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    Entries in Fred Reinfeld (1)

    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.