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MACA Book Review
Gary’s Adventures In Chess Country Gary’s Adventures In Chess Country
by: Igor Sukhin

Price: $24.95
ISBN: 978-0979148224
Format: Book 152pp.
Publisher: Mongoose Press

Reviewed by:  Kay Slater
Recommendation: Highly Recommended

Let me begin by saying I am no chess expert. I’m a mom of a bright but antsy seven-year-old and was looking for something to engage his mind; so I dusted off my very old chess set and set about trying to remember enough to teach him the game of chess. Beyond the basics I was lost, so I then set about trying to find a book to help me along the way. Most were dry, complex and with wonderful potential to turn us both off the game for life. Others were so basic and childlike they earned no more than a quick flip. Finding the balance between them was the challenge; something entertaining and engaging but with an approach that taught him (and me) the game in a systematic manner that ensured each step was mastered before another begun. Igor Sukhin’s book Gary’s Adventures in Chess Country (Mongoose Press, Boston, 2008) has done just that and with a fair bit of fun to boot.

Upon first look, you notice colorful and playful graphics on appealing large pages. Throughout are diagrams for each and every theme; which were helpful for both my children and me as we adventured through. As the title hints, the book tells a story that kept the themes connected and fun. Each topic is followed by riddles and puzzles to develop the skill and this thoroughly engaged the children. So engaged them in fact, that I often found the book missing with it later turning up at the breakfast table, by the bedside, or on the floor with the dog – always with a few chess pieces laying beside it – and open to one or another of the riddles or exercises.
The book begins with the absolute basics, which were below the level of my son, but which engaged his little sister and provided an opportunity for him to teach and review. It also was helpful to get us “into the story” and used to the format before venturing into more complex territory. Again, the diagrams helped the children get used to the style of the book and unite it with their chessboard as we were reading along.
My son enjoyed reviewing how each piece moved with his little sister, as in chapter 6 “The Rooks Place,” and then doing the board puzzles such as “army of one” on page 30. Chapters 7-11 cover the other pieces. And, other piece move specific puzzles we enjoyed included “double attack” on page 41, “win a piece” on page 54, “outsmart the guards” on page 67, “defense” on page 80, or “stealth fighter” on page 94. This combination of learning through reading, then applying it to a manipulative (handling the pieces on the board) is a typical teaching technique and was very effective for us.
Chapter 12 “The Flying Carpet” addresses ideas about check and castling that were novel at first to a competitive kid who wanted to actually take all the other pieces – my five-year-old daughter I mean! This is also the point in which we started to really think about playing the game; the story does a good job of simply and clearly teaching how and why various strategies must be considered – in this chapter’s case; ways to defend against check and to castle. We enjoyed the puzzles at the end of this chapter, which were to blame, I believe, for many of the books disappearance from the shelf!
The following chapter on checkmate and stalemate brought out the competitive spirit in the kids. They laughed and encouraged each other to find solutions to the puzzles on checkmate, which provided wonderful examples of a variety of challenges – including promoting, en passant, and thinking ahead to setting up a solid finish.
Chapter 14 brings strategy and thoughtfulness to the forefront for good now. The book did something important here in having Gary make a mistake. For kids who enjoy excelling, making a mistake can be a difficult thing, but Gary’s character models this here when he misses seeing a stalemate with:
“It’s white’s turn to move. He can’t checkmate the black king in one move, that’s easy to see. What do you think White should do to win quickly?”
“Simple…Just push the pawn up the file and promote it into a queen, then you will be in checkmate.”
“No Way!…If the pawn becomes a queen, it’s a stalemate!”
“Well, then into a knight or a bishop, or something…” mumbles Gary, unhappy that he missed a stalemate…
 Cassie, Gary’s guide through Chessland says, “Don’t try to guess; look at the board and think.”
Even this small example of making a mistake then getting back into the game and just studying the board, was really helpful for my son and his friend as they hit a few walls in seeing solutions. It gave them permission to just go and try again, that the solution would come to them if they took their time.
Chess Country concludes with a fun and challenging review and a clear and colorful explanation of chess notation and the answer key to the puzzles, which I, the mom and no big chess pro, appreciated to double check our play through the puzzles.
Complaints? I have very few. Occasionally parts of the narrative of the story were distracting to the younger readers, as in chapter 3 when “all the squares jumped off the board and danced around Gary. Like snowflakes in a storm they went around, up, and down…” and we had a hard time sometimes telling if the white pieces were white or black unless they were next to each other to contrast.
In summary, with my Gary’s Adventures in Chess Country gone missing once again, I’d recommend this book to any parent interested in having some fun while learning and sharing chess with their kids, or in our case, my previously non-chess playing spouse who wanted to also join in the fun. The book is engaging and fun while being effective and on task of teaching all of the basics of chess and related strategies. This book has given us the foundation to play for fun and think about some minor league competitive games as well! This book along with a simple chess board will be my gift of choice for the endless elementary school birthday parties that we attend!

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