Theory Of Shadows: A Review

It must be extremely difficult to write a historical novel because many have tried and most have failed. Many of the historical novels I have read were of the type, “What if he had lived?” Some concerned POTUS John F. Kennedy.

The last one read was years ago and it caused me to put other books of the type on the “back burner,” where they have since continued to smolder…It may have helped if the author could write, but he had as much business writing as I have running a marathon. The book was not one of those print on demand tomes which allow anyone to publish a book nowadays but a book published by an actual publishing company, which means there was an editor who must have thought the book good enough to earn money. I found the book, a hardback, only a few weeks after it had been published and it was marked down to a price low enough for me to take a chance and fork over the cash. P.T. Barnum said, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” In a way the editor was right, but then, marked down enough anything will sell.

There have been notable historical novels such as Michael Shaara‘s masterpiece, The Killer Angels,
which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1974.

It must be terribly difficult to write a novel about people who actually lived. A novelist invents a character. To write historical fiction about an actual living, breathing human being is another thing entirely.

Having recently returned to the city of my birth meant a visit to the local library, which happened to be selected as the 2018 Georgia Public Library of the Year. After renewing my lapsed library card I went to the catalog that very evening to check on, what else, Chess books. I had been pleasantly surprised when seeing the latest issue of Chess Life magazine in the reading room of the Decatur branch of the Dekalb county library system after obtaining my new card. While surveying the Chess books a jewel was found, a book I recalled being published years ago, but not in English. It was published at the end of the last century by the author of The Luneburg Variation,

Paolo Maurensig.

It was his first novel, published at the age of fifty, and it was a good read. The book about which I will write is, Theory Of Shadows,

published in Italy in 2015. It was published in the US by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in 2018 after being translated by Anne Milano Appel.

From the front inside jacket: On the morning of March 24, 1946, the world chess champion, Alexander Alekhine – “sadist of the chess world,”

renowned for his eccentric behaviour as well as the ruthlessness of his playing style – was found dead in his hotel room in Estoril, Portugal.”

There it is, a fictional account of how Alekhine died. The last paragraph on the jacket reads: “With the atmosphere of a thriller, the insight of a poem, and a profound knowledge of the world of chess (“the most violent of all sports,” according to the former world champion Garry Kasparov), Paolo Maurensig’s Theory of Shadows leads us through the glamorous life and sordid death of an infuriating and unapologetic genius: not only trying to work out “whodunit,” but using the story of Alexander Alekhine to tease out what Milan Kundera has called “that which the novel alone can discover.”

I loved everything about this book. The book begins with this quote : “If Alekhine had been a Jew hating Nazi scientist, inventor of weapons extermination and therefore protected by those in power, then that intellectual rabble would have held its breath. Instead, the victim had to drain the bitter cup to the last drop…Even the supreme act of his death was vulgarly besmirched. And we cowards stifled our feelings, remaining silent. Because the only virtue that fraternally unites us all, whites and black, Jews and Christians, is cowardice.” – Esteban Canal

After reading the above I had yet to begin the first chapter yet had been sent to the theory books…OK, the interweb, in order to learn who was Esteban Canal. “Esteban Canal (April 19, 1896 – February 14, 1981) was a leading Peruvian chess player who had his best tournament results in the 1920s and 1930s.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Esteban_Canal)

This was also found:

Who was Esteban Canal?

Writing in a 1937 edition of Chess Review, Lajos Steiner,


Lajos Steiner (1903-1975), by Len Leslie

who knew Canal when they were living in Budapest, said that Canal never reached the heights his talent deserved. He was awarded the IM title in 1950 and received the honorary GM title in 1977.
Not much is known about his life and what little is known is wrapped in a cloud of mystery. Canal himself claimed to have been a cabin boy on a cargo ship carrying wheat from Australia, but it has proven to be impossible to verify dates. It is known that he had an extensive nautical knowledge and sailors.
In 1955 the South African player Wolfgang Heindenfed, writing in his book Chess Springbok, An Account of a South African Chess Player’s Experiences Overseas wrote of Canal, “The grand old man of Italian chess is Esteban Canal, originally of Peru, who at the age of 57 won the 1953 Venice tournament to which I had the good luck of being invited. He is one of the most interesting and amusing of all chess personalities. Formerly a roving reporter, he speaks six or seven languages and still treasures mementos of such VIPs as Kemal Pasha and Abd el Krim. He is an inexhaustible raconteur of chess stories.” (http://tartajubow.blogspot.com/2018/03/who-was-esteban-canal.html)

About a third of the way through the one hundred seventy nine page book we read: “Though it was an essential task, armchair analysis of the matches he’s played in the past often bored him. Without the presence of the human element, the pieces on the chessboard lost their vitality. It was quite a different matter to play with an opponent in front of you: to enter his mind, predict his strategies by interpreting the slightest variations of his posture, the position of his hands, the subtle though significant contractions of his lips. During the period when he worked for the Moscow police, they had taught Alekhine how to interpret small signs such as these during interrogations, to see if their subjects were lying.”

