(1998, with additions)
The laugh of the year has been provided by Cardoza Publishing (New York) for the following proclamation: ‘Our philosophy is to bring you the best quality chess books from the top authors and authorities in the chess world’. That incongruously appears in the company’s latest production, World Champion Combinations by – wait for it – Raymond Keene and Eric Schiller. But there is more. Keene, we are solemnly apprised, is ‘considered one of the strongest players in the world’. In reality, 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. Then Eric Schiller is lauded for being ‘widely considered one of the world’s foremost chess analysts, writers and teachers’, though who exactly considers him that is not specified. Schiller ‘has also presided over world championship matches dating back to 1983’. Really? All of them? Some of them? Any of them? Readers may be baffled too as to where a world championship match was held in 1983, but, as will be seen in the penultimate paragraph below, Raymond Keene is on hand to offer corroboration.
Either Cardoza Publishing is attempting to deceive the public or it has itself been taken in by the self-flattery of two oversize egos. It all brings to mind the Spring 1998 issue of Kingpin, where Tony Miles debunked a similar dose of Keene bombast from a book which had promoted him as ‘the world’s leading authority on chess and mind sports’ and ‘the winner of 14 separate British championship titles’. As Miles scoffed, ‘that’s 12 more than are generally known about’.
Whether or not Cardoza Publishing is aware of it, the reality is that Keene and Schiller have a peerless record for factual howlers, even on the simplest of matters, for chicanery and for being impervious to correction. Concerning Keene’s determination to twist and twirl rather than admit the smallest error, one example will suffice here (with dozens more on stand-by in case of a challenge). A few years ago in his (London) Times column he called a player named Archangelski a grandmaster. As reported on page 38 of issue 23 of Kingpin, when this mistake was pointed out Keene assured The Times that his remark had been true because ‘FIDE is not the only body to award grandmaster titles’ and because he believed ‘that Archangelski was awarded a national title by the USSR Federation’. Even Malcolm Pein of CHESS, a committed protector of Keene, observed: ‘Quite astounding. Perhaps I should start awarding titles myself. I could give a few to Keene.’
World Champion Combinations goes on to compliment itself on being ‘The Definitive Guide to the Concepts and Secrets of Chess Combinations as Played by the World Champions’, but the only definitive guide offered is to the authors’ incompetence. Each of the champions receives a few paragraphs of introductory generalities, although the ‘Capsule Biographies of Each World Champion’ threatened by the back-cover blurb mercifully never materialize. The announced ‘insightful detail’ on the combinations of ‘the 14 World Champions’ is also left undelivered. Insights are out. Instead we are given a run-through of a small number of the champions’ best-known games and positions of the Morphy-versus-the-Duke-and-Count sort. Putting out such facile material requires minimal knowledge of either chess play or chess history and should at least result in presentation without error. Alas, presenting things without error is not a Keene/Schiller speciality.
The reason there are 14 champions is that the co-authors have decided to add on Morphy, who they say was ‘Unofficial World Champion’ from 1857 to 1859. How that can be when it is stated just a few lines later that ‘when he went to Europe in 1858, he was not considered a threat to the great players of his day’ is never explained. One of those ‘great players’ is named as Adolph [sic – Adolf is the correct spelling] Anderssen, but he is omitted from the book, even though another Raymond Keene co-production, the insidious Warriors of the Mind, called Anderssen ‘one of the most brilliant combinational players of all time’. Page 20 of World Champion Combinations puzzlingly says ‘as in the game Kolisch-Anderssen’, as if such a game were included somewhere.
In presenting Paulsen-Morphy, New York, 1857 the book (page 18) credits the discovery of a quicker win at move 23 to Maróczy, whereas it had already been attributed to J.H. Bauer on pages 172-173 of the February 1887 Chess Monthly, i.e. long before Maróczy came onto the scene. The same page has a game headed only ‘Morphy-Amateur’, yet a glance at a number of sources (including David Lawson’s biography of Morphy and Chess Explorations) would have sufficed to obtain Black’s name, P.E. Bonford. Almost every page lays bare one aspect or another of Keene and Schiller’s ignorance and negligence. The game Pillsbury-Lasker, St Petersburg, 1896 ends (page 48) with ‘Black resigned’ in bold letters, but it was White who lost. The position from the second game of the 1896-97 world championship match between Lasker and Steinitz has the authors overlooking an elementary mate in two moves (i.e. Nb3+ rather than Re4+, as pointed out on page 366 of the December 1896 Deutsche Schachzeitung). A position headed ‘Alekhine-Bogoljubow’ was actually from a four-man consultation game. The next diagram is for ‘Alekhine-Freeman, USA, 1924’. Firstly, Black was Frieman. Secondly, USA should read New York. Thirdly, the game continuation given is wrong, being a well-known case of Alekhine’s subsequent invention of a more spectacular win. (See, for instance, C.N. 1394 and page 17 of Chess Explorations.)
