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John Watson Book Review (83)

My New CDs and Somebody Else's System

My System; Aron Nimzowitsch; 316 pages; Quality Chess 2007. Buy from the London Chess Centre

Everyman Interactive CDs and E-Books; Everyman 2007

One of the biggest developments in the openings world has been the release by Everyman of their books on CDs. Lately, they have added e-books to the mix. There are 9 Opening CDs (and one from a book on tactics); Everyman uses the ChessBase format and reproduce the books almost word for word. In fact, my main purpose here is to make readers aware of their availability, not to review the CDs for content. I have just now become aware of the e-books (there are 27 of them!), which appear to be books in the same format, but downloadable. I'm not certain about this, so the best thing to do is to go to the Everyman homepage and see for yourself. In this column, by the way, I have previously reviewed three of the books that are now in both CD and e-book form.

For an author and researcher, the CD format is a great boon. I've spent more hours than I would like to admit copying games and notes (mainly the latter) from chess books into ChessBase; the ease with which these games can now be incorporated will lighten my work load a lot. Now all we need is something similar for a few hundred other theoretical books out there, and chess fans can construct their own encyclopaedias of chess wisdom (or chess folly).

Users of ChessBase will immediately catch on to some big advantages here. They can read a book with one of their analytical engines turned on, getting the computer to spot errors and offer alternatives, all in real time. It's also simple to jump back and forth to any point in a game, while all the usual ChessBase tools are at your disposal. For example, you can promote or delete lines, annotate the games yourself using text and evaluation symbols, do searches in a reference database, and other useful manipulations. Older folk like me will adjust the font size for readability, something that isn't possible with a book or label on a drug bottle.

A few other products have combined a book with a CD of text and databases, but never so professionally. I expect that other companies will cautiously turn to this format or something similar, while continuing to produce books. As you may know, Chess Informant does a sophisticated and extremely high-quality job of putting their softcover volumes in database form on CDs, and offers features comparable to ChessBase. The comparison is not direct, however, since the Informant games and Encyclopaedia lines themselves use a universal, languageless notation.

So are there any disadvantages to having a book in this CD format? I think that the main one by far is that we all use the computer so much these days, and having just one more thing to stare at on a screen can be too much to bear. Books are tactile, easy to curl up with, and can be read in most physical locations, from the back porch to the park bench to the restaurant. People also like to collect chess books, and so far I don't know of any chess CD and DVD collectors (which is not to say that they aren't out there). Personally, I still try to spend as much of my reading time as possible away from my computer, but the reality is that this electronic version is too convenient for me to ignore, and others will be as well. The true test will come when products like this proliferate; whatever happens, I'm sure that I'll still be enjoying turning pages for a good portion of the evening.

Consider Joe Gallagher's Starting Out: The King's Indian, a CD derived from the book of the same name, first published in 2002. It's a tribute to Gallagher's thoroughness and knowledge of this opening that the CD would still be relevant if you were trying to use ChessBase to develop a repertoire in the KID, because you could use this fine set of annotated games as the basis for it. Then you could add games and analysis that appeared later. Of course, King's Indian theory changes rapidly, so it's also logical to reverse the process, taking current core games and merging those from Gallagher as appropriate.

As with the other Everyman CDs, the original Introduction and Bibliography are reproduced. The database has 112 texts and games, but unlike most databases, all of them come from the book, and the actual games are annotated. The texts are particularly useful and contain one feature that the book doesn't, in that you can simply click on a link to go to the game being discussed, rather than having to hunt around through the pages.

The books that the other CDs stem from are much more recent, in fact, the majority have appeared in the past year and a half. Here are the titles: Starting Out: Sicilian Najdorf by Richard Palliser; Starting Out: 1 e4 by Neil McDonald; Starting Out: The Scotch Game by John Emms; Starting Out: Closed Sicilian by Richard Palliser; Starting Out: The Sicilian Dragon by Andrew Martin. The three CDs that aren't from the 'Starting Out' series are Play 1 e4 e5! by Nigel Davies; Play the Queen's Gambit by Chris Ward; and The French Advance 2nd Edition by Sam Collins. Finally, Chris Ward' Starting Out: Chess Tactics steps outside the realm of openings.

