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    Entries in Max Euwe (2)

    Monday
    May292017

    Book Notice: Linder & Linder's *Max Euwe: 5th World Chess Champion*

    Isaak and Vladimir Linder, Max Euwe: 5th World Chess Champion. (Russell Enterprises, 2017.) Foreword by Andy Soltis, Game Annotations by Karsten Mueller. 238 pp., $24.95. Reviewed by Dennis Monokroussos.

    Isaak and Vladimir Linder, father and son, produced a massive work in Russian in 2001 covering all the world chess champions from Wilhelm Steinitz through then-champ Vladimir Kramnik. Russell Enterprises arranged to present the book's contents in English, divided into separate volumes for each champion, and now we have the fifth volume in the series. The biographical material and game selection is due to the Linders, but a happy bonus of the English translation is that German GM Karsten Mueller has contributed annotations to the games.

    This volume's subject is the Dutchman Max Euwe (1901-1981; world champion from 1935-37), who was also a Ph.D. in mathematics (at the age of 24) and a math teacher by profession, but later the President of FIDE. He was also a noted theoretician and chess author, and in his 50s was involved for a time with computer chess.

    As with previous volumes (see my earlier reviews of the LaskerCapablanca, and Alekhine books) in the series, the book has an unusual encyclopedia-style format, though it comes closer to the traditional life-and-games model than the earlier works.

    Chapter 1 offers a very short biography of sorts, but it jumps over almost his entire chess career. That is covered by the 145-page second chapter, which as noted before is more of a mini-encyclopedia. After short summaries of his overall match and tournament results, the Linders begin with a section called "Hastings Tournaments", covering Euwe's participation in the 1930/31 and 1934/35 events, both of which he won. Then there's a similar section on Amsterdam tournaments, followed by a double entry: one on Richard Reti, and then on a Reti-Euwe match played in 1920. (In general, the events are covered in chronological order, but with exceptions like the Amsterdam tournaments noted above.) In the case of all the match opponents listed, a separate entry is given for the opponent himself: Reti, Geza Maroczy, Edgard Colle, Alexander Alekhine, Efim Bogoljubow, Salo Landau, Jose Raul Capablanca, Salo Flohr, Rudolf Spielmann, and Paul Keres. This continues through the 1948 World Championship Match-Tournament, and then concludes with entries on Johannes Donner, Beverwijk tournaments, and correspondence chess.

    Chapter 3 is a hodgepodge collected under the heading "Chess - Play and Novelties". This includes a number of his most famous games, some combinations and compositions, some of his aphorisms, and more. (Tartakower he's not, but he manages at least one memorable line with this bittersweet comment: "Unfortunately, success, like everything else in the world, must pass.")

    Chapter 4, "Writer and Journalist", is very short. Euwe was a prolific author, claiming to have written "50 or 60 [books], maybe even more" when asked in 1974 by IM Anthony Saidy's question how many books he had written. The Linders limit their focus to short synopses of four books: Practical Chess Lessons (1927-1928), Course of Chess Lectures (excerpted from the previous book), Strategy and Tactics in Chess (1935), and Judgment and Planning in Chess (1952).

    Finally, chapter 5, "Timeless", is mostly a series of reminiscences and evaluations of Euwe by his fellow champions, along with a brief mention of books about Euwe.

    There are 104 complete games (almost but not all of them involving Euwe, and almost all are well-annotated), along with four composed positions. So the book is worthwhile as both a chess biography as well as a chess biography. While I am ambivalent about the encyclopedia approach, which chops up Euwe's career into a series of discrete units rather than drawing out a narrative in which we feel the subject's ups and downs through the seasons of his chess career and his life as a whole, the book is nonetheless a valuable addition to the rather limited literature on Euwe available in English.

    Highly recommended to anyone with an interest in chess history, and warmly recommended to those whose interest in chess isn't limited to the purely utilitarian pursuit of this week's chess opening theory.

    Update: Trust, but verify. While I think the book is a contribution to chess literature, the authors - and/or the translator and editor - are somewhat careless. (See the review on this page.) The Linders of course knew that Capablanca didn't go undefeated for 10 years after losing to Reti in New York 1924, and in their book (section of their book) on Capablanca (on page 98) they write this: "The chess public had come to believe that Capablanca lost no games at all - indeed, in the ten years since St. Petersburg [in 1914] he had lost only one!"

    The error about Bad Kissingen is an odd one. The Linders list both Alekhine and Lasker as players who participated in Bad Kissingen (p. 77), but my suspicion when reading the Amazon review was that they played there in a different year; after all, the Linders' give a crosstable of the tournament (p. 78) and neither Alekhine nor Lasker is listed. As it turns out, however, a search of the Mega Database doesn't show Alekhine or Lasker participating in any Bad Kissingen event, so even if my attempt at a charitable hypothesis is correct, the Linders (assuming correct translation/editing) still made an error.

    I'm not sure that we should be bothered by the two remaining errors. Remember that the original was a 1000-page monster published in 2001, which means it was probably out of their hands at some point in 2000. Writing this book wouldn't have been the work of a few days, but of a few years, and if they wrote it in anything approaching chronological order they would have been dependent on the databases of the mid-to-late 1990s. The databases of 2017 aren't merely better than their counterparts of 20 years ago thanks to the games played since then, but also because of older games having been found, mis-entered games having been corrected, spurious games having been removed, and so on.

