Sunday, October 09, 2011

Book Report 2: The Queen's Gambit

The Queen's Gambit is quite a different book than Los Voraces 2019. It's written by chess amateur and English Professor Walter Tevis. Tevis has previously critically aclaimed credits with regard to novels with 1959's The Hustler (Some of us have seen the movie).

The Queen's Gambit has not a single chess diagram in it, not a single chess move in any sort of recognized notation. This book may be something you give to your sister to explain what you do.

Written before the Polgar sisters came to the stage, the book posits, in a way, what might have happened if Bobby Fisher had been, say, a girl? The book follows the childhood of orphan Beth Harmon as she discovers and is taught our game she finds being played by a janitor in the basement of her orphanage. Beth develops her abilties, but developing as an orphan and a girl in what is essentially a man's world is not easy. As Beth develops as a player she struggles against sexism, drug abuse, alcoholism, and death.

We watch as Beth wins - and loses - her way up the ladder of chess championships as she develops and starts to pursue her dream of becoming World Champion...very much like a boy we all know did so very long ago.

Non chess-players can read, understand, and enjoy this book with no problems. Chess-players likewise will enjoy this book as long as they don't take it too seriously. There are technical details in the text that will irk players. Just slide past them, seriously.


Rihel said...

I read this book when I was a kid. I remember the chess being fairly accurate, more than I usually expect from these kinds of chess novels.

Doc_Kinne said...

One comment that I read indicated that a French Defense was inaccurately described, and I remember one Ruy Lopez where I was going..."errr, wait a second. Ruy Lopez is a King Pawn Opening." :-) Stuff like that will leap out at chess players, but normal folks won't even notice. And that's fine.

Ken said...

I read this book years ago, but didn't much care for the story.

However, Doc's recent book reports led me to Tim Krabbé's fine short story Master Jacobson, which I found at (Note: the translator used the word Zwischenschach where we would normally use Zwischenzug.)

The story called to mind Fischer-Petrosian 1971 (m/1) and Karpov-Kasparov 1985 (m/16), which Krabbé may have intended. Those familiar with those games may also see their ghosts in this story.

Tim Krabbé also wrote a (non-chess) novel, The Golden Egg, which was made into a Dutch film and later remade as The Vanishing, an American film that had me sitting on the edge of my seat and feeling totally uncomfortable. I did later see The Golden Egg, but prefer the American remake.