Chess For Dummies

Chess For Dummies - James Eade When reviewing chess literature, it's important to state one's credentials, and what level the reviewer feels the book is appropriate for.

My USCF rating is 2029, expert/candidate master, and as a young teen, I was one of the top 15 players in the US for my age. Still, I'm not a master, and consider myself too weak to get anything from the chess series written by Dvoretsky and Yusupov, for instance.

"Chess for Dummies" is ostensibly written for beginners, and yet, is one of the very worst introductions to the game I have ever come across. I read it when I was 10 years old and reasonably new to the game, and even then, it was utterly unhelpful.

For starters, Eade spends dozens of pages going over the names and appearances of the pieces, real or imagined points of chess etiquette, and many other things that have nothing to do with actually learning to play chess well! It's just pointless filler; a way to pad out the book length, as there isn't enough content otherwise.

When he finally gets around to basic tactics and strategy, it's done in a very hodge-podge manner.

We get only a few basic tactical ideas like pins and forks, and never go into more complicated concepts like deflections, mating patterns, or X-rays. Hell, we are barely offered any examples of pins and forks! Those that we do see offer a poor illustration of the variety of said tactic.

One might argue that this might be too much for beginning players, but it's standard material in just about every book discussing tactics I have ever come across, even ones that number about 100 pages and were written for rank beginners. This, by contrast, is a 350 page book!

The section on strategy is simply embarrassing. A few famous illustrative examples are cherry-picked here and there, with no real rhyme or reason given to their selection. There's no method to their selection, or any overarching idea on what Eade wants to impart to the reader. The annotations are an absolute joke; Eade hardly bothers with any real analysis of variations, favoring flowery (and often misleading, oversimplified) prose instead. Of course, that's when he bothers commenting at all.

Perhaps the most buffoonish part of the book is the "10 Famous Games" it presents at the end. Like the rest of the book, there is no real criteria for its inclusion. Andersson's famous Evergreen and Immortal Games are presented alongside Deep Blue's victory over Kasparov on the Black side of the Alapin Sicilian.

The commentary is even more limited than it was for earlier parts of the book. In fact, they might as well be presented with just notation for the moves; they're ten random famous games.

Needless to say, there is absolutely nothing the reader will gain from seeing these games, especially the beginner that this book is aimed for. They illustrate no concept or ideas, nor is there worthwhile analysis to make sense of what's going on.

As a whole, the book focuses on very few, seemingly random elements of the game. However, within that limited scope, they can't even do a thorough job with a single one of them! The analysis is sparse and lazy. That, of course, is when Eade is not wasting dozens of pages on etiquette, hasty and highly inaccurate player biographies, and other material irrelevant to its stated goal.

Look, if you're new to chess, I strongly recommend GM Yasser Seirawan's outstanding Play Winning Chess book and its follow-up sequels. Alternatively, some of Bruce Pandolfini's and Andy Soltis's books are quite good. Hell, if you don't mind descriptive notation, and are willing to put up with some dogmatic writing, you can even check out the introductions to the game that Tarrasch or Capablanca wrote in the early 20th century.

In fact, even rival series The Complete Idiot's Guide to Chess is monumentally better than "Chess for Dummies". Really, just about any reasonable intro to chess is better than the lazy crap that is "Chess for Dummies".