Published by Farrar Straus and Giroux on February 25, 2014
Genres: Contemporary, Mystery/Thriller, Young Adult
Freshman Daniel Pratzer gets a chance to prove himself when the chess team invites him and his father to a weekend-long parent-child tournament. Daniel, thinking that his father is a novice, can’t understand why his teammates want so badly for them to participate. Then he finds out the truth: as a teen, his father was one of the most promising young players in America, but the pressures of the game pushed him too far, and he had to give up chess to save his own life and sanity. Now, thirty years later, Mr. Pratzer returns to the game to face down an old competitor and the same dark demons that lurk in the corners of a mind stretched by the demands of the game. Daniel was looking for acceptance—but the secrets he uncovers about his father will force him to make some surprising moves himself, in Grandmaster by David Klass.
Being one of the little gems hidden in the teen shelves at the library, Grandmaster is apparently one of the few books about chess that’s fiction and not a how to book or a book about the best moves to smack your opponents down in chess.
It is also a book that I have completely mixed feelings about – a book that I completely relate to as a chess player (I AM a girl, thank you very much), Grandmaster deals with the darker side of chess at the higher level competition in a thriller-like fashion. As the book goes from start to end and the tournament gets closer to the final round, you can literally tell from Klass’ writing that the tension among the competitors are growing along with the excitement at the possibility of seeing two rival grandmasters from several decades facing off each other in the final round.
Grandmaster did have a few imperfections, much as Klass’ writing was engrossing and highly interesting – there were quite a few clichés and stereotypes, and the majority of the characters were so annoying, I had some tendency to not finish the book simply because of the characters.
Everyone makes this particular tournament a whoppingly huge deal and we have players from all walks of life, particularly the extremely snobby ones from the rich and wealthy. Of all the rounds Klass talks about, almost all of the players faced someone snobby – every once in a blue moon there would be a player who was at the very least friendly.
Most of the characters are extremely competitive and have a temper of sorts – Dr. Chisolm and Mr. Kinney throw insults at Grandmaster Pratzer, and Brad and Eric (the stereotypes of playboy and lazy bum superstar) make fun of Daniel. Mr. Kinney in particularly is the most competitive of all and probably the next Christian Grey with the way he orders people around – don’t get me started on that.
And each time the characters lose, all of them (aside from Daniel) are literally on the verge of losing control. From stomping out, turning angrily red, huffing and puffing – Klass might even be sending a subtle message about having good sportsmanship.
As the tournament and the book draws to a close, the book does get better – the characters finally get their act together and make some changes (though they don’t change so much that it becomes unrealistic). The ending is a happily ever after, a nice comparison to the high stakes and pressures of a chess tournament that Klass reveals throughout.
If you’re up against a strong player get him off the book and make him think for himself.