(Grand)masters of the sharp pen

My first book has often been classified as 'controversial' or 'contrarian' and these same qualifications can be heard about my new book as well but until now the reviews have been only positive. Richard James on British Chess News and Mark Haast on Schaaksite had some very flattering things to say and their extensive reviews also give a good picture of what the book is about. Last week I was interviewed by Ben Johnson for his Perpetual Chess Podcast and where he felt a bit uncomfortable reading my first book, he was very enthusiastic about the new one.

What did I do wrong? Apparently it is much safer to add a critical note or make some fun of people who are long gone by now.

What also might play a role is that compared to the tone of a lot of chess writing in the 19th century, I almost look like a pacifist. About two prolific writers from that era it was said that "where Staunton's pen was dipped in gall, Steinitz's pen was dipped in vitriol." It's a rather common view that in the past people behaved more politely towards each other than in our days but, at least for the chess world, the opposite seems true. The small pinpricks of today's elite players on Twitter are just child's play compared to their predecessors' achievements in this area.

For lovers of discussion in chess, the 19th century surely was a very interesting period and I wouldn't mind if my book not only reflected this atmosphere of controversy but also added some of its own.

In his extensive review of On the Origin , Brabo in his blog (in English and Dutch ) offers his interpretation of what my book is mainly about. He also adds some interesting links to books and articles that I could (or should) have included, one of them is this article on the subject of 'how strong were they?'

In chapter 28 I wrote: "If ratings can't help us out we'll have to take a look at the games. Engines can be of great assistance and maybe it is even possible to develop a program that attaches a value (or a rating) to a complete game (if it not already exists)." As can be seen in the article linked to above, Kenneth Regan already worked that out. I'm happy to see that his results are quite close to my estimation: "If I might venture a wild guess regarding the average strength of say the top five or top ten players throughout the century I would say it gradually went from about 2000 around the thirties to 2400 near the end of the century."

However, though it might shock his fans who believe that Staunton was the first player of grandmaster strength, I don't think that my guess that he was somewhere near 2000 rating is the most controversial part of my book. So I hope that future reviews will again give me a reason to write a few things here on my blog.

" ... well researched, endlessly fascinating, always thought provoking, often digressive, sometimes provocative and sometimes extremely funny. [...] Five stars and a top recommendation from me."
(Richard James, British Chess News)

Adolf Anderssen (1842)
White mates in 5