As many of you know, I have a collection of about 1000 chess books and am particularly interested in chess books on the history of the game and on teaching young players. To that end, I will be starting to put up reviews sometime in the next few weeks/months. If anyone is interested in writing a review for the site, please let me know.
Not all stories need 100,000 words. McFarland Books recognized this and has begun to expand past the large thorough biographies they are known for publishing into historical works that examine an idea, theme, or tournament history. Their most recent book – The Gijon International Chess Tournaments, 1944 – 1965: A History with Biographies and 213 Games by Pedro Mendez Castedo and Luis Mendez Castedo, is a fine example of the latter.
As the title suggests, the Gijon Tournaments were held in the Asturian region of Spain, from 1944 to 1965. These events started by the Casino de La Union chess club and the City Council festivities committee. While the Second World War was still raging throughout most of Europe, Spain which had recently been involved in its own civil war, was not as heavily involved as most of the European nations with the war. As such, they were in the enviable position of being able to have events promoting their town and region. (This would be continued by such Spanish regions as Montilla, which had stronger, but a much shorter run of tournaments in the 1970s.)
The first event brought to the region: Alexander Alekhine- the world champion in the 1940’s, Antonio Medina- the Spanish champion, and Arturo Pomar- child prodigy. They received travel expenses, free accommodation, and a fee, plus prizes to be won. They played against six of the best local players. Even though he was not the great player he once was, Alekhine still won the event with he and Medina finishing one and a half points ahead of the field. This pattern for the tournament would continue for the next twenty – one years with a few nonlocal players, often Dutch, coming to play against the best local competition. The foreign players often won the event, including Max Euwe who won in 1951. However, in 1945 and 1948 the local player Antonio Rico Gonzalez won the event. He was also the only local player to compete in all 11 of the events (the annual event had a small break in 1952 and 1953 and a large break from 1956 to 1965.)
The book, not surprisingly, is divided into a chapter for each tournament. The chapter thoughts with both the Final Crosstable and the round by round individual scores. This is a great addition that is missing from too many books lately, though this reviewer would prefer a running total rather than just how the player did each round. This was followed by a brief overview of the tournament and then a short profile of the winner of the event. When Rico Gonzalez won for the second time in 1948, the authors chose to highlight Manuel Golmayo de la Torriente, the best Spanish player during the first third of the twentieth century. For each tournament, a game won by the event champion is included.
At this point, the games of each year are then highlighted. The first few games are annotated and usually highlight the winner’s performance. The annotations seem to come from the authors but are generally unattributed, save when they are taken from another source. For example, Bent Larsen won the tournament in 1956 and put one of these games in his first game collection book. Most of the games are not annotated and only a few are given for each event. It is unclear if this is all that could be found or if the authors chose their unannotated selections based on some criteria.
The typical appendices and indexes have been included. The most noteworthy being a brief biographical summary of everyone who participated in the events. Many of the players from other countries were IMs or GMs and many of the local players were untitled, but probably of master/expert strength based on the various city and regional trophies they had won.
Though a brief book, that could have a few more games or a bit longer biographical information, the book does a nice job covering the eleven tournaments and highlighting the chess history of the Asturias region. It is a nice history that can be enjoyed by all.
This book can be purchased at www.mcfarlandbooks.com or by calling 800 - 253 - 2187.
Fred Reinfeld: The Man Who Taught America Chess with 282 Games by Alex Dunne, who is the correspondence chess director for U S Chess. Dunne’s lightly researched book attempts to make two main arguments. The first is that Reinfeld was an incredibly prolific author and the second is that he was much stronger than given credit for – a top American player, just below Reuben Fine and Samuel Reshevsky.
Dunne’s attempt to prove his first point is certainly successful. Simply providing the bibliography of Reinfeld’s work is seven double-column pages long (five for chess books and two for non-chess books). Especially in the last few chapters, Dunne also cites these references and provides a brief overview of the book. Sometimes he includes a bit from a contemporary review. Dunne also cites many of the articles that Reinfeld wrote, especially those appearing in Chess Review. Dunne uses many block quotes and oddly more frequently selects text from the articles than from the books that Reinfeld is better known for writing.
Dunne is unable to demonstrate that Reinfeld was one of the top three or even five strongest in US chess. As Dunne notes (p. 122), this raking was determined by Reinfeld and two others using a system that was like the one used by the U. S. Lawn Tennis Association. Granted, the context of Reinfeld’s games occurred during the Great Depression and the Second World War (1929 – 1945), when there was not an official or even unofficial rating system in place. However, if the included score tables, a wonderful addition that is too often ignored, are carefully examined it does not support ranking Reinfeld within the top three to 5 players.
Reinfeld won a few Marshall Club Championships, but at the time these tournaments were organized so each player had several days to prepare for the next opponent. While these were strong events, only about half the top players in the city participated because the other half were playing at the rival Manhattan Club Championship. He also did well in a few regional invitationals, such as the Ventor City events and the New York State Championship; but when the nation’s top players participated, he did not do as well. He played in two U.S. Championships and the event to determine the 1933 Olympiad team, but he didn’t finish in the top half of any of these competitions.
The book is informative but does not provide much historical or local context surrounding Reinfeld’s life, or about many of the strong players he encountered along the way. There are some errors in the provided information, such as that the Manhattan Chess Club was the oldest club in the country (p. 6), but the Mechanics Institute Chess Club in San Francisco was founded before the Civil War. Such minor errors do not substantively take away any understanding of Reinfeld strength as a player or writer, and Dunne’s tight focus on Reinfeld’s writings, explain why there is not much more material about the enthralling New York chess scene Reinfeld experienced during the first half of the twentieth century.
The book lacks many of the appendices that are typically expected for this type of publication. Most notably is the lack of a full bibliography. Notes are often part of the text or included in parenthetical expressions. Most of Dunne’s citations come from the books that Reinfeld edited / wrote, or from reviews of these books, so perhaps it’s understandable if a full bibliography was viewed as not providing additional value.
