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LASKER MOVE BY MOVE by Zenón Franco, Everyman Chess, 448 pp., publ. 2018
As I’ve said before, I like games collections. They’re timeless. Reason enough to think there should be more of them, but nobody gets rich writing chess books, and writers of games collections get even less rich than those pumping out openings books, ergo…
I assume you’ve heard of Lasker, a polymath good enough at chess to become world champion. Franco examines forty-six of Lasker’s games in five broad periods from 1889 to 1936, a career of almost half a century. In recent history only Korchnoi could boast such long (and successful) longevity.
Lasker was one of the great practical players. He was never a great openings researcher (although he did enough to have a number of systems named after him and was a spiritual forefather of the currently all-the-rage London System), but was probably the first great player to explore and espouse the role of psychology in the game. And he was one of the great defenders. Sound familiar? Think Magnus.
Franco does a good job of dissecting the games, drawing together comments and analysis from both contemporaries of Lasker such as Tarrasch and Capablanca and modern commentators such as Kasparov and Nunn. These comments are always illuminating and it is interesting to note the shifts in emphasis between the two, for example nowadays more stress is placed on dynamics than in days of yore. The openings, of course, are not quite contemporary fare, but so what? What counts is the middlegame and endgame meat, and there’s plenty of that.
Inevitably some of Lasker’s classics feature, but that detracts from neither the games in question nor the book. A great game is always worth revisiting.
The book is well produced and once again smoothly translated by Phil Adams. Translators often (if ever) get due credit, yet can make or break a text, so kudos to him. The text is easy on the eye with lots clear diagrams and a pretty comprehensive bibliography. One detail that snuck under the proofreader’s radar is the insistence on calling the Danish player From (inventor of the eponymous gambit) ‘Fromm’. Wonder where the extra ‘m’ came from?
I said above that you’ve probably heard of Lasker. If you haven’t, or are unfamiliar with his legacy, this would be a good place to start.
BETTER THINKING, BETTER CHESS by Joel Benjamin, New in Chess, 223 pp., publ. 2018.
The subtitle, How a Grandmaster Finds His Moves, is a clue to the contents. Benjamin analyses 118 games, many his own, including 76 ‘challenges’, where the reader is asked to find candidate moves, a winning continuation, a defensive idea etc. His basic aim is to improve the reader’s thinking process, hence find better moves. Maybe you’re thinking that you’re not a grandmaster, so what relevance has this for you? The answer is: a lot. By working on the flaws in your own thinking, you should (in theory anyway) be able to improve your performances and results, which is exactly what GMs have to do to earn a living. Also, numerous examples are by the author’s own students, so (a) it’s not all stratospheric stuff and (b) he knows exactly what they, i.e. players closer to you and me, were thinking or not thinking.
The up-to-date material, drawn mainly from the 2000s or late 20th century, is divided into ten chapters. Openings, endgames and tactics get a dedicated chapter each, while others (in fact probably my three favourites) include calculation (and its problems), winning a won game, and swindling. Chapter nine is called ‘Words of wisdom: tips for better chess thinking’ and contains forty assorted pieces of solid advice which alone would make a handy little vade mecum for less experienced (or even experienced!) players. There are also lots of hints and insights scattered throughout the main body of the text. A couple which caught my eye: ‘The fundamental goal is to be in a position where good moves are easier to find for you than for your opponent’ and ‘You can’t find what you don’t look for…Players often find tactics because they are more motivated to make them work than their opponents are to spot and prevent them’. Even just letting things like that sink in would improve many players’ results.
Since the author’s objective is to assist with the reader’s thinking processes, there’s lots of lucid, easy-to-follow prose. Benjamin’s writing is tight and focused; there’s no flannel. Throughout the book he homes in on the topic at hand, explains what’s going on and gets his point across. There are also lots of anecdotes to lighten the fare and enough diagrams for less experienced players to practise visualising their way through the book sans board.
Overall, a thoroughly enjoyable book, just a little bit different, and a good old-fashioned read.
CHESS PATTERN RECOGNITION FOR BEGINNERS by Arthur van de Oudeweetering, New in Chess, 240 pp., publ. 2018
It might be an idea to start this review by saying what this book isn’t about. It’s not about standard tactical patterns, e.g. mates, pins, skewers etc.; it’s more about the middlegame and focuses on strategic patterns, e.g. planting a minor piece on a strong square, attacking …g6 with h4 (or g3 with …h5), rooks on open files, sacrificial patterns etc. And, despite the title, the material is a bit advanced and abstract for raw beginners. (The author – a Dutch IM and trainer – says that the book is ‘designed for beginners’, after previously warning that it ‘could hardly be for absolute beginners’.) Bottom line: you’ll need some experience under your belt to get anywhere with it.
The work is divided into four broad parts –
• Typical pawns and pieces
• When pawns meet
• When to exchange and when not to
• Sacrifices – the classics
and each of these into chapters on a particular theme or topic, e.g. in the last one we find a discussion of standard sacs such as Bxf7+, Bxh7+, …Rxc3 and various attacking knight sacs. You might think that this contradicts the claim that the book is about strategic, not tactical, patterns, but remember that sacs are generally based on sound positional considerations. Each chapter contains well-selected material, good explanations and summary, and each of the four main sections concludes with a set of exercises. Although the chapters are not particularly long (around seven pages on average), the concise repetition should help the particular topic sink in. There is also plenty of good advice sprinkled throughout, e.g. from the chapter on opposite-coloured bishops: ‘Control the squares that you can’t control with your bishop with your pawns’ and, from the chapter on isolated doubled pawns: ‘the structural weakness of the IDP comes to the fore in the endgame’. The material covers a healthy time span from the McDonnell-De Labourdonnais match of 1834 (!) to the present day, and features examples from the creative output of most of the greats.
I sometimes wonder about the wisdom or necessity of including the whole game when you could easily discuss the topic from a starting diagram, but in this case I think it is a good idea; it allows the reader, especially the less experienced player, to see how the position came about and gives him/her an idea of how to handle similar lead-in play him-/herself. When we get to the meat of the diagrams the emphasis is on explanatory prose rather than variations, also a sound idea given the nature of the book and the target readership.
One thing I found interesting is how the author handled what I would call more amorphous patterns. Most players with some experience can sniff out a Bxh7+ sac; trying to clarify the right circumstances for a favourable exchange is much more difficult. Where there is no pattern, the human mind instinctively seeks one (which is why people see the face of Elvis in a slice of toast, or teapots in the clouds). The author tackles this head-on in part III, which should prove beneficial to anyone who thinks, for example, that only wusses exchange queens ‘cos it’s boring. (How long had you been playing chess before you realised that that was a load of codswallop?)
The author writes with a lightness of touch. His style is sympatico and not without a dash of humour (I liked the nod to Motörhead in chapter 20) and his simple and concise explanations show that he obviously wants his readers to understand and benefit from his work. Another key element in the teaching/learning process lies in anticipating the pupil’s questions, and van de Oudeweetering does a good job of this too.
I certainly wouldn’t place the book in the hands of anyone who has just learnt the moves, but players with some experience of the game, rated say ≥1300/1400, would find a lot of useful material in it. I can also imagine it being useful for rapidly-improving juniors or their coaches.
(That was going to be my concluding sentence, but I’ve decided to go out on something which niggles the living daylights out of me: why do English-language texts often insist on Kortchnoi and Jussupow, when the accepted English versions are Korchnoi and Yusupov? You could argue that J-u-s-s-u-p-o-w is how Artur spells his surname in his adoptive Germany, but given that his own English-language works use the English transliteration, I just don’t get it. Rant over. Thank you for listening.)
CLINCH IT! By Cyrus Lakdawala, New in Chess, 253 pp., publ. 2018 The latest offering from the Lakdawala production line takes a look at (as the sub-title says) how to convert an advantage into a win via five large chapters – Exploiting a development lead, Exploiting the attack, Defense and counterattack, Accumulating advantages and Converting favourable imbalances. As always when you read a Lakdawala book, the first thing that hits you is the waffle. Bearing in mind the adage that every word has to justify its place in a sentence, ask yourself what stuff like this doing in the text:
‘Karpov’s move is like a sluggish man who has just consumed a 3,000 calorie Christmas dinner, to the manic junkie who has just scored a hit of angel dust.’
‘I played the KID for about a decade, all through the 1980’s, but gave it up when the thought arose: ”How can I remember such long lines when I can’t even remember the lyrics to Stairway to Heaven in the shower?”’
‘In truth, this is a boy-who-called-wolf situation, the way North Korea threatens to “drown the United States in a sea of nuclear ash” on a weekly basis.’
‘…anomaly tends to follow orthodoxy like a hungry hyena’ (this one’s actually quite neat, once you’ve paused to figure out what he’s talking about)
Another Lakdawala trademark is his frequent references to popular culture. Nothing wrong with that. Good to keep up. But there are a couple of problems with committing references to popular culture to print: (i) they become dated, and (ii) they convey nothing to anyone not au fait with the reference. If you haven’t read the books or watched the series, the convoluted ‘The thing I learned from the Dothraki in Game of Thrones (although GOT wasn’t even there in book form when this game was played)…’ is meaningless. (I love the way he feels it necessary to explain that the thing he’s referring to didn’t exist at the time.)
A friend recently commented to me that he was 'reluctant to suffer Lakdawala’s prose again'. You can understand why.
What highlights this sort of verbiage even more is that, once you’ve macheted your way through it, you find gentle prose with a lightness of touch which is both easy to read and conveys what the author wants to convey. Compare the following little pieces of advice to the stuff above.
‘Sometimes obvious moves are the wrong ones.’
‘Even a few indifferent moves can turn a relatively easy win into a potential draw for the opponent.’
‘Be constantly aware of the question: is my initiative expanding or contracting?’
All things worth remembering during the heat of battle, expressed clearly and succinctly. Could be a different person writing. When he trims the prose, Lakdawala is a more enjoyable read than many other authors. He comes across as genuinely interested in imparting information and helping his readers derive benefit from his work. He is the antithesis of those overtly didactic textbook-style writers and, dare I say it, those whose writing barely conceals their superciliousness.
Overall, Clinch It! is a pleasant book on a somewhat neglected topic and I can imagine many players, say in the under 2000 range, would benefit from it. Just be prepared to skim over large chunks of waffle.
THE LONGEST GAME by Jan Timman, New in Chess, 365 pp., publ. 2019 The longest game of the title isn’t one game at all, but the 144 games contested by Karpov and Kasparov in their world championship matches between 1984 and 1990 which, Timman argues, can be regarded as one long game. Timman doesn’t analyse every game, but has selected fifty of the most significant, with seventeen fragments, and annotated them in detail. Timman’s detail, however, is much lighter than the analytical jungle which Kasparov devoted to the matches in his own work, thus it is reader-friendlier and besides shows us the games through the eyes of a third party. His notes (computer-backed, of course) and insights are of a standard one would expect from a former world no. 2, but while strong players often seem to exist in a world out of touch with lesser mortals, Timman is blessed with the gift of being able to explain things in a clarity of prose accessible to everyone. In addition to the games, Timman weaves a highly readable narrative replete with lots of background, insight and anecdote, with lengthy discussion of the key moments and factors surrounding the games. All the major characters in the chess world of the time are brought to life, some in starring, some in walk-on roles, and an interesting cast they make. Given the nature and intensity of chess at this level, paranoia is never far from the surface, political intrigue is rife and, of course, who doesn’t love a good conspiracy theory, be it the abrupt termination of the first match or the bizarre conclusion to game nineteen in 1990. Timman’s taut, focused writing, smoothly translated, often lends the narrative the air of a thriller rather than a chess text, and its robustness is worthy of note. In this day and age, when some people have elevated being offended to a breach of their human rights, it is refreshing to read a passage like this (from the London leg of the 1986 match): ‘Karpov did not have a clear delegation leader, but he did have a press attaché: the Yugoslav Dmitri Bjelica. That was a strange choice, as Bjelica was known as a gutter journalist who wrote books that were full of printing errors and plagiarisms’.
A minor disappointment in this otherwise super book is the relative absence of photographs, of which there are very few; most are of the two Ks in action, and one is of… a stamp. A little more illumination of settings and characters would have been welcome.
For some of us, the K-K battles are a large part of our chess lives, for others they will represent a life span, while for yet others they will be a chunk of history that took place before they were born, thus it occurs to me that, besides being an excellent retrospective on a great rivalry, Timman’s book is also something of a historical document; it is hard to separate the chess from the times.
Jan Timman has established a reputation as a fine writer whose books have something to say. His one-volume coverage of one of the greatest rivalries in chess is no exception. Highly enjoyable and highly recommended.
KURT RICHTER A Chess Biography with 499 Games by Alan McGowan, McFarland & Company Inc., 368 + xii pp., publ. 2018.
When one thinks of the great players of the first half of the twentieth century, one instinctively thinks of the World Champions – Lasker, Capablanca and Alekhine – or their illustrious peers such as Rubinstein, Nimzowitsch or Spielmann, to name but three. It is easy to forget that, while these stellar names were the elite of their day, and have had books written about them, there were many other strong, talented masters who have been unjustly neglected in chess literature. I remember former World Champion Max Euwe talking about the composer Mattison (or Matisons in his native Latvian) and saying, “He was a strong player”, (strong enough, in fact, to have beaten the likes of Alekhine, Capablanca, Rubinstein and Vidmar, but virtually unknown nowadays). To this group belongs the subject of this work, the German master Kurt Richter.
For the benefit of non-Scottish readers, the author, Alan McGowan, is the Chess Scotland historian, a long-time devotee of the history and lore of our wonderful game. Before I go any further it is only right that, as per a job application, I declare an interest. Alan and I have known each other since we were juniors at Cathcart Chess Club in Glasgow, indeed it was at school that the first seeds of Alan’s interest in chess history, and Richter in particular, were sown. I can recall visits to his flat forty-odd years ago and finding the floor strewn with old chess magazines and books, many of them foreign. Even then, one name was starting to crop up more and more – Kurt Richter. As he enthused about the games in Brinckmann’s Kurt Richters beste Partien, or about a game he had found in some old German magazine, he would often ask me what something meant. This eventually led, when his project was up and running, to a guy with my name being inveigled into doing the translations from German, and, if I was playing in a tournament where I might bump into anyone who had known, or had information about, Richter, into finding out that little bit more. I mention all of this for one reason: I can personally attest to how much time, energy, effort, commitment and thoroughness Alan has invested in this project. (No, on second thoughts I’m probably only aware of a fraction of it.)
So to our subject. Kurt Richter was a German master whose life spanned the first seven decades of the twentieth century (1900-1969). He thus lived through some of the century’s most turbulent times – the First World War, the political and economic turmoil of the ‘20s, the rise of fascism in the ‘30s, the Second World War, the division of Germany, the Cold War and the building of the Berlin Wall (all of which you will find woven into the narrative). He was undoubtedly a strong player; you don’t win the German championship and play in the Olympiad team if you’re not. He was feared by many and respected by the elite (both Alekhine and Keres, for example, openly regarded him as a worthy opponent and certainly not someone to be trifled with). His style of play was overtly tactical; he played chess on the edge and not for nothing was known by the nickname ‘the executioner of Berlin’. He once stated (you can find it in here on p.103) that “the point of an individual game is not to produce a work of art, but simply to defeat your opponent”, and the games reveal exactly what he meant. Playing the man was natural to him; creating uncertainty and confusion in his opponent’s mind was a prime weapon in the Richter arsenal. Think of a synthesis of, say, Tal and Rapport and you might get an idea of the Richter modus operandi. And yet he was capable of creating chess beauty, as many of his stunning combinations testify, or of the most filigree touches in the endgame.
As befits a natural attacking player his main weapon with White was 1 e4, where he favoured main-ish lines with his own little twists (one of his weapons of mass destruction was the ‘harmless’ 1 e4 e6 2 d4 d5 3 Nc3 Nf6 4 Bg5 Be7 5 Bxf6 Bxf6 6 e5 Be7 7 Qg4, where he banked on being able to handle the complications better than his opponent could balance the needs of defence and counterattack), but he also honed 1 d4 d5 2 Nc3 (or 1 d4 Nf6 2 Nc3) into an effective point-scorer. This has never attained main line respectability, but to dismiss it out of hand tells us more about the dismisser than about the move. It is hard to believe that a move which attracted the attention of the likes of Spassky, Tal and Bronstein can be stupid. Part of Richter’s white repertoire was later to become the victim of Soviet cultural imperialism. 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 d6 6 Bg5 and 1 d4 Nf6 2 Nc3 are generally known nowadays as the Richter-Rauzer and Richter-Veresov respectively, but are sometimes unforgivably and quite inexcusably truncated to the Rauzer and the Veresov. To do so is to ignore Richter’s considerable input; this topic is covered at length in the book.
While Richter’s white openings could claim general respectability, his black rep was hardly mainstream. He usually countered 1 e4 with the 2 … Nf6 Scandinavian, while against 1 d4 he normally unleashed the Budapest Gambit, most often in its Fajarowicz incarnation – 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e5 3 dxe5 Ne4 – and dabbled in lines with an early … b5 if White avoided 2 c4. Probably not the greatest openings ever invented, but Richter was savvy enough to know that they suited him perfectly and allowed him to get his opponents on their own and lead them places they might not want to go. It would be interesting to speculate how he would have adapted his repertoire had computers been around; it is unlikely that his favourite black systems would have withstood silicon scrutiny. One possibility lies in … g6 systems, with which he occasionally flirted.
Of course, such a style and repertoire, by its nature, can be accident-prone; the losses he often suffered as a result not infrequently cost him a high finish in tournaments, or even robbed him of first, but never prevented him from sticking to his guns.
(Not only do tastes in openings change with the times, but so too does chess itself, not least with regard to players’ ages. Richter was no prodigy [he trained as an insurance agent] and didn’t start to emerge as a player of note until his early twenties. Likewise, at Swinemünde in 1932, Stoltz, at twenty-eight, and Rödl, twenty-five, were still amongst the more ‘youthful’ players. Nowadays, if you haven’t made GM by your teens, you might as well pack it in.)
Richter’s other great contribution to chess was writing and journalism, in which he was involved in some capacity or other for about half his life, in fact he turned increasingly to this after the war. He edited or wrote for a number of magazines, and authored several chess books which went on to become classics. He had a marked literary style, and was blessed with the good teacher’s knack of being able to explain, communicate and stimulate without ever being condescending. His writings also betray a man of strong opinions, e.g. on draws, on the proliferation of titles (he’d probably go apoplectic nowadays) and on chess composition, but while his arguments were cogent, they were always well and reasonably put, and you will find many examples in the book. It is no exaggeration to say that Richter was a true giant in this field, one of the finest chess writers who has ever lived, but unfortunately for English speakers, the bulk of his oeuvre still exists only in German, so the wonderful examples in the book will give you a real and welcome flavour of his style.
But this is a highly readable chess biography, not just a collection of games, and what the book does incredibly well is relate Richter’s career to the context of the times and, indeed, recreate the ambience of those often extraordinary years. It is lavishly illustrated with a treasure trove of contemporary photos which take readers into the chess clubs, cafes and streets of pre-war Berlin, to matches and tournaments of the day and put faces to names. The extensive background material is detailed and vivid; the post-1933 section is especially chilling, as the Nazis increasingly tightened their grip on German cultural life, from which chess was not exempt. This must have been a particularly difficult time for the largely apolitical Richter, impinging as it did upon his literary activities; to say that he had to choose his words carefully to avoid falling foul of Nazi censorship is an understatement, but he came up with a way to play the system, and some of his journalistic output of those years features cunningly disguised little barbs directed against the regime. He was too old for active service in the war, but didn’t escape the draft. He was stuck in a uniform and sent round military establishments and hospitals to promote the game and give morale-boosting simuls. (And yes, the book takes us there too.)
Apart from the games and the main body of the text, there are extensive notes, a four-page bibliography and four appendices devoted to additional games, tournament and match results, and one each on Richter’s white and black repertoires, with extensive discussion of his lines and an ECO-type presentation of them. The sheer amount of material – much of it original – which Alan has processed throughout the work is phenomenal.
By way of conclusion: Kurt Richter allows us to share the life and times of a quiet, unassuming man, content to play the game he loved and bring it to others via his writing. He lived through difficult times; we get the impression that chess provided him with some sort of anchor, a framework for his life. One of the questions going through my head is how much further he could have gone (the talent was clearly there) had he enjoyed better health (his was not the strongest constitution) and devoted himself less to journalistic activities, but, in retrospect, it’s probably a silly question. Richter was who he was because he had found the sort balance in life that others seek but seldom attain. Playing without writing, or writing without playing, would have been anathema to him. He was comfortable with his chess life; it allowed him to mix socially and provided an outlet for his writing talents. This is borne out to an extent by the building of the Berlin Wall in 1961, which, overnight, cut Richter, a cradle-to-grave Berliner (he grew up and lived his life in what was to become the eastern part of the city), off from personal contact with his friends and contacts in the West. Is it perhaps coincidence that he was to die relatively young only eight years later?
As with everything else in life, you get what you pay for. This sumptuous hardback will set you back about the same as four openings books, but while those frequently meretriciously modish offerings are out of date before they’re printed, and will probably lie unopened on your bookshelf anyway, Kurt Richter is timeless; it provides a fabulous biography of a sadly under-rated and neglected player, a wealth of wonderful chess and a journey back to a time now long gone. In this day and age, when some chess authors churn out a book every four months, it is a pleasure to be able to immerse oneself in a work to which the author has devoted four decades of his life.
I cannot recommend Alan’s opus highly enough. It is superb. Go on, treat yourself.
KEEP IT SIMPLE: 1.e4 by Christof Sielecki, New in Chess, 365 pp., publ. 2018
This is a repertoire book by the German IM and trainer aimed (as the blurb says, and I concur) at players of 1500 or above, based on lines which, while not the absolute main lines, are reliable and have a sound pedigree. You’re probably wondering what they are, so here are his suggestions versus the Big Four:
After 1 e4 e5 he recommends the Four Knights with 4 d4; against the Sicilian it’s 3 Bb5; against the French he suggests the Exchange Variation with 4 Nf3 and an early(ish) c4 and against the Caro-Kann he goes for the Two Knights.
Perhaps you’re groaning, or on the verge of complaining that these are hardly designed to deliver an advantage. Well, fair enough, but before you fall to the ground frothing at the mouth, ask yourself what advantage White derives from any ‘main’ main line. The answer is not much, if Black has any idea what he’s doing. As the author reminds us, chess is a draw if Black plays perfectly (which ain’t gonna happen), thus his aim is to provide simple, yet still respectable, lines which the player of White can get to know better than his opponent, and consequently stand a better chance of reaping more points. Bear in mind also that these lines are largely bulletproof and have enjoyed (and, in some cases, still enjoy) the patronage of top players, from World Champions down – think 3 Bb5 v. the Sicilian – so it’s about as far from a snake oil rep as you could get.
The material is presented, not via mindless columns of moves, but in manageable sections dealing with each line and numerous illustrative games, and, although it’s a repertoire book, what struck me was the relatively small amount of analysis and variations. Don’t get me wrong – there’s plenty of meat on the bones – but it is the sheer amount of explanatory text which is impressive. Sielecki’s experience as a coach and teacher comes across in ensuring that his readers understand the foundations of what they’re playing.
His English is thoroughly fluent and idiomatic (better than that of some of the native English speakers I’ve reviewed). The occasional inconsistency/dodgy construction catches the eye, e.g. ‘I recommend to play…’/‘I recommend playing…’, and ‘resemblance with’/‘resemblance to’, but these are mere ticks on the hide of a rhino. (In case you think I’m in grumpy old man mode, I give a hearty thumbs-up to the subtle use of the correct modal verb in the likes of ‘you may play’, as opposed to ‘you can play’.) The style is chatty yet not condescending, and, overall, the text is extremely smooth and a pleasure to read.
In short, this is an attractive piece of work which really should give anyone taking the time to become acquainted with the material a solid, dependable, low-maintenance repertoire.
TEST YOUR CHESS SKILLS by Sarhan Guliev & Logman Guliev, New in Chess, 206 pp., publ. 2018
About forty years ago, the Vlastimils Hort and Jansa wrote a book called The Best Move. It wasn’t your average puzzle book where you had to find, say, a mate or a sac or a combination, but a collection of 230 positions where you were invited to assess a position, choose moves and continuations and supply variations. It was timeless, and became a classic.
Test Your Chess Skills embraces the same idea, in fact the fraternal authors pay tribute to their great predecessor in their foreword. In the 224 positions (from their own practice, so nothing hackneyed) they ask you to decide whether a player is better, worse, equal, winning, hopeless etc.; to find the strongest move or assess the move played and so on, in other words, it’s about decision making. By its nature it’s probably more strategical than tactical, although the examples cover pretty much everything – openings, tactics, endgames, surprises, missed wins… It’s not a solve-at-a-glance book; the point is to get you to sit down at your board and think as you would during a game.
The detailed solutions, which are written in a chatty, personal style, take up about two-thirds of the book and are sprinkled with little homilies, e.g. ‘Routine thinking is a great enemy!’ and ‘Try to look at the position through the eyes of the opponent’, stuff everyone should know, but often forgets in the heat of battle.
This enjoyable work isn’t for beginners, but if you’re a more experienced player, or want to push yourself, you’ll surely get out of it what you put into it.
A couple of reviews as Christmas hurtles towards us; perhaps something for those of you still dropping hints about stocking fillers. I’m able to keep them short(ish), since both books cover what they say on the, well, cover.
THE FULL ENGLISH OPENING by Carsten Hansen, New in Chess, 464 pp., publ. 2018, covers everything you could want to know about the English. It’s not a repertoire book, but aims to impart the basics of pretty much everything that could arise after 1 c4. All major lines and structures are covered: 1 … e5, the Symmetrical and all the assorted systems that Black might punt that don’t fall into one of those two huge categories, e.g. Nimzo, Slav and Dutch-type set-ups. This is an important inclusion; all too often books on the English omit such lines as the author cops out with something like, ‘Unfortunately the (insert set-up) lies beyond the scope of this volume’. Not so here!
Hansen has extensive experience of the English, and of writing about it, so what he has to say is obviously worth reading. I did permit myself a wry smile when I saw that it takes 464 pages to deal with the ‘fundamentals’; it’s moot whether that amount of coverage is necessary for club players looking for a grounding in the opening. That apart, if you play, aspire to play, or are just interested in the English, then this attractive volume, well up to NiC’s high standards, merits your attention.
