The Greenbecker Gambit
‘I only feel truly alive when the chess clock is ticking and the patterns on the squares in front of me are dancing in my head. Very little else gives me the same feeling. Nothing else, that does not involve a flame.’
Tennessee Greenbecker is bravely optimistic as he sets out to claim what he sees as rightfully his – the title of world chess champion. But who is he really? Is he destined to be remembered as chess champion or fire-starter? Either way, might this finally be his moment?
A gambit is an opening move in a chess game which usually involves making a sacrifice for, hopefully, future gain (of the opponent’s pieces). It suggests machination and strong self-confidence, and both of these qualities are to be found by the bucket load in our narrator, chess-player Terrence Tennessee Greenbecker.
This book falls into the ‘unreliable narrator’ genre which soon becomes apparent. We quickly work out that Tennessee’s accounts of his accomplishments and importance clash with reality, and realise that our narrator suffers from mental illness which alienates him from those around him.
The book gives an insight into the world of professional chess playing, which is fascinating. You don’t need to be a chess buff to appreciate the glimpse behind the scenes. However, a grasp of the game and having heard of Bobby Fischer and Garry Kasparov are will help a little.
As well as admiring chess players, and in particular Fischer, Greenbecker has another hero, Guy Fawkes, who reflects his own arsonist tendencies.
The action in the book takes place over the course of a weekend in 2018 when chessmasters Magnus Carlsen and Fabiano Caruana are playing each other in London. Greenbecker has something rather less controlled and dignified than a ches game in mind.
The novel takes a little time to settle into, and in places it’s a challenging read but it’s most definitely rewarding. Greenbecker ultimately makes for a tough but touching hero as he juggles hard reality with delusions of grandeur.
The book’s cover is excellent, cleverly hinting at the important elements of the story.
Chess and Bridge
Ben Graff is a writer, journalist and Corporate Affairs professional. He is a regular contributor to Chess and Authors Publish. He is not a grandmaster but did draw with one once.