I can only admit to being an occasional chess player, at school around 12 or 13 I was in the school team, that was the height of my achievements, Fritz on the other hand was rated expert and chess pops up in many of the stories, indeed a knight can be seen on the cover of his first collection, Adepts Gambit.
Perhaps his most famous, certainly the most collected chess story is ‘Midnight by The Morphy Watch’, written in 1974 and first published in Worlds of If.
Stirf Ritter-Rebil (not one of Fritz’s more tricky names) is a chess player who has risen about as far as he will, and plays casual games and aspires to not much more, til he comes into possession of the famed Morphy Watch, and gets more than he bargained for.
Chess lover or not, it’s a good story well told, and can be seen as a descendent of ‘The Dreams of Albert Moreland’, though that story is more doom laden and was written 30 years earlier.
Fritz cleverly weaves in fact and fiction around Paul Morphy, his watch and his chessmen. There was indeed a Morphy Watch presented to Paul Morphy on May 25, 1859, Morphy wrote in October of the same year
“The American watch, No. 9240, presented me by the New York Chess-Club has proved to be a most reliable and accurate time-keeper“
He also was presented with an exquisite gold and silver chess set, the location of both is still unknown (more info here).
Fritz took this idea, and added a supernatural element, wove in more facts, plus a lot more fiction for a very memorable story
Stirf’s discovery of the pawn and then the watch is a pleasure to read and the shop, I suspect, is one of those disappearing shops we find in fiction, manned by an unexpected owner.
What I also love in the story is that Stirf’s problems are obviously Fritz’s own, the obsessional nature of chess would indeed rob (or frustrate) Fritz of his ability to write, the chess nightmares suffered by Stirf, I suspect come from Fritz’s own experience. Chess is a strong willed mistress.
As for Stirf’s mini Faustian adventure, I shan’t spoil it for you, if you haven’t had the pleasure of reading it.
I always loved the idea of the watch, so I spent several hours creating my own version (from Fritz’s description and from the real watch) and you can see that at the top of the page, and more clearly below. The face does use elements from the actual watch face given to Morphy, where as the chess men are just standard.
I no have a nice animation of it spinning around, though what use that is, I am not sure!
The Quill and Keyboard have a good review of the story