Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Chess King of Atlanta

I was out until three in the morning last night, which has become kind of a rarity for the Old Man of the Hills here, and had a couple of set-fast beliefs turned on their end. First off, I ended up at the Ballroom Lounge in the basement of the Highland Inn, a place I'd avoided since it opened -- I was certain, despite friends' protestations to the contrary, that I'd hate it, that it would be claustrophobic and awful. Instead, it's spacious, a bit quirky, and really pretty cool.

Then I ended up playing a game of drunken chess (like regular chess, except you're drunk) against a friend. Chess is a game that I've always thought you take up when you're tired of life -- the golf of board games. But I was completely wrapped up in the game, found myself thinking the moves through (when I've played chess in the past, it's with all the reserve and subtlety of a suicide bomber), and had a great time (and won). Am I actually a born chess player? Or have I just quieted down so much that I now come to it naturally?

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#29 -- "Prague Spring" by Z.A.B. Zeman

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Prague Spring and the subsequent Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. I've never found a really gripping book on the events, aside from a stark and impressive collection of photos put out by ... someone or other (I can't find my copy right now) some years back. And there don't appear to be any slated for the near future -- 2006 was marked by a couple great books looking back on the Soviet invasion of Hungary, but it looks like 1968's events aren't on the slate for this year.

So, this, which I've had for a while. It's a case study in the troubles of writing history as it's happening -- Zeman wrote this after the reforms but before the invasion, so a last chapter is kind of hurriedly revised to note "uh, and then the Soviets invaded. Crap." It's very adoring of Alexander Dubcek, who later learned the same lesson that subsequent reformers have -- it sucks to be the one to start the ball rolling. You can't do it without paying some heed to the conservative forces in power, and those who would support you will be upset that you aren't going far enough.

So 40 years later, "Prague Spring" reads rather incomplete. It's got some interesting bits -- insights on the Czech-Slovak relationship that I've never considered -- and some dull bits (since it's written about a Warsaw Pact nation, lots of the deadening language of Warsaw Pact theories and plans come into play). Someday someone's gonna write the book I want to read about the events of 1968, but for now I'm still waiting.

1 comment:

Mr_Toad said...

Many sports are played on a cerebral level as well as physical. Presuming you are a good hockey player, you will naturally be interested in strategy and trying to be a few moves ahead of your opponents. So, yes, you probably are a natural chess player. So maybe when you're 60 (like me) you may well turn to chess, poker, backgammon or some other strategy game.

I used to play drunken chess with my brother. He would have agreed with you that the moves in drunken chess are much classier than those made during normal conditions.

Have you tried Blitz chess where you need to make all your moves in, say, 5 minutes? Once you've tried that you will no longer think of chess as the 'golf of board games'. I wrote about Blitz chess in a post on my Celebrate Chess blog - you can play it on line (see Recommended Links on my blog).