Thursday, May 10, 2007

Leslie Ault: Most Under-Rated Chess Author?

{This is just a quick post...I've been pretty busy lately with getting the house ready for sale. I'm going to be out of town for about a week and I've been preparing my reading list (I never leave home without a gajillion books), which has prompted this topic.}

I've never understood why Leslie Ault's two books (three, if you count Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess--see below) never became better known.

When I was just a kid, The Chess Tutor: Elements of Combinations came out, and it was the first book I read that explained chess tactics systematically. I've owned two copies fell apart and got lost, and the other I bought for 5$ used and gave to a friend. I thought I'd find another copy and never did. Now, I see that it sells used online for about $50, so maybe it's stature has grown a bit. I think this is a great first chess book, and prefer it to Chernev and Reinfeld's "how to see three moves ahead" book. I mentioned this book earlier here.

About 18 years (!) pass, and out comes The Genesis of Power Chess. Similar approach, but different material. This is a unique book that is hard to explain. In general, it's about positional chess, but the first several chapters have the theme of converting advantages to a win. Both books are a series of positions where typically you're asked to play for one side, and often asked what the outcome will be (e.g. in the endgames chapter, you have to figure out whether it's a win or a draw for the attacker). The chapters break down to:

  1. basic mates
  2. selected basic endgames
  3. "Cashing In at the End"-forcing a pawn promotion
  4. "More Fun at the Cashier's Window" continues this theme
  5. "The Care and Feeding of Pawns"- a terrific chapter on how to use your pawns, e.g. creating weaknesses or avoiding them
  6. "Piece and Harmony"-piece coordination, minor piece imbalances such as N vs. B, and so on.
  7. "The Endangered King"-king safety issues in the middlegame
  8. "No Holds Barred", where a series of positions from one game are given as quizzes.

The overall story of the book is how to gradually accumulate advantages and win. Arguably, this book more than any other I've encountered has given a clearer impression of how "real" chess is played.

Today, as I was researching for this post, I came across something interesting: Ault apparently was a pretty key figure behind "Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess". From the book's acknowledgments:

Leslie H. Ault (a former U.S. Intercollegiate Champion) ...assisted with the original development of the programmed sequence and...served as general editor during the preparation for publication

The question of how much of BFTC was actually Ault's work was raised here. In the foreword to The Genesis of Power Chess, Ault mentions his involvement with the publication of the book. His description of the extent of his involvement came across as a "tidying of loose ends" when his actual contribution may have been much greater.


Blue Devil Knight said...

Cool. Is it written with lots of diagrams, or do you need a chess board to go over it?

Geoffrey said...

Easily read without a chessboard, for me at least.

Anonymous said...

"First of all, I'll make a tour of the whole world, giving exhibitions. I'll charge unprecedented prices. I'll set new standards. I'll make them pay thousands. Then I'll come home on a luxury liner. First-class. I'll have a tuxedo made for me in England to wear to dinner. When I come home I'll write a couple chess books and start to reorganize the whole game. I'll have my own club. The Bobby Fischer ... uh, the Robert J. Fischer Chess Club. It'll be class. Tournaments in full dress. No bums in there. You're gonna have to be over eighteen to get in, unless like you have special permission because you have like special talent. It'll be in a part of the city that's still decent, like the Upper East Side. And I'll hold big international tournaments in my club with big cash prizes. And I'm going to kick all the millionaires out of chess unless they kick in more money. Then I'll buy a car so I don't have to take the subway any more. That subway makes me sick. It'll be a Mercedes-Benz. Better, a Rolls Royce, one of those fifty-thousand-dollar custom jobs, made to my own measure. Maybe I'll buy one of those jets they advertise for businessmen. And a yacht. Flynn had a yacht. Then I'll have some more suits made. I'd like to be one of the Ten Best-dressed Men. That would really be something. I read that Duke Snyder made the list. Then I'll build me a house. I don't know where but it won't be in Greenwich Village. They're all dirty, filthy animals down there - lower than cats and dogs. Maybe I'll build it in Hong Kong. Everybody who's been there says it's great. Art Linkletter said so on the radio. And they've got suits there, beauties, for only twenty dollars. Or maybe I'll build it in Beverly Hills. The people there are sort of square, but like the climate is nice and it's close to Vegas, Mexico, Hawaii, and those places. I got strong ideas about my house. I'm going to hire the best architect and have him build it in the shape of a rook. Yeah, that's for me. Class. Spiral staircases, parapets, everything. I want to live the rest of my life in a house built exactly like a rook"(Bobby Fischer) more

Charles B. said...

Thanks for mentioning the book "The Chess Tutor". Due to your mentioning it, and a couple of other places I'd read about the book, I took a chance and bought a copy. I think I will like studying it.

I also went ahead and got a copy of "The Genesis of Power Chess".

On this web page (now found on the web archive) Robert Pawlak wrote that "The Genesis of Power Chess" is probably his favorite book in his collection. That is how he felt about it when he wrote that web page anyway.