In conclusion, the book provides a nice introduction to Reinfeld and certainly demonstrates that he was an extremely prolific author. It also supports that Reinfeld was a strong player, though not necessarily that “he ranked just below Reuben Fine and Samuel Reshevsky.” (Back cover) Still, even if Dunne does not prove this point, he does include many interesting games and provides a good introduction to the life of Reinfeld, and so his book is recommended.
This book can be purchased on line at www.mcfarlandbooks.com or by calling 800 – 253 – 2187.
Andy Soltis’ new book, Tal, Petrosian, Spassky and Korchnoi: A Chess Multibiography with 207 Games explores the lives of four of the top Soviet chess players during the Fischer era.
This book is a group biography with less focus on the entirety of an individual player’s life, but rather includes some of the chess highlights within the context of their interactions. There is a focus on the years 1958 to 1972, though Soltis provides a brief look at each player’s childhood. For the most part these were difficult times, greatly affected by World War II and there are few resources available to add the “color commentary” that is common throughout the book.
Though the book follows their respective careers chronologically, there are frequent quotes where the players or family members are looking back. In a chapter describing where their careers were headed at the end of the 1950’s, we hear Tal’s future first wife Sally comment “he (Tal) did not seem like a lady killer” (p. 137) and Spassky reflects “It turns out I’m untalented (referring to his “career” choice of journalism).” (p. 137) Since all four players participated in many tournaments throughout the 1960’s, it would be unreasonable to attempt to include comprehensive coverage of their tournament play. Only the most important events have more than a single game covered. These tend to be World Championship games, with the 1966 and 1969 matches examined more closely since they involve both Spassky and Petrosian.
As with any work involving the top players of this era, it would have been impossible to ignore Bobby Fischer. He is mentioned in passing through the book but becomes a key figure in the last couple of chapters. During this time Fisher only played Petrosian in the Candidates Matches and Spassky in the World Championship match. However, Soltis continues to show the activities of all 4 of these top players, focusing on how they impacted each other and their contributions and reactions to Spassky’s eventual capitulation.
There are many fun and engaging anecdotes throughout the book. The reader gets a wonderful sense of the players as people. Some of the stories shared are well known, such as Tal’s “bathtub” game. Others, such as Petrosian’s response as to why he didn’t play the King’s Gambit, are new and funny tidbits with the response being: “Then I would have to feed my children through another profession.” (p. 92) Unlike most authors, when there are multiple versions of an event, Soltis recounts the variations and then leaves the reader to decide what happened. An example of this is when Soltis explores why Tal, a former World Champion, did not play in the 38th U.S.S.R. championship, being held in his home town of Riga. (p. 299 - 300) Was it because of health issues, revenge for Tal considering becoming Georgian, or for not moving to Moscow. Other times, Soltis directly disputes material that appears in the memoirs of these titled players. One example is that in Korchnoi’s memoir he argues that Petrosian “gave up chess” and pursued his education after he became World Champion, but Soltis demonstrates that Petrosian not played, but did so well, winning the Piatigorsky Cup.
Having over 10,000 games to choose from, Soltis chooses just 207 for the book. By being selective, he provides interesting and instructive games with a great deal of analysis. He chooses not to use computer generated lines of analysis but a mix of his own lines of analysis, text explanations that the reader can apply to his own games, color commentary of what occurred during the game, and even later improvements that were found by others. A fine example of this is the 12th game of the Petrosian – Spassky 1966 World Championship match on p. 242 – 3.
The back matter for this book has the traditional indexes on opponent and openings as well as the general index, and two less common appendices. The best, and most substantial appendix is a timeline that covers the activities of all four players throughout there lives, though there are only 10 entries after 1980, mostly covering the death of three of players (Spassky is still alive.) The only substantive negative in the backmatter is the lack of the list of used websites in the bibliography, forcing the reader to go through endnotes to find them, and there are more than a few.
Though it is hardly a conclusive biography of any of these players and only covers their interactions over approximately 20 years, the book is an excellent narrative history of the trials and tribulations for these four players, providing a window for their thoughts and evolution of who they were as players and men. Even better, his collection of games is interesting and well annotated. For these two reasons, this book is heartily recommended.
This book can be purchased on line at www.mcfarlandbooks.com or by calling 800 – 253 – 2187.
Alan McGowan’s Kurt Richter: A Chess Biography with 499 Games examines the life and times of the often forgotten about European master. The book highlights not only Richter’s career, but also the German chess culture and the effect that the two world wars had on his play.
McGowan divides Richter’s life into 9 parts. All 9 are basically the same in style and substance, which has a few pictures, sometimes not of Richter, but those who knew or worked with him. Most of each chapter is a group of, usually, well annotated games that are annotated from contemporary sources and a diagram or two. Most of the games are from tournaments and a cross table is provided for those tournaments.
With regards to content, the books 9 parts can best be divided into three sections. Parts 1 and 2 – covering Richter’s time as an up and coming chess player. Parts 3 to 5 cover the majority of Richter’s playing career, which occurred during the 1930s. The last section, parts 6 to 9, deal with Richter during the war and his last two decades.
McGowan passes through Richter’s childhood and effects of World War I on Richter in less than a page. How much these years affected Richter is entirely unclear and though they probably did affect him in some ways not explored in the text, but it is not surprising, given the two wars and over a century of time, to find material on Richter’s youth. Richter’s experience at the Berlin Championships is also highlighted for the first time in 1921. He would play in 21 of these over the next 33 years. The second part highlights Richter becoming a master, his starting work as an editor for various chess books and his first international masters’ tournament where he won 5, lost 5, and tied 1, with his most notable win being against Grunfeld, and his losses included a lost to Bogoljubow and Samisch, who came in first and second respectively.
More than half of the book’s text is in this next section of three parts which covers the 1930s. The 1930s started off great, with Richter winning the Wilmersdorf Jubiliee in January of 1930. The following year, he represented Germany in the 1931 Prague Olympiad. Shortly after the cover of the Prague tournament is one of the infrequent sections, highlighting some aspect of Richter’s personality. These ae often drawn from correspondence, such as in this brief section on draws, when Richter wrote “To sum up: nothing against really hard-fought draws and nothing against scientifically serious draws, but everything against short, insipid, so called “games“ which have DRAW! Written all over them from start to finish. “ (p. 76) In 1936, Richter led the German team at the unofficial Olympiad in Munich (Boooljubow participated in the Nottingham tournament that conflicted with this event), and had a fine score of +8-2=8, losing to Keres and drawing Pirc, Stahlberg, Maroczy, and Eliskases, along with several others.
