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The path to self-damnation:
the dangers of self-publishing

Review by Olimpiu G. Urcan
(posted 18 November 2005)


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The City of London Chess Club Championship
By Roger Leslie Paige
PABD, Great Britain 2005
152 pages

I have seen this book on the Internet as many of the readers of The Campbell Report perhaps have. I took a further step and I bought the book hoping that it would contain some of the games I was missing for one of my future projects. The slight concern over disclosing my credit card number on the Internet, the twelve days waiting period, and the disappointment that the booklet did not contain what I needed, is something one can get over rather quickly without too much ado. Yet, some features of the book cannot be left without mentioning.

Errors are something I've thought a lot about since 2004, when my first book on Albin and Marco came out with many mistakes in both language, editing and presentation. I've made some, if not all, of the same mistakes that Paige has made in the book under review, and so I have some insight into why they happen.

Simple research shows that Roger Leslie Paige loves Publish and Be Damned's motto: "Publish and sell your book in four easy steps". Clicking on the link http://www.pabd.com/topics/chess one finds no less than four books signed by the same author between 2004 and 2005. The motto of the company that deals with this kind of self-publishing is based on the Duke of Wellington's reply to one of his mistresses:

"Our name is inspired by the Duke of Wellington who, when threatened by a mistress with the publication of certain private letters, returned a note to her that said: "Publish and be damned".

The name of our service is a little irreverent but was a reaction to the hurdles in the way of today's aspiring author. At a time when people are more interested in expressing themselves in print than ever, it has become more difficult to achieve that goal. We believe that it is your choice to publish and the arbitrary tastes of publishers, the perceived marketability of your book or cost of publication should not act as a barrier.

PABD was established with a simple philosophy. To provide writers with a highly cost-effective means of turning their manuscript into a finished book. We have achieved this by creating a series of automated tools that you can use to self-publish your own book - and then sell it if you wish."

Personally I feel that self-publishing can be cheaper and allows dreams about bigger profits, yet is a dangerous affair for a chess writer. Perhaps nothing illustrates this better than the copy I have ordered of Paige's latest book.

On the length (or rather shortness) of those 151 pages that claim to be a "history of the London Chess Club Championships from 1890 to 1939", the author has structured the material into 7 major sections: 1. Introduction, 2. Historical Summary, 3. Some Club Personalities, 4. Annual Results/Crosstables, 5.Games, 6. Bibliography, 7. Index of Players. Before I offer my analysis of these pages, here is a general outlook of the book: once you get past the front cover, perhaps nicely done to some extent, your are hit by a remarkable lack of editing and proper page layout. The text wanders all over the page, and the poor matching of the headlines with the text and quotes, the lack of proper borders, and a general lack of decent editing immediately strike the reader.

The introduction explains that "it is surprising that there is no single, definitive history of the famous championship, or of the club which hosted it." At the end of the half of page of introducing the reader to the topic Paige hopes that "this work gives some idea of the richness of this famous club's championship. Perhaps some day a more comprehensive history it will be written". We do hope so. And not because this booklet is a ground-breaking work, but rather because such a comprehensive and serious history of one of the historical European chess clubs would be necessary since Paige's attempt leaves an unpleasant taste in the mouth of an admirer of British chess.

The "Historical Summary", the second section of the book, confirms the alarming signs that the reader receives from the very first lines of the Introduction. You might expect at least a couple of very good pages of useful information, but what you get is exactly 31 lines and a long table with the champions of the London Chess Club between 1891 and 1939. Those 31 lines contain a short trip among the buildings and locations where the Club used to have its premises over the years, and the reader starts to feel dizzy when from line to line he is sent to The Horns Tavern, The White Heart, The Green Dragon, Mouflets Hotel, City Restaurant, Salutation Inn, The Windmill Tavern, and Grocer's Hall Court between 1852 and 1939. The first table of the book presents the champions of the Club and offers only the names and the year when the respective performance was achieved.

Quickly passing by this simple and lazily done set of statistics the reader reaches the third section of the booklet, "Some Club Personalities", richer in text but lacking in taste again. In this section of 22 pages there are 33 profiles of some of the players who were involved with the activities of the London Chess Club. Occasionally, the most schematic data offered is accompanied by an extremely rudimentary crosstable with the player's results in some British tournaments. The information given on these players is rather sketchy and it is less than one can find in any serious chess dictionary. The general feeling one gets is the need for double-checking. Surely, the author's sources were restricted to the obituaries published in the British Chess Magazine and extracting a few dates and one sentence cannot be enough to build a historical profile. One example of how Laige treated his subjects follows below, with the note that punctuation and style was kept as in original at page 18:

"17.C. Moriau
He joined the City Club in 1875 but then left England to go to the U.S.A. and France. He rejoined the club in 1888. Not a lot is known about Moriau whom Edward Winter ("A Chess Omnibus") sugests might be the same person as Colonel Moreau who lost all 26 of his games at Monte Carlo in 1903. Page 16 of the January 1893 "B.C.M." says "Mr. C. Moriau (champion) is a Frenchman, but does not look it.". The February 1874 issue of "Deutsche Schachzeitung" suggests his place of residence was Lyons. The first City championship of 1891 was played in two sections: Moriau and Mocatta tied in section A and Moriau won the play-off. In Section B Loman and Woon tied and Loman won that playoff. Loman then beat Moriau for the championship in 1892. The "B.C.M." for June 1898 (p254) gave the following brief details: "We are sorry to announce that Mr. Moriau, a well-known and brilliant over-the-board and blindfold player, is dangerously ill and whatever may happen it may be taken for granted that his chess career is finally over." There was, however, no subsuquent reference to his possible death or recovery. "

