Annals of books: Capablanca

It was the summer of 1969 and I was working at the Camp Pendleton Brig.  Except for drinking, taking drugs, and fishing in the Pacific Ocean for fish I didn’t really like to eat, I was bored.  Then a friend challenged me to a game of chess.  I became interested, then addicted.  He left the Marine Corps shortly after that and bequeathed me his chess set and a copy of Jose R. Capablanca’s Chess Fundamentals.  (Of course, we know Capablanca as World Chess Champion during the 1920’s and one of the greatest players of all time.)

I studied Chess Fundamentals every day back then.  My game got better.  I did not know it at the time, but Chess Fundamentals had been a standard text on how to play the game since its publication in 1921.  It still is a chess classic.

When I started playing chess again two years ago, I plucked Chess Fundamentals out of the stack and commenced studying it anew.  I found it just as fresh and challenging as I did in 1969.  Capablanca writes with an almost arrogant haughty diction.  I don’t know if that is an aspect of one of his personae or just because of the esteem in which he held the game.

Unfortunately, time ravaged my old copy of the book and it fell apart this year.  I bought a new copy.  It sits beside the chessboard and computer as I write this.

One measure of the personal meaning of a book is the hours spent with it over a lifetime.  I guess by that standard Capablanca’s book is one of the most important to me, for I have spent uncountable hours with it.  I doubt if I will ever master Capablanca’s teachings, but the teachings fit with the nature of chess.  The game can consume a whole lifetime and never be mastered in any significant manner except loving its purity and the pleasure it gives.

Besides all that, I wish I could write as well as Capablanca.  I’m a sucker for an austere and precise prose style.

Published in: on November 17, 2009 at 12:38 pm  Leave a Comment  

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