The Caissa Kid

Sharing All that is Best in Chess

Archive for the ‘history’ Category

My Chess

leave a comment »

My Chess

By Hans Ree

Foreword by Jan Timman

Russell Enterprises, 2013

ISBN: 9781936490677

My Chess

An interesting book bringing together 40-odd articles Ree has written over the years, mostly for New in Chess magazine.

Profiles of one sort or another predominate, whether of world champions (Fischer, Karpov and Kasparov), near-world champions (Bronstein, Kortchnoi, Timman), cultural figures associated with chess (Duchamp, Nabokov) or Dutch players whom Ree has known (with one, Euwe, being also a world champion).

Ree writes about tournament play and the chess club, De Kring, as well. And, like the current world champion (see Carlsen’s recent interview on Norwegian TV) and the Austrian artist Gottfried Helmwein, Ree seems to have a soft spot for Donald Duck.

One sentence struck me. Ree writes of Euwe that, despite his solid establishment status, he preferred to mingle with bohemians rather than ‘respectable plodders’. It struck me because that’s a strand or a subtext running through many of the essays: in the Netherlands, uniquely perhaps, chess is an arena where the bourgeois and bohemian worlds meet.

The essay about Murey is especially beautiful and, in my view, the best in the book.

The publisher’s description is here.


Written by P.P.O. Kane

February 28, 2018 at 5:47 pm

Bobby Fischer for Beginners

leave a comment »

Bobby Fischer for Beginners: The Most Famous Chess Player Explained

By Renzo Verwer

New In Chess, 2010

ISBN: 9789056913151

Bobby Fischer for Beginners

As a first port of call for those wishing to learn about Bobby Fischer‘s life and chess career, this book does a fairly good, though by no means perfect job.

Its great advantage is that it takes in the whole of Fischer‘s life, up until his death on 17 January 2008, while quite a few other books end just after the 1972 match with Spassky.

After considering Fischer‘s various contributions to chess (including the invention of the Fischer chess clock and the proposal of Chess 960 or Fischer Random Chess as a way to renew and reinvigorate the game) and outlining what is currently known about his life, 10 of the eleventh world champion’s games are given with light annotations. Most of these games are significant, but at least one (game 5, a 12 move loss from a simultaneous exhibition in 1964) has only curiosity value. It is included only because it is Fischer’s shortest recorded loss.

Some attempt has been made to set out Fischer’s contributions to opening theory (for example, on pages 26, 48 and 62) but this is woefully incomplete. His rejuvenation of the Exchange Variation of the Ruy Lopez at the Havana Olympiad in 1966 is not mentioned – to give but one small omission. Actually, come to think of it, Botterill’s chapter in the collection of Fischer’s games published by Batsford is probably still the best word on this subject; and it was written about 45 years ago.

There’s a reasonably complete set of tournament and match results and the highlighted statistics, such as they are, seem fairly accurate. However, the author seems unaware that Fischer compiled a second top-ten list of great players in 1970 and that this second list included, for example, Botvinnik (who was not in the 1964 list, which is set out in this book on page 119) but excluded the great Alekhine (who was in the 1964 list).

In general, the less you know about Bobby Fischer and in particular his contributions to chess, the happier you will be with this book. This may strike some as a rather back-handed compliment. What I mean is that if you are not ‘a beginner’ when it comes to Fischer, to use Renzo Verwer’s term, then you’ll have an unwelcome awareness of the author’s omissions and of how his sometimes bald statements need to be qualified. If you are ‘a beginner’ or know very little about Bobby Fischer, then Verwer’s book will serve as an adequate introduction to its subject.

The publishers description of the book can be read here.

Written by P.P.O. Kane

January 3, 2018 at 12:35 pm

Eminent Victorian Chess Players

leave a comment »

Eminent Victorian Chess Players: Ten Biographies

By Tim Harding

McFarland, 2012

ISBN: 9780786465682

Eminent Victorian Chess Players: Ten Biographies

Here is a book that transports you back to the nineteenth century, to a time when London was the centre of the chess world.

The ten biographical essays, each one diligently researched and vividly written, take a considered look at four giants of the game – Staunton, Steinitz, Blackburne and Zukertort – as well as exploring the lives of some lesser known but still colourful figures. Looking at the likes, for example, of Bird, Evans and Gunsberg.

We learn quite a lot about these men (they are all men, as it happens), and not only about their contribution to chess. As a case in point, consider the good Captain Evans, inventor of the celebrated gambit in the Italian Game, who also came up with the coloured lights system for ships travelling at night. His was a historic contribution to nautical safety which earned him many international plaudits, although, as Harding readily acknowledges, there is much of his life that remains unknown to this day. The Victorians showed great tact and circumspection with respect to any hint of scandal or unconventional social arrangement, an admirable characteristic which (alas!) too often leaves the historian at a loss, dependent on supposition and educated guesswork.

