the royal games

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The Royal Game (also known as Chess Story; in the original German Schachnovelle, "Chess Novella") is a novella by Austrian author Stefan Zweig first published in 1941, just before the author's death by suicide.[1] In some editions, the title is used for a collection that also includes "Amok", "Burning Secret", "Fear", and "Letter From an Unknown Woman".[2]

Plot summary[edit]

The narrator opens the story on a cruise to Rio.

Driven to mental anguish as the result of total isolation by the Nazis, Dr B, a securities expert hiding valuable assets of the nobility from the new regime, maintains his sanity only through the theft of a book of past masters' chess games which he plays endlessly, voraciously learning each one until they overwhelm his imagination to such an extent that he becomes consumed by chess.

After absorbing every single move of any variation in the book, and having nothing more to explore, Dr B begins to play the game against himself, developing the ability to separate his psyche into two personas: I (White) and I (Black). This psychological conflict causes him to ultimately suffer a breakdown, after which he eventually awakens in a sanatorium. Being saved by a sympathetic physician, who attests his insanity to keep him from being imprisoned again by the Nazis, he is finally set free.

After happening to be on the same cruise liner as a group of chess enthusiasts and the world chess champion Czentovic, he incidentally stumbles across their game against the champion. Mirko Czentovic is a nearly illiterate and moronic peasant prodigypossessing no obvious redeeming qualities besides his gift for chess. Dr B helps the chess enthusiasts in managing to draw their game in an almost hopeless position. After this effort, they persuade him to play alone against Czentovic. In a stunning demonstration of his imaginative and combinational powers, Dr B sensationally beats the world champion.

Czentovic immediately suggests a return game to restore his honour. But this time, having sensed that Dr B played quite fast and hardly took time to think, he tries to irritate his opponent by taking several minutes before making a move, thereby putting psychological pressure on Dr B, who gets more and more impatient as the game proceeds. His greatest power turns out to be his greatest weakness: he devolves into rehearsing imagined matches against himself repeatedly and manically. Czentovic's deliberation and placidness drive Dr B to distraction and ultimately to insanity, culminating in an incorrect statement about a check by his bishop, and then him conceding the game, after which Dr B awakens from his frenzy.

Historical background

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