Light years away from the English is what Anglophones call the Schliemann and the rest of the world the Jänisch Defence to the Ruy Lopez, a wild and woolly line which has never really attained complete (some might say any) respectability, but which continues to attract those of a more caveman persuasion. THE SCHLIEMANN DEFENCE by Junior Tay, Everyman Chess, 400 pp., publ. 2018, covers 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bb5 f5 via forty-four illustrative games, exercises and odds and ends. While it might never be a regular guest at elite level, it has received some high-level patronage (amongst those on the black side we find Carlsen, Radjabov and a number of other GMs), and it’s easy to imagine it as a points-scorer in the new brutal time controls of league chess. The positions are sharp and often irrational, but Tay does a pretty good job of talking the reader through what’s going on, and how to deal with the myriad pitfalls along the way, either as setter or victim.
One of the problems of playing the Schliemann is how to deal with the forced draw after 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bb5 f5 4 exf5 e4 5 Qe2 Qe7 6 Bxc6 dxc6 7 Nd4 Qe5 8 Nf3 Qe7 9 Nd4 Qe5 etc. If this was all there was to it, then it would be useless as a winning attempt (cynics might argue it’s useless as a winning attempt anyway), but Tay suggests a way of handling this; whether you agree with him, or like it, well, you’ll have to buy the book and see for yourself.
If your tastes are tactical, or if you’re looking for something different against 1 e4, then you could do worse than consider this well-produced volume. Even if you don’t fall into one of those two categories, there’s still a lot of fun chess between its covers which can be enjoyed without the risk of getting your fingers burnt.
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.
STRATEGIC CHESS EXERCISES by Emmanuel Bricard, New in Chess, 221 pp., publ. 2018
Compared to tactics, strategy is massively underrepresented in the puzzle book field. I’ve never quite understood why. Since it’s easier to spot a shot or mate than it is to formulate a plan or assess a position (how often have you sat there wondering what to do next?), you’d think that would be reason enough for more strategy puzzle books, not fewer.
French GM Emmanuel Bricard addresses the issue with this work. In two broad sections (middlegame and endgame) he provides ninety exercises of varying difficulty covering planning, assessments, move selection, finding the win, handling advantages etc. etc., featuring themes such as pawn majorities, N v B, piece exchanges, suppressing counterplay and weaknesses, in other words the nuts and bolts of strategic play.
If ninety examples seems a small number (some tactics books manage a thousand), bear in mind that a lot more explanation is required, and the solutions take up about 87% of the book. They are detailed, often running to three pages per exercise, and contain lots of words to ensure that the author gets the point across. I was impressed by the clarity of his explanations and the way in which he anticipates potential questions; his aim is clearly to help his readers improve. Some writers (or teachers!) have difficulty suppressing their egos; not so here. The material is drawn from his teaching experience, so he should know where problems of perception lie.
Strategic Chess Exercises won’t provide the immediate buzz some players get when they pick up a new openings book, but quality time spent with it is likely to be far more beneficial in the long run. As I’ve said in other reviews though, the players who would benefit most from it are those who probably wouldn’t even think of looking at it in the first place, and therein lies the pity – and their loss.
Good book, well put together. Good material well explained. Well worth a look.
THE SHERESHEVSKY METHOD TO IMPROVE IN CHESS by Mikhail Shereshevsky, New in Chess, 352 pp., publ. 2018
Shereshevsky is the author of two highly-acclaimed books, The Soviet Chess Conveyor and Endgame Strategy, so a new work from him should be a major chess publishing event. The question is: how new is new? In the introduction Shereshevsky says, ‘In the first part of this new (sic) book, I present an extract from The Soviet Chess Conveyor…’, and ‘The second part of this book is a concentrated version of Endgame Strategy…’, so clearly a lot of the new stuff has gone before, albeit it’s presented here in a revised and updated version. There’s no harm in that – books might be published in one country and not in another, and knowledge doesn’t stand still – but 200-odd pages, more than half the book, seem a lot for a ‘new’ book.
It gets curiouser. Iosif Dorfman’s written work gets a lot of references/quotations, and Shereshevsky is a big John Nunn fan, so big, in fact, that he lifts large chunks of Nunn’s Secrets of Practical Play straight into his own book. Nunn’s chapters on DAUT, Laziness and his famous bust of a Latvian Gambit line all appear in generous quantities, both textual and analytical (albeit enhanced and in a translation slightly different as a result of having come back through Russian). Shereshevsky justifies his generous Nunn selections and makes no bones about the Latvian Gambit section: ‘The next rather large passage from Nunn’s book is one I did not hesitate to include…in full’. Citing your own work is one thing; lifting material (and lots of it) from someone else’s is another.
And, in the conclusion, Shereshevsky gives ‘a few quotations’ as he effervesces about Gelfand’s Positional Decision Making in Chess. The ‘few quotations’ colonise a rather excessive page and a half. (Curiously, the Russian publishers get the pat on the head for this one, not Quality Chess.)
You get the idea. This ‘new’ book is a curious compendium over which there surely hang ethical and potential legal questions. It contains an awful lot of previous material plus large extracts lifted from other writers. You have to assume that Shereshevsky sought permission – or is litigation pending? Curious readers want to know!
HOW ULF BEATS BLACK by Cyrus Lakdawala, New in Chess, 287 pp., publ. 2018
This is the eighth book by Lakdawala which I’ve reviewed, and I’m aware that it’s becoming more difficult to say something original with each title, so apologies if anything I write here echoes what has gone before.
How Ulf Beats Black is a collection of Ulf Andersson’s games with White, with a sprinkling of games by other players, primarily the author. As befits one of the world elite of the ‘70s and ‘80s, it goes without saying that the games are of high quality, and the opposition includes most of the big names of the day.
Lakdawala presents model games to show how Andersson tackled (and still tackles!) the King’s Indian, Grünfeld, Queen’s Indian, Hedgehog and the Pirc/Modern/Accelerated Dragon, and his handling of the Catalan, Tarrasch Dutch, Slav and English. He generally reached his favoured systems via 1 Nf3, which explains, for example, why there are no Nimzos in there. Of fireworks there are few; these games represent high class patient, controlled positional play. Steady build-ups rather than hefty sacs are the order of the day. However, like all great technicians, Andersson knew how to wield a knuckleduster if the occasion warranted it, as not a few of his opponents found out.
The annotations – moves and words – go deeply enough to show what’s going on, but not so deeply as to lose the thread (or bore the reader). Lakdawala’s talent is in cutting to the nub of a position and providing clear, succinct elucidations, for example
• ‘Endgame principle: the pawn-up side should keep knights on the board, since pure rook endings tend to be harder to convert.’
• ’14… Be5! This is a good defensive idea. Black wants to transfer his bishop to the other wing to help defend his queenside.’
• ‘The following variations demonstrate Black’s helplessness’ followed by two short, apposite variations.
Comments like these abound. The problem, as ever in a Lakdawala text, is that they are all too often mired in chunks of the irrelevant verbiage which has, alas, become something of the author’s trademark. I’ve discussed this at length in previous reviews of his work, so I won’t labour the point. Just a quick example. Tell me what contribution something like this makes to a chess text:
• ‘A portion of them [CL’s students] fail to appreciate his laid back style and accuse Ulf’s opening choices as a false play-act of a kind of ostentatious humility, similar to Mao Zedong wearing factory worker/peasant’s garb, despite living in a palace, frolicking with multiple teen mistresses one quarter of his age and dining on lobster chow mein, while the rest of the nation was starving.’
It’s not even good writing.
Humorously, Lakdawala (unwittingly?) acknowledges his insatiable need to ramble: ‘Black’s last move appears to be one of those ‘Hurry-up-my-time-is-valuable’ gestures which I get from my doctors, when I launch into a 15-minute story, which is completely off topic from my ailment.’ Omit the last three words and you could be discussing his books.
I’ve often wondered if I was the only person who noticed this sort of thing, but when the subject of Lakdawala’s books comes up when talking to other players, the general feeling is Why does he spoil his books with all that stuff? Author and editor really need to team up and address the issue, although strangely, this book doesn’t seem to have had an editor!? (And while they’re at it, do something about the neologisms. Anderssonite sounds like a make of suitcase; Ulfieite at best looks weird and you really don’t want to know what I think about Ulfieization.)
One specific grain of sand under the fingernail about this one was the author’s insistence – from the title onwards – on the use of his hero’s first name. He tells us that he has played UA thirty-nine times online, so maybe they’re big mates and Ulf was cool about the use of his first name, but even so, I can’t help but think that the traditional use of the surname would have lent the book a little more gravitas, for want of a better word.
To sum up: if you enjoy steady positional play, you’ll enjoy the book. If you don’t, you’ll probably learn something! And if you’re new to the game and aren’t familiar with Andersson’s unique style (or don’t know who he was), it’ll be an eye-opener. I’d love to see a similar collection with his black rep.
P.S. Kudos to NiC for the sensible, easy-to-use alphabetical list of players!
WINNING IN THE CHESS OPENING by Nikolay Kalinichenko, New in Chess, 457 pp., publ. 2018
When I was a kid one of my favourite chess books was called something like 101 Opening Traps. I loved it. I had it on almost permanent loan from the library. But it probably did little for my chess. It planted in my head the idea that I would be able to win all my games in about ten moves and that my opponents would all be stupid and overlook stuff. Chess was easy.
Of course none of this happened. With the naïveté of a child I had missed the point. It wasn’t about tossing a banana skin in front of your opponent and hoping he’d come a cropper; it was about recognising tactical patterns and positions which you could then use in your own games if the opportunity arose.
Which is what this one is all about. The 753 miniatures (most under twenty moves) cover a whole range of tactical motifs and ideas which catch players of all strengths (the cast ranges from amateurs to World Champions) out all the time – snap mates, pawn grabbing, loose pieces, forks, queens getting trapped – the list is endless. Some of the mistakes are crass; some are plausible moves of the what-could-possibly-be-wrong-with-that? variety, but are punished no less severely. Assimilate these often quite striking examples and you’ll be better placed to recognise such possibilities should the chance arise. The notes are a mixture of short, relevant variations and helpful prose.
The book is divided into five large chapters according to type of opening, then sections within each chapter based on specific openings, so you can easily start with the openings that interest you.
Or you can just dip into it for fun and hope the next victim won’t be you.
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.
While preparing the 4 f3 lines won’t do the reader’s tactics any harm, the problem, as with so much sharp black stuff, is that it’s White who gets to decide how much fun the game is going to be. Still, non-critical lines are unlikely to pose an existential threat to Black, so Black should have no qualms about facing moves other than 4 f3.
There’s a minorish issue, though. Since this book arrived on my desk, I’ve witnessed three games between less experienced players where Black played 2…Nf6. In all three White played 3 Nc3. Moret devotes one game to this on pp.103-4 in the ‘Odds and Ends’ section. I agree when he calls it ‘unambitious’, but, based on my own admittedly limited empirical evidence, it’s likely to be encountered more often than ‘fairly frequently’. The illustrative game itself features the silly 4 Nxd5; the most common move, 4 Bc4, is dismissed in a brief note as ‘playable’. Within that note Black plays 4…Nb6, which, we must assume, is the author’s silent recommendation; there’s no mention of, say, 4…c6, maintaining the knight on its good central square. IMO, 3 Nc3 deserved more coverage than it gets.
Against 1 d4 d5 2 c4, the author recommends the Albin Countergambit, a decent suggestion in keeping with his advocacy of active lines, and with plenty of banana skins for unsuspecting Whites. The Albin chapter is full of the sort of fun chess Black can expect when s/he punts this gambit.
The problem is, of course, what if White doesn’t play ball with 2 c4? Moret suggests the Stonewall Dutch. I must confess, my eyebrows shot up when I saw this, after all, the Albin and Stonewall are not exactly from the same mould. Granted, the Stonewall can lead to hefty black attacks, but it can also lead to blocked, manoeuvring positions, so how to reconcile an open, trappy line with a solid, no-nonsense alternative? The author explains: ‘Playing the Stonewall against the Queen’s Gambit (1.d4 and 2.c4) would require the study of additional variations which we will mention at the end of the chapter, but which we cannot afford to tackle within the limited scope of this book’.
To give the author his due, he does provide lots of words to explain the rationale behind the Stonewall, and gives lines of the active variety, but I get the impression he’s not quite as happy here as he is with the other two pillars of the rep. I went hunting for the tricky lines where White gets in an early g2-g4, having a go at Black’s pawn on f5 and aiming to open the g-file for an attack. This can border on the terminal if Black doesn’t know his onions. As far as I can see (there’s no index of variations!) this gets a mention in a note (!) on p.166. The author calls the basic idea ‘one of the most serious threats to the viability of the Stonewall’, and when g2-g4! appears on the board, he says ‘the position becomes very sharp’. The line he gives, down to 12 Ke2, is fraught with risk for Black, and to ‘deal’ with it by offering a fairly transparent trap does not do a critical line justice, in fact, it’s a cop-out. If it’s a ‘serious threat’, then it cries out for more attention. Having said that, I’d imagine the chances of this key line landing on a board in, say, a Minor tournament are virtually nil.
Another issue is his coverage of Colle and London systems, particularly popular these days. I scoured the book for these and their ilk (remember, there’s no openings index), and could only find a couple of games (nos 72 and 73) featuring an early Bf4, and in the former White soon followed up with c4 anyway. So, unless I’m missing something, this is a huge gap in the suggested repertoire. It’s not necessarily fatal, but it would have been nice for the less experienced player to be offered some guidance on what can be pesky systems.
One sideline he does mention is 1 d4 d5 2 Nc3, which, he admits, ‘poses some specific problems in order to reach our usual Stonewall’. He addresses these problems with 2…f5, but then only 3 Bg5. The positionally desirable 3 Bf4, clamping down on the hole on e5, gets precisely two (!!) lines. I’ll quote them: ‘After 3 Bf4 the correct move order is 3…c6! to prevent Nb5’. So now you know. Our less experienced player is on his/her own after three moves in a line which poses ‘specific problems’, hardly what you’d expect with a perfectly plausible option.
Overall, I applaud the author’s idea to provide a good, active repertoire for beginners, juniors and less experienced players, and I can imagine that those who put in the effort and follow his suggestions will chalk up plenty of points. The bulk of his work (excellently translated by Tony Kosten) is presented with lots of thought and it’s clear that he is passionate about his mission. It’s just that at times he deals with irritating possibilities by skating over them. So, praiseworthy though his intentions are, there are gaps which need more plugging.
The index is the same duff first name/page number currently featuring in other NiC titles and, as I’ve said, for an opening book, there is, incredibly, no index of variations.
THE COMPLETE FRENCH ADVANCE by Evgeny Sveshnikov & Vladimir Sveshnikov, New in Chess, 286 pp., publ. 2017
This is an updated edition of Sveshnikov’s 2007 work on the topic. He is still the principal author (‘the majority of ideas came from one person, i.e. myself’ ) but has been joined for this one by Sveshnikov fils as IT man, researcher and new eyes. The book pretty much does what it says on the tin, i.e. covers everything you need to know about the Advance French, be you attacker or defender.
Having said that, it’s not – despite the portentous title – a theoretical tome of page after page of variations. It surveys 3 e5 via 131 illustrative games, with exercises based on another eighty-two. Nearly half of the games are by three players: forty-five by Sveshnikov himself and nine each by Grischuk and Shirov, the players whom he recommends one study in the Advance French. It took me a while to find and count these, since the present work features the same awful first name (with some initials thrown in)/page number ‘index’ as other current NiC titles. A work like this, where you want to check the big names at a glance, is just crying out for the traditional alphabetical index.
The style is that of the author giving a presentation or lecture. Depending on the presenter this can run the risk of boredom or info overload, but Sveshnikov is in command of his material and presents it lucidly and at a level sufficient to get his points across without overkill.
He is also engagingly frank with his opinions. 1…e6 is ‘strictly speaking, not the strongest move’ and ‘3. e5 is not the strongest move’ against it (so why is he writing a book about two inferior moves? he he). He gives Bareev and Dreev, both well-known adherents of the French, a ticking off for playing 1…e6 – ‘on the first move, both GMs made a mistake’ (and their alternative defence, the Caro-Kann ‘is also not the best move’). Sveshnikov’s reasoning is that ‘if a player does not have either 1…e5 or 1…c5 in his repertoire against 1 e4, then sooner or later he runs into the buffers’. This helps explain why Keres never won the Big One: ‘In my opinion, one of the reasons Keres did not become World Champion was that Paul Petrovich stuck with 1…e5’.
While Sveshnikov can’t account for other players blundering with 1…e6, he can explain why he turned to 3 e5. ‘…by playing 3.Nc3, one concedes the opponent an obvious advantage in preparation and knowledge’, and 3 Nd2 is a non-starter since ‘…it is clear that the move sharply breaks the principles of opening play’. (Obviously no-one ever told Karpov that.)
And that’s just about the opening. He’s equally free with his thoughts on other matters, e.g. ‘…surprising as it may seem, our modern grandmasters and masters do not play the endgame very well’. Ouch! Or ‘…in closed positions, one must still treat the advice of the machine with great caution. I am used to trusting my own intuition’. Gotta love that little dusting of self-belief, which surfaces again when he is recommending which players to follow in the Advance. Having suggested that ‘…those who want to play the 3.e5 French as White should carefully study the games of Grischuk and Shirov’, he adds ‘And it probably makes sense to look at mine too.’ Great stuff! (I could stop the review here by saying that if this style appeals, you’ll like the book.)
Of course opinions are just opinions, and Sveshnikov is as entitled to his as the rest of us are to ours. 1…e6 might not be ‘the strongest move’, but that doesn’t stop lots of people playing it. If there was a ‘best’ reply to 1 e4, we’d all be playing it. And anyway, why should you care what anyone thinks of your favourite openings?
Although the material is presented from White’s point of view, Black’s ideas are also thoroughly considered, when ‘I generally pay close attention to Lputian’s games, because I know of no other player who handles the black side of these positions as well as he does…’.
The book is organised in six chapters, as follows:
Chapter 1, ‘For’ and ‘against’ 3. e5, a brief but interesting historical overview of the Advance.
Chapter 2, the longest, deals with plans and pawn structure. The games (almost half of the total) are grouped by theme, e.g. attack, pawn sac for the initiative, play on the dark squares, pawn breaks etc. This is an instructive and particularly worthwhile chapter. Too many players get wrapped up in variations. I’ve said in previous reviews that words are often more valuable than moves, and this is an excellent example. Reading this chapter is like having Sveshnikov sitting at your elbow, going over the games with you. It is virtually a little book within a book.
Chapter 3 is an interesting diversion into the world of the blockade and a consideration of Nimzowitsch’s influence. It’s short but thought-provoking, and features openings other than the French, but which have blockade as their main theme.
Chapter 4 is a collection of eighty-two positions to test how much you’ve assimilated from what went before. ‘All’ you have to do is find the strongest move; no hints!
Chapter 5 deals with recent theoretical discoveries. In keeping with the rest of the book it’s not theory-heavy, but looks at some recent ideas in the context of games.
Chapter 6 is a six-page summary probably good enough to get you up and running while you get to grips with the main body of the book, and written not without a little humour.
To sum up, this is not just a very good opening book, it’s a very good chess book, well written, well assembled and smoothly translated by Steve Giddins. There’s more to it than just a bunch of Advance French games; there’s a lot of wisdom and instruction in it too. If you play 1 e4, and another line against the French, it would definitely make you consider adding 3 e5 to your tool box. Recommended to those who defend the French, those who play, or are thinking of playing, the Advance, and to anyone just looking for a lot of interesting chess well explained.
BLACK IS BACK! by Andras Adorjan, New in Chess, 319 pp., publ. 2016
This is Adorjan’s latest book on his thesis that Black is OK. In his foreword, ‘Swan Song’, he tells us that it might also be his last: ‘I hope this is not only going to be my last opus, but also my best. It is a pleasant duty to conclude my 30-year mission of BLACK is OK!’, but on p.251 he’s talking about ‘Swan Song Nr 2’. Is he teasing us? Time will tell.
Adorjan’s writing is many things: outspoken, polemic, humorous, thought-provoking, warm, breezy, self-deprecating, inspiring… It’s never boring. He may or may not be your cup of tea, but you can’t deny he’s different. Here are some random examples. Decide for yourself which category they best fit.
‘Whatever I do is perfect, and so am I. Many people hate me for this but I can’t help it.’
‘Honesty and modesty don’t pay as well as noisy dilettantism does.’
‘One sometimes sees booklets that promise a ‘complete repertoire’ for Black. I don’t like such garbage.’
‘…our stupid team captain…’
(Upon winning a court case against the Hungarian Chess Federation’s ‘gangsterism’): ‘I used the b*st*rds’ money for organizing tournaments and helping handicapped chess players.’
And one about a player-turned-arbiter which made me chuckle, as I thought of Alex and Andy: ‘I don’t believe this was his dream. I think he deserves something better from life.’
His writing is also confessional. He refers to his bipolarism, and talks openly about the sudden illness which nearly claimed his life at the start of 2016. Respect, Andras, for broaching these subjects.
On a lighter note, he admits to not possessing a mobile (‘I may be a Stone Age man in people’s eyes, not having a smartphone’), but provides his home phone number (!) and his wife’s mobile (!!). Now there’s a first in a chess book.
The structure of the book is alternating chapters of text and games (206 of them). The former is readable, engaging and unfailingly interesting; the latter include some wonderful dynamic, creative chess. His battles with Barczay, Meister (‘Do not play over the last 13 moves!’) and Giorgadze in particular appealed to me for a variety of reasons. A huge amount of time has gone into the games and their notes; you could easily and happily lose yourself in them for hours. (And profitably: ‘I hope you agree it was worth the trouble to study all these lines. Even if this only means you will win or save one extra game, then your time hasn’t been wasted.’)
In the last chapter, Connections, Adorjan pays tribute to the people, famous and not so famous, who have influenced him during his chess life. I found this fascinating and revealing. They range from big names, e.g. Garry, down to players who dropped out to pursue ‘proper’ jobs (e.g. Adorjan’s dentist). He recalls many with great affection, e.g. correspondence IM Sandor Dobsa as ‘an unforgettable man whom I remember with gratitude and love. Such a personality, who found me worthy of his friendship’, and of the little-known player Antal Papp, he says ‘Thank God I was able to say goodbye to him, holding his hand, sitting by his deathbed. Rest in Peace, Toni!’. What lovely writing.
In other cases you get the impression some dirty linen needs airing. Of Peter Leko, whom Adorjan trained and worked with for many years, he says ‘I’ve never seen another talent like him, except for Kasparov’, but something must have happened to affect the ‘strong emotional connection’ between them, for he concludes with ‘Later he became a person who was easier to respect but harder to love’. Similar sentiments arise re Portisch, for whom he has ‘friendly emotions’, but finds it ‘easier to respect him than to love him’. As is often the case, what’s left unsaid is as significant as what is said. It would have been interesting to know what happened to engender these feelings. I can understand why the author chose not to elaborate, but if you don’t want to say, don’t drop hints.
There are three things I want to mention in particular. First, the standard of language, which is higher – fluent, colloquial and idiomatic – than that of some native English authors, chess and non-chess, I’ve had the misfortune to read. English is not Adorjan’s mother tongue. Some of his earlier works were translated from Hungarian, but no translator is accredited in this one, so we can assume he wrote it in English. Only a few minor glitches suggest that the writer isn’t working in his own medium, e.g. ‘I am inactive since 2000’ instead of ‘I have been inactive…’. A purist might quibble; people who should get out more probably will. I’ll content myself by saying that ironing out wrinkles like this makes a good book better, even if they hardly detract from the overall high standard. With such a creative, fertile mind as Adorjan’s the MS must have needed a fair bit of editorial input, so credit to Peter Boel for his hand in the process (and for chapter 6, which he wrote, a discussion of why games between Gelfand and Nakamura have produced a large plus score for Black).
Next, the diagrams, which have Black at the bottom. Does that send you into paroxysms of apoplexy? Does it rob you of the power of speech? I have found that diagram orientation can be a touchy subject, up there with road rage and forgetting to take bread out of the freezer. When we open our first chess book we meet the convention of White at the bottom, but it’s not chiselled in stone. Is it too much trouble to flip? (Rhetorical question. I know the answer.) Where’s the logic in having White at the bottom when the subject matter is presented from Black’s point of view? (Do players who prepare their black openings from White’s side bunk up beside White during their games!?) As Winnie-the-Pooh observed, bouncing down the stairs on his head for the umpteenth time: ‘sometimes he feels that there really is another way, if only he could stop bumping for a moment and think of it’. Kudos to NiC for putting Black at the bottom. Even if it was at the author’s behest, I salute you.
Having praised the publishers for doing something differently where it’s appropriate and works, I move on to an issue where different = disastrous. The games index is a shambles. The normal surname-based index allows you to find what you’re looking for in seconds. Not this one, which is arranged by chapter, first name (mainly, see later) and page number. Thus if you’re looking for, say, Pritchett-Adorjan, it helps to know that it’s chapter five, that you’re looking for ‘Craig’, not P for ‘Pritchett’ (there are no Ps, and assuming you know the white player’s first name), then you have to check the page numbers. To make matters worse, some players are listed by second name only (!!). By what measure is this efficient? Alas and alack, judging by other titles, this looks like NiC’s default ‘indexing’ system. Guys, what are you playing at? This does nothing to enhance your products. Do your readers a favour and stick to the accepted indexing system. (At least the right-hand margin page numbers are aligned correctly in hundreds, tens and units, but the left-hand margin chapter numbers on p.5. aren’t. Other publishers are guilty of this too. They probably blame it on their computer program rather than admit that it’s easily remedied and avoidable.)
Talking of indexes, an openings index and an index of themes or topics would have been useful. If you want to track down, say, a particular line in the Sicilian (of which there are lots), the only way is to go through every page painstakingly until you find it.
The verdict? Since Adorjan isn’t responsible for the index, I’ll draw a veil over it and say that Black is Back! delivers a great deal for your investment: lots of dynamic, inspirational chess, lots of creative ideas, an often edgy text and an engrossing excursion into the philosophy of playing Black. If you’ve never thought about this before, it could easily affect how you look at the game. Your attention will not flag. If, by any chance, it does, you could try to track down the four (‘or more – I’ve forgotten’) errors which the author claims he included in the text. I’ve found one, possibly two, but I’ve no intention of spoiling things by telling you what they are. The author hoped that it would be his best book. He could well be right.
