Friday, January 13, 2012

"The Berlin Defence is a classic defence by means of counter-attack"

1 Players move alternately — only one at a time.
Len Deighton's Funeral In Berlin, originally published by Jonathan Cape in 1964, is probably best-known these days for the 1966 film, directed by Guy Hamilton and starring Michael Caine, that was made from it.

The novel, however, is of particular interest to those who follow chess as well as cinema, because it refers to chess not only in a number of different passages (for which, see tomorrow's posting) but also at the head of nearly all of its fifty-one chapters. (The others all have, as headings, names of characters in the novel: the second chapter, for instance, is headed ROBIN JAMES HALLAM.)
3 Where pieces are used to protect other pieces, there will be high casualty rate. Better by far to assign only pawns to supporting roles.
I've reproduced them all here, with the numbers of the chapters which they head attached to them. (In the text, they appear in italic type - I've preferred blue here for ease of viewing.) They are all short references, offering definitions, explanations or some other kind of information or advice on various aspects of the game. The name of an opening, for instance
4 The Berlin Defence is a classic defence by means of counter-attack.
or some simple advice on how the game is played
5 When a player offers a piece for exchange or sacrifice then surely he has in mind a subsequent manoeuvre which will end to his advantage.
or the explanation of some piece of chess terminology
6 A bad bishop is one hampered by his own pawns.
or simply how one of the pieces moves.
7 Knights can pass over squares controlled by enemy forces. Knights always end their move on a square of the opposite colour.
When you start reading through them, though, you notice certain things that don't necessarily seem right. Some of the terminology, for instance, is strange. Have you ever heard of a Roman Decoy?
13 Roman Decoy: a piece offered as bait to save a hazardous situation.
Is "range" a common term in chess?
30 Range in chess is measured not by distance but by the number of squares to which a legal move can be made.
Does this sound like an apt description of the Czech Defence, even supposing that name were generally used in English?
31 Czech Defence: a sequence in which pawn is matched with pawn but the queen's bishop tips the balance.
There is some clumsy English: I don't think that we would normally "make" an attack, for instance
15 Even a pawn can make a 'double attack'.
and in the following snippet, the identity of "his" is not at all clear
23 King's Gambit is an opening in which his own side's pawns are sacrificed.
while we would surely talk of "losing a tempo", rather than just "tempo" without the article.
38 A player who uses two moves to do something possible in one is said to have 'lost tempo'.
There's also a missing article here
36 Switchback: to return to original position in any given sequence.
as there is in the heading to chapter three, given above. There are also some possible typos, as for instance here
37 A committed piece is one given a specific duty. It often becomes the focal point of an opponents attack.
where the possessive apostrophe has been omitted. Which might be an error of understanding rather than an accidental omission, but the absence of the inverted comma before "foot", here
44 In China, Hungary, India, Korea and Poland pawns are called foot soldiers', but in Tibet they are called 'children'.
is surely accidental.

Accidental by whom, though? By the UK publisher, quite possibly. But taken as a whole, various strange aspects to the snippets - unfamiliar terminology, clumsy English - give the impression that they are from an work in another language, translated into English by a non-native speaker. The occasional omission of the article may suggest that the original language (and presumably its translator) could be Russian, which lacks "a" and "the", and shoddy production would not be atypical of the Soviet publishing industry. (Or indeed, the chess book publishing industry elsewhere, har har.)

It has the feel of a translation. Perhaps from some chess primer, a beginners' guide, an introductory work. But is it? And if so, what? I don't know. There's nothing in the book to say so, to indicate (if this is indeed so) what the original work was, or who translated it. Nor to say, if this isn't so, where all these little snippets come from.

I don't know whether Deighton was a chessplayer, or if he ever explained the references, or if anybody else has ever discovered their provenance. My searching the internet hasn't produced any results, though perhaps somebody else may do better.

I'd guess that British chess magazines, from the mid-Sixties, when Deighton's novel was published, might have looked into it. But I don't have access to them where I am. Any readers who do, or can shed any light on the origin of Deighton's chapter headings from any other source, would find their information warmly welcomed.

8 Skilful use of knights is the mark of the professional player.

9 In certain circumstances pawns can be converted into the most powerful unit on the board.

11 Zugzwang: to move a chess piece under duress.

12 Every piece has its mode of attack but only a pawn will attack en passant. Similarly only a pawn can be captured in this manner.

14 J'adoube: a word used to indicate that a player intends to touch a piece but not move it.

16 Every pawn is a potential queen.

17 A knight can be used to simultaneously threaten two widely spaced units. (This is called a 'fork') If one of these threats is against a king the other piece must inevitably be lost.

18 Mate: a word from Old French meaning to overpower or overcome.

19 One can escape from check by removing hostile pieces or interposing oneself.

20 Enemy territory is that area of the board within one-move range of opposing forces.

21 The king may well be moved to a well-protected spot away from danger.

22 Checkmate remains the ultimate aim of every player.

24 A skewer is an attack along a straight line. As the first piece avoids capture it exposes the second, real target to the full force of the attack.

25 Corridor mate: when a king can only move along an expected route, he can be trapped by closing the corridor.

26 The skilled player memorises and uses the classic sequences of the games of masters.

27 Any move that attacks a hostile king is known as check.

28 Development for its own sake is insufficient. There must be a keen purpose in every move.

29 Players who relish violence, aggression and movement often depend upon the Spanish Game.

33 Two hostile bishops can be used to block the advance of passed pawns since between them they control access to all squares of both colours.

35 In medieval times it was the aim of players to annihilate every opponent instead of checkmating the king.

39 In Burma and Japan a general is the piece we call a queen, but in China and Korea a general is the piece we call a king.

40 A king cannot be captured nor need it be removed from the board. It is enough that the king is put into a position from which it cannot escape.

41 Strong square: one placed well forward, secure from attack and firmly under control.

42 The Exchange: when a player sacrifices something for an opponent's piece of lesser value he is said to be 'the exchange down'.

45 The End-game: this often centres around the queening of a pawn. Here a sudden threat can arrive on home ground.

46 Unless one is a master player the Queen's Gambit — when a pawn is offered for sacrifice — is best declined.

47 The power of a queen often encourages its use single-handed. But an unsupported queen is in a dangerous position against skilfully used pawns.

48 Pawns can only move forward. They can never retreat.

49 If a player is not in check but can only make a move that will place him in check; this is stalemate and is scored as a draw.

50 Originally the piece we now call a queen was a counsellor or government adviser.

51 Repetition rule: it is a rule of chess that when the same sequence recurs three times the game can be terminated.
[Thanks to Campion, and to Richard, whose birthday, by the way, it is today.]


ed g. said...

"Roman Decoy" is a problemist's term. In a regular decoy, the diverted piece can no longer defend against a threat as in the original position; in a Roman decoy, it can still defend, but now when it does it interferes with the defense to some other threat.

I'm afraid that's not very clear, sorry. Here's a link: with an example of both normal and Roman decoys.

"Czech Defence" is an old name for the Slav Defence to the Queen's Gambit; you'll see it in books from the late 19th and early 20th century, such as Tarrasch's _The Game of Chess_.

Morgan Daniels said...

It appears as if Deighton mentions chess in practically all of his novels: