Friday, 31 May 2019

A shambolic book on Fischer

Chess Combinations, Strategy and Intuition in the Chess Games of Robert James "Bobby" Fischer (2017 Edition) 

The title page promises Complete games: Openings, Middlegame and Endgames (including annoteted games) but, perhaps wisely, does not name any author, editor or compiler.  However, the author is Chaturang Phalak (chess player and writer - Facebook) who has self-published, through Amazon, a number of chess books under the publishing name of Chess Science whose logo is a 10 x 10 chequered board with a dark square bottom right.

The 111 pages are not numbered although the Table of Contents indicates 133 pages. The discrepancy is due to several games being allocated two pages in the Contents but are actually squeezed into one page in the book. The occasional completely blank page is also included here and there.  

The book starts with an inane and inept biography which condenses the entire life and chess career of Robert James "Bobby" Fischer into just over a page, including a portrait, ending with a link to Youtube for further biographical information.  No matter, we already know practically everything about Fischer, so on to the games.

The first chapter, Ten Notable Games, kicks off with Fischer's brilliancy against Donald Byrne in the Third Rosenwald Trophy Tournament (1956), with a few comments taken from The Games of Robert J. Fischer by Robert Wade and Kevin O'Connell, London 1972, or from the internet. This is followed by Robert Byrne vs Fischer, U.S. Championship 1963/64 with comments from various unidentified sources but mostly lifted from My 60 Memorable Games.  The final eight Notable Games contain just the bare moves.

The next chapter, covering the 1972 world championship match, commences with a bumbling preamble to "the Match of the Century". The first line gives a flavour:

The author reveals the secrets of top level preparation:

... and the final two paragraphs are duplicated in full:

All of the games in the match are given, with just the bare moves, even though games 6 and 13 had already been included a few pages earlier in Ten Notable Games. I have not played over all of the games but the few that I have looked at seem accurate enough. However the presentation is completely colourless with no commentary, explanations or analysis, no chess punctuation, and certainly nothing to demonstrate Fischer's Combinations, Strategy and Intuition. Typical of the blandness is Game 3, considered by Fischer as one of his best in the match, and at the end of which he "sealed a crusher"; 41...Bd3+, 0-1: 

Chapter three is Fifteen Games Annotated by Bobby Fischer, beginning with Fischer vs Bolbochan, Stockholm 1962, with half a dozen of Fischer's comments from My 60 Memorable Games. However the copy and pasted notes retain Fischer's descriptive notation amidst the algebraic notation of the game moves. 

Next is Unzicker vs Fischer, Varna 1962 with selected notes from My 60 Memorable Games,  then comes our old friend, the game between Robert Byrne and Fischer, U.S. Championship 1963/64, with identical text and diagram from chapter one: Ten Notable Games.

The final twelve games in this chapter are all from the Blitz Tournament held in Herceg Novi 1970, and this time all of the notes are poached from Chess Meets of the Century by Bobby Fischer and Dimitrije Bjelica, Sarajevo 1971.  

The title of the next chapter; Fischer on Buenos Aires Tournament (1970), raises the hope that we are in for some of Fischer's insights into his 17 games from that event, however, there is not a single word from Fischer, and the only game in this chapter with any commentary is Fischer vs Samual Schweber with two short notes taken from This game is followed by a pair of identical diagrams (typically unhelpful) showing the final position:

The game between Fischer and Oscar Panno had already been given in chapter one.

The final chapter; Selected Fischer vs Russians Games presents 13 games from 1958 to 1962, all silently, but with no repeats.  

No sources are credited or acknowledged anywhere in the book; there is just the odd mention of "Fischer", "Wade", "Byrne" etc. in the notes. Each game is accompanied by an oversized computer generated diagram showing the final position but otherwise devoid of information. 

The moves to most games are given with zero chess punctuation, so there is no indication if a move involved a capture or check, was good or bad, or even if it ended the game. Where there are lines of analysis, these blend in to the actual game moves with no separation or highlighting.

Compared to many of the classic games collections of the past this shambles is an extraordinarily feeble production.