The third and final section focuses on the last half of Rickter’s life, where geopolitical forces, such as the Second World War and the Cold War greatly effect Richter’s tournament options. Richter’s service in the war and even his time in a Russian prisoner of war camp is very lightly treated, though again, one cannot help but wonder about a lack of resources given the records kept during and just after the war. FIDE named Richter an International Master (IM) in 1950, but Richter never played in a major event after earning this title. Of course, Richter had grave concerns, which he voiced in correspondence, about it being too easy for players to earn titles. Though he was not an avid player during his last two decades, he continued to play in the Berlin Championship, doing so for the last time in 1964, as well as writing and editing.
As is typical, the Appendices provide a great deal of information. The appendices start with over 130 very lightly annotated games, many of which are not in chessgames.com (as of November 23, 2018). These games are followed by almost 40 pages worth of analysis on the openings played by Richter. The opening analysis is rather an original appendix. The other appendix, a list of tournament and match results, is much more common, but nonetheless, nicely done.
All and all, this is a well-researched monograph that does a nice job of introducing the reader to all aspects of his life, especially those before the Second World War.
This book can be purchased on line at www.mcfarlandbooks.com or by calling 800 – 253 – 2187.
Neumann, Hirschfeld and Suhle: 19th Century Berlin Chess Biographies with 711 Games by Hans Renette and Fabrizio Zavatarelli is the most recent in McFarland’s coverage of nineteenth century European chess players. Renette and Zavatarelli explicitly, and successfully, set out to explore Berlin Chess through its players.
The book is broken into four sections: including mini-biographies and in-depth coverage of Ludwig Neumann, Philipp Martin Hirschfeld, and Carl Friedrich Berthold Suhle. The book opens with a short section of mini-biographies covering chess in Berlin until 1860. Descriptions of the Berliner Schachgesellschaft starts with its founding in 1827. This small group of essays leaves the reader with the feeling that the Berlin chess players were one of the strongest groups in Europe, probably stronger than every city except London and Paris, and was a fairly close-knit group that played regularly and even worked on openings and strategies together.
The first player to get solo coverage is that of Suhle. He was a teacher of philosophy who lived with his wife and family in Berlin during the late 1850s to late 1860s. His games are covered with detailed analysis, usually from German magazines of the time, such Neue Berliner Schachzeitung especially with further author’s comments at the end. Many of Suhle’s games are “off-hand” games that are not from tournaments or matches. However, Suhle’s best performance was in an 8-game match with Adolf Anderssen that ended in a draw.
The focus then shifts to Hirschfield who, unlike the academic Suhle, came to Berlin as a businessman representing his family’s trading company. His skill improved rapidly by playing regularly at the clubs of Berlin. Because of his family’s business he often traveled and this allowed him to face a wider variety of opponents than if he had remained in Berlin, but it also means many more games are lost to history. His best results were drawn matches with Ignaz Kolisch while they were in Paris.
Neumann’s coverage, the only section written by Renette, focuses primarily on the years from 1860 – 1872. Newman's family enjoyed the game, but he also learned from books, a far less common practice in the nineteenth century than today, as his family was in the book trade. The theme of this section is one of improvement and what might have been. The best example of improvement can be seen during his time in medical school. Upon his arrival in Berlin to begin training, he was initially weaker than Suhle and Hirschfield, but would eventually have a much stronger career. He even finished tied for third with Joseph Blackburne in the 1870 Baden – Baden tournament. During this event he twice defeated tournament champion Anderssen, with whom he had played a long series of matches in 1863. He would have won the tournament if not for his two losses to William Steinitz, who came in second and would eventually become World Champion.
As for “what might have been,” for unknown reasons Neumann had suffered a mental break in 1862 – 3 and had spend time in the mountains away from Berlin, for his health. Then, while in Paris, where he had stayed after the 1867 International Paris Chess Tournament (he came in 4th in the event), he had a psychotic episode. Renette is never able to provide a conclusive argument for the break, but after some time in an asylum, Neumann’s mental health is improved, and he is able to participate, and do well, in the aforementioned Baden-Baden tournament. Tragically, by late 1872 – early 1873, Neumann was again in an asylum and he would be in and out of mental hospitals until his passing on February 16, 1881.
Unlike most McFarland publications, there is not a large set of Appendices. The first appendix is the only one of substance, being a mini-biography of Bernhard von Guretsky-Cornitz, who had played all three of the highlighted players. His other games and problems are included in this section. Though, there wasn’t enough material to add him as a section in the main part of the book, his games and life story are a great example of the author’s interest in the chess culture of the period. The additional back matter, such as bibliographies, are standard in quality and content but it lacks an index of opponents which would have helped the reader better understand the interactions of the players with each other and the other strong players in Berlin during this time.
The book does a nice job of combining the chess culture of the area and time with the players who best represented that era. In this way, it is a nice continuation to the authors’ previous work, as well as Tim Harding’s Eminent Victorian Chess Players. The games, far from perfect, are lively and engaging - full of fun, if not necessarily the most strategic, gambits and sacrifices. All in all, an interesting and enjoyable read.
This book can be purchased on line at www.mcfarlandbooks.com or by calling 800-253-2187.
Tim Harding’s new book British Chess Literature to 1914: A Handbook for Historians highlights noted chess columns, magazines, and even books from before the First World War. As a handbook, it strives to be not only a research tool, but also to serve as an example of how one historian works. The end date of 1914 is chosen because ‘the outbreak of the first World War, after which there are significant technological and cultural changes.
