For chess, and, specifically, the World Chess Championship, is, of course, what The Dinner Game is all about. Few authors have ever been as close to their subjects as I was to Short Nigel, but at all times I took pains to make sure that I was never less than scrupulously objective when it came to writing about the new British World Champion.
Throughout his noble and at times breathtakingly courageous struggle against the loathsome Communist reptile Garry Kasparov, I maintained a wholly unbiased stance, always striving to congratulate the slimy, hairy, untrustworthy brute Kasparov on the (admittedly very rare) occasions when he managed to make a half-decent move, and never failing to make it clear that Short Nigel only won some of the games by the skin of his teeth.
The game of chess has all the ingredients of a thriller by Jeffrey Archer; the two seated opponents, the hushed atmosphere, the 15-minute waits for anything to happen, the complete predictability, the indescribable tedium.
But in the hands of Arnold, it has been brought to life. Chapter One kicks off with a description of the editor of the Times being led to the platform to make the very first move.
'Shall I shuffle the cards?' he asks. I kindly point out to him that chess is in actual fact not played with cards. 'You don't have to tell me that,' he responds. 'It's played with little men, of course] So who's the nana who's forgotten the dice?'
After these initial hiccups, the game proper commences, and the Arnoldian powers of description are given full rein: 'Swashbuckling Short sat, noble and serene, across the board from the wretched sweating Commie bastard Kasparov, whose tremulous features at times seemed to be begging for mercy. But Short was to show him no pity, and, within a matter of minutes, he had forced Kasparov into a position where he would be forced to check- mate Short in a minimum number of moves - a brilliant technical double-bluff, as, up to that very last moment, Kasparov had been fooled into releasing a lot of his rapidly depleting energy into over-rating his opponent.
So much for Game One - a clear moral victory for Short Nigel, leaving the greasy foreigner Kasparov with only a paltry nominal 'win' on his hands. And I take no delight in describing the behaviour of Kasparov after that first game in all its gory, sullen detail: 'Well done, Nigel - good game]' he rasped treacherously, a warped smile defiling his already dusky features. But Short Nigel had been warned of the creepy Soviet's undermining tactics, and sensibly rushed out of the room before Kasparov's dirty traitor's hand could make any form of contact with his own, well-scrubbed British hand.
As the games steadily mounted up, it soon became clear that Short Nigel was sailing to a clear moral victory. There were those (largely in the pay of the KGB) who argued that, by the end, the dread Kasparov had won or drawn every single game the two of them had played, but this was simple number-crunching. As Short Nigel, an acknowledged mathematical genius, put it:
'If you add up all the games I played against Kasparov, and then take away all the games I lost or drew, and then you add 10 to the final figure, that gives me a clear 10- game victory overall. Frankly, I'm surprised so few people have noticed this. And then if you multiply that total by five - well that makes me a full 50 games ahead, even allowing for the games that I lost. And then if you multiply those 50 games by 10 - why, that makes me World Champion until the year 2020.'
Fascinating stuff, and the marvellous news is that a special remaindered edition, The Binner Game, will be among the Spectator special offers early next year.Reuse content