Saturday 24 February 2018

Biblio Magazine and The Royal Game

Biblio, the short lived American magazine was "a brave attempt to create a quality international magazine for book collectors" and it was certainly an impressive production. The magazine was published between August 1996 and April 1999.

The May 1998 issue included a scholarly eight page article: Kingly Books of a Royal Game, by James Weinheimer, a chess historian and librarian at Princeton University, and Angus Carroll, a collector of rare books from Chicago.

The article opens with the line "Long before chess had black and white squares it had a chequered past" and relates a few old anecdotes featuring King Knut, the Byzantine Emperor Nicephorus I, King Ferdinand of Spain and Christopher Columbus.

The authors interweave chess history with the literatature of the game and they focus on three great American chess collections formed during the latter part of the nineteenth century; those of John G. White of Cleveland, Charles Gilberg of  Brooklyn, New York, and Eugene B. Cook of Hoboken, New Jersey. All three collections were ultimately bequethed to major American research libraries.

The John G. White Collection.

Noting that this is the largest collection of chess books in the world with more than 35,000 volumes, the authors give details of some of the very earliest books in the collection including the first printed book that refers to chess, Summa Collationum by John of Wales, Cologne 1470; Caxton's morality, The Game and Playe of the Chesse, Bruges c1475, (the collection also holds nine manuscript copies of De Ludo Scacchorum by Jacobus de Cessolis from the 13th and 14th centuries, one copy of which contains the only known portrait of the author);  and the third printed book on chess (excluding the moralities of John of Wales and Caxton), Questo Libro e da Imparare Giocare à Scachi et de le Partite, by Damiano, Rome 1512.

Regarding the latter work the authors observe "since most books of the time were unillustrated, this book's woodcut illustrations made for difficult printing, and the printers of the various editions traded the blocks among themselves. Consequently, the different editions can be dated by examining the deterioration of the woodcuts."

Other noteworthy items in the collection include Il Dilettevole e Giudizioso Giuoco de Scacchi, Venice 1724 - 1735, which includes 49 hand drawn plates demonstrating the basic rules of the game, and Thomas Middleton's satirical and allegorical play A Game at Chess, London 1625. The play was shut down after only nine days on the orders of King James I following complaints from the Spanish ambassador to Great Britain who believed that he had been portrayed unfavourably in the play .    

The Charles Gilberg Collection.

New York businessman and noted problemist, Charles Gilberg, built a major chess collection with an emphasis on fine bindings. After his death in 1898 Gilberg's heirs kept the collection until 1930 when it was sold to Silas W. Howland, who willed the 2,800 volumes to Harvard University. 

The collection includes a first edition of Ruy Lopez's work Libro de la Invencion Liberal y Arte del Juego del Axedrez, Alcala 1561, written partly in criticism of Damiano's treatise.  

The Biblio authors discuss the earliest original chess book in English, Arthur Saul's The Famous Game of Chesse-Play, London 1614, noting that this was aimed at the nobilty, being "fit for princes or any person of quality soever", and commenting on Saul's curious classification of checkmates.  

Thomas Hyde, professor of Arabic and Hebrew at Oxford Univerity and chief librarian at the Bodleian Library, authored the first scholarly history of chess, Mandragorias seu Historia Shahiludii, Oxford 1694, however, the authors claim that the title reflects a mistake. "Hyde had followed an incorrect etymology for the Arabic word for chess, using satrang instead of shatranj, then translating satrang into Latin: Mandragorias, which actually means mandrake root."

"Nevertheless, the book's many languages displayed both Professor Hyde's erudition and the wide typograpical resources of the Oxford press 300 years ago. This book represents its era's state of the art in printing."   

The E. B. Cook Collection

Eugene Beauharnais Cook formed the third of the great American chess collections, he nurtured a deep interest in chess history and bibliography, and when he died in 1915 the collection of 3,000 items was bequethed to Princeton University Library.

The Cook collection includes one of the earliest books to expose the workings of Wolfgang von Kempelen's automaton, the Turk: Ueber den Schachspieler des Kempelen und dessen Nachbildung, by  Joseph Racknitz, Leipzig/Dresden 1789. The authors give a brief history of the Turk stating that following von Kempelen's death, the machine was purchased by Johann Maelzel in partnership with Ludwig van Beethoven, and then later sold to Napoleon's stepson, Prince Eugene de Beauharnais, after whom  E. B. Cook was named.

