The Foreword by world champion Vishy Anand describes the book as "a rich compendium of spectacular highlights and defining moments from chess history", and it is certainly that. It is a superb collection, full of remarkable moves, combinations, blunders, problems, endgame studies, etc. Throughout the book, comparisions are drawn with other walks of life, such as literature, science, art, philosophy, etc, but never in a ponderous, overly-scholarly or artificial way. The author, a Professor of Mathematics at the University of Stuttgart, is simply an amateur chess lover, and he manages to convey the amateur's sheer love of the game, like few authors. In many ways, the book reminds me of another of my favourite writers on chess, the Dutch novelist Tim Krabbe. Tim has always loved the unusual, curious and spectacular in chess, and his website (alas, no longer updated) is the greatest collection of such curiosa one will ever find.
A few days ago, I quoted a delightful proof game, taken from the Hesse book. Here is a fabulous problem, by one of the all-time greats, Lev Loshinsky. It is mate in three.
In this wonderful problem, the key 1.Rg6 sets up a mate threat, but allows Black three different moves with his f-pawn, each of which defeats the threat and gives check to the white king! However, each defence is met by a different white Novotny interference on d5, resulting in mate. This problem, which took first prize in the Russian magazine 64 in 1974, was described by John Nunn in his Solving in Style as "perfect in every way", which it certainly is.
But it is not only composed positions that the book features. The following game position is one of the most amazing coincidences I have ever seen on a chessboard:
Jorgenson - Sorensen, Stockholm 1945
Mention of sources brings me on to my only real criticism of the book. When it comes to problems and studies, the author has the irritating habit of giving the composer's name and the year, but not the publication source. It is not as bad as some chess authors (the late BH Wood once produced a book of Victorian chess problems, in which he did not even credit the composers!), but it is definitely annoying. The proof game, which I quoted a few days ago, was published in The Problemist 1991.
And that, in turn, brings me on to one other contentious issue. I got the publication details of the Heinonen proof game, as also of the Loshinsky problem above, by consulting Levitt and Friedgood's masterpiece Secrets of Spectacular Chess. Both Hesse examples appear in that book, too, and it has been suggested to me by one problemist friend that Hesse's book is essentially a compendium of examples, taken from other collections. This is always a difficult issue with such books. In practice, if one puts together a collection of one's favourite games, positions and compositions, then it is practically inevitable that they will all have appeared somewhere else before. Many authors, from Chernev to Krabbe, have produced similar compendiums of such material. It is possibly true that Hesse could have been a little more scrupulous in acknowledging where he first saw the examples he quotes, but I suspect that he may not even recall the answer, in many cases. I certainly cannot recall where I first saw many of my own favourites. I am inclined to take a lenient view, although of course, it goes without saying that if Hesse's name were R D Keene, the deranged denizens of one particular London-based chess blog would be calling for him to be hanged, drawn and quartered, probably in the lobby of Simpsons in the Strand.
I had planned to end here, but mention of termites always brings a nasty taste to the mouth, so here is a suitable mouthwash, with which to eliminate it. This is a problem by the Russian master Janisch, from 1850, known as Tamurlaine's Iron Cage. It is White to play and mate in 10, but with a difference. In the Tamurlaine legend, the Mongol conqueror defeated his Turkish enemies in 1402, and spared the life of the opposing leader, instead imprisoning him in an iron cage, in which he spent the rest of his days. In this problem, White can give mate in one on his first move, and on every subsequent move of the solution, but, in Tamurlaine tradition, he refuses to do so, instead concentrating on building his iron cage around the hapless black monarch. Do make a point of playing through the solution:
The Joys of Chess does just what it says on the tin. Do not hesitate to buy a copy, and keep it by your bedside on cold winter nights. If ever you start to forget what it is that you love about chess, then pick it up, open a page at random, and look at what you see - you will soon be reminded what it is about this magical game of ours, that keeps us hooked, despite all the trials and tribulations it occasionally puts us through.
You can buy The Joys of Chess here.