All posts by Richard James

Minor Pieces 2: Alexander Sich

It’s Monday 28 August 1871. Join me at Simpson’s Divan in the Strand, where, after a satisfying lunch of roast beef, accompanied by a bottle of their finest claret, followed by a glass of brandy and a Havana cigar, we adjourn to the chess room to watch the great Wilhelm Steinitz in action.

He introduces us to his friend Mr Sich, who is, he informs us, a wine merchant. The two gentlemen are engaged in an exciting battle. At one point Herr Steinitz is a rook ahead but his king seems to be in trouble. He manages to survive and win the game, but could Mr Sich have done better?

I reach into my pocket. “Look, Herr Steinitz! I’m a time traveller from 150 years into the future. I can press a few buttons on this small machine and talk to anyone in the world. I can press a few more buttons, enter the moves of the game you just played and show you both where you went wrong.”

“You might have been impressed by Ajeeb, but my machine is a million times better. You see, Mr Sich, you might have played your rook to queen one on move 28, announcing check to Herr Steinitz’s king. You were still winning, though, but on move 32, if you’d played your queen to queen’s knight five you could then have exchanged everything off on queen seven and advanced your king’s bishop’s pawn to the end of the board. Two moves later, you could still have drawn by exchanging rooks, but instead you left your own king defenceless.”

But now it’s time to bid our farewells and leave: we have a journey to make. Our destination is Hammersmith. We’re excited by the prospect of travelling on the Underground Railway, so head for Charing Cross Station. Just eight weeks earlier, following a banquet attended by Mr Gladstone two days previously, the District Railway started running trains round part of what would become the Inner Circle. In a few years time we’ll be able to take the train directly to Hammersmith, and the line will later be extended to exotic destinations such as Richmond and Ealing. 90 years later a schoolboy playing his friends on the train between Ravenscourt Park and Richmond will develop a lifelong chess obsession, but that’s another story for another time.

For now, we must take the underground train as far as Paddington, and change onto the Hammersmith and City Railway. When we reach our destination we spot a pub called the George just round the corner: it was rebuilt in 1911 and is now part of the Belushi’s chain. We could stop for a drink there, or in several other pubs nearby, but instead we’ll take a stroll down King Street.

After half a mile or so we’ll pass what is now Hammersmith Town Hall, which we visited in our last journey, and notice, in 2021, that it’s being redeveloped. If we look across the street we’ll see Dalling Road, and the building which, we hope, will soon be the site of a new Mind Sports Centre.

Then we pass another pub. This was the Hampshire Hog, but is now just the Hampshire, serving Indian cuisine as well as beers, wines and spirits. Mine’s a pint of London Pride: what are you having?

Why have I brought you here? Because this pub, like the George and many others in the area, was owned by the Sich family. The brewery was purchased by one John Sich in 1790 and later run by his sons, John junior and Henry.  The two brothers both had numerous children, many of whom were involved in the family business.

But let’s stop there. News has just come in that Herr Steinitz and Mr A Sich played again two days after the game we witnessed. Again, Herr Steinitz survived a totally lost position to win, in an encounter which was even more exciting that their previous game, with a lot of bamboozling tactics. Probably worth a separate article, I think.

You’ll notice that Mr S missed a simple mate in 5 on move 38 before blundering away first the win and then the draw. Still impressive, though, that he could achieve winning positions in level play against the world’s strongest active player.

What else do we know about him? He was very active in the St James’s Club from 1860 onwards, where he was a second category player, receiving odds from Loewenthal and Valentine Green, but conceding odds to weaker players. We’ll meet at least one of his opponents, EE Humphreys, in a later article. He played published games on level terms against Steinitz in 1871, as we’ve seen, and against Loewenthal in 1873 and 1874, before disappearing from the chess scene. Tim Harding comments that his forename is unknown, but perhaps we can find out. Let’s continue our walk.

Back in the 1960s, when such things were allowed, the Hampshire Hog was the place where teachers from nearby Latymer Upper School would take their pupils for a drink. We’re now going to head away from King Street towards the river. Not so easy to cross the Great West Road, but we could perhaps cheat (as I’m an alumnus they might let me in) by following in the distinguished footsteps of the likes of GM Michael Stean and IM David Goodman, taking the school’s Secret Subway to the dining hall and the Prep department, and then out onto Upper Mall.

We’re now at the start of the notorious Round the River Run (or, in my case, walk) which takes you along the river, over Barnes Railway Bridge, along the towpath on the other side, across Hammersmith Bridge and back to where you started. We won’t do that now, not least because Hammersmith Bridge is currently closed for repairs, but will take a gentle walk by the river in the direction of Chiswick.

Passing the Old Ship, we’ll stop off at the Black Lion. Thanks for offering: I’ll have another pint of Pride. It would be rude not to, given how close we are to where it’s brewed. Above one of the corner tables is a portrait of local resident AP Herbert, whose wife was regularly seen at the Hammersmith Town Hall chess tournaments.

While we’re here, news comes in that Herr Steinitz and Mr A Sich have played another game.

I’m not sure what 7. Ng5 was all about: my pupils get their knuckles rapped if they play moves like that. Steinitz chose to go for the attack rather than regain the exchange on move 26, but Sich missed a draw on move 34.

It’s time to continue our walk, passing Fuller’s (London Pride) Brewery and soon reaching St Nicholas’s Church. Turning up Church Street towards the busy Hogarth Roundabout, a stark contrast to the bucolic views of the Thames, you’ll see a tower on your right with the words LAMB BREWERY. This was the name of the Sich family concern: little other than the tower remains.

But we still haven’t identified A Sich. Let’s return to John and Henry. John had a son named Alexander who was born in 1837, while, two years later, Henry’s son Arthur John was born. So we have two gentlemen named A Sich who were of the right age. As he was active from 1860 onwards, the older cousin seems more likely. A better reason is that, in the days when people were referred to by their full initials and surnames, the chess player was always ‘A. Sich’, never ‘A.J. Sich’. We also know from Steinitz  that he was a wine merchant. As it happens, 1871 was a census year, so let’s travel back 150 years again and join the enumerator.

Here, in Church Street, where we’re standing now, is Arthur John, a brewer, with his wife and children. And just round the corner, in Sunbury House, The Mall, Chiswick, is Alexander, a wine merchant, with his wife (who just happened to be Arthur’s sister Helen: nothing like keeping it in the family) and children. This seems confirmation that it was Alex, not Artie, who played chess against Steinitz. We know quite a lot more about them as well. Al was very much concerned with municipal affairs throughout his life, while Art was involved with the army volunteers. Unlike his cousin, he seemed to prefer real soldiers to wooden soldiers.

Time for a final drink, I think. While we’re at the Hogarth Roundabout we could choose the George & Devonshire, which has probably always been a Fuller’s pub, but, to continue the theme of our pub crawl, we might prefer to walk up towards Turnham Green to visit another former Sich pub, the Lamb (formerly the Barley Mow, but its name was changed to that of the original brewery).

While we’re there, there’s another game to look at. Steinitz is White again and plays the King’s Gambit. Again, Sich is doing well at one point, but misdefends, allowing a neat sacrificial finish.

We could, I suppose, visit the Watermans Arms in Brentford, which comes with a recommendation from food critic and West London Chess Club secretary Andy Hayler. Close by is the Watermans Arts Centre, which in turn is across the road from the rather wonderful Musical Museum and a short walk from the London Museum of Water and Steam, which itself is just across the railway line from the new Brentford Stadium. Will they be seeing Premiership football there next season, I wonder?

We could also travel further west to the Bell in Hounslow. Back in the 1980s or thereabouts Hounslow Chess Club met nearby, and the Bell was often the venue for our post mortems after we played them in the Thames Valley League. There are plenty of other former Sich pubs still around as well: see the link below.

Before I leave you, there’s one further reference connecting Alexander Sich to the game of chess.

In 1903 the Chiswick Library Committee, of which Alex was a member, decided to allow their committee room to be used as a games room. Chess, draughts and dominoes were provided so that the local louts could avoid trouble by playing some nice quiet games.

Unfortunately, it didn’t work out as planned. The boys resorted to games of their own: ‘coddam’, noisy larking, horse-play and pitching cinders. The good citizens of Chiswick were not at all happy, and, after a few weeks, the club was closed down. Alexander Sich said that he did not regret that they had made the experiment. It could hardly have been more different from the pre-lockdown chess group at Whitton Library. There’s a moral there somewhere,  but I’m not sure what it is. (Coddam, since you asked, is ‘an old game, usually with three players on each side, based around guessing which of the players’ hands is hiding a coin or button.’)

Meanwhile, the Sich Brewery hit problems during the First World War and was sold off in 1920. Their neighbour, Fuller’s, however, survives and thrives to this day.

This is the second of a series of articles about Steinitz’s English amateur opponents. The next instalment will be coming shortly.

Sources:

The chess games of A Sich

The Lamb Brewery | Brentford & Chiswick Local History Society (brentfordandchiswicklhs.org.uk)

Metropolitan Railway – Wikipedia

Genealogy, Family Trees and Family History Records online – Ancestry®

Dashboard | findmypast.co.uk

 

Chess for Educators : How to Organize and Promote a Meaningful Chess Teaching Program

Chess for Educators : Karel van Delft

Chess for Educators, Karel van Delft, New in Chess, March 2021, ISBN: 9789056919429
Chess for Educators, Karel van Delft, New in Chess, March 2021, ISBN: 9789056919429

From the book’s rear cover :

“Chess has the rare quality that children love it despite the fact that it is good for them. Playing chess is just like life: you have to make plans, take decisions, be creative, deal with challenges, handle disappointments, interact with others and evaluate your actions.

Psychologist and chess teacher Karel van Delft has spent a large part of his life studying the benefits of chess in education. In this guide he provides access to the underlying scientific research and presents the didactical methods of how to effectively apply these findings in practice.

Van Delft has created a dependable toolkit for teachers and scholastic chess organizers. What can teachers do to improve their instruction? How (un)important is talent? How do you support a special needs group? How do you deal with parents? And with school authorities? What are the best selling points of a chess program? Boys and girls, does it make a difference? How do ‘chess in schools’ programs fare in different countries?

This is not a book on chess rules, with lots of moves and diagrams, but it points the way to where good technical chess improvement content can be found. Van Delft offers a wealth of practical advice on how to launch and present a chess program and how to apply the most effective didactics in order for kids to build critical life skills through learning chess.”

Karel van Delft
Karel van Delft

“Karel van Delft is a Dutch chess teacher and chess organizer. He holds a Master’s degree in Psychology of the University of Amsterdam and has lectured and published widely on the subject of the benefits of chess in education.”

 

Chess education is an important subject which has been much discussed over the past decade or more, but, up to now, it hasn’t been the topic of many books, at least in the English language.

Karel van Delft is ideally qualified to write this book. He’s been teaching chess very successfully at all levels for many years and will be known to many of us who have attended the London Chess Conference. His son, Merijn, is an IM whose recent book was favourably reviewed on this site. He generously mentions me twice within these pages.

For whom is the book written? Although there’s very little chess and very few diagrams, there’s an assumption that readers know something about the game and are either already chess teachers, or are interested in teaching chess to young children. For the most part, we’re looking, then, at chess in primary schools, or for children of primary school age.

A couple of quotes from the Introduction:

Chess is a playground for the brain. Children enjoy playing it, and it poses fascinating challenges to their brain. But the game also widens their horizon.

And:

Chess can contribute to the cognitive, social, emotional and meta-cognitive development of children. For children with special needs and other groups, chess can also be a means for empowerment. It helps them to develop self-respect, and to get a grip on themselves and their environment. 

In other words, especially for children, chess has many benefits. What are these exactly, and how can chess have a positive effect on the education of children? That is what we examine in this book. We will discuss didactics and teaching methods, the organization of school clubs, scientific research on the benefits of chess education, and chess as a means of emancipation within the scope of school chess and special needs groups. 

Chapter 1 is a very brief tour round School Chess Worldwide, with, as you’d expect, a mention for Chess in Schools and Communities.

Chapter 2 is an important look at Didactics in School Chess. Van Delft recommends that lessons should combine instruction and playing, and take place within groups of children at the same level, with, ideally, a maximum of 12 children in each group. If, however, chess is on the curriculum, the classes will be larger and not all children will be motivated.