Tuesday, 9 April 2019

E. G. R. Cordingley's Limited Editions of Tournament Books

E.G.R. Cordingley launched his series of Limited Editions in the Summer of 1933 shortly after sending a letter to The British Chess Magazine, (May 1933, page 204), deploring the loss of the game scores from many tournaments, and appealing for a "Circle of Chess Votaries" willing to support his scheme for printing the games from interesting events.  His first book covered the Hastings Christmas Tournament 1932-33 and only 30 copies were printed.

Cordingley's second Limited Edition on Frankfurt 1930 was published in an edition of 40 copies towards the end of 1933 and he again wrote to The British Chess Magazine, (November 1933, page 505), seeking a permanent body of subscribers on whose support he could rely. At the time he had 28 subscribers, and this had increased to 47 when his third book, on Liege 1930, was published in the Spring of 1934 with 61 copies.   

It seems that Cordingley's intention in printing such small numbers of his earliest books was simply to cover the costs of supplying the demand of his modest circle of subscribers. However, in his very interesting article; E.G.R Cordingley, Publishing Pioneer, in the December 1999 issue of Chess, Ken Whyld opined that his friend and associate "saw that by limiting and numbering his publications, his customers were assured that their investments would not depreciate, and indeed he offered to buy back at the original price"

Whatever his motives, the growth in interest in chess tournament publications has resulted in these very limited editions becoming rare, sought after and expensive. Cordingley sent a complimentary copy of his Hastings 1932/33 book to The British Chess Magazine in 1933 and this very copy turned up in a chess book auction in 2007 when it sold for around €250. (Antiquariat A.Klittich-Pfankuch, June 2007, lot 818)

I do not possess any of the earliest Limited Editions, my first is number 7 in the series, Moscow 1935, volume I, published in May 1935, 250 copies. 

In his Foreword, Cordingley acknowledges the assistance provided by R. N. Coles and Dr. Lloyd Storr-Best who translated the notes from the Russian daily bulletins and also wrote the Preface painting the background to the tournament and describing the extraordinary interest it generated in Moscow. 4,000 spectators filled the playing hall every day. Cordingley also offered to buy back copies of his first three books, and mentioned that only about 25 people possess the complete set of his Limited Editions.

Volume I of Moscow 1935 covers the first ten rounds of this famous tournament, after which Botvinnik was leading ahead of Flohr, Em. Lasker, Levenfish, Ragosin, Capablanca etc.   Here is the game between Botvinnik and Stahlberg in Round 7.

Number 10 in the series is Moscow 1936 and I have a subscriber's copy which is numbered and signed by Cordingley. Subscriber's copies also included the vignette shown at the top of this article.

The title page includes details of Cordingley's American Agent, Fred Reinfeld, and Ken Whyld states in his Chess article that Limited Editions 4 to 10 (excluding No. 9) were produced jointly with Reinfeld; in fact Cordingley No. 8 and Reinfeld No. 3 on Margate 1935 are the same book. Cordingley No. 9, on Dresden 1936, was a German publication reissued with an English title page.

In Moscow 1936, most games are given in Continental notation with notes at the end, making the games a little difficult to follow smoothly. 

The book includes four pages of adverts for chess books, and the List of Subscribers has many familiar names:

There was no No. 11 in the series but when Ken Whyld purchased Cordingley's library in 1952 he found that it included the stencils for Budapest 1921 which he supposed were intended to be used for No. 11. Whyld completed this work and published the pamphlet in 1953 as the last of Cordingley's Limited Editions of Tournament Books.
No. 12 is Amsterdam 1936 published in 1937 in a smaller format. 

Cordingley engaged Reuben Fine, the joint winner, to analyse and annotate the games and, this time the notes were interspersed within the moves, making the games easier to follow. However, Cordingley's method of production, i.e. a standard typewriter, precluded normal chess diagrams, and grids with letters were the best that he could manage.  These were difficult to fathom and probably received the derision that he had anticipated in his Introduction to this book.

