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Book Notes

M. Weinreb
The Kings of New York (1813)

from Vanamonde #779 (2008)

Bobby Fischer died (1943-2008, ave atque vale), perhaps the greatest chess master ever, so I read M. Weinreb, The Kings of New York (2007), by a prizewinning sportswriter about the champions of Edward R. Murrow High School. This superb game, like go and chamber music one of the achievements of humankind, is loved by multitudes regardless of their own prowess, by more wondered at, by more unnoticed.

Iceland is chess-mad; Fischer died there; in 1972 beating Boris Spassky there he became the first U.S. world champion. Northeast Europe is chess-mad; I hear Chapter 7, "The Wizard of Ice", in I. Fleming, From Russia, with Love (1957), is authentic. No lovers we. Weinreb or his publisher felt bound to add the subtitle A Year Among the Geeks, Oddballs, and Geniuses who Make Up America's Top High-School Chess Team. But when a judge is asked whether a law is invalid, he considers not only the words in which it is written, but also how it has been applied.

Had Weinreb made much of the fourth through eleventh words of his subtitle I'd not bring you the book. Instead he proves how right it was to put a sportswriter on this story. The same subtitle could be used of baseball, where it is often implied, lovingly. But never mind fear of the intellect, which is not the topic of the book and mostly left aside.

The tournament director.... seventy minutes after the appointed time ... delivers this awkward proclamation: "Let's get ready to rumble!" And off they go, to the sound of hundreds of clocks being punched.... Alex's father ... accompanies him everywhere.... nearly three hours for Alex to finish off this blond kid from North Carolina.... Shawn ... takes a queen ... a bishop ... both rooks.... Murrow is still alive.... Sal puts down his cards. He shakes Shawn's hand. "You're a hero," he says. "A fat hero," Oscar says.... not many long-held traditions on this team.... with their coach and his family ... they make a beeline to the nearest Chuck E. Cheese [pp. 225-26, 240-41, 250].