Theory Of Shadows: A Review

It must be extremely difficult to write a historical novel because many have tried and most have failed. Many of the historical novels I have read were of the type, “What if he had lived?” Some concerned POTUS John F. Kennedy.

The last one read was years ago and it caused me to put other books of the type on the “back burner,” where they have since continued to smolder…It may have helped if the author could write, but he had as much business writing as I have running a marathon. The book was not one of those print on demand tomes which allow anyone to publish a book nowadays but a book published by an actual publishing company, which means there was an editor who must have thought the book good enough to earn money. I found the book, a hardback, only a few weeks after it had been published and it was marked down to a price low enough for me to take a chance and fork over the cash. P.T. Barnum said, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” In a way the editor was right, but then, marked down enough anything will sell.

There have been notable historical novels such as Michael Shaara‘s masterpiece, The Killer Angels,
which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1974.

It must be terribly difficult to write a novel about people who actually lived. A novelist invents a character. To write historical fiction about an actual living, breathing human being is another thing entirely.

Having recently returned to the city of my birth meant a visit to the local library, which happened to be selected as the 2018 Georgia Public Library of the Year. After renewing my lapsed library card I went to the catalog that very evening to check on, what else, Chess books. I had been pleasantly surprised when seeing the latest issue of Chess Life magazine in the reading room of the Decatur branch of the Dekalb county library system after obtaining my new card. While surveying the Chess books a jewel was found, a book I recalled being published years ago, but not in English. It was published at the end of the last century by the author of The Luneburg Variation,

Paolo Maurensig.

It was his first novel, published at the age of fifty, and it was a good read. The book about which I will write is, Theory Of Shadows,

published in Italy in 2015. It was published in the US by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in 2018 after being translated by Anne Milano Appel.

From the front inside jacket: On the morning of March 24, 1946, the world chess champion, Alexander Alekhine – “sadist of the chess world,”

renowned for his eccentric behaviour as well as the ruthlessness of his playing style – was found dead in his hotel room in Estoril, Portugal.”

There it is, a fictional account of how Alekhine died. The last paragraph on the jacket reads: “With the atmosphere of a thriller, the insight of a poem, and a profound knowledge of the world of chess (“the most violent of all sports,” according to the former world champion Garry Kasparov), Paolo Maurensig’s Theory of Shadows leads us through the glamorous life and sordid death of an infuriating and unapologetic genius: not only trying to work out “whodunit,” but using the story of Alexander Alekhine to tease out what Milan Kundera has called “that which the novel alone can discover.”

I loved everything about this book. The book begins with this quote : “If Alekhine had been a Jew hating Nazi scientist, inventor of weapons extermination and therefore protected by those in power, then that intellectual rabble would have held its breath. Instead, the victim had to drain the bitter cup to the last drop…Even the supreme act of his death was vulgarly besmirched. And we cowards stifled our feelings, remaining silent. Because the only virtue that fraternally unites us all, whites and black, Jews and Christians, is cowardice.” – Esteban Canal

After reading the above I had yet to begin the first chapter yet had been sent to the theory books…OK, the interweb, in order to learn who was Esteban Canal. “Esteban Canal (April 19, 1896 – February 14, 1981) was a leading Peruvian chess player who had his best tournament results in the 1920s and 1930s.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Esteban_Canal)

This was also found:

Who was Esteban Canal?

Writing in a 1937 edition of Chess Review, Lajos Steiner,


Lajos Steiner (1903-1975), by Len Leslie

who knew Canal when they were living in Budapest, said that Canal never reached the heights his talent deserved. He was awarded the IM title in 1950 and received the honorary GM title in 1977.
Not much is known about his life and what little is known is wrapped in a cloud of mystery. Canal himself claimed to have been a cabin boy on a cargo ship carrying wheat from Australia, but it has proven to be impossible to verify dates. It is known that he had an extensive nautical knowledge and sailors.
In 1955 the South African player Wolfgang Heindenfed, writing in his book Chess Springbok, An Account of a South African Chess Player’s Experiences Overseas wrote of Canal, “The grand old man of Italian chess is Esteban Canal, originally of Peru, who at the age of 57 won the 1953 Venice tournament to which I had the good luck of being invited. He is one of the most interesting and amusing of all chess personalities. Formerly a roving reporter, he speaks six or seven languages and still treasures mementos of such VIPs as Kemal Pasha and Abd el Krim. He is an inexhaustible raconteur of chess stories.” (http://tartajubow.blogspot.com/2018/03/who-was-esteban-canal.html)

About a third of the way through the one hundred seventy nine page book we read: “Though it was an essential task, armchair analysis of the matches he’s played in the past often bored him. Without the presence of the human element, the pieces on the chessboard lost their vitality. It was quite a different matter to play with an opponent in front of you: to enter his mind, predict his strategies by interpreting the slightest variations of his posture, the position of his hands, the subtle though significant contractions of his lips. During the period when he worked for the Moscow police, they had taught Alekhine how to interpret small signs such as these during interrogations, to see if their subjects were lying.”

