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Chess in literature

The Chess Friends bestseller list

by Udo Harms

1) Vladimir Nabokov: Lushin's Defense

Every chess player who is interested in literature must have read this.

2) Stefan Zweig: The Chess Novella

According to Lushin's defense, the most literary chess novel.

3) Thomas Glavinic: Carl Haffner's love for a tie

Very good: The only novel in which chess is taken seriously, not just a slide for a story.

4) Wolfram Runkel: Chess. History and stories

A great collection of interesting chess stories.

5) Ernst Strouhal: Chess. The art of chess

Nice illustrated book.

6) Roswin Finkenzeller and others: Chess, 2000 years: The game, the story, the master games

Another nice illustrated book.

7) Tom Standage, The Turk

Great book about the most famous machine in the world.

8) Colleen Schafroth: Chess. A cultural story

Again a nice illustrated book

Yoko Ogawa: Swimming with Elephants, Aufbau-Verlag, 318 pages, 9.99 euros

A boy learns to play chess from a very overweight former bus driver who now lives in a discarded bus. He is immediately fascinated by this game, whose deeper secrets he will penetrate over the next few years by playing with the "master" every day. A fascinating new world opens up for the boy, who like almost all the characters in Ogawa's novel has no name. He lives with his younger brother with his grandparents, he is silent, almost closed, at school he is a loner, he has no friends. In his own world there is an elephant who once had to stay on the roof of a department store for the rest of his life because the attraction became too fat for children to be brought down again. And the girl Miira, who once simply disappeared - the adults say she got stuck in a crack in the house, where she now has to haunt around as a ghost.

When it comes to chess, the boy soon develops the peculiarity that he prefers to sit under the board when playing. From there he hears the opponent's moves, he only comes out to pull. This peculiarity prevents him from entering the world of tournament chess, in which he could otherwise have made it far. Instead, he becomes the operator of a chess machine, a puppet in which he can hide; he makes his moves through a complicated mechanism. And here, too, he hears the moves of his opponents, he plays in absolute darkness. A girl, who always has a pigeon on her shoulder, helps him when captured pieces have to be cleared from the board; she also notes down the individual moves - the boy calls her Miira, he is convinced that she is the girl from the crack in the house. The boy feels so comfortable in his doll, which is named "Little Alekhine" after the great Russian chess world champion, that he decides not to grow any more so that it always fits into the box from where it is well hidden (though extremely unhealthy cramped) can operate the machine.

Ogawa tells the boy's story in a rather distant tone; some bad things happen that can almost be overlooked, they are dealt with so briefly. The perspective is always that of the boy, from his point of view the events are classified, as a reader it is difficult to put them in a realistic context. The boundaries between reality and the boy's dream world seem to be blurring. Of course, it is clear that Ogawa uses the famous "Chess Turk", the machine that Baron Wolfgang von Kempelen constructed in the middle of the 18th century. For many years he caused a sensation, even Frederick the Great and Napoleon played and lost to him. It took a remarkably long time to reveal that, of course, a small chess player was hidden inside him. Ogawa explicitly mentions the Chess Turk - but it is strange that more than 200 years later people are still supposed to fall for the trick. Obvious is the bond with the "Tin Drum", with Oskar Matzerath the boy has in common that he can no longer grow.

One must read Ogawa's novel as a fairytale-like story, the behavior of the characters fits that. The fairytale is promoted by the fact that the characters have no names: there is the boy, the grandfather, the grandmother, the master, the general secretary, the old lady or the head nurse. And an elephant on the roof is probably as realistic as a chess club in the basement of a hotel, where some very strange things also happen. Seen in this light, swimming with elephants could be a pretty good novel in which chess plays a prominent role. Probably he is too, but I'm not really happy with the chess in the book. There are no hair-raising mistakes. But Ogawa falls into another extreme: She constantly describes how incredibly beautiful chess is - and almost always with the same metaphor, chess is like a huge ocean full of shallows. And it is emphasized again and again that one can recognize the character of the player by the style of play. May be true or something - it started to annoy me.

Just like the boy's special point of view, for whom every game is like a symphony, he hears the trains, weak trains generate discordant sounds, good ones sound magical. And he always tries to create a game that sounds good for both sides, he never looks for a quick win, but always for the most beautiful move. Like Alekhine, he wants to be a poet on or under the board. He plays selflessly, which is why everyone likes to play against him. The idea of ​​drawing parallels between chess and music is old and interesting - but Ogawa overuses it for my taste. Less would have been more, as the saying goes. I would have liked more varied reflections on chess, but maybe that didn't fit with the boy's world of thought. It is probably picky when one doubts that someone can hear where a character is being dragged, that probably also belongs in the fairytale-fantastic.

It's strange when I criticize a novel for the fact that the game of chess is celebrated too much. But I could also mention that most of the figures are drawn too simply, that they are too one-dimensional. Nonetheless, the story is well told and the style has been consistently persevered. If you're not into chess much, you may find the adulation interesting, so Ogawa's book is arguably a good bottom line.

