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Book Reviews

22nd June 2017

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.

Ian Marks
June 2017

*****

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 c3

Rossolimo/Moscow

2 Nf3 move orders

Closed

King’s Indian Attack

The Grand Prix

Tiviakov’s Variation (1 e4 c5 2 Nc3 Nc6 3 Bb5)

b3 lines

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.

Ian Marks

March 2016

*****

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.

  1. Pieces cut off from play
  2. Open files
  3. Strong and weak squares
  4. Weak complexes and weak diagonals
  5. Pawn majority on the (queen-)side
  6. The strength of the passed pawn
  7. Weak pawns
  8. The king in the middle
  9. Good knight versus bad bishop
  10. Good bishop versus bad knight
  11. The advantage of the bishop pair in the endgame
  12. 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.

Ian Marks

November 2015

****

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.

Ian Marks

November 2015

****

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.

Ian Marks

November 2015

****

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.

Ian Marks

September 2015

****

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:

  1. Beginning with the Basics
  2. The Fundamental Elements of Chess Strategy
  3. Applying the Elements of Chess Strategy
  4. The Rules of Chess
  5. 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.

 Ian Marks

December 2014

****

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?

 

Ian Marks
June 2014

****

 

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.

 Ian Marks

May 2014

****

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!

Ian Marks,

February 2014

 

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.

Ian Marks,

February 2014

****

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.

Ian Marks
December 2013

****

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.

Ian Marks

December 2013

*****

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.

Ian Marks
November 2013

*****

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.

Ian Marks

November 2013

*****

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:

Central Control

Looking After the King

Decisive Development

Classic Pawn Structures and Play

Holes, Outposts and Weak Squares

Improving the Worst Piece

The Initiative

Prophylaxis and Overprotection

Evaluating Positions

Winning Won Positions

Defensive Resourcefulness

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.

Ian Marks

September 2013

*****

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.

Ian Marks

September 2013

*****

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.

 Ian Marks

June 2013

*****

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.

Ian Marks

June 2013

*****

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.

Ian Marks
April 2013

*****

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)

See full review at the Caledonian Mercury

*****

 

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.

* * * * * * * * *

 

*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.

Recycle.

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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