Tuesday, June 19, 2007

A magnificent addiction

We are all around you. We are in your coffeeshops and your parks. We are in your libraries and...well, actually, that's about all. It's hard out there for a chessplayer.

Yes, to go with the main courses of my power-nerd persona -- video games, webcomics and talking like an amphetamine-hopped Woody Allen in the presence of pretty women -- I must confess to a side order of chess. I hereby out myself as a chess nut. It's like actually coming out, except for the newfound sexual opportunities. (And for the benefit of those of you who have no sense of humor at all, I was just kidding.)

Chess has different facets. When you're just learning -- the younger you do, the better you'll play -- it's very much a hobby:

"Oh, what an interesting set of abstract wooden dolls. You say this is a game as well? How quaint!"

Later on, once you've learned how it works, it becomes a game. You learn about basic tactical tricks. Fast. Nobody who's walked into a knight forking king and queen forgets it in a hurry. You learn to control the center in the opening, how to calculate exchanges, and the weird little rules like en passant and castling.

Warning: past this point lies addiction.

You'll read the great Yugoslav master who says that any reasonably intelligent adult can become a chess master. You'll buy a new set, because you didn't like how reflective your previous one was. You'll buy a clock, a carrying case, and vast stacks of books. And the openings! Volume after volume of analysis has been written about almost every possible combination of opening moves. (The Sicilian Defense alone is a leading cause of deforestation.) You'll lie awake at night, wondering whether 5...Ba4 works against the Evans Gambit (it can) and then wonder how you came to be a person to whom that thought makes sense.

And every single time you lose a game, you will want to die. Serious chess players are famous for making excuses in order to lessen the sting of defeats, leading to a famous chess saying: No healthy person has ever lost a chess game. Conversely, victory will transport you to realms of vicious delight unknown to the non-chess player.

Yes, it's an addiction, but one with which I'd like to infect others. To that end, I offer this little brain teaser:
White wins -- brilliantly -- in of one of the most famous chess games ever played. How?

1 comment:

Jody said...

Well-written homage to a great game! I am just beginning to play again, after about a 4 year hiatus (since I left for college), and I am really getting back into it. If you (or anybody reading this) would like to meet me for a game sometime downtown, shoot me an email.