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Eric Schiller is one of America’s true chess scholars. He has written countless books on chess. Some of them include 1 Move Checkmates, First Chess Openings and Of Kings & Pawns. His expertise is sought out by chess masters, parents and chess prodigies alike. Dr. Alan Kirshner from CalChess.org introduced me to Eric Schiller. He was the first chess author to openly support the HHCF and worked to help the organization make authentic connections in the chess world. Today, among many other prestigious roles he has in chess world Eric now serves as the Chief Arbiter for HHCF. Every time we see one another we talk forever. So, I finally decided to interview one of the true patriot for American chess.
HHCF: How did you get into chess?
ES: My father taught me when I was 4 ½.
ES: A shocking disaster. I was the best in my town, but only got 3.5/8 and a rating of 867. I was 12 or 13 at the time.
HHCF: When did you begin writing books on chess and how did that happen?
ES: I worked for Batsford on Batsford Chess Openings with Kasparov and Keene and translated his biography for them. I suggested a book on the Schliemann Defense (with GM Shamkovich as my co-author). Once established, I wrote a book on the Catalan Opening for Chess Enterprises and just kept going.
HHCF: Outside of chess, what are your other hobbies people might not suspect?
ES: All kinds of music. I spent 6 years studying symphonic conducting, much of the time at the NY Philharmonic. It didn’t work out as a career, especially after Ronald Reagan cut funding for over 100 orchestras, mostly at the entry level I was seeking. So I followed another interest and went back to the University of Chicago for my Ph.D. in linguistics. In the 1980s and 1990s I divided my time between chess and linguistics, and my musical tastes changed and I started listening to the Grateful Dead, a band I had seen in a concert 20 years earlier and wasn’t too impressed, and also went to jazz-fusion concerts. I had also been very interested in computer software, and rapidly accepted an invitation to come work for Electronic Arts in Northern California, where my attendance at Grateful Dead concerts greatly increased.
I should mention that I’ve never been reluctant to combine interests and arranged at one of the major San Francisco international chess tournaments to get backstage passes for the players at a Mardi Gras concert.
HHCF: You teach a lot of kids who go onto do amazing things in the sport. But tell me, for the parents out there- what are some of the initial signs of chess burnout in a child and how should the parent manage it?
ES: The important thing to remember is that just progress does not happen overnight. Children who are very upset after a loss can become frustrated if they’re reading does not rise rapidly. It is possible to become almost addicted to solving chess puzzles, especially since this can be done easily with software or on the Internet. A lot of the time this frustration can be used by working a bit harder on openings so that the comfort level in the early stages of the game is higher.
HHCF: Where is the most unlikely place you ever found yourself because of your dedication to chess?
ES: I have been to many different countries but I suppose that the country that I would at least expected to visit might be Malta, where I worked as arbiter at the chess Olympiad. As a linguist, however, I found myself in the Golden triangle in northern Thailand, which is a bit more remote.
HHCF: You have authored more than 100 books on chess. Which is your personal favorite and why?
ES: For some time now my favorite has been the Encyclopedia of Chess Wisdom, now in its third edition. It appeals to me because I think it is one of the first times that anyone has called into question a lot of the old chess maxims instead of just repeating them and explaining them. Modern chess has rendered some of them obsolete but others still ring true.
HHCF: Whats your three favorite books on chess not written by you?
ES: That is a very difficult question to answer and my answer probably changes frequently. I would have to include the big series on world champions by Gary Kasparov. Raymond Keene’s book on Nimzowitsch. Fischer’s My 60 Memorable Games. But I also love all the old tournament books with annotations by the players and lots of background and commentary.
HHCF: Any last words?
ES: I certainly hope that I don’t have any last words at the moment. I’d like to think that I’ll be around at least for a little while. I suppose I should mention, since I haven’t already, that I do enjoy being the arbiter of major chess events. Working at the world championship matches in various capacities has been among the highlights of my life. Teaching future generations of chess players is very rewarding.
For more info on his books, and tutoring vist: http://www.ericschiller.com/