John Watson Book Review (38)
Noteworthy Releases, Part 2
IM John Watson - Sunday 22nd April 2001
Chess on the Net;
Mark Crowther; 127 pages; Everyman 2001
Genna Sosonko; 206 pages; New In Chess 2001
Dirk Jan ten Geuzendam; 126 pages; New In Chess 2001
Max Euwe, the Biography;
Alexander Mueninghoff; 351 pages; New In Chess 2001
Instructive Chess Masterpieces;
Igor Stohl; 320 pages; Gambit 2001
I can’t give a description of Mark Crowther’s ‘Chess on the Net’ sufficient to encompass its dense and varied contents, so let me give as broad a summary as possible. First, the author is my favourite webmaster, whose site (the one you are presumably looking at right now) won the ‘Greatest Chess Website of 2000’ award. His book is essentially a combination of a teaching text and a reference book.
To lead off the book, Internet novices are instructed about what the Internet and Web are and how to access them. They are told how to use email, attachments, Internet pages, links, newsgroups and more, all with examples. Next comes chess, of course, beginning with a lengthy section on both free and commercial databases, some of which I didn’t know existed. Then Crowther discusses some chessplaying engines (programs), which are also divided into free and commercial products.
The next chapter is about playing on the Web, with a detailed and extremely practical description of how to move around on ICC (the Internet Chess Club) and similar sites. I think that this chapter will appeal to the growing number of players who are discovering the online world.
The ‘News and Events’ chapter understandably features TWIC (this site) with a very interesting description of how games are compiled and standardized, and much more. This chapter also lists other news and game sites, and even tells how to transmit moves for live chess events.
Moving ahead (and skipping a lot), we come to a chapter called ‘Commercial Web Sites’ that discusses, e.g., Chesspublishing.com and ChessToday.com, two sites that I am particularly enthusiastic about. It also includes sites with book and equipment sales. Finally, as an afterthought, Crowther buries some of the most important people on the Web (and perhaps in the world) at the end: chess book reviewers. Why these self-sacrificing souls are listed in the ‘Commercial Sites’ chapter is not for me to say—any sane person would give us a separate chapter. But Crowther does throw me a personal bone or two with some flattering compliments, in the desperate hope that I won’t trash his book (it worked, of course).
In a sort of catch-all final chapter, Crowther discusses a number of important sites that don’t fit other categories, including a long list of player sites (i.e., sites featuring an individual player, who may be showing games, discussing his life, or offering to teach for a fee). He also lists some online newspaper columns, chess problems sites, correspondence chess sites, etc. Finally, ‘Chess on the Web’ ends with perhaps the most important section of all: a huge list of chess sites, organized by category. I suspect that almost everyone will discover sites of interest that they were previously unaware of.
In spite of his cruel slighting of chess book reviewers, I have to say that this is an impressive work that people of every strength and interest will find very useful.
‘Russian Silhouettes’ is an wistful and respectful book about masters now lost to us. Sosonko, born in Russia and personally acquainted with his subjects, conveys the greatness of various players from the erstwhile Soviet Union without showing us a single game or position. Each essay is a revelation and a gift, especially for the devotee of chess history but for the rest of us as well.
I had read most of these articles in New in Chess Magazine over the last couple of years (the recycled nature of the material is perhaps the only slight negative about this book). I receive so much chess material, however, that I don’t always appreciate it at the time. So it was with fresh and surprised eyes that I became transfixed by Sosonko’s reminiscences. The very variety of characters he discusses is itself revealing: Tal, Geller, Zak, Furman, Olga Capablanca, Botvinnik, Koblenz, Vitolins, Levenfish and Polugayevsky (or ‘Polugaevsky’, as the book has it). Many of these portraits are likely the only personal material about their subjects that fans have ever been exposed to. Sosonko is both affectionate and forgiving, but never fawning. This is not the only way to present historical figures, but it is a fully legitimate one and I think it succeeds. Naturally we see things from Sosonko’s point of view, on occasion evidently skewed. Overall, he takes a positive and non-judgmental approach, one that allows us to appreciate all the more the personalities that arose from that strange and often oppressive environment. The book has great photographs, by the way, and is a great read.
Subtitled ‘A Journey into the Heart of Chess’ Dirk Jan ten Geuzendam’s ‘Linares, Linares!’ is another New In Chess book about personalities, again presented without a single game. Linares, of course, is the site of organizer Luis Renero’s annual super-tournament, many among the strongest events the chess world has ever seen. This book deals impressionistically and by no means thoroughly with the 1999 tournament. I have only skimmed through it, but enjoy what I have seen. The author is the long-time editor of New in Chess Magazine and an active, literate journalist. I’ve always thought that, as a journalist, he could pose more challenging and interesting questions in his interviews with famous players for the magazine. Here, however, he dispenses with the softballs and includes both controversial events and some incisive interviewing.
‘Linares, Linares!’ includes quite a bit of local colour, e.g., most of one chapter is devoted to a discussion of the great bullfighter Manolete. The book also contains purely personal reflections (upon a story by Borges, for example). The book is a lot of fun. My only complaint is that for a non-technical book, it is rather short for the price.
‘Max Euwe, the Biography’ is a book that the reader should know is available. I haven’t read it yet and will withhold comment until a future column. One thing that I have noticed is that the translation by Piet Verhagen reads like fluent English, apparently contradicting what I just said about Xs and Ys in the Khalifman book review! ‘Max Euwe’ was first published in Dutch in 1976 and has been only very lightly reedited. There are some unique and fascinating photographs. I am very much looking forward to reading about this great player.
Igor Stohl’s ‘Instructive Chess Masterpieces’ is too good and to interesting a book to review briefly, so I’ll try to tackle it in a later column. Suffice it to say that Stohl annotates in detail 50 high-quality games of all types taken from the years 1993-2000. The book is wonderful, but probably too advanced (with exceptions) for players below a certain strength. A wild guess at that strength might be 1700 USCF (and somewhat lower in ELO rating; conversions are unreliable below 2000). Anyone else is strongly recommended to buy the this labour of love without further ado. (More later!)