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8th November 2018
The approaching World Championship match has, not surprisingly, seen the publication this year of a number of books devoted to the contenders. Tibor Karolyi’s ENDGAME VIRTUOSO MAGNUS CARLSEN (New in Chess, 267 pp.) puts ninety-one of the Champ’s endings spanning the years 1999-2017 under the microscope in five broad chapters – junior years, young superstar, world-class player, world number one and World Champion. Karolyi makes the interesting point that Carlsen is probably the first World Champion who has never played an adjourned game. Think about that. All the previous greats – Capablanca, Rubinstein, Botvinnik et al. – had the luxury of being able to work out plans and strategies during an adjournment, often with the help of their seconds. Carlsen has to keep plugging away at the board, after several hours’ play, which makes his endgame achievements all the more impressive. His endgame knowledge has come, not from hours of adjournment analysis, but from computers and tablebases. Whether you think that’s a good or a bad thing hardly matters; time moves on.
Each ending is analysed with a combination of explanatory prose and variations, the former lucid and the latter detailed enough to show what’s going on without losing the reader in a morass of analysis. The complexity of some examples occasionally demands greater analytical detail, but Karolyi keeps things under control, and each example finishes with a neat little summary of what happened. In many examples Carlsen’s opponents miss key moves, lines or ideas and eventually go under, but this merely underlines how difficult it is, even for top players, to resist in the face of determination and supreme confidence. In fact you could argue that keeping the other guy at the board for as long as it takes is simply another aspect of Magnus’s chess-is-a-game philosophy.
Amongst the many great examples, no. 49 sticks in my mind. Kramnik must be wondering how Carlsen managed to wriggle out with a draw a B for P down. (And although it’s not a direct comparison, it made me wonder if Magnus would have been able to draw the famous Spassky-Fischer first match game where Bobby played the notorious …Bxh2.)
This is a thoroughly enjoyable book, well produced with crystal clear double-column format, alphabetical index of players and classification of themes. The only ‘thing’ about the index is that it’s what it says – a list of players, not necessarily games players. This is helpful, obviously, if you’re looking up a player in general, but doesn’t make it easy to find a specific game. If the names of players in the actual examples had been highlighted or italicised, say, that would have been a big help.
From the keyboard of Russian trainer Alexander Kalinin comes FABIANO CARUANA (New in Chess, 207 pp.), a chess biography of photos, interviews, background material (although I think he got the date of birth wrong) and sixty-two annotated games. The first part is devoted to Caruana’s rise to the top and contains twenty-five games; the second part is intended as a conscious instructional tool, with the remaining games grouped in chapters devoted to, for example, attacking the king, centralisation, play on two flanks, defence and counterattack and queen sacs. Caruana’s style is more ‘scientific’ (for want of a better word) than Carlsen’s, and the games generally feature contemporary mainstream theory of the kind and level one would expect of a true chess workaholic. What comes across is how often Caruana manages to make it look easy, even against the strongest opposition. Of course it isn’t, but the ability to make it seem so is the mark of all truly great players. The games feature a bit of everything – all-out attacks, positional build-ups, complicated battles and simplified positions. In other words Caruana is at home in every type of position, as he admits in one of the interview passages: “I’m a good fighter. It gives me pleasure to play different positions, both tactical and strategic…I have nothing against the endgame.”
It’s interesting to conjecture how far Caruana would have developed without the extensive support he received in his formative years. From early on his parents devoted themselves to the cause, bringing him to Europe and relocating from country to country to foster his development. He had a sponsor by his early teens and the trainers he worked with as a youngster would make a respectable Olympiad team: Sher, Zlotnik, Chernin, Razuvaev and Beliavsky. (Chuchelov and Kasimdzhanov got on board in later years.) Is it possible to make, say 2750+, without such support nowadays?
If you’re interested in what makes the challenger tick, this is a good place to look. Overall production is of the same high standard as the Karolyi book above, and the translation by Steve Giddins reads very smoothly, but the index is the same as in the Karolyi book, names and not game players. Call me old-fashioned, but surely a games collection should have, well, a games index? That apart, well worth a look.