During an interview, after discussing the murder of his brother at the hands of the Soviet communists as retribution of Alekhine leaving “Mother Russia” the interviewer asks, “And you never feared that you might suffer the same fate?”

“You mean being killed?”

The journalist nodded.

He hesitated a moment, then: “Perhaps, yes, now and then, the thought’s occurred to me.”

“After all,” Ocampo said, a little heavy-handedly, “Trotsky himself, despite taking refuge in Mexice, was ultimately hit by a hired assassin.”

“I took my precautions.”

For a time Alekhine was silent. In fact, he knew very well that it was not strictly necessary for a victim to be close to his murderer, that there was no place in the world where one could be assured of finding a completely secure refuge. A well-trained hit man could strike even in broad daylight and in the midst of a crowd.”

I’m thinking, “Just ask JFK…”

Jews and Chess:

“That was the first time he’d faced a Jewish chess player – it would certainly not be the last. He would endure a stinging defeat by Rubenstein


Akiba Rubenstein

in the first masters tournament in which he competed. He was eighteen years old then, and, encountering that young man, some years older than him, who was said to have abandoned his rabbinical studies to devote himself to chess, he’s had to swallow several bitter truths. Later on, he played against Nimzowitsch,


Aaron Nimzowitsch

Lasker,


Emanuel Lasker

and Reshevsky,


Sammy Reshevsky

soon realizing that, in his rise to the world title, his competitors would all be Jews.
Their faces were still sharply etched in his memory: Rubinstein, dapper, with a drew cut and an upturned mustache and the vacant gaze of a man who has peered too closely into his own madness; Lasker, with his perpetually drowsy air and spiraling, hopelessly rebellious hair; Nimzowitsch, looking like a bank clerk who, behind his pincenez, is haughtily judging the insufficiency of other people’s funds’ Reshevsky, resembling a prematurely aged child prodigy. Often he imagined them muffled up in long black cloaks, gathered in a circle like cros around a carcass, intent on captiously interpreting chess the way they did their sacred texts.”

Near the end of this magnificent book it is written, “By then, the harbingers of what in the coming decades would be called the Cold War were already looming. And if the weapons of the two blocs were to remain unused, it was essential that there be other arenas in which they could compete and excel. Chess was therefore, as ever, a symbolic substitute for war: gaining supremacy in it was a constant reminder to the enemy that you possessed greater military expertise, a more effective strategy.”

In beating the Soviet World Chess Champion Boris Spassky in 1972 Bobby Fischer won much more than a mere Chess match.

Bobby emasculated the Soviet Communist regime. Alekhine may have taken a brick out of the wall when leaving Mother Russia, but Bobby Fischer took the wall down.

Being a novel within a novel made the book was a pleasure to read and I enjoyed it immensely. I give it the maximum five stars.

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The Glek Variation According to TCEC

In the marathon 64 game match between the two “engines” left standing to battle it out for the TCEC championship, Komodo 1333 and Stockfish 141214, both rated over 3200, the Glek variation of the Four Knights was the opening chosen by humans for the two titans in games 37 & 38. The first game began early enough that I was able to follow it live. I opened the CBDB (http://database.chessbase.com/js/apps/database/) and 365Chess (http://www.365chess.com/opening.php?m=8&n=1004&ms=e4.e5.Nf3.Nc6.Nc3.Nf6.g3&ns=3.5.5.6.47.57.1004) in order to check out which variation would be used. After 4 g3, 365Chess shows the database contains 99 games by GM Igor Glek, the man for whom the variation is named. Surely, I thought, the variation chosen by the TCECers would feature one of the variations promulgated by GM Glek.

The first surprise was 4…d5 since 4…Bc5 is played more often, but the former move is one of the standard moves. It would have been wonderful to see which move the “engine,” left to its own devices, would have played. 4 g3 signals the Glek variation and one would assume the humans would have forced the “engines” to begin the game by answering it with the move the “engine” playing Black considered best. We all know what happens when one makes an assumption…

The next moves through White’s 7th move are all standard, but Black’s 7…Be7 is not standard, as 7…Bc5, and 7…Bd6, have been played far more often, and with better results. GM Glek has faced 7…Bc5 seventeen times, and 7…Bd6 eleven times, while having faced 7…Be7 on only four occasions. Hummmm…

For the final “forced” move, the humans chose 8 0-0, and it has been the most played move by far, but has been outscored, by far, in limited action, by a move near and dear to my heart, Qe2! The last forced move was 8…0-0.