During an interview, after discussing the murder of his brother at the hands of the Soviet communists as retribution of Alekhine leaving “Mother Russia” the interviewer asks, “And you never feared that you might suffer the same fate?”

“You mean being killed?”

The journalist nodded.

He hesitated a moment, then: “Perhaps, yes, now and then, the thought’s occurred to me.”

“After all,” Ocampo said, a little heavy-handedly, “Trotsky himself, despite taking refuge in Mexice, was ultimately hit by a hired assassin.”

“I took my precautions.”

For a time Alekhine was silent. In fact, he knew very well that it was not strictly necessary for a victim to be close to his murderer, that there was no place in the world where one could be assured of finding a completely secure refuge. A well-trained hit man could strike even in broad daylight and in the midst of a crowd.”

I’m thinking, “Just ask JFK…”

Jews and Chess:

“That was the first time he’d faced a Jewish chess player – it would certainly not be the last. He would endure a stinging defeat by Rubenstein


Akiba Rubenstein

in the first masters tournament in which he competed. He was eighteen years old then, and, encountering that young man, some years older than him, who was said to have abandoned his rabbinical studies to devote himself to chess, he’s had to swallow several bitter truths. Later on, he played against Nimzowitsch,


Aaron Nimzowitsch

Lasker,


Emanuel Lasker

and Reshevsky,


Sammy Reshevsky

soon realizing that, in his rise to the world title, his competitors would all be Jews.
Their faces were still sharply etched in his memory: Rubinstein, dapper, with a drew cut and an upturned mustache and the vacant gaze of a man who has peered too closely into his own madness; Lasker, with his perpetually drowsy air and spiraling, hopelessly rebellious hair; Nimzowitsch, looking like a bank clerk who, behind his pincenez, is haughtily judging the insufficiency of other people’s funds’ Reshevsky, resembling a prematurely aged child prodigy. Often he imagined them muffled up in long black cloaks, gathered in a circle like cros around a carcass, intent on captiously interpreting chess the way they did their sacred texts.”

Near the end of this magnificent book it is written, “By then, the harbingers of what in the coming decades would be called the Cold War were already looming. And if the weapons of the two blocs were to remain unused, it was essential that there be other arenas in which they could compete and excel. Chess was therefore, as ever, a symbolic substitute for war: gaining supremacy in it was a constant reminder to the enemy that you possessed greater military expertise, a more effective strategy.”

In beating the Soviet World Chess Champion Boris Spassky in 1972 Bobby Fischer won much more than a mere Chess match.

Bobby emasculated the Soviet Communist regime. Alekhine may have taken a brick out of the wall when leaving Mother Russia, but Bobby Fischer took the wall down.

Being a novel within a novel made the book was a pleasure to read and I enjoyed it immensely. I give it the maximum five stars.

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Charles Krauthammer: Leaving Life, and Chess, with No Regrets

Charles Krauthammer, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and intellectual provocateur, dies at 68

by Adam Bernstein June 21

Charles Krauthammer,

a Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post columnist and intellectual provocateur who championed the muscular foreign policy of neoconservatism that helped lay the ideological groundwork for the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, died June 21 at 68.

The cause was cancer of the small intestine, said his son, Daniel Krauthammer. He declined to provide further information.

“I believe that the pursuit of truth and right ideas through honest debate and rigorous argument is a noble undertaking,” Dr. Krauthammer wrote in a June 8 farewell note. “I am grateful to have played a small role in the conversations that have helped guide this extraordinary nation’s destiny. I leave this life with no regrets.”
https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/obituaries/charles-krauthammer-pulitzer-prize-winning-columnist-and-intellectual-provocateur-dies-at-68/2018/06/21/b71ee41a-759e-11e8-b4b7-308400242c2e_story.html?utm_term=.60d25502de35

Charles was a conservative thinker who loved Chess. Decades ago, after learning of his love for the Royal game I began to read his column on a regular basis, something mentioned at a small gathering of Chess players, some of whom were Republicans, one of whom asked why I read Krauthammer. “Because he plays Chess,” was the reply. He seemed unable to grasp the fact that I read a conservative columnist until one legendary Georgia player spoke up, saying, “On some issues Bacon is to the left of Jane Fonda, but on others he is to the right of Attila the Hun!” Uproarious laughter ensued…I mentioned reading George Will because he had written several books on Baseball. “Sometimes I agree with him, and sometimes I don’t,” I said, “But I take what he has to say in consideration, just as with Krauthammer.”

