Chess Stories 3
For this installment I would like to review two wonderful chess stories. The first is the classic novella “The Royal Game” by Stefan Zweig. It was written between 1938 and 1941 and published posthumously in 1942. The entire action takes place upon board a ship travelling from New York to Buenos Aires where the world chess championship is to be held. On board is the stoic world champion and a few aficionados who challenge him to game. Also on board is a stranger who leaps to the defense of the second rate team and causes a stir as he seems to be able to hold his own with the world champion. Why this is so I will leave for the reader to discover, but the psychological character of this short story is most rewarding.
Perhaps, my favorite realistic chess story is the more modern, “The Queen’s Gambit” by Walter Tevis. This 1983 novel tells the story of Beth Harmon, a poor girl who is orphaned at the age of eight. In the religious school/orphanage where she finds herself deposited discovers the two foci of her life which will war throughout the novel – chess and drugs. Beth discovers chess as the result of a cleaning assignment where she visits the gruff janitor in the basement pouring over a chess position. After she makes a number of attempts he reluctantly agrees to teach her the game. Her mind is attuned to the patterns she sees there and she improves quickly. She discovers drugs as a result of the tranquilizers the orphanage gives its charges as a way to help them get to sleep, and Beth soon learns to hoard the pills for greater affect.
The novel is quite gripping and the suspense mounts as we watch the tension build between these two influences on Beth’s life while the chess games, which Tevis is able to make as exciting as if you were the one playing, move to ever high stakes.
For lovers of the game, it is hard to go wrong with these two stories.