I guess he was amazing. But, let's face it, he was a complete wanker too. The sort of person who, if starting up a magazine, would first think of purc...moreI guess he was amazing. But, let's face it, he was a complete wanker too. The sort of person who, if starting up a magazine, would first think of purchasing a paper mill in order to have a better price available on paper. Dead set. We aren't talking Time magazine here. We are talking ponderous chess mag in which he attempts to aggrandize the game. Another money making venture was breeding pidgeons. Better, it is generally agreed, however, if one has both genders in play.
If I sound irritated, I am. I lived with somebody for 11 years who was not only like Lasker, but deliberately modelled himself on the great chess player. I have an idea that if Lasker hadn't been a complete prat neither would my ex-partner.
The trouble with Lasker is that he thought chess was life. But it isn't.(less)
This was one of the first chess books I owned. I won the brilliancy prize in my first national championship and this was it. I won it for a Scotch Gam...moreThis was one of the first chess books I owned. I won the brilliancy prize in my first national championship and this was it. I won it for a Scotch Gambit and I suppose this book might have encouraged me along such paths. In practice, however, this did not happen...maybe once I realised that the road to victory was paved with traps, pitfalls and swindles, it moved me towards ways of playing that would avoid that whole short, sharp, painful way to lose.
I'm a coward, what can I say?
Oh, for the record, Reinfeld is great. He went through a period of being denigrated for no more than being popular. Maybe he still is??? But he made chess fun. And if you owned, as I once did, a library of his obscure, early, roneoed publications in purple ink, you'd realise just how much he loved the game. (less)
Purdy is one of the world's enduring writers on chess. His influence extended far beyond Australia. The magazine he edited from the 1920s on, which to...morePurdy is one of the world's enduring writers on chess. His influence extended far beyond Australia. The magazine he edited from the 1920s on, which took on various names, Chess World being the most enduring, is something over which collectors fight and for good reason.
By the time I started playing he was already the grand old man and I doubt he ever knew I existed. Still, he played an important part in my life in 1976. I was on the Australian team to play in the Olympiad and the team was quite short of money. He hatched the brilliant plan of making a demand of the prime minister with the return address of the editor of a major Australian newspaper. The implication was clear that one way or another there would be publicity. It could be good...or bad. The choice was the PM's. Soon enough the money landed on the editor's desk. It was to his great surprise, one might add, since he knew nothing whatsoever of Cecil's coup.
Especially interesting for an insight into Spassky and how impossibly difficult things were for him. Having seen him grow in something to say the last...moreEspecially interesting for an insight into Spassky and how impossibly difficult things were for him. Having seen him grow in something to say the last uninspiring...I was amazed to discover that he was, leading up to the match with Fischer just incredibly brave. No wonder he ran out of steam later.(less)
A straight-forward account of the many obvious reasons why there are no women at the top of bridge.
The thing that surprised me most about this book wa...moreA straight-forward account of the many obvious reasons why there are no women at the top of bridge.
The thing that surprised me most about this book was how angry it made people. Not long after it came out I was in London playing bridge. I was staying with a girl who wore pants all the time, no makeup, generally completely ungirly. And yet she, like many in the UK were furious to have been called 'women' rather than 'ladies'. I was shocked.
Then again, it was found necessary to counter it. I found myself playing a world championship with Joyce not long after the book came out. An English chap came to the table and announced that he was writing a refutation of that dreadful Nicholson woman's book. Did we have any hands to contribute. Well, I rather expected Joyce to hit him with her handbag. Instead she reached into it, pulled out the card of her lawyer and gave it to him with some appropriate 'see you in court' message.
A more ludicrous response one couldn't imagine. Honestly, it's a collection of hands played well by women. I'm so relieved that in general I'm considered a boy in bridge. Anything to distance myself from this humiliating publication.(less)
A couple of nights ago, Carlsen was making Ponomariov wish he'd never been born. It was the 2009 Tal Memorial. We all watching knew that Carlsen knew...moreA couple of nights ago, Carlsen was making Ponomariov wish he'd never been born. It was the 2009 Tal Memorial. We all watching knew that Carlsen knew exactly what he was doing as the punchdrunk Ponomariov kept staggering to his feet to make one more awful move. It was too easy.
22 Bb3. Wow. It was SO easy. Carlsen could make such a slow move in the middle of what looked like delivering a series of knockout punches? We were all too impressed for words. The kid really knows what he is doing.
And that was it. He didn't know what he was doing. Ponomariov had a reply which would have put him right back in the game. 22....Bb7
But Ponomariov didn't see that. Carlsen got back on track and won 9 moves later.
p. 52 Kotov quotes Botvinnik 'Smyslov was so demoralised by the speed with which I made my moves...'
