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Olmsted on Autism: The Art of Chess

Posted Feb 14 2009 12:00am

Art of chess By Dan Olmsted:

Many years ago -- in fact, on Christmas Day, 1963 -- I received a book called The Art of Chess. I know this because it has my 11-year-old neat block printing on the opening page. I was never much of a chess player but I enjoyed trying; I recently came across a junior high year book photo of me in the Chess Club (how dweebish). Not many books I possessed in 1963 are still around, but this one is, partly because it is a cool-looking trade paperback (Dover, $1.85) and partly because the writing "By James Mason, revised and edited by Fred Reinfeld," is utterly charming, and partly because chess is like life. Mason wrote the book in London in 1898, and it has that Victorian circumlocution that nonetheless manages to nail a point with resounding force.

I consult it from time to time because it takes me back to first principles -- and today was one of those days. Here are a few passages I thought I would share.

"Remember the Opening is not everything. There is the middle game to come in which Opening advantage, for or against you, may be swallowed up and lost.  Often and often a formally bad position really possesses superior resources -- has time on its side; whereas a formally good one may be really at its best, and can no further go -- its time is past. A player in a good position, which cannot be bettered, and is not yet strong enough to straightaway force a winning advantage, is in great danger of drifting into a losing game.

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