Monday, October 11, 2010

Predictions as a tribute to Vladimir Nabokov

This week the Boston Blitz face cellar-dweller Carolina Cobras, while the NE Nor'easters face one of the strongest lineups fielded in the league this year -- a statement making New York Knights. New England is assured of 1st place for one more week, and they have already clinched a playoff spot. Yet it is clear that New York has something to say, with 2 GMs, an IM, and a near-master.

To preview the action, I turn this week to Vladimir Nabokov's Pale Fire, a tale in which a poem is heavily annotated by a madman. Nabokov was also a lover of chess. He composed many chess problems and wrote, "The Defence", a novella about a chess player (Luzhin's Defence was the movie version.) Given his chess-passion, I write in the style of Pale Fire, annotating a chess game instead of a poem.

The following chess game was played in the year 2010 as part of the Boston Blitz, New Jersey Knockouts chess struggle. Those dull names alone would quell the enthusiasm of any Caissa-ic soul, but, as is my wont, I sat down to the wooden frame this crisp Autumn weekend and commanded my tiny White and Black armies to recreate the encounters. Halfway through the chore, my feeble desk could barely contain the slaughter of innocents that littered the sides of the board, and, when I became especially preoccupied, the floorboards. Thrilling as that sounds, I was merely half-heartedly engaged until around move 10, when a spark of recognition fired in my hippocampus and my first inkling that this struggle was actually a tale of the deep past, my devoted friendship, a prediction for the future, and a warning to those whose limpid minds, like my own, could serve as a chalice to receive the pour of truth from the amphora of the coded game. How devilish of them. And how risky, for all of humanity trapped on this watery, ellipse-tracking orb, only I could decipher their message, and if only I had foregone my ritual chess annotation, the message would remain hidden! But, as my very good friends undoubtedly knew, I was as likely to drop forever the game of Kings for draughts as I was to abandon my precious rituals.

So the message is preserved, and I, the vessel, report.

Anthony Fressenfrau (A)
Camrbidge, MA
Oct 10, 2010

The Game
Christiansen,Larry (2665) - Benjamin,Joel (2614)
Notes by Fressenfrau

1.e4 c6 (B)
2.d4 d5
3.Nc3 dxe4 (C)
4.f3 Qb6 (D)
5.fxe4 e5
6.dxe5 Bc5 (E)
7.Bc4 Bxg1
8.Qf3 Be6 (F)
9.Bxe6 fxe6
10.Bg5 Qf2+ (G)
11.Qxf2 Bxf2+
12.Kxf2 Nd7
13.Ne2 Nxe5
14.Nd4 Nf6
15.Rhe1 Kf7 (H)
16.Nf3 Nxf3
17.gxf3 e5
18.Red1 Rhd8
19.a4 Ke6 (I)
20.Be3 Ne8
21.Ke2 Nd6
22.b3 Rd7
23.h4 a6 (J)
24.h5 Rf8
25.Rg1 Ne8 (K)
26.Rg3 Nf6
27.Rg5 h6
28.Rf5 Nh7 (L)
29.Rxf8 Nxf8
30.Bf2 Nh7 (L)
31.Bh4 Kf7 (M)
32.Rg1 Rd6
33.Ke3 Rd7
34.a5 Ke6
35.Rg6+ Kf7 (M)
36.Rg1 Ke6
37.b4 Kf7 (M)
38.c3 Ke6
39.Rg6+ Kf7 (M)
40.Rg1 Ke6
41.Ke2 Kf7 (M)
42.Ke3 Ke6 (Game drawn 1/2-1/2)

The Annotations

(A) Let me dispense with the awkwardness between myself and every chess-playing reader and assure you that any similarity of my name to another member of the Boston Blitz is entirely a coincidence. That Marc Antony was a famous Roman, that 'fressen' means "to eat like an animal" in German while 'Essen' means "to eat", that Man and Frau are mirror images, a Trinity of happenstance, nothing more.

