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16th March 2018
PLAY 1…d6 AGAINST EVERYTHING by Erik Zude & Jörg Hickl, New in Chess, 207 pp., publ. 2017
And why not indeed? The authors’ (German IM and GM) aim is to prepare you to do exactly that. I can imagine you’re thinking that 1…d6 against everything implies some sort of Pirc or King’s Indian, but you couldn’t be more wrong. In fact in this one fianchettoed bishops are rarer than hen’s teeth; the bulk of the repertoire consists of the Philidor v 1 e4 and Old Indian v 1 d4. (Was that a yawn I heard? Boredom is what you make it.)
The suggested backbone of the Philidor is the Antoshin Variation, 1 e4 d6 2 d4 Nf6 3 Nc3 e5 4 Nf3 exd4 5 Nxd4 Be7, maybe not the sexiest way to defend v 1 e4, but the authors do a good job of covering pretty much everything that White can throw at it, and Black is certainly not without his share of the fun. There is one potential drawback, though, viz. that if you want to play the Antoshin, you have to be happy with the endgame variation 1 e4 d6 2 d4 Nf6 3 Nc3 e5 4 dxe5 dxe5 5 Qxd8+ Kxd8 (which the authors cover). If you’re not, then you have to consider the move order 1 e4 d6 2 d4 Nf6 3 Nc3 Nbd7 (which they don’t), in which case you rule out the funky …Nc6 Antoshin lines (as well as allowing White the option of 4 f4!?, which may or may not be an issue, depending on your p.o.v.). The authors show that Black has little to fear in the resulting endgame (they have to, otherwise their repertoire is a non-starter), but it’s still a little philosophical/practical problem that potential proponents of the repertoire would have to address. And that alliteration was unintentional, by the way.
There are two ways of looking at the Old Indian: (a) as the poor man’s King’s Indian; (b) as a Philidor where White has wasted a developmental tempo on c2-c4. Hear the bishop on f1 giving the c-pawn a mouthful for getting in its way? The authors’ preferred sequence is 1 d4 d6 2 Nf3 Nf6 3 c4 Nbd7 4 Nc3 e5. This is important, since it avoids 2…e5, which can be played after 1 d4 d6 2 c4 e5, and if White goes 3 Nf3, 3…e4, entering a whole new universe. Anyway, whichever view you espouse, the authors show that Black can land plenty of punches of his own in in all the main lines after 5 e4, 5 g3, 5 Bg5 and after an early d4-d5. This could be a fertile area for anyone looking for a sound yet less well known defence to 1 d4.
That leaves sidelines and flank openings where the authors again provide decent lines which give Black plenty of play, mainly of a …d6/e5/f5 variety.
Talking of sidelines, I decided to check up on what they had to say about those aggressive, less theoretical, lines popular at club level. Sure enough, on p. 77 they cover 1 e4 d6 2 f4 Nf6 3 Nc3 (or 1 e4 d6 2 Nc3 Nf6 3 f4), the sort of club-to-skull stuff often successful at fast time controls between club players where sophisticated defensive ability rarely ranks high amongst the protagonists’ core skills. Not only do they cover the basic stuff, they devote a four-page annotated game to the line! (A GM game at that, just to prove that this sort of stuff is floating around up there too.) They even provide a game covering the whacky 1 e4 d6 2 d4 Nf6 3 Bc4 (move unpunctuated!). No book can cover everything, but I couldn’t find any stones left unturned. Impressive.
The repertoire is presented via forty-nine illustrative games with enough variations/analysis in the notes to navigate the less likely stuff, all explained in easy-to-follow, smoothly translated prose. By its nature this repertoire concedes early space, so is more suitable for counter-punchers, those with the patience to give their opponents all the rope they need to hang themselves. Please note that it’s not one of those ‘winning with..’ type of books (which always strike me as odd; you don’t ‘win’ with any opening); the authors are honest enough to admit when their suggested lines leave Black on the wrong side of a nearly equal position. But that’s academic. The point is that Black will always have chances in the complex positions arising, which is what chess is all about.
The book is well written (not a word wasted), impressively streamlined and features an extensive bibliography. The double-column format is easy to follow. You already know what I think about the non-alphabetical, page-number games ‘index’, so I’ll say no more. I would like to mention two things, though, one sensible, one contentious. Sensible first. In black rep books, it’s helpful to have an index based on the black players’ names, after all, if you want to see how the top guys are handling the rep, whose names do you look for? In this case, fourteen of the illustrative games were played by the authors (putting their money where their mouths are), and amongst the other black players we find big names such as Carlsen, Rapport, Grischuk and Andreikin. I’ve seen such indexes in other books; it’s an idea well worth considering, methinks.
Now the contentious. The diagrams are printed in the conventional White-at-the-bottom manner. Even the cover design is from White’s side. This reviewer struggles to see the sense in putting White at the bottom of the diagrams in a book clearly written from Black’s perspective. As I said, it’s a convention, not chiselled in stone. All it does is pander to the mantra ‘we’ve always done it like this’, an obstacle on the road to innovation and fresh thinking if ever there was one. I’m not going to change the chess publishing world, and ‘black’ books will still appear tomorrow with White at the bottom, but my reviewer’s remit allows me to opine that the presentation of the book would have been enhanced by an icing-on-the-cake flip of the diagrams.
To summarise, this is a very good openings book on a range of lines that are not so well known, hence could well provide hefty surprise clout in the hands of those familiar with the material. It’s well worth a look if you already play 1…d6 or are looking for another string to your black bow.
THE ART OF THE TARRASCH DEFENCE by Alexey Bezgodov, New in Chess, 317 pp., publ. 2017
Bezgodov’s previous books have looked at off-beat openings – 2 a3 v the Sicilian, the Fantasy Caro-Kann, 1 d4 d5 2 c4 Bf5 and 1 d4 d5 2 c4 c5, and while you could hardly accuse the Tarrasch (1 d4 d5 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 c5) of being a wallflower, it’s never quite attained mainstream status despite the patronage of some illustrious names.