By the way – nothing to do with chess – is the catchy title a little nod to AC/DC’s Back in Black album? Rock on.
THE CATALAN MOVE BY MOVE by Neil McDonald, Everyman Chess, 300 pp., publ. 2017
Let’s define what we’re talking about first of all. In case anyone doesn’t know, the Catalan is basically a Queen’s Gambit where White develops his KB on g2, viz. 1 d4 d5 2 c4 e6 3 Nf3 Nf6 4 g3 and Bg2. Therein lies a major issue for would-be exponents: reaching ‘your’ position is move-order dependent. McDonald devotes an introductory chapter to this, dealing with common alternatives 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 g3 d5 and 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nf3 d5 4 g3. The problem here, of course, is that 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 g3 (or Nf3) Bb4+ is a Bogo-Indian and 3…c5 a Benoni (maybe even an English), and 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nf3 b6 is a Queen’s Indian, which McDonald doesn’t spell out. Perhaps this is assumed knowledge, but in an introductory volume, the distinction is worth making. Golden rule when working with students: never assume anything.
White can also try 1 c4 or 1 Nf3 to avoid certain pesky black lines, e.g. an early disruptive …Bb4+, but that risks swapping one nuisance for another. 1 c4 e5 is an English, and 1 Nf3 can run into all sorts of evasive stuff such as 1…c5, 1…g6 etc. So the Catalan is not a one-size-fits-all opening. The message is clear: choose the move order you’re happiest with and have something ready for dealing with non-consenting opponents.
One other thing worth being aware of, as McDonald again points out (‘abandon hope all ye who want to smash your opponents in 20 moves’), is that the Catalan is not a weapon for duffing people up in short order; it is an opening designed to give Black rope and hang himself, rich in boring potential. (‘g3? Euggh. I already feel like my will to live leaving me when he plays the Catalan.’ – Jan Gustafsson) Having said that, I was surprised at just how many meaty attacking games there are in the book, not a few which end in the 20s.
OK, having got your Catalan on the board, what can you expect? Black is not short of options. He can take on c4 and play and open type position. He can dig in with …c6 and a more solid set-up. He can flick in an early …Bb4+ if he wishes. He can attack White’s centre with an early …c5, or he can go for active piece play, even gambits, with an early …Nc6. McDonald covers all of these in ten chapters in four large parts:
1. The closed centre after 1 d4 d5 2 c4 e6 3 Nf3 Nf6 4 g3.
2. When Black concedes the centre with 4…dxc4.
3. Various lines after 5 Bg2.
4. The main line after 4…Be7 5 Bg2 0-0 6 0-0 dxc4.
Given its nature, the Catalan isn’t an opening likely to suffer from explosive TNs, but there’s one set-up which is new and worthy of attention by both White and Black, and that is for Black to castle queenside (yep, you heard me), e.g. 1 d4 d5 2 c4 e6 3 Nf3 Nf6 4 g3 dxc4 5 Bg2 Bd7 6 Ne5 Bc6 7 Nxc6 Nxc6 8 0-0 Qd7 9 e3 0-0-0 voilà! This seems to defy common sense. Black’s king stares down the barrel of the Bg2, and White is invited to open lines to mate him, but it seems to work, which is all that matters in these modern times. McDonald covers this new idea in depth in chapter six.
The material is bang up to date. Thirty-nine of the forty-three games were played in the last five years, seventeen of them from 2016-7. This, of course, reflects the opening’s current popularity amongst the big guys, and where the big guys go, lesser mortals follow.
A word about the author’s style. I lauded him earlier for addressing the move order issue, but this is merely one aspect of McDonald’s thoroughness and clarity. How often do you see stuff like ‘move X is better’? Full stop. No elucidation. Silence. Not so here. If something needs explained, he explains it. If something is unclear, he clarifies. Of course, you can’t do the reader’s work for him/her (think for yourself!), so some notes are akin to the above, but, overall, he wants to make sure his reader knows what’s happening. Here’s an example:
“In order to break up Black’s queenside pawns and open lines for the white pieces. After 9…bxa3 10 Nbxa3 White’s pieces are coming alive. Then, as usual, simplification doesn’t help Black escape from a Catalan bind: 10…Qa5+? 11 Qd2 Qxd2+ Kxd2. White’s rook on a1 has an open file, his bishop on g2 a clear diagonal, and his knights are about to join up with central domination after 13 Naxc4.”
That’s good, succinct, helpful writing. It would have been easy to stop after the first or second sentence. Many a writer would have done so. Another which caught my eye relates to a pair of before-and-after diagrams on p.245, where White has just played an early Bc1-f4, met by the very reasonable …Be7-d6. The question which I can imagine many players wanting to ask (and it’s not!) is ‘Why doesn’t Black play …Nd5, hitting the B on f4?’. Fear not! Neil has this one covered too with a line where Black does get …Nd5xf4 in: ‘At first you might think Black has achieved a lot through gaining the bishop-pair and in the process splitting the white kingside pawns. In reality, White has a grip on the centre…His king is in little danger and it is Black, not White, who has to fear a possible attack down the g-file…’ Another succinct and sensible explanation for any less experienced readers wondering why Black just couldn’t bag a buckshee bishop.
The Q & A format has become a staple with Everyman, so the question must be asked: how effective is it? The answer is: as effective as the reader wants to make it. I wonder how many readers have the will power to stop when they come to one of the grey boxes and put some effort into the question? I suspect the minority! Even if you lack said will power, you can still derive benefit by mulling over the question and its answer. Just don’t skate over it. The wisdom is there. It’s up to you to assimilate it. Choose the way that suits you.
The other issue is: how effective are the questions? Some are open-ended, to get the reader thinking (‘What’s the point of this move?’), some involve pouring yourself a coffee and settling down for a spot of analysis (‘Can you work out which of 13…Bb7, 13…Rb8 or 13…e5 is the best move for Black?’), while some are just plain loaded, e.g. ‘Is this a strong and sensible move?’. Well, obviously, otherwise the wording would have been different!
The Catalan Move by Move works on a number of levels: (i) as an introduction to the opening; (ii) as a source of material and ideas for those who already play it and (iii) perhaps surprisingly, and despite the author’s claims to the contrary, as a collection of exciting attacking chess. One thing missing, rather annoyingly, is a bibliography. It’s always worthwhile to know an author’s sources. In matters Catalan, it would have been nice to know if he had referred to Avrukh. I suspect (am sure) he did, but I’d like to have known!
For whom would this one be suitable? The publisher’s blurb says that the Catalan is for players who ‘…prefer to rely on their strategic and positional skills’. Now, no disrespect to anyone, but the further down the pecking order, the less these skills are in evidence, so I’d say players >1800 would benefit most from it, but, hey, if you just fancy some good, contemporary attacking chess, why not go for it?
FIRST STEPS: THE QUEEN’S GAMBIT by Andrew Martin, Everyman Chess, 224 pp., publ. 2016
This is one of a new series from Everyman aimed at, as the title suggests, less experienced players looking to pick up the nuts and bolts of an opening.
It’s an excellent idea. When I were a lad, the only book which aimed to provide a basic grounding in the foundations was Reuben Fine’s The Ideas Behind the Chess Openings (and it was already dated when I was starting out). This covered all the mainstream openings in 200-odd pages, a herculean task of compression, with, inevitably, severe limitations on how many pages could be devoted to any specific opening (and how much you could actually explain). What struck me as an untutored youngster, though, was that there were ideas behind the openings. To me you just played sensible (hopefully!) moves and got on with it.
I mention this because it stands to reason that, the clearer the idea you have of an opening, the better you’re going to do. Let me give you an example (which happens to be the last in the book, game 63), 1 d4 d5 2 c4 Nf6?! I’ve seen this frequently in games between less experienced and casual players, in other words players who would benefit from a book such as this. After 3 cxd5 Nxd5 4 Nf3 White builds up a big centre, develops easily and gets a ready-made attacking position against the black king. Black’s best (mentioned in a note) is probably 4…g6, when he can wriggle out with a dodgy Grünfeld after 5 e4 Nb6, but this is getting into subtle stuff of the kind beyond the book’s coverage.
I’m getting ahead of myself a bit, but the point is that if Black had better understood what he should be doing after 1 d4 d5 2 c4, he would never have finished up in a dubious position so early on. Which is where a book such as this comes in.
By means of sixty-three games, Martin covers all you need to know about the basics of the Queen’s
Gambit: piece deployment for White and Black, Exchange lines, the QGA, QGD, Slavs, Tarrasch and less common stuff (e.g. 2…Bf5). It’s fair to say that if you’re new to the game, or the opening, you’ll find something of use. Most of the illustrative games are of recent vintage, but there are several older games, no bad thing with such a venerable opening. As the author says, ‘The study of classic games is essential if one wants to understand chess and make significant improvement’.
Each game has plenty of supporting analysis, but what caught my eye – and this is important in a book like this – is the amount of succinct advice dispensed. Here’s a good example, from the section on Lasker’s defence, after Black has played an early …h6:
‘A useful move in the modern Queen’s Gambit for two reasons:
Back rank mates are less likely.
The battery of a white bishop on d3 and queen on c2 is less effective.
Small things, but they all add up.’
That’s a good, bite-size dollop of advice, as is this on p.188, in the chapter on less common lines:
‘There are many gems to be found for the club player among this selection of unusual defences. Don’t worry what the book says. If you like an opening and it is playable (not completely unsound), then go for it!’
There is one caveat, though, which players at the lower end of the rating list should be aware of. You can study a book like this all you want, and be ready for whatever White throws at you in your pet QG line, but still be jumped by a pesky London, Colle or Torre, not to mention the good old Blackmar-Diemer Gambit, 2 e4, which tends to score well against inexperienced players whose defensive skills are less than stellar, so be ready for them too! Having said that, this is a solid and readable introduction to one of the fundamental chess openings. Martin writes with a light and engaging touch; he doesn’t overdo the didacticism, which makes it all the more effective. If you’re a less experienced player wanting to move on, or simply looking for some 1 d4 d5 games well-explained, cast your eyes at this one.
RÉTI MOVE BY MOVE by Thomas Engqvist, Everyman Chess, 432 pp., publ. 2017
Lest anyone be unfamiliar with the subject, Richard Réti was one of the top players in the world in the 1920s, a member of an élite which included the likes of Capablanca, Alekhine and Lasker. He was also a renowned composer of studies and wrote two of the great chess classics, Modern Ideas in Chess and Masters of the Chess Board, both still well worth reading in these hi-tech digital days.
Engqvist presents forty-six of Réti’s games, annotated in depth, often running to twelve pages or more. (No. 15, Schelfhout-Réti, clocks in at 103 moves [of which the last sixty are a fascinating B+P ending] and fourteen pages.) He provides lots of analysis, but also lots of prose to give an overview of positions and explain what’s going on. As befits a player of Réti’s calibre, many of the games are truly superb. No. 39, Réti-Romanovsky, Moscow 1925, is a great battle in which our man doesn’t move his e-pawn until move 30, and when Romanovsky resigns on move 47, neither White’s d- nor e-pawn has got beyond the third rank. Game 21, Przepiorka-Réti, Bad Pistyan 1922, is another engrossing encounter in which Réti (as Black!) plays the forerunner of the KIA set-up which was to become all the rage with White in the ‘60s and a staple in Fischer’s repertoire. There is certainly something ‘modern’ about many of these ‘old’ games. Réti’s style at its best was one of what I’d call unhurried determination. Once he had established an advantage, he was generally lethal in converting it in his own patient manner into a win. There is much to be learnt from such an approach.
Engqvist doesn’t let his subject off lightly, though, and attaches plenty of ?!s, ?s and even ??s to Réti’s moves if he feels they warrant them. I like to see this. Some authors assign a degree of papal infallibility to their subjects.
(À propos Romanovsky. One of the strongest early Soviet players, and twice Soviet champion, he was awarded the IM title in 1950, but never made GM. Engqvist says it was because his many other interests denied him the necessary time and effort, a claim apparently borne out by Romanovsky’s own comments. This might be true enough, but he could surely have mentioned that the Soviets did in fact apply for Romanovsky to receive the GM title, only to withdraw it for political reasons.)
English is not Engqvist’s native language, so it’s reasonable to ask how well his text reads. The answer is very well. An editor’s guidance is, of course, essential in the provision of a smooth text, but, overall, if you didn’t know that Engqvist was a Swede, you’d be hard pressed to guess that English wasn’t his first language.
There are, however, a few solecisms of the kind which slip through the net all too readily these days, and not only in chess books. (I’ve just read in a history book a list of three items with a reference to ‘the latter’ when the author really means ‘the last’.) E.g. on p.228 we read of ‘Felix Fischer, who we met in the previous game’. Now, I’m not an out-and-out grammar fascist. I don’t curl up at the likes of ‘Who were you talking to?’. In everyday usage, especially speech, that’s acceptable, but in a text, the third word in the example above really should be ‘whom’* (object of the verb ‘met’, OK?). The brain expects it. ‘Who’ interrupts the flow of reading and is just wrong. (I’m sure Engqvist knows it’s ‘whom’, and wrote ‘whom’, but had it changed by his editor.) In similar fashion, on p.79 we learn that Walter John is ‘probably most well known for a game he lost…’. ‘Most well’? Best known! These sorts of things should be spotted by an editor. If he doesn’t spot them, he ain’t doin’ his job; if he spots them and lets them pass, or changes right to wrong, (house rules?), then it reflects on the publisher’s standards. They don’t bother you? They bother me. As I’ve said in previous reviews, you wouldn’t accept faults or blemishes in any other product. Why accept them in a book?
(*My spellchecker insists on ‘who’, which illustrates exactly why it sometimes pays to ignore spellcheckers. Don’t rely on ‘em, kids!)
Talking of editors, I had trouble finding out who the editor actually was. There’s no accreditation on the info page, and it was only while reading the acknowledgements that I found a name.
There are a number of other things which suggest the editor took his eye off the ball. Some examples:
The biography tells us that Réti was born on 28 May 1889 and died on 6 June 1929 ‘at the young age of 39’. Erm…nope, forty.
Several errors creep in when talking about Semmering 1926. On p.368 the author writes, ‘…held at the Grand Hotel Panhas in the south of Vienna’. It’s actually the Grand Hotel Panhans (a typo?), but it was the preposition ‘in’ which caught my eye. Semmering is 60 miles to the south of Vienna, and I put it down to a slip (despite my comments above) by a non-native speaker of English. ‘In’ clearly implies, well, in Vienna. Then it clicked. Simmering (‘i’) is one of Vienna’s southern districts. Obviously writer and/or editor are muxing the two places ip. Shoulda been checked and corrected.
Chesswise, one thing which bugs me is authors making a bland statement like ‘… is better’, but failing to explain why. On occasion Engqvist is no exception. For example, in game 43, Réti-Nilsson, London Olympiad 1927, he says, ‘Either 16…c6 or 16…Rfc8 is preferable’, ‘… 17 Be3 is very good for White too’ and ‘It is better to play 17…Rac8’, with no further elucidation. Given his target readership, presumably ‘average’ players, it would have been helpful to clarify the reasons for his preferences. Talking of clarification, on p.117 it says that Réti (in 1919) ‘had arrived in Holland as a political refugee’. This was something of which I was unaware, and was keen to know more, but that’s all we’re told. I surmise that it was as a result of upheavals in Central Europe after the First World War, but it would have been nice to know. That prompts the question: what nationality was Réti? He was born in Bazin in Hungary which, after the break-up of Austro-Hungary, found itself in Czechoslovakia as Pezinok and is now in Slovakia. He is often labelled as ‘Czech’, even though he spent most of his life as a citizen of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Just to confuse the issue, he died in Prague and is buried in Vienna (in, to add even more confusion, the aforementioned district of Simmering).
On a side note, I was amazed at how many players in the early part of the 20th century met untimely or tragic deaths, Réti himself amongst them. (Modern antibiotics would have cured the scarlet fever to which he succumbed.) E.g. the English master Yates died as the result of a gas leak, his less well-known compatriot Drewitt fell from a train, and the Austrian master Perlis died from exposure following a climbing accident. (This has nothing to do with the book under review, but while the above are certainly unfortunate accidents, they pale into insignificance compared to the bizarre – and Darwinian – demise of Agnes Stevenson, former British women’s champion, who, en route to the Women’s World Championship in Warsaw in 1935, walked into an aeroplane propeller, with the inevitable consequences.)
To summarise: a lot of time and effort has gone into this one; it’s full of interesting, well-annotated games, historical insights and snippets of chess lore, but also contains a number of niggly errors and omissions. Overall a fine effort about a great player, worthy of your attention.
Ian Marks, April 2017
YOUR OPPONENT IS OVERRATED by James Schuyler, Everyman Chess, 220 pp., publ. 2016
The subtitle provides a clue to the contents: A Practical Guide to Inducing Errors. It’s a trip into the sometimes murky waters of chess psychology, reminiscent of Simon Webb’s classic Chess for Tigers.
This is an aspect of the game often ignored by less experienced or more casual club players, who overlook that chess is not just about swapping moves, but is a game played by two fallible human beings, about playing the (wo)man and not the board, getting your opponent out of her/his comfort zone, skulduggery etc. etc. Lasker (there’s a chapter on him) was renowned for it. Nowadays the mantle has been taken over by the likes of Carlsen, Nakamura and Rapport, although it’s a part of every strong player’s armoury.
Amongst self-explanatory chapters (The Opening, Manoeuvring, The Clock and The Endgame), you’ll find topics which smack of the dark side, such as Harassment, Hating Your Opponent and Provocativeness. These are things that you at least need to be aware of if you want to win, and that, basically, is the author’s intention – for the reader to chalk up more points, to be aware of the competitive issues involved, and the dirty tricks that you can try on your opponents – and they on you. He calls this ‘nettlesomeness’, the art of irritating the other guy. I like to think of it as messing with his mind.
Schuyler writes clearly and his book reads easily, his examples – many from his own practice – are to the point, and he takes pains to explain his ideas in words rather than just bare variations. Lots of pearls of wisdom leap off the page. Herewith a few:
‘Your mind is your tool and your weapon, so regardless of what is happening in your mind, it pays to be aware of it.’
‘You don’t beat better players without taking some risks.’
‘There is no such thing as a winning position unless it is accompanied by enough time on the clock for you to win it.’
‘We all know what “should” is worth in chess.’
‘If your opponent loses on time, or through a blunder, these are just chess results like any other.’ (I mention this for the guy I know who often offers his opponents a draw if they’re about to lose on time because he doesn’t like winning on time. Why are you playing chess, chum!!?)
As I said at the start, the book deals with aspects of the game that more casual players might not be fully aware of. For them Schuyler’s book would be a real eye-opener, and I’m sure that if they read it their play and results would improve. But, as I’ve commented in other reviews, the player who would benefit most from a book like this tends to be the player who doesn’t read chess books. Guys! Shake off your sloth!
Ian Marks, Feb. 2017
ALEKHINE MOVE BY MOVE by Steve Giddins, Everyman Chess, 298 pp., publ. 2016
RUBINSTEIN MOVE BY MOVE by Zenón Franco, Everyman Chess, 400 pp., publ. 2015
TAL MOVE BY MOVE by Cyrus Lakdawala, Everyman Chess, 396 pp., publ. 2015
Another in Everyman’s expanding series on great players. I’ve already reviewed several of these titles, so, before looking at this one, here’s a little philosophical digression into why I think the series is such a good idea.
When I was starting out in the late ‘60s, chess books were largely games collections. Works by or about Capablanca, Alekhine, Euwe, Botvinnik, Smyslov, Keres, Reshevsky and Tal were readily available, often in reprint, a testimony to their enduring popularity. Writers such as Clarke, Golombek, Alexander and the oft-maligned Fred Reinfeld were excellent chroniclers. Two of my first ‘proper’ chess books were Alekhine’s 1924-1937 and Clarke’s book on Petrosian.
Then the ‘60s became the ‘70s, and Batsford gave birth to the openings monograph, which, like an invasive species, threatened the very existence of the games collection. Fischer’s and Larsen’s magna opera apart, it became more or less a conveyor belt of one openings book after another. The reason was simple. Nobody gets rich writing chess books, and such money as was to be made was more likely to come from the openings manual. Who wanted to play through a dusty QGD by some old guy from the past when they could mug up on the first fifteen moves of a hot King’s Indian that they might (but probably wouldn’t) face in their next tournament?
And that is why a series like Everyman’s is so worthwhile. Chess isn’t just openings, it’s two minds at work, and games collections show the finest achievements of great players in this light; done correctly they not only present games but also shed light on the characters and times of the players.
Giddins gives us thirty-five games by Alekhine, Franco thirty-four of Rubinstein’s plus supplementary games, and Lakdawala fifty-three of Tal’s. While Giddins presents them as ‘straight games’, the other two categorise them by theme. Franco looks at Rubinstein’s play in terms of Positional Play, Initiative and Attack, Endgame Mastery, Rook Endgames and Linking the Opening and Middlegame. Lakdawala divvies Tal’s into three broad categories: The Early Years, World Champion and 1960-1970, and The Later Years. This makes sense. Rubinstein is acknowledged as one of the great positional players, while Tal’s career fell neatly into those three periods. (Curious point: why is Giddins’s book so much shorter [and only two quid cheaper!]? Kind of strange, given that Alekhine is one of the most chronicled players of all time.)
The notes in each volume are detailed, but not so dense that you lose sight of the wood for trees. Each author uses lots of explanatory prose, one of my hobby horses. It is interesting to compare writing styles. Giddins is probably the chattiest of the three; it is easy to imagine two guys discussing the games. Lakdawala’s is the floweriest and most verbose. It’s likeable in its own way, but, as I’ve said in other reviews of his work, it’s easy to overdo it. The occasional flowery image or analogy is all very well, but it can become overdone, and you end up thinking ‘not another one’. The Tal book is no exception. On p.191 we’re told that ‘the only thing missing is Benny Hill banjo chase music’. If you don’t get the reference to Benny Hill – and many young readers, or readers unfamiliar with English-language popular culture, might not – that’s meaningless. On p.131, discussing Donner’s insistence on seeing through an e4-e5 break v. Tal’s Benoni, he writes, ‘A single cell amoeba is attracted to an unfamiliar source of light and heat. Moral: living organisms are creatures of curiosity’. I’m still not sure I get that one, even in the context. That sort of thing apart, Lakdawala packs a lot of chess wisdom into his writing; it’s just a pity it has to compete with stuff like this. Franco pretty much gives it to you straight; he discusses the games without too many frills or exuberant wordplay. Perhaps this is because English is not his native language, and this is how he writes. Or could it be down to translation? (There’s no mention of a translator.) Either way his writing comes across well, and if he did write it in English, then kudos to him; I’ve read worse by native speakers.
Anyway, each book is a solid piece of work and a worthwhile read. Players doubting the value of dipping into the rich heritage of chess could do a lot worse than cast an eye in their direction.
Answer to last review’s trivium: as far as I know, Spassky’s sole Scottish smiter in tournament play is Phil Giulian, Glenrothes blitz, 1988. Phil also had Tal on toast there too, but the other Big Man wriggled his way out. What a double that would have been.
ANTI-SICILIANS MOVE BY MOVE by Cyrus Lakdawala, Everyman Chess, 448 pp., publ. 2016
I chuckle nowadays at the term ‘anti-Sicilians’. There are so many of them being played so often that they are fast becoming just as normal way of meeting 1…c5 as 2 Nf3 and 3 d4. I find it gently ironic that there is an increasing number of theoretical works on lines based on avoiding theory. Anyway, to our subject matter.
I’ll start with the contents, so you know what your potential purchase covers:
2 Nf3 move orders
King’s Indian Attack
The Grand Prix
Tiviakov’s Variation (1 e4 c5 2 Nc3 Nc6 3 Bb5)
Morra and Wing Gambits
Odds and Ends (1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 d6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Qxd4; 2 f4; 2 g3; 2 Ne2; 2 Na3; 2 c4; 2 Bc4)
That seems to cover pretty much everything White might throw at you (although, as far as I can see, there’s no mention of 2 a3, about which a couple of books, one of them 500+ pages, have been written!). 2 c3 is almost mainstream nowadays; Lakdawala’s suggested antidote is 2…Nf6 with …b6 to follow. This is a perfectly viable system designed to get a grip on the light squares weakened by White’s early e5, but it raises the point that there have been so many anti-Sicilian books in recent years that it becomes increasingly difficult for an author to suggest something different without running the risk of rehashing what has gone before. Depending on which anti-Sicilian book you’re holding in your hands you’ll find both 2…Nf6 and 2…d5 recommended; some other non-Sicilian-specific volumes suggest stuff like 2…g6. Which of these you play depends on how happy you are with them.
The Rossolimo/Moscow lines with 3 Bb5(+) can present a bit of an issue over the 2…Nc6/2…d6 move order, which is of course why people play them. Lakdawala kills those two birds with the 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 d6 Bb5+ Nc6/2…Nc6 3 Bb5 d6 sequence. This is perfectly valid, although, once again, you’ve got to be happy with the positions arising.
And so on. Practicality is a major consideration throughout, combining workload with lines which will provide reasonable chances. Lakdawala writes in his trademark highly descriptive style, often with the personal touch. I liked a comment to one of his own games, ‘I twirled my moustache evilly, in silent movie-villain fashion, as I made this move’. Haven’t we all known this moment when we realise we’re about to make the final twist of the knife in our opponent’s position?
This is an excellent attempt to get to grips with all the pesky Sicilian sidelines, and if you play 1…c5, you’ll probably want to add it to your shelf.
Ian Marks, October 2016
SPASSKY MOVE BY MOVE by Zenón Franco, Everyman Chess, 464 pp., publ. 2015
When I was starting out, one player was the man of the moment – Boris Spassky. The Botvinnik/Smyslov era was over, Tal had had his shot, Petrosian was minding the shop, and Fischer wasn’t yet the finished article. Spassky, trampling over giants like Keres, Geller and Tal, was the man everybody had their eyes on. Years later, when I got to meet the Great Man (at Glenrothes!, no disrespect to Glenrothes, but still), it was like meeting Elvis.
If you think about it (I didn’t until this one landed on my desk), Spassky is the World Champion least chronicled in print. He wrote little or nothing himself, and has failed to attract the attention of authors in the way that, for example, Tal and Fischer have done. For one of the truly great players of the latter half of the 20th century, this is remarkable. Perhaps it has something to do with his losing the ’72 match to Fischer, and subsequently being eclipsed by the emerging Karpov, but, whatever, it is a gap in chess publishing that needs filling. Thus it is pleasing to see this sturdy effort from the Paraguayan GM.
