Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

I did manage to read Rowson’s book The Moves that Matter, carefully enough. It took longer than it should but he does appear to have remained remarkably adept at giving you food for thought and time for digestion. He did come under some criticism as there are factual errors, and some points made are rather contentious. His account of chess in Georgia and the gap in strength between men and women remaining unchanged was disappointing to read given that the policy introduced to invoke change has already done so, hence the reason that the majority of Georgian world champions are female. The latter third of the book has a shift in style which indicates fatigue. Some parts are below par for him, and feel rushed or without the reflection we come to expect from Rowson. Still, it’s a great book and well worth a read. Perhaps a little too ambitious but at worst only very slightly falls short of what it should have been. Anyway, that is nothing more than my own uncontested opinion.

Score 9 out of 10

Read Full Post »

Proffered advice…

How can an academic not condemn chess literature as being nothing more than decadent and overrun by charlatans? How can an academic not become giddy with excitement when they purchase a publication written by a Grandmaster who is an effective writer and well-educated too? Now I know what you are thinking. You are thinking ‘Mark/Marcus, it’s not yet April 1st, please drop the silly jokes.’ However, some Grandmasters are well-educated and aren’t the archetypal one-trick pony which almost all GMs are. Some possess knowledge about the world beyond the chess board, and far more importantly, the means to communicate it too. They are few and far between but they do exist, I assure you….yes I know you think I am joking but I am not, please read on.

Enter the Scotsman with letters both before his name and after, Mr. Jonathan Rowson. An ex-British champion who is smart enough to learn there is much more to life than some old board game. If you are a typical chess player, your reaction will be to home in on his rating and remain incapable of thinking about anything else until you have worked it out, at which point you will think something along the lines of him being just another sub 2700 player or something like that.

Some Grandmasters are actually well-educated and can write well despite having never broken into the Super GM substrata. Should you be interested in what a well-educated GM has to say about life and chess, than Mr.Rowson is your man. You might want to ask whether myself being a Philosopher too induces a bias I cannot overcome? No it doesn’t for I am a part-time practising philosopher only, it’s only post-modern history that I preach and not philosophy…definitely not philosophy.

You may have encountered Rowson before you may not. You may want to follow suit and purchase what you see below you may not.


As a genre, chess literature is something we must remain suspicious of at all times, and so when we find something both highly educational and well worth reading, its worth sharing…

Enjoy. Won’t cost you much. He’s very smart. A very effective writer. He has a lot to say. He loves to write…what have you got to lose?

Read Full Post »

Everyone needs his memories. They keep the wolf of insignificance from the door.  -Saul Bellow, Mr. Stammer’s Planet

In our modern age, where we are immured by the artifice of consumerism, it is tough to know what to buy and read. Courtesy of on-line purchasing and the emergence of e-books, we are more spoilt for choice than ever, now unsure of which format as well as what to buy in a rapidly evolving market.

Apart from experiencing the rise and fall of the Soviet Union, GM Averbakh established himself as both a noted journalist and diplomat across many decades, which is why he is a good choice of subject for chess lovers. In his ‘personal memoir’ he gives us great insight into his early life, and Moscow in the 1930’s. Some thirty pages in, chess appears and his thoughts on his opponents and the various political institutions he represented make for a fascinating read. The latter stages of the book give an insider’s account of more recent times, and opinion if Averbakh was not directly involved in the events he discusses. This does mean though, that like myself, you will be scratching your head as to what the genre of the book actually is.

It’s old news that ‘New In Chess’ are rather sloppy at times, and so the sub-title ‘A personal memoir of a Soviet chess legend’ is a little confusing, and certainly not one our self-effacing author would have chosen I’m sure. Traditionally, memoirs have a narrow focus and are nothing like how the book begins, with its strict chronology and broad subject matter, which reads more like autobiography. They are also never referred to as ‘personal’ since they are always first-person accounts. But once the author’s chess-life makes an appearance it does take ‘centre-stage’ itself and narrows the content accordingly, however, the move towards memoir quickly disappears towards the end of the book as the author spends much time describing events which he had little or no involvement in at all. For most readers this probably won’t matter at all but I found it disappointing since Averbakh writes about his own life very well. The book would have been stronger had he remained true to its purported aims. Its failure to do so was yet another predictable example of trying to cram as much material into a publication, I thought.

