Edward Winter's Chess Explorations (4)

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7/4/2008 – The Editor of Chess Notes has selected the five worst chess books in English from the past two decades. This grisly matter is not for the faint-hearted, although there are touches of black comedy and farce in the egregious books chosen for the Chamber of Horrors. Warning to readers of a sensitive nature or nervous disposition: do not enter.

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Chess Explorations (4)

By Edward Winter

The five gruesome nominees for the title of ‘Worst Chess Book’ are presented below in alphabetical order of the authors’ surnames. The emphasis is on books which do not remotely attain publication standard, and not least because of the difference between what they are and what they claim to be.

Wonderful world of chess
by Dimitrije Bjelica (‘Chess Press, Munchen’, circa 1990)

There is nothing quite like the way Dimitrije Bjelica puts a book together, and, in Wonderful world of chess, even the work of Irving Chernev made an unbilled appearance. For further information, including details of how Bjelica perpetrated a collection of Fischer’s games, see our feature article A Unique Chess Writer.

Chess Fundamentals by José Raúl Capablanca.
Revised by Nick de Firmian (Random House, New York, 2006)

What do the following games have in common?

Marshall v Capablanca, seventh match game, 1909
Janowsky v Capablanca, Havana, 1913
Capablanca v Znosko-Borovsky, St Petersburg, 1913
Lasker v Capablanca, St Petersburg, 1914
Chajes v Capablanca, New York, 1916
Capablanca v Marshall, St Petersburg, 1914
Capablanca v Chajes, New York, 1918
Morrison v Capablanca, New York, 1918
Marshall v Capablanca, New York, 1918.

The answer is that all of them were annotated in depth by Capablanca in the ‘Illustrative Games’ section of Chess Fundamentals but were not deemed worthy of inclusion in the ‘completely revised & updated’ edition by Nick de Firmian. Their removal made space for some newer games, including five and a half pages devoted to N. de Firmian v P. Youngworth, Lone Pine, 1980.

Since the Cuban’s prose was not up to scratch, de Firmian amended it throughout. See Capablanca Book Destroyed.

Chess (Basics, Laws and Terms)
by B.K. Chaturvedi (Abhishek Publications, Chandigarh, 2001)

B.K. Chaturvedi’s contribution to Indian chess literature was a book which, to use a mammoth euphemism, owed much to Chess Made Easy by C.J.S. Purdy and G. Koshnitsky (first published in 1942).

If it were not for the Chaturvedi volume, a frontrunner for inclusion in our list would be one of the many books published in India under the name Philip Robar. See our feature article An Indian Copying Mystery.

The Batsford Chess Encyclopedia
by Nathan Divinsky (B.T. Batsford Ltd., London, 1990)

The dust-jacket of The Batsford Chess Encyclopedia by Nathan Divinsky trumpeted ‘the game’s most complete and up-to-date work of reference’. If only it were. For a complete account, see A Catastrophic Encyclopedia.

World Champion Combinations
by Raymond Keene and Eric Schiller (Cardoza Publishing, New York 1998)

World Champion Combinations complimented itself on being ‘The Definitive Guide to the Concepts and Secrets of Chess Combinations as Played by the World Champions’. For the reality, see World Champion Combinations.

Note: Given our selection of Divinsky’s Encyclopedia for this list, Warriors of the Mind by Keene and Divinsky (which classified Alekhine as merely the 18th strongest player of all time) can receive no more than a mention en passant. Similarly, the inclusion of World Champion Combinations means that other books by Eric Schiller have failed to reach the final five. Information on two further volumes by these individuals, The Big Book of Combinations and The Complete Book of Gambits, is given in our feature article entitled Copying.

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All articles by Edward Winter

aficionados to discuss all matters relating to the Royal Pastime". Since then over 5,600 items have been published, and the series has resulted in four books by Winter: Chess Explorations (1996), Kings, Commoners and Knaves (1999), A Chess Omnibus (2003) and Chess Facts and Fables (2006). He is also the author of a monograph on Capablanca (1989).

Chess Notes is well known for its historical research, and anyone browsing in its archives will find a wealth of unknown games, accounts of historical mysteries, quotes and quips, and other material of every kind imaginable. Correspondents from around the world contribute items, and they include not only "ordinary readers" but also some eminent historians – and, indeed, some eminent masters. Chess Notes is located at the Chess History Center. Signed copies of Edward Winter's publications are currently available.

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