This is a collection of chess and football book reviews. The football book reviews are at the end.
Fred Reinfeld: The Man Who Taught America Chess, with 282 Games
Fred Reinfeld: The Man Who Taught America Chess with 282 Games by Alex Dunne, who is the correspondence chess director for U S Chess. Dunne’s lightly researched book attempts to make two main arguments. The first is that Reinfeld was an incredibly prolific author and the second is that he was much stronger than given credit for – a top American player, just below Reuben Fine and Samuel Reshevsky.
Dunne’s attempt to prove his first point is certainly successful. Simply providing the bibliography of Reinfeld’s work is seven double-column pages long (five for chess books and two for non-chess books). Especially in the last few chapters, Dunne also cites these references and provides a brief overview of the book. Sometimes he includes a bit from a contemporary review. Dunne also cites many of the articles that Reinfeld wrote, especially those appearing in Chess Review. Dunne uses many block quotes and oddly more frequently selects text from the articles than from the books that Reinfeld is better known for writing.
Dunne is unable to demonstrate that Reinfeld was one of the top three or even five strongest in US chess. As Dunne notes (p. 122), this raking was determined by Reinfeld and two others using a system that was like the one used by the U. S. Lawn Tennis Association. Granted, the context of Reinfeld’s games occurred during the Great Depression and the Second World War (1929 – 1945), when there was not an official or even unofficial rating system in place. However, if the included score tables, a wonderful addition that is too often ignored, are carefully examined it does not support ranking Reinfeld within the top three to 5 players.
Reinfeld won a few Marshall Club Championships, but at the time these tournaments were organized so each player had several days to prepare for the next opponent. While these were strong events, only about half the top players in the city participated because the other half were playing at the rival Manhattan Club Championship. He also did well in a few regional invitationals, such as the Ventor City events and the New York State Championship; but when the nation’s top players participated, he did not do as well. He played in two U.S. Championships and the event to determine the 1933 Olympiad team, but he didn’t finish in the top half of any of these competitions.
The book is informative but does not provide much historical or local context surrounding Reinfeld’s life, or about many of the strong players he encountered along the way. There are some errors in the provided information, such as that the Manhattan Chess Club was the oldest club in the country (p. 6), but the Mechanics Institute Chess Club in San Francisco was founded before the Civil War. Such minor errors do not substantively take away any understanding of Reinfeld strength as a player or writer, and Dunne’s tight focus on Reinfeld’s writings, explain why there is not much more material about the enthralling New York chess scene Reinfeld experienced during the first half of the twentieth century.
The book lacks many of the appendices that are typically expected for this type of publication. Most notably is the lack of a full bibliography. Notes are often part of the text or included in parenthetical expressions. Most of Dunne’s citations come from the books that Reinfeld edited / wrote, or from reviews of these books, so perhaps it’s understandable if a full bibliography was viewed as not providing additional value.
In conclusion, the book provides a nice introduction to Reinfeld and certainly demonstrates that he was an extremely prolific author. It also supports that Reinfeld was a strong player, though not necessarily that “he ranked just below Reuben Fine and Samuel Reshevsky.” (Back cover) Still, even if Dunne does not prove this point, he does include many interesting games and provides a good introduction to the life of Reinfeld, and so his book is recommended.
This book can be purchased on line at www.mcfarlandbooks.com or by calling 800 – 253 – 2187.
Andy Soltis’ new book, Tal, Petrosian, Spassky and Korchnoi: A Chess Multibiography with 207 Games explores the lives of four of the top Soviet chess players during the Fischer era.
This book is a group biography with less focus on the entirety of an individual player’s life, but rather includes some of the chess highlights within the context of their interactions. There is a focus on the years 1958 to 1972, though Soltis provides a brief look at each player’s childhood. For the most part these were difficult times, greatly affected by World War II and there are few resources available to add the “color commentary” that is common throughout the book.
Though the book follows their respective careers chronologically, there are frequent quotes where the players or family members are looking back. In a chapter describing where their careers were headed at the end of the 1950’s, we hear Tal’s future first wife Sally comment “he (Tal) did not seem like a lady killer” (p. 137) and Spassky reflects “It turns out I’m untalented (referring to his “career” choice of journalism).” (p. 137) Since all four players participated in many tournaments throughout the 1960’s, it would be unreasonable to attempt to include comprehensive coverage of their tournament play. Only the most important events have more than a single game covered. These tend to be World Championship games, with the 1966 and 1969 matches examined more closely since they involve both Spassky and Petrosian.
As with any work involving the top players of this era, it would have been impossible to ignore Bobby Fischer. He is mentioned in passing through the book but becomes a key figure in the last couple of chapters. During this time Fisher only played Petrosian in the Candidates Matches and Spassky in the World Championship match. However, Soltis continues to show the activities of all 4 of these top players, focusing on how they impacted each other and their contributions and reactions to Spassky’s eventual capitulation.
There are many fun and engaging anecdotes throughout the book. The reader gets a wonderful sense of the players as people. Some of the stories shared are well known, such as Tal’s “bathtub” game. Others, such as Petrosian’s response as to why he didn’t play the King’s Gambit, are new and funny tidbits with the response being: “Then I would have to feed my children through another profession.” (p. 92) Unlike most authors, when there are multiple versions of an event, Soltis recounts the variations and then leaves the reader to decide what happened. An example of this is when Soltis explores why Tal, a former World Champion, did not play in the 38th U.S.S.R. championship, being held in his home town of Riga. (p. 299 – 300) Was it because of health issues, revenge for Tal considering becoming Georgian, or for not moving to Moscow. Other times, Soltis directly disputes material that appears in the memoirs of these titled players. One example is that in Korchnoi’s memoir he argues that Petrosian “gave up chess” and pursued his education after he became World Champion, but Soltis demonstrates that Petrosian not played, but did so well, winning the Piatigorsky Cup.
Having over 10,000 games to choose from, Soltis chooses just 207 for the book. By being selective, he provides interesting and instructive games with a great deal of analysis. He chooses not to use computer generated lines of analysis but a mix of his own lines of analysis, text explanations that the reader can apply to his own games, color commentary of what occurred during the game, and even later improvements that were found by others. A fine example of this is the 12th game of the Petrosian – Spassky 1966 World Championship match on p. 242 – 3.
The back matter for this book has the traditional indexes on opponent and openings as well as the general index, and two less common appendices. The best, and most substantial appendix is a timeline that covers the activities of all four players throughout there lives, though there are only 10 entries after 1980, mostly covering the death of three of players (Spassky is still alive.) The only substantive negative in the backmatter is the lack of the list of used websites in the bibliography, forcing the reader to go through endnotes to find them, and there are more than a few.
Though it is hardly a conclusive biography of any of these players and only covers their interactions over approximately 20 years, the book is an excellent narrative history of the trials and tribulations for these four players, providing a window for their thoughts and evolution of who they were as players and men. Even better, his collection of games is interesting and well annotated. For these two reasons, this book is heartily recommended.
This book can be purchased on line at www.mcfarlandbooks.com or by calling 800 – 253 – 2187.
Alan McGowan’s Kurt Richter: A Chess Biography with 499 Games examines the life and times of the often forgotten about European master. The book highlights not only Richter’s career, but also the German chess culture and the effect that the two world wars had on his play.
McGowan divides Richter’s life into 9 parts. All 9 are basically the same in style and substance, which has a few pictures, sometimes not of Richter, but those who knew or worked with him. Most of each chapter is a group of, usually, well annotated games that are annotated from contemporary sources and a diagram or two. Most of the games are from tournaments and a cross table is provided for those tournaments.
With regards to content, the books 9 parts can best be divided into three sections. Parts 1 and 2 – covering Richter’s time as an up and coming chess player. Parts 3 to 5 cover the majority of Richter’s playing career, which occurred during the 1930s. The last section, parts 6 to 9, deal with Richter during the war and his last two decades.
