Irving Chernev


The American author, Irving Chernev, was not a prolific writer of books on chess, but those books he did produce became amongst the best of their age.  Most of the books published in that era used the descriptive notation but shortly afterwards, after a long hard struggle the algebraic notation was exclusively used.   As chess players became familiar with with the new notation, all knowledge of the descriptive notation gradually disappeared.  One effect of this change was that books in descriptive notation became a thing of the past.  Fortunately, some publishers have realized that some treasures were buried and have begun to re-publish these golden oldies in algebraic notation.  Batsford have not been slow in this field and quite a few of their recent releases are up-dated versions of books initially published circa 1960-75.  Irving Chernev's "The Most Instructive Games Of Chess Ever Played" has been selected for this treatment.

First published in 1965, there has been little changed except for the notation.  Quite rightly, the original text and contents have been maintained and all 62 games have remained in their 1965 form.

The title is most importaGrace"nt in that the chosen games have an "instructive" content and something can be learned from every game.  The short text that introduce the games expound on the lesson they contain.  Thus we have such game headings as "Finesse in the Ending", "The Shifting Attack", "The Power of Positional Play" etc.  No attempt has been made to group these games into chapters, all stand by themselves, so in effect there are 62 chapters excluding the Introduction and appendices.  However, the instructive content is not solely the impct of these games, as the author makes the following point in the Introduction

"These games ............, are masterly demonstrations of the basic strategy of winning,  So much so that I thought an appropriate title for the book of these games should be The Most Instructive Games of Chess Ever Played.

But I might just as well have called this collection The Most Beautiful Games of Chess Ever Played."

The games included have been carefully selected and cover a period from 1885 (Steinitz - Sellman) to 1961 (Petrosian - Pachman).  As would be expected in an instructive mode a fair number of Capablanca's games have been included and HERE is an example under the heading "In the Grand Manner" - Janowsky - Capablanca, New York, 1961.  As an aside, I have noticed that Janowsky's games figure prominently when included in books, and usually he has the sticky end of comments.  This is rather unfair, as he did produce many masterpieces and I would like to see some an authoritative publication making the most of these. 

Chernev's writing style has been buried because of the use of the descriptive notation, but I found it to be remarkably modern in that the points he makes are succinctly and accurately worded with little use of the long-winded and sometimes irrelevant analysis that used to prevail. He does make good use of quotations by other authors, and these are inevitably comments made by one of the players.  Thus, in a game under the heading of "Coup de Grăce", we find after White's 11th move the following:

"11.    ......                f5

This move is not good, since it weakens his black squares, and saddles Black with a backward c-Pawn.  An enemy Knight can establish itself on his e5-square, without fear of being driven away by Pawns.

"From this point, says Alekhine "Black's game may be strategically lost, which is not to say that the realization of victory will be an easy matter."

A preferable defense was 11. ....Bxg5 12.Nexg5 Nf8, though Black still faces the prospect of a long hard winter." 


In addition to the use of Alekhine's comment, other points may be gleaned from this extract:

 - The notation is English algebraic and not figurine which although understood internationally, is not so clear and readable.

-  Pieces and pawns carry the upper-case first letter - a legacy from earlier publications.

-  "his e5-square".  Again a legacy from the descriptive notation which no doubt read "his K4 square".  In algebraic there is no square owned by either player.  The e5-square is the same for both players.

Sixty-two games, if copiously commented and containing a number of diagrams, covers a lot of space and this book has 322 double column pages.  No doubt this was the same format used in the original work and Batsford have retained it in an attempt for authenticity.

This has been a very worthwhile new edition, as the penetrating comments made by Chernev would not otherwise be available to the young players of today.

This book, priced at a recommended price of £15.99, will be very welcome to a discerning reader.

Bill Frost

August 2014