The Theory and Practice of Gamesmanship, by Stephen Potter

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The Independent Culture

Most people understand the concept of gamesmanship, but how many these days know who coined the word, let alone have read the book that popularised it?

Stephen Potter's humorous classic, subtitled "The Art of Winning Games Without Actually Cheating", was first published in 1947, but this reissue of his slim but influential volume contains many ideas that seem remarkably modern. Take "Number Three of the General Principles of Gamesmanship: 'Play against your opponent's tempo'. This is one of the oldest of gambits, and is now almost entirely used in the form 'My slow to your fast'. At golf especially, against a player who makes a great deal of 'wanting to get on with the game', the technique is (1) to agree (Jeffreys always adds here 'as long as we don't hurry on the shot'); (2) to hold things up by 15 or 20 disguised pauses."

And Potter's suggestions on how to goad a steady player into a rush of blood to the head –"for, he remembers, hadn't he once been chaffed for breaking a window with a cricket ball while he was on holiday at Whitby" – are irresistibly reminiscent of Freddie Flintoff's injunction to West Indies fast bowler Tino Best to "mind the windows, Tino", causing the latter to charge down the wicket next ball to be stumped by yards. Potter pioneered the use of cod footnotes and spuriously scientific-looking charts and diagrams, and his deadpan humour is often bolstered by the addition of a qualifying clause, such as when, discussing poker, he states: "I do believe that a trace of American accent – West Coast – casts a small shadow of apprehension over the minds of English players."

In an earlier career as a lecturer in English literature, Potter wrote a critical appraisal of D. H. Lawrence's work, in which an unfortunate typographical error rendered one chapter heading as "Sex and Sardinia" rather than the intended "Sea and Sardinia". The publisher's press release for this reissue of Gamesmanship claims that Potter "lived in Aldeborough, Sussex", as opposed to his real home of Aldeburgh, Suffolk.

I suspect both cock-ups would have amused him as much as this book amused me.

Published in hardback by Elliott & Thompson, £9.99