Oh Ponomariov. Surely you've read Think Like a Grandmaster?
If you were a chess child of the 1970s you would have. Kotov was the man. Think Like a Grandmaster was the book. The one we read a hundred times. It was the one that made me feel entirely inadequate and yet I'd go back again and again for more torture. It was the book that made us all feel like Russia was the place to be.
Revisiting it as an adult I'm wondering whether I got any of the really useful advice from it that I'm nodding my head at now.
If I did, how is it that I'm sitting here now thinking 'yep, I've done that. And that. And, oh dear. I've done that one too'. The fact is, I guess, Kotov doesn't so much stop you doing the things you shouldn't, as make you know that's what you'd done.
p. 61 'On the contrary they were over-confident, complacent in their recogition of the fact that they had a marked advantage, and so their vigilance was blunted.'
1978 I'm playing a national championship, fancied to win it, though that is probably only because I'm rated better looking than the rest of the field. Arrive at the table definitely the worse for wear. Maybe even still drunk from the night before, but no matter as I'm playing Big Bertha. So called on account of Bertha being a tiny elderly lady who'd played many, many national championships and never gained so much as half a point. Never got close. Little did she know it, but her luck was about to change.
The arrogance of youth. What does it matter what I do? Any random collection of moves will be enough to win this game. I make some random moves. And suddenly, when it is too late, I realise that the position is so closed that I have no way of breaking through, not now, not if the game is to last a hundred more moves. Fuck. Sorry, I was born vulgar. Let me just repeat 'fuck' quite a few times.
We adjourn. I investigate various ways of putting myself into a losing position in order to have the possibility of a win. I go back to the game. Bertha's having none of it. I have to hand it to her. She wants this half point far more than the hypothetical one point I offer her. At 2am I grimly shake her hand. Big Bertha continued to play national championships and this was her only half point ever.
What a lesson!!! Fantastic lesson which I will take to my grave. Never again will I ever be over-confident. Kotov told me. But the bottom line is you have to do it. That's what burns it into your soul.
p. 64 '...a striving for false brilliance...is to be condemned as false practice. Moreover a striving after billiance arises from a wrong attitude of mind.'
2001 Another national championship, but this time bridge. I'm playing the final against the then world champions. I have always taken this particular advice of Kotov to heart. Let's face it, it goes with not being over-confident, and as you now know, the last time I was that, was 1978.
Early in the match I am faced with a choice. I can play a simple finesse. I can play a squeeze. The two are even money. So, what do you do? Kotov's looking down on me, of course. He always is. 'False brilliance, false brilliance, false brilliance. Beware, beware, beware.' Okay Kotov. I hear you. No showing off against the world championships. I take the finesse. It loses. The squeeze was the way home.
So now where am I? The world champions probably think I'm not good enough to play a squeeze AND I've lost my chance to do something flash against them. Fuck, Kotov. What are you doing to me???
I have no doubt there will be more sins to confess here. That's enough for one day.
A few days later...
pp71-74 The blind spot. What are blunders all about? One of the useful pieces of advice Kotov gives here, is having analysed your variations, go back to the beginning, write down your chosen move and look at it as a patzer would. You've analysed the unobvious, now it is the obvious to consider.
Could one apply that to bridge? I'm thinking of a couple of serious sorts of blunders that are perhaps related to this whole business of looking ahead.
Early 1980s. I'm trying out for the State women's team. I think for a long time about whether to bid a grandslam or defend the sacrifice my opponents have made at the six level. Nope, I decide in the end, it isn't right to bid one...and I pass!!! I clean forget to double. My partner starts crying. 3am I wake up in a sweat, not so much about my bid, as about having made my partner cry. Note to self before going back to sleep: give up women's bridge.
Early 2000s. I'm in an international tournament in Japan. I ask my partner for aces, he responds and I think for a long time about whether to bid a slam. Eventually I decide not to...and I pass!!! We are not in our suit, we are in his blackwood response. Boys don't cry. Partner, Simon, in a 4-2 fit at the five level comes heroically close to making. I have to explain to our teammates. They are New Zealanders. Have you seen Once Were Warriors?
I don't know if one would be allowed to write down a 'move' in bridge in this way, but for now I don't see why not.
Then, there is this fascinating blindspot which has never happened to me, but to several of my partners, so one assumes it is a commonplace.
Late 1980s. It's the Zonal in NZ. My partner, Michael, is in 3NT. One by one he calls for me to lead from the suit he is cashing. Eventually he simply forgets to call for the last one. It is a crucial trick, he's lost contact with it for eternity, and now he goes down. Ouch.
