Irving Chernev

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  • Irving Chernev

    Irving Chernev

    May 31, 2019

    Since I have just resurrected a thread on Fred Reinfeld, it is perhaps fitting to start another one on one of the most popular chess writers of the 1940 – 1960 era.

    Irving Chernev 1900 - 1981

    NYT Obit:

    Irving Chernev Is Dead; Wrote Books on Chess

    OCT. 3, 1981

    Irving Chernev, a chess master who wrote 18 books on the game, died Tuesday at his home in San Francisco after a long illness. He was 81 years old.

    Mr. Chernev was born in Priluki, Russia, and came to the United States in 1904. He worked in the fine papers industry, and his last job was with Marquardt & Company in New York City, from 1957 to 1968. He lived in Brooklyn for 60 years, taught and lectured on chess and to ok part in many chess tournaments throughout the United States.

    He was co-author with Fred Reinfeld of ''The Fireside Book of Chess.'' He also wrote ''Curious Chess Facts'' and ''The Golden Dozen; The Twelve Greatest Chess Players of All Time.''

    Other works of his offered introductions to the game and described winning traps, Russian chess-playing, special games and the strategy of chess.

    Surviving are his wife, the former Selma Kulik, and a son, Melvin, of San Francisco.


    One of the first chess books I bought was Chernev’s Curious Chess Facts. I have the 1960 Catalogue of Chess Books and Equipment from Chess Review in front of me as I write. These are some of the prices

    Chernev Curious Chess Facts 75 cents
    Chernev The 1000 Best Short Games of Chess (cloth) $5
    Bobby Fischer Bobby Fischer’s Games of Chess (cloth) $2.95
    Chernev and Reinfeld The Fireside Book of Chess (cloth) $5.95
    Yanofsky How to Win End-Games $2.95


    Curious Chess Facts

    This little booklet comprises 64 pages and has 206 entries such as:

    The shortest and longest tournament games

    The anecdote of Marshall’s 1912 game against Lewitsky where the chessboard was showered with gold pieces by the spectators

    The German book on advice to chess spectators with the admonition “Keep your mouth shut!” (Halt’s Maul)

    Bishop Ruy Lopez’s advice to place the chessboard so that light reflections from it would shine in your opponent’s eyes

    These were meant to entertain. Edward Winter has examined the evidence for the gold coin game and gives a photo of the Halt’s Maul booklet (in CN 3415). The true facts are not quite as spectacular as the curious facts.


    Through the years I picked up 15 of his books. I can single out Logical Chess: Move by Move, The Russians Play Chess and The 1000 Best Short Games of Chess as ones I particularly remember. The pages of my paperback copy of 1000 Best Short Games started falling out and so I had to get the clothbound edition.

    Grandmaster John Nunn hated Logical Chess calling it “a severely limited work produced by a weak player”. Ah well, I think we all like our first chess books no matter what the critics say.

    Edward Winter considers Capablanca’s Best Chess Endings as his best work. His best-selling book was An Invitation to Chess (with Kenneth Harkness).

    I kept a copy of the Dover edition of The Russians Play Chess and a peg-in board in the lab and used to play over a game or two during lunch.


    In 1979 Jerome Tarshis wrote a four-page article for Chess Life and Review about him entitled:

    An Invitation to Chernev

    Extracts from that article:

    Chernev has made a career out of appreciating the beauty of chess. Today, at seventy-nine, he is the dean of American chess writers.

    When I learned that Chernev and I both live in San Francisco, I resolved to call on him, partly in the service of journalism and partly to thank him for the pleasure he has given me. I suppose, considering his age and the great erudition that informs his writing, that I expected his apartment to be a cavern lined with books from floor to ceiling and to be inhabited by a yawning, shuffling wraith.

    The books do not reach from floor to ceiling; the Chernevs use waist-high bookcases. They do go on and on, however. A quick inspection discloses that Chernev has reading interests other than chess. Literature and history are well represented and Chernev delighted me with his collection of books by the humorist S. J. Perelman, one of his favorites and mine. Since the chessboard is not the only place where Irving Chernev enjoys finding sardonic wit, he is also fond of the short-story writers Roald Dahl and John Collier.

