World chess champ Manguel Pena--a Filipino-American in Dublin for a title match--is pure genius but a creep, manipulating chessmen, opponents, and women with the same fanatic need to win. But into each game random factors must fall: lovely Annette intoxicates him (can this be love, or just the liquor store she owns?), while sexy, newsy Nikki seduces him and blabs all in her articles. When Nikki is gunned down, Pena's fumbling revenge gambit ends with him and Annette snatched and held hostage by the IRA--and Pena finds his strategic brilliance no match for murderous dolts with guns; in violence he discovers what real life is all about. Against the background of real-McCoy chessboard tension and assorted oddball journalists, corrupt politicians, and chess groupies, Pena's passage from lout to lover is portrayed with gusto and depth, and the concept of Games--from checkmates to bedmates to ""Meet our demands or we'll kill the hostages""--gets a good workout. But scenic Yeats-country picnics and clumsy action scenes muddy the moves, and, given such richness of material, it's a pity Keckhut had to crank it through an assembly-line plot.