Monday, 12 August 2019

Rare early chess books and modern reprints.

Rare early chess books are out of reach for most collectors, however, exact replicas of some important works have been produced in recent years and these are much more accessible.

Here are three examples:

Questo libro e da imparare giocare a scacchi et de le partite, by Damiano de Odemira, Rome 1512.

A facsimile of the first edition of Damiano was published by Miland Publishers of Nieuwkoop in 1967 in an edition of 500 copies. Although the title page, Preface by Dr. M. Euwe and the Colophon are all in English, this book is not recorded in Betts's Bibliography (1850 to 1968).

This reprint was produced from the copy in the Royal Library at The Hague but both the half title and title page, erroneously, give the title as Libro da imparare giocare a scachi, which was the title for the third edition onwards. 

The recognised first edition of Damiano, dated 1512, has 62 leaves and includes 92 fine woodcut chessboard illustrations.  The final leaf includes the words Nouiter Impressum (Latin for New Impression) which has led to speculation that there may have been an earlier edition. This matter was discussed, but unresolved, in The British Chess Magazine in 1906 and 1907 with extensive contributions by Ross Pinsent. 

Antonius van der Linde stated, in his Geschichte und Literatur des Schachspiels, Erster Band, page 340, that only three copies of the 1512 edition were known, viz., in the British Museum library, Athenaeum Library, Philadelphia, and The Hague. This was repeated in a number of later publications, including The British Chess Magazine for 1906, page 232, following which J. G. White wrote to the BCM, (1906 pages 423 - 427), claiming a fourth copy in his own collection and adding details of copies known to him of later editions, briefly: 1518 edition, three copies; 1524 edition, two copies; fourth undated edition, one copy; 1618 pirated edition, no copies known.

Further examples of the extremely rare first edition have since been discovered but there are probably less that ten copies in existence.


Libro de la invencion liberal y arte del juego del Axedrez, by Ruy Lopez de Sigura, Alcala 1561. 

The first edition of Lopez's famous work has 8 unnumbered leaves and 150 numbered leaves. The book is divided into four parts and 85 chapters. There are no chessboard illustrations but most chapters begin with historiated initials.

A small colophon indicates that this reprint was published by Librerias Paris-Valencia S.L. in 2001, but there is no other introductory information.

The original Spanish edition of Ruy Lopez was translated into various languages beginning with an imperfect Italian translation by Tarsia, published in Venice in 1584 and from this version Gustavus Selenus, i.e. Augustus, Duke of Brunswick- Lüneberg, produced his Schach-oder König-Spiel in Leipzig, 1616.  Selenus' book, a folio of 495 pages, was highly criticised by van der Linde in his Geschichte und Literatur des Schachspiels, Berlin 1874, Erster Band page 350, and was described by J. A. Leon as "perhaps the most tedious work on chess extant" in the first of his series Old Masters of Modern Chess in The British Chess Magazine 1894 page 396. The most attractive feature of Selenus' book is the number of fine specimens of early German copper-plating.

J. H. Sarratt published his English translation of Ruy Lopez in 1813*, taken from an edition in French published in Bruges in 1655. In 1817** Sarratt published an English translation of Selenus' work prompting this quip by J. A. Leon in the aforementioned BCM article: "In [1813] Sarratt published an English translation of the Bruges edition of 1655 [of Lopez], and in 1817 performed the same kindly office for Selenus' work, in sublime unconsciousness of the fact that the two were identical."

* The Works of Damiano, Ruy Lopez, and Salvio, on the Game of Chess, London 1813.

** The Works of Gianutio, and Gustavus Selenus, on the Game of Chess, London 1817.

Part II Chapter I
Part IV chapter III

The final leaf


The famous game of Chesse-play, by Arthur Saul, London 1614.  

A facsimile was published by Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, Amsterdam, and Walter J. Johnson, Norwood, New Jersey in 1974. This was reproduced from the copy in the British Library with one page taken from the copy in the Bodlein Library in Oxford.

