Category Archives: McFarland Books

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

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Steinitz in London : A Chess Biography with 623 Games

Steinitz in London: A Chess Biography with 623 Games
Steinitz in London: A Chess Biography with 623 Games

Steinitz in London : A Chess Biography with 623 Games : Tim Harding

Timothy D. Harding
Timothy D. Harding

Tim Harding played for Ireland at the 1984 FIDE chess Olympiad in Thessaloniki. He is a FIDE Candidate Master and a Senior International Master of correspondence chess. A well-known writer on many aspects of chess, Tim is a former editor of Chess Mail magazine and for almost 20 years he contributed monthly articles in “The Kibitzer” series. He lives in Dublin, Ireland.”

From the publisher’s blurb :

“Drawing on new research, this first biography of William Steinitz (1836-1900), the first World Chess Champion, covers his early life and career, with a fully-sourced collection of his known games until he left London in 1882. A portrait of mid-Victorian British chess is provided, including a history of the famous Simpson’s Divan. Born to a poor Jewish family in Prague, Steinitz studied in Vienna, where his career really began, before moving to London in 1862, bent on conquering the chess world. During the next 20 years, he became its strongest and most innovative player, as well as an influential writer on the game. A foreigner with a quarrelsome nature, he suffered mockery and discrimination from British amateur players and journalists, which eventual drove him to immigrate to America. The final chapters cover his subsequent visits to England and the last three tournaments he played there.”

 

Collectors of McFarland’s chess biographies will know exactly what to expect.

A handsome, beautifully produced hardback book based on extensive and exhaustive research, in this case concerning William Steinitz (Harding prefers to use the anglicized spelling of his name), the first official world champion.

He was born under the name Wolf Steinitz into a Jewish family in Prague in 1836, making him a year older than Morphy. He moved to Vienna to study mathematics in 1858, and it was there that he started playing chess seriously.  In 1862 he travelled to London to play in an international tournament, and remained there, living the life of a chess professional, for 20 years.

Wilhelm Steinitz
Wilhelm Steinitz

Here’s Harding, in the Preface:

“This is not just a game collection but also an important biographical work. Subsequent to his triumphant comeback at the Vienna international tournament and his resignation as chess editor of The Field, Steinitz left England for a long tour of America.  In the spring of 1883 he returned to play in the London 1883 tournament, after which he spent some more time in London; Chapter 12 deals with this. Steinitz then left England permanently and did not set foot in the country for another 12 years. The final chapter deals with his last visits to Britain which included two major tournaments, Hastings 1895 and London 1899. There is much less biography than chess in those two chapters but some information about his European tours is included. The tasks of writing a new biography of the final phase of Steinitz’s life after he left England, and of providing an authoritative game collection of his post-London period, are left for future scholars.

“The primary motivation for embarking on the research for this book was to present a chronological account of Steinitz’s two decades as an English resident, covering both the development of his chess career and significant life events. The chapter about Steinitz in this author’s earlier work, Eminent Victorian Chess Players, may be seen as a first essay in that direction but the present book goes much deeper, including appendices that document various controversies in which Steinitz became embroiled. The book also includes background sections about chess life in London going back to the earlier nineteenth century, dealing with London’s early chess clubs and public places where the game was played, before and during Steinitz’s time.”

Harding chose to include all available games from Steinitz’s time in London, some of which have only recently been rediscovered in old newspaper and magazine columns, so you have in total 623 games, mostly with some annotations from contemporary sources, occasionally, where appropriate, with interjections from Stockfish 10. In those days, of course, there were few tournaments, so he made a living, apart from journalism and teaching (one of his pupils was Lord Randolph Churchill, Winston’s dad), by giving simultaneous displays and playing against amateurs, who would pay for the privilege. If the games were particularly interesting or brilliant, they would find their way into print. In the early part of his career, Steinitz was renowned for his tactical acumen, so the book is crammed full of romantic King’s Gambits and Evans Gambits. Lovers of this style of chess won’t be disappointed.

