“How to Beat Your Dad at Chess”

Chess Book Review

It was the best of books; it was the worst of books. For average chess beginners or the lower-intermediate-level players, how can this book simultaneously be the best and the worst, this bestseller on the royal game: How to Beat Your Dad at Chess?  It’s complicated. To know if this book would be the best one or worst one for you, understand what it contains, what you want to accomplish, and when you want to accomplish it. You also need to consider your own present skills in the royal game.

Don’t misunderstand. There’s nothing average about this book. The focus is narrow: checkmate patterns, so if that is what you most need to learn, I highly recommend it.

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review of book "How to Beat Your Dad at Chess"

Fifty Deadly Tactics

According to the Introduction, “there are 47 checkmating strategies” plus three other patterns (one for perpetual check and two for winning material) in the book. Does that mean about 94% of this book is about checkmating patterns? Exactly.

The patterns themselves and how they are presented in this book have been highly acclaimed, rightfully so. Almost any chess player who is around the 800-1200 USCF rating strength should greatly benefit from studying this book. But the title is “How to Beat Your Dad at Chess,” and that can be a different animal.

I highly recommend this book for those who are in the lower-to-mid rating levels of tournament competition. But for the majority of raw beginners who want to soon win games against other beginners, I found it to be inadequate, to say the least.

How This Could be the Worst of Books

To perfectly understand how this can be the worst chess book to purchase requires an understanding of how it can be the best chess book. But we’ll get to that soon enough. For now, notice the following:

  1. Most of the fifty deadly tactics in this book will never be encountered in games played by a typical beginner, meaning a person below a rating strength of about 600.
  2. Beginners need to learn to regularly avoid throwing away material.
  3. To win many games, beginners need to learn how to win basic endgames.
  4. This book shows you how to create a classic checkmate combination, but it does not show you how to get into such a favorable position.

In other words, this is not the best book for beginners. For the early beginner, the novice who knows the rules but little else about winning an actual game, the best chess book may be the new paperback Beat That Kid in Chess.

In support of point number one, pages 20-21 demonstrate a smothered mate from a queen sacrifice, a well known pattern known to masters and some lesser-ranked players. Yet in my half-century of playing chess I have encountered this form of smothered mate only twice in my own games (both of which games I won). Other patterns are likewise rare. For what it’s worth, I learned the smothered mate from other sources, not this book, probably from one or more books in which I was first enlightened in that particular pattern.

In addition, How to Beat Your Dad at Chess does not tell you how to arrive at a position in which you can use your knowledge of those patterns. Learning to get into those precise, advantageous positions—that can take years of experience over the board. It does little good, in the short-term, for beginners to learn only checkmating patterns.

How This Could be the Best of Books

Once you have risen well above the beginner level, however, How to Beat Your Dad at Chess can propel you higher and faster than almost any other chess book. The main catalyst to ignite that rocket of performance improvement—that’s a skill you won’t likely learn from this book: a skill at driving your pieces towards your opponent’s king when it is vulnerable.

I’m not talking about getting to the moon with one rocket engine. Once you have mastered the patterns in this book, you should be able to at least occasionally put that skill to use, but many other chess skills are needed to continue progressing.

Conclusion of this Book Review

What do you want? If it’s reading a book in the next two weeks and expecting to win a lot more games on the third week (compared with how many you usually win), this book is not likely to help you attain that goal, unless you have been regularly almost succeeding in getting to your opponents’ king in the middle game, then losing because your attack failed.

Here is one key to the paradox of how this can be both the best and worst chess book: Because it is so good at what it does best, a novice chess player can easily assume that this is very beneficial when it is not. It’s also fun to learn many checkmating patterns that can, theoretically, defeat an opponent. That combination—benefitting a little and having fun—makes it appear that the reader is much more likely to win games after that reading.

If you want chess books that will help you win more games in the next few years, How to Beat Your Dad at Chess may be the best one to purchase, unless you already know many of those patterns.

This book works best like an intermediate booster. If you have the rocket to get you into earth orbit and the precise rocket engines for landing on the moon, this book will get you out of earth orbit and into a lunar orbit. If that’s precisely what you need, this may be the best book for you.

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More Chess, Nonetheless

White pawns at a4 and f4, with king at e4; black pawn at a5, with king at f6. White to move and win with a simple pawn endgame.

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"Beat That Kid in Chess" front cover

Beat That Kid in Chess is the best book for the raw beginner

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