A review of How to Beat Your Dad at Chess by Murray Chandler

This ambivalence regarding its readership is unfortunate, because How to Beat Your Dad at Chess (the title, alas, is uninformative about the book’s content) is an elementary introduction to tactics – and especially checkmating patterns – that would be very useful for beginning or intermediate chess players, and in particular juniors.

 

Reviewed by Paul Kane

How to Beat Your Dad at Chess
by Murray Chandler
Gambit Publications
Hardcover: 127 pages, January 1998, ISBN: 1901983056

Who is this book for? From its title and cover and much of its language and tone, it is clear that the book is (or was intended to be) aimed at junior chess players. Yet on page 5 the author states that “this book is for every player who regularly faces – and loses – to opponents stronger than themselves.” Now this target readership errs, I’d humbly suggest, in being just a smidgeon too wide – the above definition as it stands would clearly include all chess players, except perhaps the current world champion Vladimir Kramnik – but nonetheless adult players, although they may feel a little patronised in places, may well get something of value out of the book.

This ambivalence regarding its readership is unfortunate, because How to Beat Your Dad at Chess (the title, alas, is uninformative about the book’s content) is an elementary introduction to tactics – and especially checkmating patterns – that would be very useful for beginning or intermediate chess players, and in particular juniors. The book aims to familiarise the reader with 50 tactical motifs and themes (here called, not entirely accurately, “The 50 Deadly Checkmates”) that frequently arise in actual play. Overall, one has to concede that it succeeds in this aim.

Here are some good things about the book. First, the sections devoted to the 50 tactical patterns are organised along generally sound pedagogical lines. Explanations are, on the whole, lucid and easy to follow. Each tactical pattern is first set out in the form of a simplified position and then more complex positions, arising from actual play, are presented. Second, most pages have plenty of diagrams – usually about 4 – so the reader can follow the moves without needing to set up the positions on a chess board. Third, at the end of book there are 36 test positions taken from actual play. By working through these, readers can practice their tactical skills by spotting the checkmating patterns that they have learnt. (It might have been better, though, to place one or two test positions or exercises at the end of each section, to immediately reinforce learning, rather than lumping them all together at the back.) Fourth, some of the tactical patterns will become useful when studying other parts of the game (e.g. rooks on the seventh rank are important when studying the endgame and weak squares are a key concept in positional play). A few other suggestions for further improvement are given right at the close of the book, and this is also important, for clearly there is much, much more to chess than checkmating the king.

The book has its irritating aspects. To begin with, each tactical motif or theme is described as a “Deadly Checkmate”, yet this is often a misnomer (e.g. “checkmate” is a misnomer for Deadly Checkmate Numbers 10, 43 and 44; and for others too). These sections deal with the fork, deflection, discovered check and the usefulness of the rook on the seventh rank (etc.). Now, it is important and useful to know about these motifs and devices, but they’re not checkmates! Even in the examples given, they only win material; they don’t checkmate the king. Second, the nomenclature varies with that given in some older, and well-respected, textbooks. The author refers to this as “taking poetic license”; one might better call it “introducing needless confusion”. A chess coach might wish to use the book under review as a teaching tool in conjunction with Georges Renaud and Victor Kahn’s classic text The Art of Checkmate. If so, he or she should be warned that a checkmate that is referred to as “Taimanov’s Knight Check” in How to Beat Your Dad at Chess is called Greco’s mate in Part 2, Chapter 3 of The Art of Checkmate. Why has the author chosen the term “Taimanov’s Knight Check”? From what one can gather, it is because Taimanov employed this checkmate in a victory over Karpov, in a game that is likely to be unfamiliar to the prospective readers of this book. This is clearly absurd.

Notwithstanding the drawbacks and irritations noted above, How to Beat Your Dad at Chess is, in the main, an enjoyable book. Tactics and combinations are the magic of chess and this book is a good elementary introduction to the subject. And as the tactical patterns featured here do crop up often in actual play, there is a clear practical value in becoming familiar with them.

About the reviewer: Paul Kane lives and works in Manchester, England. He welcomes responses to his reviews and can be contacted at pkane853@yahoo.co.uk

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