King's Gambit: a great read

Who would think that a book about chess could be such a great read? I loved to play chess when I was in elementary school, mostly with my parents. But they stopped playing with me when I started beating them consistently.

I started playing again when I was a freshman in college, but then I discovered bridge. Bridge is far more social, so I pretty much gave up chess. I haven't played a serious game of chess in years.

Paul Hoffman is a A-level chess player, science journalist and former editor of Discover magazine. In other words, the perfect person to write an insider's view of chess. He captures the tense silence of a chess game and the depression that sets in after a loss (unlike bridge, you have no teammates, and no 'luck of the cards' -- you lose in chess because the other guy out-thought you).

It's also a gossipy history of modern chess because Hoffman somehow manages to hang out with the best players in the world. He even accompanies the Canadian national champion to Libya for the world championship and gets followed around because the Libyans suspect him of being CIA. He manages to get in Mikhail Tal's quip on why women don't play chess ("Women can't keep quiet for five hours") and why a player's explanation of why no one should be dismayed that computers now beat the best players in the world ("No one is disappointed that a car can go faster than a human athlete").

The book's about the author coming to terms with his father and about rediscovering chess in middle age. But that is a very thin veneer over a book that, if you are interested in chess or were at some point, is a great read.

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