McGowan passes through Richter’s childhood and effects of World War I on Richter in less than a page. How much these years affected Richter is entirely unclear and though they probably did affect him in some ways not explored in the text, but it is not surprising, given the two wars and over a century of time, to find material on Richter’s youth. Richter’s experience at the Berlin Championships is also highlighted for the first time in 1921. He would play in 21 of these over the next 33 years. The second part highlights Richter becoming a master, his starting work as an editor for various chess books and his first international masters’ tournament where he won 5, lost 5, and tied 1, with his most notable win being against Grunfeld, and his losses included a lost to Bogoljubow and Samisch, who came in first and second respectively.
More than half of the book’s text is in this next section of three parts which covers the 1930s. The 1930s started off great, with Richter winning the Wilmersdorf Jubiliee in January of 1930. The following year, he represented Germany in the 1931 Prague Olympiad. Shortly after the cover of the Prague tournament is one of the infrequent sections, highlighting some aspect of Richter’s personality. These ae often drawn from correspondence, such as in this brief section on draws, when Richter wrote “To sum up: nothing against really hard-fought draws and nothing against scientifically serious draws, but everything against short, insipid, so called “games“ which have DRAW! Written all over them from start to finish. “ (p. 76) In 1936, Richter led the German team at the unofficial Olympiad in Munich (Boooljubow participated in the Nottingham tournament that conflicted with this event), and had a fine score of +8-2=8, losing to Keres and drawing Pirc, Stahlberg, Maroczy, and Eliskases, along with several others.
The third and final section focuses on the last half of Rickter’s life, where geopolitical forces, such as the Second World War and the Cold War greatly effect Richter’s tournament options. Richter’s service in the war and even his time in a Russian prisoner of war camp is very lightly treated, though again, one cannot help but wonder about a lack of resources given the records kept during and just after the war. FIDE named Richter an International Master (IM) in 1950, but Richter never played in a major event after earning this title. Of course, Richter had grave concerns, which he voiced in correspondence, about it being too easy for players to earn titles. Though he was not an avid player during his last two decades, he continued to play in the Berlin Championship, doing so for the last time in 1964, as well as writing and editing.
As is typical, the Appendices provide a great deal of information. The appendices start with over 130 very lightly annotated games, many of which are not in chessgames.com (as of November 23, 2018). These games are followed by almost 40 pages worth of analysis on the openings played by Richter. The opening analysis is rather an original appendix. The other appendix, a list of tournament and match results, is much more common, but nonetheless, nicely done.
All and all, this is a well-researched monograph that does a nice job of introducing the reader to all aspects of his life, especially those before the Second World War.
This book can be purchased on line at www.mcfarlandbooks.com or by calling 800 – 253 – 2187.
Neumann, Hirschfeld and Suhle: 19th Century Berlin Chess Biographies with 711 Games by Hans Renette and Fabrizio Zavatarelli is the most recent in McFarland’s coverage of nineteenth century European chess players. Renette and Zavatarelli explicitly, and successfully, set out to explore Berlin Chess through its players.
The book is broken into four sections: including mini-biographies and in-depth coverage of Ludwig Neumann, Philipp Martin Hirschfeld, and Carl Friedrich Berthold Suhle. The book opens with a short section of mini-biographies covering chess in Berlin until 1860. Descriptions of the Berliner Schachgesellschaft starts with its founding in 1827. This small group of essays leaves the reader with the feeling that the Berlin chess players were one of the strongest groups in Europe, probably stronger than every city except London and Paris, and was a fairly close-knit group that played regularly and even worked on openings and strategies together.
The first player to get solo coverage is that of Suhle. He was a teacher of philosophy who lived with his wife and family in Berlin during the late 1850s to late 1860s. His games are covered with detailed analysis, usually from German magazines of the time, such Neue Berliner Schachzeitung especially with further author’s comments at the end. Many of Suhle’s games are “off-hand” games that are not from tournaments or matches. However, Suhle’s best performance was in an 8-game match with Adolf Anderssen that ended in a draw.
The focus then shifts to Hirschfield who, unlike the academic Suhle, came to Berlin as a businessman representing his family’s trading company. His skill improved rapidly by playing regularly at the clubs of Berlin. Because of his family’s business he often traveled and this allowed him to face a wider variety of opponents than if he had remained in Berlin, but it also means many more games are lost to history. His best results were drawn matches with Ignaz Kolisch while they were in Paris.
Neumann’s coverage, the only section written by Renette, focuses primarily on the years from 1860 – 1872. Newman’s family enjoyed the game, but he also learned from books, a far less common practice in the nineteenth century than today, as his family was in the book trade. The theme of this section is one of improvement and what might have been. The best example of improvement can be seen during his time in medical school. Upon his arrival in Berlin to begin training, he was initially weaker than Suhle and Hirschfield, but would eventually have a much stronger career. He even finished tied for third with Joseph Blackburne in the 1870 Baden – Baden tournament. During this event he twice defeated tournament champion Anderssen, with whom he had played a long series of matches in 1863. He would have won the tournament if not for his two losses to William Steinitz, who came in second and would eventually become World Champion.
As for “what might have been,” for unknown reasons Neumann had suffered a mental break in 1862 – 3 and had spend time in the mountains away from Berlin, for his health. Then, while in Paris, where he had stayed after the 1867 International Paris Chess Tournament (he came in 4th in the event), he had a psychotic episode. Renette is never able to provide a conclusive argument for the break, but after some time in an asylum, Neumann’s mental health is improved, and he is able to participate, and do well, in the aforementioned Baden-Baden tournament. Tragically, by late 1872 – early 1873, Neumann was again in an asylum and he would be in and out of mental hospitals until his passing on February 16, 1881.
Unlike most McFarland publications, there is not a large set of Appendices. The first appendix is the only one of substance, being a mini-biography of Bernhard von Guretsky-Cornitz, who had played all three of the highlighted players. His other games and problems are included in this section. Though, there wasn’t enough material to add him as a section in the main part of the book, his games and life story are a great example of the author’s interest in the chess culture of the period. The additional back matter, such as bibliographies, are standard in quality and content but it lacks an index of opponents which would have helped the reader better understand the interactions of the players with each other and the other strong players in Berlin during this time.
The book does a nice job of combining the chess culture of the area and time with the players who best represented that era. In this way, it is a nice continuation to the authors’ previous work, as well as Tim Harding’s Eminent Victorian Chess Players. The games, far from perfect, are lively and engaging – full of fun, if not necessarily the most strategic, gambits and sacrifices. All in all, an interesting and enjoyable read.
This book can be purchased on line at www.mcfarlandbooks.com or by calling 800-253-2187.
Tim Harding’s new book British Chess Literature to 1914: A Handbook for Historians highlights noted chess columns, magazines, and even books from before the First World War. As a handbook, it strives to be not only a research tool, but also to serve as an example of how one historian works. The end date of 1914 is chosen because ‘the outbreak of the first World War, after which there are significant technological and cultural changes.
Harding breaks the literature into three distinct types:
1) chess columns in non-chess publications – both magazine and newspaper
2) chess magazines
3) chess books
Harding points out that chess notation gives chess games a unique advantage in the press, since every action can be explained in detail. Harding opens with coverage of the founder of the Liverpool Mercury and first chess column editor, Egerton Smith, in 1813. He jumps to the more famous: George Walker, first to establish a long-running column of games and news and Howard Staunton, who becomes chess editor of the Illustrated London News in 1845. He then moves into the chess column “Golden Age” from 1860 to 1885. Harding highlights the most well-known columns, usually those written by the strongest players, such as William Steinitz and Henry Bird. Bird stands out because his columns could easily be tailored to any paper and became the first syndicated column. The columns after the “Golden Age” have a steep increase in their syndication levels and variety declined as adept, well–known columnists such as Leopold Hoffer and Amos Burn became more widely distributed.
The magazine section has two chapters, with one on magazines in general and the other focusing on The Chess Player’s Chronicle, even though the events in both chapters happen concurrently. The Philidorian, is covered in some detail as it is the first chess magazine in the English language, though not the first over-all. Many of the magazines are mentioned briefly because they were small runs that likely never made a profit. As an example of the long, convoluted, and “extremely complicated” history of a more prominent magazine, Harding uses the Chess Player’s Chronicle from 1863 as a case study. He shows how a magazine could evolve over time with an editor and as editors changed the magazine could, and often did, change substantially in tone and material.
