We learn how to play chess in various ways. Some are lucky enough to have enlightened chess teachers at school and this learning progress is probably the best as it puts one in immediate competition with other children and thus spurs interest in the learning curve. Others are taught by parents or siblings and again interest in competitive chess is immediate. Some teach themselves and I can place myself in this category. Not only did I teach myself but I was over twenty years old before the process started. In this latter category one has to find a way to learn and be stimulated enough by this method to progress with some enthusiasm. In this digital age there are many ways to 'teach oneself' but inevitably books provide are one of the best mediums. It was so for myself and at the time there were some very useful books available. One of the best primers was written by Harry Golombek, the master chess writer who has some excellent titles to his credit. However, despite his reputation for more advanced chess literature, I recall him telling me that the book that brought him the best return was his primer which he had dashed off in his spare time. B. H. Wood, the venerable founder of "Chess" magazine had also written an excellent primer as had Gerald Thomas and Bob Wade. My copies of these still reside on my bookshelves albeit rather battered as befits the extent and circumstances that were brought about by the manner in which they were used. After all, studying such books in aeroplanes, trains, coaches and cars is not the best of environments.
Since such masterpieces were published there have been very few primers of note until now. BATSFORD have filled this void with the excellent "Batsford Book of Chess from Beginner to Winner" by Sean Marsh. Unusually, and very welcome, this book has a stout hard cover suitably embossed by the title and figurines. Now it's survival chances are greatly enhanced.
Sean Marsh is not all that well-known as an author of chess books, but his blog which deals in many subjects is well worth adding to your internet favourites - "Marsh Towers"
The title of the book "Batsford Book of Chess from Beginner to Winner" is somewhat ambitious although a careful study and application of its contents will surely put a beginner on the road.
A listing of the chapters will give some indication of how this road is to be trodden:
Remembering Bob Wade
Winning, Drawing and Losing
Where Heroes Meet
Know Your Openings
Classic Players and Games
Solutions to Puzzles
It is good to see that the impact of chess engines is afforded some place in modern chess - "Non-Human Factors". The author devotes a number of pages to games played between grandmasters and chess engines, with only short reference to the use of databases, engine analysis and opening study together with game preparation. I would have liked to have seen more space allotted to this aspect of the use of engines in modern day research, as undoubtedly this is the best way of getting the benefit from the computer development and a beginner should be made aware of these possibilities.
Space constraints must have played a major part in such an ambitious objective in making the scope of the features required to make this this book fulfil its title. After all, complete books have been devoted to the subject matter of some of the chapters. However, Sean Marsh goes to the heart of many of these subjects and consequently kindles an interest to explore these matters in more dedicated books. This is truly a heroic attempt which I think succeeds.
Where the author also succeeds with honour is his treatment of illustrative games. His notes are well chosen and accurate. As an example I am giving his explanation of the game Alekhine vs Yates, London 1922. One must read these notes in the context in which the game is placed. It is part of the contents of the opening section and due regard must be afforded to the fact that the notes are aimed at a beginner. In general this is something that Sean achieves admirably, sculpting his notes to the understanding of a newcomer to the game.
There are a couple of adverse comments I must make about this book, the first being the use of a number of differing colours in the text and diagrams. I applaud the publishers choice to use colours but this is a very difficult feature to handle and appreciation is very much left to the reader. In this case I found several colours used made reading quite difficult, particularly as the glossy nature of the paper was in itself quite distracting. My second adverse comment involves the misplacing of several diagrams. This is unfortunate and may be rather off-putting to beginners.
On the whole, despite this comments, I think the book is well suited to its main purpose, that is introducing a newcomer to the most royal of board games. There are many aspects to producing such a book, the first being to introduce mere beginners to some of the mysterious language that has evolved in presenting games etc. If the author assumes that a reader will come ready-armed to these unique expressions, the result will be sheer nonsense. Fortunately Sean Marsh does not fall into this trap and I am sure that a beginner will readily absorb and learn from his explanations.
"The Batsford Book of Chess" is offered at the recommended price of £14.99 which makes this hardback of 207 pages an admirable bargain.