In this one, via 217 games, most of them deeply annotated, the author sets out to reveal the essence of the defence, based on his thirty years’ experience, rather than provide a comprehensive theoretical survey. He divides his material into five parts –
I. Four ‘bad’ lines that are actually good
II. White surprise lines – and what to play against them
III. The Kasparov System
IV. Giants of the Tarrasch Defence
Part one is something of a teaser, and I loved it. I won’t tell you what the ‘bad’ lines are, but they illustrate what must apply to lots of other openings – that there are plenty of decent, unjustly neglected lines which are perfectly playable and could repay a spot of research.
In part two the author covers assorted white deviations from the main line. As an example of the nuances involved, chapters nine to thirteen devote forty-two pages alone to the location of White’s c1-bishop – g5, f4, e3 (early and later) and b2.
Part three deals with the author’s favoured main line, and the one espoused by GK earlier in his career, viz. 1 d4 d5 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 c5 4 cxd5 exd5 5 Nf3 Nc6 6 g3 Nf6 7 Bg2 Be7 8 0-0 0-0 9 Bg5 cxd4 10 Nxd4 h6. He prefers 9…cxd4 to the currently more popular 9…c4 because of ‘…the simple reply 10 b3, after which it seems to me that Black faces a difficult defence in an unpleasant position’. That, of course, is only an opinion, as Bezgodov readily admits, and you can agree or disagree with it all you want. In any case, 9…c4 doesn’t feature here; what you get is an in-depth look at the line favoured by such giants as Spassky and Kasparov.
Part four is self-explanatory, a tribute to the great names who have played the defence, and part five is a collection of ninety-six exercises for solving and analysis.
Given the dynamic nature of the opening, and the author’s desire to showcase its fighting qualities, it was surprising to see how many games ended in a draw, or comments such as ‘Black lacks sufficient grounds to play for a win’ or ‘Black has good chances of a draw’, and references to ‘drawish simplifications’, but I guess you could lay these charges at other openings too. And, to be fair, you’ll also find comments like ‘The game shows the great potential of even a slightly inferior black position’. As Hamlet observed, the play’s the thing.
A word about names. Despite publishing in English, NiC always go for the Germanic Kortchnoi and Jussupow. It’s hard to understand why; they’re German transliterations from Cyrillic. The ‘justification’ that they’re the versions used in the databases is a cop-out. (A database – especially one originating in Germany – isn’t an English-language book!) You could argue that ‘Jussupow’ is how Artur spells his name in his adoptive German, but an English speaker unfamiliar with that language might think it was Jussuhpoh. Factor in that his English-language work appears with ‘Yusupov’ on the cover and the insistence on ‘Jussupow’ becomes even flimsier. The English transliterations Korchnoi and Yusupov are the accepted versions of the names in English. Why not use ’em?
In conclusion, the whole work conveys the author’s infectious enthusiasm for his pet defence. Some strong players write books into which they put very little of themselves to fulfil a contract or in an attempt to make a few bob. You can generally spot them a mile away. They are not writers. Bezgodov is a writer; he has style, and can express himself clearly and succinctly. You might or might not agree with his choice of material or his opinions, but he can write. ‘Nice’ is a limp, overused word, but on this occasion it fits: this is a very nice book, lovingly written and produced to NiC’s usual high standards. The author hopes that it ‘will be read with unhurried pleasure’, which probably sums up how to get the most out of it. A sort of desert island book, in fact.
DISMANTLING THE SICILIAN by Jesus de la Villa & Max Illingworth, New in Chess, 367 pp., publ. 2017
This is a new edition of de la Villa’s 2009 original, revised and updated by Australian GM Max Illingworth. The original concept and structure remain the same – to provide a full variation-by-variation repertoire for White with the open Sicilian – but MI has wielded the surgeon’s knife, merging some chapters and adapting the repertoire where he deemed it necessary. The impression is thus that of a new book, not the rehash of an old one. (Chapter seventeen, the rather cheekily entitled What others recommend… and why I disagree, where MI compares and contrasts his selections with those of others who have written on the subject, e.g. Negi, Kotronias, gives the reader an idea of his thinking and rationale behind the previous sixteen chapters.)
What does it do? Let’s clarify what it doesn’t. It doesn’t show you how to bash the Sicilian flat; that ain’t gonna happen. If you’re expecting a collection of wham-bam white victories you’re going to be disappointed. What it does is attempt to give lines where White has an edge (a phrase which crops up again and again) and can play the resulting middlegames with confidence. In fact in some lines you’re going to be nursing a tiny endgame advantage (which has implications beyond the scope of an openings book). Of course there are examples where Black gets shot down in flames – that’s the nature of the Sicilian beast – but the reader will have to be happy with positional plusses such as structural advantages, better pieces etc. There is much in the material to whet the appetites of positional players as well as cavemen.
What does he recommend? I’ll just mention his suggestions against the biggies: 6 h3 v the Najdorf, with 6 Be2 as back-up, 9 0-0-0 v the Dragon, 9 Nd5 v the Sveshnikov (‘After my futile efforts to make 9. Bxf6 work, I saw the positional approach is both safer and stronger.’) and 7 Qf3 v the Taimanov. Two of those are trendy, and all carry a ton of theoretical baggage (you’ll see things like the dreaded C4232 or D2237 cropping up occasionally). However the author provides lots of explanatory text and a selection of illustrative games for each line to serve as a sort of fast track to getting to grips with the analysis. He also often points out occasions where the engines just don’t ‘get’ a position, a useful caveat to those who think the machine has all the answers. There’s an impressive number of recent (2017) games, so you can’t say it’s not up to date.
The major issue with the suggested lines is, of course, whether you like them or not. No point in playing, say, 6 h3 v the Najdorf if it’s too quiet for your tastes. And to tell the truth, when I played through some of the lines, I was surprised at how technical many of the resulting positions tended to be. This could be an issue for the more active player who likes to chuck stuff at his/her opponent’s king. It goes back to the phrase I mentioned above, and which MI uses frequently, - ‘an edge’.
