Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Underhanded Chess: A Hilarious Handbook of Devious Diversions and Stratagems for Winning at Chess [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Jerry Sohl.
Sohl’s Underhanded Chess is a quick read, and entertaining enough for anyone fond of chess who has a little sociopathic streak. No, honestly, it is pretty funny throughout, whether analyzing Bobby Fischer’s methods of psyching out Boris Spassky, recounting anecdotes from Sohl’s own games, or offering hypothetical tactics to disorient and demoralize chess opponents.
All of this is for entertainment purposes only, of course. You wouldn’t really (often) want to win a chess game so badly that you would arrange for duplicitous confederates, work up conversational routines for the sole purpose of distracting your opponent, or specially engineer the furniture to discomfit him. But if winning really is the chief priority, Sohl suggests quite a few devastating rudenesses, and sagely notes, “Then you say you’re sorry. You can always be sorry.” (40)
The high point for me was chapter six, “How to Play against Weirdos,” full of funniness about players who see fairies and perform divinations. Yet here the author also observes, “Just the same, it really does come down to a hard embrace of this question: Whose magic is more powerful, yours or his?” (65) (On a related note, occultists who read this book will have an opportunity to recognize the chess aptitude of Aufnahmevermoegen as a crucial faculty in the development and deployment of the subtle body.)
There is an appendix on “Useful Trivia,” but a second promised appendix, to inventory names of various obscure openings, variations, and stratagems, is absent.