There are more books published about chess than any other sport or pastime.  What other activity has an entire museum devoted to it's output?  One just has to go to the museum in The Hague, Netherlands to get lost in thousands of chess books lining many rooms.  Many chessplayers groaning shelves can also attest to such a statement..  

Now and again amongst the hundreds of new books published a jewel arrives.  These are few and far between but John Nunn's new publication is one of these jewels.  It is, purportedly, the third of a series that includes volumes on the middle and endgames, but it could well stand alone as treatise on all aspects of the royal game.

John Nunn as an esteemed author of many books on chess, but this must rank alongside his two volume work on the endgame that won the ECF Book of the Year award as one of the best of his efforts. Nowadays his entire output is published by Gambit Publications of which Nunn is a director.  Not only a director, his versatility extends to typesetting all their output.

"Nunn's Chess Course" is a weighty volume containing 320 pages, mainly double column.  The themes are covered in 16 Chapters headed:

1. Introduction: Why Lasker?

 9. Queenless Middlegames

2. Misunderstood Genius.

10. Defending Inferior Positions

3. Attack and Defence.

11. Manoeuvring

4. Piece Activity.

12.Endgame: Making Something out of Nothing

5. Pawn-Structure.

13.Playing for the Win

6. The Endgame

14. Fleeting Chances

7 .Bishop vs Knight

15. Common Failings.
    8.The Endgame 16. Exercises

The subject of the introduction requires explanation.  Surprisingly, relatively little has been written on Emanuel Lasker - world champion for 27 years - than any other world champions  This could well be explained by what commentators have said about his style which has been variously described as mystical and lucky.  Lasker's success has been very difficult to examine and describe.but Nunn's book tackles this subject in a matter-of-fact manner and comes up with a complete answer which is well described by the heading of the second chapter - "Misunderstood Genius",   Again, many commentators have tried to explain his success as being a play on psychology.  Nunn explains that the manner of Lasker's pyschology is not mystical but rather the application of a shrewd mind that had an understanding of chess far deeper than that that of his contemporaries.

Choosing to examine the chess strategy, tactics etc. through the medium of the career of one player satisfies two objectives - one, the biographical chess career of a world champion and the other, all techniques necessary to become a proficient chess player.  Nunn succeeds magnificently in achieving this.

The structure of the contents have been well formatted in order that the first two chapters give a potted chess biography of Lasker followed by examples of his play divided into the main themes of the game.  This examination starts with rather elemental themes and progresses to games that have some aspect of psychological input.  Nunn, wisely, suggests that the book be read sequentially rather than dipped into, as elementary topics come first, while as the book progresses more abstract ideas are introduced that contain psychological issues.  Furthermore, he cautions the reader into thinking that the examples are demonstrating one and only one theme.  In fact some themes lead to other themes in the course of a few moves.  Another piece of wise advice he offers is that the analysis is essentially textually based and long analysis has been kept to minimum of examples where the theme cannot be otherwise explained.  This approach has to be applauded.  Too many modern books are overloaded with lengthy analysis without any explanation whatsoever of what the moves are trying to achieve. When I was involved in running a chess stall at congresses, many times I faced the question "Can you recommend a chess book that I can read?".  Now, I would not struggle to find an answer.

Another aspect of Nunn's approach lies in the fact that he is not at all nervous of criticising Lasker's play and in fact some games in the book are lost by Lasker.  Many of his moves are marked "?" but we must remember that we are being shown games that were played more than 100 years ago.  Now advances have been made in general techniques and the computer has added a great deal to concrete analysis.  Don't forget that Lasker sat at a chess board armed with nothing other than a cigar and his native shrewd intelligence. 

 Nunn provides 100 examples of Lasker's play either in complete games or extracts of play.  Nunn's style of writing is very matter of fact and he is not worried about using every-day language rather than the stilted manner that some authors adopt. Having been one of the more successful world masters he is well qualified to put forward his opinions albeit some may be rather controversial.

This book will be most useful to a wide range of players.  I would suggest that players bracketed in the grading area 120-180 will no doubt benefit from careful study of the material in this book.

Attached to this review are two extracts from the book one being the game Lasker -  Tarrasch in Chapter Three and the other Lasker - Rubinstein from Chapter Six.

Needless to say this book is a "must" and at a recommended price of £15.99 it is extremely good value.

Bill Frost

June 2014