Nonetheless one does get here a very real sense of the uneasy tension between the British players, Staunton and later Blackburne and the latter’s ‘supporters’, various lesser lights who wrote chess columns, and the immigrant players who had newly arrived from Europe. Many of the new arrivals were Jewish, as well as being, more often than not, superior in skill to the home-grown talents, and one cannot deny that there was an anti-Semitic flavour to much of the journalism, as in Duffy’s disgraceful persecution of the great Steinitz (see pages 182-183 of the book). Major sources of tension were professionalism (British sportsmanship versus Continental mercenaries), position and (of course) money – always in short supply.

There are plenty of annotated games, as well as photos and ink drawings of the players, and each essay ends with an assessment of its subject’s contribution to chess. Harding has written an excellent book, and an important one too.

The publisher’s description of the book can be read here.


Written by P.P.O. Kane

January 3, 2018 at 11:30 am

Zurich 1953

leave a comment »

Zurich 1953

By Miguel Najdorf

Russell Enterprises, 2012

ISBN: 9781936490431

Zurich 1953

Najdorf’s book stands right up there alongside Bronstein’s classic book of the same tournament, that is the best thing I can say to convey its regal quality.

Just like Bronstein, Najdorf played at Zurich 1953. He finished in sixth place, sandwiched between seven Soviet players: five below and two above. It was Reshevsky in third place who spearheaded the Western challenge, though, ending two points behind the winner (and eventual world champion) Smyslov.

The crucial point about Zurich 1953 is that it was an elite tournament before such events became relatively common: 15 leading players participated, none of them weak or decidedly inferior to each other, over a period of about two months. Many of the 210 games that were played are now considered classics, and all except for a very few have moments of great interest. The spectacular queen sacrifice in Averbakh-Kotov; the powerful positional play of Reshevsky-Bronstein, a King’s Indian classic; and the concerted kingside attack that did for Taimanov and won Najdorf the Brilliancy Prize (another King’s Indian, incidentally). Those would be my top three but there many other beautiful games here too.

As for Najdorf’s annotations, they are as instructive and insightful as Bronstein’s, though more convivial and conversational.

Zurich 1953 is a wonderful book and is highly recommended.

The publisher’s description of the book can be read here.


Written by P.P.O. Kane

December 20, 2017 at 2:24 pm

Zaubern wie Schachweltmeister Michail Tal

leave a comment »

Zaubern wie Schachweltmeister Michail Tal

By Karsten Müller and Raymund Stolze

Edition Olms, 2010

ISBN: 9783283010072

Zaubern wie Schachweltmeister Michail Tal

Tal, a unique figure in the history of chess, presents an interesting contrast to the current World Champion.

If Magnus Carlsen is the ‘hero of the computer era’ (see the review of Fighting Chess with Magnus Carlsen elsewhere at this site), then Tal was the absolute antithesis, especially in his early career. His speculative sacrifices, many of which were later found to be objectively dubious, would hardly stand scrutiny by a modern-day computer. Yet they won him the world championship because he was more courageous and could see farther and deeper than his contemporaries. For Tal, chess was a medium to test his own and others’ vision. His was a psychological approach, and a computer would, of course, be impervious to it.

There are two aspects to this wonderful book, an ebullient celebration of the magician from Riga. The first consists of individual contributions from Tal’s widow Engelina and from several players – among them Spassky, Uhlmann and Kramnik – who knew Tal as a friend and/or opponent. Of these, my picks would be the wide-ranging interview with Yusupov and a fine piece of analysis by Hubner. Yusupov perceptively remarks that Tal’s style maximised his strengths. As a player he was an amalgam of artist and psychologist, risk-taker and competitor, and his strengths lay primarily in his imagination, his combinational vision and a rare ability to calculate deeply and accurately. He used these strengths to challenge and unsettle his opponents, creating situations where they felt under constant threat. Only a handful of players – Yusupov singles out three: Spassky, Petrosian and Korchnoi – were able to resist this approach. Hubner, as a tribute to Tal’s genius, analyses the game he played against Keller at Zurich 1959. It takes all of 44 pages. The German grandmaster doesn’t do superficial or sloppy.

The second aspect of the book is that it serves as an advanced textbook on tactics, the gen here being 100 challenging exercises with detailed solutions. Some 10 exercises are concerned with speculative (unclear and sometimes not entirely correct) sacrifices, while 28 exercises are about ‘Defending or Warding off Magic’ – that is, finding the defensive or counter-attacking possibility that Tal’s opponent had missed. So it’s not your typical set of tactical puzzles.

For another personal view of Tal, I’d recommend above all Sosonko’s memoir ‘My Misha’; it is one of the pieces collected in his Russian Silhouettes and is wonderful. However, admirers of Tal’s magical chess will feast on this splendid book. Note that you’ll likely need a good grasp of German to get the most out of it.

The publisher’s description of the book can be read here.


Play like a Girl!

leave a comment »

Play like a Girl!

