The scent of a book

9/15/2007 – There are more than half a billion people on the planet who play chess. Obviously there is more to the game than grandmasters and super-tournaments. There are charming, ordinary people, there are engaging stories about the intriguing aspects in the game, all waiting to be brought to life in a book. That has happened in Engaging Pieces by Howard Goldowsky. Edwin Lam reviews it.

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The scent of a book

Review by Edwin Lam Choong Wai

Chess is a game played by an estimated 600 to 700 million worldwide and surely, there is more to chess than just grandmasters, the Linares and Wijk aan Zees or the chess openings and variations. There are many interesting people, charming characters and intriguing aspects in the game of chess, which are just waiting to be brought to life in a book.

This book promises just that! The author has done a great job in bringing to life both the fictitious and real-life characters in the game of chess. When I received my copy of this book, I took a quick look at the front cover and noticed familiar names such as Jen Shahade, Mig Greengard, Hydra, Paul Hoffman, Hikaru Nakamura and Michael Weinreb. But there are also names that are totally alien to me, such as Joe Block, Mark Glickman, Charles Katz, and others.

Having been reviewing chess books for the past one year, this is the first time that I have actually come across names of players who are alien to me! As a chess journalist, I am both embarrassed as well as intrigued by this discovery of the unknown! Embarrassed due to my ignorance of the chess and its characters in the United States of America, but at the same time intrigued to find out more about the stories behind these names!

So, off I went to read the book from cover to cover. The ten-page interview article with Michael de la Maza on his success in chess improvement will be quite inspiring for many average Joes out there. This is the story of the man who increased his chess rating by 720 points in 730 days, and he offers practical advice on chess improvement.

And, then there was the very “engaging piece” with Mig Greengard. Here, you can read about his views on the development of chess commerce on the Internet, on chess professionals’ attitudes, recycled materials in chess books ("…repackaged database dumps…", in Mig’s own words), chess in the United States of America and the importance of tactics for players under the 2000 Elo.

The next chapter is on Paul Hoffman, the man who helmed the airwaves together with GM Seirawan in the Kasparov-FritzX3D chess match. Here, the readers would get to hear Paul's views on faster time control, the complexity of chess as a sport and his views on how PR activities can help to promote the game even further.

Hikaru Nakamura’s interview article is one that would inspire potential junior players and even their parents on what it takes to become a champion. And then there are the interview pieces with Charles Katz, the co-founder of the now defunct EDGE TV, and the Hydra team. And, of course, Michael Weinreb's piece on the efforts that he went through in penning the book called the “Kings of New York”.

There are many interesting ideas in the book for the chess entrepreneur, chess organizer, chess promoter and chess player. For example, a chess organizer would find the chapter on Greg Shahade to be of great interest. Greg is the President of the United States Chess League and some of his ideas of running a chess league and making it commercially viable in the United States can be reapplied in many other countries without a deep chess culture like Europe. And then there is Jen Shahade’s suggestion, on page 86, for chess players to have a publicity agent – this is something that all top chess players should seriously consider.

All in all, this is a compilation of interviews and prose that has been put together with the arbiter, chess organizer, chess coach, chess writer, journalist, chess administrator, chess entrepreneur and most importantly, any passionate chess lover in mind. This is one book that can make the chess entrepreneur or the chess organizer or the chess player in you think hard – one can ponder over some of the questions, issues and ideas raised by the interviewees.

But, aside from the heavy stuff, there is also a lightweight side to the book. For the chess lover in general, how can one ignore the fiction pieces in part two of the book. For example, the prose piece on the fictitious character, Anthony Meters, is both fun and entertaining to read. Then, there is the personal aspect as well. Surely, there are many boys out there, who could identify personally with the hero character in the short story, En Passant: An Opportunity Lost. This is a story that is absolutely inspiring.

While this is a compilation of all previously published chess writings (with the exception of two unpublished short stories and the interview with Michael Weinreb), it is still nevertheless worthwhile to get all these chess pieces that demonstrate the various aspects of American chess in one book.

That said, the only opportunity area lies in the absence of other prolific American chess figures such as Susan Polgar, Lev Alburt, Maurice Ashley, Pal Benko, Bruce Pandolfini and Gata Kamsky as interview subjects. Howard, I urge you to consider these subjects in your next book.

All in all, this book contains the sweat and blood of the author, who comes across as someone who has researched deeply all his subjects and in fact, some of the interviews here took months to complete (via email). And, the quality of the articles presented on the people he interviewed shows how deeply the author has managed to delve into each subject.

  • Engaging Pieces by Howard Goldowsky, Paperback, Daowood Brighton, 240 pp and it retails at the recommended price of USD 20.95 on Amazon.com.

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