Chess: It’s like alcohol. It’s a drug. I have to control it, or it could overwhelm me. I have a regular Monday night game at my home, and I do play a little online.
Charles Krauthammer (http://www.azquotes.com/quote/163123)

The Pariah Chess Club

By Charles Krauthammer December 27, 2002

I once met a physicist who as a child had been something of a chess prodigy. He loved the game and loved the role. He took particular delight in the mortification older players felt upon losing to a kid in short pants.

“Still play?” I asked.

“Nope.”

“What happened?”

“Quit when I was 21.”

“Why?”

“Lost to a kid in short pants.”

The Pariah Chess Club, where I play every Monday night, admits no one in short pants. Even our youngest member, in his twenties, wears trousers. The rest of us are more grizzled veterans numbering about a dozen, mostly journalists and writers, with three lawyers, an academic and a diplomat for ballast. We’ve been meeting at my house for almost a decade for our weekly fix.

Oh, yes, the club’s name. Of the four founding members, two were social scientists who, at the time we started playing, had just written books that had made their college lecture tours rather physically hazardous. I too sported a respectable enemies list (it was the heady Clinton years). And we figured that the fourth member, a music critic and perfectly well-liked, could be grandfathered in as a pariah because of his association with the three of us.

Pariah status has not been required of subsequent members, though it is encouraged. Being a chess player already makes you suspect enough in polite society, and not without reason. Any endeavor that has given the world Paul Morphy, the first American champion, who spent the last 17-odd years of his life wandering the streets of New Orleans, and Bobby Fischer, the last American champion, now descended John Nash-like into raving paranoia, cannot be expected to be a boon to one’s social status.

Our friends think us odd. They can understand poker night or bridge night. They’re not sure about chess. When I tell friends that three of us once drove from Washington to New York to see Garry Kasparov play a game, it elicits a look as uncomprehending as if we had driven 200 miles for an egg-eating contest.

True, we chess players can claim Benjamin Franklin as one of our own. He spent much of his time as ambassador to France playing chess at the Cafe de la Regence, where he fended off complaints that he was not being seen enough at the opera by explaining, “I call this my opera.” But for every Franklin, there is an Alexander Alekhine, who in 1935 was stopped trying to cross the Polish-German frontier without any papers. He offered this declaration instead: “I am Alekhine, chess champion of the world. This is my cat. Her name is Chess. I need no passport.” He was arrested.

Or Aron Nimzovich, author of perhaps the greatest book on chess theory ever written, who, upon being defeated in a game, threw the pieces to the floor and jumped on the table screaming, “Why must I lose to this idiot?”

I know the feeling, but at our club, when you lose with a blunder that instantly illuminates the virtues of assisted suicide, we have a cure. Rack ’em up again. Like pool. A new game, right away. We play fast, very fast, so that memories can be erased and defeats immediately avenged.

I try to explain to friends that we do not sit in overstuffed chairs smoking pipes in five-hour games. We play like the vagrants in the park — at high speed with clocks ticking so that thinking more than 10 or 20 seconds can be a fatal extravagance. In speed (“blitz”) chess, you’ve got five or 10 minutes to play your entire game. Some Mondays we get in a dozen games each. No time to recriminate, let alone ruminate.

And we have amenities. It’s a wood-paneled library, chess books only. The bulletin board has the latest news from around the world, this month a London newspaper article with a picture of a doe-eyed brunette languishing over a board, under the headline “Kournikova of Chess Makes Her Move.” The mini-jukebox plays k.d. lang and Mahler. (We like lush. We had Roy Orbison one night, till our lone Iowan begged for mercy.) “Monday Night Football” in the background, no sound. Barbecue chips. Sourdough pretzels. Sushi when we’re feeling extravagant. And in a unique concession to good health, Nantucket Nectar. I’m partial to orange mango.

No alcohol, though. Not even a beer. It’s not a prohibition. You can have a swig if you want, but no one ever does. The reason is not ascetic but aesthetic. Chess is a beautiful game, and though amateurs playing fast can occasionally make it sing, we know there are riffs — magical symphonic combinations — that we either entirely miss or muck up halfway through. Fruit juice keeps the ugliness to a minimum.
https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/opinions/2002/12/27/the-pariah-chess-club/ebf8806d-eb6b-43b6-9615-766d3e5605ef/?utm_term=.a39c79610415


Charles Krauthammer playing chess with Natan Sharansky at Krauthammer’s office in an undated photo. (FAMILY PHOTO)

Charles was as comfortable with Presidents as he was with Chess players.