You may or may not agree with MI’s suggestions (nothing says you have to play them all), but it’s evident that a lot of thought has gone into them. The extensive bibliography includes everything of interest on the Sicilian from recent years. Titled players would find much of interest, and club players who digest even a fraction of the material are going to be well placed to face their next Sicilian.
Production is of the usual NiC high standard: clear text and diagrams, and easy-on-the-eye double column format. And credit where credit is due for the alphabetical index of players which allows you to locate a game in no time at all. Yaaass! Well done, guys.
In short, this is a book that 1 e4 players should consider adding to their libraries. Ditto Sicilian players, who might otherwise find out the hard way what it’s all about. It is a fine piece of work, or, as we say in Glaswegian, a stoater.
GYULA BREYER The Chess Revolutionary, compiled and edited by Jimmy Adams, New in Chess, 876 pp., publ. 2017
This is a big book in every respect: size (876 pp., 4 lbs/1.75 kg, 2”/5 cm thick), scope (in-depth coverage its subject’s life, times, games and legacy) and in the making (some contemporary authors average a book every fifteen weeks; this one was almost forty years in the making).
So who was Gyula Breyer? He was a Hungarian master, active in the early years of the twentieth century until his death in 1921 at the appallingly early age of twenty-eight. Having suffered from a life-long heart condition, Breyer must have known his days were numbered, for, besides his profession as an engineer, he crammed more into his short chess career as player, writer, researcher, journalist, publisher and composer than most players do into a more traditional lifespan. An early death is often a good career move (James Dean, Marilyn Monroe), but Breyer would probably be forgotten today were it not for the eponymous variation which he bequeathed to the Ruy Lopez: 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bb5 a6 4 Ba4 Nf6 5 0-0 Be7 6 Re1 b5 7 Bb3 d6 8 c3 0-0 9 h3 and now Nb8, a ridiculous retreat in the eyes of the prevailing Classical school, but now regarded as one of the most resilient defences to the Ruy.
The work consists of forty-one chapters covering three broad areas: biography, games and ‘other stuff’.
The engrossing biography contains everything you could want to know about Breyer (even down to his address). We meet not only him, but dozens of his contemporaries, well-known and less so, at tournaments and in chess clubs, coffee houses, bars – and casinos! They are a motley collection of characters; it would have been interesting to meet some of them. The photos which pepper the text put faces to names, and contemporary pictures and postcards bring locations alive. Nor is it without its share of excitement. Writing about the Mannheim tournament of 1914 which was curtailed by the outbreak of the First World War, Breyer says that the Russian players ‘complained how German soldiers had roused them from their sleep by breaking down their door and pointing bayonets at their chest’, not the sort of thing you read about in your average tournament report.
Talking of the First World War, the narrative covers the effects of its political and social aftermath on those who lived through it, including our hero (who, not surprisingly, was exempt from military service).
Chesswise, Breyer was what we would now consider a late developer. At Cologne in 1911 he calls himself an ’18-year-old youth’, and a contemporary report of 1914 talks about ‘Young Breyer’. He was twenty-one at the time! In these days of twelve-year-old GMs, guys that age are practically washed up. It’s easy to forget that in times when there was little chess publishing, let alone coaching, computers and an information explosion, players developed much more slowly. It’s fashionable nowadays in certain circles to dismiss players of yore as weak and unsophisticated. Writers, artists and composers of the past seldom attract such criticism. Why chessplayers? We’re not comparing like with like, and besides, in chess there is the competitive element missing from other artistic/creative endeavours. As Breyer observes ‘Let the foreign matadors smash up the young eager beavers, since this would brighten up the names of the old masters’. Anyone would look bad on the receiving end of a hammering from a big name, but don’t infer too much from that. These ‘weak’ players were the ones whose ideas, researches and games helped shape, indeed, revolutionise, chess as we know it today. The good were still good. Dismiss that at your peril.
This material would be of interest to anyone interested in biographies and properly formatted might even make a worthwhile book of its own. Biopics have been made about less likely characters.
There are 287 games, the overwhelming majority by Breyer. They are annotated in depth, generally from contemporary sources, by both Breyer himself and many of the leading players of the time. Some appear several times with notes by different players, in line with Breyer’s own suggestion that a game should be published to reflect different points of view.
1 e4 is the predominant first move, with the Ruy and the French to the fore, and after 1 d4 most feature some version or other of the Queen’s Gambit. This was in the days when the Classical school still held sway. Nimzo had yet to unleash his Indian, and all the cool stuff that we take for granted nowadays is largely missing, e.g. there are only ten Sicilians and two (!) embryonic King’s Indians (with Breyer on the black side, where else?). Still, players seem to have been as hung up on openings then as they are now, as evinced by the perennial howl ‘I forgot/didn’t know the theory’. Whatever would they have made of engines and multi-million game databases?
The pleasure and value of the games lie in the annotations and how they reflect the spirit of the times. A couple of examples: on pp.459-60 Breyer discusses why, after 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6, 3 Bc4 is ‘weak’, and 3…Bc5 ‘even weaker…tantamount to two mistakes’, which (a) contradicts everything we were told as beginners and (b) makes nonsense of what all the top guys are playing these days. Annotating a game against Réti, he discusses at length the positions arising after 1 e4 c5 and 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 d4 cxd4 Nxd4 g6. His views are cogently argued, thought-provoking, and, to today’s eyes, surprising. Consider the circumstances and what’s at work here. These were times of great social and political upheaval. It is unavoidable that that spirit would manifest itself in the arts and culture of the time. Chess was no exception. When he devotes a couple of pages to, say, 3 Bc4 Bc5 (there are countless other examples), Breyer does two things: (a) he gives us a glimpse into the prevailing creative and revolutionary zeitgeist, yet at the same time (b) shows up the inherent weakness of a revolution, viz. the urge to dismiss all that went before, regardless of intrinsic value. Babies are thrown out with bathwater. It took the genius of an Alekhine to synthesise the best of Hypermodern thought with Classical teaching. Advances in knowledge reveal that Breyer wasn’t right about everything (who is?), but you can’t deny that he was a rebel with a cause.
