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Studying the Books

"What's a good book to get?" is a question I have often been asked when a discussion arises about how players can improve their standard of play. There is certainly a lot of draughts books out there, but the question does not have a ready made answer. Perhaps the correct answer should be another question - "What do you want the book for ?".

It has been my experience that people want different things from books, like how to play an opening well, how to play endings, perhaps a bit of history of the game, or want to be entertained by looking over some of the games' most amazing or amusing shots. What do you use your books for?

The authors of books have different objectives in presenting their books. Some want to entertain, others publish analysis, themes, endings, etc. English Grandmaster Richard Pask has become one of the games' most prolific authors in modern times. In presenting his "Solid Checkers" series he attempts to demonstrate sound principles of play and quotes from Derek Oldbury "The chief values to be sought in selecting published play for study are threefold, these are Relevance, Reliability, and Authenticity". For example Richard's "Solid Checkers" (Part 11-15) contained over 200 games played by master players, every single game resulting in a draw. In contrast Derek Oldbury as an author sought to entertain and said "In looking over a compilation, first look for the wins: if there are none or few, throw it out". Any serious student of the game will have books by both!

There is a myth that exists that the proper reply to every move can be found in a book, and it's only a matter of having a good library. In truth books have a limited value, and as Derek Oldbury said "What a waste of time it is to memorise large chunks of "book" learning, as this is never going to be used because, unbeknown to you, it is either obsolete or blatantly unsound. Did you realise that 90% of published analysis is one or the other?" In reality, there never existed a player or publication that has not been corrected at some time.

On the other hand there are those who disregard published play and devalue the use of books describing themselves as a cross-board player. Derek noted "I often wonder how any player can hope to be original unless he has at least a rough idea of what has been done already".

Personally, when discussing the value of a book and how a player might improve his / her game, I can do no better that quote from Dave Mulholland, Dublin's premier draughts player in the early decades of the 20th century, when he wrote in his column in the "Weekly Irish Times" (1912) as follows:

"We do not agree with those who make a fetish of the "book". As a record of fine play on certain lines of certain openings, it is invaluable, and to the learner it indicates the main principles of attack and defence. Some players however seek to memorise so far as possible the play given, while others confine their attention almost entirely to the study of a particular opening. This is not conductive to good all round cross-board play. One's standard of play can best be improved by the development of one's mental powers, and for this purpose nothing is more effectual than a game, slowly played and carefully thought out. The books then referred to for comparison, to find the weak moves and to confirm the strong ones. The ambitious student should remember that the books are not infallible, and should not be afraid to be original. There is no desire in all this to underestimate the usefulness of the "book". We value our own little library.

© NorthWest Draughts Federation 2002