A Son, a Father, and the World's Most Dangerous Game

by ChessBase
9/13/2007 – We have known Paul Hoffman for years. He turns up at chess events and spends a lot of time talking to players and fans. Often he tells us about his latest book projects, and can have a dinner table full of people glued to his every word. Now (at last) Paul has written a chess book, one we are reading with great fascination. We bring you a quick review.

ChessBase 17 - Mega package - Edition 2024 ChessBase 17 - Mega package - Edition 2024

It is the program of choice for anyone who loves the game and wants to know more about it. Start your personal success story with ChessBase and enjoy the game even more.


Paul Hoffman:

King's Gambit: A Son, a Father, and the World's Most Dangerous Game

Chess aficionado and journalist Paul Hoffman is no stranger to the pages of ChessBase. We reported here on his stimulating game in Tripoli against women's world champion Antoaneta Stefanova; his role as the color commentator for ESPN's live coverage of the match between Garry Kasparov and the computer X3D Fritz; and his involvement in a multimillion-dollar ad campaign for Sharp that featured a puzzle involving the the royal game.

Paul is an award-winning, best-selling author, and his books explore the fuzzy line between genius, obsession, and madness. His previous subjects have included mathematics (The Man Who Loved Only Numbers) and early aviation (Wings of Madness).

In his latest book, King's Gambit: A Son, a Father, and the World's Most Dangerous Game, which is being published this week, Paul trains his pen and wit on the chess world. At 448 pages (and 1.4 pounds), this is his most substantial and personal work yet. King's Gambit is in part a memoir – the story of his childhood weekends in New York's Greenwich Village with his brilliant bohemian cardsharp of a dad and his total immersion in chess to avoid dealing with troubling family issues. It is also a very intimate look at the obsessive world of championship chess.

Paul is interested in the strong raw emotions and extreme behavior that chess brings out in both professionals and amateurs alike. King's Gambit features revealing portraits of Garry Kasparov ("There are things about the game that even I don't understand"), Nigel Short ("I was in tears; I had been destroyed in front of the whole world"), Joel Lautier ("Most strong players are completely self-centered…. They are blind to how other people feel or else simply don't care"), Bruce Pandolfini ("I definitely miss the rush from wiping out an opponent"), two-time U.S. Women's Champion Jennifer Shahade ("Chess is not relaxing; it's stressful even if you win"), rising U.S. star Irina Krush ("I believe that chess can bring me closer to the spiritual world in a way that simple material stuff can't") and two-time Canadian champion Pascal Charbonneau ("I am not the world's biggest geek"). These players talk about the emotional highs and lows of victory and defeat and why the game is so punishing on the ego and yet so singularly rewarding.

Paul Hoffmann (middle) anchoring the ESPN coverage of Kasparov vs X3D Fritz
in January 2003, together with GMs Maurice Ashley and Yasser Seirawan

The most interesting character in King's Gambit may well be Paul's charismatic but difficult father. He was a part-time literature professor whose specialty was what he proudly called "the grotesque and perverse" in contemporary American and Anglo-Irish fiction. He speed-read three novels a day and had a photographic memory. He was also a tabloid journalist who wrote trashy celebrity profiles under female pseudonyms. He paid Paul's college tuition at Harvard by hustling ping pong, billiards, Scrabble, and poker, and making side bets on chess games.

Paul has posted the beginning of King's Gambit on his web site and blog. At the start he is a young teenager and he is playing a game (in 1970 or so) against grandmaster Nicholas Rossolimo, who operated a chess parlor in Greenwich Village. As they play, Rossolimo consumes glass after glass of wine and gives Hoffman's dad a long boozy lecture on Sartre and Nabokov. We won't give away how the story ends. Read it yourself.


Paul Hoffman's book is available at Amazon at a special introductory price of 34% off. You may also be interesed in the other two books, mentioned above, which we are currently reading with great enjoyment. Tip: start with Wings of Madness (after King's Gambit). It is a fascinating tale of an aviation pioneer's obscession.

Reports about chess: tournaments, championships, portraits, interviews, World Championships, product launches and more.


Rules for reader comments


Not registered yet? Register