Berg, Barry illus. by David Hautzig. Opening Moves: The Making Of A Young Chess Champion. Little, Brown 2000. ISBN 978-0316913393 48 pp. $
Six-year-old Michael Thaler became the National Kindergarten Chess Champion in 1999. The book follows his brief career to date and imparts the life lessons Michael has learned through chess: prepare, focus, win some, lose some, have patience, etc. These are difficult to learn lessons for most adults, let alone children. Still, the author very clearly demonstrates Michael’s passion and talent for the game.
The book takes a turn for the worse when the narrative details three games Michael has lost and learned from – and rehashes them in complex chess code without any explanation save an unexplained diagram! Who is this book for? Not for the novice chess player, and not for your average 8 year old. A brief chapter on basic moves, or even a glossary (what is an opening? An endgame? The Scandinavian defense?) is decidedly lacking.
The art design of the book is a little disturbing – the designer opted for contrasting colors instead of chess-themed black and white. The cool tones on the cover are nice, but inside, nothing seems to fit together. A checkerboard motif is repeated throughout, and the border wittily changes from pawns to kings as Michael progresses. Lots of white space makes the book easy to look at, but the readability of the text is very uneven. David Hautzig’s photos are evocative, but it is disappointing that the same picture was used at the beginning of each new chapter.
A thoughtful afterword by Michael’s dad encourages parents to introduce their children to chess, and mentions its benefits. Suggestions for starting a local club or finding a teacher or evening contacting the National Organization could have made a useful appendix.
Hardly a necessary purchase, briefly consider it for chess fans. Best to save your money until–or if–Michael reaches master status.