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.
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.