A review of Chess: The Art of Logical Thinking From the First Move to the Last by Neil McDonald

Reviewed by P.P.O. Kane

Chess: The Art of Logical Thinking
From the First Move to the Last
By Neil McDonald 
Batsford, 2004
ISBN: 9-780-7134-8894-4

In this book, Neil McDonald presents 30 relatively modern games – all were played from 1978 to 2002 – and adds a comment to each and every move. It is a neat idea and Irving Chernev wrote a book along these lines, Logical Chess: Move by Move, quite some time ago. He may even have created the genre, come to that. Nunn’s Understanding Chess Move by Move took a similar tack.

The games are aesthetically pleasing and educational and have clearly been chosen to illustrate the variegated splendours of chess. There are smooth positional victories and explosive attacks on the king; there are games that could well serve as models of their type, while others are simply spectacular, original and inimitable. The endgame is a prominent feature of a fair few of them. For ease and convenience, the games have been grouped according to opening and, to some extent, theme – and most games open with either 1.e4 or 1.d4.

A difficulty with the book, and with the whole genre actually, is that there are a limited number of things that you can say about the opening moves, about 1.e4 and 1.d4, say, or about 3…cxd4 in the open Sicilian, before you begin repeating yourself. When you’ve said of 1.e4 that it frees the queen and king’s bishop, facilitating quick development and early kingside castling, and that the pawn advance seizes space and controls the d5 and f5 squares, you are pretty much at a loss as to how to continue.

That McDonald has recourse to flights of fancy, metaphors (If White were seeking to build a house, then 1.e4 is the first stone laid at its foundation), digressions, conceits (the pieces are akin to Dracula entombed in a coffin…), historical waffle and such like rhetorical devices is hardly surprising. And this is not necessarily a bad thing, of course. His notes to 1.e4 never take the form of a haiku though, or any other instance of fixed form poetry, so maybe he has missed a trick here.

This is an excellent collection of beautiful, instructive and interesting games and Neil McDonald does a sterling job of elucidating and explaining their finer points.

About the reviewer: P.P.O. Kane lives and works in Manchester, England. He welcomes responses to his reviews and you can reach him at ludic@europe.com