After a short chapter on Spassky’s career and longer one on his style, the author divides his material up into chapters on Universal Style and the Initiative and Attack, then seven more grouped according to opening – the Ruy Lopez, Sicilian, Exchange Grünfeld, Sämisch King’s Indian, Queen’s Gambit, King’s Gambit and Leningrad Nimzo. Don’t groan, though. It is far from being ‘just’ another openings book. These were the workhorses of Spassky’s career, the canvas for some of his greatest creative achievements. Strangely, for a player with a fairly limited, but deep, repertoire, Spassky was never considered a great theoretician, and bequeathed the chess world no ‘variations’ (although it could be argued that his use of the Marshall in the 1965 Candidates final against Tal kick-started the subsequent interest in the line which has endured to this day).
The forty main games are annotated in great depth, but with a pleasing amount of explanatory prose, and many feature supplementary games to illustrate points arising. If there is a common thread, it is a quest for the initiative. Spassky was never boring (unless he was giving or taking short draws in the twilight of his career); his games were generally full of an energy which we could all benefit from by trying to inject into our own games. Even compared to other top GMs (whom he could make look ordinary when he was at his best), he had a remarkable feel for the interplay between time and material. For example, look at his games v Evans (Varna 1962) and Larsen (Belgrade 1970, though it has to be admitted Bent rather asked for it). And there are plenty of others.
If you’re looking for a collection of inspirational initiative chess, this is it. I’ll leave you with the words of GM Ivan Sokolov, no slouch himself when it comes to attacking chess: ‘Spassky was a brilliant attacker, and every chess player is well advised to study his games.’ What are you waiting for?
To finish off, a little trivium. Who is the only Scottish player (as far as I know!) to have beaten Spassky in a competitive tournament game? Answer next review.
Ian Marks, July 2016
FISCHER MOVE BY MOVE by Cyrus Lakdawala, Everyman Chess, 427 pp., publ. 2015
The prolific Cyrus is becoming a true chess Stakhanovite; this is his twenty-second book in the last few years, a prodigious feat. In fact, I’m starting to wonder how he finds time for the mundanities of everyday life, like taking his car to the garage, going to the shops, coaching his students, talking to his wife…
He has taken on a Big Name in this one, arguably the Biggest Chess Name ever. Fischer is probably the player who has had more words devoted to him than any other. It is said in the publishing world that if you want a book to sell, put ‘Hitler’ in the title. In similar fashion you could argue that, for chess books, use ‘Fischer’. (And before any professional easily offended people write in, I’m not trying to compare those two gentlemen in any way whatsoever.)
Lakdawala starts with an eighteen-page introduction, half of which is devoted to the classic Fischer-Stein game, Sousse Interzonal 1967. This is, and will remain, one of the greatest no-holds-barred brawls between two top GMs the chess world has ever seen. If you don’t know it, you should! Thereafter he divvies his material into six chapters, Fischer on: …the Attack, …Defence and Counterattack, …the Dynamic Element, …Exploiting Imbalances, …Accumulating Advantages and …the Endgame. The games are annotated in great depth over many pages (this is not a book for beginners) in Lakdawala’s trademark chatty, flowery style. As I’ve said in other reviews of his work, this is very much an acquired taste; you either love it or you loathe it. Despite my reservations, I like it. Successful writing is writing which engages the reader, and Lakdawala’s prose certainly does that. On the other hand there are occasions when Cyrus gets a tad carried away , e.g. on p.184 when Smyslov’s king ‘makes a sound eerily similar to the startled yelp by that citizen of Tokyo (circa early 1950’s), when he first caught a glimpse of Godzilla entering the city limits’. Depending on whether you find that hilarious, delightfully original or a waste of words will go a long way to informing whether you’d like his style or not. Cyrus himself takes a gentle swipe at ‘misguided readers who hate my writing styleand punish my books with a hateful review!’ (Er…lot of hate going on in there; if they hate your writing style, surely they wouldn’t be buying your books, Cyrus?) Clearly he’s not going to change, but why should he? Used in the right way at the right time, humour and a touch of levity can be highly effective teaching tools. Flowery prose aside, there is a lot of good chess instruction in here.
The danger with a book on Fischer is that so much has already been written about him, never mind his own classic collection My 60 Memorable Games, that it is hard to say anything new and you end up rehashing what has gone before. This in itself isn’t such a problem, after all just because you’ve heard one orchestra perform, say, Beethoven’s 9th doesn’t mean you can’t hear how another one interprets it. But it is an issue, one that Lakdawala acknowledges. Thus of the book’s fifty-six games, exactly half, twenty-eight, were played after the 1967 cut-off in My 60 Memorable Games. Of the other twenty-eight, only ten appear in M60MG: Sherwin, Reshevesky, Tal, Benko, R. Byrne, Smyslov, Portisch, Bednarsky, Larsen and Stein. (Most of those will be familiar names, except Bednarsky. You might be wondering why a game against a relatively unknown journeyman GM appears in both books. Answer: it’s a brutal attacking gem which illustrates with crystal clarity how Fischer tended to deal with members of the lower orders.) The reason for their inclusion is simple: it would be heresy to omit some of Fischer’s finest achievements. (If you go to a gig, there are always certain songs that the band simply has to play. You get the idea.) Anyway, if you’re wondering whether you’d just end with a bunch of clichéd games, the answer is no.
Fischer was a complex character. In his later years it became clear that he had (and had had) serious mental health issues. Lakdawala doesn’t gloss over this, and deals with it sympathetically, if briefly.
The big question, of course, is: Was Fischer the Greatest? It’s an impossible question to answer, which is what makes it such a great source of debate in any field of sporting endeavour. Lakdawala makes his pitch by comparing the great champions under various categories, e.g. creativity, attacking ability, defence, feel for the initiative etc., a fun and different way to try to come up with an answer (which I’m not divulging here). Whether you think Fischer was or not, it’s worth reflecting that his retrospective average rating of 2783 (Chessmetrics) would still put him in today’s top ten.
All in all, a good, sturdy book on a true giant. It occurs to me that Fischer is probably just a name to today’s younger generation, so if that’s the case, you know what to do about it!
Ian Marks, June 2016
WILHELM STEINITZ First World Chess Champion by Isaak and Vladimir Linder, Russell Enterprises Inc., 200 pp., publ. 2014 and STEINITZ MOVE BY MOVE by Craig Pritchett, Everyman Chess, 288 pp., publ. 2015
A brace of books about the first World Champion and father of positional chess. I assume that most readers of this review will know who Craig Pritchett is; the Linders are a Russian father and son historian/sports writer team.
Both books provide lots of biographical and background material. The Linders do so via five broad chapters: Life and Fate; Matches, Tournaments, Rivals; Chess Art: The Game and Discoveries; Writer and Journalist and Forever and Beyond. The headings alone give some idea of Steinitz’s life and career. He certainly wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth. He spent his childhood in a Jewish ghetto in Prague, his mother died when he was nine, he lost his own daughter at the age of only twenty-one and, four years later, his wife. In his later years he suffered from mental health issues which saw him committed to a psychiatric hospital.
In addition to their narrative on Steinitz, the Linders also paint pen pictures of many of his contemporaries such as Anderssen, Bird and Zukertort, to name but three, and there are lots of fascinating insights into the chess life of the times.
Pritchett also covers his subject in five chapters, but takes a linear approach: Early Years; Achieving Supremacy; Attaining the Unchallenged Crown; Remaining at the Pinnacle and Gradual Decline. Background material is provided in the introduction to each chapter, while the game intros flesh out the specifics.
There are 89 games in the Linders’ book, annotated by GM Karsten Müller, and 35 in Pritchett’s. The annotations in the latter are much more detailed and bring the games more to life. I also enjoyed the summaries he provides at the end of each chapter.
The games themselves are often quite an eye-opener. First, for someone often thought of as a stodgy, quirky positional player, Steinitz was a great attacker, many of whose best efforts could compare easily with those of modern times. There is a tremendous zest about many of his attacking games. One which sticks in the mind is Steinitz-Paulsen, Baden Baden 1870 (game 25 in Linder), where Steinitz takes six of his first eighteen (!) moves to get his king to g1 (Ke2-e3-f3-e3-f2-g1) and goes on to win a real cracker. Pritchett doesn’t give this as a main game, but quotes it in the notes to game eight, Steinitz-Zukertort. Both these games began with the infamous Steinitz Gambit (1 e4 e5 2 Nc3 Nc6 3 f4 exf4 4 d4 Qh4+ 5 Ke2). You might be inclined to dismiss this as a piece of whacky 19th century tomfoolery, or you could ponder this: https://youtu.be/s-CbEbTHneg
Of course, apart from many tremendous attacking games, there are lots of steadier positional efforts, as Steinitz’s ‘theories’ crystallised and became reflected in his play. Besides being a top player, Steinitz was also a prolific writer and publisher, something unthinkable amongst contemporary professionals.
Both books are well-referenced, but there is the occasional huh!? moment. For example, re Baden Baden 1870, the Linders say, ‘for the first time ever, draws were not replayed’. Yet a few pages earlier, talking about Paris 1867, they said, ‘draws did not count and were not replayed and instead were counted as a loss for both contenders’. Clearly, one of these must be wrong (or am I missing something?). It gets curiouser when you look at the Paris scoretable and see lots of ½s and no double 00 results. Confusing!
I enjoyed both of these books and learnt a lot about a great player and his times. To a certain extent they complement each other. If I had to plump for one, I’d plump for Craig’s. It’s better produced, has a ‘meatier’ feel to it, and, knowing the interest Craig has always had for Steinitz, he deserves our support!
Ian Marks, May 2016
LIQUIDATION ON THE CHESS BOARD by Joel Benjamin, New in Chess, 253 pp., publ. 2015
The clue to the content is in the sub-title: Mastering the Transition into the Pawn Endgame. That immediately gives you an idea of the level. This is the chess equivalent of a further education textbook, not the sort of thing a beginner or casual club player should be unwrapping on their birthday.
The author explains that the seed for the book was planted following a rebuke from Korchnoi (‘It is the ABCs of chess!’) about a gap in his knowledge of pawn endings (when he was already a GM!). That led to Benjamin working on his understanding of pawn endings, and the various ways in which they can be reached forms the meat of his book.
Of course, pawn endings don’t just appear by magic; they are arrived at once the other pieces have departed, so the author divvies his chapters up into how they can be reached from various piece, and combinations of pieces, endings. This in itself assumes a high level of understanding. It’s quite one thing to trade down from, say, a rook ending, quite another to liquidate from a queen v three minor pieces scenario, as in chapter nine.
The author discusses in detail the whens and when nots of deciding whether to liquidate to bare pawns and, since pawn endings are the most concrete of all endings, there is lots of analysis, but also plenty of prose when verbal explanations are necessary.
I guess the target readership would be serious/advanced players who are already conversant with the nuts and bolts of not just pawn endings, but endings in general, so we’re looking at the higher end of the rating scale. There is no way I’d recommend it to anyone who hasn’t heard of, or isn’t familiar with, say, triangulation, tempo play etc. (If that’s you, read a more elementary book and learn about them!) Having said that, there’s plenty of lovely play in the many examples to entertain if flat-out improvement isn’t the name of your game. As with most books nowadays, there are test positions at the end of each chapter.
Amongst the vignettes which I enjoyed were ‘one of the all-time great triangulations’ and ‘the worst blunder of Fischer’s career’ (and it’s not 29…Bxh2 v Spassky).
As with all New in Chess publications, well presented, but with a rather weird cover which reminded me of that old Castrol GTX advert with a trickle of oil flowing along, here over a pawn.
CHESS TRAINING FOR POST-BEGINNERS by Yaroslavl Srokovski, New in Chess, 221 pp., publ. 2014
For starters, I thought it might be worthwhile to consider just what a ‘post-beginner’ is. The author (a Ukrainian IM and FIDE Senior Trainer) says in his preface that his book is aimed at the 1400-2200 group. That is a huge range of ability, from lower range club players to players with master aspirations, the latter at least way past the post-beginner stage. (A pedant might point out that, strictly speaking, we’re all post-beginners, but, come on.) So who exactly is the book for? Here are the twelve chapters into which the author divides his material; they might shed some light on the matter.
- Pieces cut off from play
- Open files
- Strong and weak squares
- Weak complexes and weak diagonals
- Pawn majority on the (queen-)side
- The strength of the passed pawn
- Weak pawns
- The king in the middle
- Good knight versus bad bishop
- Good bishop versus bad knight
- The advantage of the bishop pair in the endgame
- The advantage of the bishop pair in the middlegame
My hunch is that for most ‘post-beginners’, say around 800-1000, these could be pretty abstract concepts. Since the author’s treatment assumes a degree of understanding, I’m not so sure that players in this range would get too much from the book. Thus I find myself thinking that the book would be of more use to players around 1200-1500, the lower end of the author’s spectrum.
Anyway, if these topics are shrouded in mystery, then you could do a lot worse than have a look at this one. Lots of basic positional stuff covered in easy-to-follow detail which would benefit any less-skilled player wanting to improve. There’s only one problem – as I’ve said in previous reviews, the hole in the bucket is that players who would benefit from a book like this tend not to read chess books. Indeed, a player around 1300 once boasted to me that they had never read a chess book in their life. When I asked why, they said, ‘All those variations’. I’ve heard similar on other occasions. Guys, is it a badge of honour not to read books?
This indicates two things. (i) Variations can indeed often appear daunting. In this respect the author does well, since he provides lots of verbal explanations to clarify his generally brief and pertinent variations. (There are exceptions, though, as p.83 reveals!) (ii) Laziness on the part of the reader. You get out of a text what you put into it. If you’re put off by variations, you’re not going to get the gist of a position, or make much progress. (And anyway, when you play a game, what are those things going through your head as you figure out your next move? Variations!)
So, assuming you’re neither lazy nor put off by moves, would you put on the 100 points the author claims you’ll gain by reading his work? Depends. (Opponents tend to get in the way.) I am pretty certain though that a player who reads and assimilates the contents of this book will certainly benefit from a better understanding of the topics covered, and that in itself would surely lead to improved results.
Ian Marks, March 2016
THE OLD INDIAN by Junior Tay, Everyman Chess, 496 pp., publ. 2015
The Old Indian (…Nf6, d6, e5, Be7) is often regarded as the poor relative of the King’s Indian (…Nf6, g6, Bg7, d6). Conventional wisdom says that the bishop on e7 is nothing compared to its funky colleague on g7. Fast forward twenty moves. What often happens? The guy on g7 is now stuck behind a wall of pawns on d6, e5, f4 and g5, and often has to recycle via f8 to, yep, e7 to clear the way for the heavy pieces and see daylight again (or even cover a weak pawn on d6 after a cxd6/cxd6 exchange). So why not put it on e7 in the first place!?
Of course, there’s more to it than that: questions of style, absence of mega-theory, the element of surprise, all of these play a part. The author makes an excellent case for his subject, and many of the games are every bit as violent as any King’s Indian.
Perhaps one of the ‘problems’ deterring would-be proponents of the Old Indian is the number of ‘easy’ ways to get an advantage against it as seen in many white repertoire books. Tay covers all the likely ‘refutations’, i.e. central tension where White plays neither d5 nor d4xe5, early d5s, Sämisch-type positions with an early f3, g3 systems and lines with Bg5 and e3. As he shows, these have as many pros as cons, so any reader of a white rep book expecting an easy point could be in for a rude awakening.
And if you’re still not convinced, a glance at the players on the black side reveals Morozevich, Jobava, Aronian, Andreikin and Topalov. Clearly, creative minds are open minds.
I don’t know if Tay’s work will lead to an explosion of interest in the Old Indian, but he shows that it ill-deserves its second-rate status, and there is much between the covers that would set an open mind thinking.
One thing which bugged the bejabers out of me – the page numbers are located at the spine, making them all but useless. Why do publishers do this?
Ian Marks, March 2016
BRONSTEIN MOVE BY MOVE by Steve Giddins, Everyman Chess, 288 pp., publ. 2015, and KARPOV MOVE BY MOVE by Sam Collins, Everyman Chess, 288 pp., publ. 2015
Two more in Everyman’s move-by-move series on great players. The subjects could scarcely be more different; one the son of a Jewish ‘enemy of the people’, the other Brezhnev’s golden boy. Let’s start with the older player.
David Bronstein will go down in chess history as the man who almost became World Champion, having tied the 1951 match with Botvinnik 12-12. Such a huge disappointment could understandably have affected any player, but he continued to create works of genius and artistry throughout a long and illustrious career. (“I’m more than a few numbers. I’m not Zürich ’53 and 12-12!”)
Giddins, who got to know Bronstein late in his career, starts with a lengthy and warm appreciation of his subject. He doesn’t delve into chess politics, but nor does he hide blemishes when we are introduced to Bronstein the grumpy old man. We get a picture of someone who loved and was endlessly fascinated by chess. Maybe that’s why he was so popular; don’t we all feel a bit like that?
The games span 1939-97 and feature not just games from the world championship match and elite tournaments, but also evening bashes in the London League. (Bronstein made his nomadic home in Kent in the ‘90s and often turned out for Charlton. He also popped up in East Kilbride in 1992!) The difficulty in selecting games (this applies to the Karpov book too) is in avoiding too many hackneyed examples while including enough of the gems to show the player at his heights. In this respect Giddins does a good job; the only two which could really be accused of falling into this category are Zita-Bronstein, Prague 1946, and Bronstein-Ljubojevic, Petropolis 1973, games you really should know. The first is a combinational stunner, the second a complex and sustained punch-up.
Bronstein’s love of the game shines through in all thirty games. If some of his infectious enthusiasm rubs off on the reader, that’ll be no bad thing. Highly enjoyable.
Collins’s treatment of Karpov is rather different. Playing over a Karpov masterpiece you do not get a sense of creativity in action. Let me qualify that, because Karpov was obviously creative in his own way. In many a game, if Bronstein was given the choice of finishing prosaically or finding a combination to go out on, he would often seek the latter. Karpov wouldn’t hesitate to choose the former. Where Bronstein was a chess artist, Karpov was a winning machine. Collins’s notes tend to reflect this, with their discussion of piece placement, planning, structure and so on.
Collins divides his selection of games into Middlegame Themes, Key Structures, Openings and Linares 1994 (one of the greatest tournament victories of all time) and Recent Battles. The games cover all of Karpov’s career and, in a neat echo of Bronstein’s appearances in the London League, we see some examples of Karpov duffing up lesser GMs in the Bundesliga in 2014. One game it would have been almost impossible to omit is the 9th game v Spassky in 1974, where Karpov ties his illustrious opponent up with the brand of positional play which was to become his hallmark. If the games are less flamboyant than Bronstein’s, so what? There is much to be learnt from studying Karpov at his best. Another highly enjoyable book.
Ian Marks, January 2016
PLAY UNCONVENTIONAL CHESS AND WIN by Noam A. Manella & Zeev Zohar, Everyman Chess, 387 pp., publ. 2014
When I saw the title my heart sank. Surely not a book recommending stuff like 1 h4 – ‘and win’!! But when I opened it, I found otherwise. It’s a book which seeks to illustrate the depths of creativity of which top players and composers are capable. This includes the likes of weird moves, outrageous ideas, ugly retreats, wandering kings, anti-positional play and so on. The analogy is made between inspiration and drunkenness (they both free the inhibitions!), and the three main sections are headed Beer, Red Wine and Vodka. Most of the contemporary elite are represented, as are stellar names from the past and many study composers.
The authors have both worked in the field of creativity and how the mind thinks. The former is a study composer and the latter the author of a paper on ‘The Influence of Computer Software on Top Chess Players’ Creativity’, upon which this work is based.
It’s the sort of book you could dip into without having to read page by page (well, I think so), so would be useful for browsing. I’d put it into the wouldn’t-buy-it-but-would -look-for-it-in-the-library category.
IMPROVE YOUR CHESS PATTERN RECOGNITION by Arthur van de Oudeweetering, New in Chess, 301 pp., publ. 2014
Chess, as we know (or should!), is a game of patterns, and this volume gathers together lots of the basic themes that crop up in the middlegame. A random selection will give you a taste: the ‘Octopus’ (a knight in the heart of the enemy camp), …Qxb2, central pawn rollers, Nd5 sacs, offside pieces, Ng5!, centralised queens, king walks, e5-e6!… in short, loads of ideas which you could easily find lurking in your own games, and which less experienced players should beef up on if they want to improve.
Most of the examples are given in complete game format, others start from the position under consideration. This is a matter of taste. I prefer to cut to the chase; I know lots of guys who like to see how the position arose. I guess if you’re like me you could just start from the diagram. Exercises at the end of each section test how much you’ve taken in.
The author is a Dutch IM and trainer, and this is an enjoyable work.
THE LIBERATED BISHOP DEFENCE by Alexey Bezgodov, New in Chess, 331 pp., publ. 2014
The Russian GM author specialises in works on offbeat openings (e.g. 2 a3 v the Sicilian and 3 f3 v the Caro-Kann). What he calls the ‘liberated bishop defence’ is 1 d4 d5 2 c4 Bf5, not your everyday reply to the Queen’s Gambit. The author considers this ‘a perfectly viable opening’, an opinion not shared, perhaps, by top professionals, not that that should deter lesser mortals from having a look at it.
The main recipe against it is 3 cxd5, when Black’s liberated bishop quickly becomes his disappeared bishop after the forced 3…Bxb1 (figure out why). Giving up the bishop pair on move three in an openish position is obviously a major step, and the author devotes chapter eleven (the last!) to it. I have a bit of an issue with this. Since 3 cxd5 is the critical line, within which lurk Black’s main problems, why not start with it? It seems odd to provide a prior 222 pages of analysis which you might never need against a reasonably clued-up opponent. Of course, the lower down the congress sections you go, the less this will be of moment, so 2…Bf5 could safely be punted there with little risk.
One fairly large caveat for would-be proponents is that White can more or less force a draw after 1 d4 d5 2 c4 Bf5 3 Nf3 e6 4 Qb3 Nc6 5 Qxb7 Nb4 6 Na3 Rb8 7 Qxa7 Ra8 8 Qb7 etc. Black can go for it with 8…Rxa3, but the author himself says, ‘I personally cannot recommend readers to avoid 8…Rb8 9 Qa7 Ra8=’. This is clearly a problem. Since White’s first five moves above are perfectly natural, it renders 2…Bf5 unplayable as a winning attempt against a weaker player.
Overall, an interesting work, but prospective 2…Bf5ers would clearly have to choose their opponents carefully and give a lot of thought to what line they’d be likely to face.
THE CHESS TACTICS DETECTION WORKBOOK by Volker Schlepütz & John Emms, Everyman Chess, 330 pp., publ. 2014
I’ve often felt that there’s a niche (or huge gap!) in the market for a book of ordinary players’ games, and I’ve heard guys lower rated than me (yes, they do exist) say the same. (I’ve also heard it pooh-poohed in no uncertain terms by strong players who seem to think that anything less than, say, a collection of Kramnik’s games isn’t worth the time, an opinion which I will politely call ‘élitism’.)
TCTDW is a collection of one hundred and twenty games by players rated 1100-1700 (divided into sections 1100-1300, 1301-1500 and 1501-1700) in which the reader is invited to find the tactical opportunities missed by the players then check her/his efforts with the detailed solutions (which are rich in helpful explanation). The further down the rating scale you go, the more tactical oversights go unpunished, so the book should be useful for players at that level wanting to improve their tactical vision. Many of the tactical oversights are of the elementary variety – basic pins, checks, forks etc. – but no harm there since these are the bread-and-butter things which cost (and gain!) points.
A little quality time spent with this one would benefit John or Mary Average far more than a collection of GM X’s games (that can always come later). Recommended for players who have got beyond the basics and for those trying to climb the slippery ladder of chess improvement.
CHESS PROGRESS from beginner to winner by Erik M. Czerwin, Everyman Chess, 334 pp., publ. 2014
This book aims to take the absolute beginner from raw tyro to confident player. The author is a high school teacher and award-winning chess coach (Illinois Chess Coaches Association Coach of the Year in 2012) with a USCF rating of 1452.
The contents comprise five large sections:
- Beginning with the Basics
- The Fundamental Elements of Chess Strategy
- Applying the Elements of Chess Strategy
- The Rules of Chess
- Over the Board (a useful inclusion, since it is often overlooked).
The first thing which struck me is that, for a beginner’s book, there is very little about the presentation to make it visually attractive. Take away the diagrams and you are left with large dollops of text. There are, for example, no boxes or shading to highlight important stuff, no gimmicks like stars or exclams to draw attention to key points (as Everyman have used in other publications), no variety in the layout. It is not uncommon to find single pages or double-page spreads consisting of nothing but dense prose, e.g. pp.126-7, pp.234-5, p.244 and others. This might be OK in a university text, but in a beginner’s book you want to grab the reader’s attention from the word go; this is a visit to Dullsville.
Clarity of language and expression is also vital, especially in a beginner’s book, thus my heart sank when I read on p.14 (the first actual page of instruction), referring to the board, ‘…there are actually many layers of perspective’, a phrase I’ve never heard of in decades of playing the game, yet here it is in the third line of a beginner’s book. Are you wondering what a ‘layer of perspective’ is? In answer to a student’s hand going up, the author explains: layers of perspective are squares, lines, regional, queenside, kingside and space. So now we know – but why use an obscure phrase (not for the only time) in the first place?
Or take this example. On p.16, he says, “…we must learn to open the lines, block the lines, or hold the lines”. Here, ‘hold’ seems to mean ‘control’, e.g. on p.24 we read, “…the bishop holds (author’s emphasis) space”. But fast forward to p.184, where he tells us, “A pin (author’s emphasis) in chess is a position where one piece is held (author’s emphasis) against a piece of greater value”. Different meaning (and I’m not sure what it is here). As Humpty Dumpty said, “When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean”. Even if we’re not sure what that is.
Sometimes the author goes too far in the other direction. In Principle #1 on p.160, Exchange when you have a material advantage, he writes: ‘The first, and simplest, principle is that a player who has a material advantage should look to exchange material’. Fair enough, but he makes no distinction between exchanging pieces and exchanging pawns. The advice thus becomes simplified to the point of generalisation and doubtful usefulness.