If the 3 Bc4 Bc5 stuff is a bit too out there for you, some of Breyer’s other thoughts are much more mainstream. In 1917 he wrote ‘against the Sicilian Defence, 3 d4 is not the best continuation, because it gives up the centre d-pawn for the somewhat less valuable c-pawn’. Fast forward to the ‘70s, when Larsen called 3 d4 ‘a positional error’ for the same reasons – and got all the credit for it. Obviously Bent was suss to what had gone before. I doubt if he thought these guys were weak.
There are also signs that players of a century ago were ahead of their time (9…Nb8!). What do you think is ‘a tricky opening that should not be underestimated!’? A Hippo! And in a game from 1916 Breyer plays what is now known and enjoys modest popularity as the Black Lion, basically Philidor’s Defence with …h6 and …g5 attitude. The Philidor Hanham was a favourite set-up with Breyer, both with Black and White, as with Jobava nowadays. There will always be room in chess for the free spirit and those who want to go their own way.
Breyer’s was a dynamic style, given to originality and counterattack. The openings and set-ups which became his favourites were based on building up positions with latent power to be released when the time was ripe, rather than dissipation through early activity and exchanges. Réti sums it up: ‘It is surprising in his games how, when the decisive breakthrough occurs, the pieces which had appeared shut in, suddenly become alive’. He modelled himself on Rubinstein, as Boris Gelfand did in his younger years. In his last two tournaments, Berlin 1920 (virtually an elite tournament of the day) and Vienna 1921, he finished first and third respectively in powerful fields. He was clearly on the way to becoming a major force in chess in the 1920s and ‘30s.
There are lots of essays by Breyer and others (e.g. Euwe, Réti and Tartakower to name but three) on all manner of topics. Some examples: the Breyer Variation, the Budapest Defence, A Complicated Position (a discussion of the starting position), 1 d4!! d5??, Simultaneous Blindfold Play, discussions of draws and a thought-provoking piece called ‘A little chess maths’ in which Breyer discusses the value of squares and the fluctuating values of the pieces in relation to squares. At one stage I thought he had lost his mind when, prior to the 1921 World Championship match between Lasker and Capablanca, he wrote ‘Capablanca is not intelligent enough to be World Champion’, then I realised it was punditry, and, as with so many other pundits, humble pie wasn’t long in following.
Many of Breyer’s newspaper columns and magazine articles appear, and, as if chess wasn’t enough, he also founded, wrote and edited Intellectual Sport, a magazine containing all sorts of puzzles and brain-teasers. One incredible example – given in the original Hungarian, for obvious reasons, but with translation – is a whole palindromic text, a phenomenal piece of creativity. There is a chapter devoted to his compositions, mainly two- and three-movers, but also more esoteric fare, including a retro-problem where it takes 102 moves to reach the diagram position!
Given the scope for confusion over people and places in the linguistic and geographical hodgepodge that was the Austro-Hungarian Empire, it was pleasing to see that names are handled well. Personal names are rightly left alone, e.g. the Polish Lowcki, which looks to us like ‘Loaky’, rather than the phonetically realistic ‘Lovtsky’. (I suspect that ‘Lowtzky’ and ‘Lowtsky’ slipped through unnoticed.) And full marks for including accents, e.g. Maröczy, Szabó, Sämisch, Réti, Földeák, Grünfeld. Too often publishers take the lazy option and ignore them. No excuse!
Place names should be the version familiar to English-speaking readers, e.g., ‘Vienna’, not ‘Wien’, or the name at the time of an event, e.g. the German ‘Breslau’, not the Polish ‘Wrocław’. (For some reason, though, Cologne is left as the perhaps unfamiliar Köln.) Issues arising with post-First World War changes are generally made clear, e.g. the (now) Slovakian town of Košice, which Hungarians know as Kassa (the version used here since it was still Hungarian) and Germans as Kaschau. I can’t recall a single instance of confusion over who was playing or where.
There are several moving tributes to the late master, and the book concludes with his tournament and match record, twenty pages of crosstables, an index of openings, an index of games (NiC page-number style L), an index of studies, a six-page index of names and three pages each of acknowledgements and sources, the latter covering newspapers, magazines, books, tournament books and the Chess History website, more than enough for any reader who feels the urge to conduct further research of his/her own. (I’m intrigued by the demise of von Balla, who died in 1942 ‘when he suffered a fatal car accident involving a Russian tank’. Because I’m sitting at my computer, I had a quick shufti at Wikipedia – not my usual source of information – which confirmed his exit, but gave the date as 1 April 1945. That makes more sense to me; the Soviets were in Hungary by that time, not in 1942. Typo?)
Production standards are high. A lot of care and attention has gone into this sturdy hardback. Presentation is very easy on the eye; narrative, essays, articles etc. are presented in single columns, games in double, and translations from the original languages generally read very smoothly. Textual accuracy is very high, although in a book of this size, the odd hiccup will appear. From the crosstables, for example, it looks like the pairs of tournaments at Cologne/Budapest 1911 and Berlin 1920/Vienna 1921 took place at the same time. Must have made playing in each pair difficult!
A review can only scratch the surface of a tome like this. You might reasonably ask why, in this day and age, when some juniors have never heard of Tony Miles, you would want to invest forty quid of your disposable income in a book about a virtually forgotten player of a century ago. Let me turn that round. Why not? For the price of a couple of openings books that will probably end up gathering dust on a shelf, you can have a fine hardback which brings to life a bygone era and pays tribute to a great player and remarkable mind. The sheer amount and variety of material on offer makes £40 a snip (less than 14p a game, and that’s just the games!). It is an outstanding work. All credit to Jimmy Adams and New in Chess for making it possible.
Two from Cyrus Lakdawala: CHESS FOR HAWKS, New in Chess, 282 pp., publ. 2017 and FIRST STEPS: FUNDAMENTAL ENDINGS, Everyman Chess, 272 pp., publ. 2017.
I make these the twenty-seventh and twenty-eighth books in eight years from the prolific Cyrus, one every fifteen weeks. Consider the time needed for research; selection and organisation of material; analysis; checking; drafting and redrafting; editing, proofing etc. and you wonder about the care and attention devoted to such works and the standard of the finished article. Still, a reviewer has to approach a book with an open mind, be it the author’s first or twenty-somethingth, so...