Charles Krauthammer with President Ronald Reagan in an undated photo.


Charles Krauthammer with President Jimmy Carter in an undated photo. (PHOTOS COURTESY OF THE KRAUTHAMMER FAMILY)


Charles Krauthammer with President George W. Bush in 2008. (COURTESY OF THE KRAUTHAMMER FAMILY)

When Chess Becomes Class Warfare

By Charles Krauthammer March 1, 1985

Capitalism’s vice is that it turns everything — even, say, a woman’s first historic run for the White House — into cash. Communism’s vice is that it turns everything — even, say, chess — into politics.

Chess? You may have trouble seeing chess as politics. Americans think chess is a game. The “Great Soviet Encyclopedia,” in one of its few correct entries, defines chess as “an art appearing in the form of a game.” And like all art under socialism, it is to be turned into an instrument of the state.

You think I exaggerate. If I quoted you Nikolai Krylenko, commissar of justice, in 1932 — “We must finish once and for all with the neutrality of chess. . . . We must organize shock-brigades of chess players, and begin the immediate realization of a Five Year Plan for chess” — you’d say I was dredging the history books for Stalinist lunacies. So I bring you fresh evidence of communism’s penchant for politicizing everything, for controlling everything it politicizes, and for letting nothing — shame least of all — jeopardize that control. I bring you L’affaire Karpov, a tempest for a teapot.

The story is this. On Sept. 10, 1984, the world chess championship begins in Moscow. Both players are Soviet citizens: champion Anatoly Karpov and challenger Gary Kasparov. To win, one must win six games. Draws don’t count. After nine games Karpov is ahead 4-0. An astonishing lead.

Kasparov then launches the most relentless war of attrition in the history of championship chess. He deliberately forces draw after draw, at one point 17 in a row, to one purpose: to exhaust the older and frailer champion.

On Nov. 24, Karpov does win a fifth game, but he will not win again. On Dec. 12, Kasparov wins his first. The score is 5-1. Then 14 more draws.

Then something extraordinary happens. Karpov, known for his metronomic logic and unshakable composure, loses game 47, playing “as though in a daze,” writes chess master Robert Byrne. Game 48: Karpov loses again. The score is 5-3.

By now, says another expert, Karpov “looks like Chernenko.” Chernenko looks bad, but Karpov is 33. He has lost 22 pounds and did not have very many to start with. He is close to collapse. He is about to fall — as Nabokov’s fictional champion, Luzhin, fell — into what Nabokov called “the abysmal depths of chess.” Kasparov is on the brink of the greatest chess comeback ever.

And on the brink both will stay. Six days later, on Feb. 15, the president of the International Chess Federation, under enormous pressure from Soviet authorities, shows up in Moscow and declares the match a draw — and over. Karpov is saved by the bell, except that here the referee rang it in the middle of a round and at an eight count.

Why? One can understand the Party wanting Karpov to win in 1978 and 1981, when the challenger was Victor Korchnoi — defector, Jew, all around troublemaker, Trotsky at the chessboard. But Kasparov is not Korchnoi. He is a good Soviet citizen, a party member, and not known for any politics. He is, however, half Armenian, half Jewish. Until age 12, his name was Gary Weinstein. He is no dissident, but he is young (21) and independent. Above all, he is not reliable.

Karpov, a man who needed to be named only once, is. Conqueror of Korchnoi (twice), receiver of the Order of Lenin, ethnically pure (Russian) and politically pliant (a leader of the Soviet Peace Committee), he is the new Soviet man. And he receives the attention fitting so rare a political commodity: he says he was told of the match’s cancellation over the phone in his car. Cellular service is not widely available in the Soviet Union.

Now, this is the third time that Soviet authorities have tried to undermine Kasparov’s shot at the championsh. In 1983 they stopped him from traveling to his quarterfinal match in Pasadena, Calif. The official reason (later pressed into service for the Olympics) was “lack of security.” Only a sportsmanlike opponent and accommodating chess officials (they rescheduled the match without penalty) saved Kasparov from defaulting in the candidates’ round and losing his chance to challenge Karpov.

But challenge he did. The finals were held in the prestigious Hall of Columns in the House of Unions. That is, until Kasparov’s rally in the 47th game. Soviet authorities then suddenly moved the match to the Hotel Sport outside the city center. “Like moving from Carnegie Hall to a gin mill in Poughkeepsie,” says Larry Parr, editor of Chess Life magazine.

I interpreted the move to mean that Chernenko was about to die, since the Hall of Columns is where Soviet leaders (like Dmitri Ustinov) lie in state. Silly me. I was insufficiently cynical about Soviet behavior. The reason for the move was not to bury Chernenko (he continues to be propped up like a Potemkin villain), but to save Karpov. The move took eight days — eight otherwise illegal days of rest for Karpov.

