Friday, 12 January 2018

Book recommendations from Popular Chess


Issues 4 and 5 of Michael Basman's Popular Chess magazine in 1983 included two long articles by Kenneth Rose with recommendations for starting a chess library for the improving average club player. He explored five categories: master games collections, endings, tactics, openings and the middle game; and narrowed his selections down to one book in each.

Rose canvassed many strong players on which books to recommend, and all agreed that the single most important aspect is to study complete master games. He dismissed a number of candidate games collections for various reasons: (bearing in mind that these are recommendations for average players only).

Logical Chess: Move by Move, by Irving Chernev, because of "his general attitude... oversimplification and gushing praise for his heroes".

The Art of Chess Analysis, by Jan Timman, "I find the reams of variations mind-boggling". Incidentally, Timman's latest book, Timman's Titans, has been very well received and was awarded Book of the Year 2017 by the English Chess Federation.

Capablanca's 100 Best Games of Chess, by Harry Golombek, "very disappointed with the annotations".

And a book that is rarely criticised, My 60 Memorable Games, by Bobby Fischer, "you only see one man's style of play" and "you can never really tell how many of the wonderful variations Fischer saw at the board, and how much of the tactical illustration is post facto justification of lines which he played instinctively".

Rose's ultimate choice in this category was The Chess Struggle in Practice by David Bronstein, for the following reasons:

Bookwook should read Bookwork

Turning to endings, Rose declared that the single best book on the basics of the endings is Averbakh's Chess Endings: Essential Knowledge, but for a more advanced general treatise on the endings his overall recommendation was Practical Chess Endings by Paul Keres.

After studying master games and endings, the third priority, according to Rose is  tactical ability, and he discussed Kotov's books: Think Like a Grandmaster and Play Like a Grandmaster, and Combinations in the Middle Game by Bondarevsky, before recommending as his final choice; It's Your Move by Rudolf Teschner and Tony Miles.

On the topic of openings Rose refers to the obsession of many players with studying openings books, when most of their games are decided by tactical blunders or poor positional judgement later in the game. He advised that repertoire books and openings encyclopedias should be avoided completely, commenting that the most important requirements in learning to play the openings are: a knowledge of general principles, how these lead to middle game plans, and an historical overview of the development of the understanding of the openings. 

Declaring that he knows of no book which adequately meets all three of these requirements for this strength of player, Rose then discussed Reti's Masters of the Chessboard, How to Open a Chess Game, by various authors,

and Modern Chess Opening Theory by Suetin, before finally recommending The Ideas Behind the Chess Openings by Reuben Fine.  

Regarding the middle game, Rose by-passed Euwe and Kramer's The Middle Game, 2 volumes, Euwe's Judgement and Planning in Chess, Pachman's Modern Chess Strategy, Nimzowitch's My System, Stean's Simple Chess,

and  Littlewood's How to Play the Middle Game in Chess, although calling all of these "classics". For his final recommendation Rose settled on The Art of the Middle Game by Paul Keres and Alexander Kotov,  explaining that the two chapters by Kotov are "good" and the two by Keres are "absolutely superb". 

Rose's five recommendations from 1983 are probably still valid selections 35 years later, except of course for the archaic descriptive notation in the original English editions. Some of these, however, have been re-issued with algebraic notation.

                                      © Michael Clapham 2018

Sunday, 7 January 2018

Michael Basman and Better Chess

Michael Basman, the industrious chess organiser, promoter, trainer and author, wrote and published a number of chess books in the 1970's and 1980's. He also translated and edited Tigran Petrosian: his Life and Games by V. Vasiliev, published in 1974.

Furthermore, Basman edited and published a little known series of chess magazines, all aimed at the novice and club player, starting with Rabbit's Review in 1978, which ran for 21 issues until 1982, followed by Popular Chess; 15 issues from 1982 to 1987. 

Andy Lusis, in his Annotated Bibliography covering the years 1969 to 1988, confirms the 21 numbers of Rabbit's Review but was unsure of the extent of Popular Chess having examined numbers 3, 4 and 5 only. De Felice's Chess Periodicals gives full details of both magazines.

