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Book Review: "The Immortal Game" , by David Shenk

Mar 29, 2010, 9:14 AM 1

This book was an unexpectedly quick read (in a good way).  I enjoy playing chess, but I was a bit afraid, when I checked this book out at the library, that it would be a dull recounting of the early history of chess.  The game's early spread from India over 1400 years ago is an amazing story, but one that I don't mind missing the intricate details of.  Shenk does a good job of weaving the game's history together with his own attempts to improve at chess along with a third thread:  the match in 1851 between Anderssen and Kieseritzky known as the "Immortal Game" by chess enthusiasts.  Beginner to intermediate chess players should read this book for the notes to that historic match alone; it was a truly amazing display of pure aggression by both players!

Shenk produces many fascinating details about the game of chess, ranging from famous chess masters (there is the obligatory treatment on Fischer and Morphy and the link between chess and mental instability) to luminaries in other fields who just happened to love chess (Benjamin Franklin in particular).  I found the description of the nearly infinite number of chess positions very interesting (estimated at 10 to the 120th power, the number written out is staggeringly long--by comparison, the number of electrons in the universe is approximately 10 to the 79th!!).

Overall, I found this a really good book that I believe anyone intersted in chess should find very entertaining.

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