In his preface, Harding draws the reader’s attention to two games in particular:

 

All the games have been checked using every primary source with discrepancies noted. So if you want a full and accurate record of every currently available Steinitz game from his time in London, along with some earlier games from his time in Vienna and those from his later English tournaments, look no further.

But what you also get is a lot of background information about chess in London during that period. The clubs, the events, the personalities, the disputes: everything is there. One of my personal interests is the changing position of chess within society over the past 200 years, and the changing demographics of the people who were attracted to the game over the years. In Steinitz’s time, as you would expect, chess clubs were entirely male and largely upper middle class. Most readers will be aware that chess was a particularly popular pastime amongst Church of England clergymen well into the 20th century. Helpfully, at least to me, Harding will often provide the full name and a one sentence biography of Steinitz’s amateur opponents. Although he is very thorough when researching Steinitz and his games, he tends only to consult one source for his opponents.

I decided to follow up a few random names through a quick search of genealogical websites: I found one or two mistakes and was also to provide probable identification in several cases where only the initial and surname were given. I also came across some fascinating stories which I’ll relate another time.

But this is just me: none of this will matter to most readers, who will be more interested in Steinitz than his opponents. It’s unrealistic to expect Harding to research these minor figures with the same diligence afforded to his protagonist.

Make no mistake about it: this is a major addition to the literature of our game, marked by scholarly research and historical accuracy, and, as such, deserves a place in the library of anyone with an interest in chess history. McFarland and their authors are doing an enormous service to the chess community by publishing books of this nature: this volume will sit alongside several other Harding works, notably his biography of Blackburne, Renette’s biography of Bird and Forster’s biography of Burn on your shelf devoted to 19th century British chess history.

But it’s not just a dry as dust history book. It’s a gripping read as well. Harding tells his story with panache, leaving the reader eager to turn the page and find out what happened next, helped, in part, by his subject’s disputatious nature. Whatever you do, don’t miss out on the appendices, in particular where Steinitz describes how he was allegedly assaulted by Blackburne on two occasions: “… he pounced upon me and hammered at my face and eyes with fullest force about a dozen blows, until the bedcloth and my nightshirt were covered with blood.”.

It is to be hoped that a future volume will appear, perhaps written by an American chess historian, covering the latter stages of Steinitz’s career. A Best Games collection, looking at his play through both 19th and 21st century eyes, would also be a valuable edition to chess literature.

A large book with high production values and a niche market is never going to come cheap, but, even if you’ve never read anything of this nature before, you might want to give it a try. With chess clubs closed and pubs offering restricted services, what better way could there be to spend your winter evenings?

Very highly recommended: 2020 has been an excellent year for chess books and this is certainly one of the best.

Richard James, Twickenham 21st October 2020

Richard James
Richard James

Book Details :

Format: library binding (8.5 x 11)
Pages: 421
Bibliographic Info: 84 photos, 623 games, appendices, notes, bibliography, indexes
Copyright Date: 2020
pISBN: 978-1-4766-6953-3
eISBN: 978-1-4766-4061-7

Official web site of McFarland

Steinitz in London: A Chess Biography with 623 Games
Steinitz in London: A Chess Biography with 623 Games
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James Mason in America : The Early Chess Career, 1867-1878

James Mason in America
James Mason in America

James Mason in America : The Early Chess Career, 1867-1878 : Joost van Winsen

Joost van Winsen
Joost van Winsen

Journalist Joost van Winsen lives in the Netherlands. He has previously written about American chess history of the Nineteenth century, and has contributed articles to ChessCafe.com and ChessArcheology.com.

James Mason was one of the mystery men of chess. We don’t even know for certain what his real name was. We know he was born in Kilkenny, Ireland in 1849, his family emigrated to the United States in 1861, and, somewhere round about the end of 1867, he turned up playing chess in New York.

