Reviewed by P.P.O. Kane
The Chess Assassin’s Business Manual: Stories and Methods
By Bob Long
Foreword by Karsten Mueller
14 July 2008
This is a rich and rewarding book, though one that it is hard to get a handle on at first. Perhaps the thing to say straightaway is that the book is immensely readable: once you pick it up, you keep on turning the pages, as though eating cherries. In large part, this is due to the author’s voice, which is American in the best sense. What does the word ‘American’ mean here? Well, it means that the book is written by someone who is straight-talking and smart, warm and humorous, occasionally hard-boiled yet always honest. Someone who shoots from the hip and tells it like it is.
How to describe the book? There are, to my mind, two aspects to it. First of all, it is a memoir of a life in business, and particularly in chess-orientated businesses. In his time, Bob Long has organised numerous chess festivals, published a magazine (Squares) and sold chess books and software and other chess-related items through Chessco. And this is on top of running Thinkers’ Press, one of the USA’s leading chess publishers, for some 35 years. Secondly, the book (as its title intimates) is a manual which gives advice about succeeding in business and playing better chess. And it is also about the relation between business and chess; there are many skills and aptitudes that are needed in both domains. One could list a few: an ability to plan, a willingness to take calculated risks, a resilience to manage stress and setbacks, an attitude that allows one to acknowledge and learn from mistakes. Crucially, an ability to put aside bias and make good, as-near-as-possible objective decisions. Above all, perhaps, a sophisticated form of metacognition, which Andrew M. Colman (in the Oxford Dictionary of Psychology,Second Edition) defines as the ‘regulation of cognitive functions, including planning, checking, or monitoring, as when one plans one’s cognitive strategy for memorizing something, checks one’s accuracy while performing mental arithmetic, or monitors one’s comprehension while reading’.
From the sections of the book that focus on business, it is clear that Long is a great believer in direct marketing; and he also touches on such areas of business as pricing, salesmanship, buying, customer service and risk-taking. While, when it comes to chess, the author’s discussions range across topics that include tactics and combinations, openings (and in particular a consideration of the Richter-Veresov and the French) and general ‘tips and tricks’. Oh, and we are shown some instances of Kramnik’s love of advancing his queen’s pawn Right Down The Line (which by the way is Gerry Rafferty’s best song; it beats Baker Street by a country mile).
For anyone thinking of starting a chess-related business, there is much of substance here; moreover, often a page will have side-notes or glosses on the main text. Digressions (a good thing, in my view: Laurence Sterne built his reputation, or at any rate his masterpiece, on them) are plentiful and rarely fail to amuse or instruct. And what ties it all together (as noted above) is the author’s voice. It provides a formidable unifying force.
The Chess Assassin’s Business Manual is a record of a lifetime’s achievement in business. As a rambunctious smorgasbord of wisdom, nous, instruction, entertainment and attitude – relating to both business and chess – it is well nigh irresistible.
About the reviewer: P.P.O. Kane lives and works in Manchester, England. He welcomes responses to his reviews and you can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org