Emily's Reviews > The Immortal Game: A History of Chess

The Immortal Game by David Shenk
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's review
Dec 30, 2009

really liked it
bookshelves: 2010

The Immortal Game is a fascinating and quick read. It begins with the earliest known origins of the game whose rules have hardly altered for 5 centuries and continues to baffle and intrigue us, giving its players insight into everything from (as the title indicates) war, science, the human brain, and teaches the player about herself. Why Chess? Why this game? Chess takes place at the meridian of absolute freedom and unlimited possibilities and total structure:

"It all starts out simply: in the first move, White is limited to twenty options ... Black has the same possible twenty moves with his first response. But with chess the number of legal moves is only a small part of the equation. Because while there are only forty possible first moves per pair of players, there are actually 400 possible board positions inherent in those moves... Think of it as chess chemistry: each player moving just once can yield any one of 400 distinct chess "molecules," each with its own special properties. In the second move, the number of possible chess molecules shoots up almost past belief: for every one of those 400 positions, there are as many as 27 options that each play has for a second move ... the total number of distinct board positions after the second complete move (two moves per player) is 71, 852 ... After three moves each, the players have settled on one of approximately nine million possible board positions. Four moves each raises it to more than 315 billion...The number of unique chess games is not literally an infinite number, but in practical terms the difference is indistinguishable ...10 to the 120 power ... In conversational English, it is a thousand trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion games. By way of comparison, the total number of electrons in the universe is, as best as physicists can determine 10 to the 79 power.

Mind blowing, right? Bobby Fisher, Benjamin Franklin, Chess Geniuses and the mental illnesses, paranoias, and deterioration they suffer, multicultural, ancient, it's really very fascinating. And, although chess seems more intimidating than ever, the book definitely sparks the interest to start playing some "real" chess.

Wouldn't it be amazing to become a decent chess player and make it a point to play when traveling? How neat to experience the kind of personal vulnerability, scheming, communication, and wit with complete strangers without verbal communication in Amsterdam, Budapest, Tokyo, Reykjavik or wherever we find ourselves?! An astounding universal language...

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Reading Progress

December 30, 2009 – Shelved
April 27, 2010 – Started Reading
April 27, 2010 –
page 210
April 28, 2010 – Finished Reading
July 7, 2010 – Shelved as: 2010

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