A chat with the author of Chess for Dummies

by Alexey Root
9/24/2016 – Fide Master James (Jim) Eade has been a chess player, chess organizer, chess politician, and chess publisher. In 2016 he was honored by The University of Texas at Dallas as “Chess Educator of the Year.” Still, while certainly laudable, he is perhaps best known as an author, particularly for his best-selling Chess for Dummies, now in its fourth edition. His book has sold hundreds of thousands of copies worldwide, and has been translated even into Russian. Alexey Root interviewed the best-selling author.

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Alexey Root: How did you start in chess?

James Eade: My father taught me the game when I was very young. I really didn’t get involved until Fischer-Spassky, which I followed intensely.

What did you enjoy most about your early chess experiences?

Team competitions. The most fun I ever had was playing for my high school team. Before I started at that high school, its chess team had always finished last. But we finished first every year following my freshman year. The seniors knew my name even when I was just a sophomore!

Tell me about the famous players you have met.

Having Victor Kortchnoi attend the 1995 Pan-Pacific tournament, which I organized, was a highlight. I arranged for a cable car tour for the players. He told me that he couldn’t pass it up, but it normally was his nap time! My best playing experience was against Nick de Firmian. I swindled a draw against him in a rook ending, and he brought it up years later!  Chess players never forget!

Are any of your personal stories in the fourth edition of Chess for Dummies?

I tried to keep myself out of it, but you can’t always help it. There are times that I mention what was meaningful to me and why. I mention that Fischer got me started, even though he turned into a tragic figure later in life.

Now in its 4th edition and 20 years in print, Chess for Dummies has proved an enduring success with international appeal

Is Chess for Dummies the best-selling chess book of all time?

I don’t have exact figure, because the brand has been bought a couple of different times. It sold around two hundred thousand copies for the original publisher, more than a hundred thousand for the next owner, and over one hundred thousand for Wiley, the current publisher. I have lost count of how many languages it has been translated into. Dutch, Spanish, French and German are consistent sellers, but my favorite was when it was translated into Russian! The Portuguese and Italian translations are also doing well.

What does Chess for Dummies recommend for chess databases?

In Chess for Dummies, fourth edition, I wrote, “Serious chess players care about chess data; they want as many games as possible in a format that makes the games easy to both sort and play through. Some chess data and programs that handle it for you are for sale. ChessBase has developed into the industry standard. . . .Chess Assistant also has a loyal following.”

What can intermediate-level players gain from reading Chess for Dummies?

Chess for Dummies is a handy reference work. If you have specific questions, you can usually find either an answer or a pointer to where the answer can be found. Everyone has questions, but I have found that it has proven to be of great value to parents, who have kids interested in chess, and need some brushing upon the game. Although you can do the research yourself, it sometimes helps to consult someone who has already done it.

Having been a chess politician, for both US Chess and FIDE, what advice would you give to chess politicians today about what should be done to advance chess? What accomplishment are you most proud of in your career as a chess politician and why?

I think politicians should pay attention to the people who actually play the game. Politicians sometimes get caught up in organizing and planning events without thinking things through from a player’s point of view. As a politician, I’m most proud of having called attention to the financial problems of US Chess many years ago even though it was extremely unpopular to do so. You can’t start to solve a problem until you admit that it exists.

James Eade was able to translate chess into the popular "...for Dummies" formula and connect the royal game to hundreds of thousands of readers

Thank you for acknowledging my assistance with your Chess for Dummies chapter “Ten (or So) Cool Facts about Kids and Chess.” What “cool fact” do you want to share here?

The coolest development for kids is the ability to play anyone anywhere in the world. Chess travel is more frequent and online chess sites are always available. Nowadays, kids think of chess as an international community in ways that were impossible in the past.

Would you like to share anything else?

I am currently President of the US Chess Trust, a 501(c)(3) charity that helps with a lot of scholastic activities including providing sets and boards for Title 1 schools. [Title 1 schools have a high percentage of children from low-income families-AR.] The Chess Trust’s efforts help chess programs to exist in places they otherwise might not, and gives kids a chance to participate in chess who would otherwise not get the opportunity. I think it’s important to think about what you can do for others. Chess gave me a great deal, and I am trying to give back some of what I got. If we make even an incremental imprint on society, we will have done something worthwhile.

You can buy Chess for Dummies at your local bookstore, or order it online at Amazon in both print and ebook version.

Alexey was the 1989 U.S. Women's Chess Champion and is a Woman International Master. She earned her bachelor’s degree in History at the University of Puget Sound and her doctoral degree in Education at The University of California, Los Angeles. She has been a Lecturer in Interdisciplinary Studies at UT Dallas since 1999 and is a prolific author.
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Russp Russp 2/25/2017 10:26
Are you aware of illustration errors, figure 7-18, 7-19 a and b, in the 3rd edition regarding Reti's mate?
genem genem 9/26/2016 01:31
Two quotes from this article caught my interest in particular.
Q: What "cool fact" do you want to share here?

A: The coolest development for kids is the ability to play anyone anywhere in the world. Chess travel is more frequent and online chess sites are always available. Nowadays, kids think of chess as an international community in ways that were impossible in the past.

The web is the greatest thing to happen to chess since the rules were changed circa 1475. I presume that these days more games are played over the web each day than are played face-to-face.
Seems unfortunate that national chess federations, such as the US Chess Federation (UsChess.org), have still not settled on a way to leverage the web to provide *officially rated* games without having to travel to the a playing hall in a big city.
The obvious concern is cheating.
Maybe a certified TD in Los Angeles could sit with and chaperone his local *team* in any wi-fi equipped home, as his team competes against a team in Seattle which is chaperoned by a Seattle TD. The two teams compete by using Playchess.com or another similar website. The time control could be: 40moves/60minutes +5sec increment, Infinity moves/30 minutes +5sec increment. The TDs could vouch that no cheating occurred, and the games could be rated into the players' primary ratings (not into secondary Blitz ratings etc). Perhaps the games could affect the ratings only 50% as heavily as face-to-face games do, in case there is lingering concern about cheating.
And all players who want the option to play rated games over the web would be required to play some face-to-face games periodically as well, and another implicit anti-cheating check.
Or we could continue to in-effect exclude the hoards of over-the-web players from our national federations, even though the federations needs more playing members.

Q: What did you enjoy most about your early chess experiences?

A: Team competitions. The most fun I ever had was playing for my high school team.