Early 2000s. It's the playoff to be the State open team. My partner, Chris, is in a slam, simply forgets to cash a winner which is now stranded in dummy. One down. This shakes me up more than him, so for the last set I sit myself out and leave him in. We win the playoff.
Mid 2000s. It's Stage 3 of the Australian Teams Trials. We are not in contention, but how we play this match may well decide who gets to play in an Australian team for the Commonwealth championships. My partner, Simon, is in 3NT, I'm cashing his long suit one by one as he calls it. Eventually he simply forgets to call for the last card in the suit. 3NT redoubled goes down when it was gin. Our opponents get into the team.
Having read Kotov I'm coming to the conclusion these are all about the same thing: looking ahead and then forgetting the obvious. In this case, as can happen in chess too, one forgets exactly where one is up to and plays moves critically out of order. In the case of a trick being stranded in a hand which no longer has a point of contact, this is disaster!
There is an obvious simple answer in the case of running long suits. Declarer should not call for them one at a time, at least if inclined to make this terrible error. Simply state at the start that dummy should 'run the suit'. This would be music to my ears as I have become habitually nervous when declarer is running my suit in dummy. Big sigh of relief when that last one hits the deck.
I recall, further, one time when I also failed to cash a long cashing suit winner in dummy. It was like this. Important tournament: Summer Nationals in Brighton. I call for the last of a long suit in dummy, only to discover that the card has completely disappeared! It was there. And now it isn't. There is a loser in another suit sitting in dummy instead. It transpires that my well-meaning but rather deaf partner, Joyce, has discarded one of her winners as I was drawing trumps instead of the loser I had called for. Not exactly my fault, you might say, but I should have been checking. Never blame partner if you can blame yourself.
Actually, just a couple of hours later. Considering this whole matter of blunders some more. I wonder why we have such a need to explain them in a sanitary sort of way? I've just come back from coffee. I'm dripping wet. I have to wring out my clothes, even my bra and knickers. My sandals are waterlogged. But what does this mean? I knew it was raining, I knew it was cold. Yet in some insanely optimistic way I went out in summer clothes and no shelter from the rain. Like the rain would see me and behave itself. The clouds would break, the sun would shine down on me. Shakes head.
Such a dreadful book - paranoid vitriol on every page - that I've let it put me off having any positive thoughts about the man. Evidently I have to ch...moreSuch a dreadful book - paranoid vitriol on every page - that I've let it put me off having any positive thoughts about the man. Evidently I have to change my tune and read his series on his predecessors, even if the point of it is to indirectly bignote himself. Okay, okay. I will have nothing but the most open of minds. Really.(less)
Then again. Again. Again. I wake up this morning and see that even now, despite everything, not one vote for this review.
Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. What...moreThen again. Again. Again. I wake up this morning and see that even now, despite everything, not one vote for this review.
Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. What the fucking hell do I have to do to get a vote for this review. Just one fucking vote, so I can put the fucking thing to bed. Obviously I need a new plan....a cunning plan. Hmmm....
Then again, again. I'm still trying to say just how good this book is. So, I bet somebody the other day. He reads the book and dares say he didn't like it and I buy him dinner at my favourite expensive Melbourne restaurant. Expensive hardly states the case. Go here: http://www.kayak.com/r/KTKQJi and you can check out the airfare from Wallis and Futuna to Melbourne. They seem to start at two and a half grand US. Fuck. So, I hastily lend the book to another friend, take your time, Janina, no rush. Lose it on the flight to Canberra, no problem.
But meanwhile, I'm pondering on the unavoidable fact that when you talk in a review about what a horrible time you are having and how you are crying as you write, nobody votes for your review. They send you the sweetest messages about how they hope you've stopped crying, but no votes.
So, I just wish to point out that I am NOT crying as I write this. I SHAN'T be crying as you read it. Honestly. In fact I can only think of one thing in the whole world more likely to keep me from crying than getting votes for this review.
Then again. It occurred to me this morning as I sat curled up at the bottom of the bath and the shower kept me company, both of us weeping copious tears, most of my brain wondering about the the sorts of things I dare say everybody does who is in hell and doesn't understand why; it occurred to me that one little bit of my brain, not engaged in these rather futile activities, still wanted to do this book justice and had I? Maybe in a way.
