White King and Red Queen

Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on 10th November 2008

White King and Red Queen is the story of twentieth-century chess, and its inexorable connection to the rise and fall of Communism. Daniel Johnson’s landmark book begins with the early days of revolutionary activity in central Europe, when the chessboard was the province of exiled intellectuals and games were confined to coffee houses. When the Bolsheviks moved into the Kremlin after the 1917 revolution, they took chess with them. Although Lenin himself was a keen player, it was Nikolai Krylenko, creator of the Red Army, who persuaded the Kremlin to adopt chess as a symbol of Soviet power. From then on, competitors were obliged to play for the state, or risk imprisonment and exile.

Throughout the Cold War, the Communist influence on international politics was reflected in Soviet domination of world chess. From 1945, champions sprang unfailingly from Soviet soil. Three decades of Soviet chess hegemony were shattered finally in 1972 with the historic match between Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky. The years between 1974 and 1981 saw the equally thrilling struggle between Viktor Korchnoi, anti-Communist dissident, and Anatoly Karpov, loyal representative of the Kremlin.

White King and Red Queen recounts in gripping detail the history of the game and its players during the twentieth century, and culminates with the emergence of Gary Kasparov, the last soviet champion. Daniel Johnson – a chess player, Cold War correspondent and historian – is the perfect guide to this remarkable period, when chess matches, for a brief, golden time, were front-page news, and captured the world’s imagination.