Thursday, October 10, 2013

Review of My Chess by Hans Ree

My Chess by Hans Ree - 2013 - Russell Enterprises, Inc. - 240pp - $24.95

Before we get started on this book let's talk about what it is not.  It's not an instructional manual in any way.  It's not a collection of games.  It's not about how GM Ree improved when he was younger.  Rather than any of those things this book is a collection of well-written short stories about people, places, and things that have been a part of Ree's chess career.

If you are someone like myself who enjoys chess history then this book is for you.  If you are someone who enjoys playing and studying chess, but who doesn't know much about the games rich history then this book may very well be your first step towards a deeper appreciation of the game.

The content itself is comprised of forty-two essays.  The writing is so clear and descriptive that I was somewhat surprised to find out that the book was translated from Dutch as I had half thought it was written in English.  So serious kudos are due to Piet Verhagen who handled the translation.

For anyone not familiar with the author, Hans Ree is a Dutch GM.  Born in 1944 he became an IM in 1968, and a GM in 1980.  These days he still maintains some activity in his playing career, but is primarily a journalist.  He has been writing for New in Chess for several years, and also currently writes "Dutch Treat" for the REI website.  You can view the current column here.

As for the book itself, the essays are centered around various topics, in many cases people, such as Max Euwe, Jan Timman, or Bobby Fischer (Ree actually played a game against Fischer in 1968 which you can see here) while in other cases the topics are as wide ranging as alcohol or the sin of pride.

As you would expect given the nationality of the author, many of the stories relate to various Dutch chess personalities.  Some of them are very well known, i.e. Timman and Euwe, whereas some are less well known, but still known, such as Hein Donner.  There exists, however, a third category, and that is those whom I had never heard of.  Included in this last group is Lodewijk Prins.

Prins was a rather colorful character in Dutch chess for several decades.  A GM and a journalist, his life was completely dedicated to the game.  The Prins variation of the Grunfeld (7...Na6) bears his name.  Based on the stories Ree relates one of Prins' most enduring qualities was his ability to hold a grudge.

A fascinating story is relayed about a tournament in Tilburg in which a dinner is held where Prins is sitting at the same table as Jan Sorgdrager, the tournament doctor.  The two had been friends, but hadn't been on speaking terms for quite some time (this seems to be a common theme with Prins) which was making for an awkward dinner for the rest of the attendees.

Someone suggested that the two make up for the duration of the dinner, which was agreed to by Prins.  He and Sorgdrager then spent the rest of the dinner chatting amiably as though their friendship had never been strained at all.  So much so that Sorgdrager was ready to continue the conversation as dinner was winding down.  However, Prins simply turned his back and walked away, instantly resuming the feud.

Another character I found to be rather interesting from a tragicomic perspective was Emil Joseph Diemer, purveyor of the Blackmar-Diemer gambit.

Diemer was a German-born chess master who found very little success early in life.  In 1931 he joined the Nazi party and was promptly thrown out of the house by his father.  As a Nazi Diemer found a bit more success simply because he was now being paid to be the Nazi chess reporter.

During most of his life Diemer passionately advocated the Blackmar-Diemer gambit with modest success.  However, his real achievements came later on when he won the Reserve Group of Hoogovens (Wijk aan Zee) in 1956 and a few years after when he became champion of the Netherlands.

Sadly Diemer's life took a turn for the worse and he wound up being admitted into a psychiatric hospital in 1965.  Apparently he had started reading the writings of Nostradamus and became convinced that he had cracked the code of those writings.  He wrote over 10,000 letters to various people containing his views on the code, which played a large role in his downfall.

Diemer does find some redemption six years later which some of his admirers manage to get an earlier lifetime ban by the German Chess Federation lifted so that Diemer is once again able to compete for his home country.

There are many other stories just as fascinating as those in this book.

I give this book a very solid four out of five stars and I think that GM Ree has done an excellent job of keeping the memories of some very colorful characters alive.

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