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Interview with David Pritchard

An interview with David B. Pritchard, author of The Encyclopedia of Chess Variants, Popular Chess Variants, and several other books on games, and chairman of the British Chess Variants Society was held `by letter' in the end of 1999. Questions were sent by letter, and Pritchard answered these also by letter. Questions were posed by several editors of the Chess Variant Pages.

Can you tell something about yourself? (E.g., where do you live, what is your current profession, etc.?)
I live in a bungalow in a small wood some 60 kms south-west of London. Half my working life I spent flying (military/civil) and half in Intelligence (which tend to recruit game players). I am married to Elaine Sanders, an international woman chess master, who played for England (BCF) in four chess olympiads and was team captain in two of them (Medellin and Buenos Aires). Our five grandchildren are keen players and critics of board-games (but not chess!)
You have been an author of many books, many with large amounts of readers. Can you tell something about your other books?
I have written three books on chess, all for beginners, two of which had sales of half-a-million copies, in addition to my Encyclopedia of Chess Variants. I have also written books on other indoor games: The Family Book of Games, Brain Games, Go - a Guide to the Game, Modern Board Games and Five-minute Games, as well as a number of small books on mah-jong, oriental games, cards games and several books on puzzles.
Soon, a new book from you will appear: Popular Chess Variants. Can you tell something about its contents?
Popular Chess Variants is due to be published by Batsford in January 2000. It covers twenty of the most widely-played chess variants, including Chinese and Japanese Chess. It is priced at 14.99 British Pounds.
How will variants be treated in this book? Are there also new variants, illustrations?
The history (where known) and the rules of the games are given together with annotated game scores. Included are two ingenious modern games - Magnetic Chess (which first appeared I think in the Chess Variant Pages) and Hostage Chess, a combination of chess and Shogi. There are diagrams on almost every page.
What people will like your new book most?
The book is aimed primarily at chessplayers seeking to broaden their horizons. It should also appeal to those who enjoy researching games that have been little explored.
How did you determine what variants to include in your new book?
Games were chosen on two criteria: either they are variants that have already proved their popularity or are new games that in my opinion are likely or deserve to become popular.
Has the publication of your book "The Encyclopedia of Chess Variants" generated a lot of letters from people suggesting you include particular overlooked variants or expand more on certain variants in future editions?
This was a big surprise to me. Nobody, so far as I can remember, has written to say that I omitted a published game from The Encyclopedia of Chess Variants. I just do not believe that I didn't miss any out! Of course, many new games have been invented since the book was published.
Do you welcome such suggestions on future additions or modifications to your book?
Yes. I very much welcome suggestions and comments for future editions. In the case of new games, I would particularly welcome analysis.
Looking back, is there anything of note that you regret not including?
Looking back, there is nothing I regret not including but there are some trivial entries in the ECV that I shall leave out of any future edition.
If you had to write the book all over again knowing what you know now, what would you do differently?
I would seek more guidance from experts in important variants. Also, I would look for someone to vet through the manuscript with care. (An editor was appointed for the ECV but this fell through when Cadogan opted out of publishing the book.) This should help to eliminate errors.
Is there a new edition of the Encyclopedia of Chess Variants planned?
Not at present but hopefully some time in the future. The ECV  had a large print run to keep the price down and I hope to sell out first.
A few questions about computers. Do you use a computer yourself?
Yes: A BBC2 (ancient), a Mac (om which I typeset the ECV) and a powerful modern PC which is quite beyond me!
Do you think computers and the Internet will have effect on chess and on chess variants? If so, in what way?
I think that the Internet will inevitably introduce chess to more players but I forsee chess variants, because of their novelty, benefitting in particular from publicity on the net. I expect variants to gain more and more adherents in the future.
How do you feel about the way that chess variants are developing on the Internet: Design contests, e-mail correspondence play, Zillions of games, etc.
Sorry: I am not on the Internet and can't comment.
Did you try or see the Zillions of Games program and what do you think of it?
No, but I have read a lot about this program and would like to try it.
Do you often play chess variants?
Only a few from time to time. I have played quite a lot of Hostage Chess recently.
What chess variants do you like most?
Alice (especially!), Avalanche, Hostage, Marseillais, Progressive.
And what variants did you like the least?
Over-complicated variants on large or distorted boards.
What makes a chess variant a good chess variant?
Originality, simple rules, strategical/tactical variety, incisive play (no tedious sequences), signposts (so players are able to plan several moces ahead).
Do you play also chess variants with different shaped boards or other equipment? If so, how?
Sometimes. I have a collection of baords. Boards made up of squares (other than 8x8) have mostly been cut from a large chequered tablecloth!
Did you design chess variants yourself? If so, what variants, and what do you think of them?
I have designed a couple of simple variants which have proved quite popular with chessplayers becuase they are close to chess (Coin chess, Cripple chess - see ECV). However, I do not believe I have any talent for invention and I wish that others who also lack talent would refrain from inventing variants!
Would you have a suggestion for people that want to design a chess variant themselves?
Yes, but don't unless you can mee the criteria I suggest above.
Are there any new ideas you have run across, or are all the newer variants simply old ideas in new clothing?
The only truly original variant I have come across recently is Magnetic Chess.
What advice do you have for an avid variant player looking for opponents and competition?
Join A.I.S.E. or the B.C.V.S. I am not qualified to make suggestions about meeting players on the Internet!
You are chairman of the British Chess Variants Society? Can you tell something about this organisation?
The BCVS was formed to promote chess variants and is open to everyone. The society publishes an excellent quarterly magazine, Variant Chess, and recently started a BCVS library. The curator is George Jelliss and the library, occupying a room in George's house, already has some 120 subject items including books/periodicals in a dozen languages in addition to English.
Does the BCVS have specific plans for the future?
The society has no specific plans for the future apart from expanding the library, but is actively trying to recruit members. Membership is rising.
Do you think a more international organisation (similar to F.I.D.E. in set-up, if not scope) for promoting chess variants in general or fostering particular variants will ever be formed?
Yes: I think that eventually some form of international authority for chess variants will be formed if only to regulate international events, but not until variants have gained much wider appeal. In this respect, I believe the Internet may be the means of achieving this.
What do you think of the future of FIDE chess?
My fear is that FIDE chess may follow games like football where money becomes the dominating influence.
What goals and ambitions do you have regarding the future of Chess Variants?
Ambitions at my age tend to be short-term, but I would like to see the widespread indifference and even hostility towards variants, common amongst chessplayers, to be broken down.
If people would like to order your new book, how could they do this? And if they would like to order the Encyclopedia of Chess Variants?
I understand that Popular Chess Variants is available at a discount from The Encyclopedia of Chess Variants may be ordered direct from G&P Publications, P.O. Box 20, Godalming GU8 4YP, U.K. at 21.99 British Pounds post free anywhere (Visa, Mastercard, Eurocard accepted).
Thank you very much for this interview.

For more information, you can read:
WWW page made by Hans Bodlaender. Answers to questions by David Pritchard. Questions by several editors of the Chess Variant Pages.
WWW page created: January 8, 2000.