On the following page Keene and Schiller report that Euwe dethroned Alekhine in 1937; everybody else believes that Euwe won the title in 1935 and lost it in 1937. Page 119 erroneously declares that Botvinnik won the 1954 world championship match against Smyslov. The first page of the Botvinnik chapter says: ‘Beating Capablanca was an achievement that every World Champion in the first half of the 20th century achieved, and Botvinnik was the last of a long line to do so …’. (Let’s pause here to admire the polished prose style: ‘an achievement … achieved’.) In reality, of course, the ‘long line’ consisted of just four champions, and the last of those victories was by Euwe, not Botvinnik. Regarding the famous game Botvinnik-Capablanca, AVRO, 1938, page 101 affirms after 34 e7, ‘Of course Botvinnik had to see that there was no perpetual check when he played 30 Ba3’. That is flatly disproved by Botvinnik’s own annotations on pages 92-94 of Half a Century of Chess; after 30 Ba3 he wrote: ‘I must admit that I could not calculate it right to the end and operated in two stages. First I evaluated the position after six moves and convinced myself that I had a draw by perpetual check. Then after the first six moves I calculated the rest to the end.’
The chapter on Tal starts with a heading which reduces the game’s occasion to unintelligibility: ‘Riga Soviet Latvia, 1952’. Throughout the book there are typos aplenty (e.g. ‘suprise’ on page 52, ‘Jonn Nunn’ on page 72), interwoven with the authors’ posits and postulations (e.g. Lasker ‘was not a deep strategist’ – page 44). And so it all staggers on, through to the final game, by Kasparov (the co-authors neglect to say how it ended), and a slaphappy book-list comprising 18 titles. Warriors of the Mind is there, with misspellings of the names of Keene’s co-author and publisher. That is the only Keene title to be cited, which helps disguise the fact that whole sections of World Champion Combinations have simply been reproduced, without correction, from previous tomes of his, most notably The Chess Combination from Philidor to Karpov (Pergamon Press, 1977). Now we can understand World Champion Combinations’ mention of a non-existent Kolisch-Anderssen game: in copying from page 56 of the Pergamon book, Keene and Schiller have forgotten to delete a cross-reference that no longer applies. Recycling old trash into new trash is a notorious book-spawning trick of Keene’s, and for this co-production it merely involves changing any uses of ‘I’ to ‘we’. In a Spassky game, another unattributed rehash from the Pergamon book, the pronominal change is duly made on page 167, but overleaf ‘in my opinion’ has been left untouched, and it all descends into farce on page 74 (Alekhine-Reshevsky, Kemeri, 1937). After 23 h3, the ‘I’ has been pluralized (‘Here Alekhine has a note we like very much …’), but unfortunately the quoted words of Alekhine include the remark, ‘I was not a little surprised to read …’. No medals for guessing the upshot: yes, Alekhine’s ‘I’ has also become ‘we’. For good measure, there is another typo (‘to the questioned’) two lines further on in the Alekhine quote. Only Keene and Schiller can make copying look so difficult.
The entirety of World Champion Combinations could be demolished in this way, but for the benefit of anyone lucky enough not to have seen the book the best way of showing the extent of the shambles is to pick a complete chapter and to examine every game and position given.
Chapter 6, dealing with Capablanca, has six games and four positions:
In short, not one of the ten Capablanca games and positions given by Keene and Schiller emerges with a clean bill of health. In passing it should be noted that most of the above appeared in Eric Tangborn’s 1994 book Chess Combinations of The World Champions, with similar factual mistakes. It is no surprise that Keene and Schiller put the Tangborn work in their book-list, or, for that matter, that they get its title wrong.
What kind of people can show chess, and the chess public, so little respect? Why such illiterati presume to inflict themselves on us incessantly, or at all, is a question that has preoccupied the American openings expert Hugh Myers. A dozen years ago he wrote in CHESS (mid-August 1986 issue, page 241) that Schiller was ‘an assassin of chess history’. That brought forth a pained response from Schiller (September 1986 issue, page 259): ‘I have always researched my facts to the best of my ability’. The number of CHESS readers who fell off their chairs on seeing that one is not recorded, but the following year Schiller showed his true colours. On page 50 of Unorthodox Openings he attempted to exact revenge on Myers, who had written a book on Nimzowitsch’s Defence. Schiller maintained that the best book on 1 e4 Nc6 was not Myers’ but one by H. Westerinen. Despite Schiller’s protestations to the contrary, it emerged that no such book had ever existed. We too had a telling experience, after publishing in C.N. two letters from Schiller. Every word of both was printed, yet Schiller repeatedly put it about that they had been truncated and taken out of context. To refute this, C.N. published them a second time, in the form of photographic reproductions. Schiller’s response? He naturally continued to write that his letters had been truncated and taken out of context. Pressed to apologize, he went silent.
