Good Stuff 22.3

By Herb Kohl

Kasparov, Garry 
On My Great Predecessors: Part I 
(Everyman Chess, Gloucester Publishers, UK, 2003; 
distributed in the United States 
by The Globe Pequot Press, 
PO Box 480, Guilford, CT 06437; 
also available at

On My Great Predecessors: Part II 
(Everyman Chess, Gloucester Publishers)

On My Great Predecessors: Part IV Fisher 
(Everyman Chess, Gloucester Publishers)

When I was teaching in the public schools my students played chess every day and often, as a joke, I would tell kids who were messing around during a math or reading lesson, to go into a corner of the room and play chess. They almost always ran to the chess corner and before long were engaged in a serious, frequently quiet, sometimes sophisticated game. The game not only defused their anger and cooled down their conflicts, but it engaged their intellects. In fact, it tricked them into thinking and planning and concentrating in ways that brought them back to the more rigid academic studies they were resisting.

Recently I discovered a series of books by Garry Kasparov, a former world chess champion and sometimes jailed candidate for the presidency of Russia. Kasparov’s books are to the chess world what Joyce or Proust is to the literary world. At this moment, I am working my way, game by game, through the first volume of the books, which he has titled “my great predecessors.”

I believe that anyone who is teaching chess in the classroom, takes pleasure in the game, or has students who love to play the game can benefit from investing in at least two of the three books listed above. The first I would recommend is Volume I of On My Great Predecessors. The second is the Bobby Fisher volume, which is not merely an account of Fisher’s games, but of his innovations, eccentricities, and genius.

The series presents, analyzes, and discusses all of the great chess players’ games from the late 19th century to the present (often with very interesting biographical information). Kasparov has the credentials to unpack the stratagems of history’s grandmasters; many chess experts believe him to be the greatest player ever. Yet, far from an aloof or condescending champion, Kasparov is disarmingly charming. However, while these books are delightful to read, they will be difficult for someone who doesn’t know chess notation, or has little time to replay old games and think about the ideas and strategies they embody.