A picture of a Kindle with the cover of Planning Winning Chess book on display.
Play Winning Chess by Yasser Seirawan (Photo by me)

Rating: ๐ŸŒ•๐ŸŒ•๐ŸŒ•๐ŸŒ•๐ŸŒ‘

“You don’t have to be 7 feet tall, as quick as Carl Lewis, or as strong as Mike Tyson to play chess. All you have to do is think."

As a kid, I thought I played good chess. In reality, I only knew how the pieces moved, and I came to this realization last year, when a chess set gifted to me by my brother rekindled my love for the game. Playing a few online games convinced me that a blind pigeon could probably score better than I did, and so I set out to improve my skills.

I first discovered Yasser Seirawan through a series of lectures on YouTube. He’s an excellent chess player and educator. Born in Syria, he moved to the US as a kid, and picked up chess around the age of 12. He won the World Junior Chess Championship at 19, and went on to win the US Chess Championship 4 times.

(Sidenote: 9 out of the top 10 US Chess players are immigrants. How cool is that?)

I had little knowledge of how chess works when I picked up this book. It’s meant for the absolute beginner, so Yasser and his co-author Jeremy begin with some fascinating bits of chess history, and then go on to describe how the board works, and how the pieces move. There are four principles that are the focus of Play Winning Chess: Force, Time, Space, and Pawn Structure. Those terms meant nothing to me at the time, and Yasser does a great job of taking the reader through each principle.

There are many annotated games and examples in the book, and aside from a few illustrations, most are described in Standard Algebraic Notation (a system used to write down chess moves). Since I can’t play blind chess, I had to have a chess board near me the entire time to be able to visualize the positions being described by the authors. I used an app for this, which made the process easier. That was my only issue with the book. There’s not much the authors could’ve done about it, though!

At the end of each chapter is a test section, which I found to be very helpful. Bearing in mind that this is Book #1 out of 7 in the series, it was an excellent read.

Some tidbits:

I play chess because it enables me to engage in a physically safe but psychologically strenuous battle in which I pit my wits against those of my opponent. Complex strategies that include vicious attacks and subtle defenses take me beyond the thrill of competition and into the realms of the creative process, of art. Each game demands an ordered mind and deep concentration, and can result not only in a deeply satisfying victory on the chessboard, but also in an improvement in my daily life due to the mental focus that playing chess develops in me.

Young or old, black or white, male or female, jock or couch potato, cook or computer programmerโ€”everyone can learn how to play chess and know the satisfaction of unleashing their creative and combative potential at the chessboard. Chess is in many ways a great equalizer. Having said that, I have to acknowledge that, perplexingly, chess is a great bastion of male chauvinism.

His opponent, Louis Paulsen, has been deliberating over his move for 9 hours. Morphy, usually the epitome of politeness and certainly one of the quickest players around, finally feels the need to ask, โ€œExcuse me, why arenโ€™t you making a move?โ€ Paulsen comes to life with a jerk: โ€œOh, I thought it was your move!โ€ Incidents such as this one prompted the idea that games should be timed, and in 1861 […] introduced the concept of timed games to the world by timing the match with an hourglass for each player.