    Reinfeld tells us that Chernev used to go about with little black notebooks, one for games that especially pleased him, one for problems, one for endgame studies, one for anecdotes, and one for curious chess facts. Reuben Fine, in an introduction, calls up a picture of Chernev as always ready to entertain his companions with the contents of those notebooks. His books are, on the whole, extensions of the little black notebooks, expanded and published for all of us to enjoy.

    Irving Chernev was born in Russia on January 29, 1900, and was brought to the United States by his family in 1904. He grew up in New York, where, when he was twelve, he began to learn chess from his father. Later, he did not commit his full energies to chess competition; he wanted to do other things with his life, and enjoy other aspects of chess, including problems, fairy chess, the history of the game, and the lives of great players.

    His first book resulted from his meeting Fred Reinfeld – Chess Strategy and Tactics (1933). Other books followed, most written by himself. Of eighteen books published over a period of forty-six years, sixteen are still in print.

    He was not a fulltime writer. For most of his adult life, before he retired and moved from New York to San Francisco in 1968, he was employed in the paper industry, specializing in fine papers for books and magazines.

    (to be continued)

  • #2
    Irving Chernev

    June 1, 2019

    (continued from last post)

    “The writing that I did was done on weekends and after hours,” he recalls. “It was only when I had an idea that I thought merited a book that I would do a book, and then I would spend a lot of time on it. For example, when I wrote The 1000 Best Short Games of Chess, I went through some fifteen to twenty thousand games, to pick out games that were dissimilar and weren’t just baby traps, or dreadful blunders in the opening.

    Most of the leading masters of an earlier generation were almost wholly ignorant of the literature of chess. As Chernev puts it, “They didn’t want to see a game played before 1930. All they cared about was something they could use in their next game.” He speaks of Marshall approvingly: the grand old man of American chess was not only eager to look at a problem and quick to find the mate in three, but always willing to sit down and analyze a game, even a game between two fifth-rate players.

    His own interest in the beauty of chess has taken the form of prodigious reading.

    “I have my particular favorites. There are books I’ve been through at least a dozen times, slowly and carefully: Alekhine’s My Best Games of Chess, 1908-1923, Reti’s Modern Ideas in Chess, Capabalanca’s Chess Fundamentals, Tarrasch’s Dreihundert Schachpartien, which is very enjoyable, and it’s not dated.”

    “I’ve been over Botvinnik’s One Hundred Selected Games at least seven or eight times. I’ve enjoyed Keres’s and Smyslov’s books of their own games, which I’ve gone over many times. I love Tal’s games; I like to think Tal played the games Morphy would have liked to play.”

    I didn’t find Reshevsky on Chess as dull as most people do; I went over that three or four times.

    There are other favorites, I enjoyed the Nimzovich Praxis and My System too. And I liked tournament books that are well annotated, like Carlsbad 1907 and 1929 and New York 1924.”

    I could not resist asking who were his favorite annotators, past and present. “Most of them are gone,” he said. “The three that I found the greatest of all time are Alekhine, Tarrasch, and Marco.”

    I asked which annotators he liked among those still with us. “I’ve liked Purdy’s notes, but I haven’t seen anything of his for years. I like Mednis’s book on Karpov. I liked Fischer’s book of games and Larsen’s. What’s been written lately?”

    Keene’s book on Nimzovich?

    “That is a good book. There is thought behind that book.”

    If Chernev sounds a little foggy about recent chess books, it could be because he is writing a book on checkers for the Oxford University Press now.

    “At the Marshall Chess Club in my youth I saw, among others, Alekhine, Capablanca, Janowski, Maroczy, Ed Lasker, Emanuel Lasker, and of course Marshall. Among the younger players, Denker and Fine and Horowitz and Steiner and Reinfeld and Dake and Bernstein and Napier.

    “The point was that you could see activity of nationally and internationally known games, with people interested in looking at some problem or an ending or a game. Or perhaps I could watch Alekhine and Janowski playing quick chess – what greater sight could you want than that?