It didn’t help. Karpov was too far gone. Kasparov destroyed him the very next day in the 48th game. Soviet officials then made sure it was the last.

Now do you believe me?

A month ago I would not have believed it myself. (Kasparov still does not believe it.) Fix the biggest chess match in the world? Steal the championship from one Soviet citizen for a marginal propaganda gain? In broad daylight?

Still, we must be careful. Unfortunate episodes like these tend to fuel native American paranoia about how far the Soviets will go in relentless pursuit of even the most speculative political advantage. We must resist such facile reactions. Next thing you know someone will claim that the KGB got the Bulgarians to hire a Turk to shoot the pope to pacify Poland.
https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/1985/03/01/when-chess-becomes-class-warfare/51584d63-ede9-49bf-9b3f-40b7ea91e606/?utm_term=.ee5b4244d2fe

TYRANNY OF CHESS

By Charles Krauthammer October 16, 1998

Not all chess players are crazy. I’m willing to venture that. But not much more. Eccentricity does reign in our precincts. In my 20s, I used to hang out at the Boston Chess Club. The front of the club was a bookstore in which you’d mill around, choose a partner, put your money down with the manager and go to the back room — 20 or so boards set up in utter barrenness — for some action. (At five bucks an hour it was cheaper than a bordello, but the principle seemed disturbingly similar to me.)

I remember one back room encounter quite vividly. The stranger and I sat down to the board together. I held out my hand and said, “Hi, I’m Charles.” He pushed his white king’s pawn and said, “I’m white,” fixing me with a glare that said, “Don’t you dare intrude into my space with names.” It was dead silence from then on.

A psychiatrist colleague of mine came by to fetch me a few hours later. He surveyed the clientele — intense, disheveled, autistic — and declared, “I could run a group in here.”

Don’t get me wrong. Most chess players are sane. In fact, a group of the saner ones, mostly journalists and writers, meets at my house every Monday night for speed chess. (You make all your moves in under nine minutes total, or you lose.) But all sane chess players know its dangers. Chess is an addiction. Like alcohol, it must be taken in moderation. Overindulgence can lead to a rapid downward spiral.

Vladimir Nabokov (a gifted creator of chess problems and a fine player, by the way) wrote a novel based on the premise of the psychic peril of too close an encounter with “the full horror and abysmal depths” of chess, as he called its closed, looking-glass world. (Nabokov’s chess champion hero, naturally, goes bonkers.)

Chess players, says former U.S. champion Larry Christiansen, inhabit a “subterranean, surreal world. It is not the real world, not even close.” So what happens when a creature of that nether world seizes political power?

Impossible, you say: Sure, there have been dictators — Lenin, for example — who played serious chess, but there has never been a real chess player who became a dictator.

And no wonder, considering the alarming number of great players who were so certifiably nuts they’d have trouble tying their shoelaces, let alone running a country. Wilhelm Steinitz, the first world champion, claimed to have played against God, given Him an extra pawn, and won. Bobby Fischer had the fillings in his teeth removed to stop the radio transmissions.

Well, in some Godforsaken corner of the Russian empire, Kalmykia on the Caspian, where the sheep outnumber people 2 to 1, the impossible has happened. A chess fanatic has seized power. Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, former boy chess champion, current president of the International Chess Federation, was elected president of Kalmykia two years ago on the promise of a cell phone for every sheepherder and $100 for every voter in his destitute republic.

Naturally, nothing came of these promises. But once elected, he seized all the instruments of power including the police, the schools and the media.

Result? Ilyumzhinov calls it the world’s first “chess state.” God help us. Compulsory chess classes in all schools. Prime-time chess on TV. And in the midst of crushing poverty, a just erected “Chess City,” a surreal Potemkin village topped by a five-story glass-pavilioned chess palace where Ilyumzhinov has just staged an international chess tournament.

This scene (drolly described by Andrew Higgins in the Wall Street Journal) would be Groucho running Fredonia if it weren’t for the little matter of the opposition journalist recently murdered after being lured to a meeting where she was promised evidence of Ilyumzhinov’s corruption. (Ilyumzhinov denies involvement. Perhaps it depends on how you define the word “involve.”) Kalmykia is beginning to look less like Woody Allen’s “Bananas” than Nurse Ratched’s “Cuckoo’s Nest.”