Still, let me add a few points. This is as fine a hard-boiled detective novel as I've ever read and I've read hundreds. It is a book that should make all those Ursula le Guin types creating worlds and language to match hang their heads in shame. The world Chabon invents, the one where instead of taking Israel the wandering Jews are leased part of Alaska, this world is more than believable, it just is. Not for one moment would you think as you read this book that his world does not exist. Nor the language. Nor the ramifications of the one and the other. Not only that, but he makes a dull, mean, nasty world utterly enticing to the reader. Every word he puts on the page is there for a purpose and yet is a thing of joy for the reader. This is surely a writer who loves to write. (I guess you can read my review of The Dispossessed for more pontificating on this matter.)
This book is witty and intelligent without being difficult. In fact, this is the book that makes me wonder. I finished the Girl, Dragon book a few days ago and thought perhaps there is something in writing badly. That writing badly is actually writing well. But I read this book and I simply can't understand why it will attract a tiny audience compared with Larsson's.
It's got chess in it, and I'd have to say now that it is my favourite chess novel, but don't let that put you off. Yes, it will be funnier if you know a modicum of chess. But not knowing your horse from your knight will still leave you with a brilliant read.
-------------------------------------------------------------------------- Written earlier:
An endorsement, not a review.
Imagine you are in hell and you happen to have this book to hand. Imagine as you suffer all the torments of being in that place, that this book actually makes you laugh out loud a bunch of times. And there is a lovely sex scene. Should you happen to be trapped in this horrible place, you couldn't really ask for more, could you?
-------------------------------------------------------------------------- Written earlier still:
I just have to record some great bits of this book as I go along.
And just last week, amid the panic and feathers of a kosher slaughterhouse on Zhitlovsky Avenue, a chicken turned on the shochet as he raised his ritual knife and announced, in Aramaic, the imminent advent of Messiah. According to the Tog, the miraculous chicken offered a number of startling predictions, though it neglected to mention the soup in which, having once more fallen silent as God Himself, it afterward featured. Even the most casual study of the record, Landsman thinks, would show that strange times to be a Jew have almost always been, as well, strange times to be a chicken.
'"Man makes plans,"' the kid reads. '"And God laughs."'
Landsman watches the progress of Elijah the Prophet trhough the snowstorm and plans his own death. This is a fourth strategy he has evolved to cheer himself when he's going down the drain. But of course he has to be careful not to overdo it.
'Penguin Simkowtiz? Where?' She looks around, turning from the waist, and Landsman seizes the opportunity to peer into her shrit. He can see the freckled top of her left breast, the lace edge of her bra cup, the dark indication of her nipple against the cup. The desire floods him to run his hand inside her shirt, to hold her breast, to climb into the soft hollow there and curl up and fall asleep. When she turns back, she catches him in his dream of cleavage. Landsman feels a burn in his cheeks. 'Huh,' she says.
'Nu,' she says. 'Okay, then,' says Landsman.
If he lets he go, he will never lie in the hollow of her breast, asleep. He will never go to sleep again without the help of a handful of Nembutal or the good offices of his chopped M-39.
'Jesus fucking Christ,' she says with that flawless hardpan accent of hers. It is an expression that always strikes Landsman as curious, or at least as something that he would pay money to see.
'Are you taking medication?' 'No, not really.' 'Not really?' 'No, I don't want to.' 'You don't want to.' 'I'm, you know. Afraid I might lose my edge.' 'That explains the drinking, then,' the doctor says. His words seem tinged with a sardonic wiff of liquorice. 'I hear it does wonders for one's edge.' He goes to the door, opens it, and an Indian noz comes in to take Landsman away. 'In my experience, Detective Landsman, if I may,' the doctor concludes his own jag, 'the people who worry about losing their edge, often they fail to see they already lost the blade a long time ago.' (less)
(1) He uses the ‘as if’ simile all the time. What is the point of this odious practice and from where did it spring? Is it because writers...more
(1) He uses the ‘as if’ simile all the time. What is the point of this odious practice and from where did it spring? Is it because writers think we are idiots or because they don’t have the skill to write it in another way? This one is p. 2 of the story proper and really gave me the pip:
That time of year the sun lingers in the sky for only six hours, scurrying from hoizon to horizon as if spooked.
That piece of smartarsery almost had me put the book on the ‘moving along right now shelf’. It doesn’t ring a chord, it has the ‘as if’, and I object to the juxtaposition of the words ‘lingers’ and ‘scurrying’.
Page two and I’m in a bad mood already, but something keeps the book in my hand.
