Basic Chess

Basic Chess, David Levens, Hamlyn, 2021, ISBN 978-0-600-63718-9
Basic Chess, David Levens, Hamlyn, 2021, ISBN 978-0-600-63718-9

From the publisher:

“Now anyone can play chess with this straightforward, jargon-free introduction. Written especially for beginners, it’s the most comprehensive manual available and includes everything from explanations of each piece to orchestrating endgames. In addition to expert advice, simple instructions, and more than 200 easy-to-follow diagrams, novices will find: basic tactical principles, aggressive openings, the top-ten traps and attacks, specimen games to learn and crib from, and a test your chess IQ section.

Basic Chess is the book you need to master the game.”

End of blurb.

The book provides no background about the well-known author  (and neither does the Hamlyn web site) The book’s Amazon entry claims that David is the BCFs Director of Marketing (which David was in 2004).

David Levens, British Championships, Torquay, 2013, Round 11
David Levens, British Championships, Torquay, 2013, Round 11

From David’s coaching web site we have

“David Levens is a successful chess coach and experienced player.

Accredited by the English Chess Federation, and an experienced player, once ranked in the top 50 players in Britain, now an England Junior selector!

I am also Head Coach to Notts. Primary Schools Chess Association, who were NATIONAL CHAMPIONS in 2009 and 2010, and also England coach and manager for Glorney and Faber Cup U-18 teams, plus U14 and U12 teams, Glamorgan 2010.”

It is not often we receive a new chess book of “Penguin Paperback” dimensions. In fact some of our favourite chess books are of these handy measurements such as

The Penguin Book of Chess Positions, CHO'D Alexander, Penguin, 1973, ISBN 0 14 046 199X
The Penguin Book of Chess Positions, CHO’D Alexander, Penguin, 1973, ISBN 0 14 046 199X

In many ways Basic Chess reminds us of this BH Wood classic

Easy Guide to Chess, BH Wood, CHESS, Sutton Coldfield, 1945
Easy Guide to Chess, BH Wood, CHESS, Sutton Coldfield, 1945

Basic Chess, published in 2021, was originally published by Hamlyn (now an imprint of Octopus Books) in 2005 and reprinted as Basic Chess and Chess Basics since.

The 2021 edition has the branding of The Daily Mail at the head of the front cover. You might be forgiven forgiven for thinking “I was not aware of The Daily Mail’s interest in matters cerebral and least of all their interest in chess.” Do they have a regular chess columnist / feature or perhaps more modestly a chess puzzle to solve alongside their crossword and Sudoko puzzles?

We did our research (thanks Stephen Wright of Vancouver and Leonard Barden of The Guardian and The Financial Times) and it turns out The Daily Mail had a chess column from 14/11/1906 until 1908 edited by James Mortimer.  From 08/10/1919 until 04/05/1920 the editor was R.C. Griffith and finally from 14/10/27 until 1935 it was edited by  W. Hatton-Ward. Possibly in the 1970s Bill Hartston had a column but this is to be confirmed.

If The Daily Mail was to revive a chess column then this, of course, would be most welcome.

Maybe noticing that the various lockdowns plus the acclaimed “Queen’s Gambit” from Netflix has generated an extraordinary increase in on-line playing and sales of chess equipment and books the title has decided to derive some benefit?

Basic Chess is divided into twelve main sections as follows:

  1. Introduction
  2. Before You Start
  3. Chess Tactics
  4. Openings
  5. The Middlegame
  6. Endgames
  7. Test Your Chess IQ
  8. The Way Forward
  9. Glossary
  10. Index
  11. Notes
  12. Acknowledgements

It would seem that Basic Chess is most suitable for adults and in 2021 we have adults who want to

  • Start chess for the first time,
  • Restart chess after playing at school,
  • Restart chess to help their son or daughter.

However, this book is also appropriate for older children (13+) to supplement their school chess club experience or perhaps those who are home schooled: they’ve learnt a little and want to know more and perhaps value a physical book over yet more screen time and Zoom meetings.

The text is excellent and clearly written and does (as it says on the lid) take the reader from zero knowledge to a reasonable starting level. There are no assumptions of prior knowledge and the first few pages are really quite evangelical in style helping to create motivation.

At this point I feel obliged to report a fairly major mis-giving and it is this:

Diagram 2, Basic Chess, David Levens, Hamlyn, 2021
Diagram 2, Basic Chess, David Levens, Hamlyn, 2021

The above is a typical diagram. I have enlarged it for this article in the hope it will make it clearer.  I really do not understand the need to use such terrible representations of the pieces, the king is particularly poor and Black pieces on dark squares are worse still.

In the book the King is described as having “a crown topped by a cross” Well, clearly the graphic designer did not read this text and neither were they a chessplayer. There are no crosses for the diagrammed kings.

The discussion on chess clocks could easily have included an image of a modern DGT timer and mentioned the older analogue models.

Since this book was published to ride on the back of lockdown chess I was looking forward to the advice on playing on-line. Surely this section would be slap-bang up-to-date listing many of the  most useful resources? Sadly, you will be disappointed.  The two best sites for online chess are, apparently,  The Internet Chess Club and The latter (which became known as FICS) has not been updated for years and gives the impression that tumbleweed is breezing past its offices.

What of chess engines?  well, the word “engine” does not get a mention (it did not exist in 2005 of course)  and apparently one has to purchase a separate piece of dedicated hardware to play against a chess playing program.  There is no installing software on a laptop, tablet or mobile telephone : these are not options whereas for some time they have been main stream.

I don’t want to be too harsh. The really important material is really rather good for a beginner or someone who has returned to chess after a long absence.

However, there was a golden opportunity with this book that was missed : sort out the appalling diagrams and update the content that was way past its use-by date. It really would not have been difficult to do these things had there been the will.

Since I knew David fairly well (he was the editor of the ill-fated Junior British Chess Magazine that he subsequently discovered he had “volunteered” to do) through British Chess Magazine during 2013 – 14 I made contact and asked him about the 2021 edition. He wanted  to update the elderly content pertaining to computer use and online chess and he also wanted to see the diagrams improved. Sadly, the opportunity did not arise.

In summary, this is a good little book for beginners that will undoubtedly be stocked on the shelves on WH Smiths, Waterstones, motorway service stations and airports. It has missed an opportunity for an update in the light of Queen’s Gambit and lockdowns.

It will sell and I wish it good luck! PLEASE improve the diagrams!

John Upham, Cove, Hampshire, 21st April, 2021

John Upham
John Upham

Book Details :

  • Hardcover : 240 pages
  • Publisher:Hamlyn (2021)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:978-0-600-63718-9
  • Product Dimensions: 12.6 x 19.7 cm

Official web site of Octopus Books

Basic Chess, David Levens, Hamlyn, 2021, ISBN 978-0-600-63718-9
Basic Chess, David Levens, Hamlyn, 2021, ISBN 978-0-600-63718-9