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Published by Apple Press Limited. ISBN 1940921536. £15 hb

THERE are many delightful quotes about chess. “No man has yet said ‘Mate’! in a voice which failed to sound to his opponent bitter, boastful and malicious.” “William the Conqueror in his younger years, playing at chess with the Prince of France, losing a mate, knocked the chessboard about his pate, a cause ever afterward of much enmity between them”. And who can forget the chess game in The Thomas Crown Affair?

Master Pieces is the story of a game of bloodless battles, a conflict of intellectual thought, between two adversaries, each controlling a miniature army on a battlefield of 64 squares. But it is not only the game but the pieces that have captured the essence of wars and revolution, peace and religion, art and technology. This intriguing little book features more than 30 of the most significant and influential chess sets, spanning 1000 years of design.

The author, who owns a fine collection of historical sets, is a founder member of Chess Collectors’ International and was an organiser of the 1986 World Chess Championship in London between Karpov and Kasparov. He writes engagingly: about Spassky versus Fischer: the match of the century, pronounced by the press as a war of ideologies, capitalism against communism; on Kasparov versus the collosus megabyte Deep Blue; and on war and chess, with a picture here of one of the chess sets made from damaged oak doors from the Hong Kong Shomshuipo prison chess club by soldiers of the British Ordnance Corps.

Man Ray was an avid chess player and designed many original chess sets. His most famous, in the surrealist style and now in the Museum of Modern Art in New York, has been the inspiration for many of the modern abstract-designed chess sets ever since. He played regularly with his close friend the artist Marcel Duchamp, who was a player of master strength. While honeymooning with his first wife, Duchamp spent most of the time studying chess problems. His ignored and angry bride retaliated by glueing all the chess pieces to the board. The couple divorced three months later.

This informative little book has six chapters covering the impact of Islam, the Renaissance, Russia and the expansion of chess, and examines the evolution of the chess piece. It looks at over 30 of the most playable and famous international sets through the ages and examines their influences. Incidentally, IBM’s super-computer chess player Deep Blue won against Kasparov and has retired from chess competition. DB will not play again.