‘It has been said that though god cannot alter the past, historians can’ Samuel Butler

At his best, GM Averbakh describes his past as like a plaited rope with its interwoven strands representing its different aspects, all united by his chess, which is the rope itself. His efficient style and the structure of the book make for an engaging read. I noticed that, unlike many of his former comrades, Averbakh is able to resist embellishment, safe in the knowledge that the richness of the content does all the work for him.  

‘History is…never history, but history-for’ Claude Levi Strauss

‘(…) it’s one thing to recall what happened yesterday, but something else entirely when you recall what happened 50 years ago. Naturally you perceive things completely differently. In actual fact, Russian history contains an awful lot of lying, and that’s to put it mildly. Yuri Averbakh (

When writing about the many people whom he encountered Averbakh is magnanimous rather than grandiloquent. The impression you gain from reading -and it is only an impression, more on that to come- is that he is insightful, mature and consistent in his views; you understand very quickly why his exploits off the board surpassed those over it. Regarding the comments on the back cover, ‘A unique, revealing and at times unsettling story -essential reading for anyone interested in the history of chess and the Soviet Union’. Again, it is an essential read for those ‘interested in the history of [20th century] chess’, I think, but to what extent the content can be considered reliable is another matter. The major flaw with this publication is that there is no introduction so we don’t know whether research took place and what material was used. At times it’s obvious that the author was writing without assistance as his attempts to set events in context are sometimes inaccurate by decades. Writing about events 50 years ago and more is problematic on a number of levels. You would have to have a very simplistic view of how memory works, thinking we can just rewind into the past like a video cassette and replay events as we wish to think otherwise. Since Freud it has been generally accepted that we strive to forget as much as we remember and that this plays a crucial role in forming our identity and self-hood. Moving beyond there is the difficulty of understanding what exactly our relationship to the world is as our pasts aren’t just shaped by our own actions but the actions of others too. Often these are hidden from or by ourselves and may appear contingent and without a rational basis. Furthermore, the moment you employ a narrative to describe the past, you are already selecting what to and not to include, thus representing the past in its completeness quickly becomes unachievable. This is why people believe in autobiography so much, as first person accounts enable the author to appear more complete, coherent and consistent than they really are.

‘Each time I’ve been to Jouy I’ve seen a bit of canal in one place, and then I’ve turned a corner and seen another, but when I saw the second I could no longer see the first. I tried to put them together in my mind’s eye; it was no good. But from the top of Saint-Hilaire its quite another matter – a regular network in which the place is enclosed. Only you can’t see any water… . To get it all quite perfect you would have to be in both places at once; up at the top of the steeple of Saint-Hilaire and down there at Jouy-le-Vicornte’.

Proust, Remembrance of things past Vol 1 (Penguin) pg.114-115

I think the best use for Averbakh’s book is to use it to help you build up a picture of 20th century chess but bear in mind its limitations.

Some quick last thoughts… 

‘The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting’ Milan Kundera, The book of laughter and forgetting.

Averbakh is good at telling us how his life was shaped by others. I suppose if there’s ever one culture in which our decisions are made for us, Soviet Russia, with its neglect of individualism would be it. If you read the book, you will understand how vital it was to tow the party line. If you’ve ever wondered why Soviet chess became infamous for being plagued by internal dissensions, Averbakh’s book can help you understand why. Even the smallest of mistakes, such as asking to think something over instead of doing as you are told without question was enough to have your career ruined. Averbakh’s career both on and off the board suffered numerous setbacks because he made the mistake of thinking for himself whilst dealing with pedantic, and sometimes psychotic, officials. As you may know, several ex-KGB members had senior positions in chess in Soviet times, the most notorious being Baturinsky. I know very little about the KGB but feel that the book does a disservice to them, whenever they appear, all the jokes they made amongst themselves were about having someone arrested or imprisoned or shot! Happy reading.

Condemned to see everywhere a state of becoming…the past has to be forgotten if it is not to become the gravedigger of the present…forgetting is essential to action…it is altogether impossible to live at all without forgetting’ Nietzsche – Untimely Meditations, pgs.61-62.

A nice win by Averbakh


I’ll leave you decide whether being on the fringe of the world championship cycle for a brief part of your career entitles you to the term ‘a chess legend’ but from reading his book it would appear that Mr.Averbakh was indeed a gentleman.

The Soviet Union?

The Soviet Union?

Some upcoming publications from the wonderful world of chess literature (images courtesy of Kingpin & Release the Kraken)

There are many who are fond of Kasparov's series. Do they know he didn't write much of it, employing a team up upwardly mobile  GMs to do the research for him.

