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Chess Story by Stefan Zweig
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Chess Story (1942)

by Stefan Zweig

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2,678723,225 (4.12)308
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English (49)  French (6)  Dutch (5)  Spanish (3)  Italian (3)  Catalan (2)  Danish (2)  Norwegian (1)  German (1)  All languages (72)
Showing 1-5 of 49 (next | show all)
Well written story about man obsessed with chess. Previously saw a play based on this book, and that made the story more vivid for me. ( )
  suesbooks | Dec 8, 2018 |
(Original Review from the German and English editions, 2002-06-01)

My lichens rating has gone down the proverbial toilet. I went from 1800 to 1600. Been losing simple games. I hate it when I get ahead and then lose. The other day I even managed to fuck up w text book draw with opposite bishops. I think of myself as a club level Karjakin but Sergey appears in my dreams and asks me to stop sullying his good name.

All players go thru the game yips from time to time, they suck while they're happening but just go with the current flow, don't get irritated and down on yourself; they will pass. I'd avoid playing rated hustlers too; I lost near 300 FIDE points back in '10, it was my first experience of the yips, know better now for sure. I seriously feel for the top dudes and dudettes, their yips are so public.

I’m sure Sergey would be proud of me; he's a real player who loves chess. He ain't one of the players I think have reached undeserved heights; defense is a great offence in the right hands; he has real game.

'Why not just play tic-tac-toe against Karjakin,' says I? (Karjakin anwers: 'Because you know I'd kick your arse. Why don’t you play against me??')

'Karjakin, my middle game in noughts and crosses ('tic tac toe??' please!) is unbeatable! You’ll never see my moves coming...' (Karjakin: 'Because it lacks the required intellectual challenge or permutations of chess. However I can see why you consider it to be so difficult and a real intellectual challenge.')

'Yes, but have you played against the computer Deep Noughts and Crosses? Until then you will remain the uncrowned King...') (Karjakin: I beat WOPR, obvs, and continued to beat its successors right through the 90s; but yeah, I confess, I've not beaten any of the "deep" series...')

'I’ll give you a hint Karjakin. Whoever goes first wins if they select the corners. Surely most kids learn this while they're still in "elementary school" '. (Karjakin: 'Not true. But if you start from the corner there is only one move for your opponent to avoid a forced loss: unfortunately it is the obvious one. Whereas if you start from the middle there are four forced wins and four probable draws depending on your opponent’s response, so I prefer to start from the corner because it increases my odds.'

'At this stage tic-tac-toe is more likely to produce a winner than chess,' I keep on fighting. (Karjakin: 'and there lies the reason for the death of chess. FIDE should be sued for not changing things (i.e. the rules in some format) many years back. Even football which is prehistoric in terms of changing rules has done it a few times for the betterment of the game.'

'Sue FIDE for what? Millions of people have tried tweaking the rules of chess. None of them have gained popularity because they are inferior to the current version. Typically because they introduce an element of luck. If you want randomness watch the Risk World Championship.' (Karjakin: 'I like to intimidate my opponents during midgame by throwing in a "B". Their resolve crumbles when they see the word "BOO" in front of them. We should play sometime. I won’t play tic-tac-toe because it's a solved game with a tiny state space. Its real name isn't Tic-Tac-Toe, btw. It's Zero-X. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nn82s7KAHvo)' ( )
  antao | Nov 20, 2018 |


I detect strong parallels between reading a novel and the game of chess: there is the author sitting on one side, playing white, the reader on the other side, playing black; instead of the chess board and chess pieces there is the novel; the author’s opening chapter is the chess player’s opening, the middle of the novel is, of course, the middle game, and the closing chapter is the end game. If both author and reader expand their literary horizons and deepen their appreciation of life’s mysteries, then both can declare ‘checkmate’.

Stefan Zweig’s ‘Chess Story’ published by New York Review Books (NYRB) is 84 pages of literary counterpart to a master chess game of Capablanca or Kasparov, a novel where the first-person narrator, an Austrian, just so happens to be on board a passenger steamer with a world chess champion by the name of Czentovic and also, as it turns out, a fellow Austrian referred to as Dr. B, a man who tells the tale of how he came to play chess whilst a prisoner of the Gestapo. If you tend to find novels by such giants as Proust, Joyce or Mann a bit intimidating but still would like to do a careful cover-to-cover read of a masterpiece, this is your book. A special thanks to Joel Rotenberg for translating from the German to a most accessible and clear English. And keeping in the spirit of a game of chess, below are several quotes from the novel (SZ’s moves as white) paired with my comments (countermoves as black):

Ruminating on what it takes to be a chess master, the narrator notes: “All my life I have been passionately interested in monomaniacs of any kind, people carried away by a single idea. The more one limits oneself, the closer one is to the infinite; these people, as unworldly as they seem, burrow like termites into their own particular material to construct, in miniature, a strange and utterly individual image of the world.” ---------- Zweig’s novel takes place during the time of Nazi Germany and, of course, Hitler is considered one of the modern world’s most notorious monomaniacs, combining gobbledygook notions of biology, race, history and national identity into his version of an unyielding jackboot philosophy of culture, a philosophy carried out in deadly practice by thousands of loyal Nazis, monomania crushing the lives of millions under its ideological hammer. Parallels between Czentovic and the Führer abound.