The price of the CDs is comparable to the corresponding books, and I haven't found any errors or omissions in the ones that I've looked at. So it's easy to recommend these new electronic versions with all of their advantages for researching and studying. Just be sure that you are happy with working at the computer as you use them.

I've written some negative reviews recently in spite of my general disinclination to do so. Naturally, the favourable ones still outweigh the unfavourable, and I normally pass by the books that I feel are moderately flawed. But some books have negative qualities serious enough that a reviewer owes it to his readers to point them out, however that alienates authors and publishers. Quality Chess' new translation of Aron Nimzowitsch's classic My System falls into that category, and does a disservice to the man and his brilliant writing.

However, people shouldn't think that it's merely a throwaway line when, before launching into criticism, I say some positive things. In this case, I should immediately point out that in spite of its fundamental problems, one can still make a case for getting this book, because it adds some material that other editions in English lack, and its layout corresponds to Nimzowitsch's original presentation. More basically, you may not have read My System and find this the most convenient edition to pick up from a large chess book dealer, although of course other translations can be found on the web (Lou Hayes' version is the best alternative; see below). I also want to emphasise that in my opinion, Quality Press has heretofore produced books that live up to its name. They have been carefully written and some have been among the very best works of recent years. In particular, Learn from the Legends won the ChessCafe book of the year, and the outstanding editions of Experts vs the Sicilian are of great practical value as well as contributing to theory. Their specialised opening books are most appropriate for a rather elevated audience; within that context, they are the most thorough and insightful works on their respective openings. (For the record, I haven't received Marin's recent 1 e4 e5 books, nor the book on the San Luis World Championship tournament.) In My System, however, they have fallen miserably short of their standards.

An aside for researchers and chess fans: the material on my 'Nimzowitsch bookshelf' is rather extensive, including books and scads of material from the Internet and other sources. But only recently have I realised how much new material is forthcoming. It's also worth mentioning some already-published writings which have appeared in German magazines. The periodical KARL had an amazing section on Nimzowitsch in their 3/2006 issue, with 6 articles spanning 26 pages, and in addition a 5-page article of the 4 Bd2 Nimzo-Indian! See for information about this unique magazine, which combines cultural articles with chess material (including book reviews). One needs an advanced knowledge of German to understand it.

The recent 27th issue of Kaissiber ( ) has a 12-page article on Nimzowitsch during his WWI years, drawing upon his own writings for the Baltische Zeitung. Kaissiber features many articles on openings, with an emphasis on ones that are offbeat, but including some deep analysis of traditional variations. Only a modest familiarity with the German language will suffice to understand them. It also has book reviews, a long section about computer chess, and a regular column by the great grandmaster Bent Larsen. Over the years, both of these magazines have been first-class publications and should be of interest to any chess fan who meets the linguistic requirements.

My focus will be the new translation of My System, for reasons that will become obvious. But let me give a little information about various versions of this book that I own, and about their contents. Quality Chess uses the 2005 Kurt Rattmann Edition (henceforth 'Rattmann'); as a basis for their translation; there have been three printings that I am aware of. Nimzowitsch wrote My System in German, so this is presumably very close to the original. Over the past 6-7 years (ironically after my Secrets of modern Chess Strategy), I've read considerable chunks of Rattman, and can say that My System is delightful to read in German, much more so than in the English translations under consideration. Rattmann also includes a wonderful 27-page introduction to Nimzowitsch's career and theories by Dr J Hannak, whereas neither the previous English editions nor this new one have anything comparable. If you understand German, stop reading now and get the real thing!

