Sunday, September 1, 2013

"What Else Exists in the World Besides Chess?"

Caissa is a beautiful, wonderful, mysterious and horrible mistress; she tempts and torments you, bringing great joy followed by tremendous agony: it is almost impossible to break her addictive spells, because no matter how much you lose you always think that your next move will bring redemptive victory.

In his novel The Luzhin Defense, Vladimir Nabokov described chess' seductive vice grip on the mind/soul:

Suddenly, something occurred outside his being, a scorching pain--and he let out a loud cry, shaking his hand stung by the flame of a match, which he had lit and forgotten to apply to his cigarette. The pain immediately passed, but in the fiery gap he had seen something unbearably awesome, the full horror of the abysmal depths of chess. He glanced at the chessboard and his brain wilted from hitherto unprecedented weariness. But the chessmen were pitiless, they held and absorbed him. There was horror in this, but in this also was the sole harmony, for what else exists in the world besides chess?

Chess is intoxicating, invigorating, illuminating--it challenges your mind, it buffets your emotions, it stretches your physical capabilities to the breaking point. Chess may seem like a quiet and passive activity to the uninitiated but chess is loud and aggressive--moves played and unplayed scream inside your head and the violence that you do (or that is done unto you) creates wounds and scars.

It is not an accident that the name of Nabokov's tormented chess hero echoes the word "illusion"; in chess, as in life, it is essential to determine what is real and what is illusory. If you lose the thread then the story will unravel, as surely as a tug on a loose string can pull apart the most intricately sewn garment.

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