Thursday, May 20, 2010

Novels based on the Royal game

I'm just starting to read "The Luzhin Defense" by Vladimir Nabokov. The foreword to the book is interesting and I am already captivated by his sparkling prose. I'll show you some examples here - starting with the pun included in the title of the book, thus:

"the name Luzhin rhymes with 'illusion', if pronounced thickly enough to deepen the 'u' into 'oo'.".

That reminds me of the openings I play in my own games.- on the surface they might seem sound enough but this is just an illusion LOL. Nabokov goes on to point out something I never considered before - how  devastating it must be to know that one of the losing moves you made (which we all make from time to time) can become 'cast in stone', thus:

"Anderssen fondly recalling his sacrifice of both books Rooks to the unfortunate and noble Kieseritsky - who is doomed to accept it over and over again through an infinity of textbooks, with question marks for each monument.".

Nabakov then plays a merry little game with potential reviewers of his book by providing a quick glossary of the chess references - to save them the trouble of actually reading the book. Thus:

"In this connection, I would like to spare the time and effort of hack reviewers - and, generally, persons who move their lips when reading and cannot be expected to tackle a dialogueless book when so much can be gleaned from its Foreword - by drawing their attention to the first appearance of the frosted-window them (associated with Luzhin's suicide, or rather 'sui-mate') as early as Chapter 11, ...".

This is a delightfully sarcastic way to deal with the superficial manner by which certain book reviewers, opera critics and their ilk write their copy. Before you point out that I have admitted to not having read the book yet myself - well, this post is not intended as a review as such!

As for the title of this post, well, I've often thought about how a convincing tale could be wrought around the Royal Game. I exclude such artificial creations as the anthropomorphising the chess pieces themselves, as for example in Alice in Wonderland. No, I am basically looking for a good read, based on my favourite game - and hoping that Nabakov will provide same.

Here are two hopeful signs that chess is an intrinsic part of the book.

1.    "My story was difficult to compose, but I greatly enjoyed taking advantage of this or that image and scene to introduce a fatal pattern into Luzhin's life and to endow the description of a garden, a journey, a sequence of humdrum events, with the semblance of a game of skill, and, especially in the final chapters, with that of a regular chess attack demolishing the innermost elements of the poor fellows sanity.".

2.   "The entire sequence of moves in these three central chapters reminds one - or should remind one - of a certain type of chess problem where the point is not merely finding of a mate in so many moves, but what is termed 'retrograde analysis', the solver being required to prove from a back-cast study of the diagram position that Black's last move could not have been castling or must have been the capture of a white Pawn en passant.".

Which naturally leads me to consider the idea of 'retrograde analysis' in all its glory. The foremost internet authority is possibly that of Angela und Otto Janko at 'The Retrograde Analysis Corner'.

Now for a genuine 20 carat 'retro' problem. This one is by Eric Angelini, Europe Echecs 433, Apr. 1995 - the solution of which is at Wiki.

I very much like the video example of a 'retro' problem provided by Grandmaster Alexandra Kosteniuk - you are taken through the solution in a very 'easy-to-follow' way (essential for one such as I). For completeness I also include here a video about her ie Alexandra Kosteniuk - the Women's World Chess Champion. Before you ask - The Women's World Chess Championship, 2010 will take place in Turkey in December 2010.

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