Fred Reinfeld, The Complete Chess Course, 21st Century Edition. (Russell Enterprises, 2016.) 288 pp., $24.95.
Fred Reinfeld (1910-1964) was an insanely prolific writer (and not just on chess) and a strong master as well. Despite his achievements in chess, most of his contributions to the literature of our game were aimed at novices and lower-level club players. The book under review here, originally published in 1959, is just such a book. Americans around my age will remember the black cover with the infinite chessboard, and the book's thickness. It was a 704 page monster that probably filled its owner with the confident belief that if he could just work his way through the whole thing he'd be ready to whip everyone but the club pro. (I was dumbfounded to see that the current edition runs just 288 pages - a substantial size in its own right, but skinny compared to the older version.)
The book was not one of my first books, but at some point, when I was 10 or 11, I picked up a copy and brought it with me on a vacation to Greece, along with another book of the same era, The Soviet School of Chess. (Both books were in print years before I was born; I'm not that old.) All I remember about the CCC (as opposed to the book about chess in the CCCP) could be summed up in results. When I left, I was scoring around 80% against my best friend, and when I came back two months later, after a steady diet of weak opposition and Reinfeld's book, it was more like 55-60%. (I'm reminded of an old joke. Question: How do you make a small fortune? Answer: Start with a large fortune and open a restaurant.)
The narrower gap between me and my friend isn't really Reinfeld's fault. My friend may have been working harder, looking at books better suited to our skill level, practicing his tactics more diligently, and certainly playing stronger opposition than I was. Chess improvement - like improvement in many fields - benefits from exertion and feedback. There is good advice and good chess content in CCC, but it was too easy for me as a youngster to enjoy the book as a passive reader.
So my advice to a novice considering the book - or any book for novices - is to go through it once and then either give it away or put it on the shelf for at least a year. A beginner's book is useful to get a novice started, to offer the bare rudiments, but most improvement is going to come from playing, getting some feedback, doing tactics, and seeing what good chess looks like. Ultimately though, very few people learn to play decent chess from a book, so treat CCC (or any other book of that ilk) like the user's manual for your TV rather than a Bible.
For more on the book, there's a PDF excerpt here.