However, neither of these bibliographies mentions Basman's next magazine, Better Chess which superseded Popular Chess and ran for just 3 issues from April 1988 to August 1989. Better Chess is also absent from the British Library, National Library of the Netherlands, and the Cleveland Public Library.

I do not have any copies of Rabbit's Review or the final issue of Popular Chess so I do not know why there was a succession of similar magazines with different titles. I do, however, have the three issues of Better Chess.

There is no introduction to this "new" magazine of 20 pages, which launched with a six page article by Basman on the O'Kelly variation of the Sicilian Defence. Ever the proponent of off-beat openings, Basman explains the O'Kelly in his typically enthusiastic manner.

The remainder of Issue 1 consists of annotated games, two by Victor Mathias and three of Arjun Panchapagesan's wins from the recent London Junior Championships where he won the under 14 title.

A short note on the final page sets out the ancestry and aims of Better Chess:

Issue 2 was published five months later in September 1988, and the 20 pages include four games by amateurs with comments on almost every move, and a Choose Your Move! quiz with marks awarded for various move choices. 

Issue 3 came out a year later in August 1989 and, in his editorial, Basman confirmed that this would be the final issue as he no longer had time to write, print and market the magazine. He also disclosed that readership of the series had fallen from 450 to 200. It was hoped, however, that the magazine would continue under the editorship of Victor Mathias.

Issue 3 was enlarged to 44 pages to include 15 pages of Basman's games from the East Ham Quick Play tournament. 

And so floundered another worthy chess periodical through lack of time, material, subscribers, financial viability etc. It seems that only Baruch H. Wood succeeded in maintaining a continuous long running chess magazine as a one man show with his Sutton Coldfield Chess, which he edited from its inception in 1935 until 1987,  and to see how he achieved this you must read his obituary in the British Chess Magazine for May 1989, pages 210-211.

Basman's magazine was resurrected in January 1990 under the general editorship of Victor Mathias with Basman as consultant. The name reverted to Popular Chess and the magazine was published quarterly until at least 1997. 

                                     © Michael Clapham 2018


Saturday, 23 December 2017

A. J. Souweine Part 2

Further Souweine observations on books in his library.

Marshall's Chess "Swindles", New York 1914: "This work is probably the most entertaining and useful of Mr. Marshall's chess books."

Renowned for his so-called "swindles", Marshall actually gave this book its title to hit back at some of his vanquished opponents who had derided Marshall's play following a loss. In his Introduction Marshall described himself "as the least bookish of all international players" and explained his book title as follows:

Another scarce collection of Marshall's games is Modern Chess in Championship Play, New York 1923. This book is not recorded in either Betts' Bibliography or the 1955 L/N catalogue. The book includes the games from Marshall's match with Edward Lasker in 1923 for the United States Championship (Edward Lasker covers this match at length and gives his viewpoint on the games in his book Chess Secrets, New York 1951),  and Marshall's games from the ninth American Chess Congress held at Lake Hopatcong also in 1923.

Souweine comments "300 copies of this book have been printed from type and the type distributed. We understand that no copies of this book were offered for sale, but were used as prizes for the victors pitted against Mr. Marshall in simultaneous play." Most copies of this book are inscribed by Marshall.  

The Book of the First American Chess Congress, by Daniel Fiske, New York 1859. "The sketch of the History of Chess and particularly "Incidents in the History of American Chess", and the Bibliography, makes this book of the greatest interest and importance to chess lovers." 

Book of the Second American Chess Congress, held at Cleveland, Ohio, December 1871, Dubuque 1872. "This, one of the rather crudely printed Brownson productions, is probably the scarcest of the American Congress Books."

The Third American Chess Congress, held at Chicago, Ill. 1874, Hannibal, Mo. 1876. "Quite a scarce book, of which Will H. Lyons, formerly America's most extensive dealer in chess books is quoted as saying "The scarcest of the American Chess Congress Books", but the writer (A. J. S) holds the opinion that the 2nd American Chess Congress book is (at least now, in 1938) scarcer of the two. Dale Brandreth has added a note "I have to agree with Lyons based on my own experience".

