Sunday, January 08, 2006

Free Chess through Google Books

Hat tip to ChessSmith at for pointing us to Steve Rubel's blog entry on using Google Books to get free access to books online, in much the way you'd be able to browse in a bookstore (with the added benefit of being able to capture your experience using screenshots). As ChessSmith points out, the method can also be used to access Chess Books. I would suggest trying even more specific searches in Google Books, including "King's Indian Attack" or "Benko Gambit." A search on "Urusov Gambit," for instance, revealed that there is some coverage of the line in Chess Strategy by Nikolai Kalinichenko and Eduard Gufeld, and I was easily able to locate and read those pages so I can add that book to my bibliography. Who would have thought....

By the way, I may be wrong, but I do not think that this is a "hack" of Google Books, exactly, but a basic feature to the service as it now stands. In looking through a number of books, I discovered there was a limit on how many pages of any specific book they would allow me to view and that some critical pages were not available at all for viewing. It may be that there are some problems with the ways they are displaying some books (for example, I had no trouble seeing all the pages I wanted of Kmoch's book on Rubinstein, which I can never bring myself to re-purchase after having lost my copy years ago, but could get only a few of McDonald's book on the King's Gambit), but I think that they intended to make this service available to everyone (at least for a limited time, before they have a mechanism to charge for it) and not just until they fix some "hack" that Rubel has found.

After using the methods that Rubel describes to retrieve all of the "Nimzovich Defence" games from It's Only Me, I suddenly see where Google (and, apparently, is likely going with all of this. Some day soon, you will be able to buy only the specific content you want from books without paying for every page. After all, why buy an entire book that annotates the games of Tony Miles when you really only want his games with the Nimzovich? Or why purchase Chess Strategy when all you really want is those three pages of outdated Urusov theory? Or why have a book sitting on your shelf gathering dust when you might only want to play through one or two games from it on one lazy Sunday afternoon in June? If you could pay pennies (or even dimes or quarters) per page to get exactly what you wanted (much the way you can download specific songs rather than buy the whole album or xerox pages of a book at the library--with all of your money going into those dreadful copy machines rather than into Google's coffers), wouldn't you do it? After all, who reads whole books anymore anyway? :-) If the price structure is set up correcty, it may even end up making better economic sense to sell pages than to sell books and I can think of numerous economic benefits to doing so (not least of which are an increase in free advertising through viral referencing and the ability to sell pages from books that are no longer in print).

That's clearly the direction things are moving: content is being disaggragated and made available for smaller purchase by niche users. TIVO and the IPOD have transformed how entertainment can be used by consumers. Even cable channels will soon be available a la carte. This will lead to many changes in society.... Most immediately, at a time of falling interest in traditional advertising, this is a marketer's dream, because you will be able to reach very specific target readers and give them exactly what they want at point of contact. Case in point: I used Google Books to search for Rowson's Chess for Zebras (which I absolutely must buy, based on its reviews). They did not list the book, but an ad pointed me to's page on it, where I saw that they would offer it for a 15% discount on Amazon. I say "would" because they did not have it in stock, which led me to just pick it up through USCF Sales instead (one of the few times they actually BEAT Amazon, and I must say that I much prefer the service and speedy delivery of the USCF / Chess Cafe people anyway). If they really had the book, I guarantee Overstock would have gotten my business. And I have never before clicked on one of those targeted ads in Google, let alone made a purchase through one.

There are many benefits already to Google Books, and I'm glad that ChessSmith's post got me to explore the service. I think DG is going to have a field day plumbing all of the references to chess in books, for example. From The Know-It-All: One Man's Humble Quest to Bcome the Smartest Person in the World by A. J. Jacobs comes this quote: "The Marshall Chess Club, as I had expected, has lots of chess tables and stacks of chess magazines. But I was a little surprised by the makeup of the crowd, which is an odd and varied lot. You've got a minyan of old pot-bellied Jewsh men with their pants hiked up to their armpits; a handful of twenty-something black men; a smattering of Eastern European guys; and a dash of cocky, knapsack-toting chess prodigies in the third grade" (39). Sounds like most of the clubs I've visited over the years. The rest of that chapter looks really interesting also, yet I don't think I would have ever been interested in the Jacobs book if it had not been listed by Google under the keyword "chess."

I suggest you enjoy the service while it is completely free and get all of the material you have been wanting. And I recommend that if you have not already picked up a copy of the wonderful SnagIt screenshot program from TechSmith (which I've mentioned as a great tool for making chess diagrams), that you use this as a great reason to justify doing so....

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