There are many who are fond of Kasparov’s series. Do they know he didn’t write much of it, employing a team up upwardly mobile GMs to do the research for him I wonder?


Our overworked academic sets the record straight, amending all those rickety assertions we have become inured to over the years by titled chess players. With over 300 million pages to explore this book is a real bargain.


Notice the buzz word ‘Secrets’ there. I can’t tell you anything about this book because its a secret, so you’ll have to buy it first before realizing its a waste of money.


A shocking cover and a choice of opening that the author has never played but has recently coveted as it provides a niche in the market for our cash-strapped author.

Read Full Post »

In our country, where the cultural level is comparatively low, where up to now a typical pastime of the masses has been brewing liquor, drunkenness and brawling, chess is a powerful means of raising the general cultural level.

Krylenko: Introduction to the 1925 Moscow Tournament book, cf Eales: The History of a Game pg.171

A parcel of books arrived on my office desk whilst I was out for lunch one day late August. Its journey across Europe to the Caspian Sea some weeks before I had forgotten about, what with the summer being so interminably long. It was damaged in transit but the contents were fine thankfully: they were for the minutes of freedom during work and those silent hours when the little one is curled up beside my wife at the day’s end and doesn’t notice the bedside lamp switched on beside her.

It is only after our basic needs for food and shelter have been met that we can hope to enjoy the luxury of theoretical speculations -Aristotle. 

With such a dazzling array of literary talent before me, it wasn’t easy to know what to choose first but with over 2000 pages of history ahead across numerous publications, I thought some historiography should take priority. I began reading a difficult text by a former lecturer one sunny morning on my shuttle bus as it left the exhaust end of Baku and headed towards the myriad of congested junctions, cacophony of horns, and impatient traffic police which tell you in no uncertain terms, that you are in the city centre. On the day it was finished, I opened Eales’s publication the morning after.

Who is Richard Eales?

Dr. Richard Eales was once head of history at the University of Kent and still retains a position there, though I believe he is retired now. He is a noted historian, his specialty being Medieval History. He is a keen chess player and was strong in his youth, strong enough to represent England in some capacity. His wife, professor Jackie Eales is GM Raymond Keene’s sister, and according to chess historian Tim Harding, was once married to Daniel Levy. As Jackie Levy, she once had an article published about the history of women’s chess. If you have an interest in chess history, you might hear Dr.Eales being mentioned. It is a part of the Harding Simpole Chess Classic Series. I paid something in the region of thirty pounds for it and was not disappointed.

Eales: Chess -The History of a Game

Given his background, it is unsurprising that ‘Chess -The history of a game’ evinces a high degree of technical proficiency. It is an academic work written for both historians and chess players but the latter should note that it contains no chess theory & games as such. The aim of the book is to show chess as not just a game but a social and cultural phenomenon and how it has developed as such. The author’s motivation for writing can be found in the introduction:

‘Since Murray’s a history of chess, nothing has been published on the subject since. (On page 18 he continues) The present work makes no claim to emulate or replace Murray’s scholarship, and is conceived on quite a different scale. It’s aim is twofold: to summarize what is now known about the subject, and to suggest a number of new approaches which makes chess even more relevant and valuable to the cultural historian than it was in 1913.’ 

Murray’s ‘A History of Chess’, is what many people consider to be the text to read concerning chess history, it was written in 1913. I cannot comment on that publication in this post. Not since the bleak winter of 89, with its scowling winds and cold, lashing rains have I read it.

To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born, is to remain always a child’ -Cicero De Onatore 34

Even if you do question the idea of cramming the long and rich history chess has into a mere 200 pages or so, the book still stands as an exceptionally strong piece of writing. The expertise with which the first two chapters are handled is an absolute joy to behold. It is hard to believe that a stronger piece of writing exists on the early periods of chess history. I found his proud inconclusiveness in the light of such fragmentary evidence to be refreshingly honest. Many important claims made by Murray are repudiated by Eales with apparent ease, meaning that if you were ever to give lectures on chess history then Eales will become essential reading. The final two chapters differ from those preceding however. There is a distinct change in style and I felt the emergence of Eales the chess player appear alongside Eales the historian, as the narrative becomes fluid and loose in parts. Given the precision of the preceding chapters, its a little surprising to see the author slip up so easily. I wondered if Eales was one of those historians who thinks that history only begins before a certain point in time. Before moving onto Keele, a former lecturer who taught me 17th century British history as a young undergraduate, was rather dismissive about the idea of 20th century history. Claiming that anything which can be watched, isn’t history. Like Eales, her specialty was also Medieval History.

