According to Donner: “The whole point of the game [is] to prevent an artistic performance.” The former world champion Garry Kasparov makes the same point. “The highest art of the chess player,” he says, “lies in not allowing your opponent to show you what he can do.” Always the other player is there trying to wreck your masterpiece. Chess, Donner insists, is a struggle, a fight to the death. “When one of the two players has imposed his will on the other and can at last begin to be freely creative, the game is over. That is the moment when, among masters, the opponent resigns. That is why chess is not art. No, chess cannot be compared with anything. Many things can be compared with chess, but chess is only chess.”
That is Stephen Moss at The Guardian. Along related lines, I very much enjoyed Daniel Gormally’s Insanity, Passion, and Addiction: A Year Inside the Chess World. It’s one of my favorite books of the year so far, but it’s so miserable I can’t recommend it to anyone. It’s a book about chess, and it doesn’t even focus on the great players. It’s about the players who are good enough to make a living — ever so barely — but not do any better. It serves up sentences such as:
Surely the money in chess is so bad that this can’t be all you do for a living? But in fact in my experience, the majority of chess players rated over 2400 tend to just do chess. If not playing, then something related to it, like coaching or DVDs. That’s because we’re lazy, so making the monumental effort of a complete change in career is just too frightening a prospect. So we stick with chess, even though the pay tends to be lousy, because most of our friends and contacts are chess players. Our life is chess. As a rough estimate, I would say there are as many 2600 players making less than £20,000 a year.
Stability. I had this conversation with German number one Arkadij Naidisch at a blitz tournament in Scotland about a year ago. (there I go, name-dropping again.) He suggested that a lot of people don’t achieve their goals because they just aren’t stable enough. They’ll have a fantastic result somewhere, but then that’ll be let down by a terrible tournament somewhere else.
…The problem is it’s hard to break out of the habits of a lifetime. Many times at home I’ve said to myself while sitting around depressed about my future and where my chess is going, “tomorrow will be different. I’ll get up and study six-eight hours studying chess.” But it never happens.
Overall biography and autobiography are far too specialized in the lives of the famous and successful.