Chapter 3 is perhaps more controversial: Pre-School Chess, which, by its definition, applies to chess at home rather than at school. We hear about grandmasters – the Polgar sisters and others – who started chess very young. Various ways of encouraging children from the age of 2 upwards to take an interest in chess are suggested, for instance getting them to watch chess videos or a chess engine playing itself. You may well have reservations about whether 2-year-olds should be encouraged to use screens in this way, or, indeed, to use screens at all.

The next few chapters provide checklists for organising school chess clubs and youth tournaments, and, critically, the role of parents is also discussed. The School Chess Club chapter is very revealing: it’s certainly completely different from most school chess clubs I’ve seen, which involve a visiting tutor coming in to teach 20-30 children of different ages and playing strengths, with minimal support from the school. If you showed this to most primary schools here in the UK they’d be horrified: the teachers are under far too much pressure elsewhere to deal with anything like this. On the other hand it’s perfect for anyone wanting to start a professionally run junior chess club within their community.

Chapter 7 is worthwhile for all readers, looking at Fernando Moreno’s work in teaching life skills through chess.

Chapter 8, again, is invaluable, talking about chess, intelligence and teaching highly gifted children. Here, van Delft differentiates between ‘top down teaching’, which is favoured by schools in the Netherlands, and ‘bottom up teaching’, of which the Steps Method is, at least in part, an example. There’s a lot of food for thought for all chess teachers here.

The following chapters look at how to encourage specific categories of chess player: those with visual or hearing impairments, with autism or dyslexia, girls and women, and then, in a catch-all chapter, those with ADHD, Down Syndrome, long-term illnesses or handicaps, and depression. All of this is of vital importance, and should be considered by anyone involved in chess education or administration.

We’re now onto Chapter 15, Class Management, especially useful for those, like me, who struggle in this area. The author provides several pages of helpful advice for chess tutors who may not be trained teachers.

Chapters 16 to 20 cover various aspects of chess instruction, most notably a description of research into the possible academic benefits, with descriptions of the methodology and results of various studies around the world along with constructive criticisms of current research and suggestions for future studies. As you would expect, he uses the work of Fernand Gobet and his colleagues here, but reaches a rather different conclusion.

Gobet is, broadly speaking, critical of the movement to promote chess on the curriculum for it’s perceived academic benefits: “In my view, chess is a great game providing much excitement, enjoyment and beauty on its own. There is no need to justify its practice by alluding to external benefits.”. (The Psychology of Chess Routledge 2019) I agree with Gobet here, but I’m not sure that van Delft would share my views. If you want to make chess more popular by promoting it in schools, though, you’ll probably need to convince them of the potential academic advantages.

Finally, we have Chapter 21, the best part of 120 pages, devoted to an Alphabet of Methods and Teaching Tips for Chess Education. There are dozens of ideas here, some just of one sentence, others taking several pages. No one will want to use all these ideas, but all readers will find something to enhance and enliven their chess tuition.

You may have gathered that this book doesn’t really provide a coherent narrative, but that is of little importance, and I know from personal experience how difficult it is to write on this subject in a logical and structured way.

You should be aware that this book is written from a Dutch perspective. Although you might think our two countries are culturally similar, in fact there are many differences. If you’re interested in this sort of thing you might start by reading this book. Dutch schools are very different from British schools. The Dutch, in general have (and have had since Euwe became World Champion in 1935) a rather more positive view of chess than we do. Dutch chess clubs are also much more suitable for children than our clubs with their evening meetings in less than adequate venues. So things that work in the Netherlands might not work in the UK or elsewhere. If you’re writing for a UK audience you might also want to provide links to, for example, the Delancey UK Chess Challenge and the English Primary Schools Chess Association as well as the ECF.

There are also a few translation problems, although the meaning is usually clear. Page 75, for example, uses the word ‘retardedness’, in relation to autism, which many teachers, parents and advocates here in the UK would consider both inappropriate and offensive. I appreciate that the economics of chess publishing make it impractical, but in an ideal world the book would have been checked through by a native English speaker with appropriate subject knowledge.

There are also many involved in various aspects of childhood who are concerned about the increasing professionalisation of children’s leisure activities and the ‘schoolification’ of childhood, as well as about young children’s screen time. Of course it’s all about striking the right balance, and that balance will vary a lot from one child to another. I’d have liked to see these issues and others discussed. Is it, in general, a good idea to encourage schools to put chess on the curriculum instead of, say, music or PE? Accentuating the positive is all very well, but you can’t always eliminate the negative.

Nevertheless, this book is essential reading for everyone interested in chess education, whether in practice or only in theory.  Both established chess teachers and those just setting out will find great ideas to inspire them on every page. Karel van Delft is one of the world’s leading experts on the subject, so the book is an ocean of wisdom. You won’t find everything equally useful, and you might not agree with everything, but then no critical reader will agree with everything in any book on education, no matter what the subject. I wouldn’t say that I disagree with him at all, but that I bring a very different perspective, in part from living in a different country and in part from being a very different person.

The most important aspect of the book for me, on a very personal level, is the understanding that chess has potential social as well as cognitive benefits for a very wide range of young- and not so young – people. We hear a lot about chess ‘making kids smarter’ but not so much about chess ‘making kids happier’, by which I mean genuine long-term benefits rather than short-term fun playing with your friends.

There is certainly a need for more books on the subject of why, how, when, where and by whom chess should be taught, offering a multiplicity of views and perspectives. I hope Karel’s book meets with the success it deserves: you could start by buying a copy yourself.

Richard James, Twickenham 21st May 2021

Richard James
. Richard James

Book Details :

  • Paperback : 272 pages
  • Publisher: New in Chess (1 Mar 2021)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:9056919423
  • ISBN-13:978-9056919429
  • Product Dimensions: 7.25 x 1.88 x 23.57 cm

Official web site of New in Chess

Chess for Educators, Karel van Delft, New in Chess, March 2021, ISBN: 9789056919429
Chess for Educators, Karel van Delft, New in Chess, March 2021, ISBN: 9789056919429

Minor Pieces 1: Samuel Walter Earnshaw (i)

Six months or so ago I had the opportunity to review Tim Harding’s excellent book Steinitz in London.

Whenever I see a game of chess I want to know more about the players, so did a bit of research into a few names that caught my eye. I threatened to write more about them at some point in the future. My first subject is Samuel Walter Earnshaw.

Tim gives two games played in Autumn 1866 between Earnshaw, a member of Birmingham Chess Club, and Steinitz. There’s another game further on in the book played at an unspecified date.

 

If you know anything at all about 19th century English chess history you’ll be aware of the number of clergymen who played. This seems to have been a specifically British – or even English – phenomenon.

Father Sam wasn’t one of the strongest of the Fighting Reverends, but he turns out to be rather interesting. He was born in Cambridge in 1833, the oldest child of Samuel and Ann (Wall) Earnshaw. Samuel senior (1805-88), originally from Sheffield, was a clergyman, but also a mathematician and physicist, still remembered today for Earnshaw’s Theorem. This is apparently something to do with magnetism, but I didn’t understand a word of the explanation. If you want to find out more I suggest you contact Dr John Upham, who studied this sort of thing for his doctorate.


And here, from an online family tree, he is. The tree also includes photographs of some of Samuel Walter’s brothers, but I haven’t yet been able to locate an image of the man himself.

He had a large family, and several of his sons emigrated to America, but his oldest son stayed in England, following in his father’s footsteps to Cambridge, and then into the church.

Samuel Walter held his first curacy in Bromley-by-Bow, in East London, from where, in 1858, he didn’t have far to go to watch Morphy in action. It was probably there that he first met Samuel Boden, who was to become a lifelong friend. (You might want to describe him as Boden’s Mate.) His next post was in Birmingham, from where he moved a short distance to the small village of Nether Whitacre, twelve miles or so from the city centre. By 1865, now in his early 30s, he was active in the Birmingham chess scene, and his games were being reported in local and national publications. But he also  had to make time for his clerical duties. We can pick him up in the Nether Whitacre registers, which record baptisms, marriages and burials in the parish. Here he is, for example, at about the time he played Steinitz in 1866, officiating at three baptisms.

The following August, though, he was to be involved in a tragic incident. The Coventry Standard of 16 August 1867 reported:

Nothing sinister should be taken from this. These days we’d be suspicious of a vicar being ‘much attached’ to ‘fine youths’ and taking them for a swim in the river, but relationships between adults and children were very different in those times.

It’s understandable, though, that Samuel might have felt the need to move on. After a brief curacy in Wales his career, quite typically for the time, changed direction, and he took on the post of Headmaster of Archbishop Holgate Grammar School, Hemsworth, Yorkshire, not all that far from his family roots. In 1888 the school would move to Barnsley, where it would educate the likes of Michael Parkinson, while the new Hemsworth Grammar School would count Geoff Boycott amongst its most famous alumni.

His new job seems to have left him little time for chess, and we don’t hear from him again until 1877, when he appears to be a member of chess clubs in both Sheffield and Leeds.

By this time he may have come to the end of his time at Archbishop Holgate, and he shortly took on a new post as Rector of Ellough, in Suffolk. Here, the work was less demanding and he was also rather nearer London, so he was able to travel down to the capital’s chess haunts where he was once again able to indulge his passion by taking on the great players of the time. He was also very happy to submit his losses for publication, so there are quite a few games available in newspaper columns, which might be the subject of another article.

The next decade saw him continuing what must have been a relatively quiet life, bringing up his children, tending to the needs of his parishioners, and, once every seven weeks, at least up to 1884, visiting London for a few games of chess.

He died at the relatively early age of 54 in 1887. Perhaps he’d been unwell for some time as there’s no chess reference to be found for the last three years of his life.

An obituary, presumably written by another of the Fighting Reverends, George Alcock MacDonnell, appeared in the Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News.

“He preferred being wrong with the books to being right with the innovators.”: yes, we all know players like this! It sounds like he was a solid and knowledgeable player, but perhaps lacking either the inspiration or the opportunity to reach master standard. A true and enthusiastic lover of chess, though, amiable, good-hearted and right-principled. A devotee of Caïssa could hardly hope for a better obituary.

The reference to Boden’s board and men is rather odd: I suspect there’s a mistake and it was actually Sam B who presented his set to Sam E before his death, not the other way round. I wonder what happened to the set: does anyone know? Perhaps it was handed down to one of his children.

That’s the end – at least for the time being – of Samuel Walter Earnshaw’s story. It’s not the end of my story, though.

Let me take you back to the church of St Giles, Nether Whitacre, on 30 December 1866. The foundation dates back to Norman times, but by then it may have been in a state of disrepair, as it would be rebuilt in 1870, not long after Samuel Earnshaw’s departure.

It’s the Sunday after Christmas, so the congregation will still be celebrating the birth of Christ  as well as looking forward to the new year ahead. There, we see the Houghton family (they pronounced it Howton rather than Horton, I believe). They’re a bunch of, frankly, rather undistinguished farm labourers, like most of the parishioners, but they’re dressed up in their finery today for the baptism of baby William. We really want to talk to his Aunt Jane, though, a sister of Will’s father George. She’s ten years old and proud to be wearing her Sunday best. Shall we reveal what her future holds?

Jane will marry a man named Charles Woolley, a blacksmith from Berkswell, some ten miles to the south of Nether Whitacre. She will present him with four strong and healthy sons, but their two youngest children will sadly die in infancy.

Their oldest son, Thomas, will become a farmer: he and his wife Kate will have to wait 15 years, though, for their only daughter to be born. After Janet’s birth, her mother will be confined in the county Lunatic Asylum, perhaps suffering from what would now be called post-natal depression. Tom, needing help with the farm and the new baby, employs a housekeeper, a middle-aged widow named Florence Smith. One thing leads to another, and, by the time Kate returns home, Flo is expecting Tom’s child. It’s now 1921, and Betty will be brought up by two of Flo’s many sisters, moving to another part of the country to escape from the scandal which had made headlines in the local press. Betty will never be told the identity of her father. History doesn’t record whether or not Jane met, or even knew about, her granddaughter.

In time, Betty will marry, and her elder son will take up chess. He’ll develop an interest in chess history, and, in 2020, will be asked to review a book called Steinitz in London, where he will come across the name of Samuel Walter Earnshaw.

We’ll now travel back in time half a century, to Easter 1971, where, at Hammersmith Town Hall, he will encounter chess journalist and former international Leonard Barden, who, himself, fifty years on and now in his nineties, still writes excellent chess columns.

