Book Review: Lisa a Chess Novel

This Book Review is written by my Tactics Time co-author Anthea Carson.

Note from Tim: Anthea is a very well read person.  She has read ALL the classics.  She was literally going “on and on” about this book for weeks.  She was constantly telling me things like “Jesse Kraai is a genius” and was super impressed about how well written and fascinating the book was. 

Lisa A Chess Novel by GM Jesse Krai

Anthea writes:

GM Jesse Kraai’s “Lisa, a Chess Novel” is a must-read for serious chess players.

As a novel, it is delightfully written, bringing to life some wonderful characters, with Dickens-like commentary on modern poverty and the intellectual vacuum that is typical suburban Amercian life.

Only in the urban wasteland of homelessness and little shacks and taverns was Lisa, the overweight, adolescent chess prodigy able to find sanctuary for her creativity and intellect, her fascination with chess.

Her mother doesn’t understand. She is one of the “chessless,” as Lisa calls them. Even if one doesn’t play chess this is an engaging look into the chess community, both adult and scholastic, the eccentric old Russian chess coach and some of his friends, and it is entertaining for the literary quality of the writing as well.

Jesse Krai Lisa

Jesse Kraai, at the Mechanics Chess Club in San Francisco, Photo from the Lisa Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/Lisaachessnovel

Chess is a mystery wrapped in an enigma, as they say, and this was the main concept I walked away from this book with. It made me feel like I was shut out of a mysterious club that I could never be a part of. I wanted to understand chess the way Igor, the crazy old, nearly homeless, Russian coach of Lisa does.

The fact that he was nearly homeless didn’t matter to Igor. He had wealth that it is hard for me to imagine, in his ivory tower of chess thought.

One thing that felt depressing about this book was the awareness that as a typical American I would not have access to the kind of culture that would produce a mind like Igor’s.

Lisa was someone I could identify with, although I never had the talent she does for the game. Her sense of isolation and loneliness, alleviated only by the pursuit of truth in the game was something I could relate to, however. And I thought, also typical of the American experience, the cultural vacuum.

Lisa, a chess novel, is literature. It belongs on the shelf next to Nabokov, Proust and Faulkner. But at the same time it has appeal on the same level as movies like Akeela and the Bee. It allows one a cursory look into the joys and mysteries of high level thought. It does not alienate the reader but beckons to come look further into this strange world of files and diagonals and hopping knights.

If you are a chess player, then this book is a must-read. It did improve my understanding of the game, perhaps just as much as any standard chess book I ever studied. Highly recommended.

But if you are a serious student of the game this is a future classic, absolutely have to have on the shelf-read. Instructional about chess principles in a way that doesn’t alienate the reader with long variations or anything like. With a diagram of the position, the reader then gets a chance to listen in on Lisa talk to her coach. Sort of a private chess lesson with Igor for the reader.

I love stumbling upon great writing, so I was happy to find Lisa, A Chess Novel, and you can find it on Amazon here:






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