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Blowing Up the Center

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Quick, which recently deceased Brooklyn Soviet-Israeli-Canadian-American Grandmaster wrote a book called "The Chess Terrorist's Handbook"? In the annals of unfortunately named books this one, published in 1995, is right up there with John Walker's "64 Things You Need to Know In Chess, as Taught in My Basement." But Leonid Shamkovich's terrorist handbook might have some serious competition in the near future, if not in the title department.

As mentioned at ChessBase recently, the ever-entertaining Nigel Short was recently let go from his chess column at the Guardian newspaper (which also has columns by the legendary Leonard Barden and the rather less legendary Jonathan Speelman in their chess section). Now I'm told Short's "rookie" column has been replaced with one by Ronan Bennett, a writer who spent considerable time going in and out of prison for IRA terrorist activities. At least one chess column, written with Danny King, has already appeared in the Guardian, although it doesn't seem to be online anywhere. (Short's complete series is still there.)

Making this plot curiouser and curiouser is that Bennett is married to an editor at the Guardian, although according to the Times he was already working as a news correspondent at the paper when he met his wife there. His chess-ish novel "Zugzwang" was serialized in 30 parts in the Observer and published online at the Guardian site during the year. (Still available. If the author is a good writer it would be very hard for a chessplayer to notice through all the ham-handed usage of historical names and assorted caricatures at the start. Either make up new names or make it historically accurate. Fictionalizing real people is excruciating for the knowledgeable. Maybe it gets better?) It's coming out in book form next year, which may have something to do with Bennett's otherwise improbable appearance as a chess columnist.


Here in DC Joe McLellan used to write a good chess column. He was a C player but a good writer and sometimes had help from Kavalek. Then he made a major tactical blunder : he was also their music critic, and he gave a deservedly bad review to a relative of the owner of the Washington Post, who played a piano recital (Joe almost never slammed operas). Didn't hear from him for a while. Ah. The press business!

Mig, you are a veritable repository of chess arcana...

Mr. Bennett's novel does indeed seem to be egregiously annoying. (Worse than "The Queen's Gambit" by Tevis, and that's saying a lot.)

One can but hope that his column affords unintentional amusement.

"On a raw and blustery April morning, the respected liberal newspaper editor OV Gulko was accosted on his way to work by two young men near Politseisky Bridge. Witnesses later told the police that the taller of the two appeared to berate Gulko in an agitated manner and that Gulko, evidently perceiving himself to be under physical threat, became anxious and attempted to extricate himself from this unwanted attention. The same young man then produced a knife and his companion a revolver. A shot was fired."

This sounded very familiar when I read it. Then it came to me. It sounds like the first part of the novel Paul Clifford by Edward Bulwer-Lytton. This is considered the model for bad writing, and it starts off, "It was a dark and stormy night..." I don't think a shot was fired in that first paragraph, but Snoopy from Charles Schultz' Peanuts did add it in a "A shot rang out" while writing his novel (which also started out with "It was a dark and stormy night.").

I haven't laughed so much for ages as when I heard of Short getting sacked. I raised a quiet glass that evening to the memories of Richard Furness and Tony Miles.

Having said that if this Ronan Bennett is who I think he is he couldn't write 'bum' on a wall and in addition knows nothing about chess, and will presumably be appalling. He should fit in well at the Guardian.

Regarding "unfortunately named books" Schiller's Big Book of Busts can't be far behind. Then again, most of his books are busts.

Do you think there is a link between "toiletgate" and Mr.Shorts Dismissal?

Do you think there is a link between "toiletgate" and Mr.Short's Dismissal?

Well it wasn't a chess book, but around 1978 or so, the bookstores in heavily femininst Cambridge (US, not England) prominently displayed a newly published collection of jokes then gaining wide acclaim as the fresh new voice of feminist humor.

The contents indeed reflected an iconoclastic female sensibility, one joke after another cutting men down to size in varied original ways.

I assume the authors, two feminist women, had no control over the title or cover art. I further assume the publishing-house editors who wielded such control were male.

Cover art: chest-shot closeup of a very large-busted woman wearing a T-shirt (don't recall if it was wet, or if she was bra-less). Book title: "Titters."

Thankfully Bennett's early carrier was quickly stopped when:


Remarkable that Bennett would be "ham-handed [in his]usage of historical names and assorted caricatures" given that he holds a PHd in history.

Is that PhD in chess history? And when does knowledge equal an ability to apply it well in writing? Lots of historians are horrible writers. Not saying that about Bennett, who by all reports is a capable writer, but that first chapter with all the chess names and places is pretty painful for any chess fan.

No, I just meant that one would think a PhD in history would make him a little more sensitive to historical accuracy in his writing. Apparently not so in this case. I have read mos of the book though. It is quite good in my opinion. It revolves around revolutionary politics in Russia. I can't help but wonder about the parallels he drew on in his own life with the IRA.

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    This page contains a single entry by Mig published on November 4, 2006 4:45 PM.

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