We’ll now go back to 1948-49, where a young Leonard Barden finished second in the Premier Reserves Major Section in the annual Hastings Congress. Among his opponents was the veteran German master Jacques Mieses. You’ll see that the game was drawn, but the moves were never published and Leonard didn’t keep his scoresheet, so I’m afraid you’ll have to make do with the crosstable.

Let’s turn the clock back again, more than half a century this time, but we’re still in Hastings, for the great 1895 tournament. A young Mieses is there too, along with the former, and first official, World Champion Wilhelm (or William if you prefer) Steinitz.

Their game was also a draw, although my fishy friend tells me Steinitz had a clear advantage at a couple of points. Mieses did well to hold on and share the point.

And, with the Steinitz – Earnshaw games you saw at the start of the article, we complete the circle. I played Barden, who played Mieses, who played Steinitz, who played the Reverend Samuel Walter Earnshaw, who knew my great grandmother, the scion of a family of humble agricultural labourers.

Sources:

Online family trees and newspaper articles from www.ancestry.co.uk and www.findmypast.co.uk (both £)

Samuel Earnshaw (yale.edu)

Yorkshire Chess History (mannchess.org.uk)

St Giles’, Nether Whitacre – ourparishwls

 

George Henry Mackenzie: Third US Chess Champion, 1870

George Henry Mackenzie: Third US Chess Champion, 1870

George Henry Mackenzie. Third US Chess Champion 1870, Vlastimil Fiala, Moravian Chess, 2019, ISBN-13 : 978-8071890188
George Henry Mackenzie. Third US Chess Champion 1870, Vlastimil Fiala, Moravian Chess, 2019, ISBN-13 : 978-8071890188

From the publisher:

Definitive biography of the strongest American chess player, which cover the year 1870. Author worked out all available American (and other) chess sources for this year (The Turf, Field, and Farm, Sunday Mercury, New York Albion, New York Clipper, all New York dailies, British chess columns and European chess magazines, etc.) and collected in total 56 games played by Mackenzie in this year, almost of them are fully annotated. Author described in detail all chess tournaments and matches played by Mackenzie in 1870, including description of his all chess activities and New York chess life. 167pp. Indexes of players and openings.

Vlastimil Fiala is a professor of Political Science and distinguished academic and the main driving force behind the publishing house, Moravian Chess based in Olomouc in the Czech Republic. Fiala’s second love is chess history which he treats as a science. His publication portfolio is impressive : the web site of Moravian Chess provides a listing.

Vlastimil Fiala
Vlastimil Fiala

 

Professor Fiala’s Moravian Chess publishing house have been bringing out a lot of valuable material for more than two decades now.

This volume, dated 2019 but seemingly only recently published, is the first of a new series.

The Foreword provides some explanation:

The lives of famous chess players (Paul Morphy, Wilhelm Steinitz, Emanuel Lasker, Jose Raul Capablanca, Alexander Alekhine etc.) have by now been covered in dozens of publications of varying quality. Writing an exhaustive biography of professional chess players whose careers span multiple decades is a highly demanding task. When authors have attempted to do so, books containing a 700-900 A4 pages result (for instance several titles from MacFarland publishing house about A.A. Alekhine, A. Burn etc.), and these biographies moreover turn out to be less exhaustive than they first appear. Many details of their chess career are side-lined, or ignored entirely (e.g. chess exhibitions, consultation games, correspondence play, study composition, journalistic activities etc.). Their careers are usually not even contextualized into the wider, colourful canvas of chess events taking place in the same historical period. 

You might think he’s being a bit hard on McFarland there, and not just for spelling their name incorrectly.

After considering all the options, I decided on an unconventional solution: the creation of the “Great Chess Players” series, which features biographies of prominent chess players centred on brief periods of time, usually a single year. In the years to come I want to focus on increasingly details (hopefully definitive) accounts of the careers of the following world chess champions: Paul Morphy, Wilhelm Steinitz, Emanuel Lasker, José Raul Capablanca, Alexander Alekhine, and George Henry Mackenzie.

Well, it’s debatable whether or not you’d consider Morphy a world chess champion, even though he was undoubtedly the best player in the world for a few brief years, but Mackenzie?

Let’s not be too critical, though. Fiala seems to be a one man band working in what is (at best) his second language and performs a vital service for chess historians with both reprints and original research.

He takes a completist approach to history: publishing everything written about his subject in the year in question, as well as every published game. It’s by no means the only approach to writing chess history, or, indeed, any sort of history. Contextualisation, as Fiala says, is important, but completism is not the only way to contextualise.

As the prequels have not yet been published, some background information on Mackenzie might be in order.

George Henry Mackenzie was born in Scotland in 1837 and learnt chess in his teens. Originally destined for a business career, he instead decided to join the army, seeing service in South Africa and India. He then crossed the Atlantic to fight for the North in the American Civil War, reaching the rank of Captain but ending up in prison for impressment and desertion. On his release in 1865 he exchanged the battlefield for the chequered board, settling in New York to make a living as a chess professional, playing games against all-comers, organising clubs and tournaments, and writing newspaper columns. It soon became clear that, apart from Morphy, he was the strongest player in his adopted country, but, as we meet him for the first time seeing in the New Year at the Europa Chess Rooms, there had been little opportunity for him to take on top level opposition.

Morphy’s brief career had led to an increase in the popularity of chess, and New York was generally regarded as the home of most of the country’s strongest players. As we follow Mackenzie round the city’s chess clubs we learn a lot about how chess was played and organised at the time. Our hero was at the heart of everything going on, as player, journalist and organiser, and we can observe how chess was developing into the competitive activity we know today.

We have in total 56 games played by Mackenzie, with annotations taken from contemporary newspapers. No attempt has been made to update them with engine analysis: you might or might not approve. Given their nature, it’s not really a problem for me. Many of them are either odds games or consultation games: both of these were very popular at the time. Over the next decade or two they would gradually die out, to be replaced by a programme of tournament and match chess.

Here, for example, is Mackenzie giving odds of pawn and two moves to Augustus Zerega. These were common odds at the time: the odds giver takes the black pieces, plays without his f-pawn and allows his opponent to play the first two moves.

The highlight of early 1870 was the Brooklyn Chess Club championship, which included, apart from Mackenzie, a young James Mason, as well as names such as Eugene Delmar and Frederick Perrin, who might be familiar to those interested in chess history. It was run as an incomplete double-round all-play-all tournament with about 26 participants. You could choose who you played and when you played them. Mackenzie finished with 31 wins and 2 losses, just ahead of  F Eugene Brenzinger. Eight of his games have survived, and are given here.

In May Mackenzie played a match against Perrin, comprising four games on equal terms and four where Mackenzie gave odds of pawn and move (he played black and started without his f-pawn). Perrin held his opponent to a draw on level terms in the first game, but that was all he was able to score. Five of the games have survived.

The chess year continued with a mix of offhand, odds and consultation games, enlivened by a visit from two of Chicago’s leading players. In August the Brooklyn club decided to play a consultation game to find out whether a queen could beat eight pawns. Yes, it could.

But the most significant event of the summer months was an inter-club match between the Café International in New York (Mackenzie was its chess manager) and the Brooklyn Chess Club. Up to that point competitions between clubs had usually been consultation matches, but this was what we’d now consider a Scheveningen System tournament, but with some irregularities. Six rounds were due to be played, with six players on each side, and with each player facing a different opponent in each round. In fact, only five rounds were played as, by that time, the Café International had opened up an unassailable lead, and, in the fifth round there were only five players on each side.

Not everyone was available for each round so, in the end, eight players on each side took part.

A controversy arose as early as the second round, when the Café International fielded a ringer in the shape of Mackenzie’s Bostonian friend Preston Ware. Frederick Perrin was unimpressed. “Although happy at all times to meet so agreeable and accomplished a chess-player as Mr. Ware, we regretted that the Brooklyn players allowed this substitution. To allow substitutes when New York possesses such an array of chess-players, and the Brooklyn Chess Club comparatively so few, must be very prejudicial to the success of the latter, and to admit one of the very best players of Boston into their ranks looks very much like a practical joke on the Brooklynites.”

Just the sort of dispute that has plagued club chess competitions ever since. We’ve all been there.

Only one of Mackenzie’s games from this event is available:

Autumn 1870 witnessed another competition between the Café International and Brooklyn Chess Club: this time a series of 12 consultation games, with the New Yorkers running out narrow winners. Mackenzie was on the wrong side of two of the games. The results and games in the book don’t quite tally, though. It looks like the results of the 5th and11th games are the wrong way round.

But much of Mackenzie’s work in the last months of 1870 was administrative: setting up a chess congress for the following year.

There, at the end of 1870, we leave Mackenzie, at least for this volume. It’s not clear at the moment when the sequel will be published, but, of course, you’ll want to know what happened next.

The 1871 American Congress eventually took place in Cleveland the following December, with Mackenzie winning comfortably. He continued his rabbit-bashing career in New York until 1878, when, at the age of 41, he was invited to his first major international tournament, in Paris. He performed respectably, sharing 4th place with Bird, behind Zukertort, Winawer and Blackburne. His next major event was Vienna 1882, and, for the rest of the decade, he was a regular visitor to the top table. He scored his best result at the age of 50, winning at Frankfurt in 1887. His last tournament was Manchester 1890, but by then he was suffering from tuberculosis, and he died the following year.

He was clearly one of the world’s strongest players for the last 25 years or so of his life, but, living the wrong side of the Atlantic, he had, for many years, to content himself with acting the flat-track bully, along with his involvement in other aspects of chess.

An important, but not very well documented historical figure, then, who led an interesting life. It’s good to know that John Hilbert is working on a full biography for McFarland. I’m certainly eager to find out more about his military career.

If you’re interested in chess history you’ll find this well worth reading to give you an idea of how chess was played and organised a century and a half ago. From a personal perspective – and you might well disagree – I’d have preferred less detail on administrative issues, tournament regulations, committee meetings and so on, and more background information.

How did Mackenzie’s life work financially? Was he well off or struggling to make a living? How did he get paid? We all know about the Blackburne Shilling Gambit, so I guess many of his opponents were paying for the privilege of playing him. I suppose this information isn’t readily available, though.

Who were his opponents? What sort of person was attracted to the New York chess clubs at that time? Augustus Zerega, for instance, was seriously wealthy, having made a fortune as a shipping magnate. Eugene Brenzinger, by contrast, was a German-born baker, renowned for his delicious cakes. Napoleon Marache, born in France, most famous for losing a Famous Game to Morphy, was a problemist, editor and writer.

Perhaps there are lessons we can learn as well. There’s much talk, at least in chess clubs in my part of the world, about doing more to promote social chess. Perhaps we might consider reviving activities such as odds games and consultation matches in order to bring our clubs’ first team players together with their lower rated clubmates.

The production is serviceable, but, understandably, not up to the quality you’d expect from McFarland, for example. The project of which this is the first part, is extremely ambitious: perhaps too much so, but we’ll have to wait and see. I wish Professor Fiala every success in adding to his already extensive contribution to chess history. If you’d like to support him you know what to do.

Richard James, Twickenham 9th May 2021

Richard James
. Richard James

Book Details :

  • Softback : 168 pages
  • Publisher: Publishing House Moravian Chess; 1870th edition (1 Jan. 2019)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:8071890189
  • ISBN-13:978-8071890188

Official web site of Moravian Chess

George Henry Mackenzie. Third US Chess Champion 1870, Vlastimil Fiala, Moravian Chess, 2019, ISBN-13 : 978-8071890188
George Henry Mackenzie. Third US Chess Champion 1870, Vlastimil Fiala, Moravian Chess, 2019, ISBN-13 : 978-8071890188

The Lasker Method to Improve in Chess

The Lasker Method to Improve in Chess : Gerard Welling and Steve Giddins

The Lasker Method to Improve in Chess, Gerard Welling and Steve Giddins, New in Chess, 2021, ISBN-13 : 978-9056919320
The Lasker Method to Improve in Chess, Gerard Welling and Steve Giddins, New in Chess, 2021, ISBN-13 : 978-9056919320

From the book’s rear cover :

“Many club players think that studying chess is all about cramming as much information in their brain as they can. Most textbooks support that notion by stressing the importance of always trying to find the objectively best move. As a result amateur players are spending way too much time worrying about subtleties that are really only relevant for grandmasters.

Emanuel Lasker, the second and longest reigning World Chess Champion (27 years!), understood that what a club player needs most of all is common sense: understanding a set of timeless principles. Amateurs shouldn’t waste energy on rote learning but just strive for a good grasp of the basic essentials of attack and defence, tactics, positional play and endgame play. Chess instruction needs to be efficient because of the limited amount of time that amateur players have available.

