‘I as though traced the evolution of chess thought and repeated its basic steps in my own development … convinced that any player with high ambition should follow such a path’ ~ Vassily Smyslov, 125 Selected Games (1983)
This book takes the reader on a journey from early 19th century developments in the game up to the present-day. It takes in the revolutionary Wilhelm Steinitz’s early summation and establishment of a firm positional basis for chess and the considerable contributions made by all of the subsequent world champions and certain other great players, including the contemporary computer phenomenon, AlphaZero.
Take note of Vassily Smyslov’s wise words. Recalling a period of intense study in his father’s chess library, Smyslov stressed that, without obtaining an understanding of the ways in which chess has developed over time, no aspiring player is ever likely to achieve his or her fullest potential. What went for Smyslov also applies to all of the inspirational players who appear in this book. Today’s top players still borrow from the best games and ideas of past generations. Do join them!
I wrote this book primarily to explore, confirm and convey my own understanding of this grand sweep of chess history. To that extent it can only be a subjective work and readers may hold other opinions. Though I hope that much in this book is, indeed, persuasive, please feel free to reflect and draw your own conclusions. I also aimed at containing my account in one accessible volume, inspired by such succinct chess classics, as Richard Réti’s, Masters of the Chessboard, Max Euwe’s, The Development of Chess Style, and others.
We are all historically rooted, inescapably driven to constantly re-interpret the past to help make sense of our present and possible future. Indeed, the past often touches us when least expected. My working copy of Imre König’s fine book, Chess From Morphy to Botwinnik, on loan from the Edinburgh Chess Club’s ‘Aitken’ collection, is warmly inscribed by the author to his friend, Dr James M Aitken (1908-83), ten times Scottish chess champion.
That unexpected, near 70 year link to the middle age of one of my own illustrious countrymen, who, towards the very end of his chess career, was one of my own Scottish team colleagues, at the 1972 Skopje Olympiad, greatly encouraged me to pursue this project. Rarely, if ever, truly definitive, history moves on ceaselessly. The game itself changes. The context varies. Do enjoy the continuing journey!
Dunbar, September 2021