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King's Gambit: A Son, a Father, and the World's Most Dangerous Gameby Paul Hoffman
Synopses & Reviews
As a child, Paul Hoffman lost himself in chess. The award-winning author of the international bestseller The Man Who Loved Only Numbers played to escape the dissolution of his parents' marriage, happily passing weekends with his brilliant bohemian father in New York's Greenwich Village, the epicenter of American chess. But he soon learned that such single-minded focus came at a steep price, as the pressure of competition drove him to the edge of madness.
As an adolescent, Hoffman loved the artistic purity of the game — and the euphoria he felt after a hard-fought victory — but he was disturbed by the ugly brutality and deceptive impulses that tournament chess invariably brought out in his opponents and in himself. Plagued by strange dreams in which attractive women moved like knights and sinister men like bishops, he finally gave up the game entirely in college, for the next twenty-five years.
In King's Gambit, Hoffman interweaves gripping tales from the history of the game and revealing portraits of contemporary chess geniuses into the emotionally charged story of his own recent attempt to get back into tournament chess as an adult — this time without losing his mind or his humanity. All the while, he grapples with the bizarre, confusing legacy of his own father, who haunts Hoffman's game and life.
In this insider's look at the obsessive subculture of championship chess, the critically acclaimed author applies the techniques that garnered his earlier work such lavish praise — the novelistic storytelling and the keen insights — to his own life and the eccentric, often mysterious lives of the chess pros he knew and has come to know. Intimate, surprising, and often humorous, it's both Hoffman's most personal work and his most compelling.
"[An] endearing and digressive tapestry; Hoffman is a knowledgeable guide who explains the game well." New York Times
"If you enjoy playing chess, this will be the most fascinating, best-written book that you have ever read. If you have no interest in chess, then get ready to enjoy a fascinating, fast-moving story with unforgettable characters many of whom just happen to be chess players." Jared Diamond, author of Collapse
Whether your chess career culminated in grandmaster status, or ended (repeatedly) in your or your brotherand#8217;s hurling the board and pieces across the living room, nearly all of us learned to play the game at one point or another. And chess tournaments, like spelling bees, are strangely captivating phenomena, bringing hundreds--sometimes thousands--of people together to watch two men sit silently at opposite sides of a table, occasionally moving a game piece. Gary Fine examines the social forces that bring these people together, not just in tournaments but in chess clubs, elementary and high school programs, college teams, and more. He finds that the chess players create a and#147;soft community,and#8221; an open and welcoming space where those with a commitment to the game find a place, despite eccentricities that might make them outsiders elsewhere. Admission to the community isnand#8217;t free, though; the flip side to soft community is and#147;sticky culture,and#8221; the stipulation that identification with this world is explicitly linked with the acquisition of shared knowledge. This knowledge starts with game tactics and strategy, but Fine doesnand#8217;t elaborate on them: he brings us on a tour of all the other things a player learns: the psychology of chess, the history of the game, local and national heroes, how you conduct yourself when youand#8217;re on the ticking clock of a timed match, what it means to know exactly where youand#8217;re ranked among the millions of chess players in the world, the seminal matches of the Cold War. Though you may come out of reading this book just as much of a patzer--a bumbling amateur--on the board, youand#8217;ll have a thorough understanding of what happens over the board.
A chess match seems as solitary an endeavor as there is in sports: two minds, on their own, in fierce opposition. In contrast, Gary Alan Fine argues that chess is a social duet: two players in silent dialogue who always take each other into account in their play. Surrounding that one-on-one contest is a community life that can be nearly as dramatic and intense as the across-the-board confrontation.
Fine has spent years immersed in the communities of amateur and professional chess players, and with Players and Pawns he takes readers deep inside them, revealing a complex, brilliant, feisty world of commitment and conflict. Opening with a close look at a typical tournament in Atlantic City, Fine carries us from planning and setup through the climactic final dayandrsquo;s match-ups between the weekendandrsquo;s top players, introducing us along the way to countless players and their relationships to the game. At tournaments like that one, as well as in locales as diverse as collegiate matches and community chess clubs, players find themselves part of what Fine terms a andldquo;soft community,andrdquo; an open, welcoming space built on their shared commitment to the game. Within that community, chess players find both support and challenges, all amid a shared interest in and love of the long-standing traditions of the game, traditions that help chess players build a communal identity.
Full of idiosyncratic characters and dramatic gameplay, Players and Pawns is a celebration of the ever-fascinating world of serious chess.
As a young man, Paul Hoffman was a brilliant chess player . . . until the pressures of competition drove him to the brink of madness.
In King's Gambit, he interweaves a gripping overview of the history of the game and an in-depth look at the state of modern chess into the story of his own attempt to get his game back up to master level--without losing his mind. It's also a father and son story, as Hoffman grapples with the bizarre legacy of his own dad, who haunts Hoffman's game and life.
About the Author
Paul Hoffman was president of Encyclopaedia Britannica and editor in chief of Discover magazine, and is the author of Wings of Madness and The Man Who Loved Only Numbers. The recipient of the first National Magazine Award for feature writing, and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Hoffman lives in Woodstock, New York.
Table of Contents
Prologue: A Tournament Revealed
Introduction: First Moves
Chapter One: The Mind, the Body, and the Soul of Chess
Chapter Two: Doing Chess
Chapter Three: Temporal Tapestries
Chapter Four: Shared Pasts and Sticky Culture
Chapter Five: The Worlds of Chess
Chapter Six: Status Games and Soft Community
Chapter Seven: Chess in the World
Conclusion: Piece Work
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