Stockfish 141214 (3218) vs Komodo 1333 (3210)
TCEC Season 7 – Superfinal 37
2014.12.23
C47
Four Knights: Glek, 4…d5

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. Nc3 Nc6 4. g3 d5 5. exd5 Nxd5 6. Bg2 Nxc3 7. bxc3 Be7 8. O-O O-O 9. Re1 Bf6 10. d3 Be6 11. Ba3 Re8 12. Nd2 Qd7 (12…Rb8 13. Qc1 Bg5 14. Bxc6 bxc6 15. Rxe5 Bh3 16. Rxe8+ Qxe8 17. Qd1 f5 18. Rb1 Rxb1 19. Nxb1 c5 20. c4 Qc6 21. f3 Qe6 22. Kh1 Qe3 23. Nc3 Qf2 0-1, Benoit Lepelletier 2480 vs David Marciano 2470, 1997 FRA-ch) 13. Ne4 Be7 14. Bxe7 Qxe7 15. Nd2 Qc5 16. c4 Rab8 17. Ne4 Qe7 18. a4 a5 19. c3 h6 20. Qf3 f5 21. Nd2 Rbd8 22. Qe2 Bf7 23. Bxc6 bxc6 24. Nb3 Rb8 25. Qd1 Rb6 26. Nxa5 Reb8 27. d4 e4 28. d5 cxd5 29. cxd5 Rd8 30. Nc4 Rxd5 31. Qe2 Rb7 32. a5 Ra7 33. Ne3 Rdxa5 34. Nxf5 Qf6 35. Rxa5 Rxa5 36. Nh4 Qxc3 37. Qxe4 Ra1 38. Rxa1 Qxa1+ 39. Kg2 Qf6 40. Qa8+ Kh7 41. Qe4+ g6 42. f4 c5 43. Nf3 Qb2+ 44. Kg1 c4 45. Qe7 Qa1+ 46. Kf2 Qa2+ 47. Ke3 Qb3+ 48. Kf2 c3 49. Ne5 Qa2+ 50. Ke3 Qd2+ 51. Ke4 Qe2+ 52. Kd4 Qf2+ 53. Kxc3 Qe3+ 54. Kc2 Qe2+ 55. Kb1 Qd1+ 56. Kb2 Qd2+ 57. Kb1 Qe1+ 58. Kc2 1/2-1/2

Komodo 1333 (3210) vs Stockfish 141214 (3218)
TCEC Season 7 – Superfinal 38
2014.12.23

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. Nc3 Nc6 4. g3 d5 5. exd5 Nxd5 6. Bg2 Nxc3 7. bxc3 Be7 8. O-O O-O 9. Re1 Bf6 10. d3 Bg4 11. Rb1 Rb8 12. h3 Be6 13. c4 Re8 14. Bb2 Bf5 15. Nh2 Nd4 16. Bxd4 Qxd4 17. Ng4 Bxg4 18. Qxg4 b6 19. a4 Qc3 20. Qd1 g6 21. h4 h5 22. Bd5 Kg7 23. Re2 Qa3 24. Qe1 a5 25. Bc6 Re6 26. Rb3 Qa2 27. Bd7 Rd6 28. Bb5 Rbd8 29. c5 bxc5 30. Rb1 Rb8 31. Rb3 Rbd8 32. Qxa5 e4 33. Rxe4 Qxc2 34. Bc4 Rd4 35. Qxc7 R8d7 36. Qc6 Rxe4 37. Qxe4 Re7 38. Qf3 Bd4 39. a5 Qd2 40. a6 Bxf2+ 41. Qxf2 Re1+ 42. Kg2 Re2 43. Qxe2 Qxe2+ 44. Kg1 Qe1+ 45. Kg2 Qe2+ 46. Kh3 Qd1 47. Rb2 Qa1 48. Ra2 Qh1+ 1/2-1/2

From the comments left in the “chat” window it was obvious the fans did not care for the choice of opening because some spiced their comments with profanity. How are these eight moves chosen, and who makes the choice? If the Glek variation is chosen, why not stop the forced moves as soon as it becomes a Glek variation when White plays 4 g3? What is the point of forcing the top chess playing things in the universe to play additional moves they may, or may not, play on their on volition?

