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  #1  
Unread 06-05-2019, 06:56 AM
Duncan Gillies MacLaurin's Avatar
Duncan Gillies MacLaurin Duncan Gillies MacLaurin is offline
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Default Deception

Sergio Negri, “Nabokov looks at chess as deception”


I play the odd game of it, suicide chess.
Think how to lose, and you’ll be a success.
A whole new perspective’s both healthy and fun,
good chess puzzles those where there’s no more than one
combination that works, but the way they turn out
should give us occasion to entertain doubt;
always to question: Might well-trodden ground
contain subtle sequences yet to be found?
A pawn may look weak, but she’s only pretending,
certain of stealing towards that transcending
element giggling just round the corner.
Of course, reason says we’d be stupid to scorn her.
Deception is key to both nature and art.
Nabokov thought so. Not bad for a start.


L 2 was: ... you'll meet with success.

L3-5 were:
A novel perspective’s both healthy and fun.
Good puzzles are those where there’s no more than one
combination that works, but the way they turn out

L4-5 was then: ...there’s more than just one
combination that works, and the way they turn out

L8 was: contain simple sequences ...

L9-10 were:
A protected passed pawn on the seventh spells trouble;
certain of glory because of the double

Last edited by Duncan Gillies MacLaurin; 06-09-2019 at 03:29 AM.
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  #2  
Unread 06-05-2019, 07:02 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Hi Duncan,

Well, I disagree with Nabokov - he would say that, wouldn't he? - but I say that in chess, every move you make is patent, it's just a question of how well your opponent is able to read. As you may guess, I'm no Nabokov fan, I find him self-important and pretentious. And wrong.
Your poem OTOH I like, especially the opening. It's a nice twist on a chess sequence to write about suicide chess.

Cheers,
John
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  #3  
Unread 06-05-2019, 08:40 PM
Aaron Novick Aaron Novick is offline
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I don't get all that much out of this one, Duncan, but I'll leave that aside and give a few technical comments that might help with revision:

I don't understand lines 4-5 in the context of this poem. If the puzzle is suicide chess, it has multiple solutions. So this seems to imply that suicide chess is not a good puzzle.

I think you mean "always to question" in general, as in always to be probing and questioning. But then you follow up with a specific question, and I don't see why we should always be asking that specific question.

The "double / element" enjambment really isn't working for me. The grammar demands a smooth, fluid transition between the lines, while the rhythm and meter demand a reasonably solid pause at the end of the first line. There's no way to read it that I find comfortable.

In the last line, you're scanning 'Nabokov' as NAbokov, but the actual scansion is naBOKov.
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  #4  
Unread 06-06-2019, 02:31 AM
Duncan Gillies MacLaurin's Avatar
Duncan Gillies MacLaurin Duncan Gillies MacLaurin is offline
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Thanks, John and Aaron!

Glad you like it, John, despite your dislike of Nabokov. And I appreciate you commenting, Aaron, despite you not getting all that much out of it.

L1-2 is about suicide chess, yes, but L3 is trying to say that it is just a useful variant of the main theme, chess itself. The puzzles are chess puzzles not suicide chess puzzles. But this is not made explicit, so you have a good point. In the article we hear that Nabokov liked making self-mate puzzles, which is my cue to mentioning suicide chess.

I do mean we should always be asking that specific question rather than "always to question" in general. It’s a question that is central both to solving chess puzzles and to finding combinations while playing chess. But "always to question" in general is also suggested before the actual question comes.

I had trouble with the "double / element" enjambment. I agree it’s not smooth. I initially had “surprise / element”, and that was even less smooth. I could argue that the content supports a jumpy rhythm because of the promotion at the edge of the board.

I know the correct Russian pronunciation of Nabokov is naBOKov, but I, and most of the English-speaking world, have always pronounced his name as NAbokov. Salman Rushdie always refers to Mumbai as Bombay. Incorrect perhaps, but for him it will always be Bombay.

Duncan
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Unread 06-06-2019, 06:29 AM
Max Goodman Max Goodman is offline
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I'm very intrigued by the first line, but I never figure out what "suicide chess" is, FWIW. Some technical notes:

"meet with success" feels like a meter-and-rhyme-driven way of saying "win" (or, since I'm not certain suicide chess can be won, "succeed"). "meet" feels inapt in this context.

