Cooks, Forks, Waiters: Chess Problems and Vladimir Nabokov's The Defense
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Daniel Edelman discusses how Vladimir Nabokov's novel The Defense uses motifs from chess problem compositions, for example retrograde analysis, fairy chess, waiting moves, and "solus rex," to determine the structure and plot. Since the beauty in a chess problem lies in the number of false trails the composer directs his unsuspecting solver, it is no wonder that Nabokov took great pleasure in the literary world's unsuccessful attempts to discover the hidden meanings of his works. The article provides background on Nabokov as a chess player, enthusiast, and problem composer, and gives a thumbnail sketch of the plot of the novel. Edelman, an international master, is a Nabokov expert who wrote his Harvard University undergraduate honors thesis on The Defense.
"It should be understood that competition in chess problems is not really between White and Black but between the composer and the hypothetical solver (just as in a first-rate work of fiction the real clash is not between the characters but between the author and the world), so that a great part of a problem's value is due to the number of 'tries' -- delusive opening moves, false scents, specious lines of play, astutely and lovingly prepared to lead the would-be solver astray" (Nabokov in Speak, Memory). Starting from this devious background, Nabokov developed similar literary goals.