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Nabokov on Chess

ChessYou wrote this marvellous novel The Luzhin Defence: are you a very good chess player? And what do you think of [Bobby] Fischer’s attitude?

Forty years ago I was a good enough player of chess, not a grandmaster, as the Germans say, but a club player sometimes able to set a trap for a heedless champion. What has always drawn me in chess is the trick move, the hidden combination, and that’s why I gave up live play to devote myself to composing chess problems. I don’t doubt that there exists an intimate link between certain mirages of my prose and the texture, at once brilliant and obscure, of enigmatic chess problems of which each one is the fruit of a thousand and one nights of insomnia. I especially like so-called suicide problems, where White forces Black to win.

Yes, Fischer is a strange being, but there’s nothing abnormal in the fact of a chess player’s not being normal. There was the case of the great player Rubinstein, at the start of the century: an ambulance would drive him each day from the insane asylum, his home, to the café room where the tournament was taking place, and then drive him back to his dark cell after the game. He didn’t like to see his opponent, but an empty chair across the chessboard also irritated him, so they put a mirror there, and he saw his own reflection.


from the archive; first posted November 19, 2019

July 25, 2019

July 18, 2019

June 25, 2019

April 08, 2019

February 14, 2019

January 30, 2019

December 29, 2018

October 23, 2018

July 13, 2018

June 24, 2018

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December 29, 2017

October 20, 2017

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I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark

from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman

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