Another Caruana offering is the latest from Cyrus Lakdawala, CARUANA MOVE BY MOVE (Everyman, 365 pp.), a collection of fifty-one games and eleven endings annotated in the author’s inimitable style. Talking of which, he seems to have toned down the verbosity in this one, although the trademark weird metaphors, similes and imagery are still there. (‘It almost feels as if Topalov isn’t governed by the laws of a capitalistic society, money being completely meaningless to him’ and – a stoater, this one! – ‘…the early part of the game is the equivalent of watching a Western movie where there are no horses, guns or villains, and the first hour of the movie involves the townsfolk chatting amiably in the General Store. Then, in the second half, it gets exciting when the villains ride into town, packing guns and ammo and looking for trouble.’ Even if that chunk was relevant, it could have been better edited. Just sayin’, like.) Overall, though, his writing is leaner and the better for it.
Something I got thinking about is nicknames. Nicknames (or even the use of first names) tell you something about a person’s popularity. Everyone knows who ‘Vishy’, ‘Misha’, and ‘Bobby’ are. (And it tells you something about the popular view of Botvinnik that he was ‘The Patriarch’, and not, for example, ‘Big Mike’.) Anyway, Caruana seems to be known by all and sundry as ‘Fabi’, but that doesn’t stop Lakdawala (who christened Ulf Andersson ‘Ulfie’) calling him ‘Caru’. Why not go with the flow!?
This and Kalinin’s book are arranged in broadly the same way. Kalinin’s Part II consists of eight theme-based chapters, Lakdawala divvies his material up into six. Themes common to both are attacking/attacking the king, defence and counterattack and the endgame/Berlin endgame. His material covers games up to this year, presented in the usual move-by-move format with variations, lots of verbal explanations and questions at various stages to get the reader thinking (if s/he has the willpower not to glance further down the page!), all good teaching technique. One thing I liked about the questions was that Lakdawala is ready to give the reader little morale-boosters in case a particular question is beyond her/him (‘Don’t worry if you don’t get it, since if you do, you are probably a 2800-rated player’). It can be all too easy for a student (or, in this case, reader) to get discouraged if s/he just doesn’t ‘see’ it.
All in all, a nice production that you could happily work your way through or dip into just for the sheer enjoyment of it.
CHESS LESSONS by Mark Dvoretsky, Russell Enterprises, 274 pp., publ. 2018
Mark Dvoretsky wrote serious books for serious players, and this posthumous work is no exception. Chess Lessons is a collection of games, most deeply annotated, covering a wide range of topics, of which a random selection: Passivity in the Opening, Overestimating Your Position, Intuition and Calculation, Unobvious Candidate Moves and Cold-blooded Defense (sic; it’s an American publication). The games have built-in highlighted key moments and questions designed to encourage reader participation and get you thinking about what’s going on. This inevitably leads to variations galore, but, as the author says in his foreword, ‘every statement in the text should be proven; verbal evaluations alone are insufficient’. So it is clearly a book that will require some serious commitment, one for stronger players who can better appreciate what is on offer. Having said that, the style is relatively relaxed; it’s easy to imagine Mark delivering this material in one of his training sessions.
The author quotes from many other writers, but does so in manageable chunks, creating a two-way commentary on their work. Portisch-Timman, p.58 ff., and Hillarp-Persson-Grooten, p.147 ff., are good examples. On the other hand, he doesn’t flinch at pointing out what he perceives as shortcomings, e.g. Gulko gets his knuckles rapped for being ‘not really careful while checking his variations with the help of computer (sic)’, which thus ‘contain more than a few omissions and direct tactical errors’, while Timman’s ‘conclusions seemed overoptimistic – and at times even obviously erroneous’. Some might see this as big-headedness; I see it as an objective way of setting the scene for analysis and dissection of their work.
