Archive for May, 2013

Before I begin, its worth reiterating -if only to myself- why I write these reviews. It is primarily for self-serving reasons -mentioned in the Read me First- as I am adrift from academia at present and have no other medium of self-expression. As mentioned in previous posts, I purchased a number of publications last year, and thought I should give an account of them.

I’ve recently come to the conclusion that many on-line reviews aren’t really reviews at all, instead they are often mere write ups. The difference being, of course, that a review contains critique whereas a write-up is a form of appraisal. After reading the book I am about to discuss, I went on-line and found several so-called reviews of this text. In truth, I very much doubt whether the journalist in question had actually read the book, as what they said was so far removed from my own experiences of the text, and so one-sided, that I have my doubts. I was going to link the reviews write-ups in question but to do so would be to denigrate my own blog…you will see gore and hardcore gay porn on here before that filth I can assure you!  T.W.I.C is a useful starting point (you can find the link to their book reviews on my blog) but what is said there must be cross-referenced, and time must be spent doing this if you are to make a purchase which is rationally informed rather than one which is, perhaps, impulsive and dependent upon the opinion of one.

The text’s finer points…

What of this latest number that just so happened to fall into my lap? Do you want to ask whether it is about the King’s Gambit? Well not directly though it is a favourite of the author. The book is, in fact, an auto-biographical account of the author’s chess life. Given that the author wasn’t a titled player and didn’t have any real success over the board you may wonder what the point of reading it would be, as in fact I did in places. Well firstly, it doesn’t matter much since anyone who can write well can make anything interesting…more or less, but more importantly, as a journalist the author was in close contact with the people at the very top of the chess world, and over a number of years too, and it is this which will be of interest to most. Moreover, Mr. Hoffman has the craft to intertwine his own personal experiences of chess with his professional commitments so cleverly that distinguishing the two is quite impossible in places, and admirable throughout. I found it personally pleasing to read someone who can write for once, rather than some wannabe GM. The writing exemplifies ease and control, it is not precocious scribble as is often the case in chess. Those new to the game would find the book to be a useful anchor point for the modern game, as unlike many who find their way into print in chess literary circles, Mr.Hoffman is prepared to do things properly, meaning that whenever an important claim is made, it is sourced or referenced. Wasn’t that nice of him? Having dropped out of chess for ages also, I found this publication to be useful in filling in certain gaps whilst I, too, was away from the board. The chapters covering the debacle in Libya fitted that bill especially. It was refreshing to read some primary source material and gain an insider’s view of what happened over there.

Some food for thought.

I struggled to finish this publication, thinking that it was neither written for the likes of me nor was I going to take much from the content (as mentioned, it was only the material on the world championship match held in Libya towards the end that salvaged the publication). It is written primarily, I think, for those with a casual interest in chess or little knowledge of the game. Personally, and as is echoed by the current F.I.D.E president late in the book, I don’t like listening to chess players talk as they often have nothing interesting to say. A book based upon, what is largely casual conversations with ‘top’ chess players, isn’t going to appeal to me; since it was an on-line purchase, I was unable to peruse the text. I very much doubt whether I would have bought it, had I known this in advance. I did complete the book because I admired the craft with which the author wrote, though again, I also found it to be superficial throughout and distinctly American in its lack of humour. The book has a wide audience and being a journalist Mr.Hoffman writes for everyone. Given how impenetrable the chess world can be to the general public, this is probably wise. But for that and other aforementioned reasons, I couldn’t really get into this publication.

I think your enjoyment of this book will come down to how much you know about the chess world. If you are abreast of current affairs in chess and have a good take on the modern game, then perhaps, this publication isn’t really for you. It does have intrinsic value in the sense that it paints a picture of how a life can be shaped by chess, but other than the craft with which it is written, I did not find it to be particularly inspiring.

That’s my take on the text.


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‘Alekhine is a player I’ve never really understood. He always wanted a superior centre; he manoeuvred his pieces toward the kingside, and around the 25th move, began to mate his opponent. He disliked exchanges, preferring to play with many pieces on the board. His play was fantastically complicated, more so than any player before or since.’  –  Bobby Fischer

Being mildly impressed by this year’s Alekhine Memorial, I carefully placed Nottingham 1936 next to a puncture repair kit and some light clothing, along with a magnetic set and my ticket for the overnight train from Bangkok to Vientiane -my reason for departure being a 200km cycling trip. Though still a communist state, Laos has adopted an economic free zone in the capital, meaning that it has blossomed in recent years. The Riverside area, a tightly-packed grid of upmarket bars and  restaurants which the Mekong bends around before meandering through the central plains, offers much more than budget accommodation these days, so that admiring Alekhine’s fine attacking prowess and Capablanca’s sublime endgame technique whilst under the influence of -shall we say- more than one Dark Beer Laos was forthcoming in comfort across several sunny afternoons. There was even time to recline and reflect upon my own efforts in the annual Nottingham tournament many moons ago and plan my journey ahead, which loosely, was to follow the river north to a lake named Ngam Ngum.

Opinions about the great champion by the contestants of the  Alekhine Memorial can be found here

The comments are not too illuminating but worth watching nonetheless. I found this game in particular to be outstanding, and as many commentators said, is something which Mr.Alekhine would himself have been truly proud.

About the publication

The publication makes for a light, entertaining read. I found the analysis and annotation to be generally balanced and deeply insightful in places. Mr. Alekhine deals only with what he considers essential in each game and does not bother us with endless sidelines. Occasionally, however, his style is dismissive in places, I suppose this is a forgivable, occupational hazard of being the world champion.  Sometimes, though, it would be nice to know why certain lines/openings are bad to him. I should point out that this book would appeal to those who enjoy the classical period most. I personally found there to be more uninteresting games than interesting ones but then I am not a fan of playing through 30 variations of the queen’s pawn opening & queen’s gambit declined, or however many there were. For the modern reader it is interesting to see how badly wrong the top players can go in the opening. Even in the very first game, I found both Alekhine and Flohr’s play to be inexplicable for such great players. What was also interesting is how the top British players quickly occupied the bottom places in the tournament, just like in the London Classic these days!

Publications such as these are worth purchasing in the sense that they do qualify as historical documents but they must be handled with a little more care by modern day publishers. It provided me with enough entertainment during the quieter hours on my trip and I will return to it once again with interest in due course, courtesy of Mr.Alekhine’s insightful analysis and his inspiring play.

During a Chess competition a Chessmaster should be a combination of a beast of prey and a monk. – Alekhine

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