by Ronan Bennett 2007
Set around the great chess tournament held in St.Petersburg, in April/May 1914 (annotated) where the winner was to become endowed as the first chess Grand Master by the Tsar,Bennett takes the reader on a journey through plots within plots, revolution and chess. A thrilling, novel novel as a game is played throughout the story that challenges the reader to play along. (I skipped that but it will intrigue players I’ve no doubt) Bennett states of the main character, Rozental, “chess enthusiasts will have their opinion on the identity of the man on whom they think it is based.” The game played when the characters have time to play it is the Spethmann-Kopelzon game, (not the championship game) which it is said “bears a remarkable similarity” to King-A.Sokolov, the Swiss team Championship played in 2000.
I am not giving anything away the cover does not, to say “zugzwang is a chess term derived from the German, Zug (move) and Zwang (compulsion,obligation). It is used to describe a position in which a player is reduced to a state of utter helplessness. he is obliged to move, but every move only makes his position even worse.” I have never heard of this concept before but it strikes me that there is a lot in the way of general explanation of world events that can be understood through applying this idea. Hence this review.
Add a touch of spice, a psychoanalyst, (Otto Spethmann) and a few Anna K’s, police, spies, double agents and concert pianists (Kopelzon) and you have as the cover says, “A riveting story of treachery,murder,intrigue and passion” in a mere 274 pages and with an excellent Biblio of political background of late Tsarist Russia. Such big characters and ideas in succinct style. It is not surprising to learn Bennett is a regular chess journalist for the Guardian.
Bennett states in Acknowledgements that “Similarities may also be observed between Zugzang’s Gregory Petrov and the real-life Bolshevik militant Roman Malinowski.”
A can’t put down and informative read. Enjoy it from the bargain tables as I did.