CHRISTMAS BOOK REVIEW: last minute gifts for the unimproved player

Some tips when choosing a Christmas gift for the chess player in your life. (An odd idea I know, but I think many of them still live with their mum. [Hello, Mum!])

The Ideas Behind Modern Chess Publishing (Gravy Train)

We must first note the misleading title: this is in fact a study of a typical club-players' bad habits in the opening, which mostly encourages them. Once you have got past the cover, you will find a very brisk and practical approach has been taken here. The reader is shown just the positive points of various opening systems, without confusing them with any tiresome negative features. Black's best defences, of course, are also carefully given no space at all, thus avoiding unnecessary complications, and even some of the basic replies that you might expect club players to know (or even stumble upon by accident) are omitted. Makes it all look incredibly easy, and created a very strong impression on this reviewer.

P.O.O.R. Chess (Moswhini).

P.O.O.R. Chess of course stands for Pennies Obtained for Old Rope, and this is very much the home ground of our Grandmaster-ringmaster-entertainer-instructor. And R.O.P.E., we discover, stands for Religion, Opinion, Platitudes and Exclamations!! Many readers will find the cutesy tone off-putting, but stick with it, and you may discover some of God's most wonderful gifts to us, like the ability to skim a book like this through the air like a frisbee (S.A.B.L.T.T.T.A.L.A.F.), to land in the compost heap of a neighbour, maybe two streets away. Perhaps even that is not far enough.

Bluff like a Grandmaster (Putya Koton, trans. Koldout).

This was the book that blew the lid off the secret Soviet training methods, and showed them to be a tissue of lies. A classic, which continues to catch people out.

School of Chess Effluence (Vols.1-19) - (Forgetitsky and Yushudev).

Igor Forgetitsky has for many years been the go-to guy for top-level, in-depth, high-falutin and over-analytical chess training. His famous card indexes of training positions had become over-full during his years in Eastern Europe, and in the West he found a heaven-sent opportunity to capitalise on this rich resource. Indeed, there can hardly be a scrap of material remaining that has not found its way into a book in this extensive series.

The exercises themselves are amazingly detailed and difficult, so much so that you may sometimes forget whatever the point of the chapter was supposed to be, or indeed what is the point of chess study in the first place, or, in some instances, whether life itself has any purpose at all.

A major event in chess publishing. We can all look forward to more of this sort of thing.

The Idiot's Mind (Sillyman).

This book gives the reader the rare chance to eavesdrop on a celebrated minor master shouting at his dimwitted students. I'm sure we can all identify with their slow, stumbling progress, and their inability to understand the most OBVIOUS things about a position, even when it is explained OVER and OVER again, in PAINFUL detail, you moron! EVERYTHING you think about at the board must be the most basic, the most concrete, and the most rational. What are you, born under an airhead sign or something? No, don't tell me... Capricorn, you're a Capricorn, right? Or a Taurus? I'm sure I can smell Taurus somewhere... Perhaps you're a Cancer? Wait, come back...

Chess for Blokes: A 12-part DVD training guide (Devious, published by ChimpBase).

Some good, plain-speaking, gritty, practical advice from someone who got out of chess years ago to earn some proper money. He's now realised the potential that exists in the chess DVD market, and is back to show us how it's done.

You won't find other Grandmasters giving most of these openings a second thought, so we are truly fortunate to watch Nigel Devious bluster his way past all the theoretical obstacles they they seem to think are so important in their fancy-dan tournaments. And it's astonishing how even-handed this comprehensive series this is: the Colle is described as a good practical weapon in one DVD and yet is easy to deal with in another; it's vital to play proper openings one day, but then you should play some corny old club nonsense on the next. And of course, our Northern host has a well-balanced chip on each shoulder. Perhaps only those able to afford the full selection will realise the true value of what's on offer here.

It's mostly about openings, of course, because that's where the quick returns can be made, but Devious also offers DVDs on the practical side of chess playing. So, in other titles, he covers how to play juniors, elders, betters, how to get your own back in a post mortem and how to get the advantage without actually cheating. His study of the ancient Eastern philosophies on the Internet has led him to some surprising conclusions, like, there's some Indian guy who apparently can survive without food or water for months on end. It's true, I saw it myself, he's being tested by scientists and everything. Wait, come back...

Starting out in Publishing Opening Guides (Everyminute Publishing, Onebourne).

The publisher here has re-thought the way chess opening books have been published, and come up with their own revolutionary scheme. For literally hundreds of years, the small square chess diagram has forced a two-column layout upon chess books, minimising the distance between a diagrams and its accompanying text, and minimising the amount of white space in a book. All that has been swept away with refreshing vigour in this groundbreaking series, so you will find much less in these books than you might have feared at first. Also, the exercise in flipping between pages to find the right diagram will keep you very much on your toes.

Although common wisdom suggests that most club players can stumble through no more than a half-dozen moves before forgetting what they have been told, the authors have all been instructed to give whole games here. So, as well as being given a whizz through some of the simpler ideas in an opening, you can look forward to playing over many many more moves in the example games, way past the point where you lose any hope of understanding what the Grandmaster opponents were thinking or indeed past any real interest in the outcome of the game. Thankfully, these long sequences are given mostly without notes, so you have all the excuse you need to omit them.

It will be a poor player who fails to get anything out of these books. And, as the publishers have no doubt realised, there are millions more such players than those who can see through this whole charade.

FOR JUNIORS: The Ten Ways to Succeed in Publishing series (Otiose and Rigid)

The authors have done a remarkable thing here, reducing what the young player needs to know to the absolute bare minimum necessary to survive, then throwing half of that away. Large text and ample spacing means that these books aren't as small or as cheap as you might expect, and additional space is taken up with some child-friendly cartoons, drawn it seems by a friendly child.

JUST PUBLISHED: Lexicographer's Lists (Neissman).

Subtitled: the Big Five, the Medium Fifteen, the Tiny Twenty, the Swift Half, and 4978 other Crucial Things you have to Keep In Mind at all Times. These are the few thousand most basic and important of chess tips, culled from decades of work with students, regurgitated onto the Internet, and now re-organised into the most complicated schemes imaginable.

This book should occupy a vital place in anyone's chess coaching collection: for me, it's jammed underneath my tottering bookcase, stopping the whole thing falling forwards.

Inspiration: Kingpin.