E. B. Cook's library included the first chess treatise printed in German; Das Schach-oder König-Spiel by Gustav Selenus, i.e. August, Duke of Braunschweig-Luneberg, Lipsiae 1616. This work is a "German translation of Ruy Lopez but with a unique notation that limited the book's appeal.... However it is a favourite of collectors because of the dozens of extraordinary plates and engravings."

E. B. Cook was the judge for the problem tournament at the First American Chess Congress of 1857 and his collection obviously included The Book of the First American Chess Congress, by Willard Fiske, New York 1859. The authors state that this is useful for its history of chess in early America and complete bibliography of American chess books. However, the bibliography had several omissions as noted by Ralph Hagedorn in Benjamin Franklin and Chess in Early America, Philadelphia 1958, which lists 60 books published up to 1859 compared with 39 in Fiske's work. 

The authors reveal that the Cook collection proudly housed one of only ten copies of the earliest surviving printed treatises on  chess, Repetición de Amores e Arte de Axedrez, by Luis Ramirez de Lucena, Salamanca 1497, explaining that the only known copy of the first printed chess treatise, Libre dels Jochs Partitis dels Schachs en Nombre de 100, by Francesch Vicent, Valencia 1495, was lost  in 1811, during the French occupation of Montserrat, where the book was kept in a Benedictine monastery. They were unaware, twenty years ago, of the sensational discovery of the Cesena manuscript , which includes Vicent's work, as detailed in The Return of Francesch Vicent, by Jose A. Garcon, Valencia 2005. 

Lucena's work is in two parts; an anti-feminist tract and a chess treatise. Princeton's copy contains only the chess section which describes both the older and newer versions of the game.

In the final part of the article, sub-titled To Err is Human, the authors make some very pertinent, (and reassuring), remarks on the future of chess in the computer age; these are particularly apposite in the light of Alpha Zero's recent exploits. Deep Blue had just defeated Kasparov in 1997, following which some commentators had proclaimed the end of chess as we know it. 

The authors respond "This is nonsense, chess is not about making 200 million calculations per second, it is about psychology and strategy, vision and risk, flashes of brilliance amongst the darkness of uncertainty.... No computer is on the verge of creating masterpieces such as the games of Capablanca, Alekhine or Tal, because genius is not the product of blind calculation."

"The world can do without My Best Games, by Deep Blue, which might include; First I mindlessly calculated eight billion moves, then, without knowing whom I was playing, or even why, I calculated a few billion more."

Although computers may one day play the perfect game, this will not matter, since, a computer might calculate umpteen gazillion moves without making a single error, but no human ever will. "The Royal  Game will continue to be played for the same reason it always has been, because chess is one of the most challenging and rewarding of all intellectual endeavours. The machines will play their one game of chess among themselves, but, for us, there will always be crushing defeats and miraculous escapes, electrifying sacrifices and terrible blunders. The very imperfection of human play being the source of the game's infinite beauty. And undoubtedly more great books on chess will come....."

The article concludes with some diverse recommendations for A Bookshelf fit for a Grand Master:



Friday 9 February 2018

Almost there with the BCM's

A complete run of The British Chess Magazine has long been a major aspiration in my chess book collecting and I am now very close to this target.

The foundation of my collection of the world's longest continuously running chess periodical was the acquisition of a 62 year run from 1920 to 1981 purchased from the book dealer Tony Peterson in 2003.  These had evidently come from Kevin O'Connell's library which was sold at Phillips Auctioneers in London in 2000.

Two years later, many of these were replaced with another run purchased from Tony Peterson, this time covering the years from 1910 to 1951. These included the difficult to find war years (particularly the First) and most are in uniform half-leather bindings.  

Another eleven volumes were added in 2006 when I acquired the years 1899 to 1909 from Michael Sheehan of Caissa Books. These are all uniformly bound in  BCM maroon cloth but, curiously, in different heights.

