Art of Checkmate, The

Georges Renaud, Victor Kahn

Reviewer: John Donaldson
240 pages

One rarely gives much thought to the role of the translator when a chess book is published, after all this isn’t a field often compared with fine literature. Many chess books have been written in which prose takes a backseat to reams of analysis. Likewise there are books where the translator wasn’t up to the task of doing a proper job, but it didn’t matter as the basic ideas were conveyed and not much was lost. Yet there are rare cases where a book has not been fully appreciated because of a poor translation.

One famous example is MY SYSTEM where the wit and humor of the original German text has never been fully captured in any of the English editions. The recent publication of THE ART OF CHECKMATE by Georges Renaud and Victor Kahn suggests that Nimzowitsch’s masterpiece is not the only classic to suffer from a poor translation.

This reviewer recalls coming across the Dover paperback edition of THE ART OF CHECKMATE a year after starting to play and what a pleasure it was to be introduced to all manner of checkmates and learn the names for each. The naming of the various mates was a clever device to reinforce the learning process that worked for me. One that I still remember is Anastasia’s Mate, named after the novel Anastasia und das Schachspiel, Briefe aus Italien, published in 1803.

Emanuel Lasker provides one of the examples for Anastasia’s Mate given in The Art of Checkmate.

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 4.0-0 Nxe4 5.Re1 Nd6 6.Nc3 Nxb5 7.Nxe5 Nxe5 8.Rxe5+ Be7 9.Nd5 0-0 10.Nxe7+ Kh8 11.Qh5 g6

11…d6 12.Qxh7+ Kxh7 13.Rh5 mate is Anastasia’s mate as it most commonly occurs.

12.Qh6 d6 13.Rh5 gxh5 14.Qf6 mate.

This new edition of the THE ART OF CHECKMATE is not only the first algebraic edition in English, it is also the first proper translation. The book was first published in France in 1947, but the book did not appear in English until the early 1950s. Cecil Purdy, reviewing it in his magazine, Chess World, at the time, wrote that “In this case, a clumsy translation has succeeded in making merely delightful what could have been made super-delightful. It is a magnificent exposition of that vital department of chess skill, the mating combination.”

One only has to compare the very first page of the translation by Jimmy Adams to the earlier work to realize that the new version is much more lively and faithful to the original. English language readers can now fully appreciate THE ART OF CHECKMATE.

Chess players from 1200 to 1800 will not only learn much from this book they will have fun doing so.

Highly Recommended.