Harding breaks the literature into three distinct types:
1) chess columns in non-chess publications – both magazine and newspaper
2) chess magazines
3) chess books
Harding points out that chess notation gives chess games a unique advantage in the press, since every action can be explained in detail. Harding opens with coverage of the founder of the Liverpool Mercury and first chess column editor, Egerton Smith, in 1813. He jumps to the more famous: George Walker, first to establish a long-running column of games and news and Howard Staunton, who becomes chess editor of the Illustrated London News in 1845. He then moves into the chess column “Golden Age” from 1860 to 1885. Harding highlights the most well-known columns, usually those written by the strongest players, such as William Steinitz and Henry Bird. Bird stands out because his columns could easily be tailored to any paper and became the first syndicated column. The columns after the “Golden Age” have a steep increase in their syndication levels and variety declined as adept, well–known columnists such as Leopold Hoffer and Amos Burn became more widely distributed.
The magazine section has two chapters, with one on magazines in general and the other focusing on The Chess Player’s Chronicle, even though the events in both chapters happen concurrently. The Philidorian, is covered in some detail as it is the first chess magazine in the English language, though not the first over-all. Many of the magazines are mentioned briefly because they were small runs that likely never made a profit. As an example of the long, convoluted, and “extremely complicated” history of a more prominent magazine, Harding uses the Chess Player’s Chronicle from 1863 as a case study. He shows how a magazine could evolve over time with an editor and as editors changed the magazine could, and often did, change substantially in tone and material.
The third section (Chapter 7) focuses on British chess books, starting back with the earliest works at the end of the fifteenth century. He quickly moves to the era of Philador in the eighteenth century and the initial philosophical development of using strategy. Building on this foundation, Sarratt and Cochrane’s Treatises target more advanced players and strategy development. The trend of more in-depth study continued to build in to the nineteenth century with game collections, opening manuals, books of problems to solve, and study texts. Interestingly, Harding argues correctly, that “old chess books are principally of value for what they can tell us about the mentalities of the past, rather than for what they can tell us about the game itself.” (p. 231) While undoubtedly true, he fails to mention the value of many of these games for entertainment and usefulness as teaching tools for beginners.
The final chapter, “On Doing Chess History Today”, is certainly appropriate for this book but probably could also appear in various McFarland monographs. For a chess historian not focused on British history, it might be the best chapter of the book. It’s entertaining to read and has a wealth of information on the many tasks of a historian, like working in databases and visiting major chess collections in libraries, such as the White Collection in Cleveland, Ohio. It is unfortunate, though understandable, that there is not more material on the major non-English speaking library collections, such as those at the Koninklijke Bibliotheek in the Netherlands.
As with most McFarland publications, there is an ample set of Appendices. The first, and by far the most significant one, is the annotated list of British and Irish Chess columns to 1914 that is based largely off Whyld’s research. It sets out to correct various errors and expand on Whyld’s work. The other appendices are primarily short lists of corrections/amendments for such books as Jeremy Gaige’s Chess Personalia. The additional back matter, such as the indexes are standard in quality and content.
Research guides typically provide little of interest to a reader not focused on the specific field. In this case, Harding not only provides a detailed research guide but also a resource that has value across many sub-genres within chess history and is enjoyable to read, especially chapter eight. For these reasons, it can be highly recommended for researchers across many chess history sub-fields.
This book can be purchased on line at www.mcfarlandpub.com or by calling 800-253-2187.
Chess International Titleholders, 1950 – 2016 by Gino Di Felice is the most recent in a long list of reference books compiled by Felice. These guides have taken various forms over the years, most notably, Felice’s fine 15 volume series Chess Results. This work aims to collect the 18,000 plus players who have earned “over the board” FIDE (Federation Internationale de Echecs) titles into a single reference.
The book lists all names in alphabetical order and where possible: players full name, federation, date and place of birth, date and place of death, title, year awarded, and peak rating. Federations are listed by their FIDE country code and those countries no longer in existence are still listed. When there was no rating list or the players peak rating was less than their best five year average, than the five year average was given. While it would be nice to have more information, such as the tournament where a title was gained, but this would have made the book unwieldy as it is already 369 pages. A chapter explaining the various qualifications that are necessary for a title and how these qualifications may have changed over time would have been an interesting addition without extending the page-count excessively.
As with any reference book, the current standard is whether the book is more useful than looking information up on line. When a person is looking for just the most basic biographical sketch such as when a player was titled, frequently the case for journalists mentioning a specific player, then this book will be quite helpful.
This book can be purchased on line at www.mcfarlandpub.com or by calling 800-253-2187.
McFarland’s most recent contribution to chess literature is A World of Chess: Its Development and Variations through Centuries and Civilizations by Jean-Louis Cazaux and Rick Knowlton. This book is based on Cazaux’s French book L’Odyssee des Jeux d’Echecs, published in 2010.
The first five parts of the book are categorized by the geographic regions of the Muslim World, India, China, Japan, and Europe. The presentation style for each region is the same, starting with an introduction that focuses on the main game, such as Shatranj in the Muslim world, or Shogi in the Japanese region. For some of the main games, such as Xianqi, a few variants are included. For each game, the materials used are described, rules explained, and some context is discussed. Throughout each section there are helpful graphics, a few photographs, but many diagrams of the pieces and games. It should be noted that not all games have clear and standardized rules. Also, some are quite impractical for playing - Taikyoku Shogi for instance, has a board made up of 1296 squares and has 804 pieces!
Part six is “Chess Out of the Box” and highlights many of the new variations based on traditional chess that have begun to appear in popular culture. Many of these variations include numerous types of fairy pieces, which is a term used for numerous made-up pieces such as couriers, fools, elephants, or wildebeests. Other variations venture further afield altering the rules of play, such as the popular Chess 960, or even altering the board to be round or hexagonal. Some very “far out” forms, such as the Klingon version, Klin Zha, are included. Much as in the previous sections, each type of chess has historical or literary context and the rules for each game.
The seventh part is a historical essay on “The Origins of Chess.” This essay on the origins of chess and the search for a common ancestor. First, Cazaux examines the Persian, European, and Chinese legends. Then he takes on the mistaken notion, which has been repeated often since H. J. R. Murray’s A History of Chess (1913) first presented the idea, that chess comes from the game of “Four-Handed Chaturanga”. Finally, Cazaux attempts to review what we can learn about the origin of chess from ancient texts, archeology, philology and nomenclature, and game structure. Unfortunately, his conclusion is that the question is currently unanswerable. While he is undoubtedly right, it is rather unsatisfying when historical research is unable to determine a definitive answer.