(B) 1...c6 Moving this pawnlet signals the Caro-Kann defence, already a sly wink, but one that even I missed until moves later. As I would soon recognize, they are trying to remind of an incident that occurred a decade before, when, trapped in a prison cell in my home country, I eked out a similar pawn advance against my cagemate, which was beautifully labeled 23... c6 mate! The signficance of that game, once evoked, was immediately obvious to the one who lived it, for the other occupant of that squalid concrete home had a prominent King Cobra tattoo on his jugular (Who could forget how, when his neck bulged in anger after the elegant pawn-mate, that cobra seemed to unfurl its neckskin and spit.) that contrasted smartly with the Christian cross also dangling from that sinewy cylinder of tendon, veins, and skin. The very same neck that spasmed its death-rattle when, as a necessary means for my escape into exile, I strangled both the man and his pet snake with his own religious trinket. Why bring that painful memory up again to the fore, my friends, when it merely brings good tidings to Boston's Board 1 match this week?

(C) 3.Nc3 dxe4 I'll admit that I have switched the move order here. Surely my good friends would recall that, as their neighbor, I lived at 3. North Cedar Apt. 3, not 4. North Cedar? That it was 10 years ago may account for their mistaken recollection. That they would invoke this address, my first out of exile from my home country, has no predictive value but is only another placeholder clue that I should be paying attention. If they hadn't messed up the move order, I would have spotted their little encrypted ruse even sooner than move 10.

(D) 4. f3 The Fantasy Variation of the Caro-Kann. This could explain the mixup of the moves, for my best buds had on more than one occasion jocularly exclaimed, "You're insane," and "You are living in la la land." How else to mention both the variation and my first exile apartment? Pardon the reference to inside jokes among friends, I recognize how tedious obscure jests can be, but I must include it for a complete record of all the coded secrets.

(E) 6. dxe5. The doubled center pawns are a visual clue that immediately made me chuckle, for, in my home country, we also called the pawns, farmers, (in Zembla, bobber, not unlike the German, bauer), and doubled pawns, "dobber bobber", which also meant in the youthful slang, "to line up for our daily food ration at the Farmer's Food Ministry", leading to the Zemblan joke roughly translated, "Why bother to dobber bobber when the bread is just as stale as my position?" Only after the memory laser of move 10, did I also recall, as my inner circle of American friends like Larry and Joel would never have forgotten, the name of my prison guard, George Sams, and how I called him "dobber bobber bobble" for the awkward way he would hobble on his broken leg when he sidled into my cage to have our weekly chat about the rationality of the human mind. George Sams of course is so clearly an Americanization of Jorge-Sammour Hasbun that I am sorry if I insulted you, dear reader, by pointing out the startling parallel. That he plays for the first time this year in the League will be no impediment, much as old, dear George Sams, despite his, in my memory, perpetually broken limb, had no impediment to walking into my cage and pressuring me with his mental psychological warfare.

(F) Qf3 ignores the loss of the knight on g1 and threatens the f7 pawn. Pedestrian moves only required to encapsulate the core of their message on move 10 and the rest of the game.

(G) Qf2+ knocked me dumb and blind, and I almost toppled from my chair in my dumbstruckery as the images of that fateful escape from my prison cell came flooding back to me. For, didn't my inmate roommate, when we were assigned to taking out the trash unattended in the back alleyway, did he not say, laughing, "Check with the Queen" when I asked him if he knew if any of the other inmates might be able to acquire for me some actor's makeup to cover the blemishes that were breaking out all over my face and that felt like tiny crawling insects ripping into my flesh? And did I not misunderstand him to be insulting the Queen of Zembla, who, I had heard from a radio transmission not only a fortnight before, was gravely injured by an attack on the home of her house arrest and was likely to perish at any time? And did he not, as I was raining blows down upon his meaty head and snatching the life out of him with his own chain, squeak, "F-U", which, when elided and cut off by the rasping of his choking, sound distinctly, distinctly, like "f2"? Oh, to remember it, and how I sloshed his massive bulk into the trash bin and then sauntered off down the alley and to potential freedom! Painful, that memory, and invigorating! When I saw Qf2+ (the check is everything, without, the hidden meaning is gone), my molecules sang, the clasp to my mind was undone, and I could see everything my friends wanted to impart to me, for, like a decade prior, I was free!

(H) Rhe1. Instead of Rae1 which would mean nothing, Rhe1 is a '1' replaces the 'l' shorthand for "Rihel", one of our esteemed colleagues shortly after my exile to this country. That I had an unfortunate run-in with his cat (read, "Katz", and she clawed me, the little beastling) one evening when I came calling to inquire about his reference to "Alex the astrodog" in one of his blog posts may be read as coincidence by the agnostic were it not for the fact that a one Alexander Katz was playing Alex Cherniack, the selfsame Alex that Jason parodied as an astrodog, on Board 4 for the New England Nor'easters this week. The prediction belies any claim to chance.

