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Chess Caviar
October 30, 2004

  -from Paul Morphy and the Golden Age of Chess by William Ewart Napier

        While he text is the same text as the book, the arrangement is approximate and
        the games here under Chess Caviar are a representative sampling of those in the book.


It is a guess, of course, what share of one's chess is original. I am persuaded, however, that 10 percent is an extravagant guess, and therefore, more than nine tenths of one's play may be credited to anthology - or, if you like, to background. Cynical philosophy might allow much less, but I prefer the easy theory that the best kind of originality is that which nourishes on a fit apprenticeship.

Let me illustrate simply:

My first preceptor was Herman Helms, the companionable and erudite editor of the American Chess Bulletin. He showed me many wtty games and among them the scuffle that follows:

That shallow but shiny game, of course, etched a deep impression. I was about fourteen years old and newly admitted to the gallant Brooklyn Chess Club.


Like wild oats, these little adventures in somewhat risky, uncanonical regions make good novelettes or biting sermons - according to their employment by lovers of errant, spicy chess or by tart critics much given to cynical asperity. I like them for their wanton vivacity. They are liable as mischievous youngsters are. And chess, the game, ought to regard them tenderly because they candidly tend to keep that young and green which is in danger  of becoming dour and kippered in the clubs wholly devoted to the art.

A batch of short, pithy games makes a fest for an evening. It was Don Quixote who said, "If there be troutlets enough, will they not be the same thing as a trout?"

The axiomatic species of game, telling its own tale and not long in telling, is useful for the sharp impression it writes on the tablets of memory. One old criticism is that in a very short game there must be at least one abominable move; but I think the long lost game could be similarly judged. However, it is the vengeance and not the misconduct that gives us pleasure; and if gross misconduct tends to disqualify, it were better to do it in one act than in four. It is not easy to picture a more comical disaster than a dud with a long fuse.

Blackmore puts it aptly in his Lorna Doone: "All things being full of flaw, all things being full of holes, the strength of all things is in shortness." And incidentally, Blackmore was a chess devotee and played much at Simpson's Divan in the Strand.


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