Brandreth twice refers to the rarity of the Third American Chess Congress book in his pamphlet Collecting Chess Tournament Books - A Fascinating Hobby, published in 1977, but he excludes this from his list of the great classics in tournament books "on the basis that the competition was weak" (Mackenzie won ahead of Hosmer, Judd, Bock, Congdon and Perrin).

The Third is definitely the scarcer based on the frequency (or infrequency) with which it appears on the market and the prices obtained. However there is a complication in that some of the Second Chess Congress books have portraits pasted in of Max Judd and Theodore M. Brown making these copies more desirable and scarce.

The Book of the Sixth American Chess Congress, by Wilhelm Steinitz, New York 1891. "Without question the finest of the American tournament books." 

Souweine's collection also included a little known pamphlet of 14 pages published in 1887 entitled To the Subscribers of the proposed American Chess Congress and to American players generally. This was issued in an effort to prevent Steinitz from becoming the editor of the proposed Book of the Sixth American Chess Congress "because of his previous vulgar writings in the International Chess Magazine."

Souweine had all six of Franklin K. Young's peculiar chess books and notes that his final work Field Book of Chess Generalship, New York 1923, is the scarcest of Young's books. 

This is probably the most interesting of Young's works with a long introduction (albeit, riddled with errors) by A. B. Hodges, in which he gives brief details of the early history and literature of the game, before discussing Morphy, Pillsbury, Steinitz, Zukertort, Lasker and Capablanca. The book also includes a selection of games played by A. B. Hodges with critical [but normal] notes by Lasker, Steinitz, Gunsberg and Hodges.

Young starts the Preface to this book with a tacit admission that no one has understood a word of his previous five books:

But he immediately launches into his unintelligible babble-speak in the second paragraph:

However, the section on Hodges' games with annotations from Lasker & co. is perfectly readable.

Incidentally, the biography of Hodges by John S. Hilbert; Albert Beauregard Hodges: The Man Chess Made, published by McFarland in 2008, did not excite Nigel Short who had this to say at the end of an article on Rapid Chess on page 53 of New in Chess 2014-1: 

Finally for now, Souweine had many of the Alain C. White Christmas Series of problem books including Retrograde Analysis by T. R. Dawson and W. Hundsdorfer, Leeds 1915, which he described as very scarce, and Roi Acculé aux Angles, Paris 1905, on which he observed: "This and the Robert Braune Collection are no doubt the scarcest of the A. C. W. books."  


Many thanks again to Owen and Kathleen Hindle for use of their library and for many of these illustrations.

Monday, 18 December 2017

A. J. Souweine, chess bibliophile

Arthur Jacob Souweine (born on Christmas Day, 1872) was a New York chess book dealer in the 1920's and 1930's. He was also a good chess player with a peak Edo historical chess rating of 2213 in 1901, and a keen problem solver; he edited the Problem Section in Alfred Klahre's 1931 book Chess Potpouri.

Souweine had an impressive chess book collection, and in 1938 he produced a catalogue with detailed descriptions of every item. The catalogue lists 667 books, not large by today's standards, but he had many rare and interesting books.  The catalogue was probably not published, but in 1989, Dale Brandreth published a facsimile and I give below details of many of the items that partularly interested me. Souweine gives a fascinating pre-war insight into collectible chess books giving brief opinions on many of these and, often, his assessment of their scarcity. 

This catalogue is not recorded in the standard bibliographies, presumably because it was not originally published, but Betts, L/N and Aucta all list Chess Books for Sale by A. J. Souweine, New York, undated but circa 1928. This catalogue of 187 items is also mentioned in A Letter to Bert by Bob Meadley, implying that it was a catalogue of Souweine's own collection, but it is a list of books for sale.  

