A review of M. Duchamp & V. Halberstadt: Spiel im Spiel / A Game in a Game / Jeu dans le jeu by Ernst Strouhal

Reviewed by P.P.O. Kane

M. Duchamp & V. Halberstadt: Spiel im Spiel / A Game in a Game / Jeu dans le jeu
By Ernst Strouhal
Verlag für moderne Kunst, 2012
ISBN: 9783869843278

This book, a compact elegant hardback, commemorates the exhibition that took place at the Kunsthalle Marcel Duchamp in Cully from June-Sept 1912 (http://www.akmd.ch/exhibitions/
Ernst Strouhal’s essay is in three languages – German, English and French – and images taken from the exhibition are presented throughout. The essay explores Duchamp’s wide-ranging interest in chess and we learn, for example, that he was one of France’s leading players from the early 1920s to the late ‘30s, that the game was a major motif in his art and that he even went on to design several chess sets, that he wrote a chess column for a time and translated Znosko-Borovsky’s How to Play the Chess Openings into French, and so on. It then focuses on his most fascinating contribution, Opposition and Sister Squares Reconciled, a book written with the endgame composer Vitaly Halberstadt.

Published in 1932, it is a book about those rare pawn endings where the distant opposition and the theory of coordinate squares plays a crucial role in determining the outcome. One can find helpful discussions of these sorts of positions in Pawn Endings, Maizelis and Averbakh’s classic text, and in one of Jon Speelman’s endgame books (I think, Endgame Preparation); and the Italian endgame theorist Rinaldo Bianchetti covered similar territory somewhat earlier. There is no doubt, though, that Opposition and Sister Squares Reconciled is a significant work on the subject as well as being, on the evidence of the excerpts contained herein, a beautifully designed book. There are transparent inserts which allow the reader the opportunity to construct a visual proof of the correct moves for each side, just as in mathematics you can have a visual proof of, for example, Pythagoras’ theorem. Indeed, Duchamp and Halberstadt’s book looks as lovely as Oliver Byrne’s 1847 edition of the first six books of The Elements of Euclid (http://www.math.ubc.ca/~cass/Euclid/byrne.html
). In Strouhal’s words, Opposition and Sister Squares Reconciled is ‘an artist’s book for chess players and a chess book for artists’.

Here’s a description of the book:

About the reviewer: P.P.O. Kane lives and works in Manchester, England. He welcomes responses to his reviews and you can reach him at ludic@europe.com