Superfluous knowledge is often a pitfall. Lasker himself, for that matter, also studied chess considerably less than his contemporary rivals. Gerard Welling and Steve Giddins have created a complete but compact manual based on Lasker’s general approach to chess. It enables the average amateur player to adopt trustworthy openings, reach a sound middlegame and have a basic grasp of endgame technique. Welling and Giddins explain the principles with very carefully selected examples from players of varying levels, some of them from Lasker’s own games.

The Lasker Method to Improve in Chess is an efficient toolkit as well as an entertaining guide. After working with it, players will dramatically boost their skills, without carrying the excess baggage that many of their opponents will be struggling with.”

FM Steve Giddins
FM Steve Giddins

“Steve Giddins is a FIDE Master from England, and a highly experienced chess writer and journalist. He compiled and edited The New In Chess Book of Chess Improvement, the bestselling anthology of master classes from New In Chess magazine. In 2019 Giddins published, together with Gerard Welling, the highly successful chess opening guide Side-Stepping Mainline Theory (ISBN 9789056918699).”

IM Gerard Welling
IM Gerard Welling

“Gerard Welling is an International Master and an experienced chess trainer from the Netherlands. He has contributed to NIC Yearbook and Kaissiber, the freethinker’s magazine on chess openings. In 2019 Welling published, together with Steve Giddins, the highly successful chess opening guide Side-Stepping Mainline Theory (ISBN 9789056918699).”

 

Most instructional chess books fall, broadly speaking, into one of two categories.

There are those, often written by younger players, which emphasise studying recent grandmaster games, teach openings by encouraging you to memorise long variations, provide annotated games with reams of computer-generated lines, offer very hard puzzles from top level competitions, and sometimes suggest you devise a timetable for study, setting aside a certain number of hours a day for opening study, tactics training, online games and so on.

Then there are books, usually written by older and, perhaps, wiser authors, very often not of GM strength, but with decades of experience both playing and teaching, who understand that most amateurs have a limited amount of time available. They recommend studying the classics, keeping things simple, choosing openings which are easy to learn, understanding ideas and plans, mastering the ending.

You won’t be surprised to learn that my sympathies are, with some reservations, more with the latter camp. And that’s what we have here.

You might not like the vivid yellow and blue cover, with our hero Manny Lasker wearing cool shades, but, putting that aside, let’s dive in.

The introduction is always a good place to start, so that we can see the authors’ aims in writing the book. In this case, they have much to say which I found particularly interesting, or perhaps just confirming my prejudices.

The amateur player has limited time for chess play and study, but still likes to practice his ‘major hobby’ as well as he can, and thus would like to base his game on reliable premises. He ideally wants to play trustworthy openings, and reach a sound middle game, and would welcome a basic grasp of endgame strategy, but often lacks the time to work on this.

Some amateurs, certainly, most, quite possibly, but not all. If you prefer to play dodgy gambits in the hope of winning a few quick brilliancies, this may not be the book for you.

You might recall, that a few years ago, John Nunn wrote a text book based on Lasker’s games. How does this book differ?

In the present book, we aim to do something completely different: we emphasise the specifically Laskerian approach and how it can be used by the average club player. Lasker emphasised most of all playing by understanding and general principles, with minimum rote-learning (especially of openings). This is perfect for the average amateur player, who wants to be able to maintain a good standard of play without relentless homework.

And again:

Nobody can possibly play the best moves all the time. Mistakes are inevitable and they are what decide games, so his (Lasker’s) aim was to try to induce more mistakes from the opponent than from ourselves. So, for example, for the average player, playing a position which he understands and feels comfortable in is more important than playing an objectively superior position that he doesn’t understand and doesn’t feel comfortable in, because he is more likely to go wrong in the latter. 

If you, like me, are broadly sympathetic to this view of chess instruction, then, you’ll almost certainly enjoy this book.  Younger and more ambitious readers, who prefer to study hundreds of ‘trainable variations’ on an online platform might have a different opinion.

Chapter 1 is very brief, looking at Lasker’s general ‘common sense’ chess philosophy. His Manual of Chess dates from 1925. Almost a century later, chess is very different, but do his principles still stand up? The authors believe they do.

Chapter 2 considers the three principles of positional play. 1: the principle of attack: if you have the advantage you must seek ways of exploiting it. 2: the principle of defence: as your opponent will attack your weakest point, you must defend it. 3: the aim of your actions should be proportionate to the size of your advantage.

In real life, of course, it’s not always as simple as that. You might, for example, have an extra pawn but a weakened king-side or a less effective minor piece. Imbalances of this nature are also important.

Chapter 3 looks at endings. The authors explain the need to know theoretical endgames, and offer a few examples from Lasker’s games.

In this position, for instance, from the first game of his 1911 World Championship match against Schlechter, he managed to draw the game by giving up a second pawn with 54… Re4! 55. Rc5 Kf6 to activate his pieces.

We move on to Attack in Chapter 4. Only the first game here was played by Lasker. The others, mostly unfamiliar, illustrate the point that if your opponent’s king is insufficiently well defended you sometimes need to strike quickly before he has time to bring up the reserves. The openings, though, are often not those you’d associate with Lasker. A small point here: in game 12, where Lodewijk Prins played the eccentric 1. e4 c6 2. b4, the black pieces were handled by Rupert, not Robert Cross.

The authors prefer verbal explanations to variations, and that can be seen in the instructive note here (Sosonko – Eising  Mannheim 1975), where Black played 30… Nxg2!

The Australian master and didact C.J.S. Purdy warned that tactics dominate the game and can come out of nowhere, even in positionally lost situations. We believe it is a matter of formulation, because if there are correct tactics available, then, by definition, the position is NOT strategically lost. Lasker formulated this in a clear way, where he mentioned ‘a large superiority of force in a quarter where the opponent has an important weakness’.

Well, yes, but we’ve all lost games by blundering and allowing a tactic in strategically winning positions.

After Attack you’d be right to expect Defence. Two of the four examples here come from Lasker’s games. We’re often taught to seek counterchances or to enter swindle mode, but here the authors demonstrate that, in some cases, just sitting tight and trying to hold everything is the best policy.

Next, we have a short chapter on knights and bishops. Lasker had a particular appreciation for positions where knights outshine bishops, and here we learn about Giddins’ friend Michael Cook, one of the inspirations behind this book: a Lasker admirer who also favours equine manoeuvres.

The following chapter is perhaps unexpected: Amorphous Positions. Restrained but resilient formations without weak links but with potential energy. We first look at a couple of Lasker games where he placed a bunch of pawns on the third rank before moving on to meet another amateur, in this case a Dutch player named Philip du Chattel, who, when playing black, seemingly favoured Nh6 on move 1 or 2. I’m not sure this is something Lasker would ever have considered.

(As an aside, Welling himself is a chess maverick, and his latest book has been co-written with English maverick IM Mike Basman. I suspect there’s an interesting book to be written about strong (say 2200+) players who favour offbeat openings.)

Finally in this chapter we see some games played by Canadian maverick GM Duncan Suttles, who also preferred non-committal openings of this nature.

We’ve now, travelling backwards from the ending, reached the opening, and in Chapter 8 the authors propose a repertoire based on Lasker’s principles.

At amateur level, especially, most games are decided by tactical opportunities and it is of no relevance at all whether one side or the other has a quarter of a pawn’s advantage after the opening. The important thing is just to reach a playable position, with the pieces developed and the king safe, preferably without significant pawn weaknesses.

(Another aside: the authors previously collaborated on a repertoire book which proposed playing a Philidor/Old Indian setup with both colours. Here we have something very different.

As Black, we’re going to defend classically. We’ll meet 1. e4 with e5, playing the Steinitz Defence (with 3… Nf6 followed by 4… d6) against the Ruy Lopez. Against the Italian Game we’ll play 3… Bc5, although we’ll need some concrete analysis. 4… d5!? is suggested against the Evans Gambit, but Greco’s 7. Nc3 in the old main line is dismissed rather too hurriedly. If you don’t like this, 3… d6 is an alternative. We’re also provided with safe and sensible lines against White’s alternatives. We’ll decline any gambit, meeting the King’s Gambit with 2… Nf6!? and the Danish Gambit with 3… d5. Against d4, likewise, we’ll opt for 1… d5, playing the Orthodox Defence to the Queen’s Gambit. Again, common-sense lines are offered against the main line, the Exchange variation, the Bf4 variation and the Catalan. But something seems to be missing here: there’s nothing about the currently popular and annoying London System, not to mention the Colle or Torre. The English and Réti are dismissed in a column and a half (1… e6 and 2… d5) and other first moves aren’t mentioned at all.

With White, we’ll play 1. e4. Against 1… e5 we’ll play the Ruy Lopez, but, following Lasker’s predilection for knights, we’ll trade on c6 at the first opportunity. In the Exchange variation proper we’re advised to play 5. Nc3 rather than O-O.

If Black offers the Petroff instead we’ll head for the ending with 5. Qe2.  We’ll play the Closed Sicilian, with our king’s knight on the flexible e2 square. Against the French and the Caro-Kann you won’t be surprised to hear that we’ll trade pawns on d5. Again, this seems incomplete: there’s no recommendation against any other defence to 1. e4.

What do you make of this? It makes sense as far as it goes, but it’s certainly not for everyone. You’ll need a lot of patience as well as endgame skill to enjoy it. It might, of course, be exactly what you’re looking for. You might, as one often does with repertoire books, like some, but not all the suggestions.

Chapter 9 is the meat of the book: games for study and analysis based on the openings recommended in the previous chapter, 41 of them in total, well selected (many deeply obscure so you almost certainly won’t have seen them before) and well annotated. The young guns who tell you to study recent GM games will be horrified to see that most of the games are from the last century, although Carlsen makes an appearance playing the Exchange French. Welling and Giddins are not the first authors to comment on the similarity between Lasker’s and Carlsen’s approach to chess.

You won’t find many short brilliancies, but this is an exception:

Black chooses a modest opening formation giving White a slight advantage, but this game demonstrates how easy it is for the first player to overreach in this type of position.

We also meet Michael Cook again, and see two of his wins against the Ruy Lopez, one of them against my old friend Malcolm Lightfoot. I found the ending of the other game particularly interesting.

This is from a 1980 county match where Cook is black against R Bristow. Like many of my generation, I was brought up on Basic Chess Endings and led to believe that bishops were stronger than knights in endings with pawns on both sides of the board. Of course this is very often the case, and there’s an excellent example earlier in the book.

This position is objectively drawn, but it’s Black who can press for the full point.

The game concluded 29. Kg1 Nd6 30. g3 f6 31. Bb4 Nb5 32. Kf2 Kf7 33. Ke3 Ke6 34. Ke4 f5+ 35. Kd3 Kd5 36. Bc3 g6 37. Be5 h5 38. Bb2 Kc5 39. Bc3 Nd6 40. Bd2 Ne4 41. Be1 Kd5 42. Ke3? (a3 would have held) Kc4 43. Ke2 Kd4 44. Bb4 h4 at which point time was called and the adjudicator (yes, that’s how we played chess 40 years ago) awarded Cook the point.  The authors claim that after 45. Kf3 hxg3 46. hxg3 Nc3 47. a3 Kc4  Black wins, but Stockfish isn’t convinced after, for example, 48. g4.

The authors comment:

Within reason, the objective assessment of the position does not matter that much, when it is just a matter of a slight plus one way or the other – what is much more important is knowing what you’re doing and understanding that the white advantage, if any, is relatively small. 

… and:

An additional point, as we have seen, is that the white player will frequently overestimate his advantage and play too ambitiously, often just because ‘the books’ say this Steinitz Defence is not really very good. Just as Lasker said, he preferred the side ‘which has kept back his forces a little’. so deliberately heading for a position where one knows one is objectively slightly worse, but also knows that the disadvantage is small and manageable, and where one also knows how to handle the position, is often a very effective way to play for a win.

Interesting and thought-provoking, I think, and certainly a very different philosophy from the maximalist approach espoused by many authors of instructional manuals. It’s certainly not the only way to play chess,  but it might just be for you. An awareness that your opponents might be taking that approach could also be useful.

Finally, there’s the almost obligatory puzzle section. We have 50 puzzles, split into easy, intermediate and difficult, taken, with one exception, from the games of the authors and their hero.

