23 June 2019

Chess Historians Discuss Linder

The most recent post in the series on The Sociology of Chess was last month's Books on Soviet Chess History. There I wrote, 'There are 11 titles on the list, of which I have all but three'. The most intriguing of the three was Linder's 'Chess in Old Russia'. I had often encountered his name, but knew little about him.

Of 'Chess in Old Russia', I found little and will keep looking. Isaak [Isaac] Linder died in 2015, and the top pages about him are obituaries: Obituary of Isaak M. Linder (kwabc.org), for example. Also featured prominently are his books on the early World Champions. To date, there have been five translated into English, all listed on Isaak Linder: Books (amazon.com). The introductory material to 'Emanuel Lasker: Second World Chess Champion' explains the circumstances of the book's publication. Here's the start of the 'Foreword' by Andy Soltis, June 2010:-

When he began his My Great Predecessors series in 2003, Garry Kasparov adopted a literary device: After telling the story of a world champion, Kasparov quoted what the champions successors had to say about him. Kasparov said he did this because it "has become customary." Perhaps so. But it became customary only after it was used in Kings of the Chess World (2001) by Dr. Isaak Linder and Vladimir Linder. This book is arguably the finest work of chess history in more than 30 years. One of the Kings chapters has been improved and transformed into the book you are reading.

You may not be familiar with the authors because the Linders, father and son, have been published mainly in Russian and German, and only a fraction of their vast contribution to chess literature has been translated into English. Other chess historians know them for their meticulous approach to the craft. They know Isaak Linder in particular for his personal ties to some of the great figures he's written about. For example, during the memorial service for Vasily Smyslov at the Central Chess Club in Moscow in early 2010 he recalled playing Smyslov in Soviet junior events back in the 1930s. A photo survives of Dr. Linder playing Emanuel Lasker in a 1935 simul in Moscow. And he is probably the only historian to appear in a chess movie.

From the 'Publisher's Note' (Russell Enterprises):-

This book originally appeared in Russian, part of the massive historical tome published in 2001, Korolyi Shakhmatnovo Mira (Kings of the Chess World). By the time we had the pleasure of meeting with Isaak Linder and his son Vladimir in Moscow in March 2008, the original single-volume work of almost one thousand triple-column, small-font, large-format pages had been split into individual books, one for each world champion. We quickly reached an agreement with the Linders to bring out these books in what would become in English The World Chess Champion Series.

The first in the series was about Jose Raul Capablanca, the great Cuban world champion. This book on Lasker is the second in the series. With the permission and encouragement of the authors, we made some changes to the original Russian edition. The original contained a fine selection of Lasker's games. We brought in German grandmaster Karsten Mueller to provide refreshing new notes to these classic games. American grandmaster Andy Soltis, who has himself written about Lasker, contributed a new Foreword. And crosstables of minor matches played by Lasker, not included in the original edition, were also added.

From 'A Word about the Authors', Yuri Averbakh, April 2010:-

At the authors' request, I have edited a few of their recent voluminous works, and I must admit to being bowled over by the breadth of their conceptions! Very few people would be capable of taking such large swaths of chess history and recasting them into such an unusual literary form. How have they been able to put their ideas into concrete form?! Above all, because they have a system for dividing up the work. The elder takes charge of the historical approach, and the analytical duties; the son handles the literary decorations and the statistical basis of their works. As a reader, I can say that the results are a delectation for chess gourmets.

The next books in the series, also introduced by GM Soltis, were on Steinitz, Alekhine, and Euwe (although not in that order). Will there be more? The Amazon reader reviews are not particularly encouraging.

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