Great Moves: Learning Chess Through History (2021)

Great Moves Learning Chess Through History

Great Moves: Learning Chess Through History is a fantastic book that takes the reader on a historical journey from ancient India up to a period just after the Civil War. This is not just a history book though.  Great Moves is an all-in-one reference guide for both chess teachers and students alike. It teaches the game through the lens of history showing many chess masterpieces played by iconic players such as Morphy, Anderssen and others.

Some of the most famous chess games ever played took place in the early 17th, 18th and 19th century. The games are important to understand because they helped lay the foundation for what would later become the opening theory we are familiar with today. Great Moves touches on several of these classics. So. if you’re interested in learning about the famous Evergreen game or Paul Morphy’s blindfold exhibition, this is the book is for you!

Great Moves

A workbook to teach or learn from

Great Moves is truly a compendium of chess in that it covers everything from history, rules, players  and so much more.   Every chapter starts with a color photograph and some text explaining a particular topic and concludes with a short list of “To-Do” questions that helps the reader internalize the knowledge that they just read.

When I first started reading Great Moves, I thought it was more of a chess teacher’s workbook – and it can be.  Chess teachers are always looking for interesting material to show to their students. In my view, Best Moves is the book they should start with. The book is laid out like a lesson planner with each chapter building on the next.

Great Moves is a very interesting read all by itself.  There are many topics that beginner players can learn from.  Core concepts like the Lucena position, the value of chess pieces and tactical themes are essential for new players to understand.  The books presents these ideas in a clear and concise manner.  This is a great for someone who not only wants to understand the rules of chess but where they came from.

Past is Prologue

We are taught history to understand our heritage and to learn from the lessons of our ancestors. Learning the game of chess should start with the understanding of where the game started and how it has evolved.  Chess is an international game and has a rich history that stretches from the Middle East to Europe and parts of Asia. Each of these regions have influenced the game in ways you might not expect. For example, the Arabs were the first to study chess scientifically.  They created chess problems and were the first to hold chess tournaments. Also, did you know that the en passant rule was not officially adopted until 1880? That was news to me until I read the book.

For serious students, it’s important to recognize the contributions of the game’s most influential players such as Philidor, Morphy, Steinitz and others. Many of these players’ games are included in the book and are worth reviewing.  I have to admit that I never played over the famous Evergreen game, but now that I have, I feel that every chessplayer should be familiar with it. 

There are some fascinating anecdotes about chess that I was never aware of. One of them involves chess and the American Revolution. I had no idea that George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson played chess, let alone that they each had a custom made chess set.  The book has a photo of Jefferson’s chess set on display at a museum in Monticello, Virginia.  The set is on a small table with two chairs next to it giving the impression that a couple of players could sit down and start playing at any moment.   It is a fascinating piece of history.

ConclusionGreat Moves is a brilliant examination of chess history

Great Moves: Learning Chess Through History is a welcome addition to any chess player’s library.  As a reference book, it details the fascinating history behind the game of chess. If you are a teacher, the book provides a complete set of lessons designed to teach new students (primarily children) the basic principles of the royal game. As a standalone book, Great Moves is an interesting and insightful collection of historical essays designed to teach the reader the rich history of one of the oldest and most popular board games in history.

FM Sunil Weeramantry and his co-authors really delivered a book filled with value for all players at all levels. Great Moves gets a Better Chess rating of 9.5 out of 10.