To its credit, the softcover translation of My System from David McKay (mine is copyrighted 1930) does have a 10-page introduction by Fred Reinfeld with an overview of Nimzowitsch's life, career, and ideas; but Hannak's essay is much more thorough and interesting. The other two English Editions that I have are the hardcover Bell & Sons, copyrighted 1929, and the Lou Hays softcover, copyrighted in 1991. These are all the same translation, by Philip Hereford, with extremely small differences (Hays has updated some sentences, probably to the book's benefit). Of the three, the Lou Hays edition is probably the best to own for someone interested in chess content alone, because it is in algebraic notation and has very many diagrams. The other two are in old English Descriptive notation.

Returning to the Quality Chess Edition (henceforth 'QCE'), John Shaw and Jacob Aagaard contribute an Appendix with 13 examples where analytical improvements over the book are made. And Aagaard has a short essay entitled "Nimzowitsch for the 21 Century". The translator of the book is listed as Ian Adams, but as we shall see, the book is littered with language that couldn't have possibly come from a native English speaker; those parts bear every mark of being translated by someone who is a student of English, presumably from Europe. So my guess is that the translation duties were divided, and that Mr. Adams cannot be held responsible for the entire debacle. Consequently, I'll henceforth refer to the translator as 'QCE' as well!

Interestingly, the Hereford translation (henceforth 'Hereford'), has 50 complete annotated games listed in the back, but Rattman and QCE have only 41 annotated games, at least they are numbered as such. This is probably mostly due to the way the books are organised and where the material lies. That is, QCE and Rattmann mix examples, mostly partial, into the text in the order that Nimzowitsch presumably did. Thus they haven't numbered many segments of games interspersed in the book. I wish that the Quality Chess crew had listed their games, however, as the Hereford editions do. Unfortunately, using their index of players doesn't necessarily help. For example, I can't find the name Boboljubow anywhere in the QCE player index, but the Hereford translations include the complete game Bogoljubow-Nimzowitsch, so it may well be more complete in this regard. Finally, QCE includes an article by Nimzowitsch entitled "The History of the Revolution in Chess from 1911-14." This is missing from Hereford except that the games and annotations from it do appear separately.

Anyway, my primary goal here is to talk about and compare translations, not to fully describe the books, so I'll turn to that task. On the back cover, the publisher declares: "The problem for an English-speaking audience has been that My System was written in German more than eighty years ago. The commonly-used contemporary translations have sounded dated for some time, and were always questionable: the translators frequently toned down many passages [sic], fearing Nimzowitsch’s biting wit would be too controversial. This edition uses a brand-new translation that recreates the author’s original intentions. For the first time an English-speaking audience can appreciate the true nature of a famous chess book."

Yet upon examination, we find an inept translation, technical carelessness, and an obvious lack of proofreading. To me, it is particularly galling to treat a classic in this fashion; ironically, the translation even tones down or eliminates some of witty and metaphorical side of the book, the publisher's protestations to the contrary notwithstanding.

Having said that, it's only fair to give a set of examples sufficiently large to justify my criticism. If you're going to pass judgment on someone else's work, your case had better be buttressed by strong evidence which is not handpicked from the text. Therefore it might be appropriate to begin with the very sections which were posted by the publishers on their own website to illustrate their book. Indeed, the translation isn't as outrageous as some of the rest of the book; nevertheless, it is quite clumsy. We run into typically poor proofreading/editing and some strange sentences, for example:

Pg 164:

"The defender is to be lulled into capturing outwith the chain.'

Pg 166:

The courage, quite intentionally to let oneself be put under pressure for hours, just on account of a remote possibility, is now rewarded: White obtains a direct attack.

Pg 167:

"...well illustratinghisstrategicskill..."

[There are many cases of words running together like this. They can break ones concentration, and are consistent with the sloppiness of the book as a whole.]

Generally, the translation is damaged by the lack of necessary commas. On the other hand, we run into random commas as well:

Page 167:

"This is the reason, for some people thinking that Lasker's Achilles' heel is his handling of the opening."

