Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Thank you, whoever you are...

Earlier this month I was very fortunate to win $250.00 in sponsorship money from Poker School Online (PSO) by placing second in the quarterly "Refer a Friend" freeroll. It's a nice promotion by PSO established as a way to reward current members who refer their friends to the site. It is the first time in my 5 years at PSO that I have earned any sponsorship money in this particular way. Bottom line is that I had a great tournament at the right time.

But here's the thing...I have no idea exactly who it is that I referred! Someone had to state when they signed up that "ChessSafari" referred them to the site. That's the only way I would have been entered in the tourney. So I am presuming that it is someone who read about PSO in one of my blogs and gave me the credit when they joined.
Therefore, whoever you are, this blog is to say Thank You Very Much!!!! I plan to use the sponsorship money to enter a live event later in the year at either Spirit Mountain or Pendleton. I'll let you know (here) how I do.

Bst wishes,

Thursday, April 17, 2008

McKay Tartan Books Nos. 1 - 3

Quote of the Day: "Chess, like love, like music, has the power to make people happy." — Siegbert Tarrasch

OK, I admit it...I collect books. Over the years I have managed to accumulate about 10 books for every one that I have read. Of course, I planned to read them all some day, but have never budgeted the time. Someone once commented that if I could learn by osmosis and put my books under my pillow each night (one at a time), that I would be a chess grandmaster in a year or two.

But chess isn't the only subject for which I have a lots of books. There are many other subjects as well. Now that I am tiring of lugging the books from place to place (and the fact that I recently married another book collector), I am starting to cut back on my library. I have found, however, that there are some that I just can't seem to part with.

On top of the list of keepers is the Tartan paperback series published by David McKay Company, Inc. of New York beginning about 1967. There are more than 60 books in the series and they are not all concerning chess. In fact, they are not even all about games. In the next few months I will explore the backround and content of the series and invite input from the readers of this blog. I have always been curious about the "missing numbers". Eventually I gained a bit of insight when I negotiated the contract with Random House (owner of the former David McKay Company and the relevant book rights) for the most recent edition of the USCF Official Rules of Chess (2003).

The beauty of the chess books in the series when I bought most of them was that they were inexpensive, readily available, and pretty much covered the bases. Some of them are way out-of-date at this point and most are in English Descriptive Notation, which is a drawback since the preferred language of chess today (especially among newcomers) is Algebraic Notation. Nevertheless, many of these books are true classics. Some are deceptively hard to find and much more expensive than when they were originally published.

Several books in the series have been updated with new covers, new co-autors and new material. Others have merely been reprinted again and again. There is no central database, as far as I can tell, with the details of the series. Nevertheless, I will try to sort the information out and publish it here.

I will deal with the first three books of the series together since they were all written by the same author, Grandmaster Reuben Fine. Dr. Fine could have been a candidate for the World Chess Championship in the late 1940s but turned down an invitation to the World Championship Tournament of 1948. He was also a well respected Psychiatrist. You can check him out in Wikipedia by clicking here.

The first book in the series, Ideas Behind The Chess Openings, began as a group of articles that Dr. Fine wrote for the Chess Correspondent circa 1941. "Because so many encouraging letters came to me from so many enthusiastic readers it was a real pleasure to expand the previous short sketches into a full length book," he said in the Preface to the first hardcover edition dated May 5, 1943.Above is the hardcover edition (1943), with dust jacket.

The Tartan softcover version was first published in June 1967 with additional printings in August 1970, March 1972, October 1972 (pictured here with a cover price of $2.25) and many times thereafter.
The Tartan #1 book is ISBN No. 067914066. The most recent version (pictured on the left) is ISBN No. 0812917561. The cover design shown at the beginning of today's blog was by Herbert McClure. By the way, I have also seen an older cover the Tartan #1 book and some others too (see below).

Of the three books, Ideas Behind the Chess Openings is the most seriously out of date. The reasons are obvious. It has been 65 years since the book was written and 15 years since Dr. Fine passed away. During all that time, hundreds of grandmasters and, more recently, chess playing computer programs, have analyzed the openings in substantial detail. Many assessments have been changed, new ideas have been introduced, and a few old ideas have been reinforced.

Nevertheless, I still believe that this is a good book for any serious chess player to devour and keep on the shelf for reference. The reasons are best stated by IM Bill Kelleher in his review on chesscafe.com. <<---CLICK to see the review.

I recently came across a website of another fan of this series. Check it out. My goal is to help him fill in the blanks. I don't think he realizes that not all of the books in the series are chess books. That's OK...it took me 30 years to make the discovery.

