Book Review

posted Apr 22, 2017, 5:27 AM by Phil Morgan
" The Rookie - An odyssey through chess ( and life)"  Stephen Moss. Bloomsbury 2016  £18.99

This book was recently loaned to me. It's the account of a mid -50s returnee to the game of chess. Stephen Moss is a journalist for the Guardian. Along his chess journey, he gains access to and interviews players and others from across the world of chess.
When I started the book, I found some of the writing journalistic and shallow, but as he proceeds in his chess and research journey, his observations become much deeper. It includes discussions about the purpose and point of of the game. He presents the views of lovers and critics of chess.
A core of the book is his account of his games starting in a lower-grade League, moving into week-end tournaments in the U.K.. He then takes flight and travels to Gibraltar, Wijk-aan-See, Moscow, New York, St Louis and Chicago before returning to League and U.K. congress play. Along the way he interviews, among others, Keith Arkell, Stuart Conquest, John Speelman, Gawain Jones, David Howell, Jan Timman, Fred Sinquefield, Maurice Ashley, Andrew Martin, Danny Gormally, Jovanka Houska and Professor Steve Peters, Sports Psychologist. He plays in Gorky Park in Moscow and Washington Square Park in New York. From these extensive interviews he presents very informed comments about the state of chess in the USSR, United States and other countries. He considers the topic of women in chess.

Within his own play, he makes much slower progress than he would have hoped. You sense his frustration at his poor results, and the work it takes to progress from 120 to 140 ECF. He's handicapped by the time he can give to studying chess alongside work, the rest of his life and writing his book. Along the road  however it's clear that he has got the chess bug, and I sense his love for the game despite his serious questioning of its purpose. 

I found the book an impressive piece of research. His interviewees are interesting and in some cases inspiring. He's honest about himself and the shortcomings of his play and presents quite a detailed landscape view of chess today in U.K. and beyond. The book is nearly 400 pages. As yet I haven't played through his 10 key games, but now think I will. They're annotated by his "guru", John Saunders, a much respected chess commentator and writer.  Phil Morgan