Pg 167:

"After e4-e5 at the right moment, the c-pawn is obstructed; this represents quite a shadow side to Alapin's idea."

So far the mistakes are careless ones those that an editor should have dealt with. But we find more serious flaws when we look more closely. I'll examine only two pages, remembering that these were also chosen by the publisher specifically to promote the book. They exhibit one problem after another, including these mindbenders:

Bottom of page Pg 170, top of 171:

"And that very advance is perhaps not yet on the cards, because Black is the weaker on the queenside, but it will come to it. What makes the game fundamentally interesting for the student is how Black turns into his base of operations the battlefield which White turned up his nose at."

Pg 171:

"This powerful attack which is starting on the kingside can be considered from the point of view of the history of this game to be the secondary one, because Black has actually set about his opponent with c7-c6."

The translator gives the impression of having studied but not mastered English.

Pg 172:

"In our game, White had chosen the wrong side for his battlefield, but after a series of moves the game suddenly looks as if White had all along been operating on the appropriate wing. Despite that his game is lost, but nature’s tendency to level things out from time to time cannot be denied here."

[All right, the second sentence is a grammatical catastrophe. But the first also rings oddly and a word is arbitrarily eliminated. A simple improvement using Nimzowitsch's input would be:

"In our game, White had chosen the wrong side for his battlefield, but after a series of eventful moves the game suddenly looks as if White has been operating on the appropriate wing all along. To be sure, his game is lost in spite of this. But you can't deny nature’s tendency to occasionally want to even things out."]

Sometimes QCE succeeds in making Nimzowitsch's meaning clear, but the result is jarring.

Pg 171:

"What was the point of this move? If c6xd5 is now finally played, then after the reply c4xd5, all that would have been achieved would be the exposure of his own base square d6. "

[One immediate improvement would be: "Now, if c6xd5 is finally played, then ...etc." Furthermore, compare Hereford's translation of the same passage:]

"What sense can there be in this move? If in the end ...cxd5 is played, then the answer cxd5 would attain nothing other than the exposure of his own base at d6."

That's easy on the ears. Oddly enough, with one exception, Hereford has used the very same words and constructions as Nimzowitsch did, whereas the QCE translator for some reason decides to change them. Which version would you rather read? Remember that the new translation is supposed to correct and improve upon the "dated", and "questionable" older ones.

Too often, the translator has difficulties handling word arrangements. Pg 172:

"As we know, the philosophy of pawn chains which we have dealt with can constitute a good criterion for the evaluation of any possible situation in the domain of chains."

In case you think that these problems are restricted to one part of the book, let's take a short walking tour beginning with the Introduction to what the editors call the second volume of the work, going page-by-page and citing a few examples:

Pg 64:

"This volume will take us to passed pawns and to the endgame, but before we start, let us quickly look over another few games, in which the open files upon which we set such a high value were somewhat surprisingly the stars."

[Here we have recurring problem: the use of commas. You could eliminate the last one and insert a pair around 'somewhat surprisingly'. That might not rescue the sentence, but it would improve upon it.]

Pg 64:

"...Critics said that the first volume would only be of any use to weaker players. That is in no way the case, is what I say."

['I say that this is in no way the case.' Or even 'That is in no way the case'. Notice the translator's mimicry of the German in many of these examples.]

Pg 64:

"Establishing a knight outpost (along the lines of Nc5, protected by the d-pawn and backed up by the open c-file) is, just like the common garden penetration of the opponent's second rank...."

[He presumably means 'just like the garden-variety penetration to the opponent's second rank.']

Pg 65:

"Black can consider either the direct Rfd8 (intending Rxd8 Rxd8 Rxd8 Nxd8 Nxe5 Nxe4; of course, this line had to be introduced by Kh7 or g6-g5 and the securing of the h6-pawn against an attack by the bishop on e3, or else at the end of the game would come the reply Nxe4 Bxe5 Bxh6); or the slow manoeuvre Rfc8 then Kg8-f8-e8 followed by contesting the d-file by Rc8-d8. The latter method is characterised by little activity by White on the d-file."