Again, they have some helpful insights to share:

Talking about the experience of analysing with a much stronger player:

The other chap just seems to ‘see’ things so quickly, noticing immediately little tactical tricks which escape the lesser player altogether, or else take him much longer to spot. And we are mainly talking not about spectacular sacrificial combinations, but about routine tactical ideas, 2-3 moves deep, on which so much of a chess game hinges.

Indeed. At club level it’s precisely this which decides most games.

So how does one acquire such ability? Well, as with most things in life, talent is obviously a factor, but hard work and regular practice is crucial. Tactical ability and alertness is rather like physical fitness – when you start from a very low level, a lot of work is needed to build yourself up to a certain level, but once you are there, 15-30 minutes’ exercise a day is all you need to maintain that level.

Here’s one of the intermediate puzzles.

In this position White played 24. Nxc4. Is this a blunder? You’ll find the solution at the foot of the page.

It’s often interesting when reading a book with two authors to try to guess which author was primarily responsible for which chapter. (You might like to do this with The (Even More) Complete Chess Addict.) Welling (eccentric openings) and Giddings (safe and simple openings) seem to have slightly different chess philosophies, but they converge with the idea that it doesn’t matter if you’re slightly worse: just that have more understanding of what’s going on than your opponent.

If you’re young and ambitious you might turn your nose up at books of this nature, but club players rated anywhere between, say, 1600 and 2200 who would like to improve their chess in between family and work commitments may well find this book inspirational even though they might not agree with everything the authors say, and might well find some or all the repertoire recommendations don’t suit.

I really enjoyed reading it, and felt I learnt quite a lot as well. I’ve always believed that you’ll benefit more from studying games played by someone 200-300 points stronger than you than you would from top grandmasters. Looking at their games you can think “Yes: I could learn to play like that”, and as Michael Cook, for example, was, at his peak, 200 points or so stronger than me, I could learn a lot from his games. My frustration was that the book seemed incomplete, and, as a result, perhaps not always totally coherent. There were a couple of signs that it might have been edited down from something much longer at the request of  the publisher, but of course my hunch could well be incorrect.

The book is well written and produced to this publisher’s customary high standards. It may not be a book for everyone, but if you’re part of the target market you don’t need to hesitate. There are many fascinating and provocative insights which will encourage you to look at chess in a different way.

Solution to puzzle (Giddins – Carlier Antwerp 1993): 24. Nxc4 isn’t a blunder because after 24… Bxc4 he has the decisive blow 25.Rb6! Qxb6 26. Re6+ Kg8 27. Rxb6.

Richard James, Twickenham 4th May 2021

Richard James
. Richard James

Book Details :

  • Paperback : 240 pages
  • Publisher: New in Chess (16 Mar 2021)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:9056919326
  • ISBN-13:978-9056919320
  • Product Dimensions: 17.25 x 1.55 x 23.67 cm

Official web site of New in Chess

The Lasker Method to Improve in Chess, Gerard Welling and Steve Giddins, New in Chess, 2021, ISBN-13 : 978-9056919320
The Lasker Method to Improve in Chess, Gerard Welling and Steve Giddins, New in Chess, 2021, ISBN-13 : 978-9056919320

Minor Pieces: An Introduction

Minor Pieces : A Bishop and Knight
Minor Pieces : A Bishop and Knight

Minor pieces for two reasons. These articles cover minor pieces of chess history. And, for the most part, they will concern minor players in our game’s history. Grandmasters are often described as the kings and queens of chess, in which case international masters, and perhaps also national masters, might be seen as rooks: lesser major pieces. Children playing at a low level in school clubs are the pawns, while the rest of us, from social players through to club and tournament players like me. They might not have produced brilliant games or enhanced the knowledge of chess, but, by just being there, each one of them has been a link in the chain. You won’t just meet players, though. You’ll encounter a few problemists, maybe study composers, and others who made their mark in chess in other ways.

Some of you will be aware that, as well as chess history, I’m also interested in both family and local history. None of my ancestors were, to my knowledge, chess players, although I almost certainly share a very small piece of DNA with an English international. However, some of them married into the families of chess players, and others might have encountered chess players as they went about their daily lives.

Some of these stories will take the form of a circular tour, where we travel through the ages, and, on occasion, round the world as well, to find connections.

I’m also researching chess in my area: Richmond and Twickenham, along with neighbouring areas such as Kingston and Surbiton. I’ll be looking at the stories of some of those who lived in, or represented chess clubs in this part of the world. Where they’re available, I’ll show you some of their games or problems as well. In parallel, wanting to consider other parts of the country, I’ll look at chess in Leicester, my father’s home city and also the city where I studied half a century ago.

I’ll try to contextualise the stories in terms of social history. Who were these people? What were their jobs? What about their families? When did they learn? Why did they play? What part did chess play in their lives? Understanding history of this nature might help us in considering the changing nature of chess as we emerge from the pandemic.

Some of the stories I tell will have no connection with either my family or my locations of interest: just stories I came across and wanted, often for sociological reasons, to investigate further.

A quick note on sources. Genealogy websites provide ready access to birth, marriage and death records from 1837 to date, as well as parish records often going back a further two or three hundred years. Census records from 1841 to 1911 are also online, with the 1921 census being released in January 2022. The 1939 Register is also available. Many of the families I’ll consider have already been researched, with extensive and (sometimes, but not always) accurate trees having been created by relatives or historians. Others, though, are not, in which case I’ll have a go myself.

I hope you enjoy these articles. If you have any corrections, suggestions for further research, or other comments, please get in touch.

Improve Your Life by Playing a Game

Improve Your Life by Playing a Game, Dr. Jana Krivec, Thinker's Publishing, 28 Jan. 2021, ISBN 9464201029
Improve Your Life by Playing a Game, Dr. Jana Krivec, Thinkers Publishing, 28 Jan. 2021, ISBN 9464201029

From the author’s introduction:

“This book is partly designed as an autobiographical experience focusing on the processes that arise in the life of a chess player that have be translated into everyday life. In part, the book incorporates psychological theories that generally explain these processes, but overall it can be seen as a guide on how to use any activity to learn skills that will enrich your life. There are several activities in life which can be seen in the same way if we know where and how to exploit the opportunities. The truth is that all aspirations are interconnected when we keep an eye on the thematic links. I believe that this book will give you a new insight into how any ability can be transferred from a particular activity to the universal wisdom of life. It will awaken your networking skills and teach you how to turn life activities into lifelong skills that will improve your well-being. The course of the book follows the typical process of playing chess, starting with training, followed by the tournament situation, the course of the game, the time after the game and the tournament. Since I am not a poet, I have often borrowed some quotations from famous, imaginative and clever people from all over the world. I believe that these valuable thoughts have enriched the book. One thing I ask you to do while reading this book is to open your mind and enjoy the inner journey. So let us go and try to become aware of the processes behind our life activities. Let us find out what and why we do what we do in our daily lives.”

Dr. Jana Krivec at the Batumi Olympiad 2018
Dr. Jana Krivec at the Batumi Olympiad 2018

“Jana Krivec graduated from the Faculty of Psychology at the University of Ljubljana in 2004, where she successfully defended her doctoral thesis entitled “Cognitive Information Processing: the Case of Chess” in 2011. In 2004 she worked with the Faculty of Computer and Information Science on a project in which researchers developed a program for automatic annotation of a chess game. She was a researcher at the Department of Intelligent Systems at Jozef Stefan Institute, Ljubljana in the field of artificial intelligence. Her work was presented at several international conferences and published in scientific publications. She is a university professor of Psychology at the School of Advanced Social Studies in Nova Gorica. Jana Krivec is a Women’s Chess Grandmaster with a ELO rating peak of 2362 in 2008. She has been the Slovenian Women’s Champion seven times as well as a member of the Slovenian women’s chess team at eleven Chess Olympiads. At the 2006 Turin Olympics she and her teammates reached ninth place. She has won several international tournaments. Chess has been her passion and will probably remain explicitly or implicitly present throughout her life.”

 

The well deserved success of Barry Hymer and Peter Wells’ recent book Chess Improvement: it’s all in the Mindset, as well as The Moves that Matter, by Jonathan Rowson, two books which take very different, but essentially ‘serious’ approaches, suggests that there may be a hitherto untapped market for chess self-help books. A book which takes a more populist approach, then, should be welcomed.

What we have here is a book which can be read on two levels: as a self-help book for chess players, and as a book for general readers using chess as a metaphor. But the title: Improve your Life  by Playing a Game: what exactly does this mean? By playing one game, by playing chess generally, by playing any game? Bridge? Noughts and crosses? Snakes and ladders?

First impressions are good: a colourful book using nice shiny paper, with copious photographs, illustrations and cartoons as well as callouts in tasteful pastel-shaded boxes. Green for ‘key takeaways’, pink for ‘a minute of self-reflection, and so on.

The chapters take us through a chess tournament. In Chapter 1 we have to train for the tournament. Chapter sections look at goal setting, motivation, self-examination and improvement, discipline, hard work and persistence, learning from the masters, memorization techniques, working with modern technology, delayed reward … and never stop exploring.

In Chapter 2 we’re playing a game. First, we have to prepare for our opponent, then, during the game, we have ‘Always find a meaning’, ‘Focus and concentration’, ‘Systematic thinking, problem solving and decision making’, ‘Activation, patience and responsibility’, Courage and optimistic thinking’, Creative thinking and flexibility’, ‘Being in control of your feelings’, ‘Never stop fighting’ and ‘Ethics’.

After the game, in Chapter 3, we might have to cope with stress and losses, using cognitive techniques, behavioural techniques and understanding that if you don’t fail, you don’t learn.

Chapter 4 suggests what we might do after the tournament. We’re offered ‘A will to change’, ‘Who are you?’, ‘Mind and body work together’, ‘Positivity’, ‘Do what you like’ and ‘Gens una sumus’.

Chapter 5 warns us about the potential negative aspects of chess. Only two pages here, so clearly there’s not much worth talking about.

Chapter 6, Theories and Studies on Benefits of Chess’, moves into rather different territory. We learn about chess and education, and about chess and health problems, though I for one would raise a very strong objection to describing ADHD and Autism Spectrum Disorder as health problems.

Sadly, it’s not the only issue I have with the book. It starts right at the beginning, with the author’s introduction. We start with a quote, ‘Chess is life in miniature’, from ‘Gary’ Kasparov, but in the third line of text underneath he’s granted the preferred spelling of his first name: Garry. Gary and Garry seem to appear fairly randomly throughout the book, as do, for example, Bobby Fisher and Bobby Fischer.

Then we come to the inspirational quotations. You may well find many of them valuable, but there are attribution problems.

Page 37, for instance tells us ‘The only way to get smarter is by playing a smarter opponent’, attributed to a book entitled Fundamentals of Chess, published in 1885, with www.reddit.com as the source. The use of the word ‘smarter’ didn’t sound like 1885 to me, and a quick google located a Kingpin article by Justin Horton, which explained that this was a fictional book mentioned in the Guy Ritchie movie Revolver, where, however, it was given a publication date of 1883.

Page 66 offers ‘One bad move nullifies 40 good ones’, attributed to Vladimir Horowitz, an outstanding pianist, but not noted for his chess mastery. A search revealed that my guess was correct: it was actually written by the chess master and prolific author IA Horowitz, although it has also been misattributed to Bernhard Horwitz. Horwitz, Harrwitz or Horowitz? Vlad, Al, or even Anthony? If you’re looking for inspiration or self-help you might not care, but some of us do.

The advice, while no doubt invaluable to many readers, incorporates a ragbag of ideas familiar to any reader of pop psychology books. We have the Big Five personality traits and de Bono’s Thinking Hats. There’s Kahneman’s Fast and Slow Thinking as well as the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment. All of which is fine and understandable, as they’ll be new to some readers, but they are often presented without criticism or adequate source references. Ericsson’s 10,000 hours is, of course, there, also quoting Malcolm Gladwell, but failing to mention any possible reservations (there are many) or that Gladwell failed to understand Ericsson’s research. Flow is also there,  but mysteriously attributed to Alan Watts (or possibly Wats: both spellings appear at the top of page 68): Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, the originator of the concept, doesn’t get mentioned at all. Sometimes, but not always, sources are quoted. Page 25, for instance, offers us ‘Some studies have shown…’ and ‘In one study…’, without any further information. (This is about the possible dangers of external rewards, and I’m sure they’re all quoted by Alfie Kohn, so I can look them up myself, but not all readers will have this knowledge.)

The text is enlivened by many photographs, colourful illustrations and cartoons, taken, with brief acknowledgements, from online sources, but not always either relevant or fully explained.