‘History is not a value free enterprise’, John Slater -The aims of school history

The primary reason I purchased Eales was for his handling of Soviet Chess, after several historians I spoke to were complimentary of it. Though it was pleasing to see it treated as a subject in its own right, as indeed it should be, I wanted much more from the author than ten pages or so. The final chapter is, in my opinion, not as strong as those before it. Once again, I wondered if the wealth of material available to select from was to blame, given the allusions made by the author. Since an aim of the book was to summarize what is now known post-Murray, or so Eales claimed, I thought more care should have been put into the period of time beyond the scope of Murray’s work -it was far too short.

The problem of chess history – an idolatry of the factual

Chess history is not usually written by academics. It is usually written by titled chess players, who contextualize the games of past masters, the matches and tournaments they participated in with some historical discourse. This dispensation of history, however, is not without its problems. Though it is true that some titled chess players are considerably more talented than others regarding historical matters, there are few who can write about it authoritatively as they are not trained to do so. In certain respects chess history, if left in the hands of titled chess players, is analogous to Tolstoy’s view of the modern history of his time.

‘Modern history, like a deaf man, answers questions no one asks’. Tolstoy

The moves and games of past greats receive all the attention in their publications but the ‘history’ offered beyond the analysis is sparse and stripped down to its bare bones. The problem, or perhaps critical flaw, with that approach is that if you simplify something too much, there comes a point where it stops being what it is. What we are often left with is, if it is anything, is not history but non-history, which commonly reads like something written by a precocious schoolboy, and at its very worst amounts to nothing more than raw biographical data, copied from a variety of unacknowledged sources. In his early work ‘Untimely Meditations’ Nietzsche once warned us of the dangers of a reductionist history:

‘He who has once learned to bend his back and bow his head before the power of history, at last nods ‘Yes’ like a Chinese mechanical doll to every power, whether it be a government or public opinion or a numerical majority and moves his limbs to the precise rhythm at which any ‘power’ whatever pulls the strings.’

Chapter II  On the use and disadvantages of history for life pg.105

Publications like Eales’s serve only to show us how much we need more historians writing chess history, if we are to experience its richness. There are many thought-provoking points and questions within the text but my favorite was: ‘Yet it remains a paradox that the Soviet leaders chose a bourgeois pastime, as chess was then generally regarded, to further their ends’ (pg.169). 

Some further thoughts on professionalized history

It is below me to pretend that I have a greater understanding of history than Dr. Richard Eales and I do not wish to be critical of his approach, given that this is only a blog and not a dialogue as such. He is not a titled chess player trying to pass himself off as a historian, he is a distinguished academic in his own right. However, I am a philosopher and not a historian, so I have something to say. As a post-grad, I learnt that in our post-Nietzschean, post-Foucault world, the idea of a distanced, value-free historian, one who writes history for its own sake, is rather dubious. Ignoring the fact that such a position rests upon a whole host of metaphysical assumptions that are vigorously rejected by our post-modernist allies, there is of course, the pressing question of what is the purpose of history?

‘We want to serve history only to the extent that history serves life…let us at least learn better how to employ history for the purpose of life!’ Nietzsche, Untimely Meditations, pg 59 (Hollingdale)

The difficulty with academic/professionalized history is that it consigns history to the past. The type of history that Eales offers is guilty of that charge. It can neither help us with what is present nor prepare us for what lies ahead. The real challenge with such publications is how to accept an exemplary model of a type of history you don’t believe in, given the state of affairs of chess history and the decadent literary culture it emerges from. It is undoubtedly true that chess history needs gifted academics like Eales even if we don’t agree with the type of history presented. The fact that I still managed to enjoy the book from start to finish bears that out I hope… and I look forward to a second read beyond the inclement autumn days ahead. Before then I have much Aristotle to plow through and Chomsky and the charismatic Howard Zinn.

“History can come in handy. If you were born yesterday, with no knowledge of the past, you might easily accept whatever the government tells you. But knowing a bit of history–while it would not absolutely prove the government was lying in a given instance–might make you skeptical, lead you to ask questions, make it more likely that you would find out the truth.” Howard Zinn

For the first time ever, the parcel of books I had sent contained nothing on chess theory. Being British, I buy the broadsheets we have to offer, as they are amongst the very best in the world, so I find my chess theory there now. The great thing about reading such columns is that if they are poor, you can always use them to wrap your fish and chips the next day! For me, I leave the fish out…using chess terminology, that’s an unorthodox move but in life, whilst visiting the British Chess Championships in Eastbourne 1990, I ate a dodgy chicken burger on the pier there late evening and have not touched meat or fish ever since.

