A Mini-Review of James Magner's _Chess Juggler_
Friday, October 14, 2011 at 9:38PM
Dennis Monokroussos in Book Reviews

James Magner, M.D., Chess Juggler: Balancing Career, Family and Chess in the Modern World (Russell Enterprises 2011). 176 pp. $19.95.


This short book is half autobiography, half chess book. The autobiographical part focuses primarily on the non-chess aspects of Magner's life as a physician and family man; about this, I have nothing to say – I will restrict my comments to the chess part of the book. James Magner is a C-player (USCF 1400-1599), and the 31 annotated games he presents are at a level commensurate with the rating.


Actually, they're sometimes worse than what one would expect from a C-player, because Magner's credo is to play what he considers trappy chess. Thus we're treated to such masterpieces as the following:


1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nd4?! 4.Nxe5?! Qg5 5.Bxf7+ Kd8 6.Qh5?? Qxg2 7.Rf1 Qxe4+ 8.Kd1 Qxc2+ 9.Ke1 Qxc1+ 0-1


1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nc6 5.Bb5 (Magner calls this a “trap”, but it isn't one. There's nothing for Black to fall for. Rather, this is a simple threat, and Black missed it.) 5...a6?? 6.Nxc6 (For no accountable reason Magner appends '!?' to White's last move. White went on to win in 42 moves.)


1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.cxd5 exd5 5.Bg5 Nbd7 6.Nxd5? (White falls into another ancient trap.) Nxd5 (7.Bxd8 Bb4+) ...0-1, 21.


You get the idea. Evaluating Chess Juggler solely as a chess book, I can't see why anyone who doesn't know the good doctor personally should buy it. Let me add that this isn't a matter of elitism. For instance, while I don't expect strong GMs to watch my videos, players my strength and down – and sometimes a bit above it, too – have reported enjoying and benefiting from them. So too in principle could a C-player write material that's insightful for his chess “neighbors”. I just don't think this book succeeds.


If his fellow amateurs adopt his largely cheapo/hope chess-based approach to the game they may get some surprise wins against peers and their rating betters, that's true. There's a drawback, though: the concessions one must make to set up these cheapos in the opening and elsewhen are costly when the opponent doesn't fall for the trick. It's like playing slot machines. On occasion slot players get to enjoy a big, memorable payout. The problem is what they have forgotten: all the many little losses along the way - so many that when the gains and losses are totaled up they're well behind.


To deflect another objection or two: am I saying that Magner shouldn't play in this style? Not at all - he plays chess as a recreation, and as such he should play in the way that gives him the most pleasure. Second, one might protest that my approach to the game is only suitable for serious players with more leisure time than Magner and those like him have to dedicate to the game. I'll briefly note that it's a false dilemma to think one must choose between an extremely serious approach and cheapo chess. One can have bits of both, and/or a host of intermediate approaches. Finally, I'll borrow a quip from an anonymous consultant and note that if you have time to read his book, you have time to study a little! If you love the game, why not learn something new from time to time?


Conclusion: As a chess book, it's not recommended. (For those who want to check it out anyway, the first place it's likely to be available is here.)

Article originally appeared on The Chess Mind (http://www.thechessmind.net/).
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