Fabio Stassi: The last batch, no + buts, 240 pages, 9.90 euros

Novels in which chess plays an important role are relatively rare - and of the few, most are bad. Of course, the good ones include the chess novella, Lushin's defense or Carl Haffner's love for a tie. And recently also The Last Game by Fabio Stassi. In his short novel, he describes the life of the great world chess champion (1911-1927) José Raúl Capablanca. As far as I know (and only checked briefly), Stassi largely sticks to the biographical data. He also names historical figures by their real names, so Capablanca is actually the main character, not like in Carl Haffner's love for a tie, where the title hero stands for Carl Schlechter. And so Capablanca's wife Olga, Emanuel Lasker (his predecessor on the chess throne), the legendary Paul Morphy and Alexander Alekhine, who snatched the crown from him, also appear.

The core theme of the book is the initially supposed friendship and later deep enmity between Capablanca and Alekhine. At least that's how Stassi describes it. It is evidently historically proven that Alekhine refused to grant Capablance a revance for many years. In the novel, this fact tears at Capablanca's nerves, he cannot get over his defeat for the rest of his life, he increasingly suffers from Alekhine's refusal to give him a second chance. It's all well-written, exciting, with many deep insights into the essence of the game of chess from Capablanca's point of view - you can tell that Stassi plays chess and has given some thought to the blocks in her black and white world. There is also no lack of the apparently necessary women's stories, a little mysticism and a pinch of criminology. All the ingredients for a successful novel are there, Stassi does his job really well.

And yet in the end I am not really satisfied. Perhaps it is because a chess player is being glorified again, that a genius obviously cannot get along in a novel without the madness that must always accompany and ultimately surround him. Certainly there are examples, the good Morphy, of course, also the pioneering Wilhelm Steinitz, and certainly a few more - but hardly more than in all sorts of other professions. People who play a game at such a high intellectual level are likely to tempt writers all too easily to explore the limits of genius. Or to put it more simply: Without madness, a novel about chess geniuses would be bland (in fact there are far too many examples for it). Interestingly, Alekhine is said to have been Nabokov's role model for Lushin, as far as I can remember, but Capablanca does not play a major role in it. In any case, this motif pervades all of the novels mentioned, so that Signor Stassi has to put up with the criticism for having pursued the return of almost always the same thing. But if you ignore it, The Last Game is a good novel about the game of chess - and about one of the greatest masters of this game, who definitely deserves literary appreciation.

Ronan Bennett: Zugzwang, Bloomsbury, 315 pages, 9.90 euros

The tsar is supposed to die. A group of terrorists, alleged Polish freedom fighters and the Russian secret service forge a plot to send the monarch to the afterlife. A chess master of all things plays a central role ...

Ronan Bennett interweaves his story with the famous 1914 Grand Masters tournament in St. Petersburg. It doesn't really matter whether his chess master Rozental is based on Rubinstein. In any case, warriors like Lasker and Capablanca are allowed to perform in person - if only briefly. And Bennett also builds in a game of chess between two protagonists: Every now and then a diagram appears showing the progress of the game. A nice position that - in keeping with the title of the book - ends with a "Zugzwang" motif.

Nevertheless, the book is not a chess novel. But it is well written and exciting, which also helps over a few flat scenes. In pre-revolutionary Russia, things really get down to business; it is not always clear who is a friend and who is an enemy, and it is not always easy to see who is promoting whom and why. But in the end everything dissolves to the satisfaction of the reader. And the chess player is happy about the small borrowings from the chess world. It has nothing to do with literature in the sense of Nabokov or Zweig, but one can definitely recommend the book as good entertainment that clearly stands out from the crowd of unsuccessful “chess novels”.

Bertina Henrichs: The chess player, Hoffmann and Campe, 176 pages, 8.99 euros

The chess player - that's 42-year-old Eleni, who lives with her husband and two children on the Greek island of Naxos and works as a maid in a hotel. Her simple life is shaken when one day she sees a chess board in one of the hotel rooms on which an unfinished game has been set up. She accidentally knocks over a figure, whereupon the knowledge known from chaos theory gradually proves to be true that sometimes the smallest event can have serious consequences.
The game of chess exerts a great attraction on Eleni, it embodies a different, free life in the wide world that the farmer's daughter never got to know. However, she has no idea about the rules. She learns them with difficulty and with great persistence, with the help of a former teacher and his friend over time.

It's actually about self-discovery and breaking out of conventions. Eleni has to overcome some resistance, friends, neighbors and especially her husband don't think much of her new passion, which has little to do with what the islanders associate with a typical female role. The story would be over when it turned out that Elenis Grips did not go beyond the gait of the characters and maybe even the Schäfermatt. So she soon reveals a great natural talent to her astonished teachers, plays better and better, beats her teachers and is finally allowed to take part in a tournament in the big city of Athens, in which she promptly does not win, but does very respectably. What their tradition-conscious people think of it should not be revealed here.

As a reader you are left with the feeling that you have read a nice little book. It may be somewhat unlikely that the game of chess in particular will become a vehicle for Eleni's self-liberation, but it may also seem a little constructed. But there aren't that many novels in which chess plays an important role, so we as chess players don't want to be petty. Apart from that: Of course we trust chess to be able to change the world for the better, somehow, turning the little world of a maid upside down is actually just a piece of cake for Königs and Co.