Although the 28 games are extensively annotated, there is no overall commentary on the eight player tournament, won by Fine and Euwe ahead of Alekhine.

The List of Subscribers had grown to 76 entries.

Next off the typewriter was Hastings 1936-37, won by Alekhine ahead of Fine and Eliskases. 

This 30 page publication was back to a larger format, and notes to the 45 games were taken from The British Chess Magazine and Chess. There is no introductory matter except for a cross table and index of openings.

The book includes four of the awkward diagrams and a few adverts are squeezed in. The List of Subscribers had reached 80.

Incidentally, the numbers of copies printed according to Betts' Bibliography is not always correct. Moscow 1935 and Moscow 1936 both had 250 copies not 240 as stated in Betts, Amsterdam 1936 had 280 copies not 265 and Hastings 1936-37 had 180 copies not 140. I have amended the table given in a previous article and I shall be pleased to hear of any other discrepancies.

                                              © Michael Clapham 2019 

Thursday, 4 April 2019

Forum Auctions

Forum Auctions of London held a sale of Fine Books, Manuscripts and Works on Paper on 28th March which included 24 choice chess lots from the collection of Michael Mark. Keen competition for many of the lots resulted in 14 items realising more than the top estimate.

The chess books were sold in chronological order and first up were the earliest Spanish and Italian editions of Ruy Lopez, both previously in the library of Tassilo von Heydebrand und der Lasa:

Libro de la Invencion Liberal Y Arte del Juego del Axedrez, published in Alcala in 1561, sold for £7,000, while the Italian translation by Giovanni Tarsia; Il Giuoco De Gli Scacchi, published in Venice possibly posthumously in 1584, made £2,400.

Next lot was the star of the show, a very rare manuscript of Greco's games, written in Italian but produced in France, possibly Paris in 1624 or 1625.

The attractive hand decorated title page featured on the back cover of the auction catalogue and, despite a few blemishes, this small volume, measuring just 12.6cm x 8.4cm, attained £42,000 in the sale room. 

The first two English editions of Greco were among the lots, with The Royall Game of Chesse-Play, London 1656, selling for £2,200, while Chess Made Easy, London 1750, with some defects, made £550.

Several items came with impeccable provenances, including Salvio's Il Puttino, Altramente detto, Il Cavaliero Errante, Naples 1634, together with the 1634 reprint of his Trattato dell' Inventione et Arte Liberate del Giuco di Scacchi, previously owned  by Sir Frederic Madden and J. W. Rimington Wilson. This sold for £2,400.

Severino's La Filosofa..., Naples 1690, came from the library of former French chess champion André Muffang (£1,600), and Philidor's Chess Analysed, London 1750 (£1,500) and Robert Lambe's The History of Chess, London 1750, (£600) both came from J. W. Rimington Wilson's library with his usual inscriptions.

A curious composite work made up of the first volume of Chess by Twiss, London 1787, the chess part of his scarce Miscellanies, London 1805, and Nouvel Essai sur le Jeu des  Échecs, The Hague 1789, was probably good value at £380, as was Hyde's De Ludis Orientilabus, including Mandragorias seu Historia Shahiludii which deals with the history of chess, Oxford 1694, realising £1,100.

The Buke of ye Chess, of which only 40 copies were printed in Auchinleck, Scotland in 1818, sold for £1,100.

A very interesting letter from Alexander Alekhine to Brian Harley, dated October 1928, confirming his willingness to play a rematch with Capablanca sold for £2,800. This lot also included five further contemporary copies of correspondence between Alekhine and Capablanca, Capablanca and Alekhine, Alekhine and Bogoljubow and Alekhine and Norbert Lederer, all regarding challenges to Alekhine's world championship.

Marcel Duchamp's chess book L'Opposition et les Cases Conjuguées sont Reconcilées, written with Vitaly Halberstadt, Paris 1932, is always in demand and this example of the limited edition of 1,000 copies sold for £850, probably more for the Duchamp connection than the chess content.  The text is in French, German and English but this work is not recorded in Betts' Bibliography.