The third section (Chapter 7) focuses on British chess books, starting back with the earliest works at the end of the fifteenth century. He quickly moves to the era of Philador in the eighteenth century and the initial philosophical development of using strategy. Building on this foundation, Sarratt and Cochrane’s Treatises target more advanced players and strategy development. The trend of more in-depth study continued to build in to the nineteenth century with game collections, opening manuals, books of problems to solve, and study texts. Interestingly, Harding argues correctly, that “old chess books are principally of value for what they can tell us about the mentalities of the past, rather than for what they can tell us about the game itself.” (p. 231) While undoubtedly true, he fails to mention the value of many of these games for entertainment and usefulness as teaching tools for beginners.
The final chapter, “On Doing Chess History Today”, is certainly appropriate for this book but probably could also appear in various McFarland monographs. For a chess historian not focused on British history, it might be the best chapter of the book. It’s entertaining to read and has a wealth of information on the many tasks of a historian, like working in databases and visiting major chess collections in libraries, such as the White Collection in Cleveland, Ohio. It is unfortunate, though understandable, that there is not more material on the major non-English speaking library collections, such as those at the Koninklijke Bibliotheek in the Netherlands.
As with most McFarland publications, there is an ample set of Appendices. The first, and by far the most significant one, is the annotated list of British and Irish Chess columns to 1914 that is based largely off Whyld’s research. It sets out to correct various errors and expand on Whyld’s work. The other appendices are primarily short lists of corrections/amendments for such books as Jeremy Gaige’s Chess Personalia. The additional back matter, such as the indexes are standard in quality and content.
Research guides typically provide little of interest to a reader not focused on the specific field. In this case, Harding not only provides a detailed research guide but also a resource that has value across many sub-genres within chess history and is enjoyable to read, especially chapter eight. For these reasons, it can be highly recommended for researchers across many chess history sub-fields.
This book can be purchased on line at www.mcfarlandpub.com or by calling 800-253-2187.
Chess International Titleholders, 1950 – 2016 by Gino Di Felice is the most recent in a long list of reference books compiled by Felice. These guides have taken various forms over the years, most notably, Felice’s fine 15 volume series Chess Results. This work aims to collect the 18,000 plus players who have earned “over the board” FIDE (Federation Internationale de Echecs) titles into a single reference.
The book lists all names in alphabetical order and where possible: players full name, federation, date and place of birth, date and place of death, title, year awarded, and peak rating. Federations are listed by their FIDE country code and those countries no longer in existence are still listed. When there was no rating list or the players peak rating was less than their best five year average, than the five year average was given. While it would be nice to have more information, such as the tournament where a title was gained, but this would have made the book unwieldy as it is already 369 pages. A chapter explaining the various qualifications that are necessary for a title and how these qualifications may have changed over time would have been an interesting addition without extending the page-count excessively.
As with any reference book, the current standard is whether the book is more useful than looking information up on line. When a person is looking for just the most basic biographical sketch such as when a player was titled, frequently the case for journalists mentioning a specific player, then this book will be quite helpful.
This book can be purchased on line at www.mcfarlandpub.com or by calling 800-253-2187.
A World of Chess: Its Development and Variations through Centuries and Civilizations by Jean-Louis Cazaux and Rick Knowlton – McFarland
McFarland’s most recent contribution to chess literature is A World of Chess: Its Development and Variations through Centuries and Civilizations by Jean-Louis Cazaux and Rick Knowlton. This book is based on Cazaux’s French book L’Odyssee des Jeux d’Echecs, published in 2010.
The first five parts of the book are categorized by the geographic regions of the Muslim World, India, China, Japan, and Europe. The presentation style for each region is the same, starting with an introduction that focuses on the main game, such as Shatranj in the Muslim world, or Shogi in the Japanese region. For some of the main games, such as Xianqi, a few variants are included. For each game, the materials used are described, rules explained, and some context is discussed. Throughout each section there are helpful graphics, a few photographs, but many diagrams of the pieces and games. It should be noted that not all games have clear and standardized rules. Also, some are quite impractical for playing – Taikyoku Shogi for instance, has a board made up of 1296 squares and has 804 pieces!
Part six is “Chess Out of the Box” and highlights many of the new variations based on traditional chess that have begun to appear in popular culture. Many of these variations include numerous types of fairy pieces, which is a term used for numerous made-up pieces such as couriers, fools, elephants, or wildebeests. Other variations venture further afield altering the rules of play, such as the popular Chess 960, or even altering the board to be round or hexagonal. Some very “far out” forms, such as the Klingon version, Klin Zha, are included. Much as in the previous sections, each type of chess has historical or literary context and the rules for each game.
The seventh part is a historical essay on “The Origins of Chess.” This essay on the origins of chess and the search for a common ancestor. First, Cazaux examines the Persian, European, and Chinese legends. Then he takes on the mistaken notion, which has been repeated often since H. J. R. Murray’s A History of Chess (1913) first presented the idea, that chess comes from the game of “Four-Handed Chaturanga”. Finally, Cazaux attempts to review what we can learn about the origin of chess from ancient texts, archeology, philology and nomenclature, and game structure. Unfortunately, his conclusion is that the question is currently unanswerable. While he is undoubtedly right, it is rather unsatisfying when historical research is unable to determine a definitive answer.
The backmatter is extremely limited, but high quality. The brief timeline does a good job of highlighting the most important dates and often connecting them to literary works. The endnotes are thorough, adding depth and many additional “fun” pieces of extraneous information not necessary to the text. This includes how to pronounce many of the words; while this information might have been more useful to the reader if included in the text, it also would have broken the flow of the narrative. The bibliography is thorough and the index provides the usual information, including which pages have illustrations for the entry. This is particularly useful, given that there are over 400 illustrations.
Though devotees of a specific chess version may be disappointed their version of choice does not receive the coverage they would like, most readers will find a thoroughly researched work that not only introduces a wide variety of chess variants, but will act as a wonderful and unique reference to the field of chess and game history.
This book may be ordered from McFarland Publishing at www.mcfarlandbooks.com or (800) 253 – 2187.
Vera Menchik: A Biography of the First Women’s World Chess Champion, with 350 Games by Robert B. Tanner – McFarland
The first Women’s World Champion, Vera Menchik, has received a mild amount of attention for her successes against male players in the 1930s and 1940s and for being the first women’s world champion. Though several nonfiction books have been written about her, McFarland’s Vera Menchik: A Biography of the First Women’s World Chess Champion, with 350 Games by Robert B. Tanner, is the first serious scholarly work in English. The work, though mostly focusing on her games, includes a brief biography and a short prologue about women’s chess pre – Vera Menchik and an epilogue describing the more recent involvements of women’s chess in the post-Menchik world.
“A Biographical Sketch” starts the book. It traces Menchik from her birth in Moscow, in 1906, through the divorce of her parents and her move to England in 1921 in less than a page. Naturally shy and not speaking much English, she threw herself into chess and went from about a ‘C’ player in 1923 to London Girls’ Champion in 1926. In 1927, she won the Women’s World Championship, in London. In 1929, she was invited to play in Carlsbad, one of the strongest tournaments of the decade, though she met with some scorn, including the start of the “Vera Menchik” club for those that lost or drew to her. She played regularly across Europe in the 1930s and remained Women’s World Champion until her death on June 26, 1944 from a V-1 rocket being dropped on her London home in the Second World War.
The next part of the book is the most substantive. Here, rather than taking a purely chronological approach to studying her games, Tanner focuses on the Women’s Championship games separately from the regular tournament games. Both sections of game include standing charts, usually in round robin style, and all available games with comments, mostly contemporaneous ones, but occasionally also from the author, who is a National Master.
The third part focuses on her writing, of which there is unfortunately, very little. Still, we get to see her thinking on openings, endgames, and even some chess politics, as she and Baruch Wood debated the role of the British Chess Federation during the Second World War. The appendices and etcetera make up the fourth section of the book. They are largely standard listings of opponents, result tables, openings, and other such quick reference materials. Some of the more unusual additions include appendices listing “The Vera Menchik Club” members, a brief description of the use of the V-1 flying bomb, and one including several obituaries.
As a biography, it is a bit disappointing, lacking much of the “connective tissue” that was her life. The book, however, is an excellent game collection, containing far more games than any previous collection. Please note that many of the games now accessible on chessgames.com were not available for inclusion in this text, as they were added to the site after the book was published.
