Monday, August 20, 2007

Favorite Chess Books - The Fireside Book of Chess

The Fireside Book of Chess by Irving Chernev and Fred Reinfeld is perhaps my favorite chess book of all time. I'm sure part of the reason for that is nostalgia - it was the second chess book I purchased - my first being The Complete Chess Course by Fred Reinfeld (see my post on that book here). Although originally published by Simon and Schuster in 1949, fortunately for me this book was reprinted in 1971 and that is about the time I got it.

I still have that book - its pages have begun to yellow and some of the pages are loose - but that's just a result of me being so fond of it. I spent a good part of this past weekend reliving happy memories reading some of the stories in the book and in playing over some of the wonderful games included in this volume.

Sadly this book is out of print - but trust me - it is worth searching around for a used copy of it.

If you are not familiar with this book, FrKurtMessick gives an excellent overview of it:

This is a chess book of a different sort - it is not a how-to manual for beginners, nor is it a strategy and tactics book for the more advanced player. This is just what Fireside books are meant to be - collections of memories, anecdotes, puzzles, lists and other trivia (and not so trivial) bits about chess. This is of interest to those who have a deep abiding passion for chess, as well as for those who only dabble in it occasionally. Both editors have written other books on chess; both Irving Chernev and Fred Reinfeld have written some of the better books on learning chess separately, and together they also collaborated on a book showing strategy and skills development toward winning at chess.

This book is divided into three main sections. The first section contains stories and articles, collected from various publications such as the New Yorker and other newspapers and magazines. Included are also comics from the New Yorker, the Saturday Review of Literature, the New York Herald and other sources. Here are fake histories of the game, tongue-in-cheek stories, poignant memories and more. From the 'Capsule History of the Game' by Chielamangus, we get this snippet:

'The next great figure was Wilhelm Steinitz; a very deep player - also wide, though short. He held the world's championship for twenty-six years, and was therefore considered by his rivals to be very obstinate and pig-headed. Dr. Lasker then held the championship for another twenty-six years. Critics explained that this was because he made weak moves. This was psychology. Lasker thus became known as the apostle of common sense.'

The second section is entitled 'The Magic of Chess'. The entry 'Odd But True' includes a feast of trivia items. How can a game be won (or lost) in two moves? Was there really a master-level game that concluded in four moves? What was the longest master-level game, in number of moves? Many people through history have played through correspondence; given the amount of time permitted between moves, one would not expect too many mistakes, but the shortest of these types of games concluded in a mere six moves. There was also a book published once in Germany with the title, 'Advice to Spectators at Chess Tournaments'. All the pages were blank save one, which had but two words on it - 'Halt Maul!'

The third section is a collection of classic games and strategies, which includes a lot games more interesting for the circumstances surrounding them as much as for the play that takes place. These include miniatures (short games), blindfolded games, and even 'the perfect game'. This has a strange quality about it in chess - according to Chernev and Reinfeld, the perfect game is not one in which all the moves are 'perfect': 'A game in which neither side has made a mistake does not add up to perfection; in such games we find only a sterile dullness which lacks every memorable feature.'

Chernev and Reinfeld had the reputation for being able to speak for hours on end about chess without notes or books, much in the way many people will talk about sports, movies, politics or other areas. They write with wit and skill (much like the way they play the game), and have the hope that through their writing their love of the game is contagious. Judging from this book, one of my earliest books on chess, they are indeed.

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