On other occasions, he contradicts himself. On p.143, he defines an open file as ‘one without any pawns’ and a half-open file as ‘one with a pawn (or pawns) of only one colour, meaning that only one player has a pawn on that file’. No quibble with that. Then, referring to the diagram on p.152, he contradicts this: ‘White’s rooks are on open and half-open files’, when both are on half-open files. In similar vein, referring to bishops, he says, ‘White’s bishops are poised to slice into the black queenside’ (no, the one on e2 is stuck behind a pawn on d3, and, after the author’s line of play, an unassailable black knight appears on d4, rendering the Be2 is the baddest bishop you ever saw); ‘Black’s dark-squared bishop is bad’ (only in terms of the kingside pawns; it usefully chops off a strong white knight on c5). What’s more regrettable is that this is an example intended to explain aspects of structure.
Another fundamental technique of teaching/learning is to go from the simple to the complex and build on previous knowledge. Axiomatic? The diagrams on p.20 are labelled ‘Bishop Mobility’ and ‘Knight Mobility’, illustrating what the author told us on the previous page about space. There’s only one problem – he doesn’t explain how these pieces move until pp.36 and 37 respectively. There are even exercises involving the moves of pieces which have yet to be explained. Granted, the relevant squares are marked with stars, but this only serves to underline my point – if the moves had been explained, you wouldn’t have needed the stars in the first place. It’s akin to setting a class a piece of homework based on things not covered in class.
There is also stuff which will be confusing (or plain irrelevant) to readers on these shores. Starting the section called Handling the Equipment on p.257, the author informs his readers, ‘At the beginning of the game, it is the responsibility of the player of the black pieces to provide the equipment’. Well, maybe in the USA, but not here. In fact, of all the countries I’ve played in, only in Ireland did players have to provide their own equipment, and only domestic players at that. This should have been specified.
This often cumbersome and unclear language badly needed tidying up. Had a student submitted this sort of stuff to me, I’d have told her/him to go and redraft it. Since the content is generally sound, it is hard to blame the author; it strikes me that he didn’t get the requisite support from his editor(s).
I mentioned academic textbooks earlier, and I think this is how the book might work best – as a textbook in the hands of a teacher working with a class. The content (which, as I said, is generally sound) often requires sifting, verbal clarification and explanation. There is no way I would recommend it to a beginner (and certainly not a youngster) setting out to learn on her/his own.
Coda: Since this is a beginner’s book, and I’m a bit long in the chess tooth, I gave it to a couple of non-chessplaying friends to read, one with a background in engineering, the other in education, both with vast experience of structuring, presentation, layout etc. of material. Apart from their general feedback being reflected in my comments, they both stressed specifically the points referred to above. And, by pure coincidence, when one of my guinea pigs returned the book, they happened to have an academic text book with them; its layout was identical to and as appealing as what I’ve just reviewed.
Ian Marks, September 2015
THE KILLER DUTCH by Simon Williams, Everyman Chess, 468 pp., publ. 2015
The Dutch has been Simon Williams’s lifetime pet, so what he has to say about it should be worth reading. It is.
By ‘Dutch’, Williams means the Classical line, 1 d4 f5 2 g3 Nf6 3 Bg2 e6 4 Nf3 Be7 5 0-0 0-0 6 c4 d6, or variations thereof. There are no Leningrads, and Stonewall set-ups only appear in the odd example. He also covers early deviations such as 2 Nc3 and 2 Bg5. In other words, he deals with pretty much everything your opponent is likely to throw at you.
The Dutch is a bit of a wallflower on the dancefloor of opening theory, so you might be wondering if it’s worth playing. The answer is yes. If it’s good enough for the author to dispatch GMs of the calibre of Gelfand and Wojtaszek (the latter in twenty moves!), then it’s obviously worth a punt against that guy whose name you can never remember in your next league match.
Williams gets the balance of analysis just right – enough to explain what’s going on, but not so detailed that you are beaten into submission by variations. There is lots of explanatory prose, although sometimes you get the feeling he could have elaborated a bit. E.g. when he writes on p.200, ‘I was more concerned about 16 Qb1 which I consider to be critical’, you can’t help but wish he had developed this. Each chapter finishes with a test section, a good idea spoilt by the solutions coming immediately after each question. They should have been at the back of the book, or at least after the test positions. Forty-five illustrative games exemplify the subject matter.
The layout is the now (seemingly) standard Everyman format, single-column text, large diagrams and lots of white. At least the diagrams are in the right place, but I still have my doubts. It looks very ‘clean’, but after a while becomes wearing on the eye (at least mine). To this reviewer at least, a double-column format with smaller diagrams would make for a more visually-friendly production (and fewer pages, ergo a cheaper book!?). I don’t suppose they’re gonna change for me, but still.
The cover features fold-over flaps akin to the dust jackets of yore (mainly to plug other Everyman products, it seems). These are handy for marking the page, but otherwise floppy and a bit of a nuisance. On balance, we could do without them.
Williams writes with verve, enthusiasm and humour, and makes an excellent guide. Even if you’ve never been that interested in the Dutch, you’ll enjoy this one. You might even make a new opening friend for life.
Ian Marks, June 2015
IVANCHUK MOVE BY MOVE by Junior Tay, Everyman Chess, 512 pp., publ. 2015
I’ve always liked games collections. One of the first chess books I ever bought was a games collection (Clarke’s Petrosian), so I’m always interested in new ones.
Arguably, Ivanchuk, with his reputation for weirder and more complex ideas than his peers, is a tough subject to deal with, so Tay deserves credit for grasping the nettle. On the other hand (and I’ve asked this before), how competently can a 2230 Candidate Master hope to explain the workings of a 2700+ chess superbrain? It’s a legitimate question, one which I’ll answer by suggesting that while your English teacher probably wasn’t a Renaissance genius, he/she was perfectly able to explain the works of Shakespeare. (Or, if you will, never playing professional football at a high level hasn’t stopped Jose Mourinho being a top manager.)
The book follows Everyman’s familiar move-by-move format. Tay discusses forty of Ivanchuk’s games spanning his entire career and covering the likes of strategic play, classical attacks, defence and pragmatism. Each game is annotated to a depth of 10-12 pages, with lots of words to clarify the moves (it’s impossible to explain Ivanchuk’s ideas by moves alone) and questions at key junctures to get you thinking for yourself. A test chapter at the end invites you to step into Chukky’s mind, not something I found particularly easy! (Quiet, all you cynics.) It’s hard to pick a favourite game, but his clinical endgame technique is impressive.
This is a (fairly) short review of a big book, but if you enjoy games collections, or are interested in one of the most creative minds of the last thirty years, then it’s one you should consider adding to your collection.
Ian Marks, June 2015
MAGNUS FORCE by Colin Crouch, Everyman Chess, 286 pp., publ. 2013
This niftily-titled volume is a dissection of Carlsen’s games at the London Classic 2012 and Wijk aan Zee 2013, the period when he was surpassing Kasparov as the highest rated player of all time, and en route to his first World Championship match with Anand. You might justifiably ask what light a relatively inactive 2300 IM can shed on the games of the world no. 1, rated 500 points higher. The answer is simple: you don’t need to be a great novelist to be a good literary critic; you don’t need to be a sub-10 seconds 100 metres runner to be a good sprint coach. It’s all about how skilfully you do your job, and Crouch handles his task pretty well.
There are twenty-nine games in all, each examined in detail and receiving up to sixteen (!) pages of analysis. By analysis I mean verbal discussion. Crouch clearly subscribes to Bronstein’s view that variations are useful if they reveal the inner workings of a game (beyond that it becomes a case of not seeing the wood for the trees). So often half a page or more (sometimes a page!) is devoted to a discussion of a position, with key variations to illuminate the words. It resembles a documentary of this period in Carlsen’s career. If you prefer hard analysis, well, there’s nothing to stop you digging deeper for yourself. Who knows what you might find?
Crouch highlights many aspects of his hero’s play, e.g. his Lasker-like ability to create practical problems for his opponents where none appear to exist; his pragmatism; his skill in defence. (see Kramnik-Carlsen from the London Classic, where Carlsen defends heroically to thwart the mastergrinder in a long endgame and which shows why Magnus is probably the hardest player in the world to beat.) Many of the games show classic Carlsen at work, improving his position tiny bit by tiny bit until his opponent realises he is in trouble, gaining points almost out of nothing. Carlsen-Karjakin from Wijk aan Zee shows that even the strongest opposition is not immune to this sort of attrition. I mentioned Lasker above; in this respect he is like Capablanca. Come into my parlour, said the spider to the fly.
Magnus Force is far from being a hagiography. Crouch is not afraid to criticise where he feels criticism is due. It is not uncommon to find a ?! as early as move five or six when he feels Carlsen is being slipshod in his handling of the opening (although you could argue that Magnus does not see this as the most important part of his game).
Overall, a good chess read. If Santa brought you a book token or Amazon voucher for Christmas, you might want to consider using it on this one.
KORCHNOI MOVE BY MOVE by Cyrus Lakdawala, Everyman Chess, 461 pp., publ. 2014
Cyrus is the Stakhanovite of chess publishing (I make this his 15th in the last few years). I’ve said before that prolificity often comes at the expense of quality, but he continues to maintain standards.
He has certainly picked a toughie this time. Survivor, free spirit, rebel, dissident, defector and ultimately survivor again, Korchnoi is one of the most complex personalities in a world that has never been short of complex personalities. Like Botvinnik, fellow Leningrader and Lakdawala subject, Viktor has written extensively on his life and career, but there ends the similarity. During the war, while the Patriarch was shipped off to safety east of the Urals, Viktor was a kid trapped in the horror that was the siege of Leningrad. Such an experience could not fail to leave its mark. Little wonder he grew up with the sort of feisty independence which did not go down well with the authorities (and for which he frequently suffered). It is this which, arguably, helped shape his career and nurture his longevity.
Lakdawala structures the book in similar fashion to his earlier works, looking at his subject’s games (sixty-one spanning all of Korchnoi’s career, from 1956 to 2011) in the context of Attack, Defence, Dynamics, Imbalances, Advantages and Endings. He focuses on the complexity and often randomness of the typical Korchnoi game (if there is such a thing), e.g. only one person could have been behind the white pieces in game five, Korchnoi-Arnason, Beersheba 1987, which borders on the surreal at times. He also highlights the way that a Korchnoi game is peppered with !?s and ?!s (and often !!s and??s) in a way that no other GM’s could be. In short, in Korchnoi’s games there is often a high level of tension and edge that you won’t find anywhere else. With Viktor you certainly got your money’s worth.
It’s hard to pick a favourite game, but the brace from the 1977 Candidates’ final v Spassky are phenomenal brawls, two old lions having a bare knuckle, no-holds-barred go at each other. Great chess!
If you want a collection of complex games full of ideas that only a truly original mind could come up with, handled with sympathy and respect, look no further.
THE BENKO GAMBIT by Junior Tay, Everyman Chess, 335 pp., publ. 2014
The first thing which caught my eye about this one was the author’s name – I’ve never heard of him. (In fact, those of us who grew up on the south side of Glasgow in the 1960s will remember the Junior Tay as one of the Castlemilk gangs.) Anyway, he’s a FIDE CM and ICCF Senior IM from Singapore (currently rated 2230), so not without credentials. That said, there remains the nagging doubt that, the stronger (or more qualified) the author, the better he’ll handle his subject matter. That could be a moot/blinkered p.o.v., so rather than get embroiled in philopsophical discussion, I’ll get on with my job and review what’s before me.
Tay covers all the main and not so main lines in nine chapters and forty-eight games, plus a set of exercises. The lines are covered in depth with enough prose to clarify what’s going on. His writing style is clear and he takes care to point out where problems might be lurking, so he’s not trying to sell you snake oil. There are plenty of GMs and IMs featured, but since the Benko is not played (trusted?) at the highest levels, you’ll find none of the elite, bar Mamedyarov with a couple of Whites. (What you will find, though, is Alan Tate taking down Hungarian wunderkind Richard Rapport, well worth a look!)
If you ignore the snootiness alluded to above, this is a good, all-round intro to the Benko, and one which existing Benko fans will probably buy anyway. My only mild concern is that the author seems not to have referenced the recent ChessBase DVDs by Alejandro Ramirez on the subject. Given that AR is probably the strongest GM with the Benko currently in his repertoire (hence should know what he’s talking about), this struck me as a strange omission. However, the games are predominantly current (ten from 2013!) with a few older ones to give some historical background. If you’re looking for something aggressive to 1 d4, try this one.
STREETFIGHTING CHESS ONLINE MAGAZINE ed. Andrew Burnett
I thought I’d give this worthwhile venture a plug. Some of you (at least Scottish readers) will know that Andy brought out a book called Streetfighting Chess a few years ago, a kind of manifesto for his view of chess. He’s now taken this a stage further and set up the eponymous mag. It is clear from the book that Andy is passionate about encouraging weaker players to improve, and that philosophy underpins much of what the mag is all about. Amongst tournament reports, openings, endings, photos, interviews and chess chat, there are three features called Blue Belt, Red Belt and Black Belt, each featuring material aimed at players in the 1000-1500, 1500-1800 and 1800+ rating groups. Such differentiated material is rare in chess publishing, so all the more welcome that someone is attempting to put matters right. Any lower-rated players in particular digesting this material couldn’t fail to pick up tips and pointers to help them improve.
Check it out at http://www.streetfightingchess.com/homepage/. For a knockdown £1.50 you get lots of material in online, pgn and pdf versions, a steal at the price. Andy’s project deserves your support (and he’s not paying me to say so). What are you waiting for?
TUNE YOUR CHESS TACTICS ANTENNA by Emmanuel Neiman, New in Chess, 237 pp., publ. 2012
This interesting take on the tactics book is divided into four parts: The Seven Signals, Find the Relevant Theme, Looking for the Right Move and a Final Test. The first two cover things such as king position, unprotected pieces, knight forks and defence, part three is candidates and calculation and part four is self-explanatory. The author covers his material well and his examples and verbal explanations are to the point. But I have one main beef with the book: nearly every example is prefaced by all the previous moves of the game. I know that some people like this and find it helpful; personally I’m not that interested in what went before; I like authors to cut to the chase. (My old tutors at university would never have stood for such padding.) A few examples: on p.169, in the section on Calculation, the key position from Ilyin-Zhenevsky-Botvinnik, Leningrad 1938, appears half a page after the previous 65 moves; on p.197, one of the test positions is preceded by the previous 64 moves which take up nearly a whole column; on pp.190-1, it’s 71 moves; on p.133 there are three test positions – and a total of 111 moves! But the daddy of them all is on p.122 where the solitary test position is preceded by (are you ready for this?) 118 previous moves. Really, the presentation needed a lot more TLC than it got. Page after page is nothing more than column upon column of bold face uncommented moves.
I liked the material, and I liked what the author had to say, but getting rid of the visual clutter would have improved the book immeasurably (and made it cheaper).
TECHNIQUES OF POSITIONAL PLAY by Valeri Bronznik & Anatoli Terekhin, New in Chess, 254 pp., publ. 2013
A short review, because it does exactly what it says on the cover: 45 ‘techniques’ divided into nine chapters covering aspects of positional play such as restriction, pawn formations, open files, activating your pieces etc. Within the chapters you’ll find sub-sections such as attacking on the h-file, passed pawns, artificial castling etc. It’s highly readable and not particularly heavyweight and could be of benefit to anyone (juniors? club players?) looking for something contemporary on positional play. Also (and mercifully), the examples appear from their ‘starting point’ in the relevant diagram; there is none of the visual cacophony of the Neiman book.
SACRIFICE AND INITIATIVE IN CHESS by Ivan Sokolov, New in Chess, 255 pp., publ. 2013
Sokolov has created quite a name for himself as an author these past few years such that any book with his name on the cover is worth a look, and when he says in his preface, ‘Sacrifice and Initiative is a book I have wanted to write for a long time’, you know that it’s personal and not going to disappoint.
He covers the whole panoply of attacking techniques in16 chapters. I thought of quoting them all, but will make do with a selection to give you an idea of his range: Keeping the Momentum, Sensing the Moment, The King Chase and a whole range of types of sacrifice. Most of the material is contemporary; as Sokolov explains, in the old days defenders just didn’t defend very well, thus attacking ideas rarely met with the sternest test. Talking of the preface, two other comments caught my eye. Sokolov calls Tal ‘the real deal’, and points out that 90% of his sacrifices have withstood examination by today’s engines! The other is his respect for Spassky, whom he calls ‘a brilliant attacker’ and says that ‘every chess player is well advised to study his games’. Take heed.
Anyway, on to the material which Sokolov selected from over 1,000 games. Quite simply it is good, relevant and on the money. If something needs analysis, Sokolov analyses it; if it needs explained, his explanations are always apposite. You would be hard put to emerge from one of his examples not knowing what was going on. He comes across as a good teacher.
At the end of each chapter is a worthwhile, feature – a selection of tips re what has gone before. These little nuggets of wisdom include ‘Don’t stick to safe, simple solutions – you may miss the best move’; ‘Tempo moves centralizing pieces are the first you should examine’; ‘Look out for small surprising moves to throw your opponent off balance’. Sort of chess fortune cookies, if you will.
His examples are normally given in full, something I moaned about in the Neiman review above, but there’s a world of difference between quoting not-very-relevant moves just to get to a diagram, and quoting relevant moves to get the reader into the flow of a game.
You’ll probably have guessed that I liked this one. I think you would too.
MASTERING ENDGAME STRATEGY by Johan Hellsten, 537 pp., Everyman Chess 2013.
A companion volume (or final part of a trilogy?) to the author’s Mastering Chess Strategy and Mastering Opening Strategy which I’ve reviewed before (March 2011 and August 2012 resp.). Same format: lots of material (in this case 500 examples and 240 exercises!) well and succinctly explained. It’s not a manual or how-to book; the author breaks his material down into themes based mainly on the pieces, e.g. under King Themes we find Opposition and Obstruction, under Pawn Themes he discusses four types of passed pawns, under Queen themes Centralization and Checking, and so on. Each example is explained in sufficient depth to get the point across, but not so much that you lose sight of the wood for the trees. Good teaching technique: don’t flannel! A reassuring proportion of the examples are culled from the 21st century.
It’s not a book for beginners or inexperienced players, but stronger competitive players could easily benefit from it.
Like the companion volumes it’s a heavyweight production, weighing in at a chunky 2½ lbs/ 1 kg+. That could be an issue if you suffer from arthritis!
STEAMROLLING THE SICILIAN by Sergey Kasparov, 239 pp., New in Chess 2013.
So how do we steamroll the Sicilian? With 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 d6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 f3, that’s how, something for the player who wants to avoid the heavy main lines after 3 d4, but doesn’t want to wimp out with an anti-Sicilian. The Belarus GM author points out that it tends to lead to slower, positional games, so if you see yourself as a bit of a Tal, maybe it won’t be for you.
The author covers both theory (such as it is) and structures (Dragon and Hedgehog) by means of 167 games and a collection of exercises. The annotations are not over-heavy on variations; there are lots of words to explain what’s going on. He writes in a drily humorous and self-deprecating style (‘Both games are taken from the Russian team championship; one of the most awful failures in my chess practice.’), and often makes little digressions away from his subject matter. It might sound strange, but it works (well, I think it does!), although when I read the following I thought I’d picked up some tabloid or other (the author is talking about the difficulties of travelling from Belarus to tournaments in the EU): ‘It is a little surprising to see in Europe (and America) a great deal of the Asians having visas or residence permits’. Maybe I’m just getting a smidgin overly p.c. in my old age, but I’m surprised that a piece of pub chat like that made the final edit.
The author has put a lot of thought and effort into his work and, as I said at the outset, if you’re looking for something to get away from the main lines, you might want to give this a look. One caveat: despite the catchy title, 5 f3 is really only playable after 2…d6, so you’ll still need something for those inconsiderate so-and-sos who play 2…Nc6 or 2…e6.
MASTERS OF THE CHESSBOARD by Richard Réti, Russell Enterprises Inc., 216 pp., publ. 2012
Masters of the Chessboard (hereinafter referred to as Masters) is one of the true classics of chess literature. It was first published over 80 years ago and was one of the first chess books I bought (the old G. Bell edition, a lovely hardback with the distinctive knight on the dust jacket; ah, those were the days). It is good to see such an important work available again.
Réti set out to make Masters a textbook, thus it is rich in explanatory prose and lucid insights into the contributions made to the game by the masters of the title. These he divides into Older Masters and Masters of Today. The former are Anderssen, Morphy, Steinitz, Tarrasch, Lasker, Schlechter and Pillsbury; the latter (bear in mind ‘today’ is the late ‘20s!) are Maroczy, Marshall, Rubinstein, Spielmann, Nimzowitsch, Vidmar, Tartakower, Capablanca, Bogoljubow and Alekhine. He also includes an essay on the opening system which came to bear his name. Each chapter features biographical info and a selection of games. Over the years, errors have come to light; some of these are referenced by Andy Soltis in his foreword.
Each chapter is highly readable and instructive, but the one on Lasker is the most contentious, for it is there that Réti gave birth to a notion that has passed into chess mythology. Concluding a paragraph of psychobabble, he says, ‘Lasker often deliberately plays badly’. Huh? How on earth could a major player, a world champion no less, achieve success by playing badly? Did Réti really believe this? When considering his words, it should be borne in mind that Masters, as published, was (a) a translation, of (b) not a final manuscript, but (c) a draft in progress. Perhaps Réti might have refined or reworked his contention for the final version; we’ll never know. (He died before finishing the final draft.) My own take is that the comment has been interpreted too literally. I see it as a kind of shorthand for the ‘psychological’ aspect of Lasker’s style, viz. that chess is a fight where it often pays to play the man. Where Réti the strategist preferred to search for the most appropriate move in a position, Lasker was always ready to look for ideas which would get his opponent out of his comfort zone; he knew he could handle complications and tension better than the other guy. Deliberately bad play? Nah, just another way of doing things.
While the publishers are to be commended on reissuing this work, they really should have shown it a lot more TLC. Am I being harsh? Maybe Mr Russell was beavering away on his own, and fair play to him if he was, but the pages are still peppered with bloopers involving verbs, punctuation, misspacings, wrong words and many more, including (of course!) that bane of the linguistic fascist’s life, its/it’s. A few examples:
• In the contents, Rubinstein appears as Runbinstein, bad enough, but the correct version appears literally right underneath the wrong one!
• In Soltis’s foreword, Réti’s other great work, Modern Ideas in Chess, appears as Modern Ideas of Chess.
• Commenting on 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 e6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 a6, Réti says, ‘This method of play was effective as long as White continued with the simple development of his pieces, e.g. with 5 Nc3. But by playing for position…5 b4! Which was first used by the present author against Tartakower (Mannheim 1914)…’ Even just reading that it should be pretty obvious that 5 b4 loses a pawn; surely it should be 5 c4 ? I checked. It is. Such notational mistakes are not uncommon, and could be confusing to a less experienced player.
In general, the assorted typos are not deep or subtle; they can be spotted at a glance. I’m struggling to understand how they made the final version.
To sum up: if you’re wondering why you should bother with a book that’s older than God’s dog, well, that’s like asking what’s the point of old paintings, or old composers, or old literature. What the great writers, artists and composers of the past did for their fields, the great players in Masters did for chess. It will give you a wonderful insight into what they were about and, who knows, perhaps inspire you to delve deeper into their legacy.
A great piece of work. If you haven’t read it, you should. Then read it again.
THE COLLE MOVE BY MOVE by Cyrus Lakdawala, Everyman Chess, 416 pp., publ. 2013 and
BOTVINNIK MOVE BY MOVE by Cyrus Lakdawala, Everyman Chess, 398 pp., publ. 2013
Lakdawala is becoming prolific. Prolific often equates with cranking out potboilers. This isn’t the case with Cyrus; you can tell he’s invested time in them, but it makes you wonder how many books a writer can produce in a year and still maintain standards.
His Colle book is an addition to the ‘move by move’ series, a vehicle for getting an opening across by means of the Socratic Q & A method. The Colle is not a particularly mainstream opening, but can fire loyal devotion in its practitioners, especially those who see it as a one-size-fits-all opening. Lakdawala points out that this is not the case, and covers its various manifestations, particularly as a reversed Semi-Slav and the similarity of some lines to the Tarrasch French. Lower-rated Colle devotees could do well to ponder this. There is more to the Colle than d4/Nf3/e3/Bd3/Bxh7+/mate.
I’ve always thought that an early …g6 was a good way to handle Colle set-ups, so headed for Lakdawala’s coverage of that first. Predictably, most of the book is devoted to set-ups with …e6, and …g6 lines are tucked away near the end, where he seems to favour 1 d4 Nf6 2 Nd2, aiming to transpose into ‘normal’ lines after …d5, or Modern-type positions after …g6. I’m not totally convinced, but maybe that’s just me.
Lakdawala writes in a light and humorous style which I personally quite like, although I can see that it might be an acquired taste. He also packs in more metaphors, similes and flowery prose than any other writer. This has become a trademark. I have more of an issue with this. Sometimes the flowery stuff is unnecessary and just obfuscates. It would certainly be more effective if there was less of it. He sets the tone for this one as early as p.28: “I conjecture that if Dr. Conrad Murray, Michael Jackson’s doctor, had the foresight to prescribe a steady dose of my chess games as a cure to Jackson’s insomnia (rather than the lethal doses of Propofol!), then the king of pop would still be here with us today, spinning about, moon walking and refreshed after a good night’s sleep”. Apart from the wrong verb tense (‘had had’), that’s just unnecessary verbiage. (Besides Jacko, other celebs referenced include Kim Kardashian, Justin Bieber and Elmer Fudd.)
On the simile front, here’s an example on p.196 which caught my eye: “White’s structure looks awkward, like a man who inadvertently and loudly passes gas while on a first date with the woman of his dreams”. As similes go, that’s rank. He would have done better to explain why White’s structure looked awkward. On the other hand, when he keeps his prose under control, he does dispense good advice. Here’s a nice example on p.82: “Bb2 develops a piece, but a2-a3 stabilizes our b4-pawn and prepares a quick c3-c4. Both are playable, so it’s a matter of taste…My suggestion is that you experiment with both, and go with the one which scores higher for you”. That’s a good, simple note. Too many players expect an openings book to give them all the answers.
Overall a decent piece of work. Colle players will want to buy it (and would learn a thing or two from it!), but whoever reads it should be prepared for dollop after dollop of flowery verbosity.
