15 March 2017

Writing and Publishing

My First Kindle Book

Yesterday, I published Essential Tactics: Building a Foundation for Chess Skill (2017) as a Kindle book. If it does well, I plan to update my pamphlet "A Checklist of Checkmates" and make it available in this manner as well. I may also develop other books.

The process of publication was relatively easy, but not entirely without bumps that caused me stress. Amazon offers plenty of guidelines, advice, and options. Among these was the comment that html files convert readily to the Kindle format. Following this advice led to the first headache. I saved my Word file as html and then uploaded it. That went well, and the book was in the Kindle store only a few hours later. However, a chess book without diagrams should be quite rare, especially when all of the text refers to diagrams. Indeed, such a book is worthless. While uploading the file, I did not see a means of uploading the folder containing 319 images.

I uploaded the manuscript as an html file shortly after noon. Just before dinner, I uploaded the .docx file. A few short hours later and my book was fully functional. The first purchase was made before I woke up in the morning. Amazon will periodically deposit the royalties in my bank account.

My description of the book is short.

Essential Tactics presents 150 chess exercises. These exercises were composed to teach chess enthusiasts--beginners through average club players--the most important patterns of contacts, and how to exploit them. Understanding such tactics is the foundation of chess strength. The book also presents fundamental endgame positions that all chess players should know.

This morning, I added two paragraphs to the description. Updates generate a message that they could take up to 72 hours, but the longer description appeared while I was writing this post.

Genesis of the Work

This book grew out of my teaching of elementary age chess players. Over the past seventeen years, I have taught the basics elements of how to play chess to substantially more than one thousand children. Those whom I have cultivated into beginning tournament players are fewer, but still number in the hundreds. Dozens have become strong enough to qualify for the state championship. One of my students has won his grade level state championship three times. His USCF rating surpassed mine last fall.

About four years ago, I was working with two students in an after school club. Seeing that they lacked the most rudimentary tactical vision, I pulled a copy of Beginning Chess (1993) by Bruce Pandolfini from the club's bookshelf. We turned to the first problem and set it up on a chess board. I had to show the answer to these two students, and then explained the concept of a fork. Pandolfini's second problem required me to explain pins. With a little encouragement and some clues, my students were able to set up the next few problems on the board and solve them. By the time they reached the tenth problem, the end of test 1, they were solving them from the diagrams in the book.

I was impressed with the usefulness of Pandolfini's book with these students. I wanted to put this book in the hands of all my students. Unfortunately, I did not have the cash on hand to purchase fifty copies of Beginning Chess.

I spent an evening studying Beginning Chess carefully. Pandolfini offers 300 problems in thirty tests of ten each. Pandolfini explains the distinctive qualities of  the book.
Every problem can be answered in one move. No problem has more than ten pieces on the board. Pieces are arranged in clear patterns, easily remembered. Each problem has only one correct idea. Diligent first-time players can actually solve them.
Pandolfini, Beginning Chess, 11.
The next morning, I composed six simple exercises and produced a worksheet. All of my students in all of my clubs were given this worksheet that week. Within a week, I had dozens of exercises. Four months later, I had eighteen worksheets--four had six exercises, the rest had nine each. My work was done.

I thought that most of my students could solve six to nine exercises of the sort that I created in five minutes or less. Some worksheets kept students working for half an hour or longer. Even third and fourth graders who had been to the state championship and scored well enough there to win trophies struggled with some of the problems.

I still do not comprehend the difficulty level of some of these exercises. Readers who buy the book can offer me useful feedback in this regard.

After a couple of years using these worksheets, I started making them available to other chess teachers. In the next week or so, I expect that my eighteen worksheets titled "Beginning Tactics 1-18" will have been replaced by "Essential Tactics 1-25" with six exercises per page.

Although my book bears similarities to Beginning Chess, I put more emphasis on creating layered exercises. Each one has a clear tactic, but the resulting position may be quite complex.

Layered Exercises

Even the first worksheet offers a layered problem. That is, after solving the tactic, there is a position that offers opportunity for additional instruction, usually in fundamental endgames.

Exercise Six (solution)

1.Bf2 pins the rook. That should be easy to find even for players who have just started playing chess. Young players are apt to capture the rook on the second move, which is a winning move, but less good than 2.Kc3.

After 1.Bf2 Kc5 2.Bxd4+ Kxd4, a position is reached in which White has a single winning move.

Exercise six thus has three layers: the initial tactic, the second tactic (piling on), and the possible pawn ending if the second tactics is messed.

I do not explain the pawn ending in the solution to number six, but a similar position occurs after finding the solution to exercise fourteen.

White to move

A one move solution is acceptable on the worksheets. 1.Be5+. Students may draw an arrow. But, solving the exercise with this fork is but the first step. After 1.Be5+ Qxe5 2.Rxe5 Kxe5, how can White win?

White to move

3.Kg3 is the only winning move.

At this point in the solutions, I explain the concepts of opposition and outflanking. Later in the book, a few pawn endings appear as exercises. One of them places two impossible tasks in front of the student. It is necessary to defend one's own pawn or to catch the opponent's pawn. At first glance, it appears that neither is possible. However, there is a single move that attempts both tasks at once.

White to move

The Next Step

I believe that there are some distinctive aspects of this book that are not yet reflected in the book's description. My current task, thus, is honing the description to attract readers who might benefit from purchase of the book. I also need to learn how to market my book.

I hope that Essential Tactics will generate positive reviews as well as constructive criticism. I hope chess students and chess teachers will find the book useful.


  1. Cool, man! Hope you sell a million copies!

    1. I'd probably die from the surprise if it sold that many. A few hundred would be terrific!