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The human side of chess, 7

4 ‘The Russian’ – Tort

In pursuit of a metaphorical king

I played this game in a tournament of the Ibrahim Martínez club in the Colonia Roma in Mexico City: a neighbourhood that Alfonso Cuarón made known to the world with Roma, a film that I have criticised on my website The West’s Darkest Hour. I couldn’t say it’s a great game but I’m including it because I used to enjoy reproducing it at home, safe from the agonies of live fighting. Even after playing it long ago, I am delighted to see how I crucified the poor white king in the first row of the board. As in the games in which I defeated Norgaard and friend Marco, the direct attack on the king is what gives us the greatest pleasure. Not during the tortuous live game, of course; but safe at home, with beautiful Staunton pieces of wood, and with our living room fireplace lit.

Time control: 2 hours / 40 movements
February 24, 1993

1 e4 e5

2 f4 d5

The Falkbeer Countergambit.

3 exd5 c6!?

I prepared the Nimzowitsch variant of the countergambit especially for this game. I had made inquiries about the opening repertoire of my opponent, Manuel García Marquina, a young white man nicknamed ‘The Russian’ in chess circles. The referee of the event himself had the indiscretion to tell me that he was playing the King’s Gambit. ‘Really?’ I replied with wicked eyes and a smile. And I went home happy to prepare a line for the Russian: a variant that surprised him.

4 Nf3

Another possibility is 4 Qe2. After this game I heard these words from a fan who was surprised by my victory: ‘The Russian is a specialist in the King’s Gambit’.

4 … e4

5 Qe2 Nf6

6 d3 cxd5

7 dxe4 dxe4

8 Nc3 Bb4

9 Qb5 +

Already in the postmortem, according to some beautiful variants played by the machine, 9 Bd2 would have been better for Black.

9 … Nc6

10 Ne5 Bxc3 +

This opens the a3-f8 diagonal. But if 10… Qd4; 11 Tb1 Nd5; 12 Nxc6 and the resulting complications seem to leave White better. I confess that these calculations, and countless others, I do thanks to my computer system. Only with these sophisticated toys that play first-rate chess have I managed to delve deeply into many of my games.

11 bxc3 O-O

12 Nxc6??

12 Ba3! could have tied the game after 12 … Re8; 13 Rd1 Qc7 (but not 13… Qa5 because 14 Qxa5 followed by 15 Bb5, winning); 14 Bd6 Db6; 15 Bc5 and draw by repetition of moves.

12 … bxc6

13 Qxc6 Bg4

14 Ba3 Re8

15 Qd6 Qa5

16 Bb4 Qa4

17 Bc4 a5

18 h3

And now the direct assault on the king:

18… Rd8

19 Qc7 Qxc2

20 hxg4 Qxg2

21 Qxf7 + Kh8

22 Rh6 e3

23 White resigns

Chess players are sadists. Many of us were abused as children by our parents and, as we must honour them, we take it out on scapegoats. My youth idol Alekhine beat his wives and suffered attacks of violence. Once he lost a game he destroyed some furniture in his hotel and occasionally threw his king across the room. And it was Alekhine himself who said: ‘During a chess tournament a master must envisage himself as a cross between an ascetic monk and a beast of prey’.

An American journalist asked the former champion Spassky, of style influenced by Alekhine, if he believed that the young Seirawan, then the promise of the United States, would conquer the crown. Spassky replied that he doubted it, and added that to become world champion it is necessary to be a kind of bird of prey, a potential murderer: a gift that not all chess players have. In no other game or sport do players speak of ‘killing’, ‘destroying’ or ‘breaking’ the opponent as in chess (remember my quoted diary: ‘I had always wanted to kill Marco with a queen sacrifice’). The type of chess player Spassky refers to sometimes plays in order to engender the morbid pleasure of seeing his opponent bow down. In 1971, a year before being crowned world chess champion, Bobby Fischer (1943-2008) responded to Dick Cavett during a television show: ‘The greatest pleasure? When you break his ego’ referring to the opponent’s ego; and there are those who have said, with some hyperbole, that Fischer had the mentality of a killer.

Unscrupulous psychologists insert electrodes into the rats’ pleasure centres in the brain. They are then conditioned to push a button for ultra-rewarding stimulation. Electrode-implanted rats become addicted to infinite pleasure; so much so that they stop eating and, when they put a metal floor where they will receive a strong electric shock if they step on it, they gladly do so in order to touch the button and artificially masturbate their neurons. What does the torment matter if what is pursued is the absolute glory of that moment!

The players I know appreciate my electric chair metaphor. They say it’s accurate to illustrate the gambit that we do in life when we play in tournaments. Like me, they have suffered horrors in a gambling room that sometimes looks like a torture chamber. But the apparent masochism of faithfully subscribing to the next tournament is inexplicable to them. These gambling addicts, with no insight about what they did to us as children, must have a huge motive for revenge that compels them to hunt down a metaphorical king. We cannot attack those who gave us life. But in the game we can crucify our opponent from time to time.

2 Replies on “The human side of chess, 7

  1. What did you mean by “no other game”? Soccer? Modern video games are almost exclusively about killing and respawning – from shooters to real-time strategy games and Mobas. But is it so bad to wish to crush your opponent when in order to do it, one must acquire a quantifiable skill, to conquer oneself, to improve one’s mastery in a given field?

    Games are the purest, fairest form of life; if history were like chess, we would long have been over with the Christian experiment. Instead, we must slog through the motions of a dying civilisation… With its lies and hypocrisies, piss and vomit.