And what of Raymond Keene? A single article can hardly do justice to his track-record, so a potted history must suffice for now. He broke his contract with Korchnoi by writing a book on the 1978 world championship match in ‘a premeditated and deliberate plan to deceive’ (see page 84 of the February 1980 CHESS). He was described by Korchnoi’s work Antischach (page 109) as ‘a man without moral scruples’. He wrote a book on the 1983 Kasparov-Korchnoi semi-final and called it the ‘World Chess Championship’ on the front cover. He unveraciously attacked the termination of the 1984-85 world title match even though, beforehand, he had written a telex to Campomanes advocating termination. He told a succession of barefaced whoppers in his abortive and aborted 1986 campaign to gain control of FIDE, besmirching various innocent parties along the way. He so disgusted the late editor of CHESS, B.H. Wood, that the latter declared him ‘capable of claiming anything on the flimsiest evidence’. He resigned from the British Chess Federation in 1987 after it was revealed that he had misappropriated appeal funds collected to provide a British player with a second at an Interzonal tournament. He was castigated by Karpov (New in Chess, 3/1993, page 46) on the grounds that ‘everything he is involved in is based on personal interests’. He was criticized by the following issue of the same magazine (page 9) because, regarding the 1993 Kasparov-Short match, The Times had ‘set a new standard for one-sided, prejudiced and wilfully misleading reporting’. He was roasted by the (normally Keene-compliant) BCM for his factual inaccuracies and ‘selective Pravda-style’ writing (May 1993 issue, pages 228 and 232). He wrote newspaper articles and an ‘official’ book on the Kasparov-Short match which professed to be quoting verbatim Short’s own annotations, only to have it revealed (on page 224 of The Inner Game by Dominic Lawson, Short’s close friend) that Short had ‘never once’ supplied any such material. He was denounced by another CHESS editor (and associate), Paul Lamford, for writing ‘Keene junk’. He was obliged to make a settlement when legal action was threatened (see Inside Chess, 2/1994, page 3) following the discovery that one of his books had plagiarized John Donaldson’s openings analysis. He even …
But no. The above should be ample to give Cardoza Publishing a belated inkling of the truth. Chapter and verse are available on every point.
The above article first appeared at the Chess Café in 1998.
Regarding the letters from Schiller referred to, the following appeared in C.N. 1737:
In 1984 Eric Schiller sent us two letters regarding Batsford Chess Openings. They were published in C.N.s 844 and 870, and in C.N. 1143 (page 53) we reported that C.N. had neither changed nor omitted anything whatsoever (except the correction of one typing error). Many readers of the Chess Linc/Chessline News computer system will therefore have been perplexed to see the following allegation by Mr Schiller dated 23 September 1988:
‘Winter has sent me loaded questions to which I initially replied with honest answers, only to see them manipulated to the point that a letter I sent supporting a position of Ray Keene’s, which was being attacked by Winter, was cited (not quoted in full as requested) as supporting Winter!’
This is pure invention, as the following facts demonstrate:
a) Mr Schiller was the one who opened the correspondence, so he was not replying to ‘loaded questions’ from us.
b) Mr Schiller never made any request that the complete texts be published.
c) Both of his letters were published in full (our own decision).
To prove the above, C.N. 1737 published the two letters again, this time reproduced photographically, exactly as received from Mr Schiller. We then concluded:
Mr Schiller’s allegation that we manipulated his letters is so injurious that readers will understand our reasons for taking up two pages to provide incontestable proof that it was an outright lie. We now await from him an unqualified retraction and apology.
They never came, of course.
The remarks by B.H. Wood and Paul Lamford quoted above come from letters which they wrote to us on 17 March 1987 and in March 1994 respectively. For further details about the Unorthodox Openings ...Nc6 matter, see A Sorry Case.
Page 11 of Killer Chess Tactics by R. Keene, E. Schiller and L. Shamkovich (New York, 2003) states that the ‘second half of the book is a revised and updated version of World Champion Combinations, by Raymond Keene and Eric Schiller’.
Our 1998 article above commented that page 18 ...
‘... has a game headed only ‘Morphy-Amateur’, yet a glance at a number of sources (including David Lawson’s biography of Morphy and Chess Explorations) would have sufficed to obtain Black’s name, P.E. Bonford.’
On page 208 of Killer Chess Tactics a correction to the game heading has been attempted:
The above-mentioned criticisms with regard to Capablanca v Souza Campos also apply to the game’s treatment on pages 15-17 of Taming Wild Chess Openings by John Watson and Eric Schiller (Alkmaar, 2015), a book which, moreover, gives the venue as ‘San Paolo’.
See too An Alekhine Blindfold Game.
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Copyright: Edward Winter. All rights reserved.