Book Review: Starting Chess, by A.J. Gillam (1978)

A.J. Gillam, Starting Chess (1978)

I learned to play chess many years ago. By this I mean, I learned how the pieces move and what the rules of the game are, but not much else. Learning to play better has long been one of my desires, and I’ve decided to do so this year. My general plan is to read some books for beginners, and then move on to more advanced works. I’m planning to use the reading plan that Ken Smith of Chess Digest wrote, albeit with modifications since he wrote his plan well over 20 years ago. But first, to refamiliarize myself with the rules of the game.

I chose this book because I already have some other books by Gillam (Simple Chess Tactics and Simple Checkmates). Those are primarily collections of problems to instruct learners. This book aims only to teach the way the pieces move, the rules of the game, how to check and checkmate, and some very simple tactics. I don’t think it’s entirely successful. It’s a mix of board illustrations, problems, and text. In some places there isn’t enough text to teach the lesson, and in others there aren’t enough problems given for the learner to solve. The basic material on how the game is played is rather thin to make up a book by itself and should really have been combined with the volume on tactics or checkmate (or had those topics covered in much more detail in this volume).

Since I already knew this basic material on how the game is played, this book was sufficient for me as a refresher, but I wouldn’t recommend it to someone who had no knowledge of the game at all. To learn the basic material on the move of the pieces and the rules of the game, I’d instead recommend one of the Dummies or Idiot’s guides, or volume 1 of Learn Chess (Alexander & Beach), or a book by Bruce Pandolfini. All of those books cover more than the basic moves and rules, but they do teach that material better for adults than this book.

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