The Works of Edgar Allan Poe — Volume 1

By Edgar Allan Poe

Page 110

take an apparently unaccountable delight in it, while eschewing
chess as frivolous. Beyond doubt there is nothing of a similar nature
so greatly tasking the faculty of analysis. The best chess-player in
Christendom _may_ be little more than the best player of chess; but
proficiency in whist implies capacity for success in all those more
important undertakings where mind struggles with mind. When I say
proficiency, I mean that perfection in the game which includes a
comprehension of _all_ the sources whence legitimate advantage may be
derived. These are not only manifold but multiform, and lie frequently
among recesses of thought altogether inaccessible to the ordinary
understanding. To observe attentively is to remember distinctly; and,
so far, the concentrative chess-player will do very well at whist; while
the rules of Hoyle (themselves based upon the mere mechanism of the
game) are sufficiently and generally comprehensible. Thus to have a
retentive memory, and to proceed by "the book," are points commonly
regarded as the sum total of good playing. But it is in matters beyond
the limits of mere rule that the skill of the analyst is evinced. He
makes, in silence, a host of observations and inferences. So, perhaps,
do his companions; and the difference in the extent of the information
obtained, lies not so much in the validity of the inference as in the
quality of the observation. The necessary knowledge is that of _what_ to
observe. Our player confines himself not at all; nor, because the game
is the object, does he reject deductions from things external to the
game. He examines the countenance of his partner, comparing it carefully
with that of each of his opponents. He considers the mode of assorting
the cards in each hand; often counting trump by trump, and honor by
honor, through the glances bestowed by their holders upon each. He notes
every variation of face as the play progresses, gathering a fund
of thought from the differences in the expression of certainty, of
surprise, of triumph, or of chagrin. From the manner of gathering up
a trick he judges whether the person taking it can make another in the
suit. He recognises what is played through feint, by the air with
which it is thrown upon the table. A casual or inadvertent word; the
accidental dropping or turning of a card, with the accompanying anxiety
or carelessness in regard to its concealment; the counting of the
tricks, with the order of their arrangement; embarrassment, hesitation,
eagerness or trepidation--all afford, to his apparently intuitive
perception, indications of the true state of affairs. The first two
or three rounds having been

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