David Edmonds, John Eidinow: How Bobby Fischer won the Cold War. DVA, 432 pages, 22.90 euros, currently only available as an antiquarian.

The Fischer-Spasski World Cup match is a legendary event to this day. Never before, and probably never later, has there been a chess competition that caused such an extraordinary stir. For a few months in 1972, the Icelandic capital Reykjavik became the center of the (chess) world. The American journalists David Edmonds and John Eidinow took on the spectacle again, and traced step by step how it happened, why it had such a tremendous effect. This is of course an interesting book for every chess player, if only because it is about the myth of Bobby Fischer. The authors spoke to countless contemporary witnesses in the USA, Russia, Germany and Iceland. Above all, the Russian participants in the spectacle were able to report more openly about the events at the beginning of the 1970s after the end of the Soviet Union. In addition, documents that had been locked away in Moscow for a long time could be evaluated.

In addition to biographical information about the opponents, the book mainly tells about their way to the World Cup: How Spasski prepared for the fight with a small team against resistance from the party and chess organization, and how Fischer swept his opponents Taimanow, Petrosian and Larsen off the board. And then of course the endless negotiations before and during the World Cup. Fischer's escapades, the organizers' constant fear that the crazy American could simply call off the match at any time, and their less than glorious strategy of fulfilling virtually all his wishes without much consideration for Spasski. Little Reykjavik needed the event - in Paris or London, the chess genius would probably not have offered the special tours. It becomes clear that Spasski's mistake was to agree to the American's demands rather good-naturedly in the first few weeks, which put him psychologically in a defensive, inferior position. Spasski sat on a simple office chair for a time, which was more than enough for him, while Fischer had a noble armchair flown in from the USA: You don't have to be a psychologist to imagine that it can be somehow uncomfortable - especially when you start out To lose lots.

Spasski's problems with the functionaries and his rather lax preparation are highlighted as well as Fischer's bizarre team of advisors, whose members mostly did not know what Fischer wanted exactly and, to be on the safe side, presented long lists of demands and sparked endless debates. Today this would be called the tactic of attrition. The chess games also play a role, of course, but not excessively large: Usually only a brief explanation is given of who lost and why, the notations are completely missing. It's not about analysis either, the book should also be interesting for people who don't play chess. And that's it. Edmonds and Eidinow succeeded in creating a good, sometimes exciting presentation of the chess spectacle, with many informative backgrounds that shed a clear light on the characters in front of and behind the scenes. The Fischer myth is disenchanted to a large extent. The man was a genius on the chessboard, but beyond the 64 squares obviously not only an egocentric, but also mentally not up to par, which may serve as the only explanation for his bad political views. You can't excuse her.

It's just a shame that the final punch line is missing: The book ends with Fischer's arrest in Japan. Only after the book went to print did the authors find out that it was Iceland, of all places, that gave him a passport and thus a refuge, which in the end would close the circle again.In later editions, they should rework that and speak again in Reykjavik with the people who took care of Bobby Fischer in 1972 (without ever hearing a word of thanks for it) and who will probably do it again today. To this day, Iceland seems to be grateful to Fischer for having received worldwide attention for a short time. And in memory, the positive things also tend to overlay the negative. But it is also possible that the allegedly so friendly Icelanders actually have limits of suffering and pain that are far, very far beyond normal. Maybe good-naturedness and masochism are closer together than you think.

S. S. van Dine, Der Mordfall Bischof, Dumont, 287 pages, 7.95 euros, currently only available as an antiquarian.

The title alludes to chess, the chapters always end with a black bishop and this very figure also plays a certain role in the novel, although not a decisive one. In addition, of course, there is the cover, which shows a king apparently killed by a runner, including a pool of blood.

But while such evidence usually suggests that someone smeared some hollow crap into a crime thriller, this time we're really dealing with a solid detective novel. A series of murders causes a stir, in which the victims are always transported to the afterlife according to the pattern of well-known nursery rhymes. A prime suspect is caught quickly, but unfortunately the murders continue - that includes:
The detective best reveals his genius in contrast to the stupidity of the police.

Since a few suspects are also killed, the number of possible perpetrators is decreasing more and more ... If the book had a few more pages, the case might have been resolved on its own.

I admit: I don't like novels like that. I tried John Dickson Carr and of course the great Sherlock Holmes. That reads so nicely, the story is somehow okay too, but it's not fun to watch the clever guys combine. But if you like Messrs. Carr and Holmes, you will certainly find this book by van Dine a good one.

Robert Löhr, Der Schachautomat, Piper-Verlag, 407 pages, 19.90 euros, currently only available as an antiquarian.

Once again a novel in which the legendary "Turk", Wolfgang von Kempelen's chess machine, plays a central role. We already had “Chess the Emperor”, in which the mechanical masterpiece from the 18th century had to do with Napoleon. But in contrast to that sad book, Robert Löhr has succeeded in creating a reasonably entertaining historical novel. There is actually no more praise.

Löhr describes how Kempelen builds the machine with an assistant, looks for a chess-playing dwarf to hide in, and brilliantly manages his appearance in front of the Austrian Empress. But apparently surprisingly, the powerful lady then insists that the Turk should perform more often, ideally spread the fame of Austria-Hungary throughout Europe. That's where the trouble starts. There are envious people, a spy, spurned lovers, proud hussars and the clash of a free spirit (Kempelen), a Jew (the assistant) and a devout Catholic (the dwarf). And a few dead.
And all of this against the historical background of the late 18th century.