Ilyumzhinov rides around in his Rolls-Royces, presiding over a state that specializes in corruption and tax evasion. The Washington Post reports that he paved the road from the airport to the capital and painted every building along the way, but only the side that faces the road. So now the world knows what chess players have known all along: A passion for chess, like a drug addiction or a criminal record, should be automatic disqualification for any serious public activity. Column writing excepted, of course.
https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/opinions/1998/10/16/tyranny-of-chess/8854cca6-ca40-4e90-bfa1-d9d90c5f4d6c/?utm_term=.d46f29d730b4

https://en.chessbase.com/post/krauthammer-on-che-just-how-dangerous-is-it-

Charles Krauthammer: Chess is not an Olympic sport. But it should be

https://www.weeklystandard.com/be-afraid/article/9802

https://www.forbes.com/sites/gilpress/2018/02/07/the-brute-force-of-deep-blue-and-deep-learning/#3dfc9ad49e35

The Chess Book Critic

It is ironic that in one respect we seem to be living in a golden age of chess books. It is ironic because “books” are giving way to “digits” on a machine, not to mention the possible diminution of chess because of so many negative facets of the game in this new century. There is the problem of so many non-serious drawn games, and the cheating crisis, not to mention the possibility of Kirsan the ET “winning” yet another term as FIDE President. Any one blow could be fatal. All three could mean oblivion for the Royal game. Today I put all of that out of my mind and write about chess books.
Decades ago I had an opening notebook in which games were written by my hand, along with clippings and copies of games in my esoteric choice of openings, such as the Fantasy variation against the Caro-Kann, 1 e4 c6 2 d4 d5 3 f3!?, a move played by World Champion Vassily Smyslov. The Legendary Georgia Ironman called my notebook “Bacon’s book of ‘Death Lines’.” The cover came off but like LM Brian McCarthy said, “It still has the meat!” Like most all of what I had collected over the years, it too, alas, is gone with the wind. There were no databases then, and no books on such an obscure variation. A line such as this would be given maybe a line or two in an opening encyclopedia. Over the years I have seen a book published on just about all of the openings I used to play to “get out of the book,” such as the the Bishop’s opening, “The truth- as it was known in those far-off days,” or so said Dr. Savielly Tartakover in his book, “500 Master Games of Chess.” There were half a dozen books devoted to the BO on the shelves of The Dump. A quick check shows a new one, “The Bishop’s Opening (Chess is Fun)” by Jon Edwards appeared at the end of 2011 in what is called a “Kindle edition.” I have often wondered if it is possible to change a digit on one of those gizmo’s. For example, is it possible to “hack” one of the digital monsters and change one digit in ALL of the digital monsters? Like changing a move for Black from Bd6 to Bb6? Then when your opponent follows “book” and plays his bishop to b6 and loses, he may say something like, “I don’t understand it, Bb6 is the “book” move…” That is when you come from Missouri and say, “Show me.” When he brings out his reading machine you say, “That was not a ‘book’ move, it was a ‘gizmo’ move!”
This book has been on my ’roundtoit’ list since it was published in April: The Extreme Caro-Kann: Attacking Black with 3.f3, by Alexey Bezgodov and published by New In Chess. The books published by NiC are usually exceptional, and from what I have seen, this one is no exception.
Another book on my list is “The Enigma of Chess Intuition: Can You Mobilize Hidden Forces in Your Chess?” by Valeri Beim, published in June of 2012 and also by NiC. I have always been intrigued by those fortunate enough to have chess intuition. I thought I had this book in a box but could not find it: “Secrets of Chess Intuition” by Alexander Beliavsky and Adrian Mikhalchishin. This was published by Gambit way back in 2001. While researching this book online I managed to find it in downloadable form, and it is now a bunch of digits inside Toby, my ‘puter. GM Mikhalchishin was a student of IM Boris Kogan, so who knows, I may find a little of his wisdom passed down therein.
I have many books that came after the flood that are still waiting to be read, so I do not need another chess book. At least that was what I thought until reading the Book Review of June 18, 2014, by Steve Goldberg of “John Nunn’s Chess Course” by John Nunn. “Illuminating and clear, and informative and entertaining.” That is succinct. Steve gives it six stars and you can find it here: http://www.chesscafe.com/Reviews/review943.htm
The last thing I need at my age is any kind of “chess course.” I forget most of what I have learned by game time, so I have to go with what I know, Joe. Memorizing an opening variation is out of the question. But I was hooked after reading the first sentence, “In John Nunn’s Chess Course, Grandmaster John Nunn presents 100 of Emanuel Lasker’s games and twenty-four exercises taken from Lasker’s games.” That is good enough for me. With one of the best chess writer’s of all time, GM John Nunn, writing about the Great Man, Dr. Emanuel Lasker, what is not to like? Above the table where I study chess and Go is a picture of the Great Man himself. It is a color painting of Lasker in a suit, sitting with pen in hand while writing.
Wanting to know more about the book I surfed on over to the Gorilla, finding there were three reviews and a composite score of four and a half stars. Skrolling down showed two reviewers had given the book all five stars, while one had given it only three stars. I read this review last.
The first review was by Derek Grimmell who said, “A games collection both good to read and educational.” It is stated on the page that “20 of 21 people found the following review helpful.”
The next review is by AltitudeRocks, who writes, “Here, here! Or is it “hear here!” (or some other permutation)?” I have no idea what AR means by this, but he did follow it succinctly with, “Reviewer Grimmell deserves five stars for his review, and I cannot improve upon it.” 2 of 3 people found it helpful. Each of these reviewers used a “Kindle Edition” gizmo in lieu of an actual book, but the last reviewer, David, read a paperback, or so it says. The first review appeared May 23, but the two following popped up the same day, June 7.
David writes, “Not really with verbal explanations…” He then proceeds with his review, all of which I present:
“I will not describe the book, since that is done already by the publisher. What I will describe is my impression, and why I give 3 stars to Nunn’s books.