The backmatter is extremely limited, but high quality. The brief timeline does a good job of highlighting the most important dates and often connecting them to literary works. The endnotes are thorough, adding depth and many additional “fun” pieces of extraneous information not necessary to the text. This includes how to pronounce many of the words; while this information might have been more useful to the reader if included in the text, it also would have broken the flow of the narrative. The bibliography is thorough and the index provides the usual information, including which pages have illustrations for the entry. This is particularly useful, given that there are over 400 illustrations.
Though devotees of a specific chess version may be disappointed their version of choice does not receive the coverage they would like, most readers will find a thoroughly researched work that not only introduces a wide variety of chess variants, but will act as a wonderful and unique reference to the field of chess and game history.
This book may be ordered from McFarland Publishing at www.mcfarlandbooks.com or (800) 253 – 2187.
The first Women’s World Champion, Vera Menchik, has received a mild amount of attention for her successes against male players in the 1930s and 1940s and for being the first women’s world champion. Though several nonfiction books have been written about her, McFarland’s Vera Menchik: A Biography of the First Women’s World Chess Champion, with 350 Games by Robert B. Tanner, is the first serious scholarly work in English. The work, though mostly focusing on her games, includes a brief biography and a short prologue about women’s chess pre – Vera Menchik and an epilogue describing the more recent involvements of women’s chess in the post-Menchik world.
“A Biographical Sketch” starts the book. It traces Menchik from her birth in Moscow, in 1906, through the divorce of her parents and her move to England in 1921 in less than a page. Naturally shy and not speaking much English, she threw herself into chess and went from about a ‘C’ player in 1923 to London Girls’ Champion in 1926. In 1927, she won the Women’s World Championship, in London. In 1929, she was invited to play in Carlsbad, one of the strongest tournaments of the decade, though she met with some scorn, including the start of the “Vera Menchik” club for those that lost or drew to her. She played regularly across Europe in the 1930s and remained Women’s World Champion until her death on June 26, 1944 from a V-1 rocket being dropped on her London home in the Second World War.
The next part of the book is the most substantive. Here, rather than taking a purely chronological approach to studying her games, Tanner focuses on the Women’s Championship games separately from the regular tournament games. Both sections of game include standing charts, usually in round robin style, and all available games with comments, mostly contemporaneous ones, but occasionally also from the author, who is a National Master.
The third part focuses on her writing, of which there is unfortunately, very little. Still, we get to see her thinking on openings, endgames, and even some chess politics, as she and Baruch Wood debated the role of the British Chess Federation during the Second World War. The appendices and etcetera make up the fourth section of the book. They are largely standard listings of opponents, result tables, openings, and other such quick reference materials. Some of the more unusual additions include appendices listing “The Vera Menchik Club” members, a brief description of the use of the V-1 flying bomb, and one including several obituaries.
As a biography, it is a bit disappointing, lacking much of the “connective tissue” that was her life. The book, however, is an excellent game collection, containing far more games than any previous collection. Please note that many of the games now accessible on chessgames.com were not available for inclusion in this text, as they were added to the site after the book was published.
This book may be ordered from McFarland Publishing at www.mcfarlandbooks.com or (800) 253 – 2187
Olimpiu G. Urcan and John S. Hilbert, two of Mcfarland’s most popular chess authors have come together to write W. H. K. Pollock: A Chess Biography with 523 Games. This book is the fourth recent McFarland book about a player in the Sixth American Chess Congress and also contains the well-structured coverage delivered in the other books and Hilbert’s previous biographies. The content is presented in 3 parts: Life and Chess Career (1859-1896); Games 1-518; and Appendices, Bibliography, Indices.
The first part is a narrative of almost 200 pages, sharing Pollock’s life and contributions to chess. It opens with a brief overview of his family, including grandparents, and the first few years of his life. The narrative dives into Pollock’s first real chess efforts, occurring in Dublin, Ireland, then flows into his time playing throughout England. Most of the section focuses on Pollock’s time in North America, covering the Sixth American Chess Congress in 1889 until just before the 1895 Hastings tournament. The authors conclude with a brief chapter about his early death from complications of tuberculosis, lamenting what might have been if he had lived longer.
The second part is a collection of 518 games of various types – tournament, match, informal, simultaneous, group, and handicapped. Like in most McFarland books, this large collection of games is presented in chronological order. Uniquely, the games are subdivided into thirteen sections grouped within a time-range. This makes finding games quicker and easier as researchers, and probably also for more casual readers, routinely flip back and forth between the narrative text and the detailed games. The games are thoroughly analyzed, with most of the analysis coming from contemporary sources. However, Amos Burn’s biography (also a McFarland publication) by Richard Forster is cited for a few games. Specialized chess software, such as Fritz 15, Houdini 3, and Rybka 3, were also used by the authors for analysis but it is unclear which program, was used to analyze specific games.
The third, and final part, includes 13 Appendices with a wide-range of content, the bibliography, and 5 indices to assist readers in locating specific games. The appendices’ coverage runs from newspaper obituaries to Pollock’s review of “The Modern Chess Instructor,” by William Steinitz. The bibliography cites, as is often the case in 19th century biographies, many newspapers. During this time there were many more newspapers in print and much more chess coverage in their pages. The books, journals, and digital repositories, are the sources a reader would expect to see in this work.
Major detractions cannot reasonably be made, but there are a few minor critiques. Including progressive score tables, at least for his major events such as the Sixth American Congress in 1889 and Hastings in 1895, would have been nice. How a player is doing in a tournament up to the point of the game is going to likely effect how he plays that game, and so it is something reader should be able to access easily if possible. More substantially, the narrative part has a surprisingly high number of games / game segments that are repeated in the detailed game part, introducing the unnecessary risk of discrepancies. For instance, in the match against Eugene Delmar, a segment of the first game is given in text with a quote from William Steinitz. In the game section, the quote is repeated, but with an odd and meaningless change – quoted on page 106 with “… or his ...” and then on page 361 the words change to “… and the …”. Finally, there are a tremendous number of blocked quotes, covering more pages than the narrative in some chapters.