Here is a recent game played by GM Igor Glek:

Igor Glek, (2438) vs Rustam Kasimdzhanov (2700)
FIDE World Rapid 2014 06/17/2014

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. g3 d5 5. exd5 Nxd5 6. Bg2 Nxc3 7. bxc3 Be7 8. O-O O-O 9. Re1 Bf6 10. Rb1 Re8 11. h3 g6 12. Nh2 h5 13. d3 e4 14. d4 Qd5 15. Bf4 Qxa2 16. Nf1 Qd5 17. Nd2 Kg7 18. Nxe4 Bxh3 19. Bxh3 Rxe4 20. Rxe4 Qxe4 21. Bg2 Qf5 22. Rxb7 Ne7 23. Rxc7 Rd8 24. Rxa7 Nd5 25. Bd2 Rc8 26. Ra5 Ne3 27. Qa1 Nxc2 28. Rxf5 Nxa1 29. Rb5 Nc2 30. Rb3 Ra8 31. Bxa8 1-0

Here is a game that began as a Paulson Vienna before transposing, played by one of my favorite female players, Melanie Ohme (OhMy!):

Melanie Ohme (2315) vs Karina Szczepkowska Horowska (2376)
GER-POL w Match 2012 07/21/2012

1. e4 e5 2. Nc3 Nf6 3. g3 d5 4. exd5 Nxd5 5. Bg2 Nxc3 6. bxc3 Be7 7. Nf3 Nc6 8. O-O O-O 9. Re1 Bf6 10. d3 Rb8 11. Nd2 Re8 12. Rb1 Bd7 13. Ne4 Be7 14. Be3 b6 15. d4 Qc8 16. Qd3 h6 17. Rbd1 exd4 18. cxd4 Nb4 19. Qd2 Bf5 20. Bf4 Qd7 21. c4 Rbd8 22. Qb2 Bg4 23. Rd2 Nc6 24. d5 Na5 25. Rc2 f5 26. Nd2 Bf6 27. Qc1 Rxe1+ 28. Qxe1 Re8 29. Qc1 c5 30. h3 Bh5 31. Nb3 Nb7 32. Be3 Nd6 33. Qd2 a5 34. Qd3 Qe7 35. Nc1 g5 36. a4 Kg7 37. Kh2 f4 38. gxf4 Bg6 39. Qd2 Bxc2 40. Qxc2 gxf4 41. Bxf4 Be5 42. Nd3 Bf6 43. Qd1 Nxc4 44. Qg4+ Kh8 45. Qg6 Ne5 46. Qxh6+ Kg8 47. d6 Qg7 48. Qxg7+ Kxg7 49. Nxe5 Rxe5 50. Bxe5 Bxe5+ 51. Kg1 Bxd6 52. Kf1 Kf6 53. Ke2 Bf4 54. Kd3 Ke5 55. Kc4 Bd2 56. Bd5 Be1 57. f3 Bh4 58. Be4 Bd8 59. Bd5 1/2-1/2

Timofey Galinsky (2424) vs Denis Shilin (2424)
UKR-ch 2000

1. e4 Nc6 2. Nc3 e5 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. g3 d5 5. exd5 Nxd5 6. Bg2 Nxc3 7. bxc3 Be7 8. Qe2 O-O 9. O-O Bf6 10. d3 Re8 11. Nd2 e4 12. d4 Bf5 13. Nc4 Qd7 14. Ne3 Bh3 15. Bxh3 Qxh3 16. Nd5 Bxd4 17. Nf4 Qc8 18. cxd4 Nxd4 19. Qh5 Re5 20. Qh3 Nxc2 21. Qxc8+ Rxc8 22. Bb2 Ra5 23. Rac1 Na3 24. Rfd1 b5 25. Rxc7 Rb8 26. Rdd7 1-0

This is the oldest game found, and it makes me wonder why the variation is not called the “Nimzowitsch variation.” Could it be that there are so many other variations named after Nimzo that it would be too confusing to have another one? Or is it a variation is not named after a player who loses the initial game?

Aaron Nimzowitsch vs Ernst Gruenfeld
Karlsbad 1923

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. g3 d5 5. exd5 Nxd5 6. Bg2 Nxc3 7. bxc3 Bd6 8.
O-O O-O 9. d3 Bg4 10. h3 Bd7 11. Rb1 Rb8 12. Re1 Re8 13. Ng5 h6 14. Nxf7 Kxf7
15. Qh5+ Kg8 16. Bxh6 Qf6 17. Bg5 Qf7 18. Qh4 Ne7 19. Rxb7 Rxb7 20. Bxb7 Qxa2
21. Bxe7 Rxe7 22. Be4 Qe6 23. Qh7+ Kf8 24. Qh8+ Qg8 25. Qh5 Be8 26. Qg5 Qe6 27.
Ra1 c6 28. Kg2 Qh6 29. Qg4 Qd2 30. Qh4 Qh6 31. Qg4 Rf7 32. Qe2 Bc5 33. Bf3 Bd7
34. g4 Qf4 35. Ra5 Bb6 36. Rxe5 Bc7 37. Re4 Qh2+ 38. Kf1 Qxh3+ 39. Bg2 Qh6 40.
Qe1 Bg3 41. Re2 Qh4 42. c4 Kg8 43. g5 Qxg5 44. Kg1 Bd6 45. d4 Bh3 0-1