“Lack of Focus:” On Kopec’s Mastering Chess

My review of Danny Kopec’s Mastering Chess has been printed in the March 2013 issue of Chess Life.  A penultimate version of the review is reproduced here.  My thanks to the good folks at Chess Life for allowing me to do so.


Kopec, Danny, Geoff Chandler, Ian Harris, Chris Morrison and Ian Mullen.  Mastering Chess: A Course in 25 Lessons.  2nd ed.  Merrick, NY: Kopec Chess Services, 2013 (1985).  ISBN 978-1491277478.  PB $21.95; currently $19.76 at Amazon.

Mastering Chess: A Course in 25 Lessons is a partial reprint and enlargement of a 1985 book of almost the same name.  The first edition had 21 lessons broken down into five chapters: ‘Tactics and Combinations’ (Chandler), ‘How to Analyze a Position’ (Kopec), ‘How to Formulate a Plan’ (Morrison), ‘Opening Principles and Ideas’ (Nigel Davies), and ‘Endings’ (Mullen).  In this second edition, the basic structure remains the same, but the chapter order is revised and the chapter written by Nigel Davies is replaced by one by Ian Harris.  Some additional material has been added to each of the remaining chapters, and new exercises have been included as well.

Kopec describes his target audience in the first edition as being players rated roughly 1450-1750. (ix)  The second edition casts a much wider net. “Mastering Chess is a unique book,” Kopec writes on his website, “in that it covers the essentials which every aspiring chess player must know well (from Novice to Expert) to reach the chess Master level.”[1] The assumption must be, then, that the revisions to the first edition aim to broaden its reach to both the more humbly and augustly rated.  In this, the book succeeds.  Whether the book benefits from these revisions, or whether this broadening is desirable in the least, remain a very different issue.

Most of the first edition of Mastering Chess, save the chapter by Davies, reappears in this second edition.  The pages from that first edition have been scanned and reprinted verbatim, and it’s here that some of the first difficulties with this book arise.  The scan job is, simply put, shoddy.  Characters are pixilated and multiple lines of text contain artifacts from the image processing.  If you pick up the book and compare the scanned pages with their counterparts in the Google Books[2] version of the first edition, the difference in quality is stark.  The text and diagrams are legible, but it seems quite odd to me that such little care would be taken with such an important task.

As noted above, the first edition of this book was written for players rated between 1450-1750.  This range seems accurate to me, if perhaps a little on the low end.  The first edition contained some fairly difficult material, and it tried perhaps to teach too much in too few pages, but the level of complexity never nudged too high or too low.  The same cannot be said for the added pages to the second edition, which appear to be nothing more than raw word processor output.  These new pages vary widely in aim and quality, with some being pitched at rank beginners and others far too complicated for most class players.  Some are also marred by serious problems, editorial and otherwise.

Take, for example, Geoff Chandler’s chapter on tactics and combinations.  The original four lessons are a decent, if rushed, primer on basic tactical play.  Key mating patterns are covered and stock tactical themes are explained with one or two examples.  Problems for solving are also provided.  So far, so good.

His addition to the second edition – ‘Tactics and Combinations Thirty Years Later’ (37f) – is riddled with grammatical errors.  Font sizes change without rhyme or reason.  The new exercises range from mate in twos to intricate endgame problems.  These pages seem to be devoid of editorial intervention.

Kopec’s new material is likewise flawed.  There are typos and more grammatical lapses (118, 120, 129, 131).  Some games are given with no notes (82, 176f), while others contain analysis whose depth astounds.  The ‘Point Count Method’ of positional analysis, introduced in Lesson 14, was not particularly practical when Horowitz & Smith first devised it, and Kopec’s rendering does little to burnish it.  For someone who wrote a lesson called ‘Don’t Always Believe the Computer,’ Kopec cites Fritz’s precise evaluation far too often.  And I found Kopec’s repeated – at least eight instances – shilling for his other products in the text galling.  If I bought this book, why am I being directed to other books or videos for explanation or analysis?

The additions are not all bad.  Ian Harris’ new chapter on the opening is fairly good and free from the typos endemic to other sections.  Even here, however, the analysis varies widely in intended audience and analytic depth.

Mastering Chess suffers from the additions and revisions made in this new edition.  It tries to be everything to everyone; in doing so, it becomes a book for no one in particular.  If you must have a copy, make sure it’s the first edition.


2 thoughts on ““Lack of Focus:” On Kopec’s Mastering Chess

  1. Carlo

    It’s a shame that over the past several years with the boom of electronic-based publishing, the role of editors (both Editors with a capital e and the more humble copy editors) seems to have been shrunk to the point of nonexistence. This has occurred even with major publishers who simply scan and print without ever a human checking things, it seems. Getting back to the subject at hand, Kopec put out some good works previously (Practical Middlegame Techniques is a favorite), too bad there was no quality control here.

  2. Chuck

    A clear, concise review that presents constructive critique of factors important to the projected reader in a manner that is immediately helpful in making an informed decision about investing in this particular work (and, yes, I have read other reviews of this same work in the decision-making process). Well written. Exactly what I needed to know.


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