Though there are minor quibbles, this biography, like many of their previous works, helps to expand our knowledge of European and American chess throughout the late 19th century. More significantly, the book provides the chess community with many unindexed games from an exciting and creative player.
This book may be ordered from McFarland Publishing at www.mcfarlandpub.com or (800) 253 – 2187.
Ignaz Kolisch is more apt to make a list of forgotten world-class players, despite his sharply aggressive style of play and his involvement in the chess community as a player and sponsor. What little is remembered seems to be his pension for extremely sharp-tactical play and that he became extremely rich, eventually buying himself the title of Baron. Fabrizio Zavatarelli's Ignaz Kolisch: The Life and Chess Career attempts to highlight not only Kolisch’s exciting and imaginative play, but also demonstrate that chess helped him to become a noted financier.
Little is known about Kolisch’s early life, so the reader gets to his games before page ten. Most of the games included in the book, 224 out of 324 in total, take place between a match with Adolph Anderson in April, 1860 and a match with Samuel Rosenthal in November, 1864. In reviewing Kolisch’s various matches, Zavatarelli is able to introduce the reader to many of the European players of the 1860s, such as Anderson, Thomas Worrall, Louis Paulsen, and Rosenthal. The Paulsen match is by far the longest and receives, not surprisingly, the most substantial coverage. There were thirty-one games played in this ultimately drawn match. It was agreed that the first player to ten wins would be the victor of the match. However, the players were similarly skilled so in the end, Paulsen had a small lead with 7 wins, 6 losses, and 18 draws.
All of the games included are covered in an interesting and instructive way. The analysis opens with annotations coming from contemporary sources. Then, at the end of each game there’s a section called More Focus, and Zavatarelli (with the help of Fritz 11) adds a few more notes, mostly explanations of tactical shots that were overlooked by the players. Finally, almost all of the games contain a diagram of a key position.
Kolisch’s most significant tournament performance came in the Tournament of Paris in the summer of 1867, where he surprisingly finished first, ahead of both Szymon Winawer and Wilhelm Steinitz (who was the eventual world champion). From here, already most of the way through the book, Zavaterelli turns to Kolisch’s later games and book contains less than 30 games over his last 22 years. Three of them are the games against the Prince of Mingrelia, that appeared only after Kolisch’s death, and showed the young Mingrelian upsetting Kolisch in all three games. There’s speculation that they may not have occurred as given, if at all. Several of these later games were consultation or blindfold games. The short correspondence match, just two games played between June 1872 and April 1874, between the cities of London and Vienna are the most thoroughly analyzed games of the book. Zavaterelli uses these games to demonstrate an evolution in chess theory. It goes from Kolisch’s swashbuckling style, used by the Vienna team to the more scientific and successful approach of Steinitz and his supporters, who represented London. Kolish’s “Financial Takeoff” culminates in spending almost $2,000,000 to buy his barony, but barely covers a couple of pages.
The backmatter here is not as significant as in most of the McFarland biographies. This is not a substantial problem, except for the lack of endnotes. The bibliography is certainly ample and a good place for fellow researchers to begin work on other nineteenth-century chess figures.
Thus, Zavatarelli provides a book full of interesting games of a creative and too often forgotten player; but, no one is going to learn how to get rich from this book.
This book can be purchased from McFarland by going to www.mcfarlandpub.com or by calling 800-253-2187.
In the discussion of American chess champions of the 19th century, everyone knows Paul Morphy and most know Jackson Showalter, but few know Samuel Lipschutz. Stephen Davies, Samuel Lipschutz: A Life in Chess, is another in the growing line of biographies by McFarland, and aims to correct this common gap in collective knowledge.
Lipschutz, a Hungarian, came to the United States as a teenager in 1880. In just a little over a decade, Lipschutz represented the United States in a British tournament (1886), became New York State Champion (1887), became the best American performer at the famed Sixth American Chess Congress (1889); and won the United States Championship, beating Jackson Showalter, in 1892.
His health problems, primarily tuberculosis, began around 1886 and became more pronounced by the 1890s.Unfortunately this forced him to leave New York City for warmer, cleaner, Western climates. In 1895, Lipschutz was back in New York, even playing a game in the first year of the famed New York City Metropolitan Chess League. In 1897, he lost a return-match to Showalter, who had become United States Champion again when Lipshultz was not healthy enough to defend his title. He played fewer events as his health deteriorated. However, he won the Sexangular Tournament of 1900 in a clear first-place victory over 5 others, including 3 United States Champions. His last published game was a consultation cable game for the Manhattan Chess Club, where they were victorious over the Havana club that had Jose Capablanca playing for them. In 1904, Lipshutz moved to Hamburg, Germany, for medical treatment and died on November 30, 1905.
The games, 249 in all, range from informal bouts to matches for the national championship and premier tournaments. The games largely keep the annotations of the day, but Davies also includes a few of his own, that he worked out with the help of Fritz 13. Most games receive about a page of analysis. There are also a fair number of diagrams and line drawings of some of the players included.
The backmatter for this biography covers the expected material with nicely constructed indexes and appendices. Davies used newspapers extensively in his research, especially for his game analysis, and so it is not surprising that his list of newspapers used is even longer than his list of books. The lack of endnotes makes connecting text to the source more difficult, but since Davies regularly includes the name of his sources in the text, itis possible to make the connections with some effort.
All and all, a nice biography of a player too often ignored by the chess community and American chess historians.
This book can be purchased from McFarland by going to www.mcfarlandpub.com or by calling 800-253-2187.
Tim Harding’s Joseph Henry Blackburne: A Chess Biography is another offering in McFarland’s growing line of chess biographies. Harding, a noted historian, also wrote McFarland’s book Eminent Victorian Chess Players, which includes Blackburne as one of ten covered players.
