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Napier on Mason
October 29, 2004


Mason and I sat together convivially. I asked him why he played such drab, domesticated openings. Said he, "Some years ago Dickens rambled one night through his favorite London haunts with, if memory serves, Thackeray. They came upon a circus poster, big and flamboyant and vulgar, showing animals at their clever tricks. Dickens looked from the seal to elephant to lion, and remarked, 'I wonder why they never teach the hippopotamus anything!'

"That," Mason went on, "is the reason I keep my hoofs close to the mud and flints. It seems impractical to keep up with the mounting swarms of variations; to sort out the sound from the specious and spongy. The best and briefest textbook on the openings ever invented was Josh Billings' homespun, 'It's better to know not so much than to know many things that ain't so!"

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

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