The story babbles away, but now and then Löhr feels compelled to spice it up with a few nonsensical sex scenes. Can't hurt, or at least not much. What is more annoying is that the characters are not particularly convincing: The religiously zealous dwarf who unfortunately occasionally accidentally turns someone around the corner, is inconsolable about it, but also not in a way that he himself to the judiciary (or the church) would ask is one of them. Or the whore who lets herself be tempted to spy for money, but is then somehow purified because the dwarf is touching her.

Or Kempelen, initially just the modern, impeccable gentleman who likes to do a little tinkering, then suddenly the glorious zealot, and finally the man who, if necessary, easily walks over a few corpses. Not to mention the dumb hussar. From time to time there is a crunch in the gears of the story, which seems a little too constructed.

Well You can read all of this somehow if you don't have any special requirements. This book falls into the category again: You don't have to buy, but you can get a gift.

Icchokas Meras, Draw for seconds, Aufbau-Verlag, 159 pages, 6.50 euros, currently only available in antiquarian versions.

The motif is quite old: A chess game about the life and death of innocent people. The location of the event is already known in a similar way: in Paolo Maurensig's Die Lüneburg-Variant it is a concentration camp, in Icchoka's Mera's novel “Remis für seconds” it is a Jewish ghetto. In both cases a prisoner plays against the commanding officer. Although Meras' book was published in 1963, Maurensig wrote his only in the early 90s. And: Meras is much better.

Beyond the story of the game of chess and the two players, it is the story of life in the ghetto and the story of a family in this ghetto. This gives the novel many facets, several storylines run in parallel and are told from different perspectives. The simple basic idea of ​​the chess game provides a structure, but fortunately remains decisive for only one of the stories. For some reason, before I knew anything more than the title, I thought for a long time that the book was just bad. That is not true. It is a good novel, although it does not come close to the level of a Zweig or even a Nabokov. A tip: As far as I know, the book is not available in “normal” bookshops. I got it through Amazon, there still seems to be stocks.

Emanuel Lasker, How Wanja became a master, Exzelsior Verlag, 16 euros, currently only available as an antiquarian.

The subtitle reads a story from the world of chess. A book by the great world champion! Written in 1937 while in exile in Moscow and published for the first time in the German original around 60 years later. Well, if that's not a treat for chess-playing readers! Is not it. Or let's put it this way: as a narrative, from a literary point of view, the booklet is pretty weak. But as a document that gives an insight into Lasker's life and thoughts in the late 1930s, it is quite excellent.

Lasker tells the story of Wanja, who develops from an impatient young pioneer to a valiant master. As one of four chess friends, he shows his great talent early on, is cautiously encouraged by his old mentor (in whom Lasker himself can easily be recognized), improves himself on extensive trips to Europe and the USA, and in the end even reaches for the chess crown. Lasker obviously reports from his own experiences in the chess world, from unsuspecting and corrupt journalists, stubborn officials, conceited sponsors and envious chess masters, whose own advantage is more important than the good of the royal game. Even Tarrasch appears anonymously: in the person of a theoretical competitor Wanja, who initially grudges his success, but later cheers him as much as he can - just like the great Tarrasch once did. That makes the book interesting: Lasker's insights into the chess world of his time, his struggle for new ideas and his protest against the bad financial situation of the chess masters - for us normal players it is gratifying that Lasker's request to grant chess masters the copyright to their games was never implemented has been. Unfortunately, the joy is badly clouded by the woodcut-like characters, which is even evident in the naming: There is the journalist Quick, the Grand Master Big, the fair patron Judge, the rich Rich, the small-minded Petit ... Good and bad are easy distinguishable.

It is also quite clear that in the Soviet Union almost everything is somehow better than in the West. You have to understand that historically, of course. On the run from the Nazis, Lasker was naturally grateful to the Stalinist Soviet Union, in which chess was actually promoted in exemplary fashion. It should also have been clear to him that critical remarks would not necessarily encourage publication of the book. That is why one must generously overlook the all too flat praise. After all: Stalin is not mentioned with praise, but consistently hushed up. It is no coincidence that Lasker continued his escape in November 1937, two months after completing the Vanya manuscript, by traveling to the United States. As a result, it was not published until 1973 (!), Then in Russian.

Lasker also built in a few positions and games, which is very entertaining for us chessmen. But how to become a master is unfortunately not at all found out. It becomes clear: It is not book knowledge and cheap traps that make the master, but creative thinking and a deep understanding of the dynamics and principles of chess. So far, so clear, so incomprehensible.

So: literarily bad, historically very good. Michael Dreyer also wrote an excellent afterword.

Tom Standage, Der Türke, Campus-Verlag, 224 pages, 21.50 euros, currently only available as an antiquarian.