Oh – one of Andy Muir’s games gets a mention, but I’ll let you find it yourself.
The Botvinnik book is a collection of 60 of Big Mike’s games annotated in Q & A format (and given the same flowery treatment). Botvinnik himself wrote extensively on his career and took three volumes (which, curiously, the author doesn’t appear to have referred to!) to cover 381 (!) of his best games, so obviously Lakdawala had his work cut out (to say the least) drawing up a leet of 60. Thus he cuts to the chase and homes in on various aspects of Botvinnik’s legacy as follows: Attack, Defence, the Dynamic Element, Exploiting Imbalances, Accumulating Advantages and Endings.
There’s not a fantastic amount of background, but the games span the ‘20s to the ‘70s, i.e. the whole of Botvinnik’s career, and are annotated helpfully enough. His opponents read like a who’s who of 20th century chess. The book is a good read and would be a good introduction for today’s newcomers to one of the great world champions and dominant figures of mid/late 20th century chess.
MY CHESS by Hans Ree, Russell Enterprises, Inc., 240 pp., publ. 2013
The chess world is full of characters, personalities, stories, lore and apocrypha, so books like this collection of essays by the Dutch GM/journalist/writer are always welcome. Ree spreads his net wide. He writes about most of the Dutch prominente (Donner seems to have been a bit of a character; in one bizarre episode he wanted to donate a prize which turned out to be non-existent [!] to the Vietcong), and big names from the past (e.g. Tartakower, Bronstein, Fischer) and present (Anand and Carlsen). There are also essays on topics such as alcohol, chess cafés and Donald Duck. His touch is light and often tinged with both humour and sadness, but he is always sympathetic and perceptive and he’s not afraid to tell a story against himself. You’ll also come across such trivia gems as
• Which Russian GM got plastered the night before a game with Fischer – and won the game?
• Which elite GM was prepared to play 1 e4 e5 2 Qh5 against Kasparov? (And if ‘Nakamura’ is on the tip of your tongue, remember that he didn’t scale the heights until after GK’s retiral.)
• Which GM met his wife while giving a simul dressed as Santa?
In general the translation from the Dutch reads smoothly, although there are wrinkles which could have done with smoothing out, e.g. ‘Dutch top players’ rather than ‘top Dutch players’. This sort of thing is like that piece of apple peel that you can’t quite dislodge from between your teeth – mildly irritating. The proofreading could also have been tightened up. One particular example which rather slaps you around the chops appears on p.174, when Woody Harrelson morphs five lines later to Woody Harrison, but regains his identity by the foot of the page. One minor quibble about the production – the cover is floppy. A firmer cover would have been more professional.
Overall, My Chess is a jolly good read. As we hurtle towards Christmas, if your husband/wife/boyfriend/girlfriend/s.o./sprog is wondering what to get you as a stocking filler you could do worse than point them in its direction.
CHESS SECRETS: GREAT CHESS ROMANTICS by Craig Pritchett, Everyman Chess, 319 pp., publ. 2013
This is the third volume in Craig’s trilogy covering great players unified by a common characteristic, in this case the spirit of romanticism. Before I reveal those who made the cut, how do you define ‘romantic’? Some old guy playing the King’s Gambit? In the 19th century, quite possibly, but, IMO, that’s a stereotypical view. I’ve always thought of a romantic (in any field) as someone prepared to cock a snook at convention and do things the way he thinks they should be done. That implies freedom of thought and willingness to experiment, plus a readiness to suffer (for want of a better word) for one’s art (if we accept that there is an artistic dimension in chess).
The five big names in this volume are Anderssen, Chigorin, Réti, Larsen and Morozevich. Already this raises an interesting point. Heroes of Classical Chess featured three World Champions, the player who would arguably have become World Champion had it not been for the First World War, and probably the next World Champ. (We’ll know in a few weeks.) Giants of Innovation featured another three, a multi-finalist and a player who could well have been World Champion but for his nerves. Of the five Romantics, we have ‘only’ a challenger, a candidate and a finalist. The inference is clear: intuition and emotion are all good and well, but they’re not going to bring you the Big One.
Great Chess Romantics has the same format as its predecessors – seven games per player with detailed pen portraits and historical background (and lots of other complete games in the notes, some of which could easily have been main games). As with any of Craig’s books you get good material (much of it probably not very well known) well-researched and well-written. Also, tucked away in the notes, you will find lots of little nuggets of practical advice helpful to less experienced players.
An interesting aspect of the trilogy is to compare the influence of the great players on each other. A few examples:
It is evident that Fischer was thoroughly au fait with the ideas of his predecessors, e.g. his use of Steinitz’s 9 Nh3!? in the main line of the Two Knights (featured here in Steinitz-Chigorin, World Ch. 1892), and his later adoption of Larsen’s 1 b3.
Botvinnik’s absorption and development of Réti’s ideas.
Morozevich’s use of Chigorin’s Defence early in his career.
Clearly, a great mind is an open mind.
Equally interesting are the ideological differences, e.g. it is hard to imagine Steinitz regarding Chigorin’s 1 d4 d5 2 c4 Nc6 as one of chess’s wow! moments.
As with the other books in the series, highly recommended, especially for juniors and anyone wishing to learn more about our great chess heritage.
CHESS STRATEGY Move by Move by Adam Hunt, Everyman Chess, 415 pp., publ. 2013
Does what it says on the cover! Here are the contents, so you know exactly what you’re getting for your £19.99:
Looking After the King
Classic Pawn Structures and Play
Holes, Outposts and Weak Squares
Improving the Worst Piece
Prophylaxis and Overprotection
Winning Won Positions
Chess Psychology and Practical Tips
Lots of writers have covered these topics since Nimzo penned My System, so if you’ve read that, or folk like Euwe or Watson or Pachman, why bother with another? The answer’s simple. Chess isn’t static. Like other branches of art, science or sport (however you choose to label it) it develops, and will continue to do so. Three years ago at Dortmund, Mamedyarov played 1 d4 d5 2 c4 e6 3 Nf3 Nf6 4 Nc3 Be7 5 g4!? against Ponomariov. Cue collective spinning in graves by Tarrasch, Capa, Rubinbstein et al. Nope, there’s clearly always going to be room for fresh looks at strategy.
The author’s material is drawn from games up to 2012, including the Anand-Gelfand World Championship match, but he also includes many classics, e.g. Botvinnik-Capablanca, AVRO 1938 and D.Byrne-Fischer, New York 1956. I’ve heard players (strong ones at that, who really should know better) diss the rehashing of ‘old ‘stuff’ like this. Never understood where they’re coming from. You wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) dream of studying art or music without learning from the great masters and works of the past, so why should chess be any different?
Hunt (an IM and chess teacher, so his credentials are good) does an excellent job of presenting and discussing his material, especially for a first book, and his explanatory text is good. As a move-by-move work, it features questions at key moments to engage the reader more fully, but, as for similar books, you really need a will of iron not to let your eyes ramble on and see the answer. I’ve always felt that this could be a layout problem, but there’s no obvious way round it short of having questions and answers scattered all over the book, which would be an even bigger layout problem! So it’s back to the piece of paper to cover the page. (The other issue is that the Socratic method won’t work for everyone. Some people benefit from being told rather than asked. Is that necessarily an inferior way of learning?)
The book is well produced with clear text and diagrams on good paper. There were a couple of things I noticed which slipped past the editorial eye, though. On p.30, the author refers to the D.Byrne-Fischer game mentioned above as ‘Here we see a 13 year-old (!) Fischer defeating Grandmaster Robert Byrne…’ when it was brother Donald (as is correctly assigned in the game heading on the next page and in the index). On p.119, in the intro to the fantastic R.Byrne-Fischer, US Ch. 1963, Hunt says ‘Witness Bobby taking down Robert Byrne once again’. Well, he didn’t half take him down (and if there are any juniors out there who don’t know the game, check it out now), except that he didn’t take him down before!
Niggly things apart, highly recommended.
MASTERING COMPLEX ENDGAMES by Daniel Naroditsky, New in Chess, 304 pp., publ. 2012
I reviewed the author’s first book, Mastering Positional Chess, back in March 2011. I was impressed then that one so young could write so well; his new book confirms that it was no fluke. The author’s trademarks make this another strong piece of work: carefully chosen examples, enough moves and variations to guide the reader through what’s going on, and lots of lucid explanatory prose. There are older and more experienced chess writers out there who could learn a thing or two from Naroditsky about what it takes to write a good chess book, believe me. Libel laws prevent me from naming names, but no doubt you’ll be able to think of a couple too.
Back to the book. After an introductory discussion of what constitutes complex endings, the author tackles rook + minor piece endings, queen endings and queen + minor piece endings before rounding things off with a discussion of weaknesses, passed pawns, defence, calculation and king activity. The bulk of his material is millennium-contemporary, but, as befits any good endgame book, there is plenty of homage to the likes of Capablanca, Alekhine, Fischer and Karpov, to name but a few. Most of the material, however, is drawn from the author’s own games. This is not to say he puts himself on the same pedestal as the above giants, but it lets him reveal his own shortcomings and mistakes, a strength in any author’s writing (and he’s not slow to excoriate himself when the occasion demands it). As the saying goes, it’s nice to learn from your mistakes, but it’s nicer to learn from the mistakes of others.
In short, the book’s a winner – excellent material and excellent prose well written and well explained in enthusiastic and infectious fashion. Production is up to NiC’s usual high standards – clear text and diagrams in double-column format, easy on the eye. Pure gold.
CHESS PSYCHOLOGY: THE WILL TO WIN! By William Stewart, Everyman Chess, 204 pp., publ. 2013
The author isn’t a household name (well, not in this household anyway); ‘About the Author’ tells us he’s a USCF NM whose only tournament victory of any note seems to be joint 1st in the U-2200 at a World Open. He has six years’ chess teaching experience and is the founder of a couple of chess websites. Not the strongest player ever to open a new Word document, but the highest-rated players don’t always make the best teachers or writers. A book should be judged on its merits, not the author’s rating.
It’s a fairly lightweight tome, aimed, the author explains, at beginner and intermediate players. With that in mind, it’s full of good, sensible advice of the kind which such players often badly need, e.g. review your games, keep an eye on unprotected pieces, consult chess engines as a last resort, have confidence in yourself etc. etc. These are things which stronger players tend to be aware of, which explains, I guess, why they are stronger players. I suppose this is the psychology part, having to train yourself to do the right things at the board.
The longest of the nine chapters (almost half the book) is called ‘Dominate the Opening’. This confused me a bit, since the opening is the least important part of the game for beginners. His aim is laudable: to provide his target readership with a working knowledge of systems to get them into playable middlegames, i.e. a White opening and black replies to 1 d4 and 1 e4.
As White, he suggests the Stonewall Attack. My heart sank. Apologies to all Stonewall-as-White fans everywhere, but it’s not something I’ve ever thought was geared to strike terror into the opponent. I thought, I bet there’s a Bxh7+ in there somewhere and, sure enough, a consenting Black gets fried with 13 Bxh7+ in a game which finishes with White’s QR and QB still on their home squares (so much for developing all your pieces). To the author’s credit, he explains that the Stonewall isn’t a one-size-fits-all opening, and gives a section entitled When NOT to Play the Stonewall.
Which is where the going gets tough. On p.32, he touts the Stonewall as a ‘powerful opening system by White that puts immediate and consistent pressure on Black’. On p. 44, in the section where White should avoid this ‘powerful system’, ‘White maintains the balance’. By p.45, it’s White who has to ‘play very energetically’. In fact he devotes more pages (18) to when not to play his powerful system than he does to selling it (6)! Makes me wonder if he’d have been better off suggesting something else, but his point is to provide a framework based on a c3/d4/e3 triangle. This is mirrored in his suggestion for Black v 1 d4, a line of the Slav, where it’s …c6/d5/e6, and v 1 e4, the French, where it’s a …d5/e6 chain. However, this slips a bit after 1 e4 e6 2 d4 d5 3 Nc3 Nf6 4 Bg5 when the author recommends …dxe4, on the grounds that …Nbd7/b6/Bb7/c5 ‘promise good chances’. Since they also promise a quick demise if Black isn’t careful, I’m a bit sceptical about this.
I’m also not convinced that chapters 7 (Benefits of Playing Chess) and 8 (Chess and Business) are really relevant to the aims of the book.
To sum up, it reads well and I’d recommend it to his intended readership for the advice it contains. I have my reservations, though, about the wisdom of advocating what are essentially closed opening systems for beginners and the less-experienced. Caveat emptor!
Ian Marks, August 2013
THE GREATEST EVER CHESS STRATEGIES by Sam Collins, Everyman Chess, 176 pp., publ. 2012
Like me, you’re probably wondering what Collins can do in 176 pages that Nimzo, Euwe, Watson et al. have devoted thousands of pages to, but there’s actually quite a neat little book hiding behind the grandiose hyperbole of the title.
It’s not an attempt to go where such luminaries have gone before. In his introduction, Collins says that his book is ‘my attempt to make sense of some of the chess concepts which are floating around in my head’, and that he has ‘tried to avoid covering material which is very well covered elsewhere’. Amongst these concepts are e6-pawns, a queenside space advantage, using rook’s pawns, material and time, and panning through them, you find little nuggets that make you think. A simple example from the chapter on Pawns: ‘I’d like to mention a relatively little-discussed theme, namely the value of a black pawn on e6 against a white bishop on the a2-g8 diagonal’. The point the author is making is that Black often feels the need to advance with …e6-e5, when the bishop might come into its own. In the same chapter he also discusses an overestimation of outposts without consideration of the other factors in a position. There are also nice musings on quiet moves and, one of my favourites, the initiative in queenless middlegames.
So it’s an eclectic and, as the author says, ‘quirky’, collection of mini-essays on various features of the middlegame, written with a lightness of touch and pleasing dash of self-deprecation. I liked it.
THE ENIGMA OF CHESS INTUITION by Valeri Beim, New in Chess, 268 pp., publ. 2012
This is an interesting piece of work, although, as Bill Clinton might have observed, it depends how you define ‘interesting’. I found it interesting enough when I had it open in front of me; the problem was that when I put it down I didn’t feel particularly motivated to pick it up again. It certainly doesn’t fall into the ‘unputdownable’ category. Well, not for this reviewer anyway.
To an extent the title is self-explanatory. We all know – or think we know – what intuition is, but as per good practice, the author defines (or attempts to define) it. In his first chapter, ‘First Explorations’, Beim gives several examples by way of considering different aspects of what goes on in a player’s head when he plays ‘intuitively’. Of the many ingredients he suggests, I thought one defined it pretty well: ‘An intuitive decision is one taken without a reasoning process’, and in the notes to his examples he talks about ‘guessing’ and ‘feeling’.
The second chapter, ‘Successful Use of Intuition’, is the longest, and features lots of examples by great players from Morphy on. His third chapter, ‘The Elements of Chess Intuition’, attempts to pin down the nature of the beast. Here he touches upon such topics as inspiration, nerves and intuition, and intuition and speed of play.
These are all – to go back to my first paragraph – interesting enough, yet (as you might have guessed) I found it difficult to get too het up about the book. The best reason I can offer is that there’s something of the thesis about it. For all the author’s enthusiasm for his subject matter, it comes across rather drily. His prose seems a bit ‘wordy’, and I can’t recall any particular wow! moment.
Stronger players, say rated over 2000, might find the book of interest, but overall it’s the sort of book you might want to borrow from the local library, but wouldn’t put at the top of your Christmas list.
A brace from Everyman.
THE FRENCH WINAWER by Steve Giddins, publ. 2013, 287 pp.
Another ‘move by move’ title, same format as other publications in the series: a collection of games (25 in this instance) covering the nuts and bolts of the opening, with lots of questions and answers.
Before I get on to the book, I wondered about the eponymous begetter of the opening (pr. Vee-náh-ver). I’d have thought that a major criterion for bequeathing your name to an opening would be a solid back catalogue of games, but a quick glance in ChessBase turned up a mere 10 Frenches with Winawer on the black side, of which only four featured 3 Nc3 Bb4, three of them continuing 4 exd5 with a solitary 4 e5 c5. Winawer actually seems to have been a 1 …e5 man (96 of those). So how come he gets paternity rights?
Anyway, to the book. You might be wondering: Giddins isn’t a top GM, but an FM rated 2188, so what can he tell us? Quite a lot, actually. Peers, or those closer to us, often make the best teachers, for the simple reason that they better understand the problems and difficulties. Think Oxford don in front of a 1st year high school class and you get the idea. Also, on the assumption that the Move by Move series is aimed primarily at less experienced players, Giddins is still way higher rated than, presumably, 90-odd% of his target readership, plus he’s been playing the Winawer for 25 years, so presumably he’s picked up a thing or two along the way. (Kasparov once wondered of Peter Wells’s book on the Semi-Slav ‘how such a weak player could write such a good book’. Wells was a 2500 GM!)
The games. It would be unthinkable to study the Winawer without looking at the games of Uhlmann, Botvinnik and Korchnoi, and nearly half – 11 of the 25 – are by them. Toss in the two by Petrosian and that’s over half. (It crosses my mind that there will be newcomers nowadays for whom these giants are just names. I must be getting old.) The games span the period 1944-2011, a good blend of historical and contemporary. The notes and variations are backed up with lots of prose, which is always welcome. Giddins has a smooth, gently explanatory writing style well-suited to this sort of work.
Balance. Black wins 24 of the games, and the white win was a jammy escape by Karpov. OK, I suppose the Winawer is a ‘black’ opening, and that’s what Giddins is trying to sell, but White is the one who allows it and often the one who decides which path will be taken, so a bit more parity would have been welcome. When White does well here, he tends to do so in the notes.
Sidelines? You spend ages mugging up on 1 e4 e6 2 d4 d5 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 e5 c5, and the other guy plays 4 exd5, 4 Bd3 or some such. Giddins deals with some of these pesky sidelines in the context of two illustrative games. While I was checking up on these I noticed an unfortunate typo. The index runs 1 e4 e6 2 d4 d5 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 e5 Ne7 5 a3 Bxc3+ 6 bxc3 Ne7. Clearly that first …Ne7 should be …c5, but if you’re hunting for the variation 4…Ne7 5 a3 Bxc3+ 6 bxc3 b6, it’s confusing. In fact that variation doesn’t appear. Also, if memory serves, Uhlmann considered 4…Ne7 the more accurate move order (e.g. it cuts out the 4…c5 5 Bd2 stuff for a start). Giddins should really have discussed this on p.45 in game 5, Suetin-Uhlmann, Berlin 1967 (the first time 4…Ne7 is played), but only gets round to it nearly 200 pages later on p.234, and that in relation to 4…b6. Normally it won’t matter much, but surely this was the ideal opportunity for a ‘question’?
Computers? Nobody writes chess books nowadays without the machine switched on, and Giddins is no exception, although there’s a touch of good and evil about it. I’ll take game 10, Bogdanovic-Uhlmann, Sarajevo 1965, as an example. In his note to move 14, Giddins suggests that Black’s move was not the best and quotes three possible improvements from a previous work, adding (without further analysis!) ‘all of which may offer reasonable chances’. That’s a cop-out. In a book aimed at players less well-versed in the French, a little elucidation would have been helpful. In the next line though he says, ‘However, the computer’s suggestion 14…Qxd2! 15 Bxd2 e4 may be best of all’. Now that’s a potentially decent use of the machine, so you have to wonder why he didn’t use it to put some flesh on the other suggestions too.
Later in the same game though Giddins can’t resist the seemingly obligatory computer-inspired pot-shot at great players of the past. Referring to one of Uhlmann’s original lines, he tells us that ‘the computer shows his analysis to be full of holes’. First, this isn’t that relevant within the context of the opening (it’s on move 22) and second, much of Giddins’s commentary is based on Uhlmann’s original analysis, so it seems pretty low-level to use the guy’s material, then have a pop at him when the machine finds flaws.
Summary: Overall a well-produced, solid piece of work, worth a look if you’re interested in, or thinking of taking up, the French.
BREAK THE RULES! by Neil McDonald, publ. 2013, 160 pp.
The title is obviously a sales pitch, but since most games are lost because someone, well, broke the rules, it was with trembling hand that I opened the book. Nor was my confidence boosted by the sub-title, ‘A Modern Look at Chess Strategy’. It’s not that long since John Watson published his take on the subject, Secrets of Modern Chess Strategy, a book that wouldn’t be out of place in a pile of magna opera, so where, I wondered, was McDonald coming from?
In his introduction, he says, ‘The purpose of this book is to investigate ways of playing and ideas that often escape our rule-blinkered notice’. Sounds good. In any area of human creativity, it’s easy to become bound by rules and convention. It’s when people cut loose that things start to happen. Here’s the author again. ‘If you haven’t made as much progress in chess as you feel your capabilities deserve…the problem might be you have too strong impressions of what a good move or plan should look like.’ You might, of course, just be a self-delusional chump, but nonetheless that is something worth thinking about.
Amongst the topics he covers are ugly pawn moves, use of the king, provocation, using the edge of the board and an interesting chapter called Time Is Not of the Essence, which I’ll take as an example of his approach.
We have it drummed into us as beginners to get our pieces out, control the centre, castle, not mess about etc. Those of us weaned on the teachings of Fred Reinfeld (juniors – ask one of the old lags who he was) will be familiar with the ‘proper’ scheme of development, essentially Pd4 & e4, Nc3 & f3, Bc4 & f4, Qd2 or e2, Rd1 & e1, and, of course, we’ll have 0-0ed somewhere along the way. The problem is that this ignores the other guy! (See Kavalek-Suttles, Nice Olympiad 1974, for a wonderful example of all that can go wrong with the Reinfeld scheme.) So we learn that development has to take these awkward things called circumstances into account. That is essentially what McDonald aims at in this chapter, albeit in a more sophisticated way.
I’ve said in previous reviews that I like books which drip-feed little nuggets of information or points to ponder, and McDonald is very good at this. Some examples:
1. “’Rapid’ development and ‘efficient’ development might contradict each other.”
2. “If there is no violent struggle taking place, the aim is to develop the pieces as slowly and carefully as safety allows.”
3. “We have to take into account that the pieces and pawns will react differently in accordance with the amount of freedom of action granted to them in various opening set-ups.”
4. “There can be no ‘one size fits all’ attitude to development in the opening.” (A little caveat to d4/Nf3/e3/Bd3-against-anything players the world over!)
Simply pondering comments like those would do a lot of players a lot of good.
Within this chapter he also discusses inter alia
• Putting pawns before pieces
• Bishops are happy at home
• The difference between piece activity and formal development
• Matching the tempo of the opponent’s development
all with pertinent examples. Reading this chapter alone would be of benefit to those players who might never really have given the matter much thought. The other chapters are all similarly illuminating.
There are 50 largely recent illustrative games, briefly but clearly annotated, plus 24 exercises at the end to test what you’ve read, should you wish. My only mild gripe is that each game is given in full, without comment, until the relevant position is reached. Thus the first 42 moves of game 2 take up most of a column, game 20 it’s half a column for 25 moves, game 35 half a column for 30. Since the material is basically devoted to the middlegame, these chunks could easily have been omitted, allowing us to cut to the chase without any detriment to understanding what was going on.
To sum up, I was initially a tad sceptical about this one, but the more I read it, the more I liked it. It may be ‘only’ 160 pages, but that simply means that the author has to convey his ideas lucidly and succinctly, and this McDonald does. He has a nice style and doesn’t talk down to the reader; to use the trendy word (which I loathe), it’s ‘accessible’. His book contains lots of advice, information and wisdom that could only benefit anyone who cares to digest it. Given that there are much weightier tomes on chess strategy out there, I’d guess that this one is aimed mainly at (yet again!) that mythical abstraction, the average club player. I would certainly recommend it to players around, say, 1300-1600. Even stronger players would find it a good read.
Both books are well produced with clear text and diagrams (in the right places!), although Everyman are still chopping and changing their paper. The Giddins is printed on nice, smooth paper whereas McDonald’s is of a coarser texture, rough to the touch. Strange.
THE STRESS OF CHESS…and its INFINITE FINESSE By Walter Browne, New in Chess, 463 pp., publ. 2012
This is a memoir and games collection by Fischer’s successor as the strongest player in the US, a position he held for most of the 70s and 80s. The games occupy 309 pages, the memoir 112, with 12 pages of photographs. The rest is forewords, indices etc. It is divided into four large chapters – 1. Early Development, 1953-1969; 2. Elite Tournaments and Simul Tours, 1970-1978; 3. International Success and Semi-retirement, 1979-1989 and 4. Blitz, Opens and Poker, 1990-2011.
The games span the author’s career from 1963-2006, each prefaced by a pen picture of the opponent and occasion. Browne had a pronounced aggressive style, but besides complex attacking games, there are positional squeezes, delicate endgames, brevities and lengthy grinds. His opponents range from unknowns on the US circuit to luminaries such as Korchnoi and Spassky. He doesn’t give any losses (unlike his idol Fischer in My 60 Memorable Games), but does give seven draws. Each game is annotated in detail and Browne uses plenty of words to flesh out the variations. The tone is enthusiastic and there is emotion in accounts of games against heroes such as Tal. Browne clearly respected his GM colleagues (although Nakamura is a ‘punk’).
The editing (more of which later) could have been tightened up. Some of the annotations are both 1st and 3rd person, and the games index, organised by page number rather than surname, is pretty useless; if you’re looking for a particular opponent, you’ve got to hunt for him. Also, there is no indication of whether a game described in the narrative appears in the games section. A reference would have been nice. Overall, though, this part of the book could pass muster as a worthwhile games collection.
Now for the memoir, which is so awful it requires lengthy consideration. It’s hard to know where to start, so if you’ll permit me, I’ll cast my net randomly and wide.
We’ve all heard youngsters say things like ‘He won my queen, but I won his back, then he took my rook, but I checkmated him’. Here’s Walter: ‘I was simply better, if only slightly, despite an extra pawn. He had an outside passed pawn. Suddenly my e-pawn was also very strong and everything held in the balance. Then I lost a piece, but regained it’. The same goes for accounts of tournaments: ‘Flew to X, played in the Y Open, beat Z with a nice sac, won $1,000’. There is page after soporific page of stuff like this. As one of the top grandmasters in the world for over a decade, Browne travelled widely and rubbed shoulders with the good and great (inter alios Sinatra), and must have a fund of stories to tell, but it’s mainly stuff like the above or dollops of minutiae. An example: He is obviously fond of Argentina (he met his wife there). On p.72, talking about the 1978 Olympiad in Buenos Aires, he opines that Argentina has ‘the best beef in the world’. To reinforce that, on the next page he says that Buenos Aires has ‘the best steaks in the world’. Don’t worry if you were out of the room when he was telling us this; on p.216 we learn that Argentina has ‘incredible beef’. He also frequently enthuses about seafood and fine wine. Colourful? Maybe. Repetitious? Definitely. Interesting? Not really.
