My Bookshelf: "500 Master Games of Chess" by Savielly Tartakower and J. du Mont

  • GM BryanSmith
  • | 06 dic 2012
  • | 16016 visualizzazioni
  • | 26 commenti

For this week's review, I will be covering 500 Master Games of Chess by Savielly Tartakower and J. du Mont. I have had this book since soon after I started playing chess, and it was a big influence on me. I spent many hours playing over the games in it - probably I have played over almost all of them.

This book is exactly what its name implies - a collection of 500 master level games, nothing more and nothing less. It was published in 1952, and the games included range from the 1700s until shortly before the book was published. The majority of the games took place in the late nineteenth to early twentieth centuries. The games are organized into sections by opening, and there is a player index in the back.



There is literally nothing else in this book besides the annotated games. There is no preface, no introduction to each opening, no player or author biographies. I like its minimalist nature. The majority of games take up less than a page - there is very little long analysis and the notes are generally meant to be poetic and simply to explain what is happening in the game. I have the sense that this book - as with many other older books - does not have instruction as its main purpose, but rather entertainment and art. Instead of deep analysis to try to "get to the truth" Tartakower creates an atmosphere of chess as an art and a battle. Most books that are being printed now have the improvement of the reader as their entire goal. They really lean on the reader, lecturing, telling him what to think. This book, on the other hand, does not intrude on the reader's world as much. Nevertheless, you can learn from it while enjoying it.

Where I got it

Sorry, but I have absolutely no idea. I know that I had it from very early in my time as a chess player - definitely by the time I was fifteen. It is literally falling apart by now. The first 230 pages are bound together but not attached to the rest of the book. There is tape holding the spine together, which I put on there at some point.

What's good about it

As I said before, this book does not impinge on the reader's world, does not lecture, and does not try to claim that the author knows "the truth". If it did those things, it would look ridiculous from the current point of view. It simply presents the games, explaining what is happening in sometimes-poetic language, and that is all.

The reader can do what they want with the games. If he wants, he can take a game apart and analyze it for hours. Or he could play through it in five minutes and absorb the patterns. I suspect that the 500 games represent a larger portion of the "master" games played up to that time, since there were not very many tournaments nor many masters in the old days. Nevertheless, you will not have seen the majority of them before. The games were selected for their beauty, and it does not include any boring games. Probably about ninety percent of them are decisive games.

This book is probably best for players rated 1200-2000. However, players rated less than 1200 can read it and stretch their mind, as long as they accept that there will be some things about the games which will be mysterious. And there is no reason why players above 2000 could not appreciate the games as entertainment and a look into the past of chess. I still read it today sometimes.

How it impacted me

As I said, I had this book from nearly my beginnings in chess. I used to play over the games each evening. I am certain that I learned a great many positional and tactical patterns from them.

An Excerpt

How to penetrate into the enemy camp? The manner in which White solves this problem in the following famous game is worthy of a genius.


Any Downsides?

Depending on your point of view, there are many downsides in this book. It is a fairly old book, so the games are old and innocent. You are not going to find the latest theory in here. There are games with obvious holes. There are also inevitable misjudgments by the annotator. Tartakower did not - and could not - put a lot of work into annotating each game, because that would be a huge amount of work and result in a gigantic book.

But these downsides could also be benefits. The annotator mostly leaves you alone to view the games as you like. He doesn't try to claim absolute truth. The games are old, but you get to see classical chess, which everyone should learn before you plunge into the intricacies of the Botvinnik Semi-Slav. Oh, and there are most definitely no comments like, "Houdini evaluates the position as +0.32 for White..."

This book is in descriptive notation. I don't know if there is an algebraic version, but I suspect there is. In any case it's not a problem for me, since the first system I learned was descriptive. However, I agree that algebraic is just better. It can get a little annoying trying to figure out which knight is the "king's" knight at move fifty.

What you should eat/drink while reading this book

Spiced black tea.


  • 19 mesi fa


    Did Tartakower write the annotations, or was this work shared equally between Tartakower and DuMont?

  • 19 mesi fa


  • 21 mesi fa


    I was looking classical games which we should study. Now I am having list of the games.

    thanks Bryan

  • 3 anni fa


    I also have this book and very much enjoy it, some of Dr. Tartakower's comments kinda crack me up too. :D  I actually enjoy the descriptive notation, too!

  • 4 anni fa


    It hasn't been updated to Algebraic (from looking at the customer reviews at amazon - and the table of contents), but unless you have some sort of dyslexia or phobia about English Descriptive it's a real bargain

  • 4 anni fa


    its a good game

  • 4 anni fa


    Great article!I also have the book.