The "double/element" enjambment clangs for me. I see Aaron has already commented on this. If I remember correctly, keeping a adjectives and their nouns together was one of Larkin's (few) rules. It doesn't always bother me. Aaron's done a good job of describing some elements that likely contribute to it bothering me this time.
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  #6  
Unread 06-06-2019, 11:03 AM
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Duncan Gillies MacLaurin Duncan Gillies MacLaurin is offline
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Thanks, Max!

I've changed "meet with success" to "be a success", but I can't do anything about the adjective/noun split because preserving the acrostic is an important 'element' here.

I've also changed lines 3-4 so it's clear that it's chess puzzles in general. (I've never seen any chess puzzles for suicide chess, but they no doubt exist.) Suicide chess is also called anti-chess. The idea is to lose all your pieces. You have to take a piece if you can. The king can be captured just like all the other pieces. If a player is unable to move a pawn at the end he wins, at least if he has less material. I'm not sure whether draws are impossible.

Duncan

Last edited by Duncan Gillies MacLaurin; 06-06-2019 at 11:50 AM.
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  #7  
Unread 06-06-2019, 11:48 AM
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Orwn Acra Orwn Acra is offline
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Duncan, Nabokov would certainly not agree that "good chess puzzles [are] those where there’s no more than one combination that works." Unless I am misreading that line, which is a poorly written line. In fact Nabokov thought the opposite.

Read the relevant chapter in Speak Memory. His most devious chess problem was one that involved two solutions: a simply, straightforward one and then one akin to going from Omsk to Tomsk by way of the Yukon, Portugal, and Al Hajar mountains. (Not those particular cities or places--I am writing from memory--but the point is the same.) In other words, the trick comes not from the complicated solution, but from the chess solver thinking he solved it via the easy path when a more interesting path could be found.

For Nabokov, it didn't matter if no one took the bait. Setting the trap and knowing it was there was part of the aesthetic experience.

Last edited by Orwn Acra; 06-06-2019 at 11:52 AM.
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  #8  
Unread 06-06-2019, 11:54 AM
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Duncan Gillies MacLaurin Duncan Gillies MacLaurin is offline
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Interesting, Orwn! I ordered Speak, Memory after reading the article and it's already arrived, so I'll certainly have a look at the relevant chapter. Soon. On a three-day trip right now and decided not to take it with me.

PS Taking your word for it, I've changed lines 4-5 and 8 accordingly.

Last edited by Duncan Gillies MacLaurin; 06-06-2019 at 04:52 PM.
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  #9  
Unread 06-08-2019, 09:40 AM
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Duncan Gillies MacLaurin Duncan Gillies MacLaurin is offline
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Aaron, Max,...

I've changed L9-10. A less bumpy ride, I hope.

Duncan

PS I've tweaked them some more. My use of the word "stealing" is no doubt inspired by Aaron Nimzowitsch, who famously stated: "The passed pawn is a criminal which should be kept under lock and key."

Last edited by Duncan Gillies MacLaurin; 06-09-2019 at 03:46 AM.
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Unread 06-09-2019, 03:27 AM
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Duncan Gillies MacLaurin Duncan Gillies MacLaurin is offline
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Orwn

I have now retrieved my copy of Speak, Memory, and read the relevant section. Yes, Nabokov’s most devious problem was, as you say, one that involved two solutions, but this was a one-off. Earlier he writes: “How often I have struggled to bind the terrible force of White’s queen so as to avoid a dual solution!” So I am returning to my original contention: “good chess puzzles those where there’s no more than one /
combination that works”. His one-off with a dual solution was not merely good, but brilliant. I am, however, retaining the other change that your post inspired (“subtle” for “simple”).

Duncan

PS I was struck by the similarities to my own enterprise in this passage: “Deceit, to the point of diabolism, and originality verging upon the grotesque, were my notions of strategy; and although in matters of construction I tried to conform, whenever possible, to classical rules, such as economy of force, unity, weeding out of loose ends, I was always ready to sacrifice purity of form to the exigencies of fantastic content, causing form to bulge and burst like a sponge-bag containing a small furious devil.”

Last edited by Duncan Gillies MacLaurin; 06-09-2019 at 03:36 AM.
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