Chess for Hawks looks at style, positional v aggressive chess. It consists of games which made an impression on the author in his youth, plus games of his own which show their influence on him, and has a personal, confessional (‘Why oh why do I play this way?’) feel. His introduction, in which he discusses the differences between hawks and doves, would help players see where their stylistic strengths and weaknesses lie.
One thread running through the text is that patience is not the same as passivity. You can still play positional chess and strike (indeed have to), as demonstrated, for example, by Petrosian-Lutikov, Tbilisi 1959, pp. 184-8, one of the many classic games in the book. The sources and references for these are sketchy. There are only five books in the bibliography, none of which seems pertinent, for example, to the classic Réti-Alekhine, Baden-Baden 1925. Not even Alekhine is referenced. A couple of notes caught my eye. Lakdawala gives 9…Na6 a ‘!?’ and says ‘This is a time-wasting exercise. Perhaps Alekhine feared 9…c5 10 Nc2’. Hmm. I reached for my trusty copy of Alekhine’s My Best Games of Chess 1924-1937, turned to game six, and found the Great Man calling 9…Na6 ‘comparatively best’, with no mention of fearing anything. Of 36…Rxf3!, Lakdawala says that the game feels like ‘one enormously long combination’ (but contradicts himself on the next page when ‘Alekhine sets up his final combination’). If he had checked MBGoC 1924-1937, he’d have found that Alekhine saw it as a number of combinations – ‘31…Ne4! The beginning of a new combination’.
Talking of the old masters, Lakdawala joins the list of moderns quick to rubbish those who have gone before. Apropos Anderssen-Kieseritzky, London 1851 (not the Immortal Game), he opines that ‘an average club level player of today is several magnitudes higher in defensive skill than a strong master at the time of the Great Romantics’, having earlier taken time out from Sämisch-Nimzowitsch, Copenhagen 1923, to tell us that ‘I have a feeling that B-level club players of today possess better strategic understanding than strong masters of the past, like Sämisch or John ‘. That’s the sort of drivel you can get away with when mortality has ensured that you won’t be playing Anderssen or Sämisch any time soon.
Lakdawala is often succinct and offers good advice, e.g. discussing a sharp opening line, he says ‘Don’t blame the opening for your poor score. Instead, work to improve your understanding of the line, and you will eventually beat it’. However, there is no escaping his incurable logorrhoea. Some examples (there are plenty more where these come from):
p.128: ‘White is faced with a dystopian bureaucracy of requisitions, appropriations and distribution dilemmas’. Get that? Be honest.
p.165: ‘The bishop greets his d4 non-guest with the same feeling of resigned despair as I do, when a salesperson, ignoring the prominent No Solicitors sign on my door, rings the bell in the hopes of selling me magazine subscriptions.’
That was in pole position until p.213: ‘His move is made with the philosophy that honesty isn’t always the best policy when you want to win. I guess sometimes this is true. For example: if your wife or girlfriend asks you: ‘Does this dress make me look fat?’ then if you value your piece of mind, for the love of God, never, never answer with the double question mark response: ‘Yes, it kind of makes you look fat!’’
A striking image, simile or metaphor can be an effective teaching tool; verbiage like this destroys the flow of a text. His editor should give him a nudge.
The ‘index’ is NiC’s page-order list. Yuck.
The chess content of First Steps; Fundamental Endings is excellent. In nine chapters Lakdawala covers the basics that an inexperienced player (the author mentions club-level) needs to make him/her ‘a functional endgame player’. The chapters cover all the piece endings and each deals with the features relevant to that ending, e.g. chapter two, Pawn Endings, deals with K+P v K, the opposition, standard draws, losing a tempo, the square, majorities, king position, breakthroughs, fortresses, corresponding squares, triangulation and obstruction. The author writes ‘I dislike endgame books with too many composed studies’, comparing them to performance art, so most of the exemplar positions are from tournament practice, drawing heavily on the games of Capablanca, Fischer and Carlsen. The striking nature of many will help imprint them in the reader’s mind. Where Chess for Hawks had a skimpy five-book bibliography, this one has an extensive list featuring many standard endgame texts, such as Averbakh’s five-volume series (although curiously only vols 1, 2 and 5).
The book has the deliberate aim of instructing, and, as in Chess for Hawks, when Lakdawala homes in on key points and provides short, crisp explanations he comes across as an effective teacher, e.g.
‘Sliding the king to h6 creates the mating net.’
‘This way he opens the g-file to prepare the way for a future …Rd7 and …Rg7.’
‘White is in trouble due to the following factors:
White’s knight is out of play and lacks targets.
White’s queenside pawns are vulnerable to the knight manoeuvre …Nd2! and …Nc4.’
But – and it’s a big but – the standard of editing leaves a lot to be desired. Lakdawala acknowledges Richard Palliser ‘for his edit of this book’ and Nancy (his wife?) ‘for her proofreading’, but the countless solecisms which litter the text (e.g. punctuation issues, incorrect use of ‘s/s’, incorrect use of who/whom, random words) suggest a less than conscientious job. Two passages in particular are confusing. In his notes to Eliskases-Fischer on p.193, Lakdawala writes ‘Fischer found a path for White’s knight to halt Black’s passed pawn’, suggesting that Fischer was White and had the knight, whereas it was Eliskases. (I find it ironic that Eliskases, presumably one of the author’s ‘painfully weak’ older school, was good enough to beat a Fischer who had already played in an Interzonal and a Candidates’ tournament.)
Even more confusing is Geller-Fischer on p.266, where Lakdawala writes ‘Fischer is up a clean pawn…’. Nope, material is level. I checked the game in case the diagram was wrong. It isn’t. ‘…Geller’s hope is that his queen, bishop and h-pawn…’. Geller doesn’t have an h-pawn; Fischer does. When Geller wins a pawn, Lakdawala says ‘So now it’s two pawns up’. No, only one. ‘Fischer’s next job is to break the blockade…’. No, it’s Geller’s. Fischer’s blockading on b7.