Over the next decade he established himself as one of the strongest players in his adopted country before moving to England, where he died in 1905. His best result was at Vienna 1882, where he finished 3rd behind Steinitz and Zukertort in a field including most of the world’s strongest players, but, at least in part because of a fondness for drink, he never quite fulfilled his promise. In the 1890s he wrote several books, notably The Principles of Chess and The Art of Chess.

This book, a paperback reprint of a 2011 hardback, covers Mason’s early career.

The first four chapters provide a chronological account of Mason’s life in chess, enhanced with contemporary pen and ink drawings of many of his opponents and acquaintances.  We then have a chapter about his writings and another about his style of play.

The second part of the book gives details of his match and tournament results, and, by the third part, we reach his games, about 200 of them (some sort of game numbering system would have been helpful). While Mason’s later style could sometimes be turgid, in his American years he favoured gambit play with the white pieces. Although the standard of play was, by today’s standards, not very high, there’s still plenty of entertainment value. His regular opponents included the British master Henry Bird, who was living in the United States at the time, along with many of the leading New York players of that era.

Van Winsen took the, perhaps controversial, decision only to use contemporary annotations rather than incorporate modern computer analysis. As he explained, “The author preferred the antique human judgment to the modern ‘truth’ of computer software.” The opening assessments make amusing reading. In 1873, for example, Orestes P Brownson considered 3. Nc3 in the French Defence a mistake, recommending 3. exd5 instead. In 1876, Zukertort, quoting Max Lange, criticized the Winawer variation of the French, preferring 3… Nf3 (sic: a rare notation error) because White is better after 3… Bb4 4. exd5.

How strong was Mason at this time? Jeff Sonas and Rod Edwards disagree by about 200 points: Sonas has him at 2700 strength and one of the best in the world, while Edwards has him some way down the list at 2500 strength. My money’s on Edwards, who includes casual as well as formal games in his calculations. Buy the book, play through the games yourself and see what you think.

The book then concludes with some appendices covering a variety of topics, a list of sources and six indexes.

As is to be expected with books from this publisher, James Mason in America is well researched, well written, well illustrated and well produced. I might have preferred it if the games and tournament results were included in the narrative rather than in separate chapters, but you may well disagree.

This book probably won’t improve your rating, but if you’re at all interested in 19th century American chess history, and, like me, you missed the original hardback edition, you’ll want to add this to your collection.

I’d certainly be interested in a book covering the rest of Mason’s life and career: James Mason in England?

Here’s a game to whet your appetite.

James Mason – Frederick Perrin New York (casual game) June 1873

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Nf6 4. O-O Nxe4 5. d4 d5 6. Bb3 Bg4 7. dxe5 Be6 8. Qe2 Bc5 9. c4 Nd4 10. Nxd4 Bxd4 11. Qd3 c5 12. cxd5 Bxd5 13. Ba4+ Ke7 14. Nc3 Nxc3 15. bxc3 Bxe5 16. Qe3 Kd6 17. Rd1 Qh4 18. f4 Bf6 19. Rb1 Qg4

20. Qxc5+ Kxc5 21. Ba3+ Kc4 22. Bb5+ Kxc3 23. Rbc1#

Richard James, Twickenham 27 March 2020

Richard James
Richard James

Book Details :

  • Softcover : 384 pages
  • Publisher: McFarland (30 October 2019)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1476679436
  • ISBN-13: 978-1476679433
  • Product Dimensions: 17.3 x 2.3 x 24.4 cm

Official web site of McFarland

The cover of the eariler (2010) hardback edition is below :

James Mason in America
James Mason in America
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The Gijon International Chess Tournaments, 1944-1965

The Gijon International Chess Tournaments, 1944-1965
The Gijon International Chess Tournaments, 1944-1965

The Gijon International Chess Tournaments, 1944-1965 : Pedro Méndez Castedo & Luis Méndez Castedo

Pedro Méndez Castedo & Luis Méndez Castedo

Pedro Mendez Castedo is an amateur chess player, an elementary educational guidance counselor a member of the Asturias Chess History Commission, a bibliophile and a researcher of the history of Spanish and Asturian chess. He lives in San Martin del Rey Aurelio, Spain. Luis Mendez Castedo is an amateur chess player, a full teacher at a state school, a member of the Asturias Chess History Commission, a bibliophile and an investigator of the history of Spanish chess. He lives in Gijon, Spain.