Saul's small volume of thirty unnumbered leaves was the first original chess book published in English and his book was republished in 1618, a year after his death, with additions by Joseph Barbier. Five further editions, all by Barbier, appeared between 1640 and 1680. Only six copies of the first edition of 1614 are known, four in institutional libraries, and two in private hands. The most recent copy to surface was sold in a provincial auction in England in 2006 for £9,000.

The copy in the Cleveland Public Library and at least one other copy have a variant title page as shown on the left below:


The cumbersome notation in this book runs as follows:

"Let the white King for his first draught advance his owne Pawne into the fourth house of his owne file", or as we would say; e4.

Friday, 21 June 2019

Six more classic games collections

Here is a further selection of games collections showing how they were produced 50 to 100 years ago.

Morphy's Games of Chess, by Philip W. Sergeant, published by G. Bell and Sons, London 1916.   

An elegant green cloth hardback with rounded corners, dust jacket, portrait of Morphy and 352 pages. The Biography runs to 36 pages, almost a book in itself, and brings together "a great quantity of material from all quarters, and attempts to weld it into a whole".

There follows the 300! games; every one annotated to a greater or lesser extent, partly by the author, with the assistance of fellow members of the City of London Chess Club, and partly borrowing from previous Morphy games collections by Löwenthal, Lange and Maroczy, and other authorities such as Zukertort, Steinitz and Lasker.

In addition, Sergeant provides an introduction to each of the chapters and gives brief vignettes of many of Morphy's opponents. The book is completed by indexes of players and openings.


Petrosian's Best Games of Chess 1946-1963, Selected and Annotated by P. H. Clarke, London 1964. A classic G. Bell & Sons publication with maroon cloth, gilt titles and dust jacket.

You certainly get your money's worth here; this book, published a year after Petrosian won the world championship from Botvinnik, includes the following:

1. P. H. Clarke's Preface.
2. List of Games.
3. Petrosian's Tournament and Match Record.
4. A ten page essay: Petrosian the Pragmatist, outlining his, often maligned, style of play.
5. A biography extending over 17 pages incorporated into the introductions to the eight chapters of Petrosian's career, from Apprentice Master to The World Championship.
6. 60 extensively annotated games.
7. Indexes of openings and opponents.


Pillsbury's Chess Career by P. W. Sergeant and W. H. Watts, London 1923. 

This book, by another leading chess book publisher from the first half of the twentieth century; Printing Craft,  was the first collection of Pillsbury's games printed in English, (earlier works had been published in German and Swedish). 

An eight page Biography is followed by 233 games, including 44 played blindfold; almost all are annotated with numbered notes placed at the end.


Réti's Best Games of Chess, Chosen and Annotated by H. Golombek, London 1954. Maroon cloth hardback with the usual G. Bell & Sons dust jacket of the period.

From the dust jacket: "Richard Réti was the author of two of finest books on chess, Modern Ideas in Chess, and Masters of the Chessboard."  Also: "Golombek is particularly fitted to write this book, since he is one of the world's leading exponents of Rétis opening.....and has followed Réti's trail throughout the world."

Golombek's Foreword  highlights the substantial research carried out across Europe in compiling this work, and he presents a five page Memoir of Réti, lists of his tournament and match results, and 70 annotated games divided into eight phases of Rétis career. 15 endgame studies are interspersed throughout the work.


A Memorial to William Steinitz; Containing a Selection of his Games Chronologically Arranged with an Analysis of Play, edited by Charles Devidé, New York and London 1901.

This dark blue cloth hardback is the earliest publication in this article, and includes a fine portrait of Steinitz. In his Preface Devidé informs us that, due to the limitation of just 100 pages the content is severely curtailed from that originally envisaged, and in particular the full account of Steinitz's life and deeds, that the author had prepared, could not be included. Devidé does however, include "a mere sketch of his life" running to eight pages.

The former world champion's match and tournament records are listed followed by 73 (Betts says 72)  annotated games including "his most famous and brilliant games and those of theoretical importance". The vii, 99 pages are printed on unusually thick paper.   


Mikhail Tal's Best Games of Chess, Selected and Annotated by P. H. Clarke, London 1961.