There is a bit of chess here as well, although, bizarrely, the author uses long algebraic notation but without capture and check symbols.

While talking about marshmallows and instant gratification, Krivec presents us with this position which I’m sure you’ll recognise.

Coincidentally, this is something Joel Benjamin also mentions: “I believe that 8. Qxb7 is the best move. Bobby Fischer would have played it. Or, as you kids would say, Magnus would play it.” Krivec takes a different view: “(Qxb7) is not a good move because it follows the urge for immediate gratification and not the rules of good chess playing.” Far be it from me to argue with a WGM about the best move, but this seems a rather silly thing to say. My view is that both authors missed the opportunity to explain that both Qxb7 and Nc3 are excellent moves: your choice will be a matter of style.

If you want a chess example of the disadvantages of immediate gratification there are thousands of better examples to choose from, including one or two later in this book.

In some of the other chess ‘minutes for self-reflection’ you’re not told whose move it is: not very helpful, I think.

On page 110 we’re learning about creative thinking: thinking outside the box. An important topic, in life as well as in chess. To exemplify this we’re invited to solve the 9 dot puzzle.

A good example, I think, because you literally have to think outside the box to solve it. However, the ‘solution’ on the following page only connects seven of the nine dots and doesn’t go outside the box at all. Again, like so much of this book, unsatisfactory.

It’s all a great pity. I’m sure there’s a demand for a book of this nature, which should appeal to many players at all levels. Taking some well known ideas from psychology and applying them to both studying and playing chess is a great concept which will be inspirational to many readers. Jana Krivec’s passion both for chess and for helping people improve their lives comes through very well. If you can forgive the problems, you’ll probably enjoy and benefit from this book. It certainly contains a lot of valuable, although not especially original, advice about many aspects of both chess and life, as well as exercises in, for example, mindfulness, which many will find helpful.

However, the typos, errors, inadequate referencing and sourcing, amongst other reasons, preclude a general recommendation. It really needed a lot more editorial input, preferably from someone with specific subject knowledge, as well as better proof-reading.

Thinkers Publishing are well known for their high production qualities and excellent books, mostly on advanced chess subjects. It looks to me like, in a praiseworthy attempt to broaden their appeal, they stepped out of their comfort zone.

Richard James, Twickenham 17th April 2021

Richard James
. Richard James

Book Details :

  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Thinkers Publishing; 1st edition (28 Jan. 2021)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:9464201029
  • ISBN-13:978-9464201024
  • Product Dimensions: 16.51 x 1.27 x 23.5 cm

Official web site of Thinkers Publishing

Improve Your Life by Playing a Game, Dr. Jana Krivec, Thinker's Publishing, 28 Jan. 2021, ISBN 9464201029
Improve Your Life by Playing a Game, Dr. Jana Krivec, Thinker’s Publishing, 28 Jan. 2021, ISBN 9464201029

World Champion Chess for Juniors : Learn From the Greatest Players Ever

World Champion Chess for Juniors : Learn From the Greatest Players Ever : Joel Benjamin

World Champion Chess for Juniors: Learn From the Greatest Players Ever, Joel Benjamin, New in Chess, 2020, ISBN-10 : 9056919199
World Champion Chess for Juniors: Learn From the Greatest Players Ever, Joel Benjamin, New in Chess, 2020, ISBN-10 : 9056919199

From the book’s rear cover :

“Grandmaster Joel Benjamin introduces all seventeen World Chess Champions and shows what is important about their style of play and what you can learn from them. He describes both their historical significance and how they inspired his own development as a player. Benjamin presents the most instructive games of each champion. Magic names such as Kasparov, Capablanca, Alekhine, Botvinnik, Tal, and Karpov, they’re all there, up to current World Champion Magnus Carlsen. How do they open the game? How do they develop their pieces? How do they conduct an attack or defend when necessary? Benjamin explains, in words rather than in chess symbols, what is important for your own improvement. Of course the crystal-clear style of Bobby Fischer, the 11th World Champion, guarantees some very memorable lessons. Additionally, Benjamin has included Paul Morphy. The 19th century chess wizard from New Orleans never held an official title, but was clearly the best of the world during his short but dazzling career. Studying World Champion Chess for Juniors will prove an extremely rewarding experience for ambitious youngsters. Trainers and coaches will find it worthwhile to include the book in their curriculum. The author provides many suggestions for further study.”

Joel Benjamin during the Lloyds Bank Masters
Joel Benjamin during the Lloyds Bank Masters

“Joel Benjamin won the US Championship three times and has been a trainer for almost three decades. His book Liquidation on the Chess Board won the Best Book Award of the Chess Journalists of America (CJA), and his most recent book Better Thinking, Better Chess is a world-wide bestseller.”

 

Naturally enough, given that I’ve been teaching chess to children since 1972, I’m always interested in reading chess books with ‘juniors’ or ‘kids’ in the title.

Let’s see what we have here.

From the introduction:

If you are not a junior, please don’t toss this book aside; there is still a lot of cool analysis and history in here for you. But I have written this book, primarily, to reach out to younger players. At any point in history, we see a ‘generation gap’, where young people see the world in a very different way than their elders. If you are, let’s say, a teen or a tween, you probably process most chess material from a computer. You follow recent events, work on tactics puzzles, practice against an engine, or whatever works for you. This may match your lifestyle of playing Minecraft or (worse) Fortnite on your I-pad instead of reading books.

A few years ago, I was horrified to learn that two of my (young) fellow instructors at a chess camp could not name the World Champions in order (or even place them roughly in their time periods). For someone of my generation, that fundamental lack of knowledge was unthinkable. And while I accept that kids today learn things in different ways,  I feel that they are still missing out on their ignorance of knowledge provided by books.

I’m in complete agreement with Joel Benjamin here. I believe that, for all sorts of reasons, learning about the great champions of the past should be part of everyone’s chess education. This issue has been raised in the introduction of several books I’ve reviewed recently: some authors agree, but others, sadly, don’t.

And from the back cover (presumably written by the publishers):

So you want to improve your chess? The best place to start is looking at how the great champs did it!

I’m not in agreement with this, though. I’ve spent the past 45 years or so failing to understand why round about 90% of chess teachers consider it a good idea to demonstrate master games, usually with sacrificial attacks, to inexperienced players.

What does it mean to write a book for ‘juniors’, anyway? What do we mean by a junior? Perhaps we mean Alireza Firouzja (rated 2759 at age 17 as I write this)? Or do we mean Little Johnny who’s just mastered the knight move? There’s an enormous difference between writing for 7-year-olds, writing for 12-year-olds and writing for 17-year-olds. Benjamin mentions ‘teens and tweens’ in his introduction. How do you write for this age group? Do you try to appear ‘down with the kids’ by writing things like ‘Yay, bro! Morphy was a real sick dude!”? Maybe not, but you might, as he does, throw in a lot of ‘cools’ and a few ‘legits’, as well as a lot of exclamation marks at the end of sentences.

There’s also an enormous difference between writing for players rated, say 500, 1000, 1500 and 2000. The nature of this difference is something I’ve been thinking about for many years. I think the most helpful information I’ve found about teaching at different levels is from this article (apologies if you’ve seen it before), in particular the section entitled ‘experts learn differently’. I’d consider a novice (apprentice) to be someone with a rating of under 1000, an expert (guild member) to have a rating of 2000 plus, and everyone else (which includes the vast majority of adults who know the moves) to be journeymen/women.

Novices, then, learn best through explicit instruction and worked examples, while experts learn best through discovery and/or an investigative approach. If you’re writing for a readership between novices and experts, you’ll use a mixture of both methods. I’d also suggest that, given the relative inexperience and immaturity of younger children, you’d probably be well advised to add two or three hundred points onto your novice/expert split.

Top GM games these days are, of course, insanely complicated, and only an expert player could expect to learn anything from looking at, say, a Carlsen – Caruana game.

Let’s plunge into this book, then, and decide who would benefit most from reading it, in terms of both age and rating.

Before I go any further, I’d add that there are many reasons you might want to read a chess book: information, enjoyment, inspiration or instruction, for example, but this book, as you might expect from the 21st century Zeitgeist, nails its colours firmly to the flagpole labelled ‘instruction’. LEARN from the Greatest Players Ever.

Taking the reader on a journey through chess history, stopping off on the way to introduce us to each of the world champions in turn, it reminds me of two other books I’ve reviewed on these pages: this and this (also from New in Chess), neither of which impressed me, as a cynic with a pretty good knowledge of chess history, greatly.

We start off, not unreasonably, with Morphy (the greatest showman). In every chapter we get some brief biographical notes, a handful of annotated games and a couple of unannotated games. Here he is, crushing the Aristocratic Allies at the opera house, and sacrificing his queen against Louis Paulsen in New York. Yes, you’ve probably seen them hundreds of times before, but the target reader, a young player with little knowledge of chess history, might not have done. The notes at this point focus, understandably, on ideas rather than variations.

Next up is Steinitz (the scientist). We visit Hastings, of course, just in time to witness von Bardeleben disappearing from the tournament hall rather than resigning. We also see him daringly marching his king up the board in the opening and exploiting the advantage of the two bishops. He beats Chigorin in a game that starts 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 Nf6 4. d3 when Benjamin points out that “With the rise of the Berlin endgame this move has become very popular in the 21st century”. Which is very true, but assumes that the reader knows something about the Berlin endgame. (It’s mentioned in slightly more detail later in the book, but you should describe it the first time you mention it.) Later on, though we’re advised not to forget the en passant rule. So this appears to be a book for readers who understand all about the Berlin endgame but might not remember en passant.

We move into the 20th century: Lasker (the pragmatist) beating Capa in an Exchange Lopez ending, Capablanca (the endgame authority) himself winning a rook ending against Tartakower, Alekhine (the disciplined attacker) winning complex encounters against Bogoljubov and Réti, Euwe (the professional amateur) in turn winning the Pearl of Zandvoort against Alekhine.

As we approach the present day, the games get more complicated and not so easy to use for specific lessons. The great Soviet champions all had their distinctive styles, though. There’s Botvinnik (the master of training), Smyslov (the endgame artist), Tal (the magician), Petrosian (the master strategist) and Spassky (the natural).

Then, of course, Fischer (the master of clarity), Karpov (the master technician) and Kasparov (the master of complications) are introduced as we approach the 21st century.

Today, all the top grandmasters excel in all areas of the game, and, with the aid of computer preparation, their games are often mind-boggling in their complexity. Kramnik is awarded the epithet ‘the strategic tactician’, but this could apply to any 21st century great.

It’s time to look at a few examples of Benjamin’s annotations, so that you can decide whether it’s a suitable book for you, your children or your students.

Here, at Linares in 1997, Topalov, the master of the initiative, has sacrificed the exchange for … the initiative.

White, Gelfand, is considering his 23rd move.

An exchange to the good, White has some leeway in defense. He must appreciate the need to give back to the community here.

Topalov points out that 23. Qd2 Ne5 24. Rxe5 Qxe5 25. Nxb7? is too dangerous (after almost any rook move, actually) but White can hold the balance with 25. b4 a5 26. Qe2!. White can play more ambitiously with 23. b4 Ne5 24. Rxe5 Qxe5 25. Nb2, though Topalov would likely pitch a pawn for good play after 25… d3 26. Nxd3 Qd4+. Finally, even the radical (and inhuman, I think) 23. Nc3!? dxc3 24. Qxc3 looks playable, as suddenly some black minor pieces look misplaced and the white rooks are working well. Chess players need a good sense of danger, but here Gelfand’s Spidey-sense fails to tingle.

An excellent note, I think, but it would, inevitably given the complexity of the position, be instructive for older and more experienced players.

For the record, the game continued 23. Ne4? Ne5 24. Qg5 Re8! 25. Rd2? when Topalov missed 25… Ng4+! 26. Kg1 Qxg5 27. Nxg5 Re1#. but his choice of Qc4 was still good enough to win quickly.

For another example of the style of annotation in this book, in this position Anand, the lightning attacker, has unleashed a TN against Kasparov’s Sicilian in the 1995 World Championship match. What will the champ play on his 20th move?

20… Bxb5

Anand had expected 20… Qa5, which has been played in subsequent practice. However, Kasparov would have had a lot to calculate and evaluate there. When you hit your opponent with an unpleasant opening surprise, they may hesitate to risk the most challenging lines.

