What was your first chess book?

What was your first chess book?

NM SamCopeland
May 22, 2014, 2:12 PM |

My introduction to chess literature must be considered unique. I have always enjoyed reading. When I was 7 or 8, I would read Westerns (primarily Louis L'Amour) because that's what my parents had around. When I was 10, my family moved to a larger city (Columbia, SC), and I was able to start plumbing the depths of the local library. I read everything from The Hardy Boys to Sherlock Holmes to The Count of Monte Christo, Jane Austen, CS Lewis, and Ivanhoe. It vexes me to hear people say that they do not read. "The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read." - Samuel Clemens

As a chess player, I have also been a reader. I love chess books, and I was fortunate to discover that the local library had a large collection of about 100 chess books. I stumbled across my first chess book when I was 10 or so, and I read nearly all of the available books long before I ever played in a tournament or found a local chess club. As a result, my first ever rating was relatively high - 1722, but it took me a long time to get from there to 2000 and then to 2200.

The first chess book that I stumbled across was Raymond Smullyan's The Chess Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes. I found this book because I was searching for Sherlock Holmes (not chess) in the library computer system. At the time, my brother and I played chess occasionally so I knew the rules, but little else. I cannot honestly remember if this book was any good, but I certainly enjoyed it, and the reviews on amazon are quite positive. The book deals with "retrograde analysis". Retrograde analysis is a form of chess problem (retro-analytical problems) in which the reader must try to determine the previous move or moves. Retrograde analysis has little to do with traditional chess skills, but it can certainly be a fun diversion. Here is a nice small problem from Velimirovic and Valtonen's "Encyclopedia of Chess Problems". This is a last move problem, so the reader must answer the question - "What was White's last move?".



Solution: The answer is Bg7-h8. The rook could not have moved previously because there are only two squares that the rook might have moved from and both would have illegally placed the black king in check. It is also clear that Kg5-h6 could not have been played because Black would have had no legal way to play pawn to f6+. How about Kh5-h6 though? As it turns out, Black could have previously played g7 to g6+. White's previous move would have then had to be Kg4 or Kh4 to h5. However, this leaves Black with no previous legal move. Thus, the solution Bg7 to h8 is the only move. Previously, Black could have played Kh8 to g8 and White could have played Bf8 to g7, etc.

A more complicated problem is the following one from John Nunn's excellent book "Solving in Style". I leave it to interested readers to determine the solution. "What was White's last move?".


I suspect that I must be one of very few people who's first chess book was about composed problems. These days I am just getting back into composed problems, and especially endgame studies, as an interesting exercise in analysis. I can't say that I was able to process most of the retro-analytical problems at that time, but I enjoyed Smullyan's stories, and it was a sufficiently pleasant introduction to get me into more chess books later on.

How about you? What was your first chess book? Do you have any particular associations from your introduction to chess literature? E.g. a favorite player or game in the book that made a lasting impression? One of the first games I remember in a chess book was Morphy - Duke of Brunswick and Count Iousard. Consequently, that has long been a favorite of mine.