    So: errare humanum est, as usual. I think the Amazon reviewer's conclusion is extremely overblown, but even so historians in particular ought to be especially careful in getting the facts right. It's almost impossible to write anything long and substantial without making any errors, but it's important to try. Russell Enterprises has employed Taylor Kingston before for his skills as an eagle-eyed researcher; perhaps they should do so again (or find someone else of his ilk) to check and correct the Linders' errors for future books in the series.

    Saturday
    Sep282013

    Max Euwe's Book On The 1948 World Championship: A Review

    Max Euwe, The Hague-Moscow 1948 Match/Tournament for the World Chess Championship (Foreword by Hans Ree). Russell Enterprises 2013. 240 pp. $24.95. Reviewed by Dennis Monokroussos.

    When I grew up, books about old chess tournaments were among my favorites. Unfortunately, most went out of print, and nowadays there are very few such books. Why bother, when the games were already analyzed by strong players even while they were in progress? Further, while it's easy for many of us to name the super-events of the past, it's less easy to remember all the major events played even this year. There are so many of them that they tend to blur together unless something really extraordinary happened.

    It is in general a good thing for chess that there are so many super-events each year. Chess fans want to see their favorites in action on a regular basis, and as long as there's money to pay the top stars they have no reason to say no any more than is necessary to rest, recharge, and relate to their friends and family. But something is lost, too, and that's the magic chess fans must have felt on those rare special occasions when all or almost all of the world's best got together to play in one big, long tournament. What fan of chess history doesn't remember such events as Hastings 1895, or New York 1924 or Nottingham 1936?

    There was often a symbiosis between tournaments and books about those tournaments. A great tournament would be worthy of a book, and if the book was outstanding it would help cement and even enhance the tournament's reputation for posterity. Zurich 1953 is a perfect example of this: it was a great tournament, but the 1959 Candidates in Bled was arguably an even more impressive event with Mikhail Tal and Paul Keres playing possibly the best chess of their careers. The difference in chess history is that David Bronstein wrote an extremely well-received book on the 1953 event (and Miguel Najdorf wrote an even better one!) while no correspondingly high-level, prominent book was written on the later event - at least none in English. As a result many chess fans are very familiar with the 1953 Candidates, while thinking of the 1959 tournament only insofar as it was a showcase for the young Tal in his most brilliant period.

    And now we come at last to the book under review, which covers the 1948 Match-Tournament that determined the world championship in the wake of Alexander Alekhine's death in 1946. This tournament had all the makings for a great book: it was a world championship, it represented the start of FIDE's control over the title, it featured an ex-world champion (Max Euwe), the tournament winner and new champion (Mikhail Botvinnik), and the player would become the next world champion (Vassily Smyslov). The great Keres was also in the event, along with one of the greatest American players of the 20th century, Samuel Reshevsky. Sure enough, a great book was written, and by one of the participants at that - Euwe. No problem for the Dutch, but unfortunately for English readers it wasn't translated into that language until now.

    The book is a feast. It begins with Hans Ree's Foreword, written for this edition. (Not for the original, as Ree was three or four years old when the tournament was played and not much older by the time the book first came out.) Ree's comments offer a short contemporary perspective on the book, and he touches on the question of whether Keres was forced or at least pressured to throw games to Botvinnik. This is a big enough topic to be suitable for its own post, so stay tuned for that. Continuing to the original material, J. Hannak (best known to chess fans nowadays as the author of a book on Emanuel Lasker) writes an essay on the lead-up to the tournament. He takes the reader from Alekhine's time, when the champion could choose who he wanted to play while avoiding those he takes to be threats, up to and through the decision-making that led to the formation of this event under the aegis of FIDE. Next up is a short piece by G.W.J. Zittersteyn on the preparation for the Netherlands portion of the tournament and the event's opening.

    For those who want to get to the chess, here's where you get your wish. Euwe presents every previous game played by all of the participants against each other - 75 games in all - and every one of them is annotated. Lightly, yes, but annotated!

    After that, it's time for the main course: the games of the tournament. Euwe annotated the event's 50 games in greater depth. Each of the 25 rounds (five players, so two games per round with one player getting a bye) is introduced by a summary that goes well beyond a bare recap (or "precap", since it comes before the games), and there's also a short article on the start of the Moscow leg. Euwe's accounts are a pleasure to read, and his annotations are very user-friendly: substantive enough to inform and instruct, but not so heavy that one needs a computer to keep track of everything.

    Once that finishes the essayists close the book in reverse order: Zittersteyn writes about the closing ceremony, and Hannak writes about Euwe and Botvinnik, praising each as chess players and as men. Summaries of the two champions' results through that time are given, and then the book closes with another 21st century addition, an index of games by player and opening.

    That closes the book, yes, but only in one sense. As Russell Enterprises has done before with their reissue of Alekhine's Best Games 1908-1937, they have published an errata of the author's analysis online rather than cluttering up the book. (The foregoing link is to a PDF; if you want to go to the index page it's here.) This is a great model I think all publishers should follow, whether for new books or reprints and revisions of older ones.

    In sum, if you have the least bit of interest in the history of chess, get the book. If you don't, get the book so you can develop that interest!