While the material gets a healthy thumbs-up, it has to be said that the production doesn’t do it justice. The double-column format is definitely a plus (albeit the columns aren’t uniformly formatted throughout) but the text is dense and the long algebraic used for the game moves looks clumsy, especially since it’s printed in linear rather than columnar style. (Inserting a space before and after the lines of text moves would have created some daylight.) Overall, the book could simply have benefited from more attention. While the translation is OK, there are numerous occasions where words, phrasing, punctuation and use of verb tenses are all on the iffy side, plus several instances of random use of lower/upper case. The biggest blooper, though, is the lack of a games index. How can a games collection not have a games list!? I decided to count how many there were and made it forty-eight games and fragments, but my eyes could have been deceived in the textual jungle. Nor, in a book where middlegame themes abound, is there any index of those either. How any non-fiction book can be published without an index or indices is beyond me.
Creating a perfect chess book is nigh-well impossible, but there are things in here that could and should have been spotted before the MS got to the printer. Shame.
Blemishes aside, Chess Lessons contains much that a more experienced player could beneficially spend a lot of quality time on.
THE MAGIC OF CHESS TACTICS 2, Intuition, Imagination & Precision by Claus Dieter Meyer & Karsten Müller, Russell Enterprises, 192 pp., publ. 2017
This isn’t a find-the-solution puzzle book. It’s a look at the role of tactics and tactical operations in five broad areas – (i) attacking with queen and knight, (ii) with knights, (iii) with bishops of opposite colours, (iv) pins and (v) exchanges and transformations, plus a chapter entitled Learn from the World Champions (the ones in question being Carlsen, Kasparov and Anand). Each topic is investigated in depth with numerous examples, commentary and exercises. The material is well thought out and well covered, chapter six in particular, a consideration of a rather neglected topic, exchanges and transformations.
The commentaries are accompanied by lots of variations – no doubt the material was checked by computer – which, despite the otherwise pleasant two-column format, are unattractive to the eye. Flicking through the book at random, pp. 12-13, 32, 81 and 146-7 are good (?) examples of dense analytical foliage, complete with the dreaded (b12231)-type variations, and they are not the only ones. I’m not sure how this could have been addressed, but it sure is visually daunting.
The editing is also a bit iffy (no editorial credit is cited, but you have to assume someone did it). Besides stray (and missing!) words and brackets, there’s a fair amount of avoidable sloppiness. A few examples:
‘White could take his pick’ (p. 29, twice [!]) White is Valentina Gunina.
‘…the Caro/Kann [sic]…Exchange Variation’ ( p.67) It was a Panov.
‘Attempts of playing on the kingside…’ (p.94)
‘The world champion has past the point of no return.’ (p.102)
There are also nuances in the translation, including remnants of German sentence structure, that should have been nailed, e.g.
‘Now, Black’s first rank becomes tenuous as well.’ (p. 28)
‘This solution is hardly satisfying’ (p.62).
Without having seen the original German, I’m willing to bet it should be ‘weak’, not ‘tenuous’, and ‘satisfactory’, not ‘satisfying’. In any case, ‘tenuous’ and ‘satisfying’ just don’t fit there.
You get the idea.
To sum up: interesting material generally well covered that readers could no doubt benefit from, but let down by tea-break editing and presentation.
SABOTAGING THE SICILIAN, FRENCH & CARO-KANN WITH 2. b3 by Jerzy Konikowski & Marek Soszynski, Russell Enterprises, 144 pp., publ. 2018
What it says on the tin, a complete off-beat repertoire against the three most common semi-open defences. The Sicilian gets sixty-three pages, the French thirty-seven and the Caro-Kann thirty-two. There’s even a page-and-a-half afterthought on 2. b3 v. the Scandinavian. Each section covers all the likely black responses with analysis and a selection of illustrative games (twenty for the Sicilian and five each for the French and Caro-Kann). A surprising number of big names have given 2. b3 an occasional punt, e.g. Carlsen, Kramnik, Morozevich and McShane, and the fact that these guys don’t play junk, and that 2. b3 v. the French was one of Réti’s brainchildren, suggests that 2. b3 should be worth a look. It’s by no means a dense theoretical work, but provides enough ammunition (backed by an extensive bibliography) for anyone looking for a change from the main lines, or just for something to confuse their opponent in the next club or league game.
