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A Bang at the World Open Print E-mail
By Jonathan Hilton   
July 6, 2008
Jonathan Hilton.
Photo Elizabeth Vicary, April 08
My World Open stopped turning seven rounds prematurely when I received a crushing blow. I’m not referring to a brilliant kingside counterthrust or a mate-in-five; instead, I’m talking about a bang on the head I was dealt by a falling parking gate on Thursday afternoon. It all started when my good friend and chess traveling partner Kris Meekins and I decided to “head out” (pardon the pun) to Rex’s Pizza, a popular hangout for strong players, after our second-round games. Kris, his dad, and I were walking down the sidewalk when we had to take a detour of perhaps three feet to avoid an inconveniently placed fire hydrant. Both Kris and his dad made it back onto the sidewalk safely, but I felt a heavy object descend rapidly upon my noggin, which—as it is well known—is outwardly protected solely by my thick mess of curly hair.

Upon impact I let out a yelp. In a quick act of heroism, Kris spun around and caught me as I began to grow woozy. “Jon, my boy, talk to me!” Mr. Meekins exclaimed. Although I was starting to see those stars and stripes circle around before my eyes, I was still able to glance over my shoulder to see the rail of a parking gate behind me slowly click shut into place. “It hit me on the way down,” I muttered, exhausted.

Kris and Mr. Meekins each took one of my arms and rushed me the rest of the way to Rex’s Pizza. There was no ice there for my head, so Mr. Meekins bought a gargantuan jar of apple juice as a substitute. As I recuperated at the table in the corner, occasionally stealing sips from the juice jar I kept pressed tightly to my scalp, Kris pointed out all the top players who came into and out of Rex’s. “That’s Robert Hess over there,” he’d say, or “there goes Eugene Perelshetyne.” Each time I’d say “Where! I don’t see him!” despite having seen and even spoken to such players many times. Was I becoming disoriented?

Back safely at the Sheraton hotel that evening, I insisted I was fine. I wasn’t feeling my best, but with only a half point out of two games, I was sure to be paired down comfortably. I eased my way over to the tournament hall, found my pairing, and strolled over to Board 127. I told myself the queasiness I felt was just nerves and settled in for a long game, and pressed the precautionary bag of ice Mr. Meekins had given me before the game up onto my head.

My opponent, 2100-rated Todd Bryant, was late for the game, so I sat down and watched either board beside me. To my left, I saw Black getting absolutely slaughtered in the Austrian Attack of the Pirc Defense. Rather than appropriately counterattacking on the queenside, Black was trying to play it like a King’s Indian Defense and attack on the kingside. I laughed at such foolishness—how can Black hope for such a plan with White already having f2-f4 in!

Suddenly, I did a double take. I squinted in disbelief. The position was actually just a normal Classical King’s Indian Defense.  I even glanced at White’s scoresheet to confirm this; there had been no f2-f4, and in fact, it hadn’t even started as Pirc in the first place. “Boy, I’m going to have to be careful to pay more attention in my own game,” I thought.

My opponent still had not arrived after the first half hour. I was getting sleepy and had started yawning at the board, so I decided to get up and try walking around. Then, a crucial turning point in my zero-move game occurred. I knocked my chair over while getting up. However strange this may sound, the once energetic and euphoric Jonathan Hilton felt far too lazy to pick the chair back up again. I shrugged and sluggishly started heading off down the aisle.

When I reached the end of the aisle, however, I looked back and saw the fallen chair on the ground. After a few brief moments of staring at it in a dumbfounded manner, I began to calculate all the possible scenarios in my mind. Finally, I concluded someone might trip over my chair, sue me for all I was worth, and ruin my favorite orange hooded sweatshirt, which had also fallen onto the ground in the meantime. Annoyed, I decided to be responsible and pick my chair up.

As I bent over, I started seeing some pre-Independence Day fireworks going off in my mind’s eye. I felt dizzy and felt a major headache coming on. It was only then that I realized I was in no shape to play a chess game and needed to seek medical attention immediately. I flagged down Mr. Meekins, who was already keeping a good eye out for me, and we made arrangements to get a cab and take me to the hospital.

Mr. Meekins also went at my behest to go find Ernie, a TD I trusted, to decide what to do with my ongoing game. I was secretly hoping perhaps we could get some kind of an early forfeit—there were only ten minutes left to wait at this point—because, after all, I might feel up to continuing the tournament the next day. I’d much rather have had a point and a half than just a half point. It was already a little past seven, and the published start of the round time was six in the evening. However, at fifty-eight minutes past the official start of the round time, my opponent arrived and whipped out the push of a center pawn—I think it was 1. e4, though it could just have easily been 1. d4—and extended his hand in greeting.

 For the first time in my life, I forfeited a tournament game. Rather than shaking hands, I stopped the clock and resigned immediately! “I need to go to the hospital… um, good game,” I said, struggling to put my set away. My opponent, though a bit stunned, took the news in good humor. He wished me good luck with my injury, as did the players on either side of me, and Mr. Meekins and I hurried off to the hospital.

Our adventures in the Emergency Room of downtown Philadelphia could easily fill another blog alone. To make a long story short, it was, well, a long story! One thing I will say is that the hospital staff had a joyful exuberance that was downright infectious. I think most of the regular patients there had long grown immune to it, but I for one did enjoy the energy and enthusiasm of the doctors, despite the late hour. I arrived back at the Sheraton late that night, having been cleared by the CT Scan as not having any truly serious injury. However, it was clear that I needed to head home and rest for a few days, so I withdrew from the tournament and Mr. Meekins worked with my dad over the phone to book me a plane flight home the next day.

I’m safely back in Cincinnati now, resting and recovering at home. I am still occasionally suffering from dizzy spells and headaches, but they are mild and should dissipate shortly. In conclusion, I’d like to thank everyone who helped me survive my first ever chess-related hospital visit, particularly the Meekins family. I’d also like to thank Ernie for his TD help while I waited on my third-round opponent, and the players on either side of me who were supportive and did far more than merely tolerate my shenanigans—such as the knocked-over chair—during those fifty-eight minutes. I've been be following the progress of the tournament from home and rooting everyone on. After all, it is the World Open—I should be able to enjoy it as it unfolds, even if I’m hundreds of miles away.