Four Classics

One of my favorite pastimes is to hunt for the best of chess literature, especially in used bookstores. Generally the bigger the city and the bigger the store the better the chance of finding a gem, but occasionally the most obscure hole-in-the-wall has yielded a wonderful surprise. I have spent plenty of money on shiny, new, expensive chess books as well, but I have had the most fun, and often the most improvement value, from the used, the reprinted, and the classic hardback found at the bottom of someone’s trunk and thrown on a table at a garage sale for 50 cents.

If you find yourself at a used book stall in Britain or a library book exchange in America, a swap meet (I don’t know what they call it in Canada) or anywhere chess books might be hiding, here are four to keep your eye out for. Some are still in print, some are very hard to find. Most cost a good deal of money, new. All, aside from their tremendous improvement value, are wonderful books. Those listed are also quite old. When you get your FIDE Master title you’ll be ready to study the grandmasters of the computer age…

1) Dreihundert Schachpartien – Siegbert Tarrasch. A wonderful exposition of how the Good Doctor became the strongest player in the world for several years (yes, I know he never had the title “World Champion”, and I don’t care). Three hundred annotated games and a lot more, including insights on tournament strategy and chess psychology. Get the original in German. There is an English translation, and of course it has all the games and notes but I am not a fan of the translator’s efforts.

2) Grandmaster of Chess – Paul Keres. This is actually three volumes in one. I got it for $2.00 at a used book store and it is simply the best written, most beautiful collection of great games ever put together. Golombek did a superb job of translating and editing. If you find one of the separate volumes, buy it too. In fact, buy anything written by Keres!

3) 500 Master Games of Chess – du Mont and Tartakover. Thankfully you can still get this one new–if you don’t have it, right now it’s on supersale online. However, this is a classic used chess book. The games stop around 1950, but that is utterly irrelevant. Basically, the very best of the first 120 years of major chess competition, the introductions alone are worth the price of the book!

4) Lasker’s Greatest Chess Games, 1889-1914 – Reinfeld and Fine. The tremendous amount of work the young Fred Reinfeld and Rueben Fine put into this book really shows in the outstanding annotations. Lasker beat Bruce Lee by about 70 years in revealing the deadly brilliance of “The Style of No Style.”

There are, of course, many other great old books, treasures to be found in the most unexpected places. Keep your eyes, and mind, open.

Robert Pearson