It seems that Lakdawala was so intent on showcasing Bobby’s talent that he juxtaposed who was who. I can think of no other explanation. It’s sloppy writing of the kind an editor should have spotted a mile away.
The biggie, though, is the plague of adverbs, the most over-used and least-necessary of words. More often than not, the verb or adjective manages on its own. Some examples:
‘absolutely pays off’
and my favourite, which elicited a loud chuckle,‘”Aaargh!” I said to myself, internally’. Well, how else would you say something to yourself?
Lakdawala even coins a neologism in the guise of an adverb, and it took me a few shots to read it. See how you rate with Capablanca’s ‘Mozartianly smooth games’. I still read that as ‘Martians’. Awful.
To be fair, not all adverbs are redundant. ‘Capa methodically cuts off White’s king’ is grand, and, on another positive note, kudos for getting ‘fewer’ correct, as in Rubinstein’s ‘fewer pawn islands’.
Nor do Lakdawala’s references to popular culture escape. Two that stick in mind are a rambling, irrelevant chunk about Goodfellas (complete with misused apostrophe, poor punctuation and unnecessary adverb) and a reference to a Bananarama song (first recorded by a session band called Steam in ’69, by the way), which manages to butcher the title. At least make an effort to get it right!
And although, given the nature of the work, opportunities for flannel are fewer, there’s still plenty of it. A quick example: ‘The expression on the constipated white king’s face says: “I eat a high fiber muffin every morning. Why isn’t it working?”’. How can that justify its place in the text?
The pity is that there is much to like and enjoy in Lakdawala’s s work. His coaching talents are evident in his light touch, gentle humour and knack for imparting useful advice, but there is also much that indicates haste and inattention to detail. In chapter one he compares unfamiliarity with K+P endings with ‘the kid who attempts to finish his or her term paper on the bus, on the way to school’. The same might be said of some of his writing. His editor should be helping him out, but, alas, he seems happy to play along.
One final point. There’s no index. No players, no themes, no material distribution. Nada. How a publisher can publish a book like this without an index is beyond me.
GRANDMASTER INSIDES, Maxim Dlugy, Thinkers Publishing, 425 pp, publ 2017
I was much taken by Gilbert Alomenu’s impassioned piece in the October magazine on one of his favourite books on ‘adult improvement’: “Rapid Chess Improvement”, by Michael De la Maza. In this Gilbert touched on a wide range of issues, including the mega-debate as to whether chess learning should be based primarily on ‘tactics’ (the De la Maza theme) or ‘position’ (a view that he attributed to a De la Maza critic, Jeremy Silman).
The sparks flew and the read was engrossing! I was, however, slightly surprised to read the ‘complaint’ towards the end of Gilbert’s article that there was ‘a gaping gap in the market’ for many more books on ‘adult improvement’. What have I been writing my own books for all these years, I wondered, if not to instruct as well as entertain? What’s he getting at?
Aren’t adults, and most aspiring youngsters, for that matter, able to find anything that might promote their own ‘improvement’ in grappling with the ground-breaking chess thinking of the greatest players in my most recent ‘Everyman Chess’ books on “Wilhelm Steinitz”, “Heroes of Classical Chess”, “Giants of Innovation” and “Great Chess Romantics”?
Indeed most serious chess writers would be aghast at the implied charge that they don’t write books that might ‘improve’ the attentive reader, be their subjects technical, chess historical or on virtually any interesting aspect of the game, including openings. Moreover most chess writers actually wield their pens less to make a fast buck (wishful thinking) than to improve their own understanding, while at the same time communicating the hard-won fruits of their labour and sense of wonder to a wider audience.
One of the best books of this kind to appear in recent years is “Grandmaster Insides”, by Maxim Dlugy (‘Thinkers Publishing’). If you can’t find anything in this book that improves and inspires you, take up tiddlywinks! Dlugy, junior world champion (1985) and still one of the world’s top grandmasters at Blitz chess, provides readers with a wide-ranging book that is biographical, entertaining and immensely instructional.
In this book you enter the ‘inner-world’ of a very strong player who also has the gift of clear and insightful communication. Dlugy lucidly penetrates essentials, even including a valuable early chapter on ‘Integration of Chess into Normal Life’ to forewarn you of the importance not just of dedicated hard work but also life-balance.
You want to understand the inter-relationship between tactics and strategy, how to study openings, learn an entirely new Opening System, prepare for games, analyse well (and avoid its attendant risk of ‘paralysis’), enjoy amazing games and combinations and much more besides? It’s all here.
Having dealt at commendably fulsome, yet disciplined length with these and other fundamentals, Dlugy then treats the reader to extended chapters on his games and relationships with a long list of great names, from Smyslov, Spassky and Tal, via the Deep Blue team, to Karpov, Kasparov, Anand, Kramnik and Carlsen.
In all of this, Dlugy writes economically and well, with considerable sympathy for the game and all of its adherents. He explains ideas with a minimum of fuss, using plenty of words and pares down variations to the absolute, necessary minimum. At just over 400 packed pages, the book is a manual in itself that can be studied at length but throughout reads quite delightfully.
Oh, and Dlugy is a talented amateur artist, a selection of whose lively, colourful and playful abstracts are reproduced in a 16 glossy page insert in the middle of the book. A nice touch! Dlugy’s work was even exhibited at Moscow’s world-famous, Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow, during the Gelfand-Anand world championship match that took place there in 2012.
Craig Pritchett, December 2017
(See the full review in the December issue of Scottish Chess e-Mag)
Three training manuals this time, all from New in Chess, all published in 2017. I’ll take them in order from lightest to heaviest (content, not weight).
TRAINING WITH MOSKA by Viktor Moskalenko, 349 pp.
