25 June 2012

Digging Through My Library

It has been a few years since I have counted my chess books, so I do not know how many sit on the shelves in my office. These days I acquire more electronic versions than printed, but even so, I have bought several new paperbacks in the past few months. In my office, one four shelf bookcase that is two feet wide contains only chess texts. Another wider bookcase has two shelves that are each more than 80% chess. Then, there are chess books tucked here and there in several other places in my office, such as my Chess Informants that sit atop some bookcases that contain mostly works in history.

I thought it might be interesting and potentially useful to take a look at a few of these more than 200 books that have been doing little more than gathering dust.

Starting on the left of the top shelf of the wholly chess bookcase, there is a book that came to me when I had ordered something else and the order was botched. Dragoslav Andric, Sahovski Zabavnik (Beograd: Sahovski Informator, 1985) is in Serbian (I think). This text appears to have many interesting curiosities that are inaccessible to me because I cannot read the language. However, the universality of chess notation, abundant diagrams, and the help of Google Translate opens up some possibilities. The book is a compendium of short articles. In the first, a miniature is presented with a diagram showing the final position.

Edwards - Amateur [C35]
ENG corr England, 1963

1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Nf3 Be7 4.Bc4 Bh4+ 5.g3 fxg3 6.Bxf7+ Kxf7 7.Ne5+ Ke6 8.Qg4+ Kxe5 9.0–0 gxh2+ 10.Kh1 Bf6 11.d4+ Kxd4 12.Be3+ Kxe3 13.e5 Bxe5 14.Re1+ Kf2 15.Qg2+ Kxe1 16.Nc3# 1–0

Remarkably, the game continues 16...O-O-O! 17...Kxb2 18.Rb1+ Kxc3 19.Qe4! with the idea of 20.Qd3#

There are many more fantasy chess illustrations in this book and much text requiring translation. It appears to be an interesting book with at least as much wit in evidence as in the next book on the same shelf.

Andrew Soltis, Karl Marx Plays Chess (New York: David McKay, 1991) is a first edition paperback. It is a compendium of the author's favorite "Chess to Enjoy" columns that he wrote for Chess Life beginning in 1979. The column was popular among many readers, and the topics are quite varied: "whatever chess subject tickled [his] fancy," Soltis tells us in the Introduction. The section "Hooked on 'Book'" (230-257) gathers together several columns on the opening. In one, Soltis reveals how to discover a theoretical novelty: "The secret is to look for bad moves.... I mean those that are so obviously bad that no one ever takes the time to prove their awfulness" (231).

The next two texts are Edward Winter, Kings, Commoners and Knaves (Milford, CT: Russell Enterprises, 1999), and A Chess Omnibus (Milford, CT: Russell Enterprises, 2003). I recall browsing A Chess Omnibus in the bookstore after the cover caught my eye. It shows a fine House of Staunton chess set and a felt-lined wooden box. Around that time, I had recently purchased the much less expensive Reykjavik II set from the House of Saunton. It is an elegant wooden set that I am happy to own, and that I carry to tournaments. However, it has never seen a blitz game. For one reason or another, I was ignorant of the work of Edward Winter at the time that I found this book. Browsing through the text in the bookstore, it quickly became obvious that this text would not sit on the shelf unused. Nor does it today. Hardly a month goes by when I am not pulling one or both of these texts off the shelf to browse, or to read something that Winter's fine chess site informs me has been printed there. Winter's other books are on my list of wants.

Winter's books are compendiums of his Chess Notes, which have been published through several outlets. For the past few years, the Notes first appear on his website. Many of Winter's Chess Notes have instructive value for the chess student looking to improve his or her game, but the emphasis in his work seems to be getting details of chess history accurately presented and well-sourced from primary materials. Readers of my other blog, Patriots and Peoples, should be well-aware of my views concerning sourcing in history.

After these four books at the left end of the top shelf, the instructional materials begin. First, there is Graham Burgess, John Nunn, and John Emms, The World's Greatest Chess Games (New York: Carroll & Graf, 1998). My copy has yellowing pages and the spine seems fragile. It is the first American edition, and published the same year as the British original.

Next are two books by Irving Chernev: The 1000 Best Short Games of Chess (1955) and The Most Instructive Games of Chess Ever Played (1965). I wrote about the former back in March in "My First Chess Book." Next along the shelf to the right are a series of tournament books, followed by books concerning specific players. First in the row of tournament books is David Bronstein, Zurich International Chess Tournament 1953, translated by Jim Marfia (1979). Other tournaments and several World Championship matches are represented, including Mikhail Tal's classic Tal Botvinnik 1960.

Perhaps it is time to put the computer away, get out a chess set, and do some serious reading.


  1. I like this post. Books are a critical topic to chess-study, it's just tough to know where to start.

    I am currently loathe to buy more chess books, even though they are cheap and affordable on Amazon, and a buddy of mine wants to look through Silman's Endgame manual. I said I would buy this so we can look at it, but I really don't want to because for example I already have Batsford's Endgame Encyclopedia, and one endgame book by Karpov, and then there is Smyslov's best games, which often lead to non-theoretical yet real-life endgames.

    I want to go through my player biographies because next stop is openings, and I have been putting off openings studies for years now.

    It makes me sick to think that I have too much other good stuff, and plenty of it, before I can get to what I really want to study.

    Well, only 4 bios remaining. Zhiatdinov, Keres, Kasparov and Smyslov. Smyslov's is the only one I haven't studied any games from yet.

    1. Thanks for the support.

      I have spent many hours with a book and set. These days it is easy to log into Chess Tempo and start slogging through tactical positions, or to open a database and start churning through games. But, book study provided the foundation of my skill, and book study is a central element in what will be lifting me to Expert (soon, I hope) and beyond. Sometimes I tend to forget what books actually sit on my shelf. Hence this post.

  2. Here's an example of what I'm talking about. I skimmed that book you have listed on the right side of this page "Imagination in Chess" a few times. I didn't buy it because too much was already on my plate (this was a few years ago). Now I see that that book is about $50.

    I agree with the one reviewer that that book leaves little to the imagination. It struck me as mostly solving like 15 move deep endgame problems. It's a "work your butt off to reach GM" type of book, not fun/frilly type of book. I have the Encylopedia of middlegames to go through before I can think of how I want to kill myself studying endgames! ;-)

  3. This is a GREAT idea. I have a placemat that I'm going to use right away!