Nunn shows over and over in all his books, that the truth in chess exists. He doesn’t explain “how” to reach it (e.g did he use different engines plus his GM Level evaluation? Or he just analyses everything by himself, and then ask to someone else to check the analysis with an engine? or…? And “how” would the reader reach the same “truth” if he is not at Nunn’s level?), but he shows the faulty analyses of previous commentators, and also many authors who just copied and paste. In his book is shown how some publishers don’t have editors to correct mistakes like when the author of another book writes “Black” and means “White.” Of course shame on those authors, but evidently the chess field is full of snake-oil salesmen. Now, also when Nunn just tries to give a comment, without going into deep analyses, well feel ready to open your computer, and use your database program, because Nunn will go deep to prove the point. Example. I bought the book on Alekhine’s game, written by Alekhine, and with effort I could follow Alekhine’s comments and lines without moving the pieces on the board. With Nunn I cannot do so. The lines he gives are too long to be visualized, and there are many under-lines which need to be checked. (This has been synthesized well, by another reader of the book saying that if one wants analyses 40 plies long, it is just enough to click the engine button)
The real problem with Nunn is that he writes and check his analyses like a scholar, a professor of the field, while most other authors are amateurs trying to make some bucks out of their books. I don’t know if the average player, the one who plays blitz all day long online, and whose favorite authors have IM titles gained long time ago (maybe out of luck) deserve such precise and difficult books.
While I praise Nunn for writing this book, I honestly don’t like it, and I feel cheated by the publisher which writes: “explanation focus on general ideas rather than detailed analysis” This phrase is only partly true. The analysis are detailed like the one of Kasparov in his great predecessor series, and if I had known that, I wouldn’t have bought it.
Still, Nunn’s job is monumental, but as a reader, I don’t really think I will improve, because he made all the analysis, and in the end I can only agree with them, without using much of my brain (also because his analysis are good, and correct, not like the authors mentioned above who just make a copy and paste of other writers before).
The humor is that Nunn choose Lasker, because his games should be easier for the reader to understand.
For example, I’d like to take the first position given in the book. Houdini after 7 minutes, using 4 cpus, goes back from Qxe4 (chosen after 10-15 seconds) to Pc4, to Qxe4, all with numerical evaluations which are ridiculous, like + or – 0.13 or 0.20. Now honestly as reader how would I understand which move is better and why? Not from Nunn who doesn’t explain how he came to choose one over the other. After 12 minutes thinking Houdini at 27 moves deep (54 plies) agrees with the moves played in the game from move 24 to 26, changing move 27. But as a reader, I didn’t learn anything from Houdini, or from Nunn’s analysis, also if they are correct, and once again praise to GM Nunn for such an amazing job. If the publisher after reading this review, wants to give me back the money, I will gladly send the book back! (just add 3.99 for the S&H thanks! something like 20$ total, or just send me another book, so I can sell it and get the money back, because I already know, I will not be able to read this book)” (http://www.amazon.com/John-Nunns-Chess-Course-Nunn/dp/1906454825/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1403116508&sr=1-1&keywords=John+Nunn%27s+Chess+Course)
Make of it what you will…Only “2 of 8 people found the review helpful.” I clicked on “David” to find he has reviewed seven different items, six of which he awarded ONE star. Only the Nunn book received more than one star. The other book reviewed by “David” is “The Alekhine Defence: Move by Move by Cyrus Lakdawala.” He asks, “Why Lakdawala hates President Bush?” Then he writes, “I didn’t buy the book, but I was interested in buying it. What stopped me was an offensive political/historical comparison made by Mr. Lakdawala upon President Bush.”
After reading the above you KNOW I was COMPELLED to read the rest!
“Mr. Lakdawala comparison with previous wars made by dictators and self-centered ego maniac like Hitler and Napoleon, is unfair toward President Bush, and should be removed by its publisher Everyman chess.
Thanks to Amazon “Look Inside” feature we can see Mr. Lakdawala political agenda. Mr. Lakdawala begins with a faulty assumption, saying that all history great military failures follow this equation: “temptation + undermining = Overextension.” Of course, Mr. Lakdawala is NOT a historian, and fails to prove the point, showing us if that did actually happen in ALL military failures, or if this is just his opinion, not based on actual research, which I believe is the case.
Mr.Lakdawala continues saying that “the aggressor” please keep in mind this term because will be referred to President Bush too, seizes power and territory (here Mr. Lakdawala forgets 9/11, and the tragedy brought upon United States, and equal the war in Afghanistan, and Iraq to the wars made by Hitler and Napoleon) instead of consolidating gains, the aggressor continues to expand with unbridled ambition (Did President Bush do that Mr. Lakdawala??) and then Mr. Lakdawala finishes his faulty syllogism with: “the aggressor overextends, retreats in disarray, and bungles the war.”
Now we come to the salient part, where Mr. Lakdawala needs to attack President Bush: “If you don’t believe me, just asks Napoleon, Hitler, and Bush how well their campaigns worked for them!”
I’m sorry but I don’t accept that someone compares the imperialist warmongers, like Hitler, and Napoleon, with President Bush, a president elected by hundred of millions of Americans, who had to lead the nation through a terrible tragedy.
First of all, also at superficial level we could notice that Hitler killed himself in a bunker, and one of his strict collaborators, Goebbels, also killed himself with all his family. Then we could notice that most of nazi leaders have been condemned for crimes against humanity in the Nuremberg trial, did Bush have the same fate? Have the congress and senate of the United States of America, who voted for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and who has been elected also with the vote of Mr. Lakdawala, have been indicted and put under trial for crimes against humanity? Is United States a country divided in two parts, controlled by China, and some European countries, like it happened to Germany after the end of the Second World War?
Of course I could continue for hours to show the ignorance of politics and history Mr. Lakdawala shows in his light comment, but I believe here there is also a failure from the publisher, and its editors into correcting mr. Lakdawala’s political views, and keep them confined to his blog, his facebook, his twitter, or whatever other forms of social media he uses to communicate with his buddies. A book, about chess, and about a chess opening, should talk about that subject, let’s leave politics, and historical judgments, to those who write in those field as professionals.

