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Cheng's Book on Chess Keeps on Selling

Raymond Cheng

A positive review on the international ChessDailyNews.com website has stirred new interest in a chess strategy book published four years ago by Raymond Cheng, a lecturer in mathematics and statistics at Old Dominion University.

Cheng is the author of "Practical Chess Exercises: 600 Lessons from Tactics to Strategy" (2007, Wheatmark) and the book's popularity never ceases to surprise and delight him. Interestingly, the book may never have been written if it hadn't been for an injury six years ago that kept Cheng off the golf course.

"Needing something to occupy my considerable bench time, I turned to chess," he explained. "I went about it with some vigor, acquiring a coach, some software and a stack of chess books. I soon became aware that these books suffered from a certain pedagogical flaw - by format, layout or even design, their puzzle positions would provide an artificial hint to the reader, thereby diluting their instructive value.

"In a real game, your opponent is not going to look up and say, 'You have a checkmate in three moves,' or 'Look for a devastating double attack!'" Cheng added.

A better book, he thought, would gather together puzzle positions of all kinds without revealing anything about the themes to look for. "It could be a queen sacrifice, a pawn promotion, a quiet strategic maneuver, a defensive feint."

Cheng's coach at the time was International Master John Watson, and the student went to his teacher with his idea for a chess book. But Watson was too busy to take on the project, so Cheng gave it a try. Eighteen months later he had a manuscript.

"In defiance of all reason and good taste, my book immediately vaulted to the top of the Amazon.com sales rankings for chess books," Cheng said. It remained there for more than three years. Sales continue to be good enough to guarantee him a "nice" royalty check each quarter, he said, and the latest publicity may spur sales.

That publicity came in the form of a review of the book Sept. 1 on the ChessDailyNews site of Grandmaster Susan Polgar. Cheng said the review, by National Master Bill McGeary, first appeared when his book was published and Polgar chose to reprint it.

McGeary's review picks up on the goal Cheng set for himself when he wrote the book:

"This book presents 600 problems that could potentially fall into any category. There aren't any groupings or specific arrangement to the problems, endgames in with tactics, in with defense and even opening positions. This is quite a good idea as it introduces the bite of uncertainty to solving the problems. In other words, the reader is deprived of the little bit of extra info that most of us lazy players lean on when we are going through problem books."

Cheng is the co-director of the Virginia Queens' Championship Chess Tournament for girls that will be held on the ODU campus March 2-3, 2011. He called it a "wonderful opportunity" for ODU to partner with the community to help improve the lives of young people throughout the region and the state. "The tournament will result in the award of scholarships, the selection of a Virginia representative to national championship events and memories and friendships that will be cherished for a lifetime."

Cheng, who has a Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of Virginia, joined the ODU faculty over the summer as a lecturer of mathematics and statistics.

He previously served as an associate professor of mathematics at the University of Louisville, but he also worked as an executive with Computer and Hi-Tech Management Inc. and ECI Computer Systems Inc., two Virginia companies. He was a leader of these business ventures together with his father, Richard, and his brother, Jim. Richard is the founding chair of the ODU Department of Computer Science whose gift established the department's Richard Cheng Chair. Jim is Virginia's secretary of commerce and trade.

This article was posted on: September 14, 2011

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