Book Review – The Immortal Game – A History of Chess

When I first opened this book I laughed my black humour laugh. I don’t play chess, but I’m the kinda guy who attracts such gifts. I like them. Thanks Peter & Christina for a great Christmas gift 😎

The first book review I found for this book started the same way as my experience,

When I got this book, my wife took one look at the title and laughed. “A history of chess? Have fun with that.” A lot of people will think that about this book, and that’s a shame. The Immortal Game is far more than a history of chess.

Such is life 😦 This is an interesting, accessible, and fun book about a game that I’ve never really got into. I’ve tried, but the game is tough & seems so big. The author shares many of my experiences and provides some background on why it is so tough and has limitless complexity. On page 69 he lays it on the table:

  • 1st move white ➡ 20 options.
  • 1st move black ➡ 20*20 = 400 options.
  • 2nd move each ➡ = 71,852 options.
  • 3rd move each ➡ ~ 9,000,000 options
  • 4th move each ➡ > 315,000,000,000 options
  • estimated total of moves possible in a game ~ 10^120! (more than a google)
  • for comparison — estimated total electrons in the universe ~ 10^79.

That kinda sheds some light on why it’s been so tough for programs to beat chess masters

Another great fact is the sheer age of chess

  • Gameboy 15 years old.
  • Monopoly 75 years old.
  • Baseball 150 years old.
  • Chess 1,400 years old.

Verdict: This is a great book. I highly recommend it. I’m making a pact with myself to start playing the game with my children like the book notes.

Here are some links —

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2 Responses to Book Review – The Immortal Game – A History of Chess

  1. Curtis L says:

    I’m glad you’ve “seen the light” on this game. Chess a great game, that develops ones thinking as it pertains to strategy, and I believe this can translate into success in a person’s career (whether figuring out marketing strategies for your business, or simply trying to think through the complexities of life). Although the game sounds intimidating when you look at how many moves are possible, one quickly finds out that various moves are strategically much better than others, and that as you advance to higher levels of play, the number of variations of “good moves” can be boiled down to a much smaller number of various openings, often named after Grand Master’s that came up with them. When people deviate too much from these openings, they often end up having pieces in less strategic positions, which often causes them to lose against better players, although occasionally, a single “poor move” in a game against a computer can throuw it off enough to let you win.

    My seven year old son loves the game, and has really clicked with it. Although I used to play a lot in high school, and then more or less dropped the game during my busy years at University and PMC, I’ve recently pick up the game again, in my retirement. And, for those of you worried about you or your son or daughter being labelled a “geek” or part of the “preppy crowd” (as if anyone reading this blog would be 🙂 ) let me assure you that I was part of neither during my highschool years (it’s amazing in hindsight that I survived my BMX and outdoor activities years)!

    For those of you interested in getting into the game, and getting your kids interested in the game, I highly recommend a computer program called “Chessmaster 10th edition” by UBISOFT. I found that the combination of having my son play me, play the computer, and attend Chess Club at school once a week helped him improve at a tremendous rate, to the point that he can now win the odd game against even the best grade 5/6/7 kids in his school. Why? The chess software provides various “people profiles” you can play against, of all ages, starting from beginner, to even playing Grand Master profiles, such as Fischer and Karpov. It can also provide summaries of your game, to point out moves that were great, and moves that weren’t. It also has a feature that allows you to play others over the web, if you so desire.

    So, go ahead and enjoy the game. And, if you ever think you’ve master the game of Chess, tell me, and I’ll set you up with a few friends that are guaranteed to help you feel humble again, no matter what your rating!

  2. Iain Verigin says:

    good to hear from you Curtis. we’ve been playing a bit at home since the book. It was really fun to replay the “immortal” game in the appendix. Every game since … the kids have been opening with the King’s gambit.

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