For the chess players among his readers, Michael Chabon’s latest novel has an irresistable start (and indeed, upon reading the first two sentences of The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, I immediately had to purchase it because I wasn’t about to stand there in the store and read all 414 pages): “Nine months Landsman’s been flopping at the Hotel Zamenhof without any of his fellow residents managing to get themselves murdered. Now somebody has put a bullet in the brain of the occupant of 208, a yid who was calling himself Emanuel Lasker.”
Lasker was the second world champion, and he held onto the crown for a record twenty-seven years, from 1894 to 1921. I write of Lasker in my own book, King’s Gambit: A Father, a Son, and the World’s Most Dangerous Game, because he famously spoke of chess as a rare bastion of truth—a sentiment that unconsciously drew me to the game as a child:
“On the chess board, lies and hypocrisy do not survive long. The creative combination lays bare the presumption of a lie; the merciless fact, culminating in checkmate, contradicts the hypocrite. Our little chess is one of the sanctuaries where this principle of justice has occasionally had to hide.”
Lasker further claimed that chess was not merely a substitute for life but a way of rekindling interest in the larger world:
“Many a man, struck by injustice as, say, Socrates and Shakespeare were struck, has found justice realized on the chessboard, and has thereby recovered his courage and his vitality to play the game of life.”
As I get further along in Chabon’s novel, I’ll let you know how he weaves chess and Emanuel Lasker into it.