30 December 2006

The Best of ChessCafe

For the first time in a long while, I received a chess book as a Christmas gift this year. The last time I can remember getting a chess book was when I was a teenager and my chess library had a total of one or two books, half of them by Reinfeld. That last gift was Lasker's 'Manual of Chess', which is one reason why I think so highly of it: people always have fond memories of their first loves. Another reason is that it's such a good book that even as my knowledge of chess deepened, I always found something new and interesting in it.

The book I received this Christmas was 'Heroic Tales: The Best of Chesscafe.com 1996 - 2001', edited by Taylor Kingston. It was a good choice of book mainly because I didn't have it already. I received it from a friend of the family, who once was a decent club player and who knows the difference between 1.d4 and 1.e4.

The Amazon.com page...

Heroic Tales: The Best of Chesscafe.com 1996-2001

...has a single Customer Review that says, 'An attempt to paint a rosy picture of FIDE administrators under the guise of impartiality. If you are interested in distorted facts and half truths then this is probably the book for you. If not, don't waste your money!', along with a single star. As far as I can see after browsing the book for a few days and reading 100 pages or so, this comment has nothing to do with anything, so I reported it to Amazon as 'inappropriate'. Since the report form didn't allow me to say why I thought it was inappropriate, my report will probably end up in the bit bucket.

The book was also a good choice as a gift for me because I'm not a big fan of ChessCafe.com and haven't read much of their material. Yes, I know they offer oodles of wisdom from some of the best chess writers on the Web. All of them have outstanding credentials as players, trainers, organizers, or the like. The problem is that the site makes it as difficult as possible for me to determine what, if anything, might interest me.

The ChessCafe home page uses a style of mystery meat navigation that makes its visitors click through to an article to find out what the topic is. For example, at this moment the first article in the list of Columns (ChessCafe's term) is titled 'New Stories about Old Chess Players, Jeremy Spinrad, December 30'. That's all. There is nothing that tells me what kind of story about which old player is featured this month. If I visit the site a month from now, I will see 'New Stories about Old Chess Players, Jeremy Spinrad, January 30', or whatever date the column was last updated.

I've read one of Spinrad's columns and I know that he is a first class chess historian. I might learn something new and interesting from his current column. I might also learn something interesting from 'Opening Lanes, Gary Lane, December 6'. GM Lane might be writing this month about one of my favorite openings. I am never going to find out, because I don't have the time to click through 20 columns (I counted them) to discover which ones interest me personally.

I can only guess why ChessCafe does this, and my guess is arrogance. I suppose that the person responsible for the site's administration just assumes that visitors to the site have nothing better to do than to click through uninformative descriptions of content. This may have been true in 1996, when ChessCafe started operating, but at the end of 2006, nearly 2007, there are more sites competing for everyone's attention than there were in 1996.

A twenty-something told me proudly today that he is a member of the '0-1-2-3' generation. When I asked what it meant he told me that whenever he uses technology, he wants zero manuals or user guides, one button maximum to push, two buttons maximum on the gadget, and three seconds maximum response time. I'm probably the last person in the world to have heard this joke, and I had to laugh.

ChessCafe, in contrast, wants me to click through 20 links to find out what's on offer this month. No, thanks. I'll move on to another site. Have I missed something? Maybe so, but it's only chess and it's just a game, and I can live with an element of ignorance.

There are other reasons why I think the ChessCafe navigation stems from arrogance, but I'll keep those to myself. Unlike many web writers, chess or otherwise but especially chess writers, I'm not out to pick fights with everyone else; not on this topic, at least.

What do I think about the book 'Best of ChessCafe'? It's excellent. In a way it's a pity that someone had to destroy a tree before I could discover this fantastic content that has been a mouse click away for the last five years.

I might have more to say about the book on this blog. Then again I might not; there is so much else to write about. I would enjoy reviewing it for About Chess, but since it was published in 2002, it's too old. Maybe there will be a 'Best of Chesscafe.com 2001-2006'. If there is, and it turns out to be as good as the 1996-2001 version, I am certain that it will be worth an enthusiastic review.

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