Production seems a bit tighter than in the tactics book above, but a couple of fairly obvious bloopers have got through: no space between ‘French’ and the ampersand on the cover, and in the Scandinavian afterthought, Black’s second move appears as 2 … exd5. Oops!
And one thing I found really amusing: after 1 e4 d5 2 b3?!, the authors say, ‘Certain other moves will merge into lines we have already seen, which Black should avoid.
(a) 2 … c6 see Section 3.
(b) 2… c5 see Chapter 6.
(c) 2… e6 see Section 2.’
Think about this. Logically, given that it’s the same positions which arise, they’re saying that Black should avoid 2… d5 after 1 e4 e6 2 b3 or 1 e4 c6 2 b3, and shouldn’t entertain one of the Sicilian chapters. I’m sure that’s not what they mean, but it gave me a chuckle as I closed the book.
THE SHERESHEVSKY METHOD TO IMPROVE IN CHESS by Mikhail Shereshevsky, New in Chess, 352 pp., publ. 2018
I’ve already had a look at this one (henceforth referred to as TSM), but I’d like to elaborate on some of the points I made in my original review, so let me just clamber up to my candlelit garret, dip quill in ink, and start scratching.
TSM is different from other books I’ve reviewed in that it contains a lot of previously published material. As I said in the first review, there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. Knowledge is not static; writers frequently revisit and update their work. The back cover blurb makes it absolutely clear what to expect: ‘two instructional classics condensed into one practical volume’, ‘a totally reworked compendium of his acclaimed classics Endgame Strategy and The Soviet Chess Conveyor, with many new examples, exercises and discussions of various training methods’. Thus whether you come at it wondering what all the fuss was about the original books, or if you want to see what Shereshevsky has to say that’s new, you should find something of interest between the covers. Balance-wise I said in the first review that ‘200-odd pages’ featured material based on the original two books. This was a wee bit on the high side (although not by much); based on the original two texts it’s 187, still over half of the new publication. If you feel I exaggerated wildly and misled you, I offer my humble and profuse apologies.
In part I Shereshevsky looks back at The Soviet Chess Conveyor, with two excellent chapters on constructing an opening repertoire and studying the classics. The former is full of wisdom, and contains much that club players could learn from. The latter is an insightful essay on the importance of studying the games of great players of the past, the sort of thing that should be compulsory reading for juniors who have never heard of Tony Miles, or 2600s who couldn’t tell you the year of the Fischer-Spassky match.
Part II is a condensed version of his highly-acclaimed Endgame Strategy (ES). I decided to use it to check the old/new contents balance, simply because there were more chapters to look at.
ES consists of an introduction and thirteen chapters; after a new two-page preface, TSM condenses this to the introduction and seven chapters. Curiously, the missing chapters are the last six of ES sequentially; there’s no prima facie reason why this should be so, but it is. I then looked at three random chapters common to both books to check for changes and updates. In ES, ‘Centralization of the king’ consists of five exemplar games, one of which appears in TSM along with one new game and three exercises. In ES, ‘Do not hurry’ consists of nine games, five of which appear in TSM, augmented by five new examples. Finally, ES’s ‘The principle of two weaknesses’ consists of ten games, four of which appear in TSM; there are no new games, but a study has been added. So the balance is a bit uneven, but, as Shereshevsky explains, ES was devoted to knowing and understanding. This approach has been retained in TSM; reading what Shereshevsky has to say will get you thinking more about the endgame and hopefully benefit your play.
The new part is part III, ‘From the 20th century to the 21st’, ten chapters covering 142 pages on topics such as, inter alia, the status of chess players and trainers, chess books, calculation and intuition and logic. There is a lot of good stuff here. For example chapter 10 is an eye-opening discussion on chess life in the old Soviet Union, Eastern Europe and Russia today which I thoroughly enjoyed. (And it provides the answer to what would be a great trivia question: which World Champion never won a world championship match?), while if you’ve ever wondered why some players are better than others, chapter 17 morphs into a discussion on the nature of genius in chess.
