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    Entries in Fred Reinfeld (3)

    Tuesday
    Mar152016

    Book Notice: Reinfeld's *The Complete Chess Course*

    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.

    Monday
    May052014

    Reissued Reinfeld (and More)

    Fred Reinfeld (1910-1964) was an American chess master and prolific author of chess books (and not only chess books), most of them written for less experienced club players. Most had their day and have been forgotten, but some still merit an audience despite their age.

    One Reinfeld book I've long appreciated is his 1001 Winning Chess Sacrifices and Combinations. I practiced from that book regularly as a kid, and found it quite helpful. Even now I'll occasionally zip through some puzzles as a quick warm-up before a tournament if I hadn't done any puzzles in a long time, just to prime myself to be tactically alert.

    The book divides the material into 20 themes: pinning, knight forks, double attacks, discovered attacks, discovered checks, double checks, overworked pieces, removing the guard, clearance, interference, queening combinations, back rank combinations, queen sacrifices, x-ray attacks, surprise moves, defensive combinations, trapped pieces, zugzwang, the helpless king and the weakened castled position. I'm a big fan of this sort of book, and think that players striving to achieve basic tactical competence should work through books like this, where the material is sorted by theme, until these fundamental patterns are second nature to them. Then it's time to move on to material that hasn't been pre-sorted, but first one should learn their ABCs.

    Russell Enterprises has reissued the book, having converted the solutions to algebraic notation. It seems from Bruce Alberston's Editorial Introduction that a few changes and (hopefully) corrections have been made to the occasional erroneous solution, but even if not I can still heartily recommend the book to players under 1600-1700 or to those who are a bit stronger but have never gone through a themed work on tactics.

    A second, similar Reinfeld book has also received the Russell Enterprises update: 1001 Brilliant Ways to Checkmate. My recollection is that this book tended to be a bit easier than the earlier volume, but is also valuable for approximately the same audience. Both books are priced at $19.95 each, so if you don't mind descriptive notation you could save a few bucks and buy it in the earlier editions. (On the other hand, it's worth rewarding chess publishers for reissuing worthwhile old books, and Russell Enterprises often does that. These books aren't on the same level as Alekhine's books, obviously, but I think that they do have value, and not just as nostalgia for players of my age and up.)

    Back to the latter book. Reinfeld divides the material into the following sections: queen sacrifices, checkmate without the queen, storming the castled position, harrying the king, discovered check and double check, pawn promotion, various motifs and composed problems. It could be noted that the puzzles sometimes don't really fit their headings - and this is also true of the previous book. For example, the fifth puzzle in this book comes early in the section on queen sacrifices, but there is no queen sac - not even in a sideline. In fact, the queen delivers mate, and in one line it does so by capturing the enemy queen. (A famous player once joked that it's better to sacrifice the opponent's pieces, but that probably isn't what Reinfeld had in mind.) Fortunately, such errors are relatively rare, so it's again a book I can recommend, though my stronger recommendation is for the first work.

    A third book aimed at roughly the same crowd is not only a reissue, but an update as well. Dan Heisman's Looking for Trouble: Recognizing and Meeting Threats in Chess is a revised and enlarged second edition of a work first published in 2003. There are more 300 puzzles in this book, which is divided into three sections: opening threats, middlegame threats and endgame threats. Also by Russell Enterprises and also $19.95, the book has fewer positions but much more "talk". Aside from the preliminary pages and brief chapter intros the Reinfeld books consist of puzzle diagrams and purely analytical solutions in the back of the book. Heisman offers solutions under each diagram, accompanied by significant verbiage - often consisting of him bragging about a success or lamenting a failure.

    Heisman suggests that the book is for anyone from 1100 to 2300, but while there might be a handful of positions a strong club player might find challenging the implicit recommendation on the back of the book is correct: it's aimed at beginning and intermediate level players; as I said, roughly the same audience as for the Reinfeld books or - more likely - somewhat lower. Some puzzles are more challenging, but the book's main value is to get inexperienced players into the habit of looking for threats and giving them some basic tools for thinking about them. Once they've got the idea, any tactics book will do. I'm not sure if I'm recommending it, but I'd say the book is suitable to players up to about 1200 or maybe 1300.

    Those books, and the full Russell Enterprises catalog, can be accessed through this page.

    Friday
    May312013

    Reinfeld Revised(!?)

    Fred Reinfeld, How to Be a Winner at Chess (Russell Enterprises 2013), 96 pp., $12.95; How to Play Chess Like a Champion (Russell Enterprises 2013), 136 pp., $14.95.

    For those of you unfamiliar with Fred Reinfeld (1910-1964), he was a strong American master and an incredibly prolific author. He may have written as many as 200 books, and on a wide array of subjects. Many of his books were on chess, and many of those were written for kids and amateurs taking their first serious steps in the game.

    For a long time, up through at least my teen years and early adulthood (i.e. into the 1980s), his books could often be found here in the United States in ordinary brick-and-mortar bookstores. Eventually they started to disappear, probably for two main reasons: first, they were written in descriptive notation, which has gone the way of the dinosaurs; second, because other, contemporary writers stepped up to take his (and I.A. Horowitz's and Irving Chernev's) place as the low-level club player's best friend. With respect to the second factor, some contemporary writers do a good job, but I'm inclined to think that most do not, and some are almost criminally bad. Nevertheless, the descriptive notation issue is a problem.

    Enter Bruce Alberston and Russell Enterprises, who have issued a "21st Century Edition" of two of his Reinfeld's works, with two more on the way. (Those are his "1001" books: 1001 Brilliant Ways to Checkmate and 1001 Winning Sacrifices and Combinations. I don't think I had the Checkmate book, but I'm a fan of the latter work, which I've recommended to people who can stand descriptive notation. There are a number of errors in it though, which I hope they'll catch and note.) Now, while there are some works by Reinfeld that I like (see the previous, parenthetical sentence) and I enjoyed some of his books when I was a kid, my first reaction was to compare a new and improved edition of Reinfeld books to McDonald's cheeseburgers, now served on fine china! (Oooooh...ahhhh.)

    It's a funny line - at least I'm inclined to think so - but it isn't really fair. One might eat fast food for pleasure - many do! - but to make it a regular part of your diet is to beg for health problems down the road, and not necessarily that far down the road, either. Most Reinfeld books, by contrast, are not going to make their intended audience weaker. They are simple and present chess with a wide-eyed excitement that might make experienced players roll their eyes, but that convey the right attitude towards newer chessplayers, especially kids. One should (quickly) graduate to more substantial books - instructive game collections would be my recommendation for the next step - but Reinfeld is a good guide for those taking the next steps after learning the rules, looking to understand how to conduct a decent game of chess.

    The first book is the simpler one. How to Be a Winner at Chess hits the basics: how to give and recognize checkmate, the value of the pieces, the power of checks, captures, threats (especially double attacks), and promotion; how to play the opening in an intelligent way, simple middlegame and endgame tips, and so on. There's even a brief summary of the rules of chess.

    The second book is more "inspirational" and more advanced. It includes some beautiful games and combinations that seem to me more designed to delight the reader than to instruct. This is okay! Part of becoming a chessplayer is falling in love with the game, and the sooner a player "catches" the aesthetic part of the game, the better. Even very strong players can find their own games getting stale from time to time, and when they do it's good to take time out to remind themselves of why they grew enthralled by chess in the first place. After the refresher, they - we - are ready to go back out there and try again, inspired by the beauty of the game.

    The books have their flaws, and no one should confuse his book with a curriculum for mastery. If taken for what they are, however, and for the right audience, they are worthwhile.