“Whoever is going to listen to the philosophers needs a considerable practice in listening.” Epictetus

Lastly, I would like to thank Dr. Beverly Southgate for his wonderful publication ‘Why bother with history?’ and congratulate him on his fine health as Professor Emeritus in spite of his advancing age.

History is philosophy teaching by examples’ – Dionysius of Halicarnasis


Comes with engaging narrative from start to finish.

A wonderful historian capable of transforming history's winners into losers.

Howard Zinn: a wonderful historian capable of transforming history’s winners into losers.

Rather annoyingly, you can never read too much or too little Nietzsche, as I  found to my cost whilst writing my dissertation.

Rather annoyingly, you can never read too much or too little Nietzsche, as I found to my cost whilst writing my dissertation.

Epictetus: Professor Lippitt was a great orator when it came to the subject of Epictetus.

Epictetus: Professor Lippitt was a great orator when it came to the subject of Epictetus.

Dr. Beverly Southgate. A very learned man with a wonderful teaching style.

Dr. Beverly Southgate. A very learned man with a wonderful teaching style.

Noam Chomzky: a man who defies categorization. He is probably the most interesting person alive to listen to today.

Noam Chomsky: a man who defies categorization. He is probably the most interesting person alive to listen to today.

Everyone should read the Nicomachean Ethics

Everyone should read Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics

Perhaps not the greatest of all Russian authors?

Tolstoy: perhaps not the greatest of all Russian authors?

In his book The Savage Mind, Claude Levi-Strauss once said 'There is no history without dates' The  transformation of words to numbers in the context of history, will always appeal to our analyzing,  mathmetizing chess history writers

In his book The Savage Mind, Claude Levi-Strauss once said ‘There is no history without dates’ The transformation of words to numbers in the context of history, will always appeal strongly to our analyzing, mathmetizing, titled chess players turned ‘historians’.

The person culpable for reducing daddy's reading time down.

The person culpable for reducing daddy’s reading time down.


Dionysius of Halicarnassus. Certainly worth reading if you can find the time.

It is a critical mistake to attribute the popularity of Soviet chess to a given thing or person, however, Krylenko was very much the man pulling the strings. A friend of Lenin and a political ally of Stalin, who being Stalin, ensured that he was executed.

Nikolai Krylenko: it is a critical mistake to attribute the popularity of Soviet chess to a given thing or person, however, Krylenko was very much the man pulling the strings in the 20’s. A friend of Lenin and a political ally of Stalin, who being Stalin, ensured that in due course he was to be executed. An unsung hero of our beautiful game.

Cicero, another great man who was put to death.

Cicero, another great man who was put to death.

Read Full Post »

What is a chess traveller you might ask. Someone who insists upon using British English, travels and plays chess at the same time?

This lighthearted read is meant to be a companion for those who need to wile away a few hours in transit, though in fact its more than that. I took it on a short trip to Myanmar recently and noticed that it is ideal for tournament preparation too as the positions come from actual games, the games are not well known and there is a good variety of positions. They become harder with each chapter, of which there are twelve, the increase in difficulty is gradual meaning that you won’t suddenly find yourself lost. The book’s simple format means that a pleasant hour or two can be had with it easily, and there’s even some nice animation between chapters! One of the few puzzle books published in recent years worth reading.


Read Full Post »

A publication which the authors and publisher (Cadogan)  should be proud of, ignoring the wholly unsuitable pink cover of course. A collaborative project which works well on many levels, the book gives a brief account of each tournament, with a cross-table, a couple of games and a reference or two to anything exceptional chesswise. There is an attempt by Cafferty to document the conditions and events dominating each tournament, and some of the politics behind it as well as any exceptional or notable incidents. Mostly this is referenced but not always – a disappointment for sure.

Given that some 71 years are covered, Cafferty opts for brevity at all times. I thought this was a shame as he is knowledgeable, and the effortless writing he supplies shows this. The text is read, then, as something to whet the appetite, or as a reference point perhaps…it would read well on a long-train journey I think.

A tidy book to read though too superficial to explore its subject matter sufficiency. If you just want a taste of what the Soviet Championships were about, this publication will make for a satisfying read. Certainly worth purchasing.


Read Full Post »

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.


Read Full Post »

‘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

Read Full Post »

Edited by Benjamin Hale, this text is a collection of unpublished articles which brings together philosophy, understood in its academic context, and chess.

