Oct 7, 2011, 10:54 PM |

Just finished a novel that chess.com members may find enjoyable.

Zugzwang, by Ronan Bennett is set in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1914 as the country is about to be transformed by the Bolshevik Revolution.  The great chess masters of the day, Capablanca, Lasker and others have traveled to the Imperial capital of Russia to compete in a tournament sanctioned and funded in part by Tsar Nicholas.

The main character and hero of the novel, psychoanalyst Otto Spethmann is prevailed upon by his friend, virtuoso violonist Reuven Kopelzon, to treat a participant in the tournament on the verge of mental breakdown.  Agreeing to treat the chess master causes Spethmann to unknowingly be drawn into a plot in which the conspirators use him and his 18 year old daughter as pawns in a scheme to assassinate the Tsar.

While the pins, forks and skewers in Zugzwang are played out by  Bolshevik spies, secret police and double agents, Spethmann and Kopelzon play out the end game of their correspondence chess match.  Spethmann has never beaten Kopelzon, and by the 34th move, Kopelzon believes the current game will end in a draw.  Spethmann insists he can win and with the unsolicited help of a mysterious Bolshevick assassin (Rg2...), he begins a precise end game strategy that he hopes will lead to victory.  The book introduces the Spethmann-Kopelzon match (taken from King-Sokolov, 2000 Swiss Team Championship) at move 34: