Thursday, May 22, 2008

McKay Tartan Books No. 4

Quote of the day: "Force is mobility: the more mobile the piece is, the more power it has." -- Reshevsky & Reinfeld, Learn Chess Fast, page 102This is a follow-up to my blog of April 17,2008. Please click here to view the first part.

Unlike the first three books in this series, book #4 is very much a beginner's book. Reshevsky & Reinfeld threw together the basics in 147 easily absorbed pages. Like the others, this book went through a number of editions before finding its way into the Tartan series.

I have four editions in my personal collection. The first is a red hardcover with black printing on the spine and no dust jacket (at least my copy doesn't have one -- see below). It was published by David McKay Company, copyright 1947, and printed & bound in the U.S. by Kingsport Press in Kingsport, Tennessee. 147 pages, English Descriptive Notation. A previous owner's signature is handwritten on the first inside page: "Eugene E. Kohlbecke" and is dated March 3, 1951.

The second copy of Learn Chess Fast in my collection was printed in Great Britain in 1952. The cover is cloth bound and more of a carmine red color with gold printing on the spine. As with the U.S. edition, it is 147 pages with English Descriptive notation. The original seller is listed as "Charles Wilson, bookseller, 46 Renshaw Street, Liverpool". The publisher is Hollis and Carter of London.The 1947 edition of LEARN CHESS FAST is pictured above. The 1952 edition, with its faded cover and light gold spine writing, is shown below.
The McKay Tartan softcover edition was printed at least 6 times that I am aware of, probably more, each time with a higher cover price. The one shown in the photo at the top is a first printing 1967 book with a cover price $1.25. Once again, it had 147 pages and was written in English Descriptive notation. It does not appear that the text changed in any substantial way, if at all, between 1947 and 1967.

The book shown in the upper right photo (with books #5 & #6) is the 6th softcover printing with a $3.95 cover price. At 147 pp with EDN and appears identical to the earlier versions. It does not appear that this particular book has been incorporated into the later McKay Chess series by Random House.

As for content, all the rules and basic principles are covered: setting up the pieces, how the chessmen move, basic mating patterns, relative value of the pieces, attack and defense, castling, capturing en passant, stalemate, and elementary tactics.

There are 282 diagrams, so the book is well done from that perspective. In other words, a lot of material can be internalized without setting up a board and pieces. There are five illustrative games, with light notes, spread throughout the book. That's plenty, in my opinion, in a true beginner's manual.

All in all, this was a good book for its time and purpose. However, there is so much more and better material available now, almost exclusively in algebraic notation, making Learn Chess Fast substantially obsolete. Nevertheless, it is a good nostalgic read and helpful refresher that can be read cover to cover in a weekend with no problem, as long as you don't mind the out-of-favor notation. Certainly the material presented remains timeless and fundamentally accurate.

Next time we will look at one of the all-time chess classics, My System by Aron Nimzovitch, #5 in the McKay Tartan series (and I will add a list of all the books in the series that I can locate.