Hype in Chess

Edward Winter




chernev

The book whose dust-jacket carried the above commendation was by no means bad, but would many authors wish their work to be described immoderately? As will be shown below, there is, in fact, no shortage of them.

The dust-jacket in question was on The Golden Dozen by Irving Chernev. The book was produced by the Oxford University Press in 1976, and it is rare to find a reputable publisher resorting to such hype. An occasional co-author of Chernev’s, Fred Reinfeld, was also the occasional beneficiary (or, perhaps, victim) of verbal extravagance. As mentioned in C.N. 2377, his book Chess for Children (New York, 1958) called him a ‘Leading Chess Master’ and the ‘world-famous chess writer and champion player’. Only the second of those three claims seems beyond reproach.

The foregoing, however, are by no means the worst cases of hype in chess literature, as will be shown below. But first, a general caveat may be entered: self-praise by an author or publisher is not necessarily hype. C.N. 4218 noted that the back cover of Grandmaster Chess Move by Move by John Nunn (London, 2005) described him as ‘arguably the most highly acclaimed chess writer in the world’. That is a perfectly reasonable statement.

Downmarket it is a different story. As reported in C.N. 2345, the dust-jacket of Chess by K.M. Grover and T. Wiswell (London, 1952) stated: ‘Kenneth M. Grover, when 12 years old, was hailed as a chess child-prodigy, and today he is America’s number-one chess player.’ The original (1941) US edition called him ‘America’s Number One chess and checker exhibition player’. In their other books, Let’s Play Checkers (New York, 1940) and Twentieth Century Checkers (Philadelphia, 1946), the twosome also awarded themselves high-pitched write-ups. The back-cover of the former said of Grover: ‘He is America’s No. 1 checker and chess exhibition star and is popularly known as the “Mighty Mite”.’

grover1

From the dust-jacket of the 1941 edition of Chess by Grover and Wiswell

Regarding titles for over-the-board play, authors and publishers often lose all sense of proportion. The following comes from the back cover of A World Champion’s Guide to Chess by Susan Polgar and Paul Truong (New York, 2005):

polgar

There is much more. The front and back covers also describe ‘Grandmaster Susan Polgar’ as ‘Four-time Women’s World Chess Champion’, ‘2004 Olympiad Gold Medalist’, ‘a living legend’ and ‘a four-time Women’s World Champion and the top-ranked woman chess player in the United States’. Once the reader’s toes have uncurled after that torrent, he may feel that it mainly springs from vain indecorum rather than an attempt to deceive, but the same can hardly be said of The Batsford Chess Encyclopedia by Nathan Divinsky (London, 1990), i.e. the book itself and the publisher’s puffery. The following appeared on its dust-jacket:

divinsky

An alternative view to Batsford’s is provided in A Catastrophic Encyclopedia.

For hype, though, even B.T. Batsford Ltd. of the 1980s and early 1990s has been shown a clean pair of heels by a US publisher. C.N. 2377 referred to ‘the self-glorification in which Cardoza Publishing has recently allowed its chess writers to indulge – dregs pretending to be cream’. The company recently brought out a new edition (supposedly corrected, but not so) of a 2004 book on Fischer by Eric Schiller. The back cover asserts that he (Schiller, not Fischer) is ‘widely considered one of the world’s foremost chess analysts, writers, and teachers’. As shown in our review of World Champion Combinations, those same words were already being used by Cardoza over a decade ago. An alternative view as to what Eric Schiller may be ‘widely considered’ is provided in A Sorry Case and Copying.

His co-author for World Champion Combinations was Raymond Keene, and opposite the title page was a claim that he is ‘considered one of the strongest players in the world’. The considerers were naturally not named because, as pointed out in our above-mentioned feature article on the book, he played his last serious chess in the mid-1980s, and on the 1986 rating list he was not among the top ten players in England, let alone the world.

Many of his books contain material relevant to the present article, but just one further example will be given for the time being: the dust-jacket of Samurai Chess by Michael Gelb and Raymond Keene (London, 1997) described the latter as ‘the world’s leading authority on chess and mindsports. An International Chess Grandmaster and winner of 14 separate British championship titles ...’

For Tony Miles’ alternative assessment, see his book review in Kingpin.


The above article originally appeared at ChessBase.com.



From page 16 of Twentieth Century Checkers by Grover and Wiswell (Philadelphia, 1946), in a three-page sketch of Grover:

‘The fact that he is without doubt America’s outstanding Checker and Chess exhibition player only demonstrates his amazing versatility..’



‘Paul Charles Morphy is the greatest chess player known to history, and it is doubtful if there will ever be a better one. ... What it does seem is that he defeated the game of chess.’

These words were quoted in C.N. 17 from the first paragraph of the article ‘Wizard of Chess’ by Robert Cantwell on pages 1079-1081 of The People’s Almanac #2 by David Wallechinsky and Irving Wallace (New York, 1978). The piece originally appeared on pages 16-18 of Yesterday in Sports edited by John Durant (New York, 1956).

morphy cantwell

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As mentioned in C.N. 1853, the dust-jacket of Warriors of the Mind by Raymond Keene and Nathan Divinsky (Brighton, 1989) described it as ‘a seminal work written by two scholars of the game’.



The title page of First Chess Openings by Eric Schiller (New York, 2005) has this description of the book:

‘The best and easiest introduction to openings ever written.’



Latest update: 3 October 2015.

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