That’s an exciting chess book. Standage tells the extraordinary story of the "Turk", the first chess machine. Every active chess fan knows it by now and of course you know that a person was or must have been hidden in the box, because only computers can play chess properly and, as is well known, there was no such thing at the end of the 18th century. But it is almost unbelievable that the contemporaries of the “Turk” puzzled for decades how it worked, not a few simply considered it a mechanical marvel and its builder, Herr von Kempelen, a genius. He was too: as a mechanic and entertainer. Because the "Turk" was inscrutable because of its technical sophistication and its sophisticated presentation - Siegfried and Roy are in a way the direct descendants of Kempelens.

Standage describes the life and suffering of the "Turk", his great struggles against Benjamin Franklin, Napoleon and Catherine the Great, the constant attempts to penetrate his mechanism and the successful countermeasures of his changing owners. That's the astonishing thing: Apparently none of the people involved, for example the chess masters inside the box, has just divulged the secret. Who knew, held tight. Even great minds like Edgar Allan Poe tried to explain - he came close, but the final revelation did not succeed either. In addition to the “Turk” who burned in a fire in 1854, Standage gives interesting insights into the development of the first machines and makes a clever arc to Deep Blue. The last chapter, which deals with the first chess programs, is unfortunately only short, but absolutely worth reading.

A really great book. But here, too, there are a few compromises: First a few misprints too many, then I would have wished for more historical pictures and finally it would have been an end appropriate to the work of the “Turk” if standage in the appendix, let's say ten games (still more have been handed down) by the automatic master. In fact, not a single batch is printed - a shame.

Colleen Schafroth: Chess. Eine Kulturgeschichte, Knesebeck-Verlag, 169 pages, 49.80 euros, currently only available as an antiquarian.

Again a nice illustrated book. However, the author does not describe the cultural history of the game of chess, but rather that of the chess pieces. She is the director of the Maryhill Museum of Art in Goldendale, Washington, which is why her primary interest is in the changing design of the figures. This is all very interesting: How the figurative figures that were initially figurative with the Indians and Persians (i.e. animals, for example, were concretely reproduced) became more and more abstract with the Arabs, before the Europeans gave them recognizable forms again. How the names of the figures changed, why the tower was depicted as a tower in our country, but often as a ship in Russia. Or why which materials were used and which outstanding styles existed until the universal Staunton style was found, which has dominated the world of chess pieces to this day. By the way, one learns all sorts of things about the churches' distrust of chess, the ways in which it was distributed, the first chess books, the importance of chess in the various social groups and the change in the rules of the game that accelerated chess more and more. This, for a cultural history z. Some of the aspects that are particularly interesting are, however, very brief in the book. In general, the text remains on the surface in many places, some passages are also repeated one or the other time. But you are fully compensated for it by the many, many beautiful pictures of chess pieces from all over the world.

Stephen L. Carter: Checkmate. List-Verlag, 8.95 euros, 864 pages

Black and white cover, two pawns on the front and then the title: “Checkmate” - well, that must be something for chess readers who like to read. Finally another chess novel. Well, unfortunately not true. I have no idea what made the German publisher choose this title, the American original is called The Emperor of Ocean Park. In fact, it has little to do with chess.

A chess-playing judge dies, leaving behind mysterious "precautions" that can only be found if you understand something about chess problems. It's good that the son seems to be the right one for this. It's bad that in addition to the FBI, very, very dubious figures are after the "precautions", nasty types who like to take someone around the corner ... Junior not only plays chess, but is also a law professor and married to a great lawyer, who wants to make a career. And it's black too. So we have a novel that takes place in the legal milieu and brings to the fore a section of the population that is apparently little noticed in the USA: the black middle class. That is the interesting thing about the novel, it provides insights into the thinking and life of this social group.

Otherwise there is another dreary relationship story, namely the one about how the marriage of the first-person narrator goes to pieces - you keep asking yourself: Why don't these people talk to each other? And of course the main plot, which consists of the professor paddling around unsuspecting, guessing around and practically starting over again and again until a few things finally become clear to him bit by bit. That is lengthy, instead of over 800 it would have done 400 pages. Especially since you know the sinister fellows from “Die Firma” (I saw the film with Tom Cruise, I didn't want to touch the book either before or after) and crime novels from the 1940s. And the showdown is not exactly plausible either ...

But what particularly bothered me - this is of course a matter of opinion - is the spirit of conservatism, which brushed me again and again and made me shudder. So no, that was a disappointment. But wait: I know at least one cheater who was very enthusiastic about the book! It could therefore be that Mr. Carter just caught me on the wrong foot, something like that happens before (I also found Eco's "Foucault pendulum" stupid, although it should be good ...).

Thomas Glavinic: Carl Haffner's love for a tie, German, 9.90 euros.

The story of the chess master Carl Schlechter about his world championship fight against Emanuel Lasker in 1910. An excellent book - the only novel in which chess is portrayed realistically. Glavinic describes the competition in a very exciting way, the champions involved on and around the board very vividly. Every now and then he overshoots the mark a little - for example with the too frequent repetitions in relation to Schlechter's modesty - but that only marginally spoils the enjoyment of the book. Glavinic, 26 years old, is a good chess player himself and understands the sometimes strange people who populate the chess world. He tells straightforwardly, without many pseudo-intellectual flourishes, the intriguing story of a great struggle and a tragic master.

Patrick Süskind: Three stories, Diogenes, 129 pages, 2.50 euros, antiquarian or as part of “Three stories and one contemplation”, 8 euros.

