I stayed up late last night finishing The Queen’s Gambit, a novel recommended to me by the great Walter Block. I disagree with reviewers who say you don’t need to be interested in chess to enjoy it. But if you do love the game, you will be intrigued by this glimpse into the mind of fictional chess prodigy Elizabeth Harmon. For people like me — pretty decent amateur players, but that’s about it — it isn’t envy but fascination we feel when faced with someone who can play through master games in her head, who can find a killer move overlooked by the great Paul Morphy, etc. But even Elizabeth Harmon can’t see everything, and angrily rebukes herself in the quiet of her own mind during her games when an opponent surprises her. So we amateurs aren’t alone in that.
The story of how 8-year-old Elizabeth goes from learning how the pieces move to competing against the greatest players in the world within ten years is a very compelling one. Some adult themes, so it’s not for kids.
Incidentally, Walter and I played against each other in a public exposition at this past summer’s Mises University program at the Mises Institute, after I’d won a tournament (to my genuine surprise) at the Institute (5 wins, one loss) against the chess-playing graduate students in residence for the summer. Although I was ahead by two pawns, I couldn’t press my advantage, and facing time trouble and a tenacious Walter, I lost. Next year!
And to all you undergraduate and graduate students out there, be sure to apply for Mises University 2012.