20… Qa5!? 21. Nxd6 Bxa4 22. Bb6 Rxd6 and now Anand considered two lines:

A) 23. Qxd6 Rxd6 24. Bxa5 Bxf4 (24… Bxc2? 25. e5+-) 25. Rxb7 Bxc2 26 Rd8 Rxd8 27. Bxd8 Bxe4! 28. Rb4 Bxf3 29. Rxf4 Bd5 30. Bxf6 gxf6 31. Rxf6 and the position should be drawn;

B) Anand preferred 23. Bxa5! Rxd3 24. cxd3 Bxd1 25. Bxd1. White doesn’t win any material but keeps the potential for long-term pressure.

Well, I hope you followed all that.

The main part of the book concludes with Carlsen, the master of everything and nothing.

Here’s a position from a game which, according to Benjamin, displays his accuracy and brilliance in attacking play.

He’s playing the white pieces against Li Chao (Doha 2015) and is about to make his 24th move.

24. d5!!

Carlsen breaks down the defense with a beautiful interference tactic. By attacking the knight on b6, he enables the deadly push e5-e6.

White could easily go wrong here:

A) 24. gxf5 Nc4 25. Nxg6+ (25. e6?? a3 wins for Black) 25… Ke8 26. e6? a3! 27. exf7+ Kd7 28. f8N+! Ke8 29. bxa3 Rxa3+ 30. Kb1 Rda8 31. Na4! and White barely forces Black to take a perpetual. Instead 25. Ncd5!! wins for White. The idea is to kill the mate with Rc1xc4 and then proceed on the kingside;

B) Again the take-first mentality 24. Nxg8+? Ke8 loses ground. White can probably still win with 25 d5! but it’s a lot less clear.

Again, good analysis, although Benjamin’s notes do include rather a lot of ‘perhaps’ and ‘probably’, which you may or may not care for.

That’s not quite the end of the book. There’s some ‘fun stuff’ at the end, most usefully a 36 question tactics quiz: some easy and familiar  but others more challenging.

This is a good book of its kind, although if you like the first half you might find the last few chapters too hard, and if, like me, you enjoyed Benjamin’s coverage of contemporary players, the first half will offer you nothing new.

But is it a book for juniors, though?

Little Johnny, aged 8, is doing well in his school chess club, playing at about 1000 strength. His parents, who know little about chess, would like to buy him a book so that he can learn more and perhaps play like Fischer, Kasparov or Carlsen. What could be better, they think, than learning from the world champions? Is this a suitable book for him? Definitely not: it’s much too hard in every respect. Instead, as a young novice, he requires a book with explicit instruction and worked examples.

Jenny is 12, has a rating of about 1500, and is starting to play in adult competitions. Perhaps this would be a good book for her. Well, it’s more suitable for her than for Johnny, but again it’s rather too hard: I think you’ll agree from the extracts you’ve seen that it’s really aimed at older and more experienced players. She’ll still need, for the most part, explicit instruction and worked examples, but pitched at a higher level than Johnny’s book.

Jimmy is an ambitious 16-year-old with a rating of 2000 who would like to reach master strength while finding out more about the history of the game he loves. This could be an ideal book for him: as a player approaching expert standard with perhaps a decade’s experience of chess, he’d benefit from discovery and/or an investigative approach, for which he can use annotated grandmaster games. But would he be seen dead carrying a book with ‘juniors’ in the title under his arm? And, at least here in the UK, there are very few ambitious 16-year-olds around to read this book.

It’s nothing personal to do with the author or the publishers, but my view is that many people buy books which are much too hard to be useful, either for themselves or for their children or students. On the other hand, books which really would be helpful don’t sell. And you can’t blame publishers for bringing out books they think people will buy.

You could write a great book for Little Johnny, I think. A colourful hardback with short chapters about each champion. Photographs and perhaps also cartoons of each. A few simple one-move puzzles in each chapter taken from their games: perfect novice-level tuition. Some historical background as well. Maps to show the champions’ countries of birth, and, perhaps, where else they lived. The word for chess and the names of the pieces in their native languages. Cross-curricular benefits: children will learn about history, geography and languages as well as chess. Age-appropriate in terms of chess, vocabulary and grammar as well. All primary schools would welcome a few copies for their school library.

You could also write a good book for Jenny. You could introduce each champion again, and then look how the different champions interpreted openings like the Ruy Lopez and the Queen’s Gambit, how they played kingside attacks or IQP positions, how they navigated rook endings. Perhaps also, where available, some simple games played when they were Jenny’s age. She’ll learn, at a fairly basic level, about the history of chess ideas as well as the champions. You’d probably also want to include some puzzles where you have to look two or three moves ahead. This is how you teach students who are neither novices (like Little Johnny) or budding experts (like Jimmy). A mixture of harder ‘novice’ material and easier ‘expert’ material.

I think both Johnny’s and Jenny’s books should include female as well as male champions: Jenny, as well as Johnny, would like role models she can relate to. You might think it remiss of Benjamin (or New in Chess) not to have included any Women’s World Champions in this book.

It’s a good book, then, although, by it’s nature it’s not going to be earth-shatteringly original. But it’s not a book for juniors. If it was called simply World Championship Chess, or Learn Chess from the Champions I wouldn’t really have a problem with it.

I really ought to add that the games are well chosen and expertly annotated (if you don’t mind the slightly casual style), and the author, unlike others ploughing the same field, doesn’t stray beyond the limits of his historical knowledge.

It’s also, as to be expected from this publisher, excellently produced, with, unusually for these days, a refreshing lack of typos.

I mentioned earlier the reasons why you might want to read a chess book. You may well find this book informative, especially if your knowledge of chess history is lacking. It’s certainly an entertaining read: the author’s lively style of writing and annotation shines through. You’ll probably also find it inspirational to be able to play through the greatest games of the greatest players of all time. But is it also instructional? I’m not really convinced that this is the most efficient method of teaching anyone below 2000. It’s certainly not an efficient method of teaching this very experienced, 1900-2000 strength, player.

Recommended, then, if you want to know more about the world champions, but not really a book for juniors.

Richard James, Twickenham 12th April 2021

Richard James
. Richard James

Book Details :

  • Paperback : 256 pages
  • Publisher: New in Chess (7th August, 2020)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:9056919199
  • ISBN-13:978-9056919191
  • Product Dimensions: 16.51 x 1.78 x 22.86 cm

Official web site of New in Chess

World Champion Chess for Juniors: Learn From the Greatest Players Ever, Joel Benjamin, New in Chess, 2020, ISBN-10 : 9056919199
World Champion Chess for Juniors: Learn From the Greatest Players Ever, Joel Benjamin, New in Chess, 2020, ISBN-10 : 9056919199

Chess Rivals of the 19th Century : With 300 Annotated Games

Chess Rivals of the 19th Century : With 300 Annotated Games, Tony Cullen, McFarland Publishing, March 2020
Chess Rivals of the 19th Century : With 300 Annotated Games, Tony Cullen, McFarland Publishing, March 2020

Chess Rivals of the 19th Century : With 300 Annotated Games : Tony Cullen

From the publisher’s blurb :

“Many historical chess books focus on individual 19th century masters and tournaments yet little is written covering the full scope of competitive chess through the era. This volume provides a comprehensive overview, with 300 annotated games analyzed by past masters and checked by powerful engines.

Players such as Max Lange and Cochrane, known to the chess public only by the name given to a fierce attack or gambit, are brought to life. Fifty masters are each given their own chapter, with brief biographies, results and anecdotes and an endgame section for most chapters.

Tony Cullen played chess for the strong London Central YMCA Chess Club and organized tours playing team matches against strong opposition in various European cities. He lives in London.”

 

I guess I should start with a declaration of interest. Tony Cullen’s son was, fairly briefly, a member of Richmond Junior Chess Club about 30 years ago, so I got to know him quite well at that time. We also faced each other over the board in an inter-club match in 2009.

From the introduction:

This book aims to give the reader an overview of competitive chess throughout the 19th century. The battle for supremacy amongst the elite 19th century chess masters is a theme running throughout the book, but the second-rank masters also produced great chess at times, even against the top players, and so their games and their contributions to chess in general are given more attention in these pages than is normally the case. The bulk of the book is naturally concentrated on the second half of the century, since there were no international tournaments before then and not too many players of the first rank either.

There is a chapter devoted to each of the 50 masters: brief biographies, best games, results and anecdotes sprinkled throughout. Many of the games are annotated by 19th century masters, but any significant errors in their analysis of critical positions have been corrected using powerful chess engines. All 300 games are annotated. Although several of the players featured continued their careers well into the 20th century, the selected games are restricted to those played in the 19th century in order to retain the flavor of the period.

Philidor, who, although mentioned in the first chapter, just missed out on this book, famously said that pawns were the soul of chess. In one sense, yes, but you might also think of the soul of chess as its history and heritage, its literature and personalities.

This book takes you on a journey through the world of 19th century chess, from the coffee houses and cafés of London, Paris and Berlin through to the great international tournaments of the 1890s, from McDonnell and la Bourdonnais through to Pillsbury and Lasker. From players born in the closing years of the 18th century, to those who, like Maroczy and Mieses, lived on into the second half of the twentieth century, overlapping with the lives of both your author and your reviewer. The players are introduced in roughly chronological order.

The biographical sections often start with an obituary, taken perhaps from the British Chess Magazine, or from another contemporary source. Contemporary pen pictures are also included, along with entertaining anecdotes which tell us more about their lives and personalities. The author has used both Chessmetrics and Edochess to detail their match and tournament performances.

The annotations are taken from a wide range of contemporary sources. As well as magazines and tournament books, Cullen has used some fairly obscure books such as Examples of Chess Master-Play 2nd and 3rd series by CT Blanshard, Chess Sparks by JH Ellis and Modern Chess Brilliancies by GHD Gossip.

These were the days of old, when knights were bold and openings such as the King’s Gambit and Evans Gambit, usually accepted as a matter of principle, ruled the day. Today, Stockfish will laugh in your face if you essay the Kings Gambit, and will have no trouble equalising against the Evans Gambit, but Morphy and Anderssen didn’t have computer assistance, defensive skills were not well honed, and opening theory, although it went surprisingly far in some lines of the Evans, for example, was nothing like it is today.

Cullen clearly enjoys games with dashing sacrificial attacks, so you’ll be entertained with a feast of exciting and brilliant, although not always either subtle or sound, chess if you read this book.

You’ll meet a few familiar, over-anthologised, friends, it’s true, but, by and large, the author has avoided the obvious and included games which will be unfamiliar to many readers.

Anyone with a knowledge of chess history will know a lot about the likes of Morphy, Steinitz and Lasker, but they may well be less familiar with some of the lesser lights of their period.

The Pleiades, for example, were a group of seven strong players active in Berlin in the 1830s and 1840s. They played an important part in the development of chess theory, but are mostly forgotten today. The one who is remembered is Bernard Horwitz, who would later move to London, competing in the great 1851 tournament.

Another of the Pleiades was Ludwig Erdmann Bledow, a professor of mathematics noted for his aggressive and brilliant play. In this game from 1839 he’s playing Paul Rudolf von Bilguer, a failed army officer who died shortly before his 25th birthday, but whose name is immortalised in the famous Bilguer’s Handbook, a precursor of the likes of MCO which, for the best part of a century, would provide instruction for generations of German speaking chess players.

Emil Schallopp is one of those names you see, if you read about 19th century chess, in the middle or lower reaches of tournament cross-tables, but he was still, in Cullen’s estimation, ‘an outstanding tactician who produced many beautiful games’. This was a brilliancy prize winning game from towards the end of his career. The notes in the book are taken from two sources: Gossip and The Chess-Monthly, with further authorial comments.

Another German player, Miksa (Max) Weiss, was possibly one of the strongest players you’ve never heard of. He had a short career at the top level in the 1880s, finishing 2nd= with Blackburne at Frankfurt in 1887 behind Mackenzie and 1st= with Chigorin at New York in 1889 before retiring to concentrate on a career in banking. He ‘preferred a positional approach to the game and never played gambits’ but, at the same time, was ‘a fine tactician who was not at all afraid of combinations’. His favourite opening was the Ruy Lopez, but he was equally adept on the other side of the board, as here against a strong American opponent. Cullen publishes the game with Steinitz’s notes from the tournament book.

The one feature which somewhat confused me was the ‘endings’ at the end of most chapters. Many of them are indeed endgames, and fascinating they are as well, but some of them are game finishes with plenty of pieces still on the board, while a few serve as a basis for anecdotes.

