Chess: Gift scores direct hit

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The Independent Culture
THIS is the time of year when everyone is pondering the same question: What shall I buy my chess player for Christmas? Chess players tend to be people of simple tastes, most of which are already sated by playing the game. They already have a pocket set which, although dilapidated, they would not exchange for another.

Their libraries of chess books always crave additions, although they prefer browsing at tournament bookstalls to having books bought for them. Even if you gift-wrapped the complete boxed set of five books on Kasparov's games at pounds 24.99 from Cadogan Books, your chess player will probably snort something to the effect that they would have bought it themselves had they wanted it.

If you are determined to buy a book, I would recommend If on a winter's night, a traveller by Italo Calvino (Minerva, pounds 5.99). It has nothing to do with chess, but is exactly the sort of thing to appeal to a chess player. With each chapter apparently coming from a different novel, the reader appearing as one of the characters, and none of the loose ends ever tied up, the whole ramble is exactly the sort of thinking chess players do all the time. Of course it's not as chessy as Calvino's Invisible Cities (a point that should be made on the accompanying card) but Minerva don't expect the paperback reprint until 1995.

If you are prepared to spend a little more, your chess player would probably appreciate some of the endgame databases now available on CD-Rom. You can now have an analysis of, among others, all possible positions with king, rook and bishop against king and rook, together with an instant assessment of whether any particular position can be won and how many moves it takes to do so. And all for less than pounds 100 (from CB Software, 081- 959 0670) unless you include the hardware needed to use it, which pushes the cost up to around pounds 1,500.

Finally, to help your chess player unleash his aggression without hurting anyone, we can recommend a plastic crossbow: the NERF bow and arrow, which comes complete with almost harmless polystyrene bolts for around pounds 20. Quite apart from its aggression potential, 'Nerf' is just the sort of word chess players like, and the toy itself drives Yorkshire terriers crazy.