 

When I mention Gijón, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Mustard? No, that’s Dijon. Dijon’s in France, but Gijón’s on the north coast of Spain, on the Bay of Biscay.

Small international chess tournaments were held there between 1944 and 1951, then between 1954 and 1956, and, finally, in 1965. These were all play all events, with between 8 and 12 players: a mixture of visiting masters and local stars. A bit like Hastings, you might think, but these tournaments usually took place in July, not in the middle of winter.

The strength of the tournaments varied, but some famous names took part. Alekhine played in the first two events and Euwe in 1951. A young Larsen played in 1956, while other prominent masters such as Rossolimo, Darga, Donner, Prins, Pomar and O’Kelly also took part. The local player Antonio Rico played in every event, with fluctuating fortunes: winning in 1945 ahead of Alekhine and 1948, but also finishing last on several occasions. English interests were represented on three occasions by Mr CHESS, BH Wood.

A nice touch is the Foreword, written by Gene Salomon, a Gijón native who played in the 1947 event before emigrating first to Cuba and then to the United States.

The main part of the book comprises a chapter on each tournament. We get a crosstable and round by round individual scores (it would have been better if these didn’t spill over the page: you might also think that progressive scores would be more useful). We then have, another nice touch, a summary of what was happening in the world at large, and in the chess world, that year. Then we have a games selection, some with light annotations: words rather than variations, giving the impression that little if any use was made of engines.

The book concludes with a chapter on ‘Special Personages’: Félix Heras, the tournament organizer, and, perhaps to entice British readers, BH Wood. Appendices provide a table of tournament participation and biographical summaries of the players.

Returning to the main body of the book, let’s take the 1950 tournament as a not entirely random example. A year in which I have a particular interest.

We learn a little about the football World Cup, the Korean War and a Spanish radio programme, the first Candidates Tournament and the Dubrovnik chess olympiad.

The big news from Gijón was the participation of the French player Chantal Chaudé de Silans, the only female to take part in  these events, and rather unfairly deprived of her acute accent here. She scored a respectable 3½ points, beating Prins and Grob (yes, the 1. g4 chap).

Rossolimo won the event with 8½/11, just ahead of Dunkelblum and Pomar on 8. Prins and Torán, playing in his home city, finished on 7 points.

This game, between Arturo Pomar and Henri Grob, won the first brilliancy prize.

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 d5 4. cxd5 Nxd5 5. g3 Bg7 6. Bg2 c6 7. e3 h5 8. Nge2 h4 9. Qb3 Nxc3 10. bxc3 Nd7 11. a4 Nb6 12. a5

12… Nd7 13. a6 Qc7 14. Qc4 Nb6 15. Qc5 Rh5 16. Qa3 bxa6 17. Nf4 Rh8 18. Qc5 Bb7 19. Ba3 e5 20. Nd3 exd4 21. cxd4 Rh5 22. Ne5 O-O-O 23. g4 Nd7 24. Qc2 Rxe5 25. dxe5 Nxe5 26. Rb1 h3 27. Be4 Nxg4 28. Ke2 a5 29. Rxb7 Kxb7 30. Rb1+ Kc8 31. Bxc6 Ne5 32. Bb7+ Kb8 33. Ba6+ Qb6 34. Bd6+ Ka8 35. Rxb6 1:0

The annotations – by result rather than analysis – neither convince nor stand up to computer scrutiny. We’re told at the start of the game that ‘Pomar takes the initiative from Black’s error in the opening and does not relinquish it until the final victory’, but the annotations refute this claim. After criticizing several of Grob’s moves but none of Pomar’s, we’re told, correctly, that Black could have gained an advantage by playing 25… Qa5+. However, Grob’s choice was second best, not a ‘serious mistake’: Stockfish 10 tells me 26… a5 was still better for Black, and 27… a5 (in both cases with the idea of Ba6) was equal, though I guess those moves might not be easy to find without assistance. It was his 27th move, and perhaps also his 26th, which deserved the question mark.