“They did nothing – other than subjecting us to complete nothingness. For, as is well known, nothing on earth puts more pressure on the human mind than nothing. . . . you were hopelessly alone with yourself, with your body, and with these four or five mute objects, table, bed, window, washbasin; you lived like a diver in a diving bell in the black sea of silence. . . .“ --------- Confined to a hotel room by the Gestapo, cut off from the outside world, Dr. B begins to go stir-crazy in a world of silence and solitude, a conundrum touching on a major dilemma in the modern West – the loss of the contemplative/meditative dimension in life. Silence and solitude could provide fertile ground for personal spiritual growth if one has the proper training; but, alas, for most people, similar to Dr.B, silence and solitude is equated with a blank, a total nothingness.

“I had not held a book in my hands, and there was something intoxicating and at the same time stupefying in the mere thought of a book, in which you could see words one after another, lines, paragraphs, pages, a book in which you could read, follow, take into your mind the new, different, diverting thoughts of another person.” ---------- Ah, isolation in silence and solitude heightens Dr. B’s appreciation for what many of us might take for granted – the wonder of all the various levels of splendor in the simple pleasure of reading a book. When we look closely, such simple pleasure contains infinite richness.

“At first I played the games through quite mechanically; yet gradually a pleasurable, aesthetic understanding awoke within me. I grasped the fine points, the perils and rigors of attack and defense, the technique of thinking ahead, planning moves and countermoves, and soon I was able to recognize the personality and style of each of the chess masters as unmistakably as one knows a poet from only a few of his lines . . . “ ---------- How about that! Beyond the bare mechanical lies the juice of the aesthetic dimension, that is, an experience of beauty, in this case, the beauty of chess’s underlying structure on multiple levels: each move, creative tactics and overarching strategy, especially the beauty of signature moves, tactics and strategies of individual chess masters.

“My white self had no sooner made a move than my black self feverishly pushed forward .“ ---------- On the level of chess, the white pieces vs. the black pieces; on the level of psychotherapy, we could consider two different aspects of the subconscious: White Self vs. Black Self. Sidebar: Too bad Dr. B’s chess book didn’t contain chess problems constructed for one player!

“When I was taken to be examined by a physician, in my derangement I had suddenly broken free, thrown myself at the window in the corridor and shattered the glass, cutting my hand – you can still see the deep scar here.” ---------- At one point, Dr. B notes how chess is a game of pure mental calculation, “a game of pure reasoning with no element of chance.” Ironically, through pure chance, Dr. B survives throwing himself at a window, since, in his derangement, he could easily have lost his life when the glass shattered. So, in this sense, life is not a game of chess – chance plays such a major part in everybody’s life.

During the chess game of Czentovic vs. Dr.B, the narrator observes: “Suddenly there was something new between the two of them: a dangerous tension, a passionate hatred. They were no longer opponents testing their ability in a spirit of play, but enemies resolved to annihilate each other. Czentovic delayed for a long time before making the first move. It was clear to me that this was intentional.” ---------- Oh, how a game can so easily and quickly degenerate into a power play of egos bent on complete obliteration of the other; how easily life can be brought down to the mindset of the Nazis.

The narrator continues to watch; he detects a profound change come over the ordinarily serene Dr. B: “All the symptoms of abnormal excitation were clearly apparent; I saw the perspiration appear on his brow while the scar on his hand became redder and stood out more sharply than before.” ----------- Perhaps the author is reminding us that in our countering Nazi mentality we are continually prone to become no less brutal and one-minded then a Nazi.


( )
  Glenn_Russell | Nov 13, 2018 |
The psychological game between the inhuman chess automaton Czentovic and the fragile Dr. B., who was imprisoned by the Gestapo for months in solitary confinement and still feels the psychological effects of torture and suffers from it, makes it clear how important human consciousness is for our lives and what dangers it poses is. The main themes of the chess novella are: "Chess as a war", "Hitler and the Nazi period", "Dr. B.'s fate "," Dr. B. against Czentovic "," The Psychological Game "and" Isolation and Chess Poisoning ".
Even though the book does not have many pages, there is a linguistic variety of sentence structure and vocabulary in which one can not find his own again so quickly. [[Stefan Zweig]] was a virtuoso in terms of language.
This is a must-read for me. ( )
  Ameise1 | Oct 6, 2018 |
Beware ‘chess poisoning’! :)

This is a strong novella which starts with those on a cruise ship to Buenos Aires recognizing that the world chess champion is on board, and the narrator so curious to talk to him that he lures him into a game of chess. Zweig does a great job of painting an interesting portrait of this champion, who is not all that bright in other aspects of life, but is somehow a prodigy in chess. He then completely surprised me with the background of another person on board who begins playing him, but I won’t say anything more. There is a mania to the story, the mania perhaps necessary to excel in such a cerebral game. Aside from an interesting little story, it probes what genius is made of, and how it can be flawed. It’s interesting that it was written the year before Zweig committed suicide, after he had fled Hitler, and it seems to underscore his own mental torture, and ultimate resignation. ( )
2 vote gbill | Mar 20, 2018 |
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» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Zweig, Stefanprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bell, AntheaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Fleckhaus, WillyCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gay, PeterIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Montis, SilviaEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pein-Schmidt, UschiContributorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Radvan, FlorianEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rogal, StefanContributorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Steiner, AnneEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Unseld, SiegfriedAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ursula MonsenTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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On the great passenger steamer, due to depart New York for Buenos Aires at midnight, there was the usual last-minute bustle and commotion.
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All my life I have been passionately interested in monomaniacs of any kind, people carried away by a single idea. The more one limits oneself, the closer one is to the infinite; these people, as unworldly as they seem, burrow like termites into their own particular material to construct, in miniature, a strange and utterly individual image of the world.
But is it not already an insult to call chess anything so narrow as a game? Is it not also a science, an art, hovering between these categories like Muhammad's coffin between heaven and earth, a unique yoking of opposites, ancient and yet eternally new, mechanically constituted an yet an activity of the imagination alone, limited to a fixed geometric area but unlimited in its permutations, constantly evolving and yet sterile, a cogitation producing nothing, a mathematics calculating nothing, an art without an artwork, an architecture without substance and yet demonstrably more durable in its essence and actual form than all books and works, the only game that belongs to all peoples and all eras, while no one knows what god put it on earth to deaden boredom, sharpen the mind, and fortify the spirit?
Yet how difficult, how impossible it is to imagine the life of an intellectually active person who reduces the world to a shuttle between black and white, who seeks fulfillment in a mere to-and-fro, forward-and-back or thirty-two pieces, someone for whom a new opening that allows the knight to be advanced instead of the pawn is in itself a great accomplishment and a meager little piece of immortality in a corner of a chess book - someone, someone with a brain in his head, who, without going mad continues over and over for ten, twenty, thirty, forty years to devote all the force of his thought to the ridiculous end of cornering a wooden king on a wooden board!
But even thoughts, insubstantial as they seem, need a footing, or they begin to spin, to run in frenzied circles; they can't bear nothingness either.
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Chess Story, also known as The Royal Game, is the Austrian master Stefan Zweig's final achievement, completed in Brazilian exile and sent off to his American publisher only days before his suicide in 1942. It is the only story in which Zweig looks at Nazism, and he does so with characteristic emphasis on the psychological.

Travelers by ship from New York to Buenos Aires find that on board with them is the world champion of chess, an arrogant and unfriendly man. They come together to try their skills against him and are soundly defeated. Then a mysterious passenger steps forward to advise them and their fortunes change. How he came to possess his extraordinary grasp of the game of chess and at what cost lie at the heart of Zweig's story.

This new translation of Chess Story brings out the work's unusual mixture of high suspense and poignant reflection.
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ResumenExpress.com presenta y analiza en esta guia de lectura Novela de ajedrez, ultimo relato del celebre escritor Stefan Zweig, que narra la pasion y la locura que desata el ajedrez en dos de sus personajes. Zweig abordara con maestria el tema de los totalitarismos, ya que su relato y la emocionante partida de ajedrez de sus personajes estaran impregnados de alusiones al ascenso de los totalitarismos en Europa en los anos treinta y cuarenta. ?Ya no tienes que leer y resumir todo el libro, nosotros lo hemos hecho por ti! Esta guia incluye: - Un resumen completo del libro - Un estudio de los personajes - Las claves de lectura - Pistas para la reflexion ?Por que elegir ResumenExpress.com? Para aprender de forma rapida. Porque nuestras publicaciones estan escritas con un estilo claro y conciso que te ayudara a ganar tiempo y a entender las obras sin esfuerzo. Disponibles en formato impreso y digital, te acompanaran en tu aventura literaria.… (more)

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