The lessons in this book consist of annotated games and problems, along with some often inspiring general advice about how to approach the game. The book has only 206 pages, but the material is shoe horned in, with virtually no white space. Albert would have filled three times as many pages with the same material! This degree of compression makes complex variations very hard to follow. IYCF had served me well in the past and I had fond memories of it. The games and problems are both interesting and instructive, and the book also has an eccentric charm.
One of the book’s many eccentricities is that the Contents is on the last page. It took me a long time to realise that it had a contents list at all. The contents list describes the twelve lessons as:
- The moves, notation, and the mate.
- Too early development of the queen, stalemate, elementary mates, Ruy Lopez, Scotch Game.
- Early engagement of forces: King’s Gambit.
- Control of the centre and space advantage.
- Attack and defence.
- The Pin.
- Attack on the King.
- Pair of Bishops.
- Action of the rooks.
- Good and bad bishops, bishops of opposite colours, queen endings.
- Rook endings and pawn endings.
- How to think.
The book really does begin by explaining the rules! Nonetheless, even the first lesson contains interesting games, and good problems. There is some progression of difficulty through the book. The first few lessons are relatively easy, but some of the games in the later lessons are very complicated. Lesson 7, for example, includes Dubois vs. Steinitz London 1862:
This is a very interesting game, in that archetypal novice opening, the Giuoco Pianissimo. The analysis of this game comes from the Finnish International Master Book, and is very detailed, but this game is not at all easy! Some of the annotation of other games is less good. Important variations have been ignored in some positions. I checked a couple of them on a computer and found that my moves were as good or better than those included in the text. A Grand Master should have been able to do better. I could only find a couple of the games online, but I looked only when I had trouble following the analysis with one board. Nonetheless, most of the material appears to be original.
The problems are interesting and at the right level for me, but contain lots of errors. I have not seen a good proportion of the problems elsewhere, but there are also some old chestnuts. The book was not written by a native English speaker, and the language is very amusing in places. The diagrams also have Jokers for bishops! The book contains many typos. Batsford appears to have just copied O’Kelly’s manuscript without any editing. Perhaps O’Kelly demanded same approach as Cromwell famously did for his portrait: “warts and all.”
On this occasion, I worked through all the games in the first nine lessons. The endgames in Lessons 10 and 11 look interesting, but I have been doing a lot of endgame study lately. The final lesson is about De Groot, which is rather peripheral, and I have solved all the problems many times before. I believe that this exercise was instructive, but it was also hard work!