With books by Patrick Süskind you can linger a moment and take a closer look - even if it is more of a book than a real book. “Three stories” is written on the back of the miniature tape from the Diogenes house, but what attracts the haggle is the knight on the front. And indeed: One of the three short stories revolves around a game of chess between an older, rather unsympathetic but rock solid master chess player and a young player full of esprit who seems to be going to work in the style of Tal. What happens there in a park, surrounded by lapwing, on and around the board, is well told and carefully observed - and the appropriate punch line is not missing either. Unfortunately far too short.

Manfred Korth: Gardez! Novel about a chess-obsessed, Frieling-Verlag, 144 pages, 8.50 euros, only available as an antiquarian.

Starts really well, because the author describes chess fairly realistically. But all too quickly the actual “plot” comes to the fore, which is so crazy that you keep asking yourself: Why do I keep reading, why only? Terrible. The IM in question first attacks a lady, gets away with it, gets to know a new lady, bores us with scenes of a stupid relationship, loses his lady, wrongly can't get away with it and in the end learns another one Lady know. I think chess doesn't deserve novels like this - or does it?

Jacques Hannak: Wilhelm Steinitz. The Michelangelo of the Chess Game, Edition Olms, 19 euros, only available as an antiquarian.

Steinitz is known to be the founder of the modern game of chess, which is why a biography about him promises to be an exciting read. But Hannak admits right at the beginning of the book that he knows next to nothing about Steinitz - and the work suffers immensely as a result. Steinitz appears as an artist and a puke: opinionated, quick-tempered, cocky and full of anger at anyone who dares to question his groundbreaking ideas. His polemics are usually defamatory, he knows how to turn friends against himself. Had it not been for various victories, the man would probably have been excluded from all tournaments. So far so interesting. Unfortunately, Hannak doesn't bring much more: He lists Steinitzen's tournaments and describes his results in a flowery manner. In between, he delights miserably for a long time from the banal thought from the realm of crude materialism that all development phases of the game of chess ultimately depend directly on the respective social situation. After 80 pages he can't think of anything, which is why he muddles Steinitzen's heirs from Marco to Lasker. He should have added 50 games by Steinitz, but there is not one in the book. This book can only be recommended to staunch chess enthusiasts and absolute Steinitz fans.

Wolfram Runkel: Chess. History and Stories, Wunderlich-Verlag, 20 euros, currently only available as an antiquarian.

A history of the game of chess in short episodes. After each section, Runkel inserts one of his reports from the world of chess, which he wrote for “Die Zeit”. They are often even more interesting than the actual history of the royal game. An extremely entertaining and interesting book that also contains many of the most beautiful and best games in the world of chess. Actually the ideal gift for every chess fan - no dull theory, no demanding novel, but simply many beautiful stories about chess.

Paolo Maurensig: The Lüneburg variant, Insel-Verlag, 18 euros, only available as an antiquarian.

Not a thriller, as the blurb seems to promise, but still very exciting. An unusual game of chess between a former concentration camp commandant and a former Jewish concentration camp inmate forms the background of the novel. In the concentration camp, the two played for the lives of other prisoners, after the war the ex-prisoner wants to track down the commandant by training a young master who always plays a certain variant at tournaments, on which the Nazi - now a businessman and chess master - at some point must be attentive. It's just the variant that came up again and again in the concentration camp. The talented young master thus becomes a character in a long-prepared mating attack with fatal consequences in real life. Not exactly a brilliant novel, but in Italy it was rightly a bestseller and is always good for a few exciting days of vacation.

Vladimir Nabokov: Lushin's defense, Rowohlt, 9.99 euros.

An absolute must for every chess player! An excellent novel (written ten years before Stefan Zweig's novella on chess) about a master completely fixated on chess, who is dragged from tournament to tournament by his mentor through half of Europe until he becomes a contender for the world title. But Lushin increasingly loses control of reality in his chess obsession until his whole world is dominated by his last, aborted game against his archenemy. He is constantly waiting for the decisive move that reveals his opponent's supposedly diabolical plan. Everything that happens around him seems to be related to the game. It is said that Nabokov used the great Alekhine as a model for Lushin, but that is not guaranteed. A masterpiece! If you like to read a good book and also play chess, you should definitely not miss it.

Helmut Pfleger / Gert Treppner: Board in front of the head. Life and moves of the world chess champions, Beck-Verlag, 11 euros, only antiquarian.

The book presents the world champions from the Arab beginnings to Kasparov in entertaining portraits. It was important for the authors to roughly characterize the stars between genius and madman, determine their most salient characteristics and summarize their greatest achievements. An entertaining book, peppered with just a few parts, which are also understandably commented for laypeople. The fact that as a club player you already know some anecdotes from somewhere does little harm.

Arturo Pérez-Reverte: The Black Lady's Secret, Rowohlt-TB, 9.99 euros.

An old painting shows two knights playing a game of chess. Under X-rays, a young restorer discovers an inscription: “Who killed the knight?” What does that mean: Who beat the knight or who murdered the nobleman who actually bit the grass under mysterious circumstances at the time? Does the game of chess give a decisive clue that the painter would rather not emphasize too clearly? A few murders among people who have something to do with the picture promises an exciting story about centuries-old conspiracies. But the book is pretty slack: stupid characters, a pseudo-intellectual chess master and an unsatisfactory ending. Not a book for chess players, but for laypeople who should have as little knowledge of chess as possible. The book was even made into a film under the title “Secrets” - the film is even worse than the book.

Waldemar Lysiak: Schach dem Kaiser, Hoffman and Campe, approx. 22 euros, only antiquarian.

The cover is deceptive: you see the “Turk”, the famous chess machine of Baron von Kempelen, reading something from a historical novel and looking forward to a chess novel. But it is not. It's just a boring, badly written historical novel with idiot characters.

Stefan Zweig: The Schachnovelle, Fischer-TB, 5.95 euros.

In addition to Naboko's “Lushin's Defense” (see above), the chess novella is probably the best literary work in which chess plays a special role. On a passenger steamer, the reigning world champion (a dull ruffian) plays against a man who, as a prisoner in a small room with a chess book, fought against the Nazis' perfidious tactics of attrition. Without a board or pieces, he played the games from the book in his head. Until he knew all 150 by heart, understood the moves and started playing against himself in his head - which ultimately led to a nervous breakdown and ultimately to his release from prison. On the steamer, he sits at a real board for the first time: he wins the first game, but in the second he gets nervous again, madness and reality get mixed up and at the last moment he breaks off the game. The novella, written in exile in 1941, is not only a literary masterpiece, but of course also an indictment against National Socialism. Ultimately, the representatives of the civilized West, the bourgeoisie, and the brute force, which ultimately prevails, sit face to face.

Roswin Finkenzeller, Small Philosophy of Passions: Chess, dtv, 124 pages, 7.50 euros, only antiquarian.

A grandiose title, but already the first chapter abruptly brings the reader back to so-called reality. Because Mr. Finkenzeller could of course not resist the temptation to start with the worn-out picture of the stupid woman who is jealous of her friend's chess pieces and chess club - until she realizes that chess is actually not that stupid after all. It starts off weakly and unfortunately only increases moderately. The author can think of a lot of well-known topics: the “typical” chess player, the chess language, the chess club, winning tips, computers, quirks and also women he thinks again and again. But what he has to tell us is pretty banal. It is true that here and there there is no lack of a clever thought. Overall, however, the good man only works his way through a shaky framework of puns, ancient anecdotes and general considerations. Instead of philosophizing about chess, he spreads wisdom that has just as much or little to do with chess as it does with backgammon, skat or football. Since the style quickly strains the nerves, the conclusion here is: We can do without this book.

David Hood, Schach und Matt, Knaur, 394 pages, 7.50 euros, only antiquarian.

The blurb promises "a special kind of excitement pleasure". You actually know straight away that you should save your money ... Well: There is a brilliant, but of course socially disturbed young chess player named John. He has a grandfather who was a physicist at Cambridge 50 years ago and didn't want to build an atom bomb for the British or anyone else during World War II. For religious reasons or something. Instead, he discovers nuclear fusion, which would solve all of mankind's energy problems. But he doesn't want to tell anyone either, because it could influence the outcome of the war. Unfortunately, a few people know what he knows - that's why some agents make a bit of a show. The physicist flees to a lonely island and only returns to the world in the 90s. Today it is known to be dominated by Japanese corporations and corrupt politicians who are passionately interested in the knowledge of the still silent ex-scientist. And the disturbed chess player finally wants to have a grandpa. Oh yes, there is of course still a great woman who, for some inexplicable reason, is passionately interested in the idiot. The British author David Hood stirs this together, adds two father-son conflicts and puts together a “thriller” that really makes the reader sad. Now there is finally a thriller that has to do with chess - and then it has nothing to do with chess. What remains is a weak, literarily worthless crime thriller anyway.

Roswin Finkenzeller, Wilhelm Ziehr, Emil Bührer: Schach, 2000 years: The game, the story, the master games, Parkland-Verlag, 208 pages, 20 euros, only antiquarian.

A really nice book! The first impression: A large format volume with many, many beautiful chess motifs. There are historical and halfway modern chess scenes (photos and paintings), artistically more or less valuable chess oil paintings, sculptures and countless illustrations of various chess figures. All together illustrate a history of chess from its beginnings in India and the Orient to Kasparov. The authors follow step by step how rules and figures have changed. There are also forays into Chinese chess and smaller episodes about chess computers and women at the board. The texts are written entertainingly and full of anecdotes and cheerful sayings by great masters. Ultimately, however, the book is more of a splendid volume to look at than to read line by line. The picture on the last cover page is identical to the one on the first - just printed the wrong way round. That should be the reason why the book costs only 39.80 marks (in chess mail order) instead of the original 75 marks.

Ernst Strouhal: Chess. The art of chess, Nikol-Verlag, 462 pages, only antiquarian.

The author tells the story of chess in episodes against the background of the game Rubinstein against Grünfeld from 1929. As you read through the story, you can follow the progress of the game at the edge of almost every page. Rubinstein's life is also very much the focus of the book. The second part is an image atlas which, in addition to many historical prints, contains a picture gallery that traces the development of the chess pieces. The third part includes a good 100 games to replay. Much from Rubinstein, but also a foray from the beginnings to Deep Blue. A nice volume to browse through.