    “And of course there are things other than chess that take up my time. I have a wonderful wife, and a son, and his wife, and they have a daughter. So I have a happy family life. And I like good food and wine and travel.”

    From Chess Life and Review, September 1979, pages 500 to 503

    Books by Irving Chernev

    Curious Chess Facts,1937
    Chessboard Magic!, 1943
    Winning Chess Traps, 1946
    The Russians Play Chess, 1947
    The Bright Side of Chess, 1948
    The 1000 Best Short Games of Chess, 1955
    Logical Chess, Move by Move, 1957
    Combinations: The Heart of Chess, 1960
    Practical Chess Endings, 1961
    The Most Instructive Games of Chess Ever Played, 1965
    The Chess Companion, 1968
    Wonders and Curiosities of Chess, 1974
    The Golden Dozen: the Twelve Greatest Players of All Time, 1976
    Capablanca’s Best Chess Endings, 1978
    The Compleat Draughts Player 1981

    With Fred Reinfeld

    Chess Strategy and Tactics, 1933
    Winning Chess, 1948
    The Fireside Book of Chess, 1948

    With Kenneth Harkness

    An Invitation to Chess, 1945

    Two Quotes

    - Don't fiddle while Byrne roams!

    (Advice passed to the chess player and teacher Jack Collins while watching chess master Robert Byrne snip off his pawns.)

    The Bright Side of Chess Hollis and Carter, 1952)

    - The greatest compliment one can pay a master is to compare him with Capablanca.

    The Chess Companion, (Faber & Faber, 1970).


    I would like to thank the Special Collections Division of the Cleveland Public Library for a copy of the CL&R 1979 article.
    Last edited by Wayne Komer; Saturday, 1st June, 2019, 04:03 PM.


    • #3
      I met Irving Chernev when I was 16 years old. At the time I had no appreciation of who he was and virtually no chess culture. I do recall I was impressed that he went out of his way to the backwater of London, Ontario to hunt thru musty old boxes of games collections hunting for elusive games. Bob Edwards said to me "Do you know who that is" Not a clue but I learned a lot about him later. I really liked the layout of the Golden Dozen and used to teach from it. Also several games from 1000 Best Short Games ended up as favorite teaching games.


      • #4
        I'll never forget page one of Combination The Heart of Chess. The first diagram was Tal - Klaman USSR 1957, the second Taimanov - Kusminich USSR 1950 The solution explodes the light bulb in your mind. 1.Ng6!! Nh7 2.Rxe6!! fxe6 3.Qxd8+!!! Qxd8 4.Bxe6++ (checkmate) I, an impressionable schoolboy, was deeply impressed and have had a love of combinations ever since.


        • #5
          Irving Chernev

          June 4, 2019

          From Combinations: The Heart of Chess

          White to play



          USSR 1957

          In this position, the brilliant young player Michael Tal demonstrates in two moves the most devastating Knight fork you ever saw on a chessboard!

          1.Qc4+ Kd7 2.Nc5+ resigns

          White to play



          USSR 1950

          White offers Knight, Rook and Queen in rapid succession to his opponent

          1.Ng6 Nh7 2.Rxe6 fxe6 3.Qxd8+ Qxd8 4.Bxe6#


          • #6
            GM Arnold Denker included a chapter on Irving Chernev in his wonderful book "The Bobby Fischer I Knew And Other Stories" (Hypermodern Publishers, 1995), co-authored with Larry Parr. Chernev (1900-1981) coached GM Denker (1914-2005) in his early years in chess; there was a friendly connection between their two families in New York, circa early 1920s. The two remained close friends for the balance of Chernev's life. GM Denker wrote that Chernev, at his peak, WAS in fact a solid Master player; he did play in the U.S. Championship, which had a very challenging qualifying system just to gain entry to the tournament. Chernev gave up serious tournament chess in his early 40s, to concentrate on writing about chess, with tremendous success. He also kept his other job, seemingly as a mid-level manager in the paper industry, according to GM Denker. I recall acquiring some of Chernev's books when I was a junior; in particular, I remember "The Fireside Book of Chess", co-authored with Fred Reinfeld. I thought it was great!