Crazy, crazy idea

by admin on January 26, 2008

So this afternoon I’m driving back home from the bookstore, and thinking about how there are so many books where the young hero outfoxes the older generation. You can start with Harry Potter and go through just about the whole Young Adult section of the bookstore, and a lot of the Fantasy section, too.

Wouldn’t it be nice, for a change, to see a novel about the older generation whupping up on the youngsters? So I started thinking about a chess novel: a crusty old master, defending his title against the up-and-coming prodigy. It would be all about how the wily old guy staves off the advance of time, keeps frustrating his young opponent, and maybe eventually wins the match…

and that’s when it hit me…

It already happened.

Fischer-Reshevsky, 1961. Reshevsky, the dean of American chess, nearing 50 years old, a famous player on the international scene for more than 40 years. Fischer, the teen-aged prodigy, already a four-time U.S. champion.  They play to a standoff, 5½-5½. And then Fischer pulls a Fischer, for the first time in his career. He forfeits the twelfth game in a dispute over the start time for the game, and then he forfeits the whole match because the appeals committee won’t overrule the forfeit.

Although Fischer did have a justifiable ground for complaint (the starting time had been changed without his agreement), as one Website puts it he reacted in the worst possible way. I have to wonder, after reading Bobby Fischer goes to War, if he was surprised at Reshevsky’s tenacity and was afraid of losing fair and square. Forfeiting the match was an easy way out.

The Fischer-Reshevsky match has always been a bit of a mystery to me. I’ve never played over any games from the match. I knew about it mostly from Larry Evans’ very oblique comments in Fischer’s My Sixty Memorable Games. I’m sure Frank Brady discussed it in Profile of a Prodigy, but I don’t remember what he wrote about it. (It’s been thirty years since I read that book.) It just seems like one of those things that people would rather forget; instead they talk about Fischer’s amazing record in U.S. Championships, his 20-game winning streak, etc. And I’m sure that no one has ever written about the match from Reshevsky’s point of view.

I’m not saying that I’ll do this, mind you, just that it’s an interesting idea …

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Carina January 27, 2008 at 2:08 pm

This is kind of interesting, authoritarian in a rebellious way. 😀 Only problem is, it’s so hard to feel sympathy for the ruling part. When the young ones lose, people instinctively feel sorry for them! How can that problem be solved? Making the young guy really obnoxious? But against what – tradition? It’s hard not to make the theme one of conservatism, which I don’t think appeals to alot of readers unless you’re finding something really special to conserve. Maybe “the spirit of chess”! The young guys all had Rybka up their sleeves. 😆


Carina January 27, 2008 at 2:32 pm

Oh, and for the girls, we have Rybka in our lipgloss. In view of the recent accusation a man made against a young girl, you could almost turn it into a parody. Another Luzhin’s Defense story, of an old master seeing shadows and ghosts everywhere. It would almost be like a description of Fischers paranoid mind. I’m sure it’d be a hilarious story, but not so sure it would contribute to making chess seem more like a normal person’s game, though.


Dribbling January 28, 2008 at 1:08 am

Dana, that story line worked just fine for the Cincinnati Kid (Steve Mc Queen, Edward G. Robinson, Karl Malden, Ann Margret, Joan Blondell, Tuesday Weld, Rip Torn, director Norman Jewison from a novel by Richard Jessup), only it was poker instead of chess, and the hero was the youngster, not the Old Man. I think it’s a great idea, the challenge being, as Carina points out, how to credibly make the young man the villain.

In Spanish we say “Más sabe el diablo por viejo que por diablo”, which liberally translates to:”The devil is wise more for being old than for being the devil.”


Howard Goldowsky January 28, 2008 at 6:57 am

This is a much better idea than your previous one of the over-the-top, overly melodramatic chess descriptions. …and, there’s nothing better than writing what you know 🙂


Rob January 28, 2008 at 7:49 am

Sounds like a good idea to me.

You could model the aging hero on the character of J.B. Books (portrayed by John Wayne) in “The Shootist.” He showed all the wanabees, plus he died with his boots on. The last act of the hero’s


Carina January 28, 2008 at 8:01 am

You HAVE to somehow include melodramatic behavior in the book! Maybe the pieces are fighting like a real army on the board and spitting on eachothers graves, eating eachother, coming to the aide of a nearly lost comrade etc. Plenty of possibilities for a real drama!


admin January 28, 2008 at 11:23 am

Hi all,

Some great comments here! You all seemed to pick up on the fiction idea really quickly, but actually, once I realized that there was a non-fiction analogue, I got more interested in writing that story. The point being that it’s much easier for me to write a non-fiction story or book, because that’s what I already do for a living. Fiction is a genre I have less experience with, which would pose a significant learning curve.

However, a *historical* fiction is not out of the realm of possibility. I would really like to get inside the head of Reshevsky, and there may not be any way to do that other than through fiction.

By the way, I think that when the younger player is Fischer, it probably won’t be too hard to persuade the reader to see him as… well, maybe not a villain exactly, but at least a very flawed person.

Rob and Dribbling, I’ll have to check out those movies to see if I can pick up any ideas on how to portray an older character sympathetically!

Thanks for all your ideas…


Carina January 29, 2008 at 12:48 am

You’re welcome!


Naisortep January 29, 2008 at 12:56 am

Great idea. I don’t think Fischer was surprised by Reshevsky’s tenacity. They had played before and Reshevsky was even selected as the favorite in the match by most experts according to an article in chess life (or review) at the time. The rematch between Botvinnik and Tal is another great story line. Botvinnik had already lost and everyone thought he was through. Tal commented as much himself. Instead, he learned from his defeat and won. The only negative being it was partially because Tal was sick.


Rob January 30, 2008 at 12:15 am


Everyone has a story.

You could go to and see the interviews that are conducted. This guy sets up a card table and puts up a card saying interviews 50 cents and people sit down and tell their stories.

I suspect if you went to your chessclub or any chess club for that matter, and asked any player to tell you about their best game, their worst game, and/or interesting chess experience, etc. you would soon have a bagfull of stories. All (or most) of them true.

It you read “The King” by J. Donner
you find there are lots of stories that involve chess, but not necessarily the chessboard.

I used to hear a saying, “Life is stranger than fiction”, and more interesting too, I might add.


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