Harding begins by stating the book is a “full biography and game collection,” but then proceeds to lay out the difficulties of constructing a full biography; lack of “voice” from no personal papers, interviews that were sparse and not always accurate, many games missing, and results could be unreliable even when the tournament books were completed as they were sometimes inaccurate. While it is certainly admirable to help readers understand the difficulties in finding games from over a century ago, phrases such as “Newspaper coverage was very disappointing, being overshadowed by the war …” (p. 492), seem to reinforce the stereo-type of chess players and chess authors as myopic; to voice resentment over a few missing game scores because the world was preparing for battle (by the end of World War I, millions lost their lives.)
There are commonly two lines of thought concerning chess games in biographies. One is to collect them all for inclusion, either spread throughout or collected in an appendix. The other approach is that since there are databases, the author needs only to provide a “few” games to enhance the narrative. Since Harding is trying to provide a full game collection, he clearly falls into the first category. There are an astonishing 1184 games sprinkled throughout the book (a few are numbered but have a missing score), which is many more than any database had before this book. Many of the games were analyzed by contemporary sources and/or by Harding.
Oddly, for one so interested in finding Blackburne’s games, Harding does not provide the reader with a great deal of context surrounding the games. A tournament table, especially a progressive one, would help the reader better understand the situation in which a particular game was played. This point aside, the narrative is quite complete given the challenges Harding had in obtaining source material and his bibliography has a reasonable depth that makes it clear he certainly did not miss any obvious sources.
The backmatter in this book, much like Harding’s previous book, is significant and generally quite good. The first appendix records how Blackburne performed in terms of wins/losses for many tournaments. This is fine, but it would be definitely better with a list of how the Blackburne placed overall in the tournament standings. The best appendices are the fourth, a group of interviews that Blackburne gave over the course of his lifetime and the sixth, Blackburne’s articles on the best games of chess ever played.
Harding’s biography is an excellent in-depth study of one of the late nineteenth century’s most creative players, especially given the many difficulties the biographer faced.
This book can be purchased from McFarland by going to www.mcfarlandpub.com or by calling 800-253-2187.
Alex Dunne’s The United States Junior Open Chess Championship, 1946 – 2016 is a multi-year tournament history, along the same vein as McFarland’s The United States Chess Championship, 1845 – 2011 by Andy Soltis. Dunne’s work “is an attempt to salvage what remains of the early games of these youthful great players [Arthur Bisguier, Larry Evans, Yasser Seirawan, and Bobby Fischer] and give a touch of renewed life to these nearly forgotten tournaments” (p.1). This is an important and useful goal as records from even 30 years ago are surprisingly often lacking. This is true not only of game scores, but even full tournament results.
It is clear that Dunne has a great love for the US Junior Open tournament. As we learn in the coverage from the 1956 event, this was his first tournament experience. For each year, he provides as many of the results he could find. Then he highlights a few of the players in each year’s event briefly, noting their most significant accomplishments. One game was selected from that year’s champion to be included for review. The analysis is direct and without long or involved variations.
There are a number of minor errors, such as a player’s name being changed from Stephen to Steven, or the 1996 event having 133 players rather than the 14 reported. Sometimes the information for players is repetitive, such as for Bernard Zuckerman. Though the effort is intended to save records from the tournament from being lost to chess history, some of the handling of voids within the records is not ideal. For example, when the winner of the tournament didn’t have any games available from the event, a game from that player was chosen from a different event for inclusion. This seems an odd choice for a book designed to celebrate this specific tournament, rather than choosing a different game that was available from the event.
The lack of a bibliography for the book is frustrating. There are questions raised when reading the book where games could not be found or results were lost. One can’t help but wonder which sources were reviewed and others perhaps missed. I found myself asking: did he check these state papers or a particular source in the White Collection (Cleveland Public Library, Ohio)? Were interviews conducted to tap into personal records of past tournament participants as potential resources?
Though it is not perfect, it is a good continuation of the type of work started by the Soltis’ book, providing the reader with a little introduction to an interesting, and often over looked event. For those who enjoy tournament books and books on the history of United States chess it is recommended.
In the interest of full disclosure, I will note that I am mentioned in the book preface and know numerous people who participated in the events described, considering several to be friends.
Like many McFarland biographies, this book attempts to examine the life of one of chess’ great players. Unlike some of McFarland’s recent books, this one makes no attempt to cover all of his games. Instead, Sanchez focuses on incorporating various novel sources, many originally written in Spanish. This is especially true for the research on the often ignored familial background and very early life of Capablanca.
The book actually begins before Capablanca’s birth by setting up the chess scene in Havana, Cuba in the 1800’s and explaining his familial background. Capablanca’s first big match was when he was 12 – 13, with Juan Corzo. Unlike most of the events covered in the book, all 14 games from this match are included.
After the Corzo match, Sanchez then examines Capablanca’s first trip to New York where he attended school and significantly strengthened his chess skills. While in New York, Capablanca played his famous match against Frank Marshall and participated in numerous tournaments. Many of the tournaments, such as New York 1911 (p. 136) have a cross-table provided in the text, while the match scores are placed in the back of the book.
Following Capablanca’s time in New York, the book chronicles his trip to Europe - “following in Morphy’s footsteps” and the numerous tournament opportunities across the continent. Sadly, he was forced to return to the US in 1914 to escape the war raging in Europe, which caused difficulties with staying in good practical form without strong competition available. After the war ended, Capablanca not surprisingly, won the championship in 1921 but then, unexpectedly, lost his title in 1927. After this devastating loss, the Ex-World Champion struggled with difficulties executing his game consistently. However, there were occasional bright spots, such as a remarkable year in 1936, when he wins both the Margate and Nottingham tournaments. The last two chapters focus primarily on his ailing health, often using it to explain poor performance, such as in the AVRO 1938 tournament.
There are about 200 games in total included in the book. Some of the selected games don’t have analysis but those that do are often thoroughly annotated. Unfortunately, the provided analysis is often annotated with book citations that are listed in the game, but not listed in the bibliography. The appendices contain a reprint of Capablanca’s analysis of his four great predecessors and then goes on to include a unique article. Guest author, Dr. Orlando Hernandez-Meilan, Neurologist has written a piece on the illness and death of Capablanca. The remaining appendices include game indexes by opponent, opening, etc., is standard for McFarland works.
