Junior Chess

Eminent Victorian Chess Players. Ten Biographies.  Tim Harding.  McFarland & Company. Softback.  400 Pages.  24 Photographs.  36 Sketches.  182 Diagrams.

A portrayal of British chess life in the Victorian era during which time vast social, economic and scientific advances took place.  The author, a respected chess writer and historian, has penned ten biographical essays featuring players who made a significant contribution towards shaping the modern game.  Several of these individuals resided in other countries in the course of their lives, so emphasis has been placed upon their years spent in Britain.  Understandably, the largest chapters take as their subjects Staunton and Steinitz whilst others deal with Evans, Löwenthal, Bird, Skipworth, Blackburne, Zukertort, Burn and Gunsberg.  The final 75 pages comprise appendices, notes and indices.

The depth of research undertaken by Tim Harding in the course of writing this book is impressive.  Frequent references are made to 19th century chess magazines and magazines that featured chess, thereby providing signposts for readers who may wish to pursue their own lines of investigation.  By their nature, historical publications reveal important information about many lesser lights – players, patrons, journalists, etc. – thereby offering a clearer backdrop to events.  Games, where annotated, quote a mixture of contemporary notes, stating their source and the views of the author.

To steal the author’s words, this book is likely to be a ‘first round draft pick’ for the vast majority of chess historians.  (If clarification of this expression is required, I suggest a crash course on North American sports, baseball being an ideal first port of call!)  A joy to read, the photographs and sketches help illuminate a bygone time during which the chess capital of the world moved from Paris to London.  Average club players, such as your reviewer, are likely to comprehend more easily and relate to the openings featured rather than many of the systems that currently predominate at the pinnacle of chess.  On his website, Tim Harding mentions that he has just completed a large biography of J. H. Blackburne that should be ready later this year (2015).  I look forward with anticipation to obtaining a copy.

David G. Mills.