All of the aforementioned hammer prices do not include the buyer's premium of 25%. Many thanks to Rupert Powell of Forum Auctions for permission to include extracts and illustrations from the catalogue.

A puzzling matter is how these auction houses manage to produce beautifully illustrated catalogues on high quality paper at modest prices while publishers of chess books such as McFarland claim that the cost of including quality colour illustrations in their books is prohibitive. 

Sunday, 24 February 2019

Limited edition tournament books by Spence, McLellan and Stoney

Jack Spence, a lawyer from Omaha, Nebraska, USA, launched his series of limited editions in 1949, when in his early 20's, with a book on the 50th United States Open Championship which was held in his home town, and produced a total of 60 limited editions during the next 15 years.  

These were mainly records of contemporary American tournaments but he also revisited major tournaments from the past, and his Foreign Tournament Series included several important events from the 1920's and 1930's such as Carlsbad 1923, Bad Kissingen 1928, San Remo 1930, etc. One of his aims was to present these tournament games for the first time in the English language.

The books were generally mimeographed, printed on rectos only, and bound in card covers with a plastic ring binding. The Supplements were simply stapled sheets without covers. Each copy was numbered. However, adverts for the Omaha 1949 book, which I have not seen, emphasise that it was press-printed and includes many photos.

These publications typically included a Preface and/or an Introduction giving details of the event covered and, occasionally, the source of the material, followed by cross-tables, brief but succinct round by round summaries, the games in descriptive notation (some books have light notes and comments, others do not), indices of games and openings, and usually a page of adverts for these limited editions.

Carlsbad 1923 also included a list of subscribers with 36 names:

In the Preface to Bad Nauheim 1935, Spence states that the source of his material was the acquisition of a number of unpublished chess tournament manuscripts from a Chicago collector, and in the Preface to New York 1933 this collector was revealed to be Paul Little, noted chess bibliophile of Chicago. 

One of the smallest print runs was for his booklet on the United States Junior Chess Championship, Lincoln, 1955, with an issue of 75 copies, and I have already discussed this publication, along with United States Chess Championship, New York, 1957-1958, in a previous article on 6th February 2017, as these both featured Bobby Fischer.

After ending his series of limited editions in 1963, Jack Spence continued editing tournament booklets for Tony Gillam's The Chess Player series. One of these was a re-typed edition of his own book on the Wertheim Memorial Chess Congress held in New York in 1951, as most copies had been poorly printed with only a few being completely legible. (See Betts 25-206). Spence died in 1978 aged 52.

Sample poorly printed page


Richard McLellan from Omaha, Nebraska, produced five limited editions from 1958 into the 1960's in a style very similar to Spence's productions, down to the same pink card covers and plastic ring binding. However, his books were simply a record of the game moves with absolutely no narrative or comments, not even forenames for the competitors.

McLellan, who had earlier assisted Jack Spence by translating German texts for some of his works, published his first limited edition in 1958, covering the tournaments at Semmering-Baden, 1937 and Amsterdam (AVRO), 1938. Semmering-Baden, 1937 had previously been the subject of Reinfeld's limited edition no. 7, published in 1938. Both of these tournaments were won by Paul Keres ahead of Reuben Fine, and they had four world champions behind them at Amsterdam.

All of McLellan's books covered European events from the 1930's and 1940's, including the match between Paul Keres and Max Euwe in 1939-1940 which had the smallest of his print runs with 120 copies.


G. R. Stoney was a railroad timekeeper from, yes, you guessed it, Omaha, Nebraska, and he published his only limited edition in 1953 with a selection of games from the International Chess Tournament, Carslbad 1911.   Only 100 copies were printed, mimeographed onto the rectos only and bound in pink card covers. 

Stoney wrote an interesting two page Preface with details of the production of his "unassuming little volume", explaining that the games were compiled from various books, magazines and newspapers over a period of several years. He had particularly drawn from the Year-Book of Chess, 1912, by E. A. Michell. He recognised the difficulties encountered by Reinfeld, Cordingley and Spence in producing their own limited editions, and left open the possibility of producing further volumes.

