The Royal Game - Stefan Zweig

In this fascinating, inspiring novel, we travel by boat with the world chess champion, Mirko Čentović, and other actors in a great chess match. Mirko on one side and everyone else on the opposite. It would be called "One straw among the whirlwinds." Who is Mirko, how did he start playing chess, with whom, why?

In the novella, the following sentences describe his early profile, which depicts a highly passive boy:

"..With this strange boy, his complete disinterest was the most bothersome. He did not do anything without a particular order; he never asked any questions, did not play with other boys, nor did he try to have fun with something unless he was explicitly instructed to do so. As soon as he finished his duties in the house, he would sit motionless on one of the chairs in the room, with the empty look that sheep have when they are on the pasture, without taking the slightest part in the events happening around him. "

However, one evening in the parish priest's house, by a strange coincidence, Mirko, a "stupid boy" with an empty look, sat down at the chessboard and defeated the astonished sergeant and parish priest several times. At the moment of multiple victories, the pastor reacts as follows:

"Varlam's donkey," exclaimed the surprised parish priest, "he explained to the sergeant, who didn't know the Bible particularly well, that a similar miracle had occurred two thousand years ago when a mute being suddenly spoke in wise language." Parish priest's impression of Mirko's first parties was picturesque, passionate, and meticulous. In one part about Mirko's thinking and moves in chess, he says:

"He played tough, slow, without excitement, never raising his wide forehead. But he played with undeniable certainty."

Nevertheless, regardless of the unstoppable progress, Čentović, unfortunately, had one significant flaw, which was mentioned in professional circles: "he was perfectly incapable of placing the battlefield in an unlimited space of fantasy." This defect, in itself insignificant, revealed a lack of imagination."

It is on this defect that a Banat boy, a chess player, a complete outsider, a sluggish country boy, heavy on the tongue but brilliant in chess, will stumble on one harmless and unburdened boat trip. On this ship, Čentović will meet for the first time with the handicap of his imagination and his inability to play the game blindly. Eager for money, Čentović on the boat agrees to the party, all to one, with a hefty fee, a large audience, and a giant advertisement. 

Confident in the dilettantism of rich amateur chess players, the world grandmaster meets the better player than himself in one tense game. That is the player with a fantastic imagination who blindly starts to win with his incredible ability to play. Dr. B., a pedigree Viennese lawyer, manager of the estates of large monasteries, manager of imperial funds, was arrested the day before Hitler entered Vienna. But the prison in which this brilliant doctor lived was not a prison in the sense in which we imagine, but a harmoniously decorated hotel room. It was a room without a single book, pen, paper, intellectual tools. It was in that room where: "the door was closed day and night, on the table, no books, newspapers, paper or pencil weren't allowed, and the window looked out on the skylight; a perfect void was constructed both around me and around my body. "

In the novel, Zweig gives an "audible" description of this type of prison, without anything, without social communication. It is in this humane prison where the chess reversal takes place. Dr. B. steals a book about chess during one mentally exhausting interrogation. At first glance, the book/collection of 150 masterpieces brings him disappointment. However, that book, along with a checkered tablecloth torn from the table and a chess piece made of bread, is his revelation and well-organized daily mental gymnastics. After four master games and an evening recapitulation, he doesn't need a chessboard because he develops the incredible power of imagination. The center of this novel is not the characters, prison, lack of freedom, but the great importance of imagination in chess because: "Chess has the miraculous advantage that is concentrating spiritual energy on a narrow, limited field, even in the most opportune activity, it does not weaken the brain, but rather sharpens its agility and elasticity."

There is a tense psychological drama between two exceptional chess players, on the one hand, ignorant, patient, a slow peasant from Banat, Mirko Čentović, world chess champion, and doctor B. pedigree rich "Bečlija", prisoner of war in a golden cage, intellectual with the incredible talent of imagination. Between them is His Majesty the Chees, about whom Zweig finally says:

"I don't know how much you thought about how the spirit works during this game. But it seems that even the most superficial thinking clearly shows how absurd it is, logically speaking, to play against oneself because chess is a purely mental game, in which the case does not play any role. His attraction is based on the fact that his strategy develops in two different brains, that in that war of the spirit, black does not know what the current maneuver of white is and constantly tries to grasp and cut it, while white, in turn, tries to learn the secret intentions of the black and to match them."

I believe that this article is enough to tickle your curiosity and read The Royal Gameto construct the two main characters of this story meticulously and in layers, and understand the strategy and importance of imagination in this thousand-year-old game.

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