Huh? A more comprehensible way to present this, and much closer to the original would be:

"Black can consider the direct 13...Rfd8 (intending 14 Rxd8 Rxd8 15 Rxd8 Nxd8 16 Nxe5 Nxe4; of course, this line had to be introduced by ...Kh7 or ...g6-g5 in order to secure the h-pawn against an attack by the bishop on e3; otherwise, after the double exchange of rooks and 16 Nxe5 Nxe4, there would come the reply 17 Nxe4 Bxe5 18 Bxh6). Alternatively, Black might choose 13 ....Rfc8 followed by ...Kg8-f8-e8 and then contesting the d-file by ...Rc8-d8. The latter method is made possible by White's limited activity on the d-file."

[I find it very irritating that all of Black's moves in the book are given without a move number, and without '...' (e.g., '15...Nf5' instead of 'Nf5'). In this case, it is beyond me why one would even skip the move numbers that Nimzowitsch himself included in Ratman's original German version.]

Pg 66:

"We feel justified in adopting the above-mentioned ambitious plan of encirclement. The reason is that the incontestable positional advantage we have in the central file after 9...c6 is played justifiably has an effect on the flanks."

Pg 69:

"Worth considering was however the energetic 22 b4 though it would be less advantageous after 22...b5!"

[commas again]

Sometimes the language is flat-out bizarre:

Pg 69:

"The move "protects" and "waits", but also contains a threat, though the way things stand the threat is minimal, since here it was simply a little extra."

And sometimes the proofreader is missing in action:

Pg 69:

"However Black stands badly, whatever he does."

In the following paragraph from the same page, the QCE translator actually skips a couple of lively sentences. There are times when he doesn't seem comfortable with Nimzowitsch's analogies, but they should still be retained.

Pg 69:

"The consequence of 26.Rlc2 is a series of new attacking possibilities, since g7 has become backward. The manoeuvre Rg4 would not only emphasise the weakness of the g-pawn but, much more than that, it would place the black king in a position of mortal danger."

Hereford version (from Hays):

"As a result of 26.R1c2! entirely new attacking possibilities have arisen. Black's pawn on g7 has become backward. The maneuver Rg4 would, however, not only help to expose the weakness of the g-pawn, but, what is more important, put the Black King in an extremely disagreeable situation. All this fell like ripe fruit into White's lap simply and solely as the logical result of the waiting move 26.R1c2. The finest moves are after all, waiting moves!"

Nimzowitsch's 'ripe fruit' analogy, which is in the original, disappears in the QCE translation. What's more, Hereford's version is better even without the last two sentences!

Page 69:

"Even the double move of a pawn can be part of a wait-and-see policy."

[This is another Germanism. He means 'Even advancing a pawn two squares can be part of a wait-and-see policy.']

So often, QCE will translate a lively segment lifelessly:

Pg 70:

"The following game (number 11) shows us an example of a 'restricted advance' on a rook file. The advance is not something sporadic but rather it lasts and controls the square it occupies."

Compare Hereford's translation of the same passage:

"In the following game we come to the 'restricted advance' (of a rook) on an open file, in which the file does not show up sporadically like summer lightning, but throughout dominates the field."

Hereford's translation may not be perfect, but it's definitely better. He retains Nimzowitsch's striking use of the lightning comparison (literally 'sheet lightning'), which is in the original, whereas QCE omits it (why?). QCE then changes Nimzowitsch's 'brings us to' to 'shows us an example of'. In addition, he uses 'feld' to mean a chess square (c4), which is the normal use, instead of the more expansive 'field', which is a better word for what the restricted advance 'rules over' in the example under discussion (...Rc4-a4-a2 is played). Notice also that Nimzowitsch uses the powerful expression 'rules over', and Hereford translates this as 'dominates', which is also fine. Anything but QCE's sterilized 'controls'.