By Jennifer Shahade

Mongoose Press, February, 2011

ISBN-13: 978-1936277032


This is a book of tactical puzzles, but with a difference: in each and every position a female chess player delivers the decisive blow.


Most of the positions are not too difficult, although towards the end of each chapter they become slightly trickier. And the positions in the last chapter (chapter 15), a fair number of them anyway, are quite challenging.

A really enjoyable way of improving at chess, as Nigel Davies notes in the first chapter of 10 Great Ways to Get Better at Chess, is to develop your tactical vision and your ability to calculate variations. This book, and others like it (such as Alburt’s Chess Training Pocket Book), will enable you to do this – and so help you to recognize tactical opportunities when they arise in your own games.

The positions are arranged by theme (double attack, back-rank mate, pawn promotion, etc.) and each chapter includes a short profile of a famous or not so well-known female chess player (Vera Menchik, Judit Polgar and Alexandra Kosteniuk are among the more famous names). Of the 15 players profiled, 5 – that is to say, a third – live in the USA, as against 3 from Russia and only 1 from China. So there’s a little bit of a bias here, I’d suggest.

In appearance the book has a predominantly purple/pink cover and it is a large format hardback (about 22cm x 28.5cm), rather like an annual. The pages are spacious and there are as many as 6 large diagrams to a page. It is attractively designed and fun to read and study. In fact, it doesn’t feel like an ordinary chess book at all: a typical chess book is a paperback with dense analysis and lengthy annotations.

I would guess that the intended or ideal reader for the book would be a girl or young woman, perhaps a promising junior, who’d be inspired by the players’ profiles and therefore be well motivated to use the tactical puzzles to get better at chess. Yet anyone with a liking for chess tactics will enjoy and be entertained by the puzzles in this book, even (dare I say it) boys who are normally allergic to pink. The book opened my eyes to Irina Krush’s chess, anyway; she seems, on this evidence, to win a lot of attractive, attacking games.

The book is subtitled ‘Tactics by 9 Queens’, after the 9 Queens website that Jennifer Shahade founded along with Jean Hoffman. It is well worth checking out and can be reached here.

The publisher’s description of Play like a Girl! can be read here.


Kasparov: How His Predecessors Misled Him About Chess

leave a comment »

Kasparov: How His Predecessors Misled Him About Chess

The books that have successfully combined chess and humour are few in number.

Offhand, I can recall only three outstanding examples: The Twelve Chairs, a satiric Russian novel of 1928 by Ilf and Petrov, and a couple of more recent efforts, How To Cheat at Chess and Soft Pawn, both from the adept pen of William Hartston. Tibor Karolyi and Nick Aplin’s book is a creditable addition to their number.

Kasparov: How His Predecessors Misled Him About Chess is probably best described as a spoof. The authors adopt the voice and persona of ‘Gary Kasparov’, or rather an imaginary version of the great world champion. Their Kasparov is a little wimpy and whiney at times, and he is prone to blame his mistakes on past champions.

There are twelve chapters, with each one devoted to a prior world champion, from Steinitz to Karpov. Every chapter has more or less the same format. Typically, we see a given world champion making use of a particular tactical motif or strategic device (e.g. Tigran Petrosian’s use of the positional exchange sacrifice) or playing a particular kind of position (say, a rook ending) – and, crucially, succeeding. We then see a game or three where Kasparov makes use of the same stratagem, or finds himself in a similar sort of position, but matters do not turn out so well. The joke (there is just the one) is that Kasparov has simply been aping or superficially emulating the great player’s approach without understanding it fully.

It is a neat conceit, but it does become a bit wearing after a while, and it simply cannot be sustained in a book just shy of three hundred pages. Eventually, one just wants the authors to show the games. Also, some of the analogies drawn between the past champions’ and Kasparov’s games can be misleading, or not awfully enlightening, as to the nature of the chess. A firefly is ‘like’ a fire, but phosphorescence and combustion are quite different processes.

The great virtue of the book is, however, the chess. All of the games involve at least one world-class player, so they are of a very high standard indeed. Generally, the annotations are erudite and enjoyable; the analyses are deep when necessary and seem accurate. There are a number of heavyweight ‘K. versus K.’ encounters, with Kasparov taking on Karpov and later Kramnik.

One overriding message to glean and take home: chess is a concrete game. It is the details, even the quirks of a position, which determine whether a certain approach is appropriate and likely to prevail. Therefore, it is never wise to simply parrot or ape an aspect of a great champion’s play (not that the actual Kasparov has ever done this, mind). Context is all!

Overall, Kasparov: How His Predecessors Misled Him About Chess is fun and instructive, though as indicated the humour is a trifle laboured. The publisher’s description of the book can be read here.

Book Details

Kasparov: How His Predecessors Misled Him About Chess

By Tibor Karolyi and Nick Aplin

Batsford, 2009

ISBN: 9781906388263