Tibor Karolyi, Legendary Chess Careers: Yasser Seirawan (Chess Evolution, 2016). Pp. 123, €19.99.
This slim volume on American legend Yasser Seirawan is one in a series of books by Hungarian IM Tibor Karolyi on relatively older, elite players who never quite reached the game's greatest height. The books (previous volumes featured Lajos Portisch and Jan Timman) take the form of extended interviews, with well-annotated games interspersed at the appropriate point in the conversation. Neither a traditional biography nor a straight best-games collection, the books help readers get a sense of the player himself as a human being, of his contributions to and achievements in the game, and to see some of the player's best and most significant games.
Seirawan was born in Syria (in 1960) but came to the U.S. as a child, and though he learned the game at the relatively late age of 12 he was a strong master by 15 and went on to become the World Junior Champion and a grandmaster just a few years later. He was for years the top player in the U.S. and looked for some years like a player who might be able to challenge for the World Championship. As things worked out Seirawan never really got close, but he had an impressive career and performed very well against elite players, world champions in particular. (Especially freakish was his 4.5-.5 score against Mikhail Tal.)
The volume begins with short tributes from IMs Nikolay Minev and Jeremy Silman, both long-time friends of Seirawan's, and then the interview begins. Seirawan briefly discusses his family and their move to the U.S., his early years and learning the game (and how he might have been one game away from quitting before he started getting good!), and from there it's on to his career.
As anyone who has read Seirawan's books or heard him do live commentary will know, he is an inveterate story-teller, and some of that shines through this book as well as he recalls some of his adventures in chess, his interactions with world champions (including Bobby Fischer), his work on the magazine he founded (Inside Chess) and on other topics as well.
As for the games, there are 13 complete games and five game fragments (plus a few more of each in the notes), most against world champions and other elite grandmasters. The games are thoroughly annotated; it is by no means a so-called database dump; Karolyi has put in some real effort.
Overall, it's a nice little book, one I would recommend especially to American readers who should know that we had real chess players between Bobby Fischer and Gata Kamsky (and not just Seirawan, either; there's Walter Browne and especially Robert Byrne, who was a Candidate in 1974 and very nearly qualified for the 1977 Candidates matches). Seirawan's style is so unusual that he's not "just" another elite GM whose best games could have been played by another half a dozen or more of his peers; his games are very much his games.
There are some critical points worth making, both in case the publishers revise this work, or for the sake of subsequent books in the series. First, the Preface was a mess, with at least five obvious typographical errors in less than a page of text. Fortunately, whatever went wrong there didn't go wrong in the rest of the book.
Second, there were a few places where Karolyi repeated questions (sometimes implicitly) that had been asked (and answered) earlier. I think this was because the interview was conducted by email, but maybe this could have been smoothed out in the editing process. It's something the reader will notice, but it's not such a big deal.
Third and very surprisingly, this book seems to exist in a universe where Seirawan's great 2010 book, Chess Duels, was never written. Seirawan mentions practically every other book he wrote (and of course Inside Chess), but not Chess Duels, while Karolyi oddly seems unaware of it as well. To take just one example: when annotating the game Seirawan-Karpov, London 1982, Karolyi gives most of Karpov's famous revenge win from a game in Hamburg later that year, and then astutely notes the following: "Despite this disaster Seirawan was ready to play this line against Geller[,] so he had an improvement in his mind" (p. 62). That's correct, he did, and he gives it on p. 226 of Chess Duels:
After the game my attention was drawn to 14.Qc2! [DM: After Karpov's improvement in the Hamburg game, 13...b5], which I wrongly thought favored White. The idea is to prevent ...c7-c5, quickly complete my development, and then to take advantage of Black's chronic queenside weaknesses as well as the offside a6-knight. It all sounds good, but concrete analysis doesn't show an advantage. Black plays 14...c5! anyway, the very move I had hoped to prevent. The line seems pretty straightforward: 15.dxc5 Nb4 16.Qd2 (16.Qd1 and 16.Qb1 look less trustworthy) 16...Qe4! 17.a3!? Qb1+ 18.Qd1 (18.Rc1? Nd3+! is Black's trick) 18...Qxb2 19.Qb3 Qxb3 20.Rxb3 Nc6, with an equal game.
Finally, the 20 Euro price tag seems a little steep to me, but maybe this is me showing my age and being used to full-size books costing between $15 and $25, not to mention e-books going for $10. For that matter, New in Chess magazine is larger, has color photography and much higher overhead, and still costs considerably less than this book. (Of course they have a larger print run - probably much, much larger. I get it. Even so, there may well be a vicious circle at work here.)
Criticisms notwithstanding, it's a nice little book suitable for a wide range of audiences. Everyone can enjoy the stories, while (as usual with Karolyi's books) stronger players will benefit the most from the analysis.