To be sure, the meaning of the 'restricted advance' is not consistent throughout My System, but in any case the QCE wording takes the life out of the original.

Too many direct and specific errors appear throughout the book; nevertheless, the difference in translation styles is also disturbing, particularly when the translator tries to 'improve upon' the original. A few instances follow. On the very first page of the Introduction to Part 1:


"We shall start with the centre, which we shall first deal with in such a way as to be of profit to the less experienced player."


"We shall begin with the centre, which we propose to treat in the first place with the less experienced player in mind."

Here is my 'dumb' translation, simply retaining Nimzowitsch's literal terms as written in Rattman:

"We begin with the centre, which for the moment we will work on for the sake of the less experienced player."

There is no reason to change such phrases as 'for the moment', or to toss in 'profit' when the original 'for the sake of' is fine. Result? Even an almost literal, totally unsophisticated mimicry of Nimzowitsch's German sounds better than the others!

On the first page of what is called Part 1, Chapter 1, Nimzowitsch is speaking about development:


" The procedure is the same as the advance at the beginning of a war: both combatant armies seek to reach the border as quickly as they can, in order to penetrate into enemy territory if it is possible.


"The process is analogous to the advance on the outbreak of the war. Both armies seek to reach the frontier as quickly as possible in order to penetrate into enemy territory."

Again, here's my near-literal translation of Rattman:

"The course of events is analogous to the advance at the beginning of a war: both belligerent armies seek to reach the frontier as quickly as possible, in order to penetrate where possible into enemy territory."

Why would the QCE translator alter Nimzowitsch's word 'analogous' ['Analog']? And Hereford omits the phrase 'where possible', whereas QCE says "if possible", closer but still not quite the same. If repetition of the word 'possible' presents a problem to the translator, 'feasible' could be used. Again, a straightforward rendering of Nimzowitsch seems preferable to the others.

Flip to any page with a lot of text and it will almost certainly contain some awkward constructions that either mimic the German or are translated too slavishly. For example:

"On the one hand, it is difficult to make a choice, because the number of well-played games is so high and yet at the same time it is easy to do so, because when you get right down to it all games are somehow characteristic of the system since play down open files or along the 7th rank happens in almost every game.

Considering a game from the point of view of our rules is something nobody can stop us from doing and at the same time something which we can always trot out for the greater good of our readers."

For me, this kind of writing is distracting. The first paragraph could obviously be better worded, but at the very least we need to insert some commas, e.g., after 'high' and 'system'. Better still, this exhausting sentence could be broken up into two.

The second paragraph uses Nimzowitsch's words, but it is typically 'German-sounding' and grates on the ears when stuffed into English. Using the same words, how about: "Nobody can stop us from considering a game from the point of view of our rules; we can always trot them out for the greater good of our readers"?

Both translators far too often come up with run-on sentences which would make Faulkner blush. This wouldn't be so bad if the sentences were both smoothly written and easily parsed, but that is not the case. Here's one from Hereford (for the record, the QCE version of this is also bad):

"I have sought to illustrate this entry by some particularly marked, because catastrophic, examples, but I must here, to offset this, emphasize the fact that, in the normal course of events, it will only be late, when we pass into the endgame stage, that the 7th rank will be seized, for catastrophes of whatever nature are, after all, only the result of serious mistakes of our opponent, and consequently cannot be regarded as the normal."

Wow! Such sentence structures are in the nature of German (ignoring verb placement); indeed, we grow accustomed to and even fond of them. But a book written in English is butchered by their indiscriminate use.

Sometimes QCE simply inserts material, which is not the prerogative of a good translator. For example:

Pg 255:

"So to seize the opposing weak point, our attack alternates between methods (manoeuvring is like a sailing boat tacking), as we exploit..."

[The analogy may be fine, but in the original, Nimzowitsch doesn't have a parenthetical remark at all, and certainly says nothing about boats or tacking]]

Or the translator takes liberties in changing what are satisfactory words into others, and leaving in too-literal ones:

Pg 255:

"So the d5-square might be considered here as a fortified staging-post, and it would be only right and proper for us to describe it as a pivot, around which the whole manoeuvring operation turns. All manoeuvring stands under the sign of the fortified d5 square."

