David MacEnulty, My First Book of Checkmate (Russell Enterprises, 2014),184 pp., $19.95; My First Book of Checkmate Workbook (Russell Enterprises, 2014), 95 pp,. $9.95. Reviewed by Dennis Monokroussos.
David MacEnulty has been a very successful chess teacher at the scholastic level, leading a number of teams to national championships and quite a few more to the edge of the title. (His early career was commemorated in the cable TV movie Knights of the South Bronx.) He is not a particularly strong player himself - his current rating is 1654 - but when it comes to creating enthusiastic young chess players who get off to a good start he's a master at his craft.
About this: good news and bad news. The good news is that the books under review here show a little of his teaching method and offer a good primer on checkmate for new players. The bad news? I suspect that a good part of his success can be attributed to his interpersonal skills. Kids like him, and he's a good motivator. So getting his books won't be sufficient to replicate his success, but they're useful tools in their own right.
Let's discuss the books then. The first book is a mix of teaching material and puzzles, while the second is nothing but puzzles. Sticking for now to the first book, there are four parts after the useful introductory materials. In part I MacEnulty introduces some very basic mating patterns by material (e.g. queen checkmates, queen and rook checkmates, rook and king checkmates, etc.), and in part II tests the reader by presenting puzzles where the themes are all mixed together. In part III 18 different, famous and standard mating patterns are introduced (e.g. Anastasia's mate, Blackburne's first and second mates, Greco's mate, smothered mate, etc.), and then in part IV a few relatively complex mating attacks from real games are presented, followed by another set of puzzles.
As for the second book, there is a very brief introduction followed by 292 puzzles, a good chunk of which are identical or very similar to those in the first book. There are three parts and six chapters. Part I (180 puzzles) consists solely of mates in one move. As in the main book, they are first divided by themes (chapter 1), and then they are mixed together (in chapter 2). Part II (chapter 3) has 64 mates in two, and part III has mates in three move or more. Chapter four (32 puzzles) is dedicated to mates in three, chapter five (10 puzzles) to mates in four, and chapter six (only six puzzles) to mates in five moves or more. Naturally most of the puzzles are very easy, but near the end of the book they will be quite challenging for the book's intended audience, and will serve as a useful transition to tougher tactical works.
I think the books are useful primers on checkmate for beginners and near-beginners, and I feel able to recommend them to those looking for books for that purpose. However: Russell Enterprises ought to produce a corrected second printing as soon as it can, as there are quite a few errors in both books. He probably trusted himself a bit too much, but errare humanum est applies to all of us. Here are some of the errors I found going through the puzzles myself. The following isn't a complete list (I may have missed some other errors, and there were a couple of places where I didn't bother to mention alternative solutions), but it's enough to get the editors working.
Errors in My First Book of Checkmate (given by diagram number):
Missed a second solution on #301.
The solution to diagram 343, demonstrating Damiano's Mate, is a little silly, as after 1.Rh8+ Kxh8 White can play 2.Qh5+ and 3.Qh7#; there's no need to sac the second rook. (There should be a unit on e2, f3 or g4 to eliminate that solution.)
Typo on page 159: It should be "Lombardy".
Diagram 374 is given as mate in five, but after 1...Qxb4+ the (otherwise pointless) interposition 2.Bc3 will run the total to six moves.
Diagram 379: There's a typo - it should read 2.Qc1xe3.
Diagram 384 should not be labeled as a mate in four, as Black can avoid an immediate mate with 1...Kf8. (He will be completely lost, but the point is only that it isn't an immediate forced mate.)
Diagram 386: The solution is completely wrong, as 1...Be4 is refuted by 2.Qxe4. White is a rook ahead and winning more material. (But see the comment to diagram 264 in the second book. The White queen apparently ought to be placed on d1 rather than b1.)
Diagram 388: Another mislabeling. It's not a forced mate in four, as Black need not cooperate on move 1 with the rest of the combination. (1...h5 would be hopeless, but mate would be a ways off.)
Diagram 403: It's not mate in two, as Black can meet 1.Ng5 with 1...Be5, adding another move to the total.
Diagram 421: It's not mate in two, as 1.Nf6 allows Black to start checking, beginning with either 1...Nf3+ or 1...Nd3+.
Diagram 432: After 1.Qh5 Black can avoid mate in three with 1...Qh6.
Errors in My First Book of Checkmate Workbook:
Diagram 221: White can delay the mate with 2.Nf6+.
Diagram 222: Not a mistake, but it should be noted that Black can also try 1...Kd4, which is dispatched by 2.Qf4#.
Diagram 229: After 1.Ne8 the spite check 1...Bh4+ avoids the mate in two.
Diagram 239: After 1...Rg6 White has 2.f3, meeting 2...Bxf1+ with 3.Qh2.
Diagram 245: Black can meet 1.Qd8+ Kg7 2.Qf6+ with 2...Kg8 (3.Rd8+ Bf8) - no immediate mate.
Diagram 246: White can delay mate by a move with a spite interposition on move 3 (3.Rd1).
Diagram 264 is a fixed version of the previous book's diagram 386. White's queen is now on d1 rather than b1, so that 1...Be4 can't be met by 2.Qxe4.
Diagram 289: There's no mate in 5 if Black plays 1...Qg6 (rather than taking the queen).
Diagram 290: After 1...Qe8+ 2.Bxe8 Rxe8+ White has 3.Qe3, when he's not only not getting mated but in good shape. Also, after 3.Kd1 Be2+ 4.Ke1 Bg4+ White again has the interposition: 5.Qe3.