The catalogue produced by Brandreth has no title page or any introductory matter, there is simply a footnote on the final page as follows:

Here is a typical page from the catalogue:

Souweine owned many early chess books from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries including Lambe 1764, Wahl 1798 (another early history of chess), Barbier 1672, Ruy Lopez 1584, Vida 1566, 1736, Bertin 1735, Greco 1689, Stamma 1745, Abraham Aben Ezra 1743, Lolli 1763, Weickhmann 1664, Selenus 1617, Philidor 1749, 1762, 1773, 1777, Société d'amateurs 1775,  but made few remarks on these works apart from describing the condition of each book.  

Marache's Manual of Chess by Napoleon Marache, originally published in New York, 1866. Souweine had the common later black cloth reprint noting that the original edition "had a fancy pictorial wrapper":

The Elements of Chess by Julius Du Mont, London, 1925. "A very valuable work for the chess student. Modern work, already out-of-print and scarce." A revised edition was published in 1956 with the collaboration of Leonard Barden.

Elements of the Game of Chess, or a new method of instruction in that Celebrated Game, etc. by William Lewis, Teacher of Chess, revised and corrected by an American Amateur, New York 1827.  The phrase "revised and corrected by an American Amateur" has always intrigued me. Who was the American Amateur competent enough to revise and correct Lewis's original edition of 1822? There were virtually no known American chess book authors before the 1840's, most of the dozen or so chess books published in America before 1840 being reprints of works originally published in England. This anonymous amateur also added a code of Revised Laws which had been sanctioned by the New York Chess Club. See Benjamin Franklin and Chess in Early America, A Review of the Literature, by Ralph Hagedorn, Philadelphia 1958.

The Chess Player, Illustrated with Engravings and Diagrams etc. George Walker, William Kenny etc. Boston 1841.  "Beautifully engraved frontispiece. This excessively rare edition has both 1840 and 1841 dates." Whyld & Ravilious 1841:2 confirms that title pages were printed with both dates but they were both published in 1841.

Chess Made Easy by George Walker, Baltimore 1837. This is one of many books in Souweine's collection from the Rimington Wilson sales and he remarks that on a slip of paper pasted to a fly leaf in this particular book is written: "Perhaps the only copy of this scarce reprint that has been offered (1928) in London for many years". The original edition was published in London in 1836: 

and a New Edition was published in 1850 which included twelve of Walker's own games:

Chess Made Easy by George Walker, Baltimore 1839. "Curiously enough, this later edition is far scarcer than the 1837 one."   

Analysis of the Game of Chess by A. D. Philidor etc., Boston 1826. "This is a particularly scarce item, the last 1,000 copies having been destroyed by fire". However, Whyld & Ravilious 1826:7 states "1,000 copies printed, of which some were destroyed by a fire in the publisher's warehouse". Nevertheless, one of many works on chess that have apparently been destroyed, burnt, sunk, pulped or otherwise lost, thus increasing their scarcity. A subject about which I hope to write soon.

Chess Studies and End-Games, by Bernhard Horwitz, London 1884. Souweine states that his copy includes a frontispiece portrait of Horwitz, noting that there are also copies without the portrait. Indeed my copy does not have the portrait but Owen Hindle's copy does include this fine illustration.

Collection of Chess Studies, by A. A. Troitsky, Leeds 1937. "Even without mentioning the beautiful printing and clear diagrams, this book is undoubtedly one of the best books on end games and should afford almost indeterminate pleasure and usefulness to the reader."

Practical Chess Grammar, by William Kenny, London 1817. "The fine engravings are a veritable feast for the eye and a joy to the collector." 


Morphy Gleanings, by Philip Sergeant, Printing Craft, London 1932. Souweine makes the curious comment "this is the original edition and not the cheap pirated edition of McKay Co. Philadelphia"   Is the Mckay edition inferior to the Printing Craft edition? I am surprised that this reputable publishing house produced cheap pirated editions of any work.

More from Souweine's catalogue next time.

Many thanks to Owen and Kathleen Hindle for access to their library and for many of these illustrations.