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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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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Hyperion; annotated edition edition (September 11, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1401300979
  • ISBN-13: 978-1401300975
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.5 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,153,653 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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

Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
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See all 27 customer reviews
This is a very well written book and entertaining for chess fans.
Timothy G. Forney
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.
J. Wan
Paul Hoffman illuminates the world of chess with interesting tid bits and fascinating characters.
Ying Chiu Wong

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

46 of 48 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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29 of 31 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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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Robert N. Bernard on September 22, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Paul Hoffman's "King's Gambit" is a book that is hard to put down once you've started it. He weaves tales of his difficult childhood, his encounters with grandmasters in the chess world, and his own introspections into a non-linear tapestry that (while easy to follow) grips the reader in an elegant restraint, and does not let go until the last page. Indeed, I had difficulty letting go even after the book was over; I wanted more.

As a former editor of the Encyclopedia Brittanica and Discover magazine, Hoffman writes with a fluid, lucid style that squeezes a great deal of meaning from simple phrasing and word-choice. The book starts with a bang, as at the end of the first chapter he courageously reveals a secret about himself that provides the impetus for writing the book. No spoilers here, but suffice it to say that this revelation is the book's true gambit, as the reader could easily put the book down at this point and dismiss Hoffman as a reprobate. However, Hoffman's own blunt horror at his actions gives the reader a glimmer that there really is something about chess that will drive men (and women) to act amorally. He then spends the rest of the book discovering a great deal about the myriad of personalities in the chess world, but moreover, about himself.

Very highly recommended for chess players and non-chess players alike, and especially for those who struggle everyday to understand themselves and their own choices in life.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By grasshopper4 on December 28, 2007
Format: Hardcover
To play most of the gambits that are "in the book," it's a good idea to go ahead and capture the pawn. Readers with an interest in chess and other games should definitely take the pawn and read Hoffman's book. He covers a lot of chesslore, and provides special attention to the image of the chess player as an obsessive, even insane, genius. The allusions to literary character's such as Nabokov's Luzhain are balanced with profiles of some of the real tragic heroes of chess such as Paul Morphy. Hoffman has interesting insights into the psychology of competition and the blatant -- not latent! -- aggression in this game. One central theme of the book is his own exploration of chess psychology. He references Freudian readings in a playful, albeit not entirely skeptical, way, but he is most interesting when he offers observations from his own experiences with top players such as Nigel Short, Gary Kasparov, and Jennifer Shahade. His conclusions about the game's dangers aren't fully satisfying, but he does suggest practical ways to practice good sportsmanship, while still maintaining a competitive edge. These principles are useful for learning to play chess as well as other games.
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