Friday, May 22, 2015

Soviet Chess 1917–1991 by Andrew Soltis

     The publisher, MacFarland, has published some truly beautiful chess books, but on the downside, they are pricey. This book was awarded the title “Historical Book of the Year” by the United States Chess Federation.
     In addition to 249 beautiful games, the book also has photographs and 63 crosstables. Soltis traces the growth of chess from the Revolutionary days, World War II and then through the period of Soviet-dominated chess in the 1950's up to the Fischer era.
     Soltis also writes about Stalin's Russia and the fact that chess players were not immune from his wrath and he gives his opinions of the effect of Soviet oppression on the character of many GM's, but of course that's all speculation. Still, the way of life they experienced DID have its effect.
     My acerbic old friend, National master, author and chess historian James R. Schroeder claimed the book is very poorly written, but that's Schroeder. He complains that it's filled "inane comments" such as “The tragedy of Spassky’s brief reign was that it came just as Bobby Fischer returned to chess.” Schroeder opined that there is no tragedy when any champion loses his title and added that because Fischer did not play after 1972 there was nothing to prevent Spassky from becoming world champion again, had he been good enough.
     Schroeder also didn't like what he called "trivia" and “war stories” such as accounts of how some Soviet players died during the war as a result of starvation, etc. He complained of Soltis referring to a player named “Abraham Yanofsk.” Schroeder wrote that there is no such person, adding, “Daniel Yanofsky was a grandmaster and his second name is Abraham.” Give me a break, Jim! 
     He also claimed a lot of factual errors were made, but I wasn't interested in digging into all that!
     Personally, I think it all makes fascinating reading and I enjoyed the “trivia” and “war stories.” Chessplayers of those bygone days were real people, not just a foreign sounding name and some moves on a chessboard! As for it being grammatically incorrect in many places, I'm not an English major and I easily understood what Soltis was saying, so for me, it's a moot point. A great read with lots of interesting games if you don't mind the price!!

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