When he tears himself away from matters of the stomach and turns to chess, he often displays inconsistency and inaccuracy. On p.47, he mentions that Ken Rogoff became chief economist at the International Monetary Fund. By p.59, however, ‘Ken Rogoff…would later go on to become, I believe (my italics – IM), an IMF chairman (my italics again – IM)’. You’d think the author could have checked.
On p.141 he attributes ‘Passed pawns need to expand’ to Alekhine. Maybe my memory is going, but I always thought it was Nimzo who said ‘passed pawns must be pushed’ (because of their ‘lust to expand’). So not only does Browne get the attribution wrong, he manages to mix up two phrases and ditch Nimzo’s sultry personification in the process.
There are also issues with book titles. IM Anthony Saidy’s The Battle of Chess Ideas transmogrifies into The March of Chess Ideas, (and slips from being ‘a must read’ to merely a fond recollection). Co-authors also suffer. He refers to Lubosh Ftacnik, ‘my friend and co-author of Champions of the Millennium’, not only omitting co-author Danny Kopec, but also butchering the title of his own book (Champions of the New Millennium). Talking of Kopec, he (DK) tells us in his foreword that Browne doesn’t refer to Champions of the New Millennium in the book, which makes you wonder if he read p.447, scene of the above mutilation. Talking of book titles, Browne makes sure that Danny’s Best Games of the Young Grandmasters gets a couple of plugs, although you’d never know that it was co-written by Craig Pritchett.
In a particularly revealing passage, he refers to 666 Games ‘by a German writer named Kurt Richter’. I assume this is Richter’s 666 Kurzpartien: Eine Hohe Schule der Schachtaktik (666 Brevities: A Manual of Chess Tactics). This work never appeared in English. (Thanks to Alan McGowan for confirming.) Perhaps there’s a bootleg American edition, but I doubt it. Anyway, it looks like another title being trampled upon, or maybe he saw ‘Partien’ and thought that ‘Games’ would be good enough. Second, the indefinite article and ‘named’ suggest that Richter was just a random hack. You’d have expected Browne to know that he was one of the top German players of the ‘30s and went on to become one of their most respected writers on the game. Change the phrase to ‘by the German writer Kurt Richter’ and see the difference.
However, the Oscar-winner in this eyebrow-raising welter of inconsistency and inaccuracy is his reference to the ‘a1-g8 diagonal’ (!!). Even excusing this as a slip, given that ‘g’ and ‘h’ are keyboard neighbours, it’s incredible that no-one picked up on it.
Language gets mangled too: cringeworthy spelling, e.g. ‘fazing out’, ‘hoards of spectators’, ‘rapped attention’ and (one that I cherish) ‘quardened off’; solecisms including to/too and the timeless its/it’s; dodgy punctuation; random phrases; non sequiturs and irrelevant passages. (He segues from describing a tournament in Iceland to telling us that his mother’s name was Hilda, her great-grandfather was Lord Chief Justice under Gladstone, and that he [WB] is related to Bertrand Russell.) Sometimes he doesn’t quite hit le mot juste, as in a ‘very credible’ result and a ‘long-winding’ manoeuvre, and he botches the classical allusion ‘Veni, Vedi (sic), Vici’: the second word should be ‘vidi’, and the phrase translates as ‘I came, I saw, I conquered’, not ‘he came, he saw, he conquered’.
Clichés abound. All hell frequently breaks loose and after a bad result, the author bounced back no fewer than fifteen times! In fact, on p. 348, he bounced back twice! And a third time on p.349! (And he rebounded quite a few times too.)
And the neologisms: in one of the pictures he is ‘speeching’, he talks about ‘septupticide’ and refers to not relishing a playoff any more than ‘a marathoner running the 25th mile’. Given that a marathon is run over 26 miles 385 yards, I’d have thought a ‘marathoner’ would be readying for the finish by mile twenty-five.
I’ve been asked why I bring up stuff like this. To me, the answer is self-evident. It’s evidence of carelessness and lousy editing which shows no respect for the purchaser (and perhaps not even for the writer). You wouldn’t accept poor quality or sloppy production anywhere else, so why in a book?
It would be easy to lay the blame for all of this at Browne’s door, but he badly needed the guidance and support of an experienced editor and obviously didn’t get it. In fact, there doesn’t appear to have been an editor at all. (Check the credits.) Some anonymous hand was involved though, just enough to show how shoddy the effort is. Back at the Rogoff passages, the second reference is followed by the cryptic ‘XXXHerhaling?’. This furrowed my brow until it dawned on me. ‘Herhaling’ is Dutch for ‘repetition’. Bear in mind that New in Chess is a Dutch concern and you realise that somebody at NiC spotted the repetition (but apparently not the change of ‘fact’/opinion), put in a note to that effect, but not only didn’t deal with the repetition, even left in the reminder! You couldn’t make it up.
Let’s move on to the chess. When it comes to competition, Browne is not short of the usual pick ‘n’ mix’ of chessplayer’s excuses. Bad results involve faulty clocks, seconds not doing their job properly, doubtful pairings (lots of them, albeit sometimes with justification), lighting etc. Nor is his paranoia found wanting. Organisers plot to deprive him of a rest day; he is double-crossed; Glek wins a tournament ‘under suspicious circumstances’; ‘such a thing would never have happened if another American…had won’; Soviet political influence over Informator stops him winning a game of the year award (now there’s something we’d like to have heard more about) and so on.
Mention of seconds gives us one of the most memorable passages in the book. John Fedorowicz, Browne’s second at the Taxco Interzonal in Mexico, didn’t want to watch the games because ‘there was a pig in the playing hall’ (!?). That is either a truly memorable image or stunning allegory, but Browne doesn’t enlighten us.
Probably the biggest imbalance is the devoting of over five pages to a ‘record breaking’ simul tour in 1975, detailed right down to the exact length of time a gig took. I suspect it’s in here because Bobby did a tour in ’64, and anything Bobby did… This part includes the most baffling passage of all. He took his son with him on this ‘incredible 40-state journey, covering 15,500 miles’. Since Browne got married in 1973, and figuring his son might be about 18 months old, I wondered why he would want to take a kiddie with him, the more so since Mrs B seemed not to be part of the undertaking. No matter, I thought, who am I to question? Then, a few days into the trip, ‘Marcelo drove the car’. Whoa! Have I missed something? If his son was old enough to drive, he must have been born when Browne was about, let’s see…eight or nine! It’s not until much later that we learn that Browne’s wife is quite a bit older, so presumably it was his stepson. Why not say so?
The tour section is a drag and reads as though it was lifted straight from a diary. It could have been dealt with in a couple of paragraphs, the more so since major areas that did merit development are glossed over or ignored altogether. Some examples:
His early development. Very little is said about this. He tells us ‘by age 15 my hard work was starting to pay off as I became a master’, but doesn’t elaborate on what the hard work was, bar studying some games collections and hustling.
His relationship with Fischer. They seem to have enjoyed a genuine friendship until Fischer left in the huff after being told off for using the phone during a visit chez Browne (‘he was on the phone five to six hours straight!’), but more insight would have been welcome.
US chess politics. It is clear that Browne had issues with the USCF, e.g. over team selection (he was dropped to fourth board at the Thessaloniki Olympiad) and invitations. As the strongest GM in North America, he strangely didn’t get an invitation to Montreal in 1978, the strongest tournament in North America for decades. This looks a fertile area for elaboration, but all we get is the hardly insightful ‘I was totally shocked that I was not invited’. He also comments that, when he played for Australia in the ’70 and ’72 Olympiads (he was born in Sydney and held dual nationality until his mid-20s), their ‘team unity dwarfed that of the US teams that I played’. Clearly some dirty linen needs airing. Since Browne isn’t slow to knock others whose conduct, in his opinion, doesn’t measure up, e.g. organisers, arbiters and seconds, it’s strange that he didn’t go public on these weightier matters.
His travels. Browne seems to have enjoyed the many places he visited, but once again, it’s shallow. After a tournament in Norway, he and his wife rented a car and ‘drove to the fishing village Bergen on the west coast’. I always thought Bergen was one of Norway’s major cities. (I checked; it’s the second-biggest with around 300,000 inhabitants and is the major port. Maybe to an American that’s a village.) On a visit to Yugoslavia, he quaintly informs us ‘I almost bought some beautiful crystalware’. It would hardly have been worth a mention if he had bought it. Why tell us that he didn’t!?
Reflection. Nowhere does Browne ponder the pertinent question: Would he have been a better player if he hadn’t played in so many Swisses? (Maybe he didn’t want to, or maybe it never occurred to him.) Top GM that he was, he stumbled more than once at the Interzonals, which suggests something lacking in his armoury or development. Of course, he wasn’t the only one, but he attributes his failure to his seconds (q.v.) and inadequate preparation. He never contemplates that playing in so many Swisses or playing the last round of a US Swiss then flying straight to a GM tournament in Europe might not have been ideal prep for facing the chess elite. We can only surmise that he was what he was – a chess addict who thrived on the clash over the board, be it against Karpov in Milan or Joe Schlub in the Hicksville Open.
One thing I haven’t mentioned is the poker part of the book, for the simple reason that I didn’t read it. I’m not sure why the poker sections are there. I can’t see many poker buffs buying a chess book just for the poker sections, while chessplayers who aren’t interested in poker (e.g. your reviewer) will skim them. Browne does provide a glossary of pokerspeak, but I couldn’t be bothered. A glance revealed it to be much the same as the chess – went to Vegas, won/lost a stack, met ‘Oklahoma’ Johnny Hale…
The truly great shame is that there are examples of fine writing. ‘The secret of success is to be a little more talented and to do a lot more homework’ or ‘Chess symbolizes everything that is artistic and beautiful. This is why, in spite of dismal results, I continued playing’ hint at what might have been and reveal more of the writer than any list of tournaments or results. What a pity that Browne didn’t get away from patchy reportage and really tell us something. Perhaps he didn’t want to?
By way of conclusion: in his foreword, Danny Kopec calls Browne’s book a ‘prodigious work’ and a ‘magnum opus’. This is just hyperbolic pally flimflam. It’s nothing of the kind. It’s a potentially decent games collection spoilt by a narrative which might have been useful as an early draft, but in published form is an embarrassment.
Ian Marks, January 2013
STUDY CHESS WITH MATTHEW SADLER by Matthew Sadler, Everyman Chess, 140 pp., publ. 2012
A little background for juniors or newcomers for whom the author’s name is unfamiliar. Sadler was one of the strongest English GMs of the ‘90s, one of the world top 20, and habitué of elite tournaments. Then he quit professional chess to get a proper job. (I’ve always wondered exactly what a ‘proper’ job is. I can think of plenty of ‘proper’ jobs which are anything but.) After a decade in the chess wilderness he resurfaced a few years ago, playing some tournaments in Norway, Spain and the Netherlands, and is now back in the world top 100. During his time as a pro, he also wrote a number of highly-acclaimed books, so his reappearance in the printed word is no surprise. (I bought his Tips for Young Players for £1 in a second-hand shop years ago, mainly to help keep the place open, and would recommend it, not just to young players, but to anyone around 1400 and under. Packed full of good advice.)
The title is something of a misnomer, since it’s not a study course as such, more a personal account of his trials and tribulations on his return to chess. Roughly half of the book is devoted to his experiences in sorting out his rusty opening repertoire, the rest covers middlegames and endings.
The openings are a mixture of mainstream and whacky. Since Sadler had been out of the theoretical loop for so long, he experimented with the less orthodox as a way to avoid being jumped and as a means of keeping fresh, e.g. with assorted Moderns and …b6s. Anybody (i.e. everybody) who has suffered through opening highs and lows will know where he’s coming from.
In his middlegame material he discusses different ways of thinking, e.g. active, reactive and prophylactic, and provides assorted exercises to get you, well, thinking.
In the endgame section he addresses the ‘simple’ question “Why are endgames difficult?”, and relates his own experiences as well as looking at some modern examples.
There are a total of 53 games, over 30 of them the author’s, all annotated with lots of words and ideas rather than lengthy variations.
Sadler writes well in a chatty yet informative style and puts a lot of himself into his work. I’ve said before that my favourite books are ones where the author’s personal touch comes across, so Study Chess… scores well in that category. I also enjoy books where the author drip-feeds little nuggets of wisdom (you’ve sometimes got to be alert to spot them), and Sadler does a lot of that. A few examples: “Don’t automatically shy away from lines where you might have to give something up”; “The more time I spent trying to develop ‘warmth’ for an opening, the better I played it’; “I also learnt how important it is to pay attention to your inner calmness” and he talks on more than one occasion about the importance of getting your mindset right.
I enjoyed this one, not just for the chess, but as a good read. Will it improve your play? I don’t know; that’s up to you! Will it get you thinking? Definitely, and that’s a good thing.
Ian Marks, November 2012
THE CARO-KANN MOVE BY MOVE by Cyrus Lakdawala, 432 pp.
THE TORRE ATTACK MOVE BY MOVE by Richard Palliser, 302 pp.
Both of these (publ. 2012) are part of Everyman’s move by move series, an interesting idea to use Socratic debate as a means of teaching chess openings. Any teacher will tell you that it’s not just the right answer that matters but the right question. The problem is, of course, that while the series attempts to replicate a one-to-one lesson, the student is absent, so the teacher has to formulate the question himself. Thus the success of the enterprise stands or falls to a large extent on how well he does this. But more of this later. Both use complete game formats, the former 53, the latter 25.
There has been a spate of CK books lately, so it is legitimate to ask what will be achieved by another. The answer lies partly in the first paragraph, how the Q & A session pans out. It also lies in the content, since there would be little point (as I see it) in going where other authors have gone before. Then there is the author himself, what he brings to his subject matter and how he presents it. On each of these counts I’d say Lakdawala (a US IM and coach) does a good job.
Let’s look at the content. The big question is what he suggests (remember, especially as a means of learning the opening) after the Classical 1 e4 c6 2 d4 d5 3 Nc3 dxe4 4 Nxe4. Recent authors have all gone for 4…Bf5. Lakdawala goes for 4…Nd7. This move has been championed by Nimzowitsch, Smyslov (our eponymous hero) and Petrosian, so it is clearly not a diddy variation. He devotes 152 pages – nearly a third of the book to it – so the reader doesn’t want for detail. His justification lies in one of his early questions, basically why not cover 4…Bf5? His answer is that he prefers playing lines which are not in vogue to avoid booked-up opponents. This is reasonable enough, although my concern from the point of view of someone new to the CK is that there is more scope for being on the end of a hammering with 4…Nd7 if you don’t know what you’re doing than with 4…Bf5, especially in the 5 Ng5 lines (which Lakdawala calls ‘Into the Abyss’). To be fair, Lakdawala is aware of this and does a decent job of talking his students round the banana skins and showing that Black is not without his own chances.
The big growth area in the CK in recent years has been the Fantasy Variation (3 f3) and here Lakdawala suggests the interesting 3…Qb6!? This chapter would be worth a look by anyone looking for ‘something else’ against the Fantasy.
Now the questions. As I said above, without a student present, it is vitally important for the teacher to anticipate the question, and I think Lakdawala does a good job. The questions aren’t just straight whys or whats, but cover various aspects of tactics and planning too. The great difficulty is that it’s awfully difficult to avoid letting your eyes run down the page before you’ve answered the question, so to get the most out of the book, you’d better have a sheet of paper handy to cover the answers and explanations.
Lakdawala’s style is different from that of most chess authors. His touch is lighter and less didactic, and he’s not afraid to inject a shot of humour. I like it.
Overall I enjoyed this one. Anyone willing to invest some time and effort in it would have a useful, solid defence to 1 e4.
I had a go at Palliser’s writing style in a previous review, so even before I got on to the content, I was interested to see if he’s still spraying his prose with pleonastic ands. He seems to have curbed this tendency (I noticed more semi-colons), although perhaps the more conversational style (which comes off well) helped. I’ve noticed, though, that Everyman books don’t seem to have a proofreader, at least not one that gets a mention, so it came as a bit of a duh!? moment to find that Smirin morphs into Shirov within only five moves of game 1, a pretty basic howler. (He morphs back again!)
The Torre is often denigrated as a not-very-dangerous opening, but amongst black players coming a cropper we find Smirin, Leko, Radjabov and Volokitin, while Carlsen, Gelfand and Morozevich are amongst the luminaries punting it with White, so clearly it has something going for it. Palliser does a good job of covering all the main tries with …g6 & …e6, as well as lesser lines and gambit possibilities. Like Lakdawala, he formulates the questions well and I liked the largely chatty nature of his ‘replies’ (often much better than a this-is-how-it-is type answer). I noticed that one answer explains why an early …c4, hitting a B on d3, is rarely a good idea for Black in Torre/Colle-type set-ups. (I see it about half a dozen times a year in league matches and in junior and minor tournaments. Please, guys, read this!)
If Lakdawala’s book will give the reader a reliable defence to 1 e4, Palliser’s will give him or her something useful and potent as White. For 1 d4 2 c4 players it would be a useful surprise weapon.
Production standards for both are high: sturdily bound, good quality paper and clear print and diagrams (in the right places!).
Ian Marks September 2012
A couple from Everyman.
PLAY THE BENKO GAMBIT by Nicolai V. Pedersen, 208 pp., publ.2011.
What it says on the tin, the current state of affairs after 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 c5 3 d5 b5, plus a section on anti-Benkos. All the main lines are covered – Fianchetto, Classical (e4 Bxf1/Kxf1), 5 e3, 5 f3, b5-b6 and ‘others’. In Benko books I always have a look for lines with an early f4, just to see if the author’s on the ball; game 18, p.67 suggests he is.
The double column layout means that the diagrams are in the right place, but the paper quality is awful. Everyman seem to have major paper issues. In here it feels like a recycled mix from an old East German paper mill (think anorexic cardboard and you get the idea), where you half expect to see the ink coming off on your fingers. Smoother paper would be a godsend. Anything would be better than this.
An easy one to sum up. Benko players will buy it, d4 players might buy it, and everybody else’ll probably pass.
MASTERING OPENING STRATEGY by Johan Hellsten, 365 pp., publ. 2012.
Not an ‘openings’ book in the traditional sense of the term, but, as the title indicates, a survey of the main ‘ingredients’ of opening play: Development, Crime and Punishment (e.g. pawn grabbing, exposed king, premature attacks etc.), The Battle for the Centre, Restriction and Preparation. Hellsten covers these with over 200 games, which are split up so that the reader can consider how to proceed before continuing. Each section contains a whole range of openings, a reminder that the topics covered apply to all openings, not just certain ones. This avoids the sort of blinkered thinking you find in, say, “Well, I don’t play the French, so it (whatever it is) can’t happen to me”. Of course it can, and probably will, if you think like that!
It’s not the sort of book you can dip into, or skim for the more interesting bits. Like his previous volume, Mastering Chess Strategy, you would need to spend a lot of quality time with it to derive maximum benefit.
It’s an impressive piece of work, but I’m wondering just who the target readership is. I’d guess that U-1500 club players who have been stuck in their ways for decades would find it daunting, and I don’t mean that in an insulting sort of way. Daunting, yes, but beneficial if they worked at it. I’d imagine that 2200+ players would already be pretty au fait with what the author has to say. I think young(er) aspiring/improving players would find it useful as a complement (antidote!?) to their computer-based openings study.
Paper quality in this one is streets ahead of that in the Benko book – smooth to the touch and a lot more flexible.
If you’re looking for something a bit different in the openings field, this might what you’re looking for.
Ian Marks August 2012
CHESS SECRETS: GIANTS OF INNOVATION by Craig Pritchett, Everyman Chess, 288 pp., publ. 2011
This is a companion volume to Craig’s Heroes of Classical Chess which I reviewed last time – same concept, same format, same entertaining read. The innovators are Steinitz, Lasker, Botvinnik, Korchnoi and Ivanchuk, each represented by biographical commentary and seven games annotated in helpful depth. It struck me that the protagonists in this volume were/are all quirkier than the players featured in other volumes in the series; maybe that’s something that comes with pioneering turf. I particularly enjoyed the chapter on Korchnoi, a sympathetic look at one of the most complex chess personalities of the last half century. It is also curious that two of the giants, Lasker and Botvinnik, had successful parallel careers, and that Lasker was also something of a polymath. Compared to the obsessive chess single-mindedness of Korchnoi and Ivanchuk, it really does show that there is no specific template for a top player. (And, without wanting to get into politics, there’s the polar opposition between Botvinnik, child of the Revolution and loyal communist, and Soviet defector Korchnoi. Strangely, both took the paths they did in order to be able to play chess.)
Anyway, a grand collection illustrating innovation – however you care to define it – from the 19th century to the present day. Well worth a punt, especially to players who, say, have never played through a Lasker or Botvinnik game in their lives.
Ian Marks – July 2012
THE ART OF THE ENDGAME My Journeys in the Magical World of Endgame Studies by Jan Timman, New in Chess, 269 pp., publ. 2011
Hands up all those who have never looked at a study in their lives… hmmm… that’s a lot of hands. All the top trainers, from Dvoretsky down, recommend solving studies as part of a chessplayer’s daily diet; it focuses thought and, since studies are very concrete, improves calculation. And yet…
Perhaps there’s a mystique about studies that puts people off; for example Timman discusses the Novotny and Plachutta themes, the Valladao Task, the Karstedt Fortress and the Prokes (and Double Prokes!) Manoeuvre. No, I’m not au fait with them either. Jargon tends to have an alienating effect. Or perhaps it’s because studies often bear no apparent relation to practical play (see Lommer on pp.86 and 112). This should be irrelevant, but often isn’t.
Having said that, there are very many practical studies in here, and the ideas they contain show the amazing depth of our game. To get a picture of Timman’s material, here are some of the topics covered: promotions, mating patterns, zugzwang and fortresses. These are going to crop up in your games this season, and you could well get some ideas of how to handle them in here.
Timman is a ‘solid’ writer; he expresses himself clearly and eloquently, and is not afraid to use lots of explanatory prose. He has a likeably healthy ego (“My intuition told me I could make an award-winning study…”), but, like a lot of people high up in their field, there are times when he seems to forget that others are not as gifted as he, and uses words like ‘obvious’ and ‘simple’, when it might be anything but. Any good teacher will tell you that those are dangerous words. Things are only obvious or simple if they’re, well, obvious or simple.
Production values are up to New in Chess’s usual high standards – high quality paper, clear print and diagrams and tidy double column layout. There is more space between main lines and variations than in their opening books, which tend to suffer from clutter.
Will this book help improve your play? I don’t know. That’s up to you. What it will do is reveal the hidden beauty of the game and provide you with lots of ‘Wow!’ moments.
Ian Marks – July 2012
A trio from Everyman.
CHESS SECRETS: HEROES OF CLASSICAL CHESS by Craig Pritchett, 224 pp., publ.2009. When I was starting out, games collections were the thing. There were tomes on or by Alekhine, Capablanca, Botvinnik, Tal, Petrosian and Keres (a trilogy, pure gold), to name but a few. Fischer’s My 60 Memorable Games was the last big collection. Perhaps subsequent writers wondered how they could follow that? With the arrival of Batsford and The Opening Book in the early 70s, it seemed that the games collection had gone the way of the dodo. Anyway, things now appear to be coming full circle, as this recent work by Craig indicates. It features a selection of games (seven each) illustrating the play and (in some cases continuing) legacy of Rubinstein, Smylsov, Fischer, Anand and Carlsen. As always with Craig’s work, it is well researched, well-written and, to use the trendy word, accessible. I like chess books that have lots of words, not just endless variations, and there is lots of elucidatory prose in here. It strikes me that, to today’s younger players, three of these giants might be no more than names. I would direct them to this book. The same goes for anyone else who skipped Chess Heritage 101. Apart from broadening your chess culture, there are simply some wonderful games to be enjoyed. I thought of listing a few favourites, but gave up. I will say, though, that if you are not blown away by Fischer-Stein, Sousse Interzonal 1967, one of the greatest and most intense fighting games by two top GMs of all time, then you have no soul for chess. The interesting thing is how Magnus will evolve to compare with his illustrious predecessors. Perhaps something for a chess author in forty years’ time? Highly recommended.
HOW TO PLAY AGAINST 1 d4 by Richard Palliser, 256 pp., publ. 2010
A treatise on how to handle the black side of the closed games? Nope, a book on the Czech Benoni. Presumably it’s a marketing ploy. Given the opening’s popularity, How to Play the Czech Benoni wouldn’t be likely to shift enough copies to pay the author’s mortgage. Palliser gives plenty of detail: 163 pages on 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 c5 3 d5 e5 (and how to avoid it), 46 on 1 d4 c5 2 d5 e5, and the rest on White’s ways of avoiding 2 d5. There is very little ‘white’ but we still have the Everyman in-house problem – putting diagrams where they belong (or don’t belong!). They’re placed two abreast, often with no relation to the nearby text. To use a good Scots word, it’s a scunner. Everyman have been doing this for years in single-column openings books. Why not change to double?
One thing irks me about Palliser’s writing – overuse of the word ‘and’, often just plain wrong. Examples. First, correctly: ‘Black accepts that he must play slowly and aim to gradually neutralize White’s small edge’ (p.43). There, ‘and’ does its job, joining two clauses. Now, dodgy. ‘Returning the favour and I suspect that both players missed the tactic…’ (p.144). ‘Not forced and a fianchetto player might begin with,,,’ (p.146). Each of these could be improved by ditching ‘and’, using a full stop and starting a new sentence. Try it. See? There are plenty of others. You can even spot it in works by other writers which have passed through Palliser’s editorial hands. Ugh.