The best way to think of this book is as an introduction to philosophy for chess players and nothing more. With that in mind, you shouldn’t expect to be too challenged by the content even if you have never read academic philosophy before, as you won’t be burdened by genius or bewitched by brilliance in this publication. Though the book begins with content which, technically speaking, lies within the analytic tradition in philosophy, it does not delve deeply as most articles are written with the reader in mind, meaning that terminology, experiment and argumentation are explained sufficiently. However, if philosophy is new to you, I suggest you invest a little time researching the earlier content -excluding the first article, which is only there to help sell the book- as some of the later content will refer to it in some shape or form. That is important should you wish to read the book in its entirety. Philosophy cannot be defined by its subject matter, therefore, towards the end of the text we are introduced to a much broader subject matter. The method and approach is rigorous enough so that we can say with certainty that what is being presented is academic philosophy.

Given that I have spent at least 5 years studying philosophy formally, this book wasn’t written for me. I understand the text as being introductory but the difficulty with simplifying philosophy is that if you go too far, it stops becoming philosophy. In my opinion there are a number of articles within the text that come dangerously close to that threshold, and one or two which cross it. Many types of error can be found in this publication, some could have been easily avoided had the author referenced his claims instead of relying upon the vernacular to carry him through, in others terms are introduced that the author clearly has little understanding of and can only allude to, many articles annoyingly slip in and out of the first person, making you wonder on what level they are suitable for publication. One article in particular looks like nothing more than a half-decent first draft.

Aristotle once asked ‘What is it about a thing that makes a thing what it is?‘ Concerning this publication, the best answer I can give -if we ignore the spurious claims in the introduction- is, primarily, an intention by the editing author to find a niche in the market, and secondarily, to offer the opportunity for writers people who write to find their way into print, which within academia is usually a necessity.

Even though both chess and philosophy have long literary traditions, there has been little convergence between the two, and in my opinion, what has been published has always failed to make a genuine impact within their own respective fields let alone each others. I don’t feel that this book has made a genuine contribution towards bridging that divide.

A disappointing read.


Read Full Post »

The beauty of a move lies not in its appearance but in the thought behind it.  –  Aaron Nimzowitsch

And so too with literature. Occasionally in chess literature we stumble upon a book based upon a concept that appears so self-evidently sound, it demands that we take a deeper look. When I then saw a plethora of rave reviews for the aforementioned text, I was powerless to resist locating it on amazon, and then as if like a robot, began punching in the numbers on the credit card, salivating in stupor, awaiting its delivery with…something or other.

More seriously, I intend to marginally break rank here. I don’t write for anyone or anything other than the joy of writing, which gives me a greater level of freedom than those within literary circles within chess. Some thoughts on that: book reviews tend to suffer from time pressure and lack of interest, and more importantly a lack of freedom. It is in the interests of a titled player not to be too critical of a text published by the company which employs him. Some criticism is both necessary and acceptable as long as the bar is raised accordingly. By this I mean an average book becomes a good book, a good book becomes a great book, and a terrible book becomes a bad book. A lack of time is more pernicious than may first appear. Personally I like to take my time to think more deeply about certain issues, as the answer isn’t always apparent. Sometimes we don’t know for sure how we feel about something until we’ve had a good night’s sleep. Of course, being rubbish at chess means that my understanding of the game is much less than titled opposition, but having invested my entire life into education, having always been an avid reader and lover of writing per se entitles me to an opinion, one which I believe is informed enough to express. In previous posts I durstn’t refer to a text without quoting from it, as I didn’t want to drag the culture of chess literature into the gutter -as its never been there before honest!-but this time it has to be that way. More importantly, I will keep this brief as the text allows me to do this.

The text in question has clearly had a lot of thought put into the construction of it, although some explanation upon how the ‘modern’ era is defined would have been nice. Is there any reason why the author chooses 1993 as a starting date I wonder? The games are chronologically ordered and fascinating without being exceptional due to  the primary purpose of the text being instruction. The quality of the annotation and commentary is consistently high, which makes reading the book an absolute pleasure. Furthermore, Stohl does a good job of choosing lesser known games, and making them, as the title says, instructive. Some of them cannot be found on-line, even though the players are well-known.

A solid effort by Stohl and well-worth buying. He should be very proud of himself. My suggestion for an active reading process with this book is to play through each game carefully, then spend time thinking about how the game is instructive in the context of the modern game. It’s not as easy to do as you might think.


Read Full Post »

Older Posts »