This is the most ‘accessible’ (I hate that word) of the three. The subtitle is Practical Chess Exercises: Tactics, Strategy, Endgames, so it contains a bit of everything. There are three parts covering tactics, strategy and endgames. Each part consists of exercises, an ‘exam’, and solutions. The exercises, particularly the tactical ones, tend to be bright and breezy, a sound teaching device. Memorable examples stick, and come to mind more easily when similar situations arise in one’s own games. The sub-sections within each part, (e.g. intermediate moves, decoy, promotion) come in bite-size chunks, so home in on the key issues being discussed. There is lots of good explanatory prose to ensure the reader grasps what’s behind each example. I like Moskalenko’s bright and enthusiastic writing style; a lightness of touch often succeeds where ‘serious’ didacticism fails (and turns the reader/student off). I can imagine that mythical abstraction, the ‘average club player’, deriving a lot of benefit and enjoyment from this one.
Moving up a notch or two on the heavyweight scale, we come to CHESS TRAINING FOR CANDIDATE MASTERS by Alexander Kalinin, 208 pp. This sounds like heavy-duty stuff, but there’s a clue as to the contents in the subtitle Accelerate Your Progress by Thinking for Yourself. It transpires that it’s a kind of personal odyssey on the author’s part through chess understanding and achievement. The games, positions and exercises are held together by a rather gripping narrative which casts lots of interesting insights into the old Soviet way of doing things. There’s a whole mind-set at work here, and I think that is what the author is trying to do – offer a means for his readers to improve by synthesising what has gone before. With that in mind, he brings his various strands (e.g. The Classical Heritage, Personal Influences, Lessons at the Chessboard) together pretty successfully. Do you need to be a CM, or aspirant, to benefit from his work? Not really. I certainly wouldn’t feed it to a beginner, but any player with a bit of experience could derive lots of food for thought from this one. Which bring us neatly back to the subtitle!
Now we come to the biggie, THE COMPLETE MANUAL OF POSITIONAL CHESS vol. 2 by Konstantin Sakaev & Konstantin Landa, 368 pp., 1½ lbs, nearly 750g, of Russian middlegame thinking. There are fifty-eight (!) chapters, albeit short ones of around 5-10 pages, consisting of 374 examples on all manner of middlegame topics. For example Part I, ‘Pawns are the soul of chess’, features topics such as pawn wedges, hanging pawns, pawn breaks etc., while Part II, Dynamics, features the likes of pins, forks, seesaws, eliminating defenders etc. The examples are elucidated by words and enough analysis to illustrate what’s going on, i.e. not too much. Even the introduction alone contains lots of good advice! The structure of the book is such that you could work your way through it from start to finish, or dip into it at random. I found myself pausing over examples that caught my interest, and enjoyed them all. As with the Kalinin book, anyone with a bit of experience looking for good material on middlegame topics would find much of interest in here.
Caveat emptor: all three books feature the currently-favoured NiC ‘index’ based on chronological order of pages. It is particularly bad in the case of Moska, where first names, second names, initials, ‘study’, ‘exercise’ ‘analysis’ and ‘theoretical position’ all jostle for your eye’s attention in a nine-page quagmire of awfulness. And there doesn’t even appear to be any sort of in-house uniformity. While studies appear under ‘study’ in the Moska book, in Sakaev/Landa they appear under the composers’ names. I’m sure the NiC crew are a great bunch of lads, but they really need to get their act together in terms of how to do an index.
THE NEW IN CHESS BOOK OF CHESS IMPROVEMENT, Steve Giddins (ed.), New in Chess, 350 pp., publ. 2017
I was about to start thumping out this review when I got side-tracked by Anish Giri talking about his game against Lupulescu in the European Team Championship. Here’s Anish:
‘The other day I walked in on my wife reading a book. There’s a collection of New in Chess articles over thirty years. Basically there’s a guy collected some New in Chess articles, games, and sorted them by themes like exchange sacrifice, queen sacrifice, and there was a game of Larsen sacrificing a queen with this English structure as well and he got a very similar domination, he also won very easily. It’s under material imbalance.’
And I figured that was my review more or less handed to me on a plate. Steve Giddins (the ‘guy’) has collated a hundred games from the pages of New in Chess since its inception, a sort of New in Chess’s Greatest Hits, if you will. The game Giri is referring to is no. 19, Larsen-Chandler, Hastings 1987-8, and, if one of the top players in the world can find something of interest amongst the material, then so can you.
The themes under which the games are sorted are 1. Attacking the King, 2. Defence, 3. Sacrifices and Material Imbalance, 4. Pawn Structures, 5. Specific Pawn Structures, 6. Sundry Positional Themes and 7. Endgame Themes. Given that the games are played and annotated by a Who’s Who of the chess world from the last thirty-odd years, it is quality material. With such a wide range of annotators, it’s interesting to compare styles. Some rely mainly on verbal explanation while others prefer variations, with varying shades in between. I found Timman and Aronian the most sympathetic writers; Karpov was a little dry for my tastes, Gelfand was engaging, and I enjoyed Grischuk’s humour. I am less enamoured by a welter of variations (no names). Still, when Kramnik is talking about R+P endings, you sit up and take notice. As Giddins points out, it is easier to learn something when words are used rather than languageless symbols. A good teacher should be a good explainer.
This is a real potpourri which you could either read your way through or dip into as your interest is piqued. Will it live up to the ‘improvement’ label? Depends. No experience is ever wasted, so even if you were reading casually, there’s no doubt that stuff would stick, as Giri proved. You don’t need (or necessarily want) to make a conscious effort to ‘improve’; just absorb the material and trust your memory. Don’t try too hard.
The index of games is the currently favoured NiC list in chronological page order, not a lot of help in finding anything quickly. Lest you mistake me for a grumpy old man on whose corns someone has just trodden, I’ve shown a few of the books with this type of index to non-chess-playing friends and, their reaction, without exception, was, ‘That’s not an index’, or words to that effect. One more laconic acquaintance simply responded with a Glaswegianism frequently used to indicate perceived inferior quality or nonsense, but since children might well be reading these reviews, discretion dictates that I refrain from quoting it. My suggestion would be to forget about the index and just thumb through the book till you find what you’re looking for. Talking of indexes, an index of annotators would have been a real asset, as would (thinking outside the box) an openings index. Matching up, say, Tiviakov and the Tarrasch French would be well worth while.
To sum up: excellent material, well compiled and well produced, but a challenge to find what you’re looking for. That strong players like Mr and Mrs G are reading it seems recommendation enough.