Karl. The cultural chess magazine, 5 euros.

“Rochade” is the “Bild” newspaper among the chess newspapers, some people say. In any case, it is true that the appearance is a disaster - texts that you have to read with a magnifying glass and images that bring tears to the eyes of a photographer. You don't have to do that to yourself, but unfortunately only "Rochade" has the regional section with tournament announcements and results service ... The magazine "with aspiration and tradition", namely "Schach", on the other hand, shines with detailed tournament reports and background stories. In between there is a bunch of other papers and a gap in the market: A chess newspaper that doesn't care about tournaments and opening variations, but sees chess as a cultural phenomenon.

Now there is "Karl". "Karl" was the club newspaper of the Schachfreunde Schöneck, but has meanwhile developed into a national magazine. It appears quarterly and costs 5 euros. Each booklet is dedicated to a central theme: For example, in the booklet about “Tempo” there was a report on the development of chess clocks and their use in tournaments, the changes to the rules for the time limit, or an experience report from a tournament in which the new FIDE time limit was tried out . There are also texts on the phenomenon of time pressure or an essay on “Chess in the Age of Impatience”. Other main themes were the internet, child prodigies and the history of chess. In short: it's about chess culture. The quality of the reports is not such that it will tear you off your feet, but "Karl" exudes a very pleasant chess atmosphere overall in the texts and layout - nice stories about chess that you like to read.

You can also get a first impression on the Internet: www.karlonline.org

Special: Lewis Chessmen - Little devils from the realm of evil

It should be common spirits, little devils or at least dark demons from the realm of evil. Anyone who touches them is likely to get sick and possibly even die. That is why the farmer who found the figures in the spring of 1831 on the west coast of the Hebridean island of Lewis (Scotland) abandoned them and ran home frightened. Fortunately, his wife was more curious and more enterprising: she dug the figures out of the sand and hawked them to a merchant.

This is how the most famous chess pieces in the world today were discovered and saved. For centuries they had lain under the sand that had gradually been washed away by the sea. The place of their origin is unclear. However, based on art-historical comparisons, experts have come to the conclusion that they may have been made in Scandinavia. This fits a legend that was told around 1860 on the island of Lewis: According to this, a shepherd is said to have observed a sailor one morning who was swimming ashore with a sack on his back. Instead of helping, the shepherd killed the shipwrecked man and stole the sack. But instead of the gold and silver he had hoped for, he only found disdainful playing figures - which he buried in the sand so as not to leave any traces of the gruesome act. It was not until a few years later that he was sentenced to death for other crimes that he confessed to the crime under the gallows.

The merchant sold the mysterious figures for 30 pounds to a collector in Edinburgh, who offered them to the British Museum for 100 pounds on October 17, 1831 - the writer Sir Walter Scott happened to be in the museum on that day and thus became one of the first admirers the Lewis Chessmen.

The museum took over the 82 figures for 80 pounds - not knowing that the seller had already sold eleven more figures in Edinburgh. Today these eleven are in the Scottish National Museum in Edinburgh - most of the others are on display in the British Museum in London.

The experts quickly discovered how valuable the chess pieces actually were. They date from around 1150 and were probably made from walrus tusks in a Scandinavian carving workshop. They belong to four to five different sentences and sometimes differ significantly from one another. But all are exceptionally artistically carved.
The figures are therefore particularly valuable for art historians - they show the highly developed level of handicrafts in this era. In fact, there are still some chess pieces from other regions of Europe from this period that are unusually beautiful. But what makes the Chessmen so unique: They are the only group of Romanesque figures from the eleventh and twelfth centuries that were made for pleasure - probably for an aristocratic clientele.

The king and queen sit on chairs that are lavishly decorated with ornaments and geometric patterns from behind.Some towers are strange: the burly guys bite into their shields - out of fear or to show their opponents how brutal they are. In fact, Nordic legends speak of berserkers who got so terribly angry before battles that they bit their shields with rage. On the other hand, besides these fearsome warriors, there are some characters that look downright cute. Some of the ladies are characterized by a small overbite. Everyone presses their right hand to the cheek - perhaps out of dismay, but somehow the gesture seems rather humorous and ironic. The kings look grim - but apparently they were the ideal template for Hager the Terrible. In terms of chess history it is remarkable that the bishops are already portrayed as bishops. Most of the farmers appear as small obelisks. Some are in the shape of tombstones and are simply decorated.

A number of replicas of the Chessmen are available for purchase. However, some cost over 500 euros with a board and then don't even have the original format, mostly they are much too small. The best replicas (at ten centimeters the jumper is the tallest figure) have brought out the British Museum in London. They are really true to the original: If the king or queen is missing a point in the crown, this is not a delivery damage ...

The halfway heavy figures cost 350 euros without the board (plus shipping costs) and can also be ordered over the Internet.
If you want more information, you can order a CD-ROM from the Scottish National Museum for around £ 17 (via the museum's website). The explanations in Ernst Strouhal's book “Schach. Die Kunst des Schachspiels ”, Nikol-Verlag, (in Hanover e.g. available in 2001 in Friesenstrasse).