This game was played in the last round of the tournament, on 26 July 1950.  Two days later a boy would be born who would learn chess, develop an interest in the game’s history and literature, and be asked to review this book. What is his verdict?

An enjoyable read, a nice book, but not a great book. If you collect McFarland books you’ll want it. If you have a particular passion for Spanish chess history, you’ll want it. Otherwise, although the book is not without interest, it’s probably an optional extra.

The tournaments, apart perhaps from Alekhine’s participation in the first two events, are not, in the overall scheme of things, especially significant. The games, by and large, aren’t that exciting. The annotations are, by today’s standards, not really adequate. The translation and presentation could have been improved.

Just another thought: we could do with a similarly structured book about the Hastings tournaments. There was one published some years ago, but a genuine chess historian could do much better.

Richard James, Twickenham 20 November 2019

Richard James
Richard James

Book Details :

  • Softcover : 244 pages
  • Publisher: McFarland (30 July 2019)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1476676593
  • ISBN-13: 978-1476676593
  • Product Dimensions: 17.8 x 1.5 x 25.1 cm

Official web site of McFarland

The Gijon International Chess Tournaments, 1944-1965
The Gijon International Chess Tournaments, 1944-1965
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Fred Reinfeld : The Man Who Taught America Chess, with 282 Games

Fred Reinfeld : The Man Who Taught America Chess, with 282 Games
Fred Reinfeld : The Man Who Taught America Chess, with 282 Games

Fred Reinfeld : The Man Who Taught America Chess, with 282 Games : Alex Dunne

FM Alex Dunne

FM Alex Dunne
FM Alex Dunne

How we all laughed, back in the day. How we all laughed whenever Fred Reinfeld’s name was mentioned. All those books written for patzers. How to Win When You’re Ahead. How to Win When You’re Behind. How to Win When You’re Equal. How to Win With the White Pieces. How to Win With the Black Pieces. How to Win with the Blue Pieces. How to Win with the Yellow Pieces. Well, perhaps we made up some of those titles, but you know what I mean. Endless books of basic, over-simplified instruction, not for the likes of us.

But now, half a century or so on, I’d say that Fred is one of my heroes. A man who brought a lot of pleasure to a lot of people, teaching them the basics so that they could move onto higher level instruction later on if they chose to do so. If they didn’t, no matter: they were still enjoying chess. And he wrote some excellent higher level books as well. A particular favourite of mine was his collection of Tarrasch’s best games: I guess Tarrasch’s logical style suited Reinfeld’s style of annotations.

There was much more to him than chess books, though. In the 1930s, when he was in his 20s, he was one of the strongest players in the USA, numbering Reshevsky (twice), Fine and Marshall among his victims.  At the start of 1942 he decided to give up competitive chess and concentrate on writing. It wasn’t just chess books that he wrote, either. His bibliography includes books on checkers, coin and stamp collecting, science, maths and history. He died relatively young, in 1964, at the age of 54. Granted another 20 or 30 years, who knows how many books he would have written.

It’s easy to mock, isn’t it? We can all name authors who decided it would be more lucrative to write bad books quickly than to write good books slowly. but Reinfeld’s books, although for the most part not written for stronger players, were by no means bad. He was an excellent writer and pioneering teacher who developed the ‘solitaire chess’ method of asking questions on a game and awarding points for good answers. It’s hard to disagree that he was one of the most influential figures in mid-20th century chess, and a biobibliography was long overdue.

Fred Reinfeld
Fred Reinfeld

Sadly, this volume doesn’t really do Reinfeld full justice. The author, Alex Dunne, is an enthusiast rather than an academic historian. It includes 282 games (actually 281, as one game appears with two sets of annotations), mostly played by him, some with notes, either by Reinfeld or by Dunne. You might possibly want more annotations, or you might think that, as Reinfeld was best known as a writer, this doesn’t matter too much.

