ECF Book of the Year 2020

This year’s shortlist contained four books of considerable merit. One, however, stood out for its original subject matter, which was treated in a serious manner, but with good writing and a considerable sense of humour.

GM David Smerdon
New in Chess paperback pp359 £21.95

The subtitle explains the aim of the book – ‘How to save points from lost positions’. It is the fate of all chess players to sometimes wind up in lost positions, but Smerdon argues that does not mean a player should give up trying to save the game. There are many ways to resist, and this book is a manual of weapons – strategic, tactical and psychological – that the reader could use. Saving a lost game can sometimes be as rewarding as winning one!

Smerdon starts by looking at the psychology surrounding swindles. A swindler has to know both his own mind (Tal being the perfect example of optimistic resourcefulness) and that of his opponent (are they anxious, want to get the game over quickly for whatever reason, or prefer a simple technical win to complicated but quicker victory?). He then goes onto consider the various approaches a swindler may use such as a ‘Trojan Horse’ and the ‘Decoy Trap’, and many others. But the above does not work unless a player knows various ways that enable a potential swindler to escape his fate, such as stalemate or perpetual check. The book contains many examples of the various positions and techniques that can be used. Smerdon concludes with 110 exercises to develop the reader’s swindling skills of various degrees of dificulty.

What lifts the book above the ordinary is Smerdon’s quality of writing and his enthusiasm for chess, its players, and the chess world. As an academic in behavioural economics he has a sharp eye for human nature and enlivens the text with many quotes and pointed footnotes. Of course, the book’s subject provides much amusement – who does not enjoy (unless you are the victim) a good swindle?  

An outstanding Book of the Year 2020, which combines insightful discussion of a previously unexplored subject with good writing and great entertainment throughout. Ideal for these difficult times.

— Ray Edwards & Sean Marsh, 29th September 2020