Three fascinating books

by André Schulz
10/6/2015 – The chess books published by McFarland are special. They are carefully designed and edited and attract excellent writers. If you are interested in chess history or the lives of outstanding chess personalities they are an absolute must. Recently, the American publisher presented a number of new titles that are definitely worth reading and offer fascinating insights.

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If you like chess and if you like books you will like books by McFarland. The American publisher focuses on academic books and celebrates quality. The publishing house was founded in 1979 by Robert McFarland Franklin and has its main office in Jefferson, North Carolina. Books by McFarland are edited with the greatest care and their design and layout meet the highest demands. They are an asset for every library, public or private.

With more than 5,100 titles McFarland is the biggest publisher of academic and scientific textbooks in the US and every year 400 new titles appear for the international market. Nowadays, McFarland publishes not only scientific works but also books about popular culture, film, and sports. And selected chess books, often with topics from chess history or biographies of classical champions whose chess heritage might otherwise be easily forgotten. But McFarland also publishes statistical works such as Gino Di Felices series "Chess Results" which show tournament tables and match results arranged by decades; or the famous "Chess Personalia" by Jeremy Gaige.

Initially, these chess books appeared only in hardcover but now McFarland also offers paperbacks which are a bit cheaper. Recently, a number of new titles appeared. I would like to present three of them briefly.

Andrew Soltis: Soviet Chess 1917-1991

"Soviet Chess 1917-1991" is the reprint of a classic, which was first published in 2000. On 450 pages the US American grandmaster Andrew Soltis, born in 1947 in Hazleton, Pennsylvania, presents a chronological overview of Soviet chess history, from the October revolution 1917 to the collapse of the Soviet empire 1990. A fascinating story with many fascinating stories to which Soltis adds a large number of games. Soltis manages to bring many characters of Soviet chess history such as Botvinnik, Bronstein, Smyslov, Tal, Petrosian, and others to life. Their fascinating stories are part of the history of Soviet chess which they helped to shape.

The first of the old Soviet masters, whom we meet in Soltis' book is Alexander Fydorovich Ilyin-Genevsky, who gave one variation of the Dutch Defense his name. In World War I he fought in the army of the Csar, was heavily injured, and later - because he was a revolutionary - went to Switzerland into exile. After the October revolution he returned to St. Petersburg and in 1917 he already took part in a tournament at the chess society St. Petersburg. Chess culture also survived in Moscow where the turmoil of the revolution had destroyed almost the entire infrastructure. Chess fans in Moscow played in a cellar, lit by candles.

From this more than modest beginnings the "Soviet School of Chess" emerged. One person who played a crucial role in that process was the People's Commissar of Justice Nikolai Krylenko. Eight years after the revolution, in 1925, the first big international tournament took place in the Soviet Union. Soltis tells the story of this tournament and the stories of the following tournaments. Soltis allows the reader to witness the rise of Soviet chess - which runs parallel to the rise of the Soviet empire.

Many Soviet masters died on the battlefields of WWII and many vanished before in the "Great Purges". However, the Soviet power as well as Soviet chess emerged strengthened from the war and Soviet players subsequently dominated world chess in an impressive way - only disturbed and interrupted by the short reign of Bobby Fischer. Karpov, Kasparov, and Kramnik were the last champions which grew up in the Soviet Union. With the collapse of the Soviet empire the Soviet chess factory that had turned countless talents into masters came to an end.

Andrew Soltis' book portrays a fascinating and unique chapter of chess history. Nowhere else and never before has chess played such an important role.

Andrew Soltis: Soviet Chess 1917-1991
McFarland&Co, Jefferson, Reprint 2015
450 pages, paperback.

Stephen Davies: Samuel Lipschütz A Life in Chess

This book is one of the titles which deal with the life and chess of masters who are no longer particularly well-known. Biographies such as these reveal a lot about past masters and about the times these masters lived in.

Samuel Lipschütz was born in 1863 in Ungvar, Hungary, which at that time was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Between 1919 and 1938 it was part of the new state of Czechoslovakia but after the occupation of Czechoslovakia during WW II Ungvar fell back to Hungary again. However, after the end of WWII it became part of Ukraine and thus part of the Soviet Union. Today, Ungvar is still in Ukraine. It is called Uschhorod and lies at the border between Ukraine and Slovakia.

When he was 13 years old Lipschütz left school to work in his father's office. One of his colleagues taught him how to play chess and the game immediately fascinated him. When he was 16 Lipschütz went to Budapest and visited the chess circles and chess cafes of the town.