[I'm don't think that there is an English word "staging-post". Nimzowitsch means 'staging', which is an assembly of troops who are in transit at a particular point. Or, if that sounds too obscure, 'transit point' will probably do.

Then Nimzowitsch uses precisely the word 'axis' (instead of 'pivot'), which goes with 'around which the whole manoeuvring operation revolves'.

Finally, 'under the sign of' doesn't seem right; after all, we aren't talking about a commercial business. It would be more in the spirit of Nimzowitsch's colorful language to use 'under the banner of', or 'under the flag of'.

The famous chapter 'The Passed Pawn' also reflects the QC translation's deadening effect (and its careless style). Let's go through the first part with some care.

Pg 73:


"A pawn is "passed" if there is no enemy pawn in front of it (on the same file) and on neither of the neighbouring files, and cannot thus be prevented from promoting to a queen."

First, there's the grammatical mistake: 'and on neither' should be 'or on either'. And notice how the powers of this super-pawn are unqualified, as opposed to the other versions below.

Here's my almost literal translation from Rattmann:

"A pawn is 'free' (a passed pawn), if he has nothing to fear from either an enemy pawn in front of it (i.e., on the same file) or one such on the neighbouring files, and to such an extent can advance towards promotion unhindered."

That's an improvement, but not great. Hereford's translation is succinct and incorporates the key points:

"A pawn is passed if he has nothing to fear from an enemy pawn in front of him, i.e., in the same file, or from one on a neighboring file, and whose road to Queen is therefore open."

Okay, 'road to Queen' is an archaic form of 'road to promotion', but the idea of 'road' expresses Nimzowitsch's idea quite well.

Two sentences later, the difference between translations widens somewhat.

Pg 73:


"There is the recognition that when a pawn is like that, then the enemy piece must sacrifice a part of its own effectiveness just to keep an eye on it, our pawn, and to keep that eye on it continuously. Moreover, when we remember another circumstance, namely that the pawn as such has another advantage over a piece in that it is a born defender, we gradually get the point that a pawn is worthy of our attention."


"A special recognition is due to a pawn from the fact that enemy pieces must sacrifice a part of their effective strength in order to keep him under observation, and in fact under continual observation. If further, we bear in mind that the pawn enjoys another advantage over the pieces in that he is the born defender, we will slowly discover that even on the 64 squares the pawn, our foot soldier, is worthy of all respect."

Both translations are awkward, especially the first, but Nimzowitsch's actual words are much closer to Hereford's, and much livelier than QCE's. For example, Nimzowitsch writes 'the pawn enjoys', not the pawn 'as such has'; and Hereford correctly translates 'Achtung' in this context as 'respect', not QCE's mushy 'attention'.

Just as importantly, QCE has omitted 'even on the 64 squares' and term 'foot soldier', both of which appear in Nimzowitsch's text, and are surely in his spirit. In fact, Nimzowitsch continues with the foot soldier metaphor in the next paragraph:

Pg 73:


"What is the best piece to blockade an ambitious enemy pawn? - The pawn.

What is the most secure defender of one of our pieces? - The pawn.

What is the cheapest piece on the board? - The pawn, once more, because pieces are not suited to long-term activities (such as blockading and defending), which will remove them from more active service."


"Who checks an ambitious enemy pawn best? A pawn. Who protects one of his own pieces best? A pawn. And which of the chessmen works for least wages? Again, the pawn, for a steady job, such as protecting one of his own fellows or keeping in restraint one of the enemy's men, does not appeal to a piece at all, moreover, such occupation draws off troops from the active army."