Dunne also provides, as you might expect, details of Reinfeld’s books, although it’s not always easy to find what you’re looking for. There’s a discussion about whether or not Reinfeld ghostwrote Reshevsky on Chess and Marshall’s My Fifty Years of Chess, but Dunne adds nothing further to what is readily available online and leaves readers to draw their own conclusions. There’s also nothing about Edward Young, generally assumed to be a pen-name of Reinfeld, although the books published under this name are included in the bibliography. (Wikipedia and other online sources claim that Reinfeld also used the pseudonym Robert V Masters, but Dunne tells us, without providing sources, that Masters was actually Sterling Publishing Company President David Boehm.)

Reinfeld produced American editions of various British chess books. I’d have welcomed more information about what, if any, changes were made. To take just one example, he mentions Epic Battles of the Chessboard by ‘Richard Cole’. He might have mentioned that the original title was Battles Royal of the Chessboard,  and should certainly have given the author, Richard Nevil Coles, who, for some reason, was usually known by his middle name rather than his excellent first name, his correct surname. ‘R Nevil Coles’ would have been much better. Again, Morphy’s Games of Chess is incorrectly attributed to E Sergeant in the text, but the bibliography correctly identifies the author as Philip Sergeant.

Reverting to the games, some of Reinfeld’s opponents are identified by their first name and surname, others only by their initial and surname. I thought I knew that W Goldwater, for example, was Walter, and it took all of 5 seconds for Mr Google to confirm this.

All in all, then, something of a missed opportunity. A worthy book and a worthy subject, but lacking the rigorous historical research and accuracy we expect from this publisher. I’d like to suggest a group biography of Reinfeld and his occasional co-authors Chernev and Horowitz as a possible project for a US chess historian. Nevertheless, in the absence of anything else, if you’re interested in chess history of this period, chess literature or chess teaching you’ll still want to buy this book.

Here’s one of Reinfeld’s favourite games:

 

 

Richard James, Twickenham July 15th 2019

Richard James
Richard James

Book Details :

  • Hardcover : 194 pages
  • Publisher: McFarland (30 October 2018)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1476676542
  • ISBN-13: 978-1476676548
  • Product Dimensions: 17.8 x 1.3 x 25.4 cm

Official web site of McFarland Books

Fred Reinfeld : The Man Who Taught America Chess, with 282 Games
Fred Reinfeld : The Man Who Taught America Chess, with 282 Games
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Neumann, Hirschfeld and Suhle : 19th Century Berlin Chess Biographies with 711 Games

Neumann, Hirschfeld and Suhle : 19th Century Berlin Chess Biographies with 711 Games
Neumann, Hirschfeld and Suhle : 19th Century Berlin Chess Biographies with 711 Games

Neumann, Hirschfeld and Suhle : 19th Century Berlin Chess Biographies with 711 Games : Hans Renette & Fabrizio Zavatarelli

Hans Renette

Hans Renette
Hans Renette

Neumann, Hirschfeld & Suhle. Sounds like a Berlin law firm, doesn’t it? In fact they were 19th century Prussian born chess players with Berlin connections, all active in the 1860s. You tell me you’ve never heard of them? One of them may well be the strongest (for his time) player you’ve never heard of.

Let me take you back to the year 1860. Morphy’s short career in competitive chess had already come to an end, and Steinitz (strange to think he was a year older than Morphy) was just a fairly promising youngster. Anderssen was still active, along with younger players such as Kolisch and Paulsen, but, if you remove Morphy from the equation, there was no clear number one player.

Among those just below the top was (Carl Friedrich) Berthold Suhle (1837-1904), the first of this book’s joint protagonists. Suhle had a very brief chess career spanning the late 1850s up to 1865, when he returned home from Berlin, choosing to focus instead on family life and his career as an academic specialising in Ancient Greek.