However, what is striking about this part are the extensive quotes from other chess writers such as Tukmakov, Beim, Nunn, Dorfman and Dvoretsky. That’s not an issue per se. Authors in every field constantly reference their peers and predecessors; what matters is how it’s done. For example, chapter 11, a look at the state of chess literature, draws heavily on Beim’s How to Calculate Chess Tactics, while chapter 12 quotes the game Nunn-Pribyl more or less verbatim from Nunn’s Secrets of Practical Play (the origin of the abbreviation DAUT: Don’t Analyse Unnecessary Tactics). Shereshevsky does so ‘to show how difficult it is to use DAUT in a practical game’, but, bar some additional comments and analysis by Sakaev, the amount of discussion is moot. This chapter also includes extensive quotes from Beim.
Then we come to chapter 13, which, as I pointed out in the original review, is essentially the ‘Books on offbeat openings’ section of Nunn’s Secrets of Practical Play. The chapter in TSM is seven and a bit pages long, of which six (a ‘rather large passage’ – Shereshevsky), give or take a few paragraphs, are straight outta Nunn. There’s little, if any, discussion, as Shereshevsky himself lets slip: ‘I quote this long enough excerpt from John Nunn’s book entirely because…he illustrates…’ and ‘he demonstrates…’. He. Nunn. Not Shereshevsky. What’s chapter 13 called? ‘Laziness’.
Chapters 14 and 15 again draw heavily on Beim and Nunn, while in chapter 16, Shereshevsky refers at length to the work of Dorfman. His aim, clearly, is to discuss the ideas and thoughts of these writers, but by giving them so much column space, he limits input of his own, and so lively discussion rarely (or barely) takes off.
It could be that you don’t see writer X quoting large chunks of writer Y as a problem, but I’d imagine that someone reading a book by Shereshevsky is expecting Shereshevsky’s take on things, not someone else’s. Selection of key passages and source references is basic stuff. If Shereshevsky had encountered some of my old university tutors, and quoted at such length without bibliography, footnotes or acknowledgements (titles are mentioned only when they appear in the text), his work would have had a red pen taken through it and been literally thrown back at him. Believe me, I know whereof I speak.
Given the above, I closed the original review by wondering if Shereshevsky ‘sought permission – or is litigation pending? Curious readers want to know!’. This was meant rhetorically (and humorously, check the exclam), but it’s a legitimate point to ponder. Personally I couldn’t give a pig’s burp whether he did or not, but NiC have since told me that they did indeed seek permission from other publishers to use their material, so all is well.
TSM is by no means all gloom and doom. Each part offers excellent examples of a renowned trainer’s work, and much enjoyment and instruction. Shereshevsky writes in a clear and accessible style, and his prose is often quite gripping (a word not usually associated with chess books). The book is well-produced with easy-on-the-eye double column format, clear text and diagrams and a handy alphabetical player index. Well worth a look, whether you already have ES or The Soviet Chess Conveyor or not.
STRIKE LIKE JUDIT! By Charles Hertan, New in Chess, 255 pp., publ. 2018
Lest you are wondering who ‘Judit’ is, the sub-title reveals all: The Winning Tactics of Chess Legend Judit Polgar. Strongest woman player of all time, and likely to remain so until Hou Yifan gets anywhere near the world top ten.
Judit has been retired for four years now, but she bequeathed to the chess world a legacy of brilliant attacking games, on which Hertan has based his latest book.
There are 110 examples divided into six thematic chapters dealing with chessboard geometry, the Sicilian, calculation, endgames, shots and a selection of her very best. The examples are presented with lots of diagrams and words, facilitating reading the book without a board, although it would do no harm to set up the pieces and enjoy some great chess in the format in which it was played. Polgar was an attacking player par excellence, and many of the examples feature play of ruthless, brutal efficiency. Hertan does a fine job of peeling away the layers of the complexity onion and homing in on the relevant points. The chapter on the Sicilian in itself provides a mini-arsenal of ideas which the reader could file away for dealing with 1… c5. Likewise, chapter 5, Shots!, is another collection of awareness-raising tactical ideas for dispatching unsuspecting opponents. The moral of this one could well be seek and ye shall find.
