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Jean on Gary’s Adventures in Chess Country Print E-mail
By Jean Hoffman   
July 24, 2009
chessadventures.jpgJean Hoffman is the executive director & co-founder of 9queens (see a FOX news video interview with Jean here.) Mongoose Press donated 100 copies of Gary’s Adventures in Chess Country by Igor Suhkin to 9 Queens' in-school chess program that makes chess a part of the curriculum in low-income public schools.

In spite of conventional wisdom, I have always felt that you can learn a lot about a chess book from its cover.  As a chess teacher primarily focused on promoting basic chess literacy, I spend my time not only teaching students the rules and basic fundamentals but also trying to show them that chess can be fun and exciting. When working with children oftentimes the way information is packaged and presented is just as important as the quality of the content.

With this in mind, I knew as soon as I saw the cover of Gary’s Adventures in Chess Country that it would offer an innovative, kid-friendly approach to chess education. The cover looks more like a colorful poster for an upcoming Pixar film than a chess book. In fact, very little about the cover reminds one of chess.   At first glance I didn’t even notice that the majestic army standing in front of four giant figures was actually an artistic illustration of a chess set.

Gary’s Adventures in Chess Country by Igor Suhkin is full of imaginative illustrations like the cover. One of my favorite images is the figure of Cassie, a spunky personification of Caissa who acts as Gary’s chess teacher and guide in the mythical Chess Country. Like so many characters in the book, Cassie in her checkered dress and knee-high boots isn’t your stereotypical chess teacher.


Despite the prevalence of compelling illustrations, Gary’s Adventures in Chess Country is much more than a picture book. The book consists of fifteen chapters, each containing a short narrative about Gary as he learns to play chess, an instructive lesson, and a series of practice exercises and puzzles. Throughout the comprehensive beginner’s guide to chess, Suhkin manages to seamlessly combine interesting plot twists, creative explanations and instructive exercises.

Although the reading level of the book is a little advanced for most elementary school students, Suhkin does a great job breaking down even the most fundamental chess principles.  Whereas many “how to play chess” books tend to ignore or glossover  explanations of board geography, Suhkin patiently devotes the first four chapters to concepts like lines on the chess board and diagonals. The book is full of potential lessons and activities like the Army of One puzzle shown below. In this exercise, the reader is directed to capture all the black pieces with the white rook, taking one piece each move.
Although the book is full of exercises appropriate for students just learning how to play, the difficulty level of the chess puzzles varies greatly.  A large portion of the exercises, like the Head Scratcher shown below, are far too advanced for beginners.

Mate in 3, White to Move

Show Solution

On the plus side, this book can be used throughout stages of a young players' career (total beginner up to intermediate), but on the other, it would be unrealistic for a child and parent without much chess knowledge to read straight through it. Given the range of activities, Gary's Adventures in Chess Country seems like an ideal resource for elementary or middle school coaches. 

Purchase Gary's Adventures in Chess Country on
USCF Sales. See a FOX news video interview with Jean Hoffman at a 9queens Academy in Tucson, Arizona.