Timman’s Triumphs : My 100 Best Games : Jan Timman
From the publisher :
“Jan Timman is the author of highly acclaimed books such as Curacao 1962 and The Art of the Endgame. His best-selling Timman’s Titans won the 2017 English Chess Federation Book of the Year Award. His previous book, The Longest Game, is a riveting account of the epic rivalry between Garry Kasparov and Anatoly Karpov.”
From the book’s rear cover :
“Jan Timman is one of the greatest chess players never to win the world title. For many years ‘the Best of the West’ belonged to the chess elite, collecting some splendid super tournament victories. Three times Timman was a Candidate for the World Championship and his peak in the world rankings was second place, in 1982. For this definitive collection, Timman has revisited his career and subjected his finest efforts to fresh analysis supported by modern technology. The result is startling and fascinating. From the games that he chose for his Timman’s Selected Games (1994, also published as Chess the Adventurous Way), only 10(!) made the cut. Some games that he had been proud of turned out to be flawed, others that he remembered as messy were actually well played. Timman’s Triumphs includes wins against greats such as Karpov, Kasparov, Kortchnoi, Smyslov, Tal, Spassky, Bronstein, Larsen and Topalov. The annotations are in the author’s trademark lucid style, that happy mix of colourful background information and sharp, crystal-clear explanations. Once again Jan Timman shows that he is not only one of the best players the game has seen, but also as one of the best analysts and writers.”
Jan Timman (b 1951) has had an active chess career lasting over half a century. For much of the 1980s he was considered the strongest player in the West, with only Karpov and Kasparov clearly his superior. He also has an enviable reputation as an excellent writer and annotator, as well as an expert on endgame studies.
Here, we have a collection of Timman’s 100 best games. In fact, that’s not quite true. The introduction includes two games which just missed the cut, plus another three extracts where he played a study-like move.
As this is a best games collection, you won’t find any losses. There are two draws, from either end of his career, and 98 wins. As you’ll see from the back cover, there’s very little overlap with Timman’s earlier best games collection, and those games now have totally different annotations.
The analysis has all been double checked using strong engines, so you can be pretty sure of its accuracy. At the same time, Timman’s annotations are resolutely old school, and, for this reviewer at least, none the worse for that. You don’t get reams of computer generated tactics, just lucid explanations, with variations only when necessary.
Take, for example, one of his quicker wins, a victory with the black pieces over Nigel Short from Linares 1992. Here’s how Timman annotates the conclusion.
But, as an endgame connoisseur, he occasionally goes into more detail when a fascinating ending appears on the board.
This position is from a game, again with Black, against Artur Yusupov (the book uses the German spelling Jussupow) played in Belgrade in 1989. This position arose just after the adjournment at the second time control. Here’s how Timman explains this position.
“The analysis during the break had taught me that a transfer to a rook ending was the most convincing path to the win. Jussupow had mainly looked at 63… b2. During the post-mortem, he told me that he had found drawing chances in that line. However, the computer is unrelenting. Black wins also here with two accurate king moves: 64. Rb1 Rd2 65. f5 Kd6! 66. Nf7+ Ke7!, and White cannot take on g6, since Black has the d3-square for his bishop.
“During the analysis, I also looked at the spectacular 63… Rd3+ 64. Kg4 Rd1. If this had worked, it would have been a study-like conclusion to the game. Alas, it doesn’t work. The main line continues as follows: 65. Rxd1 Be2+ 66. Kxh4 Bxd1 67. f5 Be2 68. f6 Kd6
and now White has the incredible finesse 69. Nc6!!. Luckily, I found this study-like save in my hotel room in Belgrade. After 69… Bc4 70. Na5! Bf7 71. Nxb3, a theoretically drawn endgame ensues.”
(The game concluded 63… Bd3 64. Nxd3+ Rxd3+ 65. Kg4 Rd4! 66. Rb1 Kb4 67. Rf1 b2 68. Kxh4 Rc4 69. Rb1 Kb3 70. Kg3 Rc3+ 71. Kg2 Kc2 and White resigned.)
These two examples will give you some idea of Timman’s annotation style.
Timman has always been a universal player who uses a wide range of openings so there’s a lot of variety in the play: no chance of getting bored by seeing the same type of position over and over again. Each game is put into its context regarding the tournament or match in which it took place. The text is also enlivened by many entertaining anecdotes, often concerning Timman’s rather hedonistic (especially in his early years) lifestyle. We read, for instance, about listening to Frank Zappa with Ray Keene, and taking the young Nigel Short to a nightclub on the eve of an important game.
There are many readers and who particularly enjoy best games collections: they will certainly revel in this excellent book. For those of you of Timman’s (and my) generation the book will also bring back many memories. For younger readers, though, much of it will be ancient history: perhaps they’ll get the same pleasure out of it that I got from studying the games of Alekhine and Capablanca many years ago.
You might prefer a more spacious layout for the games. You might have liked a summary of his tournament and match results. You might have liked some tournament cross tables. But of course publishers have to make hard commercial decisions. At least we get an index of players (all players mentioned in the book for any reason, rather than an index of opponents) and an index of openings.
But, most importantly, you get 100 great games from one of the best players of the past 50 years, with lucid and instructive annotations. I’m pleased to give this book a warm recommendation.
One last thought. Timman tells us that someday he might write a book of his most exciting games, which would include more draws and several losses. Yes, please!
“Mihail Marin (born 21 April 1965) is a Romanian chess player and writer. He was awarded the title of Grandmaster by FIDE. Marin’s first major success in international chess was in qualifying for the Interzonal in 1987. He has won three Romanian Championships and has played in the Chess Olympiads ten times, winning a bronze individual medal in 1988. For several years he was editor of the magazine Chess Extrapress.”
From the book’s rear cover :
“I may be old-fashioned, but I keep using for my inspiration the treasure of the past. It does not make sense to speculate whether, for instance, Carlsen is stronger than Fischer or Korchnoi, as matches between players separated in time by so many decades are impossible. But this book aims to prove that some of the basic aspects of our game did not change over the generations. The same kind of brilliant ideas and mistakes are played again and again in specific situations.
I actually launch an invitation to examine the games of the classics, featuring ideas thought over only by human brains, and by no means less deep than those used today. We all use computer assistance when preparing or writing, but at the chess board we are all alone with our opponent, so educating our mind to work along the classical values is essential.It is virtually impossible to write a “complete” chess course, as the general themes and examples to each of them are practically inexhaustible. But I hope that after studying the book the reader will feel enriched, technically and aesthetically.
I remember my enthusiasm when receiving my first original copy of the Chess informant in 1987 (number 43) after having annotated some of my games from the Warsaw zonal tournament, ending in