(I) ...Ke6 How I miss Zembla, such a homeland of exquisite beauty! My heart yearns for those snow-covered mornings, when I would trudge to the lake, glimpse a red cardinal flitting through the naked oak branches, and, in a fit of whimsy, crack the ice off the water's top, remove my shoe and woolen sock, and numb my foot in the crystalline blue depths. I remember vividly the last such wintry ritual, on the day of my arrest, the same day our King was deposed by villainous forces led by Traitor Shankmakov from the Zemblan Underground. January 6th (in Zemblan, Elloseve 6th, hence the move King on e6), a date I, nor my intimate friends, could ever forget, even if the toppling of my country, my arrest, and my eventual imprisonment and exile did not happen, for, on Elloseve 6th, e6, was also the day that I met Irina, a woman I was fated to love for only a single day in the flesh but in my mind for life.

On e6, as I was crushing the ice for my foot-dip, Irina came ambling along the same frozen lakeside. As she approached, her breath coalesced into tiny water droplets in the sub-zero air, masking her intense eyes and delicate features. "What are you doing there?" she called out across the lake, as I had, in my reverie, wandered quite far from the shore and now stood breaking the ice some 20 yards from the safe land. I had managed to remove my sock and my shoe, but, the sweet song of her voice distracted me, and putting my foot down, not in the energizing waters but instead straight onto the slimy ice nearby, I yelped. "Maybe you should come over here and talk to me." More sweet singing, so I slipped on my sock, my shoe, and went slowly sliding over to where she stood safely on the shore.

We shared wit and mirth along the lake-passageway. We shared intimate details about ourselves. I told her about my rituals, and she told me about her work. Some kind of social work, but I was so lost with the nuances of her smile that those details are lost to me forever. Also, the rapidity of her intimacy was boiling my blood! She suggested first that we should get something to eat, innocent enough, but then she casually mentioned that we should also have a shower! Thinking back now more than a decade later, I suppose the upheaval of Zembla's political and social structure left Irina with such uncertainty of the future that only the heart's here and now could or should be followed, but I was so delirious with the thought of her love that such dispassionate appraisals were lost on me.

Tragically, as I swooped in to take that delicate mouth in my own, two uniformed Zemblan Officers, clearly Shankmakov turncoats working to overthrow the peaceful government that very day, pulled me away and marched me to the Zemblan Prison. I never saw Irina again.

Why would my friends torture me with the memory, which I recounted to them countless times? I was at a loss- why Ke6, paining me so? Only that evening, drained from my discovery of this game's secrets, did I see- an Irina Krush (the girl! the ice!) is playing Bournival in the Nor'easters Board 3 this week. Predicting the future is filled with only painful memory.

(J) ...a6 makes a little triangle. Knowing me to be an amateur mathematician, this is their crude way of alluding to Pascal's Triangle. To the maths aficionados among my readers, who undoubtedly think this a6-b7-c6 configuration cannot possibly be a symbol of Pascal's Triangle, allow me to rebut: Only good friends of mine would know how I toiled for hours a day in the local Starbucks shoppes scribbling out Pascal's triangle to ever-longer tiers. Because of that passion, coupled to my feverish chess annotation lust, my friends wouldn't dare such a tri-angular setup in this espionage-laden game of double meanings unless the reference were intended. That a Pascal Charbonneau is playing Charles Riordian of the Nor'easters this week again stamps my observation with the indelible smudge of fact.

(K)... Ne8. Traitor Shankmakov, knowing the love of chess in the hearts of the rabble, had named his horse "Knight" ("Nobbler" in Zemblan), and on Elloseve 8th (e8), he declared himself the new King. I see a Sam Shankland is playing a New York Knight Kacheishvili for the Nor'easters this week. I'm told he is also a traitor of sorts (once he played for the San Fran Mechanics), but to think on the ravager of my home country any longer is too painful for me. Undoubtedly, this Shankland will pull a cheap trick swindle like his Zemblan namesake. Given how the knight sneaks back to the first rank with Ne8, the double meaning is glaring to the duel student of chess and Zemblan history.