If the reader wants to learn more about the mentioned Woon that tied with Loman in Section B, the profile number 34 can hardly suffice. Although he was a member of the Club for 30 years Woon received 5 lines. Again punctuation follows the original, page 28:

"34.Charles J. Woon (c1854-1912)
He was a member if the City Club for 30 years and last played in the championship in 1908/09 when he came fifth. In 1897 City Summer tournament won by Blackburne.Woon came 7th out of 8 with 2.5 ponts. He was champion of Middlesex in 1911"

The fourth section of the book, "Annual Results", is the most distasteful. A series of results, combined with telegraphic text and even messier crosstables, form the statistics that any chess club's historian would be expected to provide with maximum of accuracy, dilligence and usefulness possible. I can only assume Paige got tired of drafting the crosstables and he gave it all up. He simply scanned the crosstables one can find in the British Chess Magazine and reproduced them as pictures inside the body of the text. Not even proper attribution is given. The bad quality of the scan, the lack of taste and the little amount of work shown by such a minimum of editing technique would convince the reader that he just spent some pounds unnecessarily. The only constructive thought that comes to mind is that - since they are taken directly from the British Chess Magazine and the scan is the living proof - such scans have a higher degree of credibility.

If one hopes that the author will redeem his sins once the fifth section of the book is reached, dissapointment is a certainty. On 116 pages there are 188 games. The style used is based on one of the Chessbase programs and the Chessbase diagrams make any chess book dealing with historical topics less esthetical. With Paige's booklet the problem resides not only with the software and layout. Most of the games have annotations given without any text explanations, and they are shown in the standard Chessbase style. No source is indicated when such annotations (without any text) are provided. A sample game found on page 82 (we've respected the punctuation and symbols used by the author in original):

J. Davidson - Lasker, Edward [A43]
City of London C.C. Championship, 1912/13 London, 1913
1. d4 c5 2. e3 e6 3. Nf3 f5 4. c4 Nf6 5. Nc3 cxd4 6. exd4 Bb4 7. Bd3 O-O 8. O-O b6 9. Qb3 [9.Bf4+/-] 9Be7 10. Re1 Bb7 11. d5 Na6 12. dxe6 [12.Qd1+/=] 12Bxf3 13. gxf3 Nc5 [13dxe6=/+] 14. Qc2 dxe6 15. Bf1 Bd6 [15Qd7=] 16. Nb5 Bb8 17. b4 Na6 18. Rxe6 [18.Rb1+/=] 18Nxb4 19. Qxf5 a6 20. Ba3 [20.Na3=] 20Nfd5 21. Qe4 axb5 22. cxd5 Qg5+ [22Rxa3-/+] 23. Bg2 Rxa3 24. Re8?

[24.Qxb4 Rd3 25.Rae1=] 24Bxh2+ 25. Kf1 Qf6 26. Rc1 Bd6 27. Bh3 Rxf3 28. Rxf8+ Bxf8 29. Qe6+ Kh8 30. Rc8 Qh4 BCM 5/1913, p208 0-1

Almost every game has sketchy annotations and source given in such form, although some of the games do not have any indicated source and they are simply found in the common databases, a thing that implies no historical research skills. A problem appears with the sources as it is very clear that the author based his selection of games from the British Chess Magazine. A simply made statistic shows that aproximately 85% of the games given quote as source the leading chess magazine used as primary source by Paige. Perhaps here rests the main drawbacks of his booklet.

The last part of it, the bibliographic list, provides the sources Paige used, and here we quote his primary sources: The Chess Monthly, Chess Amateur, British Chess Magazine, The Field, The City of London Chess Club Annual Report ("various years", the author notes). Keeping in mind Paige's decision to extensively use the British Chess Magazine in selecting his information and games, the author's inability to conduct a minimum of proper historical research becomes very evident . Historical study done on single sources, easily available as it is with the famous British Chess Magazine, without the intention and the will to put in real efforts for unravelling unknown, forgotten or really interesting material from less known or difficult to find sources, is one of the sins of untrained historians or authors experimenting with the writing of chess history. Not a single British chess column, and there were many during the London Chess Club's long existence, was researched by Paige. One wonders if Paige knows how much work, travelling and resoures a chess historian spends on covering his subject: many travel to libraries from Cleveland, London or The Hague to unravel precious information from known or less known chess columns. It has been said countless times that many chess history monographs, produced by Eastern-Europeans basically (but not only), fail with regard to accuracy/fluency of English language, proper editing and some methodological problems. Paige's work is an example that reverses this description of an inferior chess history book: coming from a native English speaker, dealing with a British chess club, yet working outside (or below) of an established historical methodology and ignoring the contemporary need for good chess editing.

The short bibliographical list is followed by an index of players. The back cover has an inscription reading "A History of the City of London Chess Club Championship from 1890 to 1939".

In conclusion, Paige's The City of London Chess Club Championship (PABD, 2005) is like a research note pad sketchily made in the first stage of collecting material. It should have been followed by a couple of hard years of intensive work on all available chess columns from London, the majority of chess journals of the poque and a greater care in bringing to life the characters that gave so much of their time and energy to the London Chess Club. There are no illustrations in the book, which makes the work what it is: a faceless piece of work, without personality or the capacity to remind us of the life of an illustrious chess club.

The ability to paint these characters in such a way as to reflect the life, growth and death of such a club belongs to the gift and passion of a hard working chess historian. Paige failed here and his display of so called history makes us paraphrase the same Duke of Wellington's words: I don't know what effect this booklet will have upon the reader, but, by God, it frightens me. But perhaps the final words of our review are little irreverent.


© 2005 Olimpiu Urcan. All rights reserved.

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