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Cat in the Stax: A Game of Chess

By Ethan Shea

"World Chess Hall of Fame"

The world’s largest chess piece and the World Chess Hall of Fame in St. Louis, Missouri

Last week I traveled to St. Louis, Missouri to attend the Annual Meeting of the International T.S. Eliot Society. St. Louis is arguably the chess capital of the world, and Eliot, who was born in the city, was an avid chess player himself. In fact, The Waste Land, Eliot’s most famous poem, has a section titled “A Game of Chess.” This timeless piece, which was published 100 years ago, is available for pick up here at Falvey.

"Chess Exhibit"

World Chess Hall of Fame Exhibit

During my visit, I made sure to visit the World Chess Hall of Fame. The museum’s current exhibit focuses on the famous 1972 World Championship match between Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky. Fischer’s underdog win made him the first ever American World Chess Champion and ended 24 years of uninterrupted Soviet chess dominance.

I believe it’s safe to say that almost everything people know about chess these days was learned from the hit Netflix series The Queen’s Gambit. This isn’t a bad thing, so if you’re interested in the show, check out this “Dig Deeper” blog that provides lots of resources on chess strategy that are available in the Library.

My visit was timely, as an ongoing controversy in the world of chess has been making headlines lately. Reigning World Chess Champion Magnus Carlsen recently resigned from a game against 19-year-old American Hans Niemann in the Julius Baer Generation Cup after playing only one move. This came as a shock, as having the world’s top player quit a legitimate tournament without even trying could be a bad look for the sport.

But the situation is deeper than that. It all started in St. Louis during the Sinquefield Cup. Niemann was entered in the tournament as the lowest seed and somehow managed to win against Carlsen, who even had the advantage by playing with white. The next day, Carlsen unexpectedly resigned from the tournament and posted a strange tweet claiming he can’t talk or he’ll be in “big trouble.”

"Grad Lounge Chess Board"

Graduate Lounge Chess Board

This led fans to assume Carlsen suspected Niemann of cheating. Although Carlsen has not directly said this, fans speculate his resignation against Neimann at Julius Baer essentially confirms Carlsen’s stance. Niemann does have a history of cheating and has even been banned from chess.com, the world’s largest online chess forum, so the accusations are not entirely out of the blue.

The St. Louis Chess Club has said they do not suspect there was any cheating during Carlsen and Niemann’s game, but the resolution to the situation remains a mystery.

I’d certainly describe myself as a fan of chess. I’ve even read a couple books on chess strategy in futile attempts to improve my skills at the game. Although I might not be the best chess player, I love the endless variations and strategies the game offers. They’re always entertaining and often beautiful.

If you’re a graduate student, there’s a lovely chess board in the Graduate Student Lounge on the third floor of Old Falvey. If you’re looking to play, check it out!


Headshot of Ethan SheaEthan Shea is a graduate student in the English Department at Villanova University and Graduate Assistant at Falvey Memorial Library.


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Dig Deeper: “The Queen’s Gambit”

Anya Taylor-Joy as Beth Harmon in “The Queen’s Gambit.” Image courtesy of Netflix.

Since its release on Oct. 23, Netflix’s limited series “The Queen’s Gambit” has reignited interest in the game of chess. The New York Times reported, “Over the last year, sales of chess sets in the United States rose by around 25 percent, only slightly faster than the toy industry overall…but in the weeks since ‘The Queen’s Gambit’ premiered sales have grown 125 percent.”

The series, named after a chess opening, is based on the 1983 novel of the same name by Walter Tevis. Set in the 1960s, Netflix’s installment follows orphan and chess prodigy Elizabeth “Beth” Harmon on her journey to become the greatest player in the world. Although I had some knowledge of chess (shoutout to my fourth grade teacher Mrs. Pickerel!), the series delves into nuances of the game I’d never strongly grasped, including an array of opening, middle, and end game strategies.

While I haven’t read Tevis’ novel, I recommend Netflix’s adaptation if you’re looking for something to watch during the pandemic.

Interested in learning more about chess? Whether you’re as skilled as Garry Kasparov or can’t tell a pawn from a knight, Falvey Library has multiple resources on the history and strategies of the game. Check out a few below (most are accessible in e-book format). Contactless pickup is available for books, DVDs, and other circulating items from the Library’s online catalog.


Kallie Stahl ’17 MA is Communication and Marketing Specialist at Falvey Memorial Library.

 

 


 


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Last Modified: January 26, 2021