Saturday, December 29, 2007

David Bronstein

The December Chess Life has a really cool, previously unpublished, interview with David Bronstein in it. His Modern Chess Self-Tutor was the second chess book I bought as a teenager (the first was Burgess' Mammoth Book of Chess) and only after reading the interview did I realize he is very likely the source of my love for the game.

The way he talks about chess in the self-tutor is magical- its a war, a fairy tale, a battle of wills and intellect and imagination. I didn't realize, until I dug out the self-tutor a few days ago, that he influenced how I taught my daughter the game this past summer.

I described chess as a battlefield of soldiers and knights, of castles and archers, all marching and engaging at your, the king's, command. I told her she was responsible for the command to sacrifice pawns and pieces when its time to rip the other king out of his home, to smash that home down and leave it in ruins, or infiltrate it like an assassin and leave the queen weeping.

When I first started using the Polgar 5334 book for tactics, I was bemused by my own bemusement and wonder at the cleverness and beauty in some of the Mate in Ones. How can something found by process of elimination be beautiful, carry ingenuity and elegance within it? Now putting it to electrons, I Googled and found:

The scientist does not study nature because it is useful; he studies it because he delights in it, and he delights in it because it is beautiful. If nature were not beautiful, it would not be worth knowing, and if nature were not worth knowing, life would not be worth living.
Jules Henri Poincaré (1854-1912) French mathematician.

And there it is- if chess weren't beautiful, it wouldn't be worth it.

Between the self-tutor and the interview, which was done in 1992 and held back for political and personal reasons, I have a hard time telling how he felt about the "science" of chess. In the interview he laments the explosion of technique and book knowledge extending into the middle game stifling creativity, but in the self-tutor he describes a systematic approach to marshal you army and unseat the opposing king.

Part of the confusion may be that the self-tutor was translated from Russian, even though he was fluent in English. There may have been translation missteps that don't convey what he truly meant, and he does celebrate creativity and inventiveness in his book; its just couched in method and formula.

Either way- his love was infectious and I'm now a carrier (hopefully contagious myself!). Thanks, Dave!


  1. Thanks for posting this. I haven't been getting my chess life regularly, so I tend to ignore it when it does come in. The interview with Bronstein was teriffic. I am going through a little self realization about my chess and this fits perfectly into it. When I get to the appropriate post, do you mind if I link to this one? This leads very well into what I am trying to convey.

  2. do you mind if I link to this one?

    Who am I, the RIAA? Of course you can link it :P