With the mass of chess books being produced these days, it is likely there will be another book about Capablanca before another 25 years goes by, but it is unlikely it will be this good.
H. E. Bird: A Chess Biography with 1,198 Games by Hans Renette is one of McFarland’s newest biographies. This book is the second to expand on a chapter from Tim Harding’s Eminent Victorian Chess Players: Ten Biographies. Tim Harding’s own book, Joseph Henry Blackburne: A Chess Biography, was the first chapter expanded into a book. It was published last year by McFarland and will be reviewed later in 2016 on this site. To quote the author, on page 3, “It is the wish of the author to re-immerse the reader in the world in which Bird lived and in which he was widely admired.”
This well researched monograph is divided into 12 parts, each part spanning a few years. The first part orients the reader to Henry Bird, including a brief family history. Renette opens each part with context from Bird’s life, then introduces the tournament or match to be covered and the games that were played during the event. About forty percent of the games are analyzed and often fairly deeply. The games frequently have some contemporary analysis mixed with a little current analysis from the author and unspecified computer programs. A typical example of this is game 786, the 13th game of the 1886 match between Bird and Amos Burn, found on page 363 - 364. The game was analyzed at length, mostly by World Champion William Steinitz in International Chess Magazine, shortly after the event. However, when current analysis finds Steinitz to be an error, Renette makes a point to state, “the actual continuation chosen by Bird appears to be the best…” The coverage of Bird’s most famous game, his win over James Mason in 1876, which won the first brilliancy prize, incorporates the notes of four sources plus Renette’s own comments.
As with all McFarland books, the quality of the publication is excellent. The use of scoring tables, line drawings of players, copies of documents, and photographs from the era draw you back in time. There are numerous Appendixes, Indexes, and a Bibliography, making it possible for the fellow researcher to easily locate any specific game or opponent they may be searching to find.
While an argument might be made that there isn’t quite enough narrative for the reader to feel truly re-immersed in Bird’s world, there is certainly enough narrative for the reader to not only enjoy Bird’s many games, but have a much better sense of the context in which they were played.
This book can be ordered online at www.mcfarlandpub.com or by calling their order line (800-253-2187).
Publisher: McFarland – www.mcfarlandpub.com – 800-253-2187
Between the mail box and the front door, I tore open the package and had begun to devour Chess Competitions, 1971 – 2010: An Annotated International Bibliography, compiled by Gino Di Felice. Even among chess journalists, historians, and collectors, most won’t have quite as excited a reaction as I did, but they should.
The book attempts to catalog all of the chess competitions – team and individual, over the board and correspondence – between 1971 and 2010. In the intro, Di Felice identifies this McFarland book as a sequel to Moravian Chess’ Chess Competitions, 1824 – 1970: An Annotated International Bibliography of Books, Bulletins, and Programs. Di Felice also admits that though the book contains 3,895 entries and 5,381 items, there are undoubtedly some items lost to history. There may be some missed tournament books, but I doubt many – the obscure (250 copies) Thirtieth Canadian Correspondence Chess Championship, 1974-5, for example, is included.
The book is divided into five sections:
1) Individual tournaments
2) Team tournaments
3) Individual matches
4) Team matches
5) Correspondence Chess
Each section has the books listed in a different manner. For instance, individual tournaments are listed by the city they take place in, while individual matches are listed by the last name of the winner. This could make it difficult to find some tournaments, such as the U.S. Championship, which used to move from city to city. Fortunately, the index in the back is done in order of the name of the event. This makes it much easier to find events that move around.
In this era, with so much information a few key strokes away, the key to a good reference work is whether it is easier and more useful than the internet – this one is! Many of Di Felice’s sources can be found on line, but a few, especially those involving Yugoslavian resources are only found in print. Also, major international events, such as an Interzonal or Olympiad may have books in several languages and with even the best chess libraries are likely to only have one or two of these sources.
As a final bonus, besides being a useful research tool, the book helps the chess book collector. Much to the concern of my wife, I now know that I will need a whole bookshelf just for the books on the 1972 Fischer – Spassky match as there are 136 of them!
Thinking with Chess: Teaching Children Ages 5-14, by Alexey W. Root, was published in 2012. The book is designed to help elementary and middle school teachers teach chess to children. Root is in a unique position to write this book as she is a Woman International Master (1989 U.S. Women’s Champion) with a Ph.D. in education from UCLA.
The book, while making an attempt to touch on almost every aspect of chess for kids, lays out a way for teachers to teach chess to children. Dr. Root suggests that the book can be used by other adults to teach kids, and it is very readable, so this is no doubt true, but jargon like divergent and convergent thinking, definitely suggests that target audience is indeed teachers.
As far as the work on the whole, it is very readable, with limited use of chess or educational jargon. There is a tendency to use large block quotes. While some don’t mind them, I know that others find them jarring and disruptive to the flow of the work. Dr. Root provides blank diagrams for teachers to use and a score sheet as well. Dr. Root might have chosen a score sheet that provided more room for little kids to write, but this is a very minor quibble.
My only qualm with the book is that the introduction of the extra little games, are all interesting, but there is no quantitative data on how the extra games help kids in chess or school. I don’t have a background in education, so I will trust Dr. Root’s expertise. With regard to the chess, I do have a bit more experience having taught hundreds of students. While this is not as many as the author, it is enough for me to feel confident that the methods I have used in the past have worked well. We can certainly all agree that chess helps kids academically, and Root does a fine job sighting various examples, but I am still curious how these specifics exercises will help kids develop academically or become better chess players. Presumably, someone, perhaps Root herself, is doing these studies now. I certainly look forward to reading these studies when they are finished.
Thus, I highly recommend this book to teachers who want to teach chess to students. It will certainly help teachers provide an added justification to school boards for why chess should be taught in their class room as well as provide teachers a useful step by step guide for teaching chess.One last note: This book has something that 99.99% of chess books are missing – bunnies! Dr. Root includes two pictures of her own rabbit, and as a reviewer with 5 of my own (to be fair, this is only because my wife is an awesome bunny mommy), I am happy to see them get some press as they make a great pet if you are willing to put in the 10 to 12 year commitment.