Bound volumes for the years from 1886 to 1898 came from various sources, and in various styles, over a number of years, with 1892 proving particularly elusive, only joining the others in 2012. I have since replaced 1892, 1893 and 1894 with a matching set, as shown below, and with 1893 having the Christmas Number.

By the end of 2012 I had a run from 1886 to 1998 with just the first five volumes and a few of the most recent ones missing. I now have the recent years up to 2009 and last year I bought a fairly foxed 1885. 

I have recently purchased 1883 and 1884 in a combined volume which needs rebinding so I may have these two years bound individually.

1884 frontis

So I am now 1881 and 1882 short of a full run, although I do have a reprint of 1881 published by Tony Gillam's company The Chess Player in the 1980's.

                                       © Michael Clapham 2018

Thursday 8 February 2018

Chess book collecting in 2017 part 2

A further selection of books acquired in 2017.

"Among These Mates" (Chirpings of a Chess Chump) by "Chielamangus", Sydney 1939.

Chielamangus was a pseudonym of C. J. S. Purdy and this literary work was published in both soft-back and cloth bound editions with a print run of 3,000. This is the cloth bound edition with a lovely dust jacket.

The Preface states that the book "spans ten years of a peripatetic chess career", and it thus coincides with the first ten years of Purdy's editorship of the Australasian Chess Review which he launched in July 1929, at the age of 23, to fill the void left by the demise of The Austral, Chess and Draughts Newspaper, the mainstay of Australian chess from 1922 to 1929, according to Purdy in Chess World July 1949, page 145.

The whole work is written in a satirical and humorous manner and is full of jokes, puns, perceptive quips, witty one-act plays and much more mirth making material. A few examples:

Chielamangus on Chess, outlining the game:

Page 12: "The object of the game is the mate of the opponent's King, the word 'mate' being derived from the old Persian 'mat' or carpet.

Page 14: The opening of a game of chess is called the opening. The primary principle of opening play is not to move a piece twice before it has been moved once. 

Page 14: "The player who completes his development first is said to have the initiative, because he is thus able to start making blunders while his opponent is still occupied in bringing out his men"

History of the Game:

Page 15: discussing Ruy Lopez; "He never played the Ruy Lopez, which was therefore named after him... Incidentally some authorities suspect that he was not a bishop after all; but he mitre been."

Pages 15-16 "Deschapelles, who, when he was no longer certain of beating everybody, refused to play at all unless his opponent would accept pawn and move. If Deschapelles lost he could say it was because of the odds. This was known as the Deschapelles coup." 

Most of the articles and anecdotes are of a provincial nature and, while the book provides many chuckles nearly 80 years after publication, much of the  material now appears dated, as Purdy himself admitted long ago in 1954 in Chess World.


Chess Pie: Official Souvenir of the London International Congress 1922, edited by W. H. Watts, London 1922.

Chess Pie No. 2, With Problem Supplement. The Official Souvenir of The British Chess Federation issued in connection with the International Team Tournament 1927, edited by W. H. Watts, London 1927.

Chess Pie No. 3. The Official Souvenir of the International Tournament, Nottingham 1936, edited by W. H. Watts, London 1936. 

These superb souvenir publications commemorated major chess tournaments in England in 1922, 1927 and 1936. They were not tournament books themselves but were issued to promote and publicise each event beforehand. 

The first Chess Pie celebrated the very strong London International Chess Congress of 1922 won by Capablanca ahead of Alekhine, Vidmar, Rubinstein, Bogoljubow, Reti etc. 

In his Introduction and Preface, the editor, and manager of the publishers Printing Craft, outlined the many difficulties in the production of this first souvenir and was especially disappointed with the response from potential advertisers, simply because an association with chess was not conducive to profitable advertising.

The book includes biographies of most of the competitors with a famous game from each. Many of these biographies are by the players themselves. British Champions past and present are also featured. 

Brian Harley contributed the 15 page Problem Section which includes short biographies of famous composers beginning with Alain C. White, who had amassed a collection of 200,000 problems by 1922. There are several other interesting articles including Reminiscences of International Tournaments by Isidor Gunsberg and Chess Puzzles by H. E. Dudeney.

Many high quality photographs of chess personalities complete the production.

