Chess fiction

Jul 31, 2009, 3:17 PM |

For a chess addict, what literature is there to read on the beach, on a transatlantic flight, by the pool, or any other setting where no chessboard is required? Looking through my library, I find the following books which can be broadly categorized as "chess fiction": Ronan Bennett's "Zugzwang","The Flanders Panel" by Arturo Perez-Reverte, "The Royal Game" by Stefan Zweig, "The Luneburg Variation" by Paulo Maurensig, "The Queen's Gambit" by Walter Tevis, "The Luzhin Defence" by Vladimir Nabokov, "The Chess Machine" by Robert Lohr.

The theme of madness/insanity among chessplayers runs through most of these, which does have its basis in the unusually high number of chessplayers who suffered from mental illness (Rubinstein) or comitted suicide (Oll,Grigorian). Over the years, I grew weary of this stereotype in chess fiction. So if I were to pick a winner out of the list, it would probably be "The Queen's Gambit", a wonderful story about a girl chess prodigy, who gradually outplays her teacher and all opponents who come her way. This is not to say that other books lack merit; "The Flanders Panel" is a crime story with a retrograde chess problem woven into the story as a clue about the murderer."The Luzhin Defence" is a basis for a 2000 movie by the same title starring John Turturro. "Zugzwang" appeals to me due to its setting in Tsarist Russia, and the intriguing subplot involving Polish independence movement in Russia. And anyone familiar with the story of Kempelen's Turk will enjoy "The Chess Machine."

But there can only be one winner, and Walter Tevis gets my vote. Don't take my word for it, do your own research. There are many reviews for each book on, for example. And if you know of any other chess fiction stories, please comment here on this blog entry.