Then let’s speak also of the Alekhine defence, an opening who has the name from someone who was a Nazi collaborator, and Mr. Lakdawala, so fond of comparisons with Napoleon, Hitler, and Bush, forgets to mention it. Does really White loses all his games due to overextension? Because if this doesn’t happen, then also the beginning “universal equation” fails. For example did Mr. Lakdawala showed us examples of Houdini, one of the best chess engines, losing a single game against him, due to overextension? No. Mr. Lakdawala fails to show us that. Because a “scholar” of a subject should prove his statements through some statistical analysis. But I don’t find this in his book. In Chessgames.com there are about 1618 games with the Alekhine defence, and they are divided in 37.3% of the times wins by White, 33.1% wins by Black, and a 29.5% draws. This fails to illustrate the point that the “universal” equation works, because in fact we don’t know if White overextended in those 33.1% of the times, but it would have made more sense, than instead of knowing Mr. Lakdawala political agenda against President Bush, his publisher and editors would have steered him toward the realm of chess data, and asked to answer that question.”
My first thought after finishing the above was, “There’s something happening here, but you don’t know what it is, do you, Mr. David.”
“6 of 24 people found the review helpful.” Did they now? I found it highly entertaining in a Rush Limbaugh kind of way, but helpful? No. Although I have not taken the time to ascertain what the average number is for those clicking on whether or not the review was helpful, it seems to me the total must be something like at least 70%-80% helpful. For “David’s” two book reviews it is 8 out of 32, or 25%. For all seven of his reviews 78 out of 262 considered his reviews “helpful.” That is a batting average of .298 folks, which is 3 out of 10.
If you are still with me you may have surmised that I JUST HAD to go to the page of the book and have a “Look Inside.” I liked the first sentence, “The only openings worth playing are the ones that reflect our inner nature.” As for an author using the military and war to make a point about chess…who would do something like that? Surf on over and read it for yourself.
If you are into chess books there is this interesting article on Chess.com, “Best chess masters biographies?” (http://www.chess.com/forum/view/chess-equipment/best-chess-masters-biographies)