The Middle Game in Chess (ISBN: 0679140212) was originally published in 1952. It was first reprinted as part of the Tartan softcover series in June 1969, again in March 1972, and many more times after that. The copy shown here was printed in September 1972 on the heels of the Fischer-Spassky championship match.

Unlike the first book in the series, The Middle Game in Chess has not become out of date. The elements of chess combinations remain the same and comprehensive knowledge of chess tactics is still a requirement for any serious player. Certainly computers have permitted easy verification of all the solutions presented in this massive 440-page volume and a few errors were found. And, as stated earlier, algebraic notation is preferred over the archaic english desriptive system employed in the original work.

So, in 2003 (10 years after Dr. Fine's death), Burt Hochberg updated and edited The Middle Game in Chess for Random House's attractive McKay Chess Library series. In my opinion, he did a nice job. This book remains a classic. Careful study will boost your chess rating by a few hundred points for anyone who is not already a chess master. I first read this book in 1972-73 and my rating jumped from 1369 to 1715 in about 18 months. Knowledge of chess tactics will never become obsolete.

For many years, Reuben Fine's Basic Chess Endings (ISBN: 0679140026) was considered the bible, especially for correspondence players. It was the place to go for reference in solving all kinds of endgame problems. But as time passed by (the book was first published in 1941), errors were found in the analysis. Leading Grandmasters Edmar Mednis and Pal Benko did a good job of cataloguing many of the errors. Once computer programs entered the equation, it seemed that all of the answers would be known.

That's why the chess world celebrated when Pal Benko agreed to personally revise Basic Chess Endings for republication by Random House in 2003. For some reason, maybe money or perhaps lack of time, the much anticipated corrections turned out to be woefully incomplete. Simply stated, the endgame bible is no longer the authoritative reference that it once was. That's too bad. Nevertheless, the books is still a classic....and worth having in any chess library!

1941 Hardcover Edition of Basic Chess Endings by R. Fine

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Change in Plans Required

Quote of the Day: "It's kind of freaky knowing you're diving into somebody's grandpa." -- Coco Crisp

Those who know me understand that Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts, is my favorite place in the whole world. For a sports fan, what better place to be...dead or alive?

Fenway Park is perhaps most famous for the left field wall called the Green Monster. Constructed in 1934, the 37-foot, two-inch high wall is 240 feet long, has a 22-foot deep foundation, and was constructed from 30,000 pounds of Toncan iron. The wall measures 310 feet from home plate down the left field line (although some players and media members have claimed that it is closer to home plate, more like 298 feet, 7 inches!).

The wall houses one of two remaining original manual scoreboards in the major leagues (the other at Wrigley Field). Running vertically down the scoreboard, between the columns of out-of-town scores, are the initials "TAY" and "JRY" displayed in Morse code; a memorial to former Red Sox owners Thomas A. Yawkey and Jean R. Yawkey.

In 1947, advertisements covering the left field wall were painted over using green paint, which gave rise to the Green Monster moniker. In 1975, the wall was remodeled and an electronic scoreboard installed, while the manual scoreboard changed to only show out-of-town scores from other American League games (NL scores returned in 2003).

In 1976, the railroad tin and slate panels in the wall were replaced by a Formica-type panel which resulted in more consistent caroms and less noise when balls hit the wall.
Previously, a 23-½-foot tall screen protected cars and pedestrians on Lansdowne Street. However, the screen was replaced after the 2002 season with the Green Monster seats. Advertisements have also returned to the Green Monster in recent years.

So it came as a shock to me and other Red Sox and Fenway Park fans when the Boston Globe reported recently that the Red Sox say they've gotten so many requests to sprinkle deceased fans' ashes at Fenway Park that they can no longer allow it!

"Oh, ferndocks!" exclaimed Chess Master John Curdo. Born up the road in the seaside town of Lynn, Mr. Curdo has been waiting 77 years to get to his final resting place. "Now I will have to change my plans and notify my family and friends that my final wishes can't be fulfilled. How could they do such a thing to those of us who patiently waited for them to break their 86-year drought?"

"It's a good thing I'm a chessplayer," he added. "I'm accustomed to continually searching for new plans. It doesn't mean I'm happy about it, though."

As for the players, reaction was mixed. "It's not sacriligeous, by any means," reliever Mike Timlin told the newspaper. "Doesn't bother me a bit, ashes to ashes, dust to dust."

Countered center fielder Coco Crisp: "It's kind of freaky knowing you're diving into somebody's grandpa."

By the way, did anyone notice today's date? April Fool! Gotcha.