(2) He pretends that this is based on the true story of his grandfather. I know I have put this in a way the author would deny, but I find it dubious practice to say the least to give the lead character the same name as the writer’s. He is on record as saying:
It’s a great hook, your “grandfather,” but isn’t it a bit misleading? [My publishers] said, “You can be really coy about it, just don’t lie.” But I want to be up-front about it. I sent an e-mail to my editor when the James Frey scandal broke, saying, “I promise I’m never going to send you anything that’s not a complete work of fiction.” NYMag.com
I have no idea what that is supposed to mean, it seems to me, it lies in the same vein as the Frey book. Perhaps, this being his second novel, he was overanxious to make sure it sold. If this is ‘upfront’, after the event, after it has been purchased and reviewed and read, to make this statement, then Frey was no less upfront, though he had to be dragged there.’Upfront’ would have been a clear explanation on the book itself. Back cover, for example.
The fact is that not only simple readers, but professional reviewers, considered this book to be the work of a chap writing about his grandfather, and since the made-up writer in the book is called David, has the same surname and has the same occupation, this is not surprising. I checked a few of the reviews of which small parts were blurbs for the cover of the edition I read, and at least two of them – Publishers Weekly, no less, and Booklist Online, - both expressed the ‘fact’ that this was a book written by an author about his grandfather. If the author was intending the start of this book to be no more than a wanky literary artifice, both he and his editors have miserably failed.
And there is this, from the NYT review:
Who knows. In a recent interview, Benioff said the novel’s first chapter was pure invention — that all four of his grandparents were born in the United States. But in the bound galleys of the novel he thanked his grandfather for his “patience with my late-night phone calls” about the blockade. The final version of the book doesn’t carry that acknowledgment. What gives?
What gives, indeed. I am really very uneasy about what the author did here and why. I am also curious as to why nobody seems to have taken the trouble to do the simple checks that would establish the truth of the matter.
So far that is one false start each, mine and the author’s.
Let’s try again.
The fact is that none of this really matters. What matters is that this is a five star read. I was hoping Chabon might have commented on it somewhere as it is a story, and that, if you look at the books people seem to want to read, is still what counts. There is a modern trend, and undoubtedly there is a cognoscenti on goodreads which supports this, to turn one’s nose up at the story. One not only can write a novel without a story, but one should. A story line is passe. Characters are passe. It’s all about technique and doing clever shit with words. This was a NY Times Bestseller, and without particularly understanding what that means, I guess it is in the august company of Harry Potter, Hunger Games, the Dragon Tattoo – books which tell stories. Not only that, it is told with an economy of style – a mere 250 pages or so – without feeling like he’s saving his words up for the next book. Both story and execution – ‘as ifs’ aside – are impeccable. This is unputdownable – I read the entire book while being rather sick for the last day – utterly entertaining, whilst talking about the period in the history of the world which for rich white folk is their shame unlike any other.
World War Two is not a story, it is an infinite number of stories that will never end. I’ve listened to any number of them straight from the horses’ mouths. The Australian spending years in the horrors of Changi. The Pole who escaped a concentration camp leading a group of children not much younger than he was to safety. The American physicist who started life as a Jewish boy escaping France and landing on his own in the US mid-war. The Pole who walked to St Petersburg to lend support. The thing all the stories relentlessly have in common is that they can’t really, properly tell their story. It’s the shared shame – or shame that one should be feeling shame – it is the luck that is impossible ever to celebrate or talk about with a smile on one’s face. So a story like this, just a story, a made-up piece of fiction coming out of the head of a chap who hopes it’ll become a NYT bestseller, in my opinion becomes part of this history of that period. It says stuff you aren’t going to get from history books, you aren’t going to get from biographies, you aren’t going to get from sitting next to a survivor of this period, holding their hand and saying ‘tell me’. (less)
Pop it by the bed, cruise in and out of it. I'm not saying it's as good as sex, but.
Here are a couple of things I've found out from it lately.
A goodr...morePop it by the bed, cruise in and out of it. I'm not saying it's as good as sex, but.
Here are a couple of things I've found out from it lately.
A goodreader recently asked me what the sexiest chess opening is. Well, it turns out there is a Horny Defence, created by Johann Horny, a 19th century German actor. This has got to be a front-runner, doesn't it?
And there is a chess player in here called Pratt and it turns out, Pratt by name...When he played blindfold chess he'd call his moves out in rhyming couplets. Actually, I fancy that would add to your chances of winning.
[I am removing my reviews as I do not want to support Amazon.]
You are playing a game. In adjournment you are offered a cast iron safe opportunity to c...more[I am removing my reviews as I do not want to support Amazon.]
You are playing a game. In adjournment you are offered a cast iron safe opportunity to cheat. It won’t affect the outcome of the game, you are going to win anyway. But it may change how you win. So what do you do?