Counterplay: An Anthropologist at the Chessboard

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Counterplay : An Anthropologist at the Chessboard by Robert R. Desjarlais (2011, Paperback)

Drawing on his lifelong fascination with the game, Desjarlais guides readers into the world of twenty-first-century chess to help us understand its unique pleasures and challenges, and to advance a new "anthropology of passion. Counterplay offers a compelling take on the intrigues of chess and shows how themes of play, beauty, competition, addiction, fanciful cognition, and intersubjective engagement shape the lives of those who take up this most captivating of games. Like the game itself, Counterplay is an enjoyable mental exercise. James Lieberman Foreword "Desjarlais draws from his backgrounds in ethnographic research and amateur tournament chess to nimbly explore the game's social, philosophical, aesthetic, psychological, and technological quirks.

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Description Table of Contents Product Details Click on the cover image above to read some pages of this book! Industry Reviews "The subject of chess boasts more books than any other game, but this one is special, crafted for the general reader as well as the aficionado Blitzkrieg Bop 2. You're already "out of book," as they say. You feel your heart pulsing in your chest. You're looking to survive the opening. You're reminded of a boxer who steps in for the first round only to be pummeled out of the ring.

Grechikhin's cavalier approach makes you wonder if he doesn't think much of his opponent's chess skills. He probably wouldn't wield the gambit against a stronger player. Perhaps he's aiming for a quick win against what he takes to be a patzer, an inexperienced player. There's no way you want to get your king caught in a lot of crossfire before it has time to find cover behind a row of pawns. You decide to play cautiously, aiming for a solid defensive setup, and decline Grechikhin's pawn offer. You figure there's probably not much established theory covering the positions that will result from your move, so you're both in uncharted waters.

If your game were a theatrical play, it would be an experimental off-off-Broadway production. Bb5 Bb7 Grechikhin makes a move. You think about how you want to parry, and make a move of your own.

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He does the same after a few minutes, as the two of you become embroiled in the syncopated, back-and-forth dialogue that makes up a tournament game. Re1 g6 8. You start to worry about him opening up the center before you can hide your king on the kingside. But he doesn't follow that course, either because he doesn't notice it himself or because he decides that it's not worth pursuing. The game proceeds along a less violent path.

A sequence of carefully selected moves leads to a position where you're not badly off. Na3 Bg7 Rb1 You've survived the first onslaught. You've managed to develop your pieces and get your king castled safely behind a row of pawns, without giving up too much ground. Your heart beats less frantically.

You step out of the room to get some water, and return to the board. You take a look at the game to your right. A man in his fifties Russian, apparently is playing a gritty game against a hormonal kid pushing sixteen at best. Nc4 Rab8 Ba3 Nd8 Qa4 d6 Ilye Figler has a pressing edge in his game against Katharine Pelletier, while Jay Bonin is beating up on his outclassed opponent. Jay sets up a nice mating attack, and then goes in for the kill as his opponent broods at the board, red-faced in defeat.

Making a Chessboard Top Pt.1 of 4

Upon winning, Jay gets up and walks off with a canary-swallowing smile, score sheet in hand. The room is quiet. The loudest sounds are the ticking of chess clocks and the hum of the air-conditioner. People have settled into the muted rhythm of tournament games: think, make a move, press the clock, write down the move made. Think, move, clock, write. You and your opponent are doing the same. Grechikhin is pressing against your position, while you're trying to hit on moves that give good counterchances. Qa5 With his sixteenth move Grechikhin makes a decision that surprises you: he moves his queen one square forward, where it's operating along the same diagonal as your own queen, which stands a few inches away.

One small step by the lady, and the ecology of the game shifts. By posting his queen on a square that is in direct communication with your own queen, Grechikhin is offering to exchange queens. Once these mighty pieces are off the board, the game can boil down to an endgame.

What's going on here?

Reuben Fine, an American grandmaster and psychoanalyst, once contended that a leading chess player preferred opening variations that involve an early exchange of queens because he unconsciously desired to get "rid of women" in order to deny or regulate his sexual impulses. You know little about your opponent's psychodynamics, but your guess is that he wants to eliminate the queens not because of any psychosexual issues but because he thinks he can outplay you in an ending, especially since you collapsed at the end of your previous game.

The endgame. Qxa5 You do just that. Your pieces breathe easier. Exchanges follow. The position is simplifying into an ending in which you'll each have a couple pieces and a cluster of pawns. You're not sure who will be better off.

Chess notes

Nxa5 Ne6 [better would have been Bxc3, when the bishop is attacking both the rook on e1 and the knight on e5] Nxb7 Rxb7 Bc4 Rxb1 Rxb1 Nb6 You play on. You're both trying to position your pieces on better squares, to try to gain some kind of advantage.

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As you concentrate, the world fades around you. You're unaware of anyone or anything else in the room. No sound. No movement. No opponent. You're conscious only of the possibilities on the board. Think again. At times you can't shake the feeling that a grandmaster or computer would make more precise moves, but that's a feeling you seldom succeed in shaking.

Bf1 Rd8 Bc1 d5 Rxb8 Nxb8 Bb5 Bd8 To do so, you have to let your knight get boxed into a corner, where it risks getting trapped.

Counterplay : Robert R. Desjarlais :

You take time to calculate the "variations," the possible sequences of moves, and see that the knight is safe after all, and can come back into play if you play the right combination of moves. Bxa5 You take the pawn, press your clock, take a breath. Be3 a6 Moves are made along the lines envisioned. You hear a faint gasp from your opponent. You take this to be his sudden awareness that your knight is safe after all, and he's down a pawn for nothing.

The fact that you calculated all this better than your master-strength opponent injects a dose of confidence into your system. I'm seeing things well today , you tell yourself.

Bf1 Ne6 You now have five pawns to your opponent's four. In question is whether you will be able to make something of this material advantage. Having a one-pawn edge can lead to a winning game, as a player can nurture that edge into a pawn that reaches the eighth rank, where it can be promoted to a queen.