This book may be ordered from McFarland Publishing at www.mcfarlandbooks.com or (800) 253 – 2187
W. H. K. Pollock: A Chess Biography with 523 Games by Olimpiu G. Urcan and John S. Hilbert – McFarland
Olimpiu G. Urcan and John S. Hilbert, two of Mcfarland’s most popular chess authors have come together to write W. H. K. Pollock: A Chess Biography with 523 Games. This book is the fourth recent McFarland book about a player in the Sixth American Chess Congress and also contains the well-structured coverage delivered in the other books and Hilbert’s previous biographies. The content is presented in 3 parts: Life and Chess Career (1859-1896); Games 1-518; and Appendices, Bibliography, Indices.
The first part is a narrative of almost 200 pages, sharing Pollock’s life and contributions to chess. It opens with a brief overview of his family, including grandparents, and the first few years of his life. The narrative dives into Pollock’s first real chess efforts, occurring in Dublin, Ireland, then flows into his time playing throughout England. Most of the section focuses on Pollock’s time in North America, covering the Sixth American Chess Congress in 1889 until just before the 1895 Hastings tournament. The authors conclude with a brief chapter about his early death from complications of tuberculosis, lamenting what might have been if he had lived longer.
The second part is a collection of 518 games of various types – tournament, match, informal, simultaneous, group, and handicapped. Like in most McFarland books, this large collection of games is presented in chronological order. Uniquely, the games are subdivided into thirteen sections grouped within a time-range. This makes finding games quicker and easier as researchers, and probably also for more casual readers, routinely flip back and forth between the narrative text and the detailed games. The games are thoroughly analyzed, with most of the analysis coming from contemporary sources. However, Amos Burn’s biography (also a McFarland publication) by Richard Forster is cited for a few games. Specialized chess software, such as Fritz 15, Houdini 3, and Rybka 3, were also used by the authors for analysis but it is unclear which program, was used to analyze specific games.
The third, and final part, includes 13 Appendices with a wide-range of content, the bibliography, and 5 indices to assist readers in locating specific games. The appendices’ coverage runs from newspaper obituaries to Pollock’s review of “The Modern Chess Instructor,” by William Steinitz. The bibliography cites, as is often the case in 19th century biographies, many newspapers. During this time there were many more newspapers in print and much more chess coverage in their pages. The books, journals, and digital repositories, are the sources a reader would expect to see in this work.
Major detractions cannot reasonably be made, but there are a few minor critiques. Including progressive score tables, at least for his major events such as the Sixth American Congress in 1889 and Hastings in 1895, would have been nice. How a player is doing in a tournament up to the point of the game is going to likely effect how he plays that game, and so it is something reader should be able to access easily if possible. More substantially, the narrative part has a surprisingly high number of games / game segments that are repeated in the detailed game part, introducing the unnecessary risk of discrepancies. For instance, in the match against Eugene Delmar, a segment of the first game is given in text with a quote from William Steinitz. In the game section, the quote is repeated, but with an odd and meaningless change – quoted on page 106 with “… or his …” and then on page 361 the words change to “… and the …”. Finally, there are a tremendous number of blocked quotes, covering more pages than the narrative in some chapters.
Though there are minor quibbles, this biography, like many of their previous works, helps to expand our knowledge of European and American chess throughout the late 19th century. More significantly, the book provides the chess community with many unindexed games from an exciting and creative player.
This book may be ordered from McFarland Publishing at www.mcfarlandpub.com or (800) 253 – 2187.
Ignaz Kolisch is more apt to make a list of forgotten world-class players, despite his sharply aggressive style of play and his involvement in the chess community as a player and sponsor. What little is remembered seems to be his pension for extremely sharp-tactical play and that he became extremely rich, eventually buying himself the title of Baron. Fabrizio Zavatarelli’s Ignaz Kolisch: The Life and Chess Career attempts to highlight not only Kolisch’s exciting and imaginative play, but also demonstrate that chess helped him to become a noted financier.
Little is known about Kolisch’s early life, so the reader gets to his games before page ten. Most of the games included in the book, 224 out of 324 in total, take place between a match with Adolph Anderson in April, 1860 and a match with Samuel Rosenthal in November, 1864. In reviewing Kolisch’s various matches, Zavatarelli is able to introduce the reader to many of the European players of the 1860s, such as Anderson, Thomas Worrall, Louis Paulsen, and Rosenthal. The Paulsen match is by far the longest and receives, not surprisingly, the most substantial coverage. There were thirty-one games played in this ultimately drawn match. It was agreed that the first player to ten wins would be the victor of the match. However, the players were similarly skilled so in the end, Paulsen had a small lead with 7 wins, 6 losses, and 18 draws.
All of the games included are covered in an interesting and instructive way. The analysis opens with annotations coming from contemporary sources. Then, at the end of each game there’s a section called More Focus, and Zavatarelli (with the help of Fritz 11) adds a few more notes, mostly explanations of tactical shots that were overlooked by the players. Finally, almost all of the games contain a diagram of a key position.
Kolisch’s most significant tournament performance came in the Tournament of Paris in the summer of 1867, where he surprisingly finished first, ahead of both Szymon Winawer and Wilhelm Steinitz (who was the eventual world champion). From here, already most of the way through the book, Zavaterelli turns to Kolisch’s later games and book contains less than 30 games over his last 22 years. Three of them are the games against the Prince of Mingrelia, that appeared only after Kolisch’s death, and showed the young Mingrelian upsetting Kolisch in all three games. There’s speculation that they may not have occurred as given, if at all. Several of these later games were consultation or blindfold games. The short correspondence match, just two games played between June 1872 and April 1874, between the cities of London and Vienna are the most thoroughly analyzed games of the book. Zavaterelli uses these games to demonstrate an evolution in chess theory. It goes from Kolisch’s swashbuckling style, used by the Vienna team to the more scientific and successful approach of Steinitz and his supporters, who represented London. Kolish’s “Financial Takeoff” culminates in spending almost $2,000,000 to buy his barony, but barely covers a couple of pages.
The backmatter here is not as significant as in most of the McFarland biographies. This is not a substantial problem, except for the lack of endnotes. The bibliography is certainly ample and a good place for fellow researchers to begin work on other nineteenth-century chess figures.
Thus, Zavatarelli provides a book full of interesting games of a creative and too often forgotten player; but, no one is going to learn how to get rich from this book.
This book can be purchased from McFarland by going to www.mcfarlandpub.com or by calling 800-253-2187.
In the discussion of American chess champions of the 19th century, everyone knows Paul Morphy and most know Jackson Showalter, but few know Samuel Lipschutz. Stephen Davies, Samuel Lipschutz: A Life in Chess, is another in the growing line of biographies by McFarland, and aims to correct this common gap in collective knowledge.
Lipschutz, a Hungarian, came to the United States as a teenager in 1880. In just a little over a decade, Lipschutz represented the United States in a British tournament (1886), became New York State Champion (1887), became the best American performer at the famed Sixth American Chess Congress (1889); and won the United States Championship, beating Jackson Showalter, in 1892.
His health problems, primarily tuberculosis, began around 1886 and became more pronounced by the 1890s.Unfortunately this forced him to leave New York City for warmer, cleaner, Western climates. In 1895, Lipschutz was back in New York, even playing a game in the first year of the famed New York City Metropolitan Chess League. In 1897, he lost a return-match to Showalter, who had become United States Champion again when Lipshultz was not healthy enough to defend his title. He played fewer events as his health deteriorated. However, he won the Sexangular Tournament of 1900 in a clear first-place victory over 5 others, including 3 United States Champions. His last published game was a consultation cable game for the Manhattan Chess Club, where they were victorious over the Havana club that had Jose Capablanca playing for them. In 1904, Lipshutz moved to Hamburg, Germany, for medical treatment and died on November 30, 1905.
The games, 249 in all, range from informal bouts to matches for the national championship and premier tournaments. The games largely keep the annotations of the day, but Davies also includes a few of his own, that he worked out with the help of Fritz 13. Most games receive about a page of analysis. There are also a fair number of diagrams and line drawings of some of the players included.
The backmatter for this biography covers the expected material with nicely constructed indexes and appendices. Davies used newspapers extensively in his research, especially for his game analysis, and so it is not surprising that his list of newspapers used is even longer than his list of books. The lack of endnotes makes connecting text to the source more difficult, but since Davies regularly includes the name of his sources in the text, itis possible to make the connections with some effort.
All and all, a nice biography of a player too often ignored by the chess community and American chess historians.
This book can be purchased from McFarland by going to www.mcfarlandpub.com or by calling 800-253-2187.
Tim Harding’s Joseph Henry Blackburne: A Chess Biography is another offering in McFarland’s growing line of chess biographies. Harding, a noted historian, also wrote McFarland’s book Eminent Victorian Chess Players, which includes Blackburne as one of ten covered players.
Harding begins by stating the book is a “full biography and game collection,” but then proceeds to lay out the difficulties of constructing a full biography; lack of “voice” from no personal papers, interviews that were sparse and not always accurate, many games missing, and results could be unreliable even when the tournament books were completed as they were sometimes inaccurate. While it is certainly admirable to help readers understand the difficulties in finding games from over a century ago, phrases such as “Newspaper coverage was very disappointing, being overshadowed by the war …” (p. 492), seem to reinforce the stereo-type of chess players and chess authors as myopic; to voice resentment over a few missing game scores because the world was preparing for battle (by the end of World War I, millions lost their lives.)
There are commonly two lines of thought concerning chess games in biographies. One is to collect them all for inclusion, either spread throughout or collected in an appendix. The other approach is that since there are databases, the author needs only to provide a “few” games to enhance the narrative. Since Harding is trying to provide a full game collection, he clearly falls into the first category. There are an astonishing 1184 games sprinkled throughout the book (a few are numbered but have a missing score), which is many more than any database had before this book. Many of the games were analyzed by contemporary sources and/or by Harding.
Oddly, for one so interested in finding Blackburne’s games, Harding does not provide the reader with a great deal of context surrounding the games. A tournament table, especially a progressive one, would help the reader better understand the situation in which a particular game was played. This point aside, the narrative is quite complete given the challenges Harding had in obtaining source material and his bibliography has a reasonable depth that makes it clear he certainly did not miss any obvious sources.
The backmatter in this book, much like Harding’s previous book, is significant and generally quite good. The first appendix records how Blackburne performed in terms of wins/losses for many tournaments. This is fine, but it would be definitely better with a list of how the Blackburne placed overall in the tournament standings. The best appendices are the fourth, a group of interviews that Blackburne gave over the course of his lifetime and the sixth, Blackburne’s articles on the best games of chess ever played.
Harding’s biography is an excellent in-depth study of one of the late nineteenth century’s most creative players, especially given the many difficulties the biographer faced.
This book can be purchased from McFarland by going to www.mcfarlandpub.com or by calling 800-253-2187.
Alex Dunne’s The United States Junior Open Chess Championship, 1946 – 2016 is a multi-year tournament history, along the same vein as McFarland’s The United States Chess Championship, 1845 – 2011 by Andy Soltis. Dunne’s work “is an attempt to salvage what remains of the early games of these youthful great players [Arthur Bisguier, Larry Evans, Yasser Seirawan, and Bobby Fischer] and give a touch of renewed life to these nearly forgotten tournaments” (p.1). This is an important and useful goal as records from even 30 years ago are surprisingly often lacking. This is true not only of game scores, but even full tournament results.
It is clear that Dunne has a great love for the US Junior Open tournament. As we learn in the coverage from the 1956 event, this was his first tournament experience. For each year, he provides as many of the results he could find. Then he highlights a few of the players in each year’s event briefly, noting their most significant accomplishments. One game was selected from that year’s champion to be included for review. The analysis is direct and without long or involved variations.
There are a number of minor errors, such as a player’s name being changed from Stephen to Steven, or the 1996 event having 133 players rather than the 14 reported. Sometimes the information for players is repetitive, such as for Bernard Zuckerman. Though the effort is intended to save records from the tournament from being lost to chess history, some of the handling of voids within the records is not ideal. For example, when the winner of the tournament didn’t have any games available from the event, a game from that player was chosen from a different event for inclusion. This seems an odd choice for a book designed to celebrate this specific tournament, rather than choosing a different game that was available from the event.
The lack of a bibliography for the book is frustrating. There are questions raised when reading the book where games could not be found or results were lost. One can’t help but wonder which sources were reviewed and others perhaps missed. I found myself asking: did he check these state papers or a particular source in the White Collection (Cleveland Public Library, Ohio)? Were interviews conducted to tap into personal records of past tournament participants as potential resources?
Though it is not perfect, it is a good continuation of the type of work started by the Soltis’ book, providing the reader with a little introduction to an interesting, and often over looked event. For those who enjoy tournament books and books on the history of United States chess it is recommended.
In the interest of full disclosure, I will note that I am mentioned in the book preface and know numerous people who participated in the events described, considering several to be friends.
Like many McFarland biographies, this book attempts to examine the life of one of chess’ great players. Unlike some of McFarland’s recent books, this one makes no attempt to cover all of his games. Instead, Sanchez focuses on incorporating various novel sources, many originally written in Spanish. This is especially true for the research on the often ignored familial background and very early life of Capablanca.
The book actually begins before Capablanca’s birth by setting up the chess scene in Havana, Cuba in the 1800’s and explaining his familial background. Capablanca’s first big match was when he was 12 – 13, with Juan Corzo. Unlike most of the events covered in the book, all 14 games from this match are included.
After the Corzo match, Sanchez then examines Capablanca’s first trip to New York where he attended school and significantly strengthened his chess skills. While in New York, Capablanca played his famous match against Frank Marshall and participated in numerous tournaments. Many of the tournaments, such as New York 1911 (p. 136) have a cross-table provided in the text, while the match scores are placed in the back of the book.
Following Capablanca’s time in New York, the book chronicles his trip to Europe – “following in Morphy’s footsteps” and the numerous tournament opportunities across the continent. Sadly, he was forced to return to the US in 1914 to escape the war raging in Europe, which caused difficulties with staying in good practical form without strong competition available. After the war ended, Capablanca not surprisingly, won the championship in 1921 but then, unexpectedly, lost his title in 1927. After this devastating loss, the Ex-World Champion struggled with difficulties executing his game consistently. However, there were occasional bright spots, such as a remarkable year in 1936, when he wins both the Margate and Nottingham tournaments. The last two chapters focus primarily on his ailing health, often using it to explain poor performance, such as in the AVRO 1938 tournament.
There are about 200 games in total included in the book. Some of the selected games don’t have analysis but those that do are often thoroughly annotated. Unfortunately, the provided analysis is often annotated with book citations that are listed in the game, but not listed in the bibliography. The appendices contain a reprint of Capablanca’s analysis of his four great predecessors and then goes on to include a unique article. Guest author, Dr. Orlando Hernandez-Meilan, Neurologist has written a piece on the illness and death of Capablanca. The remaining appendices include game indexes by opponent, opening, etc., is standard for McFarland works.
With the mass of chess books being produced these days, it is likely there will be another book about Capablanca before another 25 years goes by, but it is unlikely it will be this good.
H. E. Bird: A Chess Biography with 1,198 Games by Hans Renette is one of McFarland’s newest biographies. This book is the second to expand on a chapter from Tim Harding’s Eminent Victorian Chess Players: Ten Biographies. Tim Harding’s own book, Joseph Henry Blackburne: A Chess Biography, was the first chapter expanded into a book. It was published last year by McFarland and will be reviewed later in 2016 on this site. To quote the author, on page 3, “It is the wish of the author to re-immerse the reader in the world in which Bird lived and in which he was widely admired.”
This well researched monograph is divided into 12 parts, each part spanning a few years. The first part orients the reader to Henry Bird, including a brief family history. Renette opens each part with context from Bird’s life, then introduces the tournament or match to be covered and the games that were played during the event. About forty percent of the games are analyzed and often fairly deeply. The games frequently have some contemporary analysis mixed with a little current analysis from the author and unspecified computer programs. A typical example of this is game 786, the 13th game of the 1886 match between Bird and Amos Burn, found on page 363 – 364. The game was analyzed at length, mostly by World Champion William Steinitz in International Chess Magazine, shortly after the event. However, when current analysis finds Steinitz to be an error, Renette makes a point to state, “the actual continuation chosen by Bird appears to be the best…” The coverage of Bird’s most famous game, his win over James Mason in 1876, which won the first brilliancy prize, incorporates the notes of four sources plus Renette’s own comments.