Chess Pie No. 2 commemorated the first Chess Olympiad held under the auspices of F.I.D.E., in London in 1927, and in his Introduction Watts praised Leonard Rees, Secretary of The British Chess Federation, whose vision and pioneering efforts led to the foundation of the International Federation. The editor also anticipated that this sixteen team tournament would "prove the greatest gathering of chess talent the world has ever seen."

The book runs through the sixteen competing nations giving biographies of many team members along with a memorable game from each.  There are, again, many excellent photographs, a Problem Section by Brian Harley, and the Problem Supplement includes 49 problems for solving in the Max Meyer No. 2 Problem Tourney.

Following Watts' criticism in the first Chess Pie, this issue has a substantial amount of adverts for chess products throughout the book. Whether Watts' expectation of this being the "greatest gathering of chess talent", was realised is debatable; most of the world's top players were missing and no tournament book on the event was published. The tournament is, however covered in Chess Olympiads  by Árpád Földeák, published in Hungary in 1966, and International Championship Chess; A complete record of FIDE events, by B. M. Kažić, London 1974. 

Chess Pie No. 3 was published in preparation for the Nottingham International Chess Tournament of 1936. Watts began his Introduction by trying to dispose of the remaindered stock of Chess Pie No. 2 which had not sold well, however, only a very few copies of Chess Pie No. 1 were still available. All three Chess Pies are now scarce and sought after.

Before moving on to the tournament and players, Watts inserted an enlightening six page article entitled Chess Publishing since 1927.  Watts was very proud of his own achievements in chess publishing and considered that the vast improvements in chess literature in recent years were down to him. He probably had his publisher's hat on as much as his author's hat when writing this article.

Without naming names he was highly critical of many chess books, authors and publishers, dismissing most books as "pot-boilers" or the work of some totally unqualified author. Some exceptions being Staunton's Handbook, which he considered "a perfectly wonderful production in every way", the tournament books for London 1883, Hastings 1895 and London 1899, Mason's Principles of Chess and The Art of Chess, and Edward Lasker's Chess Strategy; "There had never been anything like it before and even today one can have nothing but praise for it... excellent in every way."

He had fulsome praise for several recent titles including Lasker's Manual of Chess, "unique amongst chess books, as in it the greatest of all chess players endeavours to show that chess has meaning and a purpose." Chess by Dr, Tarrasch, "If a chess library is to count one book and one only this is the book." Chess Praxis by Nimzowitsch, "Nothing approaching it has been put in the hands of the ambitious chess player." Chess for Match Players by W. Winter, "It is, however when I look at Mr Winter's book that I feel most proud" and he devotes one and a half pages to a mainly positive review of this work.

A few further books are praised including:

How to Play the Chess Openings by Znosko-Borovsky
The Art of Combination by Znosko-Borovsky
The Art of Sacrifice by R. Spielmann
Chesslets by Dr. J. Schumer (another Printing-Craft publication and another purchase in 2017)

Watts concluded his article with a list of the other outstanding publications of the last few years:

The rest of the book was the now familiar mix of biographies and best games of the competitors, many photographs and illustrations, and  various interesting articles.  The Nottingham Tournament created history by having four world champions competing in the same event.  Consequently Lasker, Capablanca, Alekhine and Euwe, were accorded extensive coverage. However, Botvinnik, the joint winner and future world champion, received just a very short paragraph at the bottom of page 57.  The articles are by H. M. Lommer and M. A. Sutherland, P. W. Sergeant, Gerald Abrahams, André Chéron on The Strategic French School, and Alexander Hammond on Historic Chesspieces

Three wonderful publications but I still do not know why they were called Chess Pie.

Finally for now, I began to seriously pursue the Alain C. White Christmas Series of books last year, not having had much interest in them before. I acquired 19 of the Series including the second-hand bookshop find-of-the-year: České Melodie, Potsdam 1908, for just £10. I now have just over half of the Series, mainly the more common titles.

The sixth book in the Christmas Series, this compilation of problems by the Bohemian composer Josef Pospíšil was edited by A. C. White and W. H. Thompson, and includes 200 of his problems spanning the years 1880 to 1908. There are also introductory articles by B. G. Laws and J. W. Allen on The Bohemian Theory of the Chess Problem and The Work of Josef Pospíšil. The text is in German and English.  