Something which struck me, in fact it’s a thread running throughout the book, was Polgar’s sheer fearlessness; she was clearly no respecter of reputations. Of course, all strong players are fearless, but, like her spiritual predecessor Tal, Polgar was adept at handling tension and boldly going where others might hesitate to tread. In Hertan’s words, she would habitually walk the tightrope. Her play was not perfect, but by golly it got results. It’s an amorphous subject, but something worth pondering as you look at the examples.
Bloodlust is all good and well, but nobody hacks their way to world no. 8. All-round skill of a higher order is required, and Judit knew when to swap sledgehammer for scalpel, as the chapter on endgames testifies. There are still plenty of little tactical twists and turns in the simplified positions, but what comes through are her calculating skills and a clarity of play which the author compares to that of Fischer.
The list of Polgar’s victims reads like a who’s who of modern chess: amongst those put to the sword are Anand, Ivanchuk, Karjakin, Kasparov, Shirov, Short and Topalov. Of the older guard, Korchnoi and Spassky suffer in here. Amongst this list of superstars, there’s also a bruising demolition of a Scottish player, whose blushes I will spare, but I don’t suppose he lost many rating points that day.
Overall a very enjoyable and user-friendly book about a great player. You could use it as a training manual, doing the old cover-the-page-and-figure-out-the-next-move thing, or you could simply work your way through it and enjoy some fantastic chess. Either way something is bound stick for use in your own games. Coaches would also find plenty of excellent material between the covers. And, at the risk of being accused of playing the sexist card, I’d suggest it would be of special interest to female players. Judit, with her sisters, shattered the glass gender ceiling in chess. There can be no better model or inspiration for any girl starting out in the game.
SUPER CHESS KIDS by Franco Zaninotto, 139 pp., publ. New in Chess 2018.
This is a nice little book. The author, an Italian FM and trainer, says that his aim is ‘to improve your understanding of the game and your practical skills’ (which I guess is the aim of every chess coach). He sets out to do this by divvying his material into two sections, Strategy and Tactics, each of five roughly equal chapters. Leaving aside the tests and solutions (one of each in each section), the topics covered are Weaknesses, Piece Play and Evaluating the position and planning (under Strategy), and Calculation, Attack and Defence under Tactics. Each chapter is around ten pages long, so there’s obviously a limit as to how deep he can go. Having said that, a tight page allocation forces the writer to home in on the essentials; there’s no room for waffle.
In the chapter on Calculation, for example, the author concentrates on only five positions, in each of which the reader has to identify sensible candidate moves and pick the strongest. The play is then thoroughly dissected – with plenty of words – and key points summarised in black boxes. This is an effective way of getting a point across, and I believe the author does it well. Other chapters follow a similar pattern. It’s worth mentioning that the author doesn’t just home in on brilliant play, but also draws attention to players’ mistakes, and how we can learn from them. As the saying goes, it’s good to learn from your mistakes, but even better to learn from other people’s.
The Tests and Solutions which I mentioned earlier constitute a large chunk of the book. There are forty strategical test positions and fifty tactical ones. The detailed solutions take up around twenty pages for each section. It may be a slight book, but it is not lacking in focus or content!
Will reading it make you, as the subtitle says Win Like the World’s Young Champions!? Probably not, for a couple of reasons: (1) the world’s top juniors are coached to within an inch of their precocious young lives, and you’re not, and (2) if you’re coming at the book as an adult, these kids have probably got thirty years on you. But, hey, who knows?
Overall a very nice book, well produced, which will give enthusiastic youngsters a shove in the right direction and an insight into what is needed to develop their talents to the max, while those of us longer in the tooth can enjoy the play of the new generation and perhaps reflect on what might have been.