India's first chess features print magazine published quarterly from Lucknow since 2004 by Aspire Welfare Society.

Monday, July 9, 2012

New Chess Fiction Review: Queen Sacrifice by Tony Riches

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Chess Fiction Review by Zainab Raza Undulusi

Fierce loyalty, treachery, love and palace intrigue woven into 10th Century Welsh history with a chess thread make 'Queen Sacrifice' the hot new chess fiction of the season. 

Tony Riches is a full-time author and chess player from Pembrokeshire, one of the most unspoilt areas of the United Kingdom. Best known for his non-fiction books, Tony told Chess Magazine B&W that he was exploring the early history of Wales. Suddenly he realised how the battles between rival kings reminded him of chess. There were bishops and early knights supporting both sides with ‘bondsmen’ as the pawns in their civil wars.

Indian readers would be quick to draw parallels with the epic Mahabharata. But Riches has gone way further for chess lovers by faithfully following every single move in the 1956 Queen sac chess game between Donald Byrne and the then 13-year-old Bobby Fischer.

Instead of saving his Queen on b6
Fischer had played the audacious 17. ...Be6
Fischer had just won the US Junior Championship and was playing in his first major tournament. Byrne was already a well-known chess player among the top-10 in the world. Fischer's moves had 'shocked' the chess world as they watched in fascination. (You can replay the full Byrne-Fischer game with Chess King and check out the book description at this link.)

Incredible creative twist: Byrne-Fischer chess game moves

Tony told Chess Magazine B&W that one of the problems with using a chess game as a narrative meant was that he had 30 male characters - and only two women! After a bit of thought he gave each of the queens a female companion and added a few wives and housekeepers. He balanced the ‘cast’ a little to allow the plot to develop. He deliberately worked just a few moves in hand as not knowing the fate of any of the characters made it exciting to write.

He used the Welsh language (still used by about 10% of the population in Wales ) as inspiration for the names for the two opposing sides: ‘Du’ is Welsh for black and ‘Gwyn’ for white, choosing authentic Welsh names for all the characters.

Most of us use books as a drug to stay zoned out in another time and in other skins even as we live out our daily life on the planet. 'Queen Sacrifice' works great on that requirement. It's a huge canvas. You can look through your boss with a glassy gaze while you figure out how the next Byrne-Fischer move relates to the chapter you are reading.

Other questions to play with while blanking out your spouse, colleagues and obsessive chess opponents could be:
- Did Queen Elvina get caught during her secret tryst with her lover?
- Did her maid use blackmail?
- What happened to Queen Rhiannon...?
- Or, maybe, it was all true because the myth of Rhiannon found its way into the medieval Welsh manuscripts that became the heroic stories of the Mabinogion!

All in all, a fast-paced read for those who love history and chess... more so if you want to remember the Byrne-Fischer chess game with new hooks for every move and some subtle lovemaking (in the book!)


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