up Turati’s nose. Then he spoke, flatly and calmly:
“Chess is a game of structure, and reflects a man’s soul. Only a man of pure and honest soul can play chess well. To win in a way that uses combinations dishonestly reveals the corruption of your mind. Never think of your opponent, never worry about what’s in his mind. I have never worried. Let the pure chess expression, which you will know even if you never use it to play chess against anyone else, define you. Chess is a game of individuals – and we must never let this individuality be compromised, ever. This is the most important thing, second only to that which is most obvious, free-market economics. People are always trying to make me forget this. I don’t care about them. I don’t care much about other people. I care about chess. And I also care about free-market economics, and individualism. Individualism is…”.
Roark spoke in this way for thirty or forty minutes. When he had finished, every member of the audience knew he was correct. Turati was weeping with joy at how right Roark was, and knew he could never be that right.
And at this Roark barged through the crowd, and out into the street, bellowing his own name. As he staggered through the streets of Berlin, a kind of righteous fury overwhelmed him – all the passers-by seemed to have his face, and he continued to shout his own name as he clinched his moral victory.