Thursday, March 26, 2009

The sweet, sweet songs that cloud your eyes

The affable S recently asked me – with admirable eloquence – if there was a decent book about chess he could read. He wasn’t that interested in chess theory but fancied a meaty read about the game’s history. My current book at bedtime, Bobby Fischer Goes To War, might be the one he’s been waiting for. Obviously this tome focuses on a few tremendously interesting years when the world looked on as an acerbic New Yorker took on the might of the Soviet machine and (all too briefly) vanquished. However much of the narrative examines the history of the world title and the backdrop to the U.S.S.R.’s obsession with chess success and shares significant biographical details of Grandmasters. Much of the book examines Boris Spassky, Fischer’s opponent in the immortal 1972 World Championship Final, and, especially, his uneasy relationship with the Soviet hierarchy; the genial Russian was no model communist and the state’s desire to cast him as a human pawn (pun intended) in the East vs. West machinations proved troublesome. Naturally, the remarkable Fischer, falling out appallingly with everybody at every turn, dominates proceedings. There are more anecdotes here then one can shake a pair of knights at and all entertain marvellously. It was merry to learn that the teenaged Fischer proved such a discourteous and quarrelsome youth that his mother ended up moving out of their apartment; in her absence, Fischer put a bed in every room in the house with a chess board next to each of them so he could study different positions wherever he wanted until he fell into slumber. Essentially this is a book that requires little, if any, knowledge of chess to appreciate. It is, first and foremost, a study of the human condition and the assertion – proffered by British chess stalwart Bill Hartson - that chess is a game that ‘doesn't drive people mad (but) keeps mad people sane’.

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