The two page Introduction gives an overview of this very strong 25 round tournament, won by Teichmann ahead of Rubinstein and Schlechter with Marshall, Niemzowitsch, Alekhine, Spielmann etc. behind.  There is also a list of the twelve brilliancy prize games. Most games have occasional notes and comments by Stoney. Game 31 is Marshall's 13 move miniature against Dus-Chotimirski. 

More Limited Editions next time.

                                   © Michael Clapham 2019

Wednesday, 13 February 2019

Limited edition tournament books

Limited editions of tournament and match books have been a feature of English language chess books since 1891 when The Book of the Sixth American Chess Congress, 1889, by W. Steinitz, was published in an edition of 500. This was followed by The Games in the St. Petersburg Tournament, 1895-96, by James Mason and W. H. K. Pollock, Leeds 1896 (500 copies); The Book of the London International Chess Congress, 1899, by F. W. Lord and W. Ward-Higgs, London 1900 (500 copies); and The World's Championship Chess Match played at Havana between Jose Raul Capablanca and Dr. Emanuel Lasker, by Hartwig Cassel, New York 1921 (600 copies).

Then, from the 1930's, a number of authors published series of limited editions, in much smaller numbers, frequently on past tournaments which had not previously been accorded a tournament book.

E. G. R. Cordingley led the way with 18 limited editions published between 1933 and 1953. His first, on Hastings 1932-33 was limited to just 30 copies, followed by Frankfurt 1930 in an edition of 40.                                             

Fred Reinfeld followed soon after, publishing ten limited editions between 1935 and 1939, with five tournament books, one match book, and four games collections. Reinfeld did not state the number of copies printed for any of these, but The British Chess Magazine reported on page 314 of the July 1935 issue that his second book in the series would be limited to 150 copies. 

Cordingley no. 8 and Reinfeld no. 3 on Margate 1935 are the same book, but Cordingley no. 13 and Reinfeld no. 4 on Hastings 1936-37 are different works.

The king of the limited edition tournament book has to be Jack Spence, with 60 books issued from 1949 to 1963. These were divided between his American Tournament Series (38 books), American Tournament Series Supplements (10), Foreign Tournament Series (10) and Foreign Tournament Series Supplements (2).

The first Spence Limited Edition, on Omaha, 1949, had the largest print run of all of his books at 250, others varied between 75 and 200. 

Details of further limited edition tournament books published up to 1968 follow:

Larry Evans published two limited editions in 1948 and 1950 with runs of 275 and 500 respectively.

G. R. Stoney commenced a series of limited editions with  a book on Carlsbad 1911, published in 1953, however, there were no further books in this series.

Ken Whyld completed Cordingley's final limited edition in 1953, on the Budapest 1921 tournament, and then issued  six of his own between 1953 to 1962, with print runs of 125 to 200.

J. E. Jones published one limited edition book on Amsterdam 1956 in the same year, printing just 60 copies.

Dale Brandreth issued three limited edition tournament books from 1957 to 1960, and, although not part of his limited edition series, his collection of games between Lasker and Pillsbury was limited to 700 copies.

Richard McClellan published five limited editions from 1958 to early 1960's, mainly on events from the 1930's, with print runs of between 120 and 175. 

The book on the Munich Olympiad of 1958, featuring games of the South African team, by K. Dreyer, K. Farquhar and W. Heidenfeld was limited to 400 copies.

In 1962 Frank Skoff and Tom McCloud produced a limited edition of 150 on Chicago, 1959.

Finally, D. B. Pritchard's book on Havering, 1967 was limited to 150 copies. 

I will have a closer look at some of these limited editions next time.

There are no doubt other examples and I note that Di Felice's Chess Competitions 1824 - 1970 includes an English language pamphlet, published circa 1960, on Sverdlovsk 1942 with a limited edition of only 16 numbered copies, at 2129.1.

Limited editions continued to be published into the 1970's with books by Dale Brandreth, Tony Gillam, and probably others. 

                                          © Michael Clapham 2019