This fine production by G. Bell and Sons follows Tal's meteoric rise from schoolboy in 1951 to world champion in 1960. Clarke was just 27 when he wrote this work which includes a frontispiece portrait, Preface, two preliminary articles; The Road to the Championship, charting Tal's chess career, and, The Genius of Tal, which discusses his lively style of play. Extracts from an interview between Tal and Clarke are included in A Word from Mikhail Tal, followed by Tal's Tournament and Match Record.

The fifty games are each given a brief introduction and extensive commentary and annotations by Clarke. There are naturally indexes of games, openings and opponents.


Wednesday, 19 June 2019

Six Classic Games Collections

Having referred to classic games collections in the previous article I give below brief details of six such works. Many of the best games collections have been written by the players themselves, but the following examples were all compiled by an independent author. The other criteria are that the book is written in English and is at least fifty years old.

Alekhine's Best Games of Chess 1938-1945, chosen and annotated by C. H. O'D. Alexander, London 1949.

A typically beautifully produced book by G. Bell and Sons in pink cloth hardback with dust jacket, this volume completed the trilogy of Alekhine's best games collections. 

C. H. O'D. Alexander did not include a biographical account of Alekhine's life and career as this task had already been "admirably carried out by Mr. du Mont in the second volume of this series". 

The book presents 42 main games and all are extensively analysed with instructive comments and clear diagrams. 


H. E. Atkins: Doyen of British Chess Champions, by R. N. Coles, London 1952.

Published by Sir Isaac Pitman, this compact volume has attractive yellow cloth covers, a dust jacket and a fine portrait of Atkins as a frontispiece. The Biographical Note extends to eight pages and gives a detailed account of Atkins' life and curious chess career which was punctuated by long spells of inactivity.

Each of the fifty games, from 1893 to 1937, has a brief introduction and lucid commentary by Coles.   


The Immortal Games of Capablanca, Selected and Annotated by Fred Reinfeld, New York 1942.

Another well produced book, by Chess Review of New York, this comes with maroon cloth covers, pictorial dust jacket. and a portrait of Capablanca by E. Valderama.

Reinfeld's remarkable industry is epitomised by this work which provides a thirteen page biography of Capablanca, his Tournament and Match Record, and 113 games annotated in the author's clear and informative style.

The games are arranged into five stages of Capablanca's career; viz. The Boy Prodigy becomes a Master. 1902-1909, Grandmaster. 1910-1914, Challenger. 1914-1920, World Champion. 1921-1927, and Ex-Champion. 1927-1942. Each phase is  preceded by an overview of Capablanca's style of play during the period, focusing on his choice of openings; and every single game has a brief introduction summarising the key points.

Another impressive early work by Fred Reinfeld. 


Emanuel Lasker, The Life of a Chess Master, by J. Hannak, London 1959. 

Translated by Heinrich Fraenkel from the original German work: Emanuel Lasker, Biographie eines Schachweltmeisters, first published in Berlin-Frohnau in 1952. The English book, published by Andre Deutsch, has a red cloth hardback cover with dust jacket.

This book takes a different approach from the usual biography/playing record/games approach, and charts Lasker's entire life over 30 chapters, with relevant games at the end of each chapter. The annotations to the 100 plus games were taken from many different sources which are usually noted at the end of each game. Alas there is no portrait, index of games, or overall record of Lasker's tournament and match career. 


Frank J. Marshall; One Hundred Annotated Games Illustrated with 150 Diagrams, by P. Wenman, (Ex Scottish Champion) Leeds 1948.

This book is No. 1 in the series Great American Chess Players, and the only other book in the series was a lightly annotated collection of Pillsbury's games by P. Wenman, also published in 1948.

The Marshall collection includes a five page Biographical Note, Marshall's Record in Tournament and Matches, and 100 annotated games, clearly laid out with occasional diagrams.  


R.P. Michell. A Master of British Chess by J. du Mont, London 1947. 

Another Sir Isaac Pitman publication in red cloth hardback with dust jacket and frontispiece portrait. 

A seven page biography, which includes a magazine article written by Michell entitled The Uses of the "Books" is followed by 36 characteristic games from 1901 to 1936, each annotated, not with reams of analysis, but with helpful commentary on many of the key positions. 

A further selection of six games collections will appear next time.