NABOKV-L post 0006127, Thu, 16 Aug 2001 09:23:36 -0700

At end of Luzhin Defence, critics felt rooked (fwd)

Interesting review of 'Luzhin Defence' by five-time U.S. chess champion.

At end of Luzhin Defence, critics felt rooked

By Larry Evans
Special Correspondent

August 12, 2001

The Luzhin Defence is an exquisite period piece depicting a chess tournament at an Italian resort in the 1920s. Based on a novel by Vladimir Nabokov, it's a great film about a chess master's descent into madness.

Alas, the chess is a mess. Dutch director Marleen Gorris, who won an Oscar for best foreign film for Antonia in 1995, tacks on a hokey ending.

During the most important game of his career, Luzhin had a nervous breakdown and loses by forfeit. The book ends as he jumps out of a window.

"At the instant when Luzhin unclenched his hand, at the instant when icy air gushed into his mouth, he saw exactly what kind of eternity was obligingly and inexorably spread out before him," wrote Nabokov.

In the film, Luzhin finds a forced win when the game is adjourned. After his suicide, his fiancee wins for him by consulting his notes.

This is flatly against the rules, of course, and a preview audience of chess experts in New York burst out laughing.

"For an hour and 50 minutes, we all sat enthralled, hanging on every development. Unfortunately, the last 10 minutes presented a farfetched, totally contrived ending that nearly destroyed the previous hard-earned credibility of the movie," said one reviewer.

"As chess lovers, we are supposed to be grateful when a chess position is shown in a movie with a white square in the lower right-hand corner, but I think we need to raise our standards. Blatant illegalities and absurdities in the portrayal of chess in a popular medium should not be glossed over and tolerated but should be loudly denounced," said another critic.

Yet there is a saving grace. The final diagram in the film, devised by British grandmaster Jonathan Speelman, is technically correct.

Solution: Black is two pawns down but won with 1...Nxf4! 2 exf4? (2 Nd1! keeps White on top) Re3 3 Kg4 f5 4 Kg5 Kg7 5 Nd5 Rh3! 6 gxh3 h6 7 Kh4 Bf2 mate.

Larry Evans is a five-time U.S. chess champion and nationally syndicated chess writer. Write to him at P.O. Box 1182, Reno, NV 89504.

Copyright (c) 2001, South Florida Sun-Sentinel