Playing chess with Kubrick

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0 | Chess Event Coverage
Playing chess with KubrickThe scene in 2001: A Space Odyssey where HAL 9000 beats astronaut Frank Poole at chess, as silence before the storm, has become one of the most famous in the history of cinema. It was no coincidence that this scene was included: director Stanley Kubrick liked chess a lot, as Jeremy Bernstein reminds us in a blog post for the New York Review of Books.

This week Jeremy Bernstein looks back at how he got to know the famous film director Stanley Kubrick, and his love for chess. It all started with an essay for The New Yorker (PDF here) from April 24, 1965 about the science fiction of Arthur C. Clarke. Not lang after, Bernstein met with Clarke, and the author said that he should meet Kubrick too.

Bernstein writes:

I told Clarke that nothing would please me more. Much to my amazement, the next day Clarke called to say that I was expected that afternoon at Kubrick’s apartment on Central Park West. I had never met a movie mogul and had no idea what to expect. But as soon as Kubrick opened the door I felt an immediate kindred spirit. He looked and acted like every obsessive theoretical physicist I have ever known. His obsession at that moment was whether or not anything could go faster than the speed of light. I explained to him that according to the theory of relativity no information bearing signal could go faster. We conversed like that for about an hour when I looked at my watch and realized I had to go. “Why?” he asked, seeing no reason why a conversation that he was finding interesting should stop.

I told him I had a date with a chess hustler in Washington Square Park to play for money. Kubrick wanted the name. “Fred Duval” I said. Duval was a Haitian who claimed to be related to Francois Duvalier. I was absolutely positive that the name would mean nothing to Kubrick. His next remark nearly floored me. “Duval is a patzer,” is what he said. Unless you have been around chess players you cannot imagine what an insult this is. Moreover, Duval and I were playing just about even. What did that make me?

Kubrick explained that early in his career he too played chess for money in the park and that Duval was so weak that it was hardly worth playing him. I said that we should play some time and then left the apartment. I was quite sure that we would never play. I was wrong.


We recommend reading Jeremy Bernstein's piece in full.
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