Title: The Chess Girl
Entry Nickname: Play Chess Not Checkers
Word count: 66K
Genre: MG Historical Fiction
To win her family’s freedom, Ruchel must play the greatest chess match ever.
As World War 1 begins, 7 year old Ruchel’s father is forced into the Austrian Army just before the Russian Army invades her border town. To survive, her mother opens a tiny cafe. Business is terrible until Ruchel challenges and defeats a customer in a chess match. Soon, the restaurant is packed with people coming to watch her play.
Ruchel hopes to use her newfound celebrity to discover what’s happened to her father, who’s been missing in action since the war began. Unfortunately, as different armies take turns occupying her hometown, it’s all she can do to help keep her family from starving.
When civil war breaks out and both sides start hunting Jews, Ruchel must beat a Polish chess champion to win her family a chance at a new life in America.
The Chess Girl is based on my Grandmother’s life growing up in what is now part of the Ukraine. It is interwoven with stories of how she and her siblings survived WWI and how all but one of them escaped to the United States before the Holocaust.
First 250 Words:
Poland - 1919
Ruchel’s opponent carefully pushed his knight forward then left using the two fingers remaining on his right hand. He nodded to Ruchel as he pulled the hand back. The burned side of his face remained frozen, as did the milky white eye sunken within, but the other side of his mouth tried to turn upward.
Once Ruchel would have felt both pity and horror at his appearance, but she’d seen so many ruined men in the last couple of years. Besides, the stakes were too high. The fat constable by the window kept playing with the holster around his waist, grunting every so often in case she hadn’t noticed him. “Pig,” she mumbled in Yiddish.
She looked away. If he realized what she’d said, it wouldn’t matter who won this game. Fortunately, he was focused on the Jewish shopkeeper across the street struggling to remount his store’s smashed in window frame. The grin on his face made her say pig again, but this time only to herself.
She looked back at the board, started to reach for a piece then stopped. She liked to play fast to force her opponents into mistakes trying to match her speed, but she wasn’t at home and there would be no second chances. Whatever the damage to the old soldier’s body, it hadn’t taken his skill. She’d only played two men this good and been crushed both times.
She was already down a pawn and the shadow hovering behind her wasn’t helping.