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King's Gambit: A Son, A Father, and the World's Most Dangerous Game Hardcover – September 11, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Hoffman's masterful, exhaustive tale of chess, its soaring triumphs and crushing discontents is filled with enough international intrigue and warped, shady characters to pass for the latest James Bond sequel. Along with the stereotypical lunatic Russian grandmasters (the normally even-keeled Russian asked that his chair be X-rayed and dismantled to make sure [Bobby] Fischer hadn't implanted a harmful radiation emitter inside it), chess-crazed Bulgarians, Canadians, Libyans and the occasional American plow through the contemporary chess world in search of victory. In clear, thoughtful prose, Hoffman (The Man Who Loved Only Numbers) describes the players—([Short] doesn't glare at his adversary, slam down the rooks, twist the knights into the board, rock back and forth, tap his feet or pace the tournament hall snorting like a feral animal) and the game ( On the seventeenth move, Vaganian made an impressive rook sacrifice to break up the advanced pawns in front of Joel's king and launch an attack). Hoffman's only misstep is to set the whole enterprise up as his own father-and-son conflict, a sticky memoir structure that detracts from the built-in appeal of the larger story. Otherwise, Hoffman has achieved something singular; a winning, book about the royal game that will satisfy the general reader, kibitzer and grandmaster alike. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


"If you enjoy playing chess, this will be the most fascinating, best-written book that you have ever read. If you have no interest in chess, then get ready to enjoy a fascinating, fast-moving story with unforgettable characters many of whom just happen to be chess players." -- Jared Diamond

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Hyperion; annotated edition edition (September 11, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1401300979
  • ISBN-13: 978-1401300975
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,040,417 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

48 of 50 people found the following review helpful By J. Wan on October 7, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
What is this book?
This book is actually four separate works interwoven together.
1. It is a brief history of top flight chess and its champions. It hits the usual topics: Are chess players nuts? Do they have psycholoical problems? Is competitiveness in chess over the top leading to bad behavior?
2. It is a personal story of the author's own experience playing chess. The best part. He really captures the feelings well.
3. It is the personal recollection of the author's difficult childhood with his father. His dad seems to be a real "character" - and time hasn't helped soften his flaws and shortcomings - only sharpen them.
4. The author manages to gain access to several top flight players who share their observations and insights about the chess in general and the current chess scene specifically. The highlight of this part is when Hoffman serves as the second for GM Paul Charbonneau who competed at the world knockout championship in Tripoli, Libya. Charbonneau should be credited for opening up and sharing a lot of private thoughts and moments. He along with GM Joel Lautier come across best in the work. This is the second best part of the work.

Who is this book for?
1. It is NOT for beginners looking to learn chess.
2. It is NOT for competitive players who are seeking to improve their play.
3. It is not a serious history being more superficial and gossipy, but to his credit, Hoffman credits and annotates his sources for anyone who seeks more information.
4. The book is best suited for those who are fans of chess, knows how to play, play semi-seriously and are seeking to understand their own obsession. He really captures that obsessive compulsive feeling - the dread, fear, anticipation, and elation. It is as if you got to hang out with a top level GM and tag along with his entourage and see what happens behind the scenes.
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30 of 32 people found the following review helpful By David W. Straight on September 26, 2007
Format: Hardcover
What? A chess book without any diagrams or games? Unthinkable? This is a different kind of animal, so to speak. It's more about the personalities and the psychology of chess players. There's a lot here that you won't find in other chess books: bloated egos, petulance, outright cheating, and the like. Some of the best-known chess masters can seem almost schizophrenic--polite, considerate, fun to be with some of the time, and extraordinarily boorish, unpleasant, and mean-spirited at other times: Kasparov, for example.

The book is not consistently good, but the truly excellent parts make everything worthwhile. I had three favorite long parts. The first is about Charles Bloodgood, leading expert on the eccentric Grob opening. On tracking Bloodworth down, Hoffman finds that Bloodgood is serving life imprisonment in Virginia for murdering his mother when she objected to his forging her name on a check. Bloodgood's FIDE rating places him among the elite in the US. Without much else to do in prison he played 4-5 games a day against other inmates, and each victory nudged his rating a bit higher. He was also playing 1200 correspondence games a year as well at times. This seems reminiscent of Simon Winchester's The Professor and the Madman, where a criminally insane man was one of the main contributors to the Oxford English Dictionary.

The second fascinating part is where Hoffman accompanies a friend who is playing in a major chess tournament in Libya: "Gadhafi's Gambit and Mr Paul" is the name of the chapter. The description seems like something out of Kafka--it has a very surreal quality to it. Hoffman never seems to know from one moment to the next whether he will be honored or shot as a spy (he is accused of being a CIA agent).
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Dana Mackenzie on October 5, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Paul Hoffman's new book, King's Gambit: A Son, A Father, and the World's Most Dangerous Game, can be enjoyed by everyone, whether they are avid chess players or not. Hoffman is a gifted story-teller with a knack for bringing to life the personalities of real people, especially quirky real people. (See his previous bestselling book, The Man Who Loved Only Numbers.) Fortunately, the world of chess is amply supplied with quirky people!

Hoffman, like many chess players, learned the game as a child from his father. Through his teenage years he played often in tournaments and became a strong amateur player, but in college he let go of his interest in chess. A quarter century later, now a successful editor going through a sort of midlife crisis, he took the game up again as a welcome distraction from his problems. But soon chess became an obsession. This book is a fascinating chronicle of the places that his obsession took him.

One of those places was back into his own childhood, as he began to re-evaluate his relationship with his late father. Hoffman's view of the chess world is none too flattering--it is a world full of insecure, selfish people and con men--but it helps him to realize that his father was a bird of the same feather. It's almost as if his father, by introducing Hoffman to the chess world, was unwittingly giving him the keys to his own inner fortress.

While the chess-as-psychotherapy part of the book is interesting, I feel that King's Gambit really hits its stride when Hoffman starts writing about other people. Don't miss the story of his trip to the 2004 world championships, which was held (of all places) in Libya--the erstwhile bogeyman of American politics, before Iraq usurped that role.
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