Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Size Matters

I recently bought James Vigus' 'The Pirc in Black and White' (Everyman 2007) in order to update my knowledge of the various 150-attacks against the Pirc. I have not yet had the time to study it any depth. It seems thorough and well organized but what immediately struck me was the size of the book. At 381 pages it beats 'The Philidor Files' (Everyman 2007) by Bauer (304 pages) by a large margin and even 'Play the Ruy Lopez' (Everyman 2007) by Greet (376 pages). But even these books are dwarfed by the monster sized 'Practical Endgame Play' (Everyman 2007) by Flear, which at 544 pages equals Nunn's Chess Openings (Everyman 1999).

These are examples of what may be a trend: It seems that chess books are getting heavier - bigger page formats and more pages. For Everyman the new standard seems to be 250 pages or more, with 350 pages being no rarity. Gambit's books too have been growing - most notably their standard format is now B5 (248 mm by 172 mm) as opposed to the earlier A5 (210 mm by 145 mm) standard.

These new books often have an impressive coverage of their subject with detailed strategic explanation in combination with full coverage of variations and game references. And there should be no complaints about the price - it's often only a fragment more expensive than the sub-200 pages volumes.

Yet... a book with 300+ pages will always be intimidating to some readers - maybe even the majority of potential buyers. So I wonder if there will be a reversal? Is there a growing market for the really slim book or booklet? If so, how can a reduction in quantity be achieved without compromising quality? Cutting the prose, reducing fonts or squeezing more text on each page would hardly attract many customers. To narrow the focus and concentrate on sub-lines could work for certain openings but generally I don't think it's the way to go.

One obvious solution is to cut the number of game references drastically. I have a theory that many social players don't bother much with parenthesis and long lists of alternatives anyway; they play through the main lines and read the prose. The minor alternatives are consulted only if the mainline cannot easily be understood. It’s also obvious that books are getting outdated quite quickly these days and there is a growing number of chess book buyers who actively (and skilfully) use databases and analysis engines to supplement their books.

I would like to write a 'Outline Book' which assumes that the reader has access to a database and a strong analysis engine where I on roughly 100 pages offer:

  • An introduction with some suggestions about how to best make use of a database (players to watch, critical lines etc.) and an analysis engine (what is it good and bad at?).
  • A fairly detailed 'outline' of a repertoire but with very sparse game references.
  • Some inspirational games with verbal and rather light annotations.
  • All necessary warnings about 'dangerous terrain' - traps and lines where you cannot survive without detailed theoretical knowledge.
How would this kind of book sell? Do the average club player like to have all the 'extra' information available just in case he will need it some day? Or would he prefer to pick up a slim volume which presents a playable repertoire can which be read from cover to cover over the week-end - even if it doesn't offer all your opponents alternatives at all junctions?


Dan S. said...

I would love this. I have proposed normal-length books in which the first 100 pages are similar to this and the next 200 pages have more details. More opening books need to put the really important stuff up front.

Anonymous said...

I would too. I would buy it if it was one of the openings I played.

Anonymous said...

Sverre is right. I´m one of those "social players" (altought I´m planning to get better!) and when I read an openings book I just pick up the general ideas and play some of the games, to get the feel for the opening... Maybe I´m wrong, but I think that unless you´re a professional, you don´t need to go any deeper...

Sverre Johnsen said...


OK - it seems this may be worth trying. Then the big question is which opening to cover. Maybe a series of three would be good: One for White, one for Black against 1.e4 and one for Black against the closed systems (1.d4, 1.c4 and 1.Nf3).

I suppose something relatively mainstream be the safest choice. I will consider some options and see whether I can make a poll in a blog entry.

Anonymous said...

I´d love to see a book like this done... but what openings? To present in 100 pages or so a viable repertoire I suppose you´d have to choose "forced" or "system" openings, and then cover some alternate lines in case the other player plays something "dangerous" to the opening.. I mean, for example, you can play the Colle koltanowsky against a lot of defences, but not against the KID.. so you need a line against this. Or another alternative is, maybe, to play one opening and the same reversed as black... I don´t know but Jaacov Nowowitz plays always the Stonewall as white, and it´s OK for him, so maybe Stonewall as white and black will work?

Or.. what about choosing something like the Rubinstein french, wich seems to be solid and no theory..

I.m not an expert at all, these are just some ideas.

Raul (Spain)

Anonymous said...

What´s the poll´s name? I´m very interested in this!

But i´m afraid everyone likes their own openings so it will be very difficult to agree on such a thing.

Anonymous said...

Hello Sverre!

What are your toughts about the repertoire you announced here? Are you thinking still about the openings that should be covered?

I just wrote this because I am interested and it seems like the idea has cooled somehow...

Even if its not a book but only a blog entry, it would be interesting ( but better if it is a book!!)


Raúl (Spain)

Anonymous said...

How to use a database + simple repertoire + games + advice? In more or less 100 pages?

Mmmm :) I would be happy too! I woluld love this.

How is it going?


Anonymous said...

The idea of a series of three openings (one for white and two for black) has appeared in a number of old books:

- "How to think ahead in chess" Reinfeld: Stonewall Attack plus QG(white) and Lasker´s Defence/ Sicilian Dragon (for black).

- "Purdy´s 24 hours repertoire": Colle system (white) and QGD Tartakower (called the All Purpose system!) and some kind of line in the French Defence.

- "Opening Systems for competitive chess players" John Hall: Torre Attack (white) and QGD Tartakower/ Caro Kann.

None of this teach anything about databases, etc, tough they all are quite old..

I also think the repertoire is not very well balanced in any of them, I mean.. They seem to be books for beginner students of openings, or for people who don´t want to study openings too much, but "think ahead" advocates the sicilian dragon!!! and Hall´s book the Caro Kann. The two have a lot of theory, I think they are just not appropiate.

I also don´t understand why can´t you play the same "system" for black and for white if you are trying to save time on openings... I mean, in the first book, if you advocate the Stonewall for white... why don´t you play it for Black also? It´s not very well tought of as white, I know, but if you already play it and it can be played too as black.. (as your book on the Stonewall points out) then why not?

I´m very interested in the idea of the book too. Even if you finally don´t make a book, maybe it would be interesting for a blog entry.

I´m not expert at all, but I wanted to contribute to the idea so here are my toughts.

By the way, I also think it´s a very good page, lots of interesting things!