Meanwhile, the father of Lipschütz, Nathan, had emigrated to the US and in 1878 he tried to bring his entire family into the "promised land". Samuel Lipschütz arrived in 1880. After Steinitz and Zukertort, at that time the best players of the world, had visited the USA chess became popular in the US and a chess scene developed. Lipschütz soon became a member of several chess clubs in New York and started to leave his mark. Between the end of the 1880s and the middle of the 1890s he was one of the best, perhaps the best chessplayer in the US.

Stephen Davies outlines the chess career of Lipschütz with the help of 249 games, most of which are annotated (to compare: the ChessBase Mega Database contains 157 games by Lipschütz). In 1901 he had the chance to test his skills in an encounter with World Champion Emanuel Lasker in the Manhattan Chess Club - Lasker barely managed a draw.

But 1904 Lipschütz became seriously ill - he suffered from tuberculosis. Lipschütz traveled to Germany to get treatment in the Bethanien Hospital in Hamburg-Eppendorf (Martinistraße 44) that still exists today. He had to undergo several operations, one of them because of peritonitis. As a result of his severely weakened physical condition Lipschütz died 30th November 1905 in Hamburg-Eppendorf around 1 pm in the afternoon .

Stephen Davies wrote a wonderful and incredibly informative book about an interesting chessplayer and his time.

Stephen Davies: Samuel Lipschütz A Life in Chess
McFarland&Co, Jefferson, 2015
400 pages., hardcover.

Tim Harding: Joseph Henry Blackburne

Samuel Lipschütz might be known to American chess fans but Joseph Henry Blackburne is a European chess heavyweight. Which the format of this book indicates: it is 28 cm in height and 21 cm in width and thus has dictionary format. The author Tim Harding, who is known as correspondence chess expert, filled 580 pages of this format with information about Blackburne. 

The very first sentence in Harding's biography reveals a lot about the times, in which Blackburne grew up. He was born in 1841 in Hulme, Manchester, but believed that he was a year younger than he really was. Apparently, in the middle of the 19th century birthdates were taken less seriously than today. Blackburne spent a part of his youth with his family in Belfast, Ireland. Blackburne was the son of an accountant and had an older brother and a younger sister. His brother died at the age of eight of scarlet fever.

Blackburne learned chess rather late, presumably when he was nineteen but soon after he gave his first blindfold performance. His skills in blindfold chess later contributed largely to his fame as a chessplayer. Around 1860 chess problems were rather popular in Victorian England and every newspaper of note had a chess column. Thus, the first two chess problems composed by Blackburne appeared in "The Manchester Weekley Express and Guardian" in early 1861. Blackburne's first surviving games were played the same year. He played them in a match against the Russian born Eduard D. Pindar, in which both sides usually opened with the King's Gambit.

In the autumn of 1861 Blackburne finally joined the Manchester Chess Club. About the same time a visit of the German Louis Paulsen enriched the chess life of the city. Paulsen returned from an extended visit to the USA and had finished second behind Paul Morphy at the New York Chess Congress 1857. During his visit Paulsen, one of the best players of the world, played off-hand games against the best players from Manchester. In two off-hand games against Paulsen Blackburne lost once and played one draw. However, in a consultation game the players from Manchester managed to beat Paulsen. But in blindfold simultaneous game Blackburne later lost against the master from Westphalia.

Paulsen - Blackburne, Blindsimultan, 1861



Paulsen's blindfold simultaneous exhibition certainly inspired Blackburne and he soon became one of the best players in Manchester and later in England. He became a professional chessplayer and between 1862 and 1914 he took part in a huge number of master tournaments, achieving a number of successes. He won the tournaments in Wiesbaden 1880 and Berlin 188 and finished first on tiebreak in the London tournament 1886. Blackburne was active up until old age: with 73 years of age he took part at the tournament in St. Petersbur 1914 (9./10. place).

Tim Harding tells Blackburne's chess life with a great love for detail and many references to contemporary sources. Blackburne met (and played with) many great chess personalities of the 19th and 20th century, which the reader now also gets to know. Blackburne's chess career lasted no less than 55 years - he died in London 1924 at the age of 83.

Harding's biography is a breathtaking and carefully researched masterpiece, full of information about one of the great English players. It is also a portrait of the old Europe that vanished in the upheavals of WWI.

Tim Harding: Joseph Henry Blackburne
McFarland&Co, Jefferson, 2015
580 pages, hardcover.


McFarland Chess Books...

André Schulz started working for ChessBase in 1991 and is an editor of ChessBase News.


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