It is, as Cullen says, ‘unbelievable’ that Johann Berger, a renowned Austrian endgame theorist as well as being of Sonneborn-Berger tiebreak system fame, should have played the losing Ke4?? rather than the drawing Ke3 in this position. If you haven’t seen the idea before, play it out for yourself!

This book is particularly strong on German and Austrian players: good news for me as I knew little about many of them. On the other hand, there were plenty of English players who might have been included: Buckle, Wyvill, Williams, Boden, Owen and others off the top of my head. I’m not sure whether or not this was a deliberate policy. Anyway, there’s certainly plenty of material for a second volume, perhaps taking us up to the outbreak of the First World War in 1914. I, for one, would certainly welcome this.

Although it makes extensive use of contemporary secondary sources, this may not be a book for the serious chess historian. Many of the recent excellent biographies of Cullen’s subjects are missing from the bibliography. I’m also not sure what to make of this: ‘Steinitz and Anderssen went into their London match of 1866 unaware that they were effectively playing for the vacant world championship title.’ and ‘However, there is a consensus among chess historians that Steinitz’s lengthy reign as world champion really began with his match victory against Anderssen in 1866.’ Is there? Yes, he was certainly considered the strongest active player in the world from 1866, but was he, or anyone else, really thought of as World Champion before 1886? Wikipedia thinks not: There is some debate over whether to date Steinitz’ reign as world champion from his win over Anderssen in 1866, or from his win over Zukertort in 1886. The 1886 match was clearly agreed to be for the world championship, but there is no indication that Steinitz was regarded as the defending champion. There is also no known evidence of Steinitz being called world champion after defeating Anderssen in 1866.

I’m not the first reviewer to say that this book is clearly a labour of love. Tony Cullen has a passion for 19th century chess history and literature, and for the romantic style of chess popular in those days, and this passion is evident in every page. The annotations, whether from contemporary sources or written by the author, are pitched at the right level for a book of this nature, only giving the most important lines rather than long, engine-generated variations.  Playing through the games won’t help your openings very much. Nor will it teach you a lot about modern middle-game strategy. On the other hand, it might just take your tactical play to a new level. It will also increase your knowledge and enjoyment of chess, which may then lead to better results.

The production is, as one would expect from McFarland, of a high standard. As this is more a popular work than an academic history book it comes in paperback rather than hardback. The layout is, inevitably, I suppose, given the amount of information contained, somewhat cluttered, with diagrams not always appearing adjacent to the correct position, and sometimes not even on the same page. I also noticed a few typos, notwithstanding the proofreading efforts of the late Steve Berry, to whom, along with the author’s wife and son, the book is dedicated.

I really enjoyed this book, and, whatever your rating, if you love, or would like to find out more about, chess history, I’m sure you will too. If we make the mistake of only thinking about chess in terms of its extrinsic benefits, or in terms of the likes of Carlsen and Caruana, we’re missing out on its true soul. Every time we play a game, whether it’s in a match or tournament, an online blitz game, or a friendly game in the pub, we’re part of the same continuum. Here, for instance, is Mieses, continuing to play as a refugee from Nazi Germany into my lifetime, and sharing at least one opponent (Leonard Barden) with me. We can follow him back into the 19th century, and then follow chess back to Philidor, Greco, Ruy Lopez and beyond. This is the golden braid that binds us all together, whether woodpushers or grandmasters, and, at a deeper level, what chess is all about.

Richard James, Twickenham 1st April 2021

Richard James
Richard James

Book Details :

  • Format: softcover (7 x 10)
  • Pages: 477
  • Bibliographic Info: 54 photos, diagrams, games, bibliography, indexes
  • Copyright Date: 2021
  • pISBN: 978-1-4766-8072-9
  • eISBN: 978-1-4766-3924-6
  • Imprint: McFarland

Official web site of McFarland

Chess Rivals of the 19th Century : With 300 Annotated Games, Tony Cullen, McFarland Publishing, March 2020
Chess Rivals of the 19th Century : With 300 Annotated Games, Tony Cullen, McFarland Publishing, March 2020

Postscript : Tony Cullen was kind enough to provide his feedback on this review which may be found here:

Tony Cullen Response to Book Review

Bobby Fischer Rediscovered : Revised and Updated Edition

Bobby Fischer Rediscovered: Revised and Updated Edition, Andrew Soltis, Batsford, 2020
Bobby Fischer Rediscovered: Revised and Updated Edition, Andrew Soltis, Batsford, 2020

“International Grandmaster Andrew Soltis is chess correspondent for the New York Post and a very popular chess writer. He is the author of many books including What it Takes to Become a Chess Master, Studying Chess Made Easy and David vs Goliath Chess.”

GM Andrew Soltis
GM Andrew Soltis

From the Batsford web site :

“Nearly 30 years since his last chess game, Bobby Fischer’s fame continues to grow. Appearing in Hollywood movies, documentaries and best-selling books, his life and career are as fascinating as they ever were and his games continue to generate discussion. Indeed, with each new generation of computer, stunning discoveries are made about moves that have been debated by grandmasters for decades.

International Grandmaster Andrew Soltis played Fischer and also reported, as a journalist, on the American’s legendary career. He is the author of many books, including Pawn Structure Chess, 365 Chess Master Lessons and What it Takes to Become a Chess Master.”

 

 

No chess library is complete without a copy of Bobby Fischer’s My  60 Memorable Games. If you’re interested in Fischer, and you certainly should be, you’ll also want a games collection looking at the whole of his career through 21st century eyes.

There are several to choose from and, I guess, you’d find a comparative review useful, but I’m not in a position to do that. All I can do at the moment is comment on the book in front of me.

This is a new edition of a book first published in 2003. I don’t have the original to hand to make a comparison. Seven games have been added, making a total of 107: mostly Fischer wins but a few draws are also included.

Here’s Soltis, from his Author’s Note:

Thirty years later (in 2002), I looked at Fischer’s games for the first time since they were played. What struck me is that they fell into two categories. Some were, in fact, overrated. But many more were underrated – if known at all. And his originality, so striking at the time, had been lost with time. It seemed to me Fischer deserved an entirely new look.

Soltis identifies several recurring themes in Fischer’s games. By emphasizing these themes in his annotations he provides instructive lessons for his readers.

“To get squares you gotta give squares”, as Fischer himself said.

Ugly moves aren’t bad.

Material matters. Soltis adds here that Fischer was a materialist: most of his great sacrificial games were played before he was 21.

Technique has many faces. Fischer was equally good at both obtaining and realizing an advantage – two different skills – often by converting one type of advantage to another.

Soltis concludes his note as follows:

Since the first edition of this book, Fischer’s games have been re-analyzed by many others, including Garry Kasparov, with the help of computers. Everyone finds something new – hidden resources, nuances and errors in earlier annotations. This is almost certain to go on with each new generation of stronger analytic engines. I have made extensive revisions since I tackled these games in 2003. But I suspect Fischer’s moves, like his life, will remain a source of fascination – if not mystery – well into this century.

One of the big plusses of this book is that the author was there at the time: he knew Fischer and all his contemporaries. Each game is preceded by a brief introduction putting it in context, often with the inclusion of a timely anecdote revealing an aspect of Fischer’s complex and contradictory personality.

If you’re familiar with Soltis’s style of annotation you’ll know what to expect: detailed annotations, using words to tell a story and only including variations where necessary: no reams of unexplained computer-generated analysis here.

Have a look at how Soltis deals with a game you might not have seen before: the lightweight encounter Fischer – Naranja, played in the Philippines in 1967. (MegaBase thinks this is from a simul, whereas Soltis describes it as one of a series of clocked games.) Note that these are just the more pertinent of his annotations.

1. e4 c5 2. Nc3 Nc6 3. Nge2 e5

The principled reply, as the Russians would say. It was unfairly criticized at the time for surrendering d5.

4. Nd5 Nf6 5. Nec3 Be7 6. Bc4 O-O 7. d3 h6?

Black wanted to avoid 8. Nxe7+ and 9. Bg5 but this puts his king on the endangered species list. Today’s grandmasters get close to equality with 7… Nxd5 8. Bxd5 d6 and a trade of bishops after Bg5.

8. f4! d6?

Black must exchange on f4.

9. f5!

This strategically decides the game. White stops …Be6 and sets the stage for a decisive advance of the g-pawn.

9… b6

It was too late for 9… Nxd5 10. Nxd5 Bg5 because 11. Qh5! Bxc1 12. Rxc1 threatens 13. f6 with a quick mate. … But Black should at least eliminate the bishop with 9… Na5.

10. h4!

A striking move which prepares g4-g5, with or without Nxe7+ and Qh5. The key variation is 10… Nxd5 11. Bxd5! Bxh4+ and now 12. g3! Bxg3+ 13. Kf1, à la King’s Gambit, gives an overwhelming attack. 

10… Bb7 11. a3!

Another exact move, preserving the bishop against 11… Na5 and stopping … Nb4. The significance of this is shown by 11. Nxf6+ Bxf6 12. Qh5? when Black has 12… Nb4! with good chances, e.g. 13. Bb3 d5 14. g4 c4!.  

11… Rc8 12. Nxf6+! Bxf6 13. Qh5

13… Ne7

Black had to do something about 14. g4 and 15. g5, and this enables him to shoot back with 14. g4 d5.

14. Bg5!

Another terrific move, threatening Bxf6. Of course, 14… hxg5 15. hxg5 is taboo because of mate on the h-file.

14… d5 15. Bxf6 dxc4 16. Qg4 g6 17. dxc4!

There must have been a huge temptation to try to finish the game off in style – particularly after White saw 17. Qg5 hxg5?? 18. hxg5 and Rh8#…. But again … Nxf5 bursts the bubble: 17. Qg5? Nxf5! and now 18. Bxd8 hxg5 19. Bxg5 Nd4 is a roughly equal ending, or 18. exf5 hxg5 19. hxg5 Qxf6.

17… Qd6

This acknowledges defeat but 17… Kh7 would have breathed life into 18. Qg5!!:

(a) 18… Re8 19. h5! hxg5 20. hxg6+ and Rh8#

(b) 18… Rc6 19. h5! (the fastest) Nxf5 20. hxg6+ Kg8 21. Nd5! and

(c) 18… Ng8 19. Bxd8 hxg5 20. hxg5+ Kg7 21. f6+ and mates

18. Bxe7!

Black’s last move was designed to meet 18. Qg5 with 18… hxg5 19. hxg5 Qxf6!. So Fischer decides to cash in.

18… Qxe7 19. fxg6 fxg6 20. Qxg6+ Qg7 21. Qxg7+ Kxg7 22. Rd1 Rcd8 23. Rxd8 Rxd8 24. Nd5 b5 25. cxb5 Bxd5 26. exd5 c4 27. a4 Rxd5 28. Ke2 Rd4 29. Rd1 Re4+ 30. Kf3 Rf4+ 31. Ke3 c3 32. b3 1-0

Nice tactics, to be sure, but Fischer was winning from move 9, and, so Stockfish 13 tells me, had many other ways to bring home the point. Was it really one of his greatest games, then? Or is this not the point of the book?

The third, tenth and thirteenth games from the 1972 Fischer – Spassky match are included, but not, to my surprise, the sixth, one of my favourite Fischer games. Most of the old favourites, though, are included, but all except his most devoted fans will find a few unfamiliar games.

As you would expect, this is a solid book which serves its purpose well. If you want the best of Bobby on your bookshelves you’re unlikely to be disappointed, but you might perhaps prefer to consider his games from a 2020 rather than an updated 2000 perspective. You’ll probably want to look around and decide which of several on the market best suits your requirements.

My main problem is a lack of references: although sources are sometimes given, all too often we read that ‘Botvinnik wrote’ or ‘Boleslavsky said’ without being told where. There are several blank pages at the end of the book which might usefully have been filled by a bibliography.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed the book, which gave me a new insight into Fischer’s games, along with some valuable background information.

Richard James, Twickenham 8th March 2021

Richard James
Richard James

Book Details :

  • Paperback: 312 pages
  • Publisher: Batsford Ltd; 2nd revised edition (5th March 2020)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:184994606X
  • ISBN-13:978-1849946063
  • Product Dimensions: 15.57 x 2.29 x 23.5 cm

Official web site of Batsford

Bobby Fischer Rediscovered: Revised and Updated Edition, Andrew Soltis, Batsford, 2020
Bobby Fischer Rediscovered: Revised and Updated Edition, Andrew Soltis, Batsford, 2020