As with all McFarland books, the quality of the publication is excellent. The use of scoring tables, line drawings of players, copies of documents, and photographs from the era draw you back in time. There are numerous Appendixes, Indexes, and a Bibliography, making it possible for the fellow researcher to easily locate any specific game or opponent they may be searching to find.
While an argument might be made that there isn’t quite enough narrative for the reader to feel truly re-immersed in Bird’s world, there is certainly enough narrative for the reader to not only enjoy Bird’s many games, but have a much better sense of the context in which they were played.
This book can be ordered online at www.mcfarlandpub.com or by calling their order line (800-253-2187).
Review of Chess Competitions, 1971-2010Publisher: McFarland – www.mcfarlandpub.com – 800-253-2187
Between the mail box and the front door, I tore open the package and had begun to devour Chess Competitions, 1971 – 2010: An Annotated International Bibliography, compiled by Gino Di Felice. Even among chess journalists, historians, and collectors, most won’t have quite as excited a reaction as I did, but they should.
The book attempts to catalog all of the chess competitions – team and individual, over the board and correspondence – between 1971 and 2010. In the intro, Di Felice identifies this McFarland book as a sequel to Moravian Chess’ Chess Competitions, 1824 – 1970: An Annotated International Bibliography of Books, Bulletins, and Programs. Di Felice also admits that though the book contains 3,895 entries and 5,381 items, there are undoubtedly some items lost to history. There may be some missed tournament books, but I doubt many – the obscure (250 copies) Thirtieth Canadian Correspondence Chess Championship, 1974-5, for example, is included.
The book is divided into five sections:
1) Individual tournaments
2) Team tournaments
3) Individual matches
4) Team matches
5) Correspondence Chess
Each section has the books listed in a different manner. For instance, individual tournaments are listed by the city they take place in, while individual matches are listed by the last name of the winner. This could make it difficult to find some tournaments, such as the U.S. Championship, which used to move from city to city. Fortunately, the index in the back is done in order of the name of the event. This makes it much easier to find events that move around.
In this era, with so much information a few key strokes away, the key to a good reference work is whether it is easier and more useful than the internet – this one is! Many of Di Felice’s sources can be found on line, but a few, especially those involving Yugoslavian resources are only found in print. Also, major international events, such as an Interzonal or Olympiad may have books in several languages and with even the best chess libraries are likely to only have one or two of these sources.
As a final bonus, besides being a useful research tool, the book helps the chess book collector. Much to the concern of my wife, I now know that I will need a whole bookshelf just for the books on the 1972 Fischer – Spassky match as there are 136 of them!
Thinking with Chess: Teaching Children Ages 5 – 14 by Alexey W. Root
Thinking with Chess: Teaching Children Ages 5-14, by Alexey W. Root, was published in 2012. The book is designed to help elementary and middle school teachers teach chess to children. Root is in a unique position to write this book as she is a Woman International Master (1989 U.S. Women’s Champion) with a Ph.D. in education from UCLA.
The book, while making an attempt to touch on almost every aspect of chess for kids, lays out a way for teachers to teach chess to children. Dr. Root suggests that the book can be used by other adults to teach kids, and it is very readable, so this is no doubt true, but jargon like divergent and convergent thinking, definitely suggests that target audience is indeed teachers.
As far as the work on the whole, it is very readable, with limited use of chess or educational jargon. There is a tendency to use large block quotes. While some don’t mind them, I know that others find them jarring and disruptive to the flow of the work. Dr. Root provides blank diagrams for teachers to use and a score sheet as well. Dr. Root might have chosen a score sheet that provided more room for little kids to write, but this is a very minor quibble.
My only qualm with the book is that the introduction of the extra little games, are all interesting, but there is no quantitative data on how the extra games help kids in chess or school. I don’t have a background in education, so I will trust Dr. Root’s expertise. With regard to the chess, I do have a bit more experience having taught hundreds of students. While this is not as many as the author, it is enough for me to feel confident that the methods I have used in the past have worked well. We can certainly all agree that chess helps kids academically, and Root does a fine job sighting various examples, but I am still curious how these specifics exercises will help kids develop academically or become better chess players. Presumably, someone, perhaps Root herself, is doing these studies now. I certainly look forward to reading these studies when they are finished.
Thus, I highly recommend this book to teachers who want to teach chess to students. It will certainly help teachers provide an added justification to school boards for why chess should be taught in their class room as well as provide teachers a useful step by step guide for teaching chess.
One last note: This book has something that 99.99% of chess books are missing – bunnies! Dr. Root includes two pictures of her own rabbit, and as a reviewer with 5 of my own (to be fair, this is only because my wife is an awesome bunny mommy), I am happy to see them get some press as they make a great pet if you are willing to put in the 10 to 12 year commitment.
The American Football League: A Year-by-Year History, 1960 – 1969 by Ed Gruver
To tell the history of a league, not a team or a year, but an entire league, is the goal of Ed Gruver in his 1997 book, The American Football League: A Year – by – Year History, 1960 – 1969.
This narrative history covers the league in a chronological year by year fashion, beginning in 1959 with Lamar Hunt’s interest in purchasing the Chicago Cardinals. Though Hunt was unable to buy the team on his own, he was able to find other young wealthy men who also wanted to own teams, such as Kenneth S. “Bud” Adams. As Gruver points out, how these young men were viewed depended greatly on perspective. Many older football fans called them “the Foolish Club” and the NFL’s Paul Brown said they were “not football men”. However, the AFL’s first commissioner, Joe Foss, found them to be a group with great “determination and courage.”
A chapter for each year can only include the most significant events of the year. The specific features of each chapter vary but always includes the title game. In 1960 and 1965, the chapters provide some economic history for context as the chapter focus on the draft and signing of Billy Cannon and Joe Namath, respectively. In the 1963 and 1964 chapters, Gruvyer is more speculative spending some time making the arguments on how the AFL champions would have done against the more established NFL champions.
Starting with the 1966 season, Gruvyer attaches a short chapter at the end of each season with an overview of the Super Bowl game. These chapters tend to be brief and do not offer much unique information to a widely-read fan but they provide a good over-all picture of the game played. The summaries are particularly interesting for the first two Super Bowls as most reports focus on the winning Green Bay Packers and not the losing AFL teams, the Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland Raiders, respectively.
The book wraps up with a few standard appendices for team standings, yearly leaders, post-season scoring summaries, and AFL team and individual honors.
A minor criticism is when Gruver attempts to draw comparisons with other sports. Some can be argued, such as claiming the Jets victory as the greatest upset of all time (p. 225), but that dismisses the “Miracle on Ice” hockey game. Others, such as “Baseball set the tone for western expansion in sports,” (p. 12) are harder to defend given that in the Midwest, Wisconsin had a pro football team more than three decades before a pro baseball team and Los Angeles had pro football about fifteen years before they had a pro baseball team. The only major criticism of this work is a lack of notes and bibliography. This makes it difficult to know where the material comes from quotes that were sometimes from interviews conducted by the author (though who was interviewed is unclear) or from other sources.
These criticisms are not significant and I believe Gruver accomplishes his goal of providing a history of the whole league. Thus, I highly recommend The American Football League: A Year-by-Year History, 1960 – 1969 as a superb narrative history of the league.
This book can be purchased from McFarland by calling 800 – 253 – 2187 or by shopping at www.mcfarlandbooks.com.
Pro Football Championships Before the Super Bowl: A Year – By – Year History, 1926 – 1965 by Joseph S. Page
Pro Football Championships Before the Super Bowl: A Year – By – Year History, 1926 – 1965 by Joseph S. Page introduces football fans to championship games played prior to the development of the Super Bowl structure. He examines games from the NFL, AAFC, and AFL leagues.
The book is divided into short chapters of about five pages for each of the selected games. The text focuses on coverage of the game itself, with very little context of the season or how the teams earned the opportunity to play in the game. Unfortunately, without context it makes it more difficult to interpret the game as many regular season events can impact the day’s outcome. At the end of each section is a statistics chapter listing the score by quarters, scoring plays, starting offensive lineups, substitutions, pay checks, head coaches, and team statistics. Starting in the 1952 statistics chapter, the content changes to no longer list pay checks or substitutions but begins to list the starters for offense and defense. It would have been nice to provide detailed statistics when possible, even though the early games from the 1930s would have been light on individual player statistics.
The selection of games, especially when covering the early seasons, is controversial. The book starts with what it claims are the first and second AFL Championship Games of 1926. The AFL, and for that matter, the NFL, determined their respective champions by winning percentage in league games. The first and second “championship games”, were played on November 25th and 27th respectively. These are the second and third games of the AFL season rivalry between the Philadelphia Quakers and the New York Yankees. Even had the Yankees won one of the games, the Quakers would still have won the championship if the Yankees lost the following week to the Chicago Bulls. Further, as late as November 26, the day between the first and second “championship games” there was still some argument about the game the Yankees won against the Los Angeles Wildcats because the game was played in Canada and whether that game was counted would also directly affect the winning percentage of the Yankees. Page then includes the 1926 exhibition game between the Quakers and the New York Giants, who finished 6th – 7th in the NFL. This game was forbidden by Joe Carr, president of the NFL, and was called an exhibition game in the papers of the day. Page then skips the AFL of 1936-7, but includes the All-American Football Conference, 1946–9, and the AFL of the 1960s.
The endnotes and biography are included but raise some questions. The 1964 NFL Championship game was played between Baltimore and Cleveland, yet with no explanation, the material cited mostly comes from newspapers in Nashville, Tennessee. Surely the papers in Cleveland and Baltimore would have had more in-depth coverage. There is very limited use of electronic resources. The bibliography only includes Redskins.com and it is listed with the newspapers. Doug Warren’s article from Roar Report from the Lionsfan.com is not listed in bibliography but it is listed in the endnotes of a chapter. These are the only two websites cited.
In conclusion, this is a good introduction to the championship games before the Super Bowl began for the average football fan and will provide a starting point for more thorough historical research.
This book can be purchased from McFarland by calling 800-253-2187 or by shopping at www.mcfarlandbooks.com.
This book can be purchased from McFarland by calling 800-253-2187 or by shopping at www.mcfarlandpub.com.
Webster uses the weekly games as a framework for tracing the season. First, he covers the game itself, usually in just a few pages with a little reference of the stars, but not much on the game planning strategies. Whenever possible, he also includes information on merger/business talks between the NFL and the AAFC. Finally, he briefly tracks the other teams in the league, particularly the San Francisco 49ers, who were also undefeated for much of the season.
The game reports are almost exclusively from newspaper reports, both from local papers such as the Cleveland Plain Dealer, as well as from wire services such as Associated Press (AP) and United Press International (UPI). The benefit to this approach is it allows Webster to not only discuss the game, but to also touch on many of the political issues that faced the team as he season progressed. The argument that the Browns “were just too good” would have been strengthened if Webster would not have emphasized the closeness of many of the Brown’s victories. A more sustained and thorough analysis of attendance figures or how the other cities in the league viewed the team might have been useful support for the argument that Cleveland was “just too good.”
As for backmatter, there is a brief appendix. Game statistics might have been a nice inclusion, especially to support Webster’s argument, but these statistics are easily accessed online at www.pro-football-reference.com and similar sites.
There are many studies about when a team wins a championship. This one, though not perfect, stands among the better ones.
This book can be purchased from McFarland by calling 800-253-2187 or by shopping at www.mcfarlandpub.com.
Football’s New York Giants: A History by Lawrence A. Pervin is an ambitious undertaking that tackles the history of a sports franchise that nearly spans a century. The book attempts to cover an incredible amount of material and condense it to less than 200 pages.
Pervin, a long-time fan of the Giants, presents the team’s history in chronological order and divides the time into six chapters. Since each chapter has enough source material to fill its own book, Pervin distills even the most important events to just a few paragraphs. The content is not presented consistently in each chapter. At times the focus is on the players, but at others, such as the chapter on the post-Parcells era, the coaches get most of the attention. Star players are mentioned but more in passing.
Pervin’s lack of consistency causes a bit of difficulty following the narrative and naturally his bias towards the Giant success stories clearly comes through. For instance, in the second chapter (1955 – 1963) their championship game losses, of which there were many, are barely mentioned other than the 1958 game. This 1958 loss to the Baltimore Colts could not be ignored, no matter how painful the memory, because it is perhaps the most famous game of all time (with several books devoted to recounting the gory details).
The book has a variety of minor errors. There are the typical typos, such as when an article about hiring Bill Belicheck to replace Bill Parcells cites an article as being from 1961 that presumably should have been from 1991. An endnote further down that page, credits Michael Strahan’s sack record as coming against Bart Starr. However, Strahan was less than a month old when Starr played his last game, and this infamous sack was against Brett Favre.
There is a tremendous amount of possible material left out of this condensed history. Pervin’s announced biases for the Giants and for more recent history come through clearly. Still, Pervin is quite upfront about these tendencies and the work provides a nice introduction to most of the key moments in the history of the New York Giants. For this reason, the book is recommended for those interested in an introductory team history or for any New York Giant fan.
The All-American Football Conference: Players, Coaches, Records, Games and Awards, 1946 – 1949 Edited by Kenneth R. Crippen and Matt Reaser
McFarland’s most recent football offering is The All-America Football Conference: Players, Coaches, Records, Games, and Awards, 1946 – 1949. Kenneth R. Crippen and Matt Reiser, who are members of the Professional Football Researchers Association, edited the book. The intent is to capture the dramatic story of the AAFC and provide a resource of historic stats that can be difficult to find elsewhere. The book opens with a short preface that illuminates how records in the 1940s could easily be lost. From there, the first part presents the history of the AAFC and the competitive landscape. The philosophical differences between how the conference and league raised a few ethical questions, such as, which college players should participate in the draft. The editors also presented arguments on the comparative strengths of the conferences and why the leagues merged.
The second section highlights the All-Pro teams, providing biographies for these players and other noteworthy participants in the league. The individuals chosen were very reasonable, but it might have been nice to see a larger number of noteworthy participants, such as Ara Parseghian (noted Notre Dame coach who played for the Cleveland Browns in 1948 and 1949).
The next three sections focus on conference, team, and individual standings. These sections provide many useful and interesting statistics. The section on AAFC records, is especially noteworthy and are hard to find elsewhere. The section on attendance, originally from the The Coffin Corner, again raises the AAFC v NFL dynamic. The book raises some fine points, such as how the AAFC had significantly more (though not a very high total number) of African – American players than the NFL and how this helped the AAFC outdraw the NFL.
The sixth section contains linescores of all the games in the history of the AAFC. Linescores are synopsis of games that include information about the location, a brief narrative about the game, the point totals by quarter, and a list of all scoring plays. The championship games also have individual and team statics, such as first downs for a team or rushing yards for an individual player.
The seventh section is coverage of the draft for the entire AAFC, as well as the allocation draft when the NFL drafted players from the disbanded teams. The introduction explains how the draft works, such as what teams got extra picks and why and discusses several of the more interesting picks, usually players picked by both the AAFC and NFL. The only other piece of information that could have been useful in this league over view is a list of all players picked by both the AAFC and NFL.
The last two sections focus on the statics of every individual player and coach, respectively. Both sections start with a brief explanation of changes between what is in the book and what is accepted as historical results. An example is the record Joe Aguirre who had a few of his statistical accomplishments credited to Bob Nelson. The only significant problem with the book is in the player section. Many of the players who went on to play in the NFL are incorrectly noted as not starting games that they did start. This seems to have occurred because the Pro Football Refence website has many blank spaces for games started in player records. These blank spaces became 0s, when placed in the book.
The book concludes with a bibliography and index. The index is the standard of helpful, but not overly exciting. However, the bibliography is a bit unusual. For instance, there are six newspapers listed with specific dates. This suggests that each had a singular purpose, but what would a December 17, 2009 issue of the Houston Chronicle have for a book on the AAFC? Without a note of explanation, it leaves a reader to guess, perhaps it was a date of death for a player.
As a one-stop resource for all things AAFC, this book does a nice job of providing most researchers the information they will need in a single easy, readable, resource. The book does not decisively settle the arguments on the comparative player skill and public interest between the two conferences, but this book will provide a fine launching point for those wishing to continue the debate. The history combined with all the detailed statistical data make this book highly recommended.
This book may be purchased at www.mcfarlandpub.com or by calling 800 – 253 – 2187.
James C. Sulecki’s The Cleveland Rams: The NFL Champs Who Left Too Soon, 1936 – 1945, is the first book to examine the history of the Cleveland Rams and the context surrounding the team’s move to Los Angeles. This work grew out of arguments posed by John Dietrich that the Rams could have thrived in Cleveland and Hal Lebowitz identifying a gap in accessible information on the Cleveland Rams. Sulecki desired to have more people know that the much-traveled Los Angeles Rams were originally from Cleveland and to demonstrate that the team did not have to move from Cleveland, save for the greed of owner Dan Reeves.
The book starts by examining the founding of the Rams in the AFL. They almost won the championship their first year, but finished several percentage points behind the Boston Shamrocks. Unfortunately, Boston didn’t pay all their players and could not come to play, in what would essentially be a championship game, against the Rams.
While still in Cleveland, the Rams moved into the NFL in 1937.They had some difficulties in the new league, performing badly the first few years and being disorganized in general. In 1941, Dan Reeves, a New Yorker, bought the team and expressed interest in moving it to Boston. However, he decided, or more accurately, was forced to not move the team as the schedule for the season was already set. In 1942, with attendance down throughout the league, the Rams finished 5 – 6 and barely drew over 4000 fans for their final game. They chose to skip playing the 1943 season, due to low turnout and numerous players throughout the league joining the war effort. In 1944 they were back in action, this time going 4 – 6, but a solid nucleus developed. The following year, the Rams were greatly improved and even made the NFL Championship game. This turn-around was credited to the addition of the team “hero”, Bob Waterfield, who is the only player with substantial background information included in the book.
The 1945 championship season, in particular the championship game, receive a comparatively large amount of coverage. The theme of the coverage is Waterfield’s strong play and that people were coming out to support the Rams. In one of the oddest championship games, in large part due to weather conditions, the Rams beat the Redskins 15 to 14.There were over 30,000 fans in attendance, well-short of the likely 50,000, if the weather had not been freezing cold and snowy. In the chapter entitled “Public Be Damned”, Sulecki describes how Reeves, with the help of an incoming Cleveland Browns team, was able to convince the NFL owners to let him move his team to Los Angeles.
Unlike many McFarland books, there is not a significant amount of back matter. Endnotes and an index are included. There is also an excellent biography, separately listing every article used. However, aside from these standard inclusions, there is only a brief seven page appendix of what happened to thirty-one different players connected to the Cleveland Rams. Sites, such as pro-football-reference.com, allow easy access for a researcher to find the sort of statistical data that could be included here as an appendix. Some additional data, such as a list of players or results of the team for each season, would be a nice addition without expanding the book excessively.
Though it is clear that Sulecki disapproves of the Rams moving to Los Angeles, arguing that Reeves moved the team unnecessarily and solely motivated by greed, the research is thorough. Therefore, the book is to be recommended for both Cleveland and Rams fans alike.
This book may be purchased at www.mcfarlandpub.com or by calling 800 – 253 – 2187.
Kenneth R. Crippen’s The Original Buffalo Bills: A History of the All-America Football Conference Team, 1946 – 1949 is an attempt to examine the difficulties and celebrate the successes of one of the lesser known All-America Football Conference (AAFC) teams.
The historical narrative begins logically – first with the formation of the league, and then the building of the team. Crippen highlights the role of the head coaches, first Sam Cordovano and then Lowell “Red” Dawson. The next six chapters are a verbal chronology of the seasons, touching on most every game, and the most attention being given to team quarterback, George Ratterman. Finally, the last chapter focuses on Buffalo’s attempts to join the NFL, where they fell four votes short (9-4, with a unanimous vote needed.)
With the historical narrative ending in just 116 pages, the reader might be concerned about a lack of full coverage, but Crippen makes good use of the almost 200 pages of appendices. The first appendix is a very standard schedule and roster for each year, with final standings also included. The second appendix is a detailed statistical report for each game. The third appendix is the Bill’s performance data sorted by opposing team for the reader’s convenience. The fourth appendix is an all-time roster where players are not just listed, as is the common practice, but includes a brief biography, usually a paragraph or two, for each person. Sources are listed in the biography, but no chapter notes exist for this section. The rest of the back matter is the standard material including chapter notes, an extensive bibliography, and index.
For those interested in the AAFC, team histories or mid-century football, there is much to enjoy in this well-crafted, thoroughly researched monograph. For researchers looking to do similar work, this should be considered a good guide for short team histories.
This book may be purchased at www.mcfarlandpub.com or by calling 800 – 253 – 2187.
Please note: I will likely have a minor involvement in next book in this series – The 1958 Baltimore Colts
The 1966 Green Bay Packers, edited by George Bozeka, will be published by McFarland and Company in June, 2016. The book celebrates the team’s 50th anniversary and purports to focus on all aspects of the 1966 Green Bay Packers, a one volume encyclopedia, though that word is never used. The book is divided into five sections. The first three are the typical ones that you would expect to find in this sort of work – sections on coaches, games, and players. The fourth and fifth sections are more unusual, focusing on the stadiums and finally the photographers and journalists who covered the 1966 Packers.
Section I focuses on the organization. This starts with a chapter on Vince Lombardi rather than a chapter on the history of the Packers up to that point. This could be considered a bit unusual, but the 1966 Packers were certainly Lombardi’s Packers, so such order is understandable. Chapters in this section also include the assistant coaches and finally a chapter on how the team was put together using primarily the draft, which was standard practice at that time.
Section II examines the games. Some of these games, especially the Packers 56 to 3 shellacking of the expansion Atlanta Falcons, are very lightly covered. While their close battles against the Colts are covered more thoroughly, it is the playoff games that get, by far, the most extensive coverage. The NFL Championship game, an exciting and too often ignored affair, gets almost the same amount of coverage, as the Super Bowl. One of the nice perks is inclusion of some great photographs (they are black and white in the pdf, but I don’t know how they will appear in the book) of the games.
Section III covers many of the players, highlighting their whole career, but focusing on the 1966 season and/or the players’ time with the Packers as was appropriate. For many of the still living Packers, interviews were conducted and are part of the research done for each player. For the more famous players, some books are used, but the primary sources are newspapers or various team publications. For players like Bart Star and Paul Hornung, there are, many places to go for much more information. For a player, such as rookie Phil Vandersea, who never started a game in his four-year career, this volume is one of the few, perhaps the only, that has a chapter devoted to him. It might be nice to have the players’ statistical tables given, but these statistical charts can be easily found on line.
Section IV and V are the sections that are a bit of a surprise. The PFRA makes a point to include chapters on the stadiums and the journalists/photographer who covered the Packers most thoroughly. Unlike every other NFL team, the Packers split their home games between two stadiums. This section explains how that developed and how it was handled from 1953 to 1994, when the split between Milwaukee County Stadium and Lambeau Field ended. The Lambeau article details the situation after 1994, up to almost the time of the writing of the book.
Section V examines those who covered the Packers. These chapters included the coverage of the newspaper sports reporters from both Green Bay and Milwaukee. The Game by Game announcer, Ray Scott, and the photographer, Vernon Biever are also covered, especially Biever, who was once NFL Photographer of the Year.
This review is being done from an uncorrected proof pdf. Therefore, it is impossible to comment on the quality of the publishing. However, there is no reason to believe that the book will not live up to the high standards in binding and print that are usually seen in McFarland books.
Thus, this book does exactly what it purports to do. It celebrates the 50th Anniversary of the Packers and covers every aspect of their season. The work is highly readable, has some nice photographs and provides a thoroughness that will allow all fans, even knowledgeable Packer fans, to learn something new.