Another thing which caught my eye was the all-too-prevalent contemporary tendency to belittle the past. After 1 d4 c5 2 d5 e5 3 e4 d6 4 Nc3 a6 5 a4 f5? the author tells us on p.196 that ‘Nowadays no self-respecting club player would lash out with …f7-f5 so early, wrecking Black’s light squares, but this just reminds us how much understanding of the game has advanced since the Thirties’. Palliser must have seen enough club games to know that this is piffle. So who was the perpetrator of this horrendous gaffe? Chap called Alekhine, v Euwe in 1934. I can’t help thinking that the positionally inept, temporally-challenged World Champion could teach today’s Joe Clubplayer a thing or two, but I could be wrong. (Incidentally, there’s another great example of the Palliser ‘and’ in the notes here after 5…f5? 6 f4!?: ‘ambitious and there’s nothing at all wrong with…’. Delete ‘and’, replace with semi-colon. Sorted.)
I found it hard to get het up about this one and was more irritated by the author’s style than anything else. Unless you want to bone up on old Benonis (and then be hit by a Colle), you could pass on it.
YOUR BEST MOVE by Per Ostman, 222 pp., publ. 2011
I haven’t heard of the author either, but the blurb tells us he’s an ‘experienced chess teacher and analyst’ from Australia and he gets a nice encomium from the young Australian GM Zong-Yuan Zhao, so we’ll trust his credentials. Basically, the book does what it says on the tin, setting out to provide a framework of ways to improve move selection. There are five parts: Process, Potential Candidate Moves, Knowledge, Skills and Preparation. Some of these owe a nod to Kotov’s Think Like a Grandmaster. It can be easily read without a board, nearly all prose and very few moves. It contains a lot of basic common sense that would be of value to inexperienced players, but, like all books, you’d get out of it what you put into it.
Ian Marks, May 2012
IMPROVE YOUR CHESS TACTICS by Yakov Neishtadt New in Chess 2011, 383 pp.
This book is divided into two main sections, Combinative Themes and Combining Themes. The former introduces the basic themes of Deflection, Decoying, Eliminating Defenders, Clearing Squares & Lines, Pinning & Unpinning and Interference & Shutting-off, and looks at them individually. The latter deals with them in various combinations with each other. Each sub-section has an introduction with examples followed by 30, 40, 50 or so test positions, 700 in all. The whole is rounded off with an ‘examination’. Standard tactics book fare? Pretty much. What I liked about this one was the clear-cut nature of the examples and the way in which the author explains what’s was going on in straightforward and (to use the 21st century buzz-word) accessible fashion, ditto the answers. No risk of not seeing the wood for the trees. You often come across books where the examples are groaning under the weight of the surrounding prose; that’s not the case here. From that point of view, it would be a worthwhile read for less experienced or weaker players. Their stronger brethren would find excellent training material within the covers. The introduction refers to it as a self-tutor and sparring partner, as apposite a way of describing it as any. As with all New in Chess publications, production standards are high and layout and printing are clear. Recommended.
WHY WE LOSE AT CHESS and ANALYSE YOUR CHESS by Colin Crouch, Everyman Chess 2010 & 2011, 187 & 235 pp. resp.
This brace came about when the amiable English IM was recovering from serious illness. Unable to play competitively, he turned his attention to his games, analysing them and, as the first title says, examining why we lose. The first one consists of fifteen ‘tests’ of multiple choice move selection in positions from his games. In this respect it pays homage to one of my all-time favourite chess books, The Best Move, by the Vlastimil twins Hort and Jansa. If you do not possess a copy of this wonderful opus, log on to eBay or your favourite second-hand book site and be prepared to shell out several hundred quid/bucks/Euros for a copy. But I digress. Crouch invites you to choose, then discusses the whys and wherefores of each. The games frequently crop up at various stages throughout the book, so you can see the progress of each and how the choices impinged on the play.
The second is not dissimilar, although this time the author looks at games (28 of them) in their entirety, again seeking to find what went right or wrong, the reasons for players’ choices, types of error etc. The games are generally analysed in detail (ten pages or so in some cases), so a lot of searching has gone on! He discusses factors such as fatigue, the effects of a poor start to a tournament, losing winning games, endings, opening disasters, time etc. etc. We’ve all been there; we can empathise. There are lots of little spot-on quotes which stick in the mind, e.g. “You are not ‘unlucky’ in losing from a winning position. On the contrary, you have blundered in the worst way.”
I enjoyed these. The author has done what we are all advised to do – study your games, especially your losses, and find out what went wrong. In each book there are lots of words, good, relevant explanatory prose, which not only elucidates the variations, but allows us into the setting of the game, the better to appreciate what was going on.
It’s not often an author bares his soul as much as Crouch does here. I liked these books. I think you would too.
Ian Marks, February 2012
INVISIBLE CHESS MOVES by Emmanuel Neiman & Yochanan Afek, New in Chess 2011, 240 pp.
Strange title, I thought. The subtitle shed a little more light: Discover Your Blind Spots and Stop Overlooking Simple Wins. (If we could all do the last four words, life would be just ducky.) The contents brought things into better focus, albeit if the terminology sounded a bit heavy: Part I – Objective Invisibility (hard-to-see moves and geometrically invisible moves), and Part II – Subjective invisiblity, (invisible moves for positional and psychological reasons). If the words seem a tad heavy, the first two examples should give you the idea, viz. Petrosian chucking his queen v Bronstein in the 1956 Candidates, and Kramnik missing that mate in one by Deep Fritz. There are lots and lots of games, extracts and exercises all devoted to why we miss moves (for us or the other guy) and the occasions/conditions when such oversights are likely to occur, e.g. sudden moves on the opposite wing, blindness, anticipating the result, residual image etc. etc. I found my own speciality in here, but you don’t expect me to tell you what it is, do you!?
The aim is to make us aware of when the gremlins might strike and, en passant, I guess make us feel better by seeing that players with large numbers beside their name are as capable of making the same crass oversights as the rest of us.
It’s always nice to see Scottish players feature in chess books, but I’ve already sworn secrecy to the victim featured in this volume, cracking finish notwithstanding.
You could treat this as an improvement book, I guess, but it also lends itself to dipping into, which is always nice. It’s also the only chess book I know which manages to reference the underrated black American crime/social novelist Chester Himes.
Ian Marks (26 Jan. 2012)
LESSONS WITH A GRANDMASTER by Boris Gulko & Dr Joel R. Sneed, Everyman Chess 2011, 298 pp.
Twenty-five of the GM’s games analysed Socratic-style with his co-author, a New York psychology professor and chess amateur. The quality of the material – a top GM’s games – is not in question and, at an average of around ten pages a game, there should be plenty of depth. However, each game has lots of diagrams (no bad thing for assisting visualisation without a board, you might say), but they are HUGE and colonise an awful lot of space. A random example: Gulko-Seirawan, US Ch. 1999 (65 moves), covers an impressive 16½ pages, but the nineteen diagrams account for about six or seven. With so many large diagrams, there’s a consequential awful lot of white. (By way of contrast, Fischer’s 60 Memorable Games devoted 14 pages to his comparable marathon [68 moves] with Botvinnik, with nine small diagrams. A different type of book, granted, but you get the idea.) Perhaps it would have been better to feature exercise diagrams only and in smaller format. (In the Seirawan example, only eight diagrams relate to exercises.)
OK, on to the meat. The most striking feature is the absence of lengthy variations. Each game is a discourse/conversation/Q & A session between Gulko and Sneed, so what you get are detailed verbal explanations by the GM to illustrate what was going on, his thought processes, the rights and wrongs, the whys and wherefores etc. There really is a lot of text, which is pretty uncommon in games collections. This, I think, is where the book scores. A paragraph of good, explanatory prose is often worth a heap of variations. Anyone who has felt like reaching for the tablets after toiling through a page of Hübnerian analysis will know where I’m coming from. There are occasions, perhaps not unnaturally, where the GM’s level of understanding shows in a laconic, almost dismissive appraisal, e.g. “This is bad!”, but, equally, there are occasions when his enthusiasm for a good suggestion by his straight man redresses the balance. I mention this because one of the worst things a teacher/coach/trainer can do, in chess as in any other discipline, is to diss a student’s suggestion out of hand. Perhaps this was missing in the original face-to-face encounter; after all, the printed word cannot convey tone of voice, gesture, facial expressions etc.
I read recently that Lessons with a Grandmaster has been short-listed for Book of the Year award. I don’t know if I’d rate it that highly, but it’s certainly an interesting piece of work and, I think, one that Everyman should have trumpeted more loudly amongst their usual fare of openings books. I have no idea how it’s selling, but the Everyman publicity machine should be pushing it as one of their top offerings of 2011.
Ian Marks (26 Jan. 2012)
Three (more) opening manuals (all publ. 2011) from Everyman: Attacking Chess The King’s Indian vol.2 by David Vigorito, The New Old Indian by Alexander Cherniaev & Eduard Prokuronov and How to Beat the Sicilian Defence by Gawain Jones.
Attacking Chess The KID (368 pp.) is the second of Vigorito’s tomes on the said opening. This one covers the Fianchetto (142 pp.), Four Pawns (52 pp.) and Averbakh variations (48 pp.), h3 lines (39 pp.) and assorted others such as 5 Bd3 and 5 Nge2 (66 pp.). The coverage is detailed, dense and almost overwhelming.
The author adopts a repertoire approach, e.g. against the fianchetto he recommends the Panno Variation with …Nc6. This has pros and cons. Pro, in that he can go into everything in great depth; con, in that if your pet is …c6 and queen out to a5 or b6, well, nothing to see here folks. Then again, you might experience some sort of chessic Pauline conversion. Who knows?
I reckon the book is aimed at players > 2100. The depth of coverage is way beyond anything Jack or Jill Average would need, the more so since the London and Colle Systems seem to hold half the d4 players in Scotland in a vice-like grip.
A couple of words about the production. The printing is large and clear and diagrams are in the right place (something Everyman has not always been guilty of), but the paper is rough to the touch, reminiscent of the stuff they used in the old Socialist Eastern Europe, and the book is so sturdily bound that there’s no question of it lying flat, in fact, I nearly sprained my wrist trying to hold it open. A little more flexibility and better paper would have been welcome.
I have one fairly major beef with this (and other publishers’) repertoire-type books. It would be a huge advantage to have page numbers included along with the variation references. It’s a nuisance to come to D22 and then have to start to hunt for it x-pages further on. Would it hike production costs that much to print D22 p.171 instead?
The Old Indian has traditionally been the KI’s poor cousin, so a book called The New Old Indian (160 pp.) catches the eye. Rather than the usual 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 d6 3 Nf3 stuff (which they deal with by morphing into a sort of KI with 3…g6 4 Nc3 Bf5), it covers more adventurous ground, e.g. 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 d6 3 Nc3 e5 4 Nf3 e4!? and other lines with an early …Bf5. They also give interesting coverage of lines without c2-c4. If you’re thinking that this is dodgy stuff, the presence of players such as Ivanchuk, Akopian, McShane and Volokitin on the black side suggests otherwise.
The same production comments apply to this as for Vigorito’s KI book, although, with fewer pages, it’s easier to manipulate.
If you’re bored with your present opening v 1 d4, this might be worth a look.
Bb5 Sicilians have had a lot of coverage recently, and How to Beat the Sicilian Defence (350 pp.) is the latest offering. About two-thirds of the book is devoted to the Moscow (82 pp.), Hybrid (31 pp.) Rossolimo (114 pp.) and other (33 pp.) Bb5 variations; the remaining third to the King’s Indian Attack v 2…e6 plus odds and ends. Jones has been playing these lines himself of late, so he’s putting his money where his mouth is, and isn’t afraid to share new moves and ideas with the reader. Both this and The New Old Indian are based on games rather than variations, which tends to make them user-friendlier. There’s also more verbal explanation than in the other two, always important. Page after page of notes and game extracts can be uninspiring and not pleasing to the eye. Paper quality in this one is better, and you’re less likely to sustain muscle damage opening it.
If you’re interested in any of these openings, or looking for a change, then you could do worse than cast an eye in the direction of these three.
Ian Marks (October 2011)
Film Review: Bobby Fischer against the World
Bobby Fischer Against the World charts the late American chess grandmaster’s rise to international celebrity, his 1972 defeat of Boris Spassky which broke the Soviet stranglehold on the world chess championship, and his sadly precipitous downfall.
Based on a compilation of news clips covering all the major public moments in Fischer’s life going back to the 1950s, this compelling film documentary – directed by Liz Garbus – provides a unique record that handles the often harrowing subject matter just about as objectively as possible. Given, that is, Fischer’s complex personality, his tendency towards reclusiveness and the all too obvious struggle with debilitating personal demons.
For much of his later life, Fischer’s public persona betrayed a near-broken mind that seemed increasingly to be teetering on the brink of total breakdown.
The film draws heavily on the calm and measured testimony of several key figures in Fischer’s life, to tease out these more hidden vulnerabilities. Of course, the later Fischer’s horrific anti-semitic and anti-US rants were unquestionably abhorrent – but they didn’t fundamentally define the man. To those who knew him or who had followed his chess career closely over the years, Fischer (1943–2008) was, for much of his life and particularly in his later decades, profoundly ill at ease with himself and distinctly troubled.
Craig Pritchett (September 2011)
Sicilian Attacks by Yuri Yakovich, New in Chess 2010, 208 pp.
The Wonderful Winawer by Viktor Moskalenko, New in Chess 2010, 272 pp.
My favourite chess books are those where the author puts heart and soul into his work, enthusiasm shines through and the desire to reach out to the reader is evident on every page. These two NiC publications both score highly in this category.
Sicilian Attacks by the Russian GM and trainer is a detailed look at the various attacking methods arising from the typical Scheveningen, Taimanov, Rauzer, Dragon and …d6/e5 pawn structures. If that sounds a bit techy, it’s not. Yakovich’s lucid treatment of his subject matter elevates his work to virtually a manual of attacking chess.
It is serious stuff. Each section has an introduction covering the basics and a summary recapping the main points. As for the real meat, game 1 sets the tone. Yakovich sits you down and gives you a no-nonsense ten-page lesson on the famous Tal-Larsen 10 th match game from their 1965 Candidates match.* It’s not a one-off. Other monsters include Fedorov-Kobalia, Maikop 1998 (9 ½ pp.), Areschenko-Jimenez, Khanty-Mansiysk 2009 (9 pp.), Tal-Mohrlok, Varna 1962 (8 ½ pp.) etc. There are also loads of 4/5-page tiddlers. There are thirty-two main games with large chunks of others buried in the notes and tons of diagrams. The layout is less cluttered than with some other NiC publications.
Obviously, this is not the sort of book you can have a swatch at over a cup of tea; you need to spend serious time with it, biting off only what you can chew and digesting it carefully. As I indicated above, don’t be put off if you’re not a 1 e4 or Sicilian buff; you’ll find loads of great material on the middlegame and on attacking chess between the covers.
Sicilian Attacks is great stuff, essential reading if you find yourself on either side of the Sicilian and recommended even if you don’t. For active tournament competitors playing, say, in opens, it’s well worth a look. The major caveat is that the more social player and players at the lower end of the rating spectrum would probably find the depth a bit daunting.
The Wonderful Winawer is another book by Moskalenko on his favourite opening. This one is devoted to practically everything arising after 1 e4 e6 2 d4 d5 3 Nc3 Bb4. The bulk of it, c. 200 pages, is devoted to the main lines after 4 e5 (except 4…b6, which I found a little strange), and most of that to what happens after 7 Qg4.The writing is enthusiastic and infectious, and he isn’t afraid to pepper his material with plenty of new ideas. I like the inclusion of lots of photos (there’s even a pic of one of our own), but, as with other NiC openings books, the layout is a bit cluttered. Variations tend to be bunched in the main text; toss in italicised ‘Weapons’, ‘Tricks’ and quotes and it’s not terribly easy on the eye. A little more ‘white’ would have been helpful, but that, of course, would have racked up the price. That apart, I would definitely point French fans in the book’s direction.
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*Great story about this game that doesn’t appear in the annals, so I’ll share it with you. The Danish IM Ole Jakobsen once told me that, as a young IM, he was sent to Bled to cover the match for the Danish press. A daily routine soon developed where Tal would find him and they would play blitz until it was time for the game to start. The morning of the tenth game was no different. With the score tied at a winner-take-all 4½-4 ½, Tal buttonholed Jakobsen. “Ole, blitz, blitz!” Several hours of five-minute stuff later, with the start of the 10th game looming ever closer, an increasingly alarmed Ole said, “Eh, Misha, don’t you think maybe you should get something to eat?” Tal went, oh, right, headed for the canteen, grabbed a sandwich, then wandered into the tournament hall where he proceeded to play one of the great attacking games of the 20 th century.
Aye, there was only one Misha.
Ian Marks (June 2011)
New in Chess magazine has been with us for 20 years and has established itself as the leading international chess publication (and a huge stimulus to the English language amongst the chess fraternity). For those not familiar with it, you get top coverage of top events by top players, features and articles, interviews, tactics, openings, reviews etc. etc.
The issue I have lying beside me is #1 of 2011, 106 pp. featuring the London Classic, the Russian Super Final, the Women’s World Championship, an interview with Ken Rogoff and articles by Short, van Wely, reviews by Rowson… Easy to dip into; easy to spend time lingering over the games and analyses.
The big difference is that this is the first new-style NIC. Gone is the smaller format of yore; in is a new, larger, slicker style reminiscent (to me anyway) of Rolling Stone . It’s floppier than the old style (which felt right) and seems somehow gaudier and glitzier, more ‘magaziney’. I can’t explain it any better than that. I’m not sure I like it, but NIC aren’t going to change back, so, like all changes to the familiar, we’ll have to get used to it.
Still, it’s what’s between the covers that counts. With eight issues a year and over 800 pages of top-quality chess, it’s still far and away the window on international chess.
Ian Marks (May 2011)
Secrets of Opening Surprises vol. 13 , ed. Jeroen Bosch, New in Chess 2011, 143 pp.
Secrets of Opening Surprises is the chess equivalent of those Now That’s What I Call Music compilations – it appears at regular intervals and you never quite know what you’re going to get by way of eclectic content. Amongst the seventeen surveys in no. 13, we find The North Sea Defence (1 e4 g6 2 d4 Nf6 3 e5 Nh5, as played by Carlsen against Adams at the last Olympiad), the Anti-Gr ü nfeld (1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 g6 3 h4) as well as saner stuff like the Slav (1 d4 d5 2 c4 c6 3 Nf3 Nf6 4 Nbd2) and an old main line of the Pirc (1 e4 d6 2 d4 Nf6 3 Nc3 g6 4 f4 Bg7 5 Nf3 0-0 6 e5 Nfd7 7 h4). The underlying theme, as the title suggests, is the element of surprise, although being surprised by 7 h4 against the Pirc is a different matter from being surprised by 4 Nbd2 against the Slav!
This series is great fun. You could do worse than check out the contents of each issue and see if anything catches your eye. You probably wouldn’t want to base a repertoire on these sorts of lines, but they could certainly provide a useful banana skin (especially in a 30/1 league match) for unwary opponents.
Ian Marks (May 2011)
Chess Movies 1 Quick Tricks by Bruce Pandolfini, Russell Enterprises 2010, 208 pp.
My original review for this one was ‘Recycle’. Then I thought maybe I should explain myself in case any fastidious readers were less than impressed with my laconicism. So here goes.
Chess Movies 1 Quick Tricks is a collection of sixty-four blunderful games of nine moves or fewer, every move with a diagram and a comment. I’m not a great fan of the comment-after-every-move idea. It soon becomes awfully difficult to say something relevant or different about, say, 1 e4, and this book suffers from that malaise, e.g. in game 22, after 1 e4 Bruce tells us that ‘White commences by moving the e-pawn two squares’ (Duh!), while by game 46 he is clearly struggling: ‘No comment on the move, no comment on the comment’ . The book is full of this sort of guff.
Then there’s the diagram after every move. Fine for helping weaker players visualise what’s going on (the ‘instructional material’ the preface mentions), but it becomes self-defeating – the work is done for the reader! If the book was designed to look at why players blunder so early, then it falls down through lack of real discussion of why such errors occur. It’s an awkward halfway house.
But the above is just one man’s (i.e. my) opinion, so let me move on to what’s demonstrably cruddy about the book.
First up, it suffers from overwriting and clumsy style. Rambling, multi-clause sentences, lack of clarity of expression, loads of unnecessary adverbs inter alia are all crying out for an editorial blue pencil.
Next (and rather humorously), author and publisher can’t agree on what it is! Pandolfini says it’s ‘a collection of 64 games, of nine moves or less’ (I’ll ignore the redundant comma and misuse of ‘less’), whereas on the back cover his publisher says it’s ‘games of ten full moves or more’ . Oops.
When we open the book to see for ourselves, we are assaulted by all manner of typos, spelling mistakes, grammatical howlers and inconsistencies. A few from my list:
Game 1: ‘He was so struck by the creature (who wouldn’t be), that…’ . Missing question mark.
Game 2: ‘The principle warning…’ Principal! Oh dear.
Game 40: ‘queen-two’ Why a descriptive reference in an algebraic book? And why not just Q2?
Game 64: After 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 g6 3 Nc3 Bg7 4 e4 d6 5 f3 0-0 6 Be3 e5 7 d5 Ne8 8 Qd2 f5 Bruce tells his readers that ‘Black continues as planned, attacking the base of the pawn chain at e4′ . Erm…the base of the pawn chain is at g2, innit?
I also spotted the verb ‘to lossen’ somewhere, but right now I can’t put my finger on it. Trust me. And don’t get me started on the Two Knight’s (sic) Defense .
This is only a selection of the solecisms that litter the book. You get the feeling Pandolfini cranked it out in a couple of hours, fired in the diagrams – et voil à ! There doesn’t appear to have been an editor or proof-reader involved. Oh, how it needs them. A publisher should be ashamed of such sloppiness and carelessness; they’re an insult to potential purchasers.
So, having outlined the reasons for my thoughts on the book, I’ll return to my original review.
Ian Marks (May 2011)
Mastering Positional Chess by Daniel Naroditsky, New in Chess 2010, 239 pp.
It was the indefinite article which caught my eye: “Practical Lessons of a Junior World Champion”. I thought there was only one – the JWC. So I flipped over and learnt that the author “became World Junior Chess Champion in 2007”. Hmmm… Ahmed Adly of Egypt was World Junior Champion in 2007. Looked to me like the publishers were telling fibs. (Is there a Trades Descriptions Act in the Netherlands!?) Then, in John Donaldson’s foreword, all is revealed. The author won the World Boys’ U-12 Championship in 2007. Big difference!
I mention all of this because it seems that the publishers are doubtful whether people will splash for a book by a kid. That’s a pity, because his work stands on its own merits. They really should have shown more confidence in their product on the cover! Essentially, what you get is the way the author addressed his lack of positional understanding. He is now a 2400+ IM, so he must have done something right!
What the author (it was published when he was 14) lacks in experience, he makes up for with a clear, fresh style and a willingness to call things as he sees them. He covers Prophylaxis, Defense in Worse Positions, Building and Breaking Fortresses, Positional Sacrifice, Paralysis in the Middlegame and Maneuvring. Older heads and bigger names have looked at these before, but the author uses plenty of modern examples (although Reshevsky-Petrosian, Z ü rich 1953 is still in there!) and – importantly – lots of words to explain them. His patience with his readers could be emulated by those GM writers who assume that their readers are as erudite as they are and lose them in masses of variations and flowery prose.
The book contains lots of good advice and insight and would be of benefit to any player who feels as unsure of his/her positional understanding as the author did when he started out. Alas, I have the feeling that such a player is likely to be kind who doesn’t read chess books in the first place.
Well worth a look.
Ian Marks (March 2011)
Mastering Chess Strategy by Johan Hellsten, Everyman Chess 2010, 489 pp.
Hard to review this wristcruncher without just stating what it is: 240 examples on various strategical themes (e.g. pieces and pawns, exchanging, prophylaxis, squares etc.) followed by 382 exercises. The examples are all explained in detail and, perhaps surprisingly for such meaty material, it’s fairly easy to read without a board. (Good visualisation practice anyway.) The solutions to the exercises are likewise well commented. The bulk of the material is from the first decade of the 21 st century.
The book is based on the author’s training practice, so you know that the material has been tried and tested. It’s not an easy book to deal with without a large investment of time and commitment, but, on the other hand, you could profitably dip into sections at random, e.g. based on your last loss!, and glean some benefits. I enjoyed the chapters on Improving the Pieces and Exchanges, but the whole thing looks very sound.
Definitely the kind of book where you get out of it what you put in. If you’re looking for a book to spend a lot of quality time with, this could be the one.
Ian Marks (March 2011)
Bobby Fischer for Beginners by Renzo Verwer, New in Chess 2010, 128 pp.
A brief (67 pp.) survey of the life and career of RJF with 40 more devoted to ten of his games and the rest sundry. Sixty-seven pages don’t allow for major insights, and the level is often pretty superficial, e.g. “A talent of his class has to be the result of heredity – and sure enough, he had intelligent parents” . There must be thousands of talented individuals in all sorts of fields who are the offspring of ordinary parents, but no matter.
Most players will be familiar with the content, while Joe Public could do with more biographical detail. If he’s a non-player, the games will be meaningless. There’s even a glossary at the back.
At the start of the games section, the author thanks GM Karel van der Weide, who ‘has studied existing analyses ‘, for his ‘great contribution’ , but the comments to the games are verbal and sparse, and variations are, at most, a couple of moves deep, so it’s not obvious how ‘great’ KvdW’s contribution was.
There’s little in here for seasoned campaigners, so it would probably be best suited to newcomers to the game looking for a quick intro to Fischer. Or you could pass an hour on the train with it, as I did.
Ian Marks (Jan 2011)
BOTVINNIK – PETROSIAN: The 1963 World Chess Championship Match , Mikhail Botvinnik, New in Chess 2010, 142 pp.
The economics of the limited market have rendered tournament and match books virtually extinct, hence this book is all the more welcome. The 1963 match never caught the attention of, say, Tal-Botvinnik or Spassky-Fischer. There was a feeling that Petrosian bored his way to the title against an ageing giant past his best, but the games show that Botvinnik did not surrender ‘his’ title lightly.
The value of tournament and match books lies in the importance of seeing all the games in context rather than just individual ‘best’ games, and in bringing to life the psychological ebb and flow of the event, and that’s all in this book.
Although Botvinnik’s name is on the cover, his challenger and other GMs such as Kasparov and Akopian also provide annotations and comments. In addition, there’s Botvinnik’s essay ‘Why Did I Lose the Match?’, training games and opening notes for his abortive match against Fischer.
A worthwhile historical record, worth a look if you fancy something different from the latest openings manual.
Ian Marks (Jan 2011)
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Posted on: 17-05-2019