My dictionary defines devious as “deviating from a right, accepted, or common course,” which seems to be a reasonable enough description of the chess within. However, Batsford has chosen to add to the Queen, Bishop and two pawns on the cover of the book a red and devilish-looking Rook with the requisite horns and pointed tail – can we expect, then, an updating of Jerry Sohl’s Underhanded Chess: A Hilarious Handbook of Devious Diversions and Stratagems for Winning at Chess (1973) [e.g. fussing with imaginary flies and against unseen spectators], or of William Hartston’s How to Cheat at Chess (1977, 1994) [e.g., the pawn move to “KR3”] ? Especially when we’re talking about “how to bend the rules and win,” right?
Master chess psychologist Amatzia Avni knows every trick in the book and several more you’ll find only in his book.
What Avni means by “devious” is not underhanded gamesmanship per se, but chess that may be complex, risky, opportunistic, impudent, not obvious, double-edged, materially unbalanced, sometimes unsound, sailing in uncharted waters, or lacking familiar anchors and stratagems. His contrast: “Regular chess is anchored on clearly defined principles, leans on a theoretical body of research.”
Here Avni seems to duck John Watson’s argument in Secrets of Modern Chess Strategy (1998) that modern chess does not have such principles – but it is clear in any event that his Devious Chess is not a challenge to the rules of the game according to Hoyle (or FIDE or the USCF). Rather, it is a challenge to stuffy or routine play.
Substitute the word “unconventional” for “devious,” as the author does in the Introduction, and we’re still talking about exciting, often tense and unpredictable chess, which he suggests can be found in the games of “Tal, Shirov, Morozevich, Murey, Miles, Rossolimo, Larsen, Bronstein and Planinc, among others.”
…What is needed is a change of attitude, a more carefree approach; to stop worrying about rating points; to have less fear about losing. A player who replaces the task-oriented goal of winning with the spirit of adventure and fun can produce glimpses of ‘devious chess’ in no time. This change may be achieved by everyone, whatever his level or age…
Becoming a ‘devious’ player may feel strange, as does almost any serious change we introduce to our life. Initially, results may fall short and the whole idea may appear foolhardy. If you aspire to be a candidate for the world chess championship, resorting to ‘devious chess’ is probably a wrong idea.
But if being a fairly strong club player is good enough for you, then in the long run you can look forward to many chess adventures and fascinating complications you didn’t even think were possible…
Which kind of reminds me of those t-shirts that proclaim “Chess is Life” – and I suspect Avni might be talking here about more than just the 64 squares…
A few closing notes:
The chapter on “Coffeehouse Chess” made my heart soar – but only for a scant six pages. Attention chess book publishers: give psychologist Avni a database of games by Diemer, Gedult, Gunderam, Myers, Nakamura, and Shirazi – for starters – and set him to work on a definitive work on the subject! A book twice as thick as this one would barely scratch the surface.
The layout of Devious Chess has the usual diagrams, fonts, bolding, italics and white space, as well as Parts, Chapters and sub-chapters, all of which produce pages that are easy on the eye. While I see the book as a buffet of unorthodox play, its organization would never be mistaken for that of Avni’s more structured, earlier Practical Chess Psychology (2001) – although Devious does have a page of academic-style references/footnotes, similar to Practical – and one reviewer has raised questions about the quality some of the writing, as well.
Finally, my favorite position in the book, the one truly living up to the title:
According to Brian Harley, this informal club-game proceeded: 1.Rg3+ (!; Jumping over f3 and removing the d4-pawn en-passant) Kh7 2.Nxf8+ (!! yet another creative innovation). 2…Kh6 3.Rg6 mate.