How to Write about Chess

Edward Winter

(2011)


chess writing guide


When submitting a manuscript or article, do not worry about accuracy, spelling, grammar or punctuation. Your publisher and core readership are unlikely to be bothered, so why should you? Write as fast as is physically possible, and if a book is dashed off in a weekend, regard that as a cause for pride, not shame. Boast too about how many books or articles you have published. Declare that you have never had bad reviews or, if that is disproved, never bad reviews from discerning reviewers.

Use bare game-scores lifted direct from databases, taking all the details on trust. After a quick computer-check, present any worthwhile analysis as your own. Keep annotations as light as possible, with multi-purpose phrases like ‘a debatable decision’, ‘an absolutely fascinating and amazing position which defies analysis’ and ‘the rest is a matter of technique’. To inject colour, refer to octopuses, boa constrictors or anything else that may be noticed and quoted. Exaggerate wildly. Whenever feasible, an adjective should be preceded by ‘wholly’, ‘totally’, ‘utterly’ or ‘completely’ or, better still, by two such words in combination. Other recommended permutations include ‘amazingly brilliant’ and ‘brilliantly amazing’.

Sprinkle in, interchangeably, jargon like ‘classical’, ‘neo-classical’, ‘post-classical’ and ‘pseudo-classical’. Make liberal use of words like ‘portend’, ‘adumbrate’ and ‘dichotomy’. Anything can be presented as portending anything else, so state that Anand’s recent games remind you of Maróczy’s play in the inter-War years. Employ phrases like ‘As Steinitz once wrote’, ‘Tarrasch always said’ and ‘Tartakower was fond of telling us’, since anything may safely be attributed to such figures. Claim that a happening is the best or worst of its kind since 1851, 1927, 1948 or any other randomly chosen date.

Never research or cite primary sources. Avoid footnotes and endnotes at all costs. ‘I think I read somewhere’ or ‘It’s often been claimed’ is all you need. Facts are tricky in unsure hands, so focus on opinions and commentary. Report that your views are endorsed by an ‘eminent professor’ or a ‘leading championship challenger’. No names are needed, or need even exist. Say too that you have been inundated with e-mail messages of support. Above all, though, ensure that your books and columns contain abundant appreciative references by name to your friends, relatives, associates, co-authors and house guests.

When culling material from other writers’ books which do cite primary sources, name neither the writers nor the sources. Ignore all historical research undertaken in recent decades. The writings of Al Horowitz or Harold C. Schonberg will suffice, but occasionally slip in H.J.R. Murray’s name even if you have never read him. When uninspired, refer to Pillsbury and do a copy-paste of the list of complex words that he memorized forwards and backwards. Gain time and money by re-using the same material from one column or book to another, also forwards and backwards, but avoid repetition within any six-month period.

If a book of yours is to have a bibliography (not essential), focus on your own works and those of your friends, relatives, associates, co-authors and house guests. Never bother with an index unless someone else will prepare it. Photograph captions should merely confirm what the reader can see for himself. If two masters are shaking hands, the caption should specify that a hand-shake is taking place. If the players are laughing or smiling together, state that they are ‘sharing a joke’.

Show a sympathetic, chummy side. The obituary of an enemy will naturally need to be brutal, covertly if not overtly, but otherwise report that people have died ‘sadly’ or ‘tragically’. Place yourself at the centre of chess events, past and present. Ingratiate yourself via charity work, duly announced before, during and after. Use photographs of yourself accompanied by the famous. Latch on to leading players and celebrities (preferably those unfamiliar with your track-record). Attack television for going down-market, but seize all opportunities to appear on-screen to assist the process. In your writings employ terms like ‘memory power’ and ‘genius’ and make regular admiring references to da Vinci and Divinsky.

Do not hesitate to lift texts (recommended maximum: four or five pages) from other writers, presenting the material as your own. If such lifting becomes public knowledge, attack the original writer and state that the whole affair is totally and utterly (or wholly and completely) baffling to you. Forget memory power and plead amnesia or, better still, blame an underling, real or imagined. Never admit any personal wrong-doing. Go silent and hope that everything will blow over.

Praise to the skies the books of your friends, relatives, associates, co-authors and house guests. If you receive praise, give it maximum exposure, praising the person who has praised you. Have at least one vanity press company of your own if mainstream publishers have turned their back on you. Always use your books and columns to further your political aspirations and put the best gloss on failures. Shoot at all the soft targets; no writer ever lost popularity by assailing FIDE. Make yourself the recipient of awards from bodies founded by yourself or by your friends, relatives, associates, co-authors and house guests. To keep your name in public view at a level commensurate with your abilities, join a discussion or kibitzer group, posing as an expert. Bask in the fulsome praise of naïve pseudonymous posters who ask you patsy questions. If unnaïve pseudonymous posters criticize you, denounce the use of pseudonyms. Exploit such a forum for what it is: an ideal locale for vendettas against adversaries who are not members. When launching polemics, in any outlet, intimate that it is your opponent who is launching polemics and that you are an innocent victim. If you have made defamatory remarks about somebody, whether hot-headedly or by cold design, never apologize. Go silent and hope that everything will blow over.

If it becomes widely known that your books and articles undeniably contain blunders, issue a denial. Make no attempt, at least initially, to rebut a critic’s arguments, but depict him as a nitpicking nerd. If such personal attacks are unsuccessful, affirm that his criticism is based on factual errors, giving no examples. Next, take his words out of context and accuse him of taking your words out of context. Then distort his arguments and rebut the distortion. If all that fails, say that any mistakes of yours are minor. If they are then shown to be major, blame your publisher, co-author (if any), proof-reader (if any) or underling. Declare that your adversary’s criticisms are prompted by jealousy. As a last resort, say that he has a hidden agenda. Resist calls to elaborate. Go silent and hope that everything will blow over.

Above all, though, keep writing. And remember that the only sources that count are sources of income.



This article was originally contributed to ChessBase, on 3 October 2011.



Latest update: 21 September 2013.

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Copyright: Edward Winter. All rights reserved.