GENIUS IN THE BACKGROUND by Tibor Karolyi and Nick Aplin is a wonderful book about unsung heroes of chess. As Karolyi explains, the authors had previously written books on Kasparov, Polgar, and Karpov when he felt the urge to shift gears and shine light on some of Caissa’s lesser-known but important devotees.
Most of the people featured in this book have recorded significant achievements, yet they remain virtually anonymous to the great majority of chess fans. A few of them are known amongst certain segments of the chess world, but none are known as widely as I believe they deserve to be. Some are still alive, while others, I am sorry to say, are no longer with us. Some I know or knew well, and others I have never met. All have made their unique contributions to the world of chess, and all have their own – sometimes very moving – stories.
Among those featured are the early trainers of Topalov (Petko Atanasov) and Kasparov (Alexander Sakharov), world class endgame composers (Yochanan Afek and Oleg Pervakov), and strong over the board players like Elmar Maggeramov, the last Soviet Champion, Gerardo Barbero (who died tragically young), Karsten Muller (the endgame expert), Ashot Nadanian (the ever inventive creator of novelties like 5.Na4 in the Grunfeld), and the late Karoly Honfi, who was a close personal friend of Karolyi.
The chapter on the late Laszlo Lindner, a fixture in Hungarian chess for over 50 years, is especially fascinating. One learns that in 1944 he and fellow chess master Tibor Florian (later a Hungarian champion) were sent to a concentration camp in Bor in Yugoslavia where they kept their sanity by playing chess together. Near the end of the war the Germans arranged ostensibly organized train transport back to Hungary for the prisoners, but in fact the train was stopped at one point and the occupants were forced to march back towards the Third Reich with few surviving. Fortunately Lindner and Florian did because they forgot to board the train, being distracted by a game they were playing!
GENIUS IN THE BACKGROUND is not only filled with wonderful stories, it also has lots of great chess from endgame studies to early games by Topalov and Kasparov you won’t find anywhere else. This is the sort of book all chess lovers should have in their library.