KERES MOVE BY MOVE by Zenón Franco, Everyman Chess, 464 pp., publ. 2017
Another in Everyman’s series on great players, this time devoted to the legacy of arguably the best player never to become World Champion, Paul Keres. Franco presents thirty-eight of the great Estonian’s games, deeply annotated, with many more supplementary games and thirty-eight extracts illustrating key moments from others. The selection spans his entire career, from early correspondence efforts to his last-ever tournament game.
Quite why Keres never became World Champion has been a rich field for conspiracy theorists, but Franco, rightly in my opinion, concentrates on the chess. As he says, ‘…it should be treated as a separate topic, which could well merit a book of its own’. He does quote the opinions of several of Keres’s peers, of whom Spassky probably comes closest when he touches upon the historical/political factors at work.
Keres was one of the great classical players, viz. 1 e4 with White (with enough pet 1 d4 systems to keep his opponents on their toes), and 1 e4 e5 and 1 d4 Nf6 & …e6 as Black, thus if you’re looking for a grounding in such classical systems, look no further. Likewise, especially in his earlier years, he could be a ruthless attacker, and there is plenty of attacking inspiration to be derived from his games. A couple of examples. Keres-Winter, Warsaw Olympiad 1935 (game two), has become an anthology piece, and with good reason; it’s a prime example of how Keres (still a teenager) could deal with lesser mortals. If you’re thinking, well, Winter was pretty lightweight, then have a look at game twenty-nine, where the mature grandmaster sacs a rook v Korchnoi for a whole-board attack which not even the great defender was able to deal with. A gem of measured attacking play.
One little thing caught my eye. Game 23 (and supplementary 23.1), Fischer-Keres, Candidates 1959, is a Caro-Kann, the only game in the book where Keres doesn’t reply to 1 e4 with 1…e5. Franco passes over this without comment, but the legitimate question is: why did he deviate? There is an answer, for which I’ll let the interested reader of this review ferret through chess history.
The last game in the book, Keres’s last-ever game, saw him defending his beloved Ruy Lopez v Walter Browne to win the Vancouver Open in May 1975. Browne was in his twenties and amongst the top players in the world at the time; Keres was old enough to be his father. Obviously he could still play. A mere twelve days later he succumbed to a heart attack.
The author frequently cites Keres’s comments, but they are unattributed. A little checking revealed that they come from Keres’s own games collection, which appeared in Russian, Spanish and as a fabulous hardback trilogy in English. When the topic of Greatest Games Collection of All Time crops up, the two usually quoted are Alekhine’s and Fischer’s. In my opinion, Keres’s deserves the medal. As Franco observes, ‘the sheer profundity of Keres’s analyses raises a problem…how can we add anything of value to what Keres has already said?’. It’s a valid point. Franco explains that he attempted to help the reader derive the max from Keres’s teachings specifically by the Q & A format. (And in the absence of a dedicated question, it does no harm – and will benefit your chess – to pause and ask yourself questions of your own.) In general, Keres’s play was direct and clear cut; there is much to be learnt from his games compared to those of ‘more flamboyant’ masters.
As I’ve just mentioned, quotes and citations are not attributed. This niggles. I’m a fan of footnotes; it’s nice to know where and when somebody said something, especially when it’s a blast of egotistical super-confidence from Botvinnik: ‘…in the 1940s and 1950s he (Keres) could become (World Champion) only by pushing aside the author of these lines’. Hey, tell it like it is!
One other slight niggle concerns the openings index. Ruy Lopezes and Sicilians account for about half of the total number of games, so it would have been helpful to have a breakdown by variation. Keres contributed much to the development of both openings (there’s a Keres Variation in both), and was a notorious Sicilian slayer, so a little elucidation would have been nice.
On the other hand, a tip of the hat. Like me, Keres has a surname that ends with s. When your name ends with s, you get used to people getting into a fankle trying to show that something belongs to you. Yep, it’s our little friend, the apostrophe. Basic stylistic guideline is that a proper name ending with s is treated like any other name, viz. as singular, thus kudos to Everyman for getting Keres’s correct. Try pronouncing it – ker-ez-es. Not difficult, is it? I’ve seen (e.g. in Fischer’s My 60 Memorable Games) Keres’ (looks like the plural of a surname Kere) and Kere’s, an abomination so execrable it’s difficult to know where to begin with it. (And despite my gripe above about attributions, I’ve forgotten where I saw it. Perhaps just as well.)
Anyway, enough waffle and grammar lessons. This is a good book about a true legend full of great chess, well produced in a translation by Phil Adams so smooth that it reads as though it was written in English. What’s not to enjoy?
MY FIRST CHESS OPENING REPERTOIRE FOR BLACK by Vincent Moret, New in Chess, 240 pp., publ. 2017
This book, by a French trainer, aims to provide an aggressive (the author’s word), simple-to-learn opening repertoire ‘mainly intended for amateurs or young children starting out’, and ‘to offer ideas and points of reference to players – young and less young alike’. Throughout this review, I’ll refer to this target group as ‘less experienced players’, many of whom, even if they’ve been playing for a few years, have still not got to grips with a personalised set of openings. So what’s the repertoire?
Against 1 e4 he recommends the Scandinavian, specifically the ‘Portuguese Variation’, 1 e4 d5 2 exd5 Nf6 3 d4 Bg4. This can lead to wild positions if White tries to hold on to the extra pawn with 4 f3 (which gets twenty-two pages), or to quieter waters if s/he opts for 4 Be2 (thirteen pages) or 4 Nf3 (twenty-three pages). Of course, we’ve got to get past move three, when White can try to hold his/her booty with 3 c4. The normal panacea is 3…c6, transposing into a Caro-Kann after 4 d4 cxd5, but that would involve another opening, an option not open to the author, so he suggests 3…e6! (his punctuation), the so-called Icelandic Gambit (thirteen pages). White can now decide whether to get fruity with 4 dxe6, or play it safer with 4 d4, after which 4…exd5 gives what should be a harmless line of the Exchange French. (more…)