Enter Philipp Martin Hirschfeld (1840-96), who, when he arrived in Berlin in 1859, already had a reputation as a theoretician. He was as yet no match for Suhle, though: in a nine game match in 1860 he could only muster two draws. (Note that Jeff Sonas, on his Chessmetrics site, mistakenly dates this match to 1865, causing him to overstate both Hirschfeld’s rating in the early 1860s and Suhle’s rating in the late 1860s.) Like Suhle, Hirschfeld decided to concentrate on his career rather than become a chess professional. Joining his father’s business, he set up a tea company, travelled widely and lived in London through much of the 1870s and 80s. He maintained his interest in chess for the rest of his life but never took part in international tournaments.

The main part of the book is devoted to Gustav Richard Ludwig Neumann (1838-81), who, for a few years round about 1870 was one of the best three or four players in the world. Neumann was a real chess addict who decided to make a living through his favourite game. His first international tournament was Paris 1867, where he finished 4th behind Kolisch, Winawer and Steinitz. Later the same year he won a small but strong tournament in Dundee, this time ahead of Steinitz. It seemed like a new star had arrived, but at the end of 1869 he suffered a mental breakdown and was taken to an asylum. He recovered well enough to be released the following April and that summer resumed his tournament career at Baden-Baden, where he finished 3rd behind Anderssen and Steinitz, and level with Blackburne. Sadly, his mental illness returned at the end of 1872, putting an end to his chess career. Neumann was one of the great might-have-beens of chess, but you’ve probably never heard of him.

The two authors of this volume are both respected chess historians who have written other biographies for McFarland. Hans Renette has penned excellent books on Henry Bird and Louis Paulsen, while Fabrizio Zavatarelli has published a book on Ignaz Kolisch. In 2015 they discovered that Hans was researching Neumann while Fabrizio was studying Suhle and Hirschfeld. Given the overlap in time and place they decided it would make sense to pool their resources.

If you’re familiar with McFarland biographies you’ll know what to expect and won’t be disappointed. A sturdy, large format hardback which will sit impressively on your bookshelf, 711 games with annotations taken from contemporary sources and computer-aided updates from the authors, many atmospheric photographs and outstanding historical research, The English is not always entirely idiomatic, but no matter.

Although the book probably won’t do much to improve your rating, lovers of attacking chess will be delighted to see a lot of Evans Gambit and King’s Gambit games, with the Ruy Lopez in third place.  By today’s standards these players were not so strong, but all of us, from Magnus Carlsen down to the humblest patzer, are standing on the shoulders of giants. If you value the history and heritage of our wonderful game you’ll want to find out more about Suhle, Hirschfeld and Neumann, all of whom part of what makes us what we are.

Here’s a crazily complicated game from the book. You’ll have hours of fun spotting the missed opportunities for both players.

 

Richard James, Twickenham June 7 2019

Richard James
Richard James

Book Details :

  • Hardcover : 384 pages
  • Publisher: McFarland (30 July 2018)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1476673799
  • ISBN-13: 978-1476673790
  • Product Dimensions: 22.2 x 3.2 x 27.9 cm/li>

Official web site of McFarland Books

Neumann, Hirschfeld and Suhle : 19th Century Berlin Chess Biographies with 711 Games
Neumann, Hirschfeld and Suhle : 19th Century Berlin Chess Biographies with 711 Games
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McFarland Books

McFarland Books
McFarland Books

BCN is delighted to have received recent publications from McFarland Books. They are :

British Chess Literature to 1914 : A Handbook for Historians by Tim Harding

British Chess Literature to 1914 : A Handbook for Historians
British Chess Literature to 1914 : A Handbook for Historians

and

Tal, Petrosian, Spassky and Korchnoi : A Chess Multibiography with 207 Games by Andrew Soltis

Tal, Petrosian, Spassky and Korchnoi : A Chess Multibiography with 207 Games
Tal, Petrosian, Spassky and Korchnoi : A Chess Multibiography with 207 Games
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