  • 4 anni fa


    i bought this book about 14 years ago,its still in good shape, alhough i found it difficult to follow at times, i share the same view as some of the other comments i've read, the notations help to make up for the descriptive format, that is if one can bear following the descriptive.If they ever publish a copy with algerbraic i would like to get it,even if that means having two copies of the same book.

  • 4 anni fa


    I too had this wonderful book when I was young and have been thinking about buying it again. I enjoyed it so much, and the fact that it was just a collection of games to enjoy, not an instruction book was a very large part of the enjoyment. I felt kind of like a 'real' chessplayer who didn't have to have my hand held through everything chess.

  • 4 anni fa


    I just bought a fresh copy off Amazon several days ago.  Still in descriptive (which is fine by me).

  • 4 anni fa


    VanHovenstein, the direction a piece faces makes no difference.  I always face my knights to the right, which keeps up with the mirrored image of chess.

  • 4 anni fa


    Great review of a wonderful book.  Tartakover has a well deserved reputation as a a fine annotator.  His collection of his own best games is also well worth owning, and was published by the same company that published 500 Master Games.

    Interesting game shown here.  With all of the maneuvering, switching flanks and use of outposts, the game has a very Nimzovitchian feel, a good 40 years before Nimzovitch was expounding on his ideas.

  • 4 anni fa


    This bookshelf series is great. A pre-computer and Internet chess era IM from AK is way more impressive than a GM from NY or CA. I checked "top" AK players, since IM Smith is now in PA, #1 is a little over 2000, and #21 is 200. I hope to learn from his articles how to self-study and improve.

  • 4 anni fa


    This is a great book with some good annotation, giving possible analysis mistakes due to pre-computer judgements. It is pretty solid though, giving a wide range including odds games. A good exercise for chess improvement would be to go over each game, hand analysing the games, then going over the games with an engine to see any possible mistakes. There is a reason why IM's own this book. A player develops not by saying yes yes master, but rather, yes master, why are you are you right, and more importantly, do i believe you are right!! We can seek the guidence of the master, but not trust it blindly, that's what will give us the strength to make us masters!

  • 4 anni fa


    It's possible it was reprinted with algebraic notation. They did it with Lasker's Manual.

  • 4 anni fa


    Great review! I haven't read the book, but after reading the review and the comments it seems like I should!

    Bryan: You write under the 'What's good about it?' topic, "...Or he could play through it in five minutes and absorb the patterns." I was just curious whether you think chess is mostly about learning patterns by heart. If you know a lot of patterns you are stronger than the one who knows fewer patterns. So playing strength is simply a measure of the number of patterns you know.  

    mercho: Are you serious about your suggestion that a win should be 1 pts, a loss 0.5 pts and a draw 0.25 pts? That would mean that there never would be any draws. A draw is probably the natural result of a game of chess between two optimally playing chess computers. The current state of chess is the natural development of the game as players gets better and better. The value of a sacrifice - a real sacrifice - lies in that you surprise your opponent and hope he makes a mistake or you put him under intense pressure that he eventually cracks and make a mistake. Is that more in the spirit of the game? For instance, a masterfully executed positional win is that not in the spirit of the game? I think you would simply get trounced having a very sacrificial style in today's game so it would not be especially rational to play like that. Besides many tournaments is already using the fotball scoring system which incentivizes intelligent risk taking.

  • 4 anni fa


    D Bronstein thought that Tartakower were the biggest genious of the game of Chess ever.....

  • 4 anni fa


    Classic book

    Also for example Richard Réti books Nimzowich books, Capa books and Aljekhin books among other Books. David Bronstein (GM)told me that very few seems to read such books any more, sorry to say. 

  • 4 anni fa


    Along with Shakespeare, this is one of the books I might insist has to come with me to that desert island. Along with a chess set, of course.

  • 4 anni fa


    Chess is a game to be enjoyed not scrutinised to the last, Form is temporary Class is permanent. A lot of the players today do not play the game in the true sense/spirit. It seems computers rather than advancing the game, has stunted the THE GAME. I suppose the players today  either  have analysed the game, or their opponents to death in fear of the post computer analysis making any sacrifice look idiotic. But chess is not meant to be like that its meant to be played in the spirit of art and flair and sacrifice to excite both the players and the audience. As we see from the above game both  players are trying for an all out win from the start, no bullshit -no messing -no fiddling -no draw, its all or nothing and as a consequence the game is much more intriguing and exciting than the modern game,regardless if there are technically better moves.

    Maybe their should be only .25 for a draw, and .5 for a loss and 1 for a win, incentifying both playersto take risks. This would combat the over use and over analysis of games and promote the analysis of admiring the beauty of the effort and the game win or loose.

Torna a inizio pagina

Pubblica la tua risposta: