May 27, 2015
How to Beat Your Dad at Chess has been called the best chess book and the worst, and that evaluation comes from the same reviewer. Part of the problem is with the title, for this is nothing like a broad approach to improving a beginner’s chess skill. If your father always beats you in chess, and you are only a beginner (or with the skill of someone rated lower than about 600 by the United States Chess Federation), you will not be able to completely turn around your performance against your father, after studying the checkmating patterns in this book. In that sense, the title can be misleading.
This is a chess book with mating patterns, the shapes of 47 types of checkmate. It tells you nothing about how to get to such positions, which are essential for carrying out those checkmates. Here is a sampling of the names of some of those patterns:
- Anastasia’s Mate
- Arabian Mate
- Philidor’s Legacy (Smothered checkmate)
- Taimanov’s Knight Check
- Blackburne’s Mate
- Boden’s Mate
- Rook Decoy Sacrifice on h7
- Queen and Bishop Mate
- Greco’s Mate
Beginner Versus Beginner
Those with limited chess competition experience, in other words beginners, may benefit from studying the mating patterns in this book. But what immediate return can they get from it? Less experienced players need to learn many things, to switch from losing 60%-80% of their games to winning 60%-80% of them. They need to learn to avoid throwing away material. They also need to learn to win endgames that are theoretical wins and draw endgames in which they are at a disadvantage but which are theoretical draws.
How to Beat Your Dad at Chess may be most useful for more advanced players, those rated class-D or better by the United States Chess Federation, or those with similar skills in chess. Beginners may get a long term benefit but not likely with any big improvement in the win/loss column, in the near future.
For the raw beginner, a better chess book is Beat That Kid in Chess.
It was the best of books; it was the worst of books. For chess beginners or the lower-intermediate-level players, how can this book simultaneously be the best and the worst, this bestseller on the royal game: “How to Beat Your Dad at Chess?” It’s complicated.
I would still find serious problems with “Conquer Your Friends With Eight Easy Principles,” even if I was not writing a book on chess. I’ve owned and borrowed dozens of chess books over the past six decades. This one could be the worst.
With that said, for a chess player who only wants an easy reading experience, without much mental effort requires, Conquer Your Friends With Eight Easy Principles may be satisfying. Just don’t expect to win many games from that satisfying reading experience.