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`From Russia With Love` ranked in 10-best literary chess games

30-Jan-2009 • Literary

According to the Guardian writers, Kronsteen's game in the early stages of the "From Russia With Love" novel stacks up against Chaucer, Shakespeare and TS Eliot.

The Book of the Duchess by Chaucer

In Chaucer's narrative poem, a melancholy poet falls asleep over a book and dreams of wandering in a forest where he meets a mysterious black knight. The sad knight tells of a game of chess he has played against Fortune and lost. The dreamer realises the chess game is a metaphor for life, and that the knight has lost a real white queen.

A Game at Chess by Thomas Middleton

In this 1620s crowd-pleaser, all the characters are chess pieces. It was an allegorical assault on the Spanish court and its English sympathisers. The behaviour of the characters mimics the moves in a chess game. The most dangerous person is the Black Knight (the scheming Spanish ambassador in London).

The Tempest by William Shakespeare

The earliest evidence that chess might be a sexy affair. The courting lovers, Ferdinand and Miranda, are "discovered" behind a curtain, playing chess. "Sweet lord, you play me false," Miranda accuses Ferdinand (teasingly?), and he reassures her, "No, my dearst love, I would not for the world." They are brainy as well as vivacious.

Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll

The whole book is a fantasy born of a chess game. In a list of dramatis personae, Carroll explains which characters corresponded to which pieces, and gives the position as the story commences. He sums up his narrative as a chess problem: "White pawn (Alice) to play and win in 11 moves."

The Royal Game by Stefan Zweig

One of the passengers on a ship is the world chess champion. Another, Dr B, tells the narrator of his incarceration by the Nazis, during which he tried to stay sane by playing mental chess against himself, dividing his mind into two contesting characters. With this training, he easily beats the world champion. In a return match, the champion plays as slowly as he can, driving Dr B to distraction and madness.

The Waste Land by TS Eliot

"And we shall play a game of chess, / Pressing lidless eyes and waiting for a knock upon the door." The second section of Eliots poem has this melancholy contest at its heart. By calling the section "A Game of Chess" he seemed to be forging a metaphor for the silent contest of an unhappy married life.

The Defence by Vladimir Nabokov

The novel's protagonist is Aleksandr Luzhin, a chess prodigy for whom the game becomes a tormenting obsession. His crisis comes in his match against the Italian grandmaster Turati, who stands between him and a challenge to the world champion. As the match unfolds, his carefully planned defence fails and he has a mental breakdown.

From Russia with Love by Ian Fleming

The evil genius of this James Bond novel is Kronsteen, whom we first encounter a few moves from victory in the final of the Moscow chess championship. "To him all people were chess pieces." He is called to an emergency meeting of Smersh, where Bond's destruction is planned, but first insists on finishing the endgame.

Murphy by Samuel Beckett

Beckett's protagonist is a nurse in a mental hospital where he plays chess with one of the patients. Their final game begins with Murphy's innocent advance of his king's pawn: "This was Murphy's first mistake, and the primary cause of his subsequent downfall." When he concedes, it is indeed the prelude to his death.

Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone by JK Rowling

To get to the stone, Harry and his mates must become pieces on a giant chessboard. "What do we do?" asks Harry. It's obvious, isn't it?" says Ron. "We've got to play our way across the room." Ron is a top player, and wins with a daring knight sacrifice. (He is the knight.)

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