Friday, December 12, 2008

Book Review: “White King and Red Queen: How the Cold War Was Fought on the Chess Board", by Daniel Johnson

Daniel Johnson, “White King and Red Queen: How the Cold War Was Fought on the Chess Board,” Houghton Mifflin, 2008.

For something that is neither war, per se, nor sexual love, chess has supplied fine fodder for literature. To establish that, you have to look no further than to classics like Vladmir Nabokov’s "The Defense” and Stefan Zweig’s "Chess Story”. For more recent examples, you can consult Walter Tevis’s "The Queen's Gambit" (1984), Paolo Maurensig’s "The Luneburg Variations” (1997), and Ronan Bennett’s "Zugzwang" (2007). These are gripping fictions, and as indebted to chess for their plots and character studies as “War and Peace”, say, was to the Napoleonic Wars, or Faulkner’s novels were to his fictional Yoknapatawpha County. In fact, writers of all kinds resort to chess as if it were a sort of communal Yoknapatawpha.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Xiangqi: Chess in Chinatown


Whether you are seriously hooked on chess or casually intrigued by it, you probably think of the tables in Cambridge's Holyoke Center as the Boston area's one big outdoor chess venue. That's, after all, where the Chess Master sets out his board a few tables down from his counterpart, the redoubtable Chess Mister. That's where you can play both regular chess and blitz, the high-speed version, most any day, for $2.00 a pop, against skilled competition. (If you win -- it does occasionally happen -- you get your $2.00 back.) And that's where, if you're learning, you can find a teacher. Of course, if you'd been bitten by the chess bug, you didn't need me to tell you about the scene at Holyoke Center. You knew.

But if you knew, you probably thought that's all there is to outdoor chess in Boston. If so, you were mistaken. There is another venue where the game is played with at least as much passion and relish -- the game, that is, if you're capable of wrapping your mind around the fact that chess speaks more than one language.