Thursday, September 12, 2013

Book Review - Chess Duels by Yasser Seirawan

Book Review - Chess Duels by Yasser Seirawan

Complete Title: Chess Duels - My Games With The World Champions
by GM Yasser Seirawan
Publisher: Everyman Chess 2010

I rarely write a book review, mainly because in fact I rarely ever completely finished reading a chess book! But Yasser's Chess Duels is one of the exception. I enjoyed reading every pages of Chess Duels. Mainly for three factors:

1. Yasser Seirawan is very favorite person to do chess-story telling, and I've been familiar with his tales ever since the first time I learn about chess. It's true me, like million others, are Yasser's "student". The most direct lesson he gave was in Chessmaster program back then! Beside this, Yasser write thousand of articles and in fact founder of Inside Chess magazine. With this, I found the chess player Yasser Seirawan, is interesting to get to known further and closer.

Now, I must share a story as well! Back in the '90s where internet not even 'compulsory' on Microsoft Windows 3.1, finding chess resources was hard, in my country. But when www dot com finally reached a light, had been one of resources on the primitive Netscape Navigator back in 1998s. I remember clearly, Inside Chess put a FREE TRIAL ISSUE offer online, and I duly asked for it. Yasser (...his team) sent me two copies of Inside Chess magazine, internationally shipped to my house. And until now the magazines are treated as museum item for nearly 15 years, become one of my most treacherous chess reading. Thanks Yaz!

Inside Chess Magazine, found by Yasser Seirawan

move on....

2. Biography is a genre of book that I love to read much. But Chess Duels is more than a biography, in fact a very specific chess journey story telling book. Yasser write about some of most interesting stories about particular chess players and moments on modern chess history. He is the Robin in Batman story. He was just the right person on the right place.

The chapter of Chess Duels begin with Yasser's childhood and family background story. Interesting. Even though Yasser put in numerous writings, I hardly ever remember he describe his childhood in details. At least I only being informed by Wikipedia article, about his Syrian background and so on. Here Yasser put in more information on that area, although also not very details as he cleverly not write his other personal stories, maybe too boring for us. But the background of his Arabian-European mixed up, are well documented in this chapter.

The story telling aspect on this book is its number one attraction. And I hooked up right from the very first sentences. So, as we already know that Yasser is also a masterful story teller in numerous interviews, this book is his 'written' version. This is where we found epic story on how he meet the chess world personalities from chess world champions, chess-almost-to-be world champions (Keres, Korchnoi etc.), chess fighter, chess dumper and many other interesting persons. All packed in this book. Almost too fiction but historically existed stories, again, all to be found in this book. My favorite stories:

Seirawan in Korchnoi's home
Seirawan versus Petrossian blitz session
Seirawan and Kasparov meet the mysterious FIDE delegation
Seirawan and Larry Christiansen playing bridge with Korchnoi and partner
Seirawan and it's Prague Agreement story, mainly because I was one of the chess fans who closely followed this even back in 2002-03.

The books divided into a chapter that chronological arranged with the historical order of Chess World Champions. The chapters are:

1. Bobby Fischer 15
2. The Giants 43
3. Vassily Smyslov 56
4. Mikhail Tal 78
5. Tigran Petrosian 120
6. Boris Spassky 120
7. Anatoly Karpov. 1975-1985 172
8. Garry Kasparov, 1985-2000 233
9. Anatoly Karpov, Post-1985 312
10. Garry Kasparov, Post-2000 381
12. The Future ofthe World Championship 401

Chess duel published in 2010. Beyond this point, several chess championship taken. The Gelfand-Anand match and up coming Carlsen-Anand match in 2012 and 2013. And on tiny issue, Yasser pointed that the KO event was too lottery-like chess tournament result, with the winner of FIDE KO / World Cup not much coming from the strongest player. Well, the 2009, 2011 and 2013 FIDE World Cup had been won by Boris Gelfand, Peter Svidler and Vladimir Kramnik, which is less 'suprise' results than the previous World Cup edition where Yasser witnessed. In 2012 there is a Clash of Titan exhibition where Seirawan once again played Karpov in Saint Louis exhibition. Maybe all of these can be updated on the next volume.

and the last factors:

3. The game annotation styles. For those who known Seirawan's annotation will found that his annotations are very father to son-night time story in styles. This is in term of historically, the background story aspect of each game, are well annotated by Yasser. The context of the game, the emotional elements were well recorded. On other hand, the analysis... boy, it's too lengthy.  Mainly because, maybe half of the games, were Yasser on the losing side. So, this is a chess games collection book where the author try very hard to explained why he lost. And it's instructive.

Unfortunately for me, Yasser's style is completely too 'positional' that the 1.e4 games collection not much included other opening beside the Caro-Kann, the Pirc and the Modern defence. My favorite opening , Sicilian defence was not present. On my personal account, this is the only setback of this book!

For those, who like me, are born on the era where reading a chess moves and put it on the real chess piece and board are less practiced, because of computer take over, here the online chess collection on all the games from Chess Duels. Chess Duels collection from's member  and alternative link

The other minor annoying thing is , I think Yasser's stories come too favor to the last two world champions. That he, Garry and Anatoly was in fact a good friend. Even though Yasser completely write his experience with the two in real deal of love and hate situation, I smelled that some other 'dramatic' story were being compromised. For example, the Karpov-Kamsky match story, which is completely not being touched, even though I remember that Seirawan was at one moment posted Kamsky story to Inside Chess. The other minor is, Yasser did not write enough 'epilogue' about Bobby Fischer, on the late 2000s. The other very minor is, Yasser did not write enough 'prelude' about 2000s generation of chess players, even the '90s are also not very much covered, with exception of Kramnik, and one tiny passage about Ivanchuk. And too none about Anand (only the very last paragraph).

Finally, I think Chess Duels is very interesting chess book to be read and owned. Our noble games need more story like this. Once again, Yasser completed the task to inspired readers with chess story. Chess Duels is very interesting chess book that mixed three things: the autobiography of Yasser Seirawan against Chess World Champions, the history of chess exposition, and the game collections with deep analysis, put altogether into one book.

In the late 2012-2013, Saint Louis Chess Club posted a collection of Yasser's lectures, and some of the anecdotes in this book are re-tell in those lectures. Check the Youtube channel of the club here. And again, enjoyed Yasser in animated version.


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