Notice how QCE strips all of Nimzowitsch's earthy humour from the text. Instead of the army metaphor of the underpaid foot soldier working at his steady job, protecting his 'fellows' and freeing 'troops' for the 'active army', we get the colourless and humourless interpretation of the QCE translator. In fact, Nimzowitsch explicitly uses this metaphor and these specific terms, so the 'new translation' seems the result of a conscious effort to eliminate the poetic element. It's as if you translated Nietzche in the language of Kant.

Another famous passage appears on Pg 73:


"In diagram 138 neither the b-pawn nor the g-pawn is passed, though the former is less restricted than the latter since the b-pawn at least does not have an opposing pawn directly in front of it. Such a pawn might be described as an enemy, whereas an opposing pawn on a neighbouring file is more like a neighbour, which can be a bit annoying; for example, whenever we rush down the stairs on an important errand, it can and does happen that a neighbour appears and engages us in a long conversation (about the weather, or politics or the price of beer) to hold us up, just like the c-pawn does to the b-pawn in our diagram.

However, a talkative neighbour is not exactly a bitter enemy, just as in our case a neighbouring pawn in our way is not an antagonist.

In our diagram, White's g-pawn had no desire to move forward, whilst the b-pawn can at least try to do so."


"In the position on Diagram 38 neither the b-pawn nor the g-pawn is free, yet the former seems to be less hampered than the latter, for the b-pawn has at any rate no direct antagonist. The vis-a-vis might be compared to an enemy, while the pawn in the next file reminds us rather of a kindly neighbor, who, as we know, can have his drawbacks. If, for instance, we are rushing downstairs to keep an important engagement, and a neighbor suddenly buttonholes us and involves us in a long talk, ranging from the weather and politics to the high cost of beer, he keeps us from our job, just as in Diagram 38 the Black c-pawn may be a vexation to White's b-pawn. Nevertheless a somewhat gossipy chatterbox of a neighbor is far from being a bitter enemy, or to apply the simile to our case, an annoying pawn on a neighboring file is far from being an antagonist. In our diagram, the White g-pawn's aspirations to greater things can never be satisfied, whereas the b-pawn can always dream of an advance."

It has to be said that Hereford's version has its flaws. But the QCE translator has become utterly negligent, ignoring words outright, inventing verbs and phrases, and neglecting the adjectives that Nimzowitsch himself used! There's no rhyme or reason to it, and it reads poorly.

To their credit, both translators manage to keep the basic humour of the story line intact, but you can take my word for it that the passage has lost energy in translation.

For all that, the examples above don't fully describe the problem. The QCE language is simply unnatural. What is truly revealing is a side-by-side reading of the Rattman German edition and the new one. Then the gracelessness of the QCE translation really stands out.

While it has its flaws, Phillip Hereford's translation is much superior to the QCE version, not only because it largely retains the colour and flavour of Nimzowitsch's language, but also because it is almost always grammatically correct.

What about the reviewers? Of the many who talked about this book, not one mentioned the poor quality of the translation, and in fact a couple gave it mild praise. Even the literate Jonathan Rowson, in his New in Chess review of the book, speaks only favourably of the new translation, and the author of a substantial review on avers that 'this edition reads very well'. It's difficult for me to believe that any educated reader wouldn't be taken aback by the stilted phrasing, grammatical errors, misuse of words, etc. I hope to have provided enough examples to counter the obvious and expected objection that I am being unfairly picky or selective.

In fact, I simply can't avoid the feeling that most reviewers didn't bother to read the book at all. At the very least they seem to have skipped the lengthier game comments, as well as extended prose sections, which together constitute the philosophic core of the book.

Incidentally, on the front cover the author's named is rendered as "Aron Nimzowitsch", but on the Title Page it is "Aaron Nimzowitsch". Using a consistent spelling for the author's name is pretty fundamental. Taken by itself, such a mistake is serious but understandable; Nimzowitsch himself used both spellings. In context, however, it symbolises the lack of care that has gone into this project. My System is one of the cornerstones of chess theory and unarguably a classic of the literature. So it's doubly sad to see it treated so shabbily.

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