(L) 28...Nh7 30....Nh7. Only a duffer or a dear friend to Fressenfrau would move his Knight to the awkward h7 square twice in two moves, for it was on the Night of Helloseve the 28th and the Night of Helloseve the 30th (October 28th and 30th to those unfamiliar with the Zemblan calendar) that I made my successful midnight runs into the safe borders of my exile home, America, following my harrowing escape from the Zemblan prison (Helloseve the 29th, a holy day where travel is forbidden, I spent hidden in a homeless shelter, quietly working my chess board and patiently building a new Pascal Triangle). Helloseve is the start of Autumn, and the careless reader may believe that this alone is a reference to Herbst (Autumn in German, which shares some language similarities to Zemblan), who is playing Evan Rabin in the Blitz match this week. Surely, such a juxtaposition is to be chalked up to a happy randomness, even though this very game is foreshadowed in the moves.

No, the true meaning of this dobber knight hop is this: on those Nights of my escape, I was aided and abetted by a one Richard Evans, a rabbi who, upon seeing the sorry state of my health from the abuses of the Zemblan Prison, was compassionately moved to help me with bus fare so that I could return to my relatives in America, who would take great care of me. For this confabulation, I apologize, Herr Docktor Richard Evans, for I had no relatives in America, save for a niece who lived in Dallas, Texas, but my final destination of Cambridge, MA was as alien to me as Zembla would be to you. That my friends even remembered your name startles me, but, noting that Richard Herbst and Evan Rabin (Rabbi-n? you sly dogs!) were playing on Board 4 for the Blitz, perhaps they had a lightning jolt of sudden re-memory as they constructed this message. Given the urgency of their message to me (which will be clear, dear reader, in a minute), perhaps they were moved to find only the most subtle references to my past that would signal to me, like a clarion call, to take immediate and decisive action.

(M) 31...Kf7, 35...Kf7, 37.... Kf7. 39....Kf7, 41....Kf7 The repetition of this move is a reference to my past (a long night, a fistful of wine, and a deeply profound chess joke, but no matter) that even my closest friends would not know. No, only the Zemblan Secret Police would know about this, monitoring my transmissions and rituals like they do, even here in America. That my friends have included the reference in this game, it is obviously a warning that the Zemblan Police have infiltrated America through secret channels and are coming to re-capture me. I cannot bear to be Re-Educated, so I must flee my humble Cambridge abode, with its free to sit chessboards, bathrooms in coffee shops, and street corner napping stations. And the white, bitter cold winters! Zembla, you are not, dear Cambridge, but you have been most welcoming.

I should have been more suspicious when Vadim Martirosov asked me about my past. "Who are you?" he said in the Square when he overheard me waxing poetic about Zembla. I knew that Vadim was preparing for his game against Bapat of Carolina this week, so I should have been alerted by this sudden obsession with my past. Was Vadim a spy for the Zemblan Secret Police? Possible, possible, I always am alert, always alert, always watching, always ready to be snatched up and dragged back to that Zemblan Prison, where people are driven insane.

I replied, "You know who I am, Fressenfrau. Fressenfrau. How many times do I have to tell you? Stop bothering me, I'm showing Larry my Pascal triangle and how it relates to my Fressenfrau Attack in the Zemblan Defence (known as the Petroff in English)." Then, Vadim mentioned this TV show he saw the other day, about a guy wanted for murder in Fresno, and how I kind of reminded him of that guy. Since I had never been to Fresno, and I never murdered anyone, I laughed him off. "Funny, how coincidences happen like that all over the place." Then, casual, "Do you happen to remember the name of my murderous doppelganger?"

"Ha, yeah, funny thing, coincidence. The name was something like, Dr. Z____."

I replied, "We mustn't spend too much time worrying about such lucky happenstances, must we?"

He shrugged, eyed me a little queerly, and then laughed it off. "No, of course not."

It was all I could do to hide the quivering in my knees, the lump in my heart. For he had named my middle name, also known only to me.

That was last week. I told myself that it had to be a funny kind of chance, for my home countries' police wouldn't dare risk the political fallout to hunt me down in America. Of that I was convinced, until I saw this game and its message.

Goodbye dear reader, and dear friends. I must pack my chessboard and go away. Thank you, my friends, for the clever warning.

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