Chess Scotland

The home of Chess in Scotland

Chess Scotland

The home of Chess in Scotland

Chess Scotland

The home of Chess in Scotland


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Book Reviews

18th August 2018

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.

Ian Marks
September 2018

***** (more…)