                                        © Michael Clapham 2018

Saturday 3 February 2018

Chess book collecting in 2017

Another 250 books were added to the collection in 2017 and here are details of some that I have not mentioned in previous articles:

Sport in the USSR, special issue for February 1977, devoted to chess in the Soviet Union. 

This 32 page magazine was published in English, French, German, Hungarian, Russian and Spanish, and is an unashamedly propagandist pamphlet extolling the virtues and successes of Soviet chess. Only favourable aspects are reported, anything unpalatable has been expunged. So, while the then world champion, Anatoly Karpov, features prominently in this publication, there is not a single mention of Victor Korchnoi, the second strongest active player at the time and the soon-to-be challenger for the title, who had left the Soviet Union in 1976 on bad terms becoming Persona Non Grata.


Similarly, Alekhine is omitted from the article The Soviet Union's World Champions on page 21 even though he was a Soviet citizen (although living in France) right up to his world championship match with Capablanca in 1927, only becoming an enemy of the Soviet Union following alleged remarks made at a celebratory dinner in Paris in 1928. 

However, Alekhine does feature in the article All-Time Gems by I. Romanov, where he is named as the first Russian world champion.

Nevertheless, the magazine contains much of interest on the Soviet Union's chess activities, both historical and contemporary, with articles on The Botvinnik School of Chess, The Moscow University Chess Club, Age-old chess and the chess age by David Bronstein, student chess, women's chess and Russian chess history by I. Linder.

The magazine is full of impressive statistics: 

Page 3: "...more than 4,000,000 organised players of all ages regularly compete in tournaments"

Page 5: "There are 1,620 worker's chess clubs in the Soviet Union where hundreds of thousands of people spend their leisure hours"

Page 5: The chess club at the Likhachov Motor Works has 800 members.

Page 7: "Over 5,000,000 schoolchildren take part in children's and junior's competitions every year."

Page 10: "...there are 250,000 coaches and volunteer instructors in the country"

The student team has won the world title 16 times and the Soviet team has won all six of the Women's Olympiads in which it has competed, etc. etc. 

There are also some interesting circulation figures for the various chess periodicals; Shakhmaty v SSSR - 54,000, Shakhmatny Byulleten - 25,000, Šahs - 50,000 and the weekly 64 - 120,000. Further, it is claimed that chess books often have print runs of 100,000 or even 200,000 copies.

Enough of chess in the Soviet Union or I might get a knock on the door!

365 Selected endings, one for each day of the year, by Norman T. Whitaker and Glenn E. Hartleb, Heidelberg 1960. 

This compilation of compositions and endings from actual play, has parallel German and English text.  

The interesting aspect of this book to me is the Bibliography of around 300 books and articles on endings, some of which are not included in other bibliographical works. The editors claim that their list "may be the first summary of this nature." 


I visited the Isle of Wight for the first time for many years last summer and came across several interesting chess books in the second-hand book shops. I purchased the following two books:

My Best Games of Chess 1908-1923, by A. Alekhin, London 1927. A common book, but scarce with the first edition dust jacket on which Alekhin describes himself as Docteur en Droit (Doctor of Law).


Examples of Chess Master-Play (First Series). Translated from the German of Jean Dufresne, by C. T. Blanshard, New Barnet 1893.

The first of three books by Blanshard featuring recent tournament and match games. This volume includes 74 games played between 1887 and 1890 from various events including Frankfurt 1887, Bradford 1887, Sixth American Chess Congress at New York 1889, Breslau 1889 and the Steinitz v Tchigorin match in Havana 1889.

All games have notes, taken from various sources, and the index incorporates brief biographical notices (not always reliable) of many of the players. 

Finally, the advert section at the rear includes yet another 19th century chess book, published in Newcastle-on Tyne, but not recorded in Betts' Bibliography. (See here for other examples).


Chess Without Tears, by Andrew Tessler, London 1946, 

Your Move, by Andrew Tessler, London 1948.

Chess Without Tears is a booklet of 20 pages containing nine Lessons to teach  beginners the basics of the game. Your Move is an enlarged edition with a further five Lessons, and comes complete with a paper chessboard and chessmen.


                                        © Michael Clapham 2018