Do we need chess books?

Do we need chess books?


There was a certain period approximately in the beginning of this century when the publishing business in my opinion was in very shaky situation. The new technologies using the electronic versions as information bearer looked much more advanced and cheaper than the old hard cover versions. The sales of Barnes & Noble bookstores took heavy decline. I had not very good experience with chess publishing houses in the past. My first book the “Leningrad Dutch” was published by Batsford publishing in 1994, but shortly afterwards the publishing house went into bankrupt. I was sure that the general situation is not improving in the beginning of first decade of 2000. However the old publishing survived and there is still market for chess books. The sales are still tricky business and only the few know how they really do it in the open market. The authors need to rely on the publishing houses, because they know how to distribute the books. The target is the same as it was decades ago, 2000 copies to the US market and the same amount to European market.

Simple math shows that it is not very lucrative business for the authors. Writing a book is very time consuming, if you are not just fulfilling simple order. The simple order is the opening books. Everybody likes to write opening books and when a year ago I was ready to take the job, I could not find suitable publisher who was ready to fulfill the order. This forced me to write a little bit more complicated book which is going to be out in May this year. The “Grandmaster opening preparation” took me for a while to complete. I was lucky that Jacob Aagard was ready to publish it. I did my job, but can I be sure that the book represents any value for the chess aficionado.

I did read few chess books during my long career around chess. I am not counting the theoretical opening books, but the books from which you may find some useful information. There were some good books. The good does not mean the same thing when comparing the chess books to the fiction books. Chess might be many things, but for sure it has something from everything, from art, from science and from sport. The good chess book in my opinion needs to explain things. Recently I see mostly books which describe things.

The historical chess books are fine to read, but the theoretical opening books are just collections of opening lines which only describe the state of affairs with a computer evaluation. The value of the book supposedly is the big name of the author of the book, which in my opinion is useless in this context. The top grandmaster could probably explain things, but using his name when describing things is just devaluing the author’s capacity. I do not read these kind of books. This does not mean that I am not going to write one myself again. My Batsford book was typical example of this kind of book. Now I like to do things differently, hoping to add some deep explanations to the opening lines.

The “Grandmaster opening preparation” does the explanation how to prepare the opening lines. After reading this book you do not need to buy opening books anymore, because you can do the evaluations yourself. Still it is more convenient for most of us to get collection of opening lines written by some authority of that line, but at the end you are not going to remember the lines anyway.

Who needs then the chess books? Children do. They cannot make their preparation yet themselves. They need a good description which enables them to make their own decisions and hopefully improve their decision making process. Meaning they need to learn how to think.

My book the “Chessgymnasium” was written for children who are going to make their very first steps on chess board. The aim was not to teach them how to play chess, but using the properties of chess to enhance their ability to think. The game of chess must be fun, this is the slogan of many chess scholars. Using the chess game and hope that it helps to develop some positive trends for the student might be a good idea. However there are a lot of other activities which do the same. The difference with chess is that the chess paradigm has specific set of rules which are not only arbitrary rules made by man, but one can easily find that these rules are universal.

In Ancient Greece the geometry was the paradigm which one should master before entering to Academia. Chess in other hand should be taught to every child during his or her preschool period. The “Chessgymnasium” tries to help teachers and parents to prepare the children for the compulsory education. It represents the paradigm where it is possible to training child’s brain.

I am very happy that with the initiative of Latvian chess federation my book was published in Latvian language. The presentation of the book took place on April 6 in Riga Sport School.  The CEO of the Jumava publishing house Mr. Juris Visockis was present among other distinguished quests. Beside well known chess players and officials Latvian minister of finance Mrs. Dana Rieznice Ozola who still is one of the best female players in Latvia said few kind words about the book. Later simul with clocks took place. I faced eight opponents having 35 minutes to complete the game, my opponents had 25 minutes, but still I lost one game in time. I drew one and won the rest. In other end of the hall Rieznice and the other top female player Laura Rogele gave the tandem simul and they lost one game winning the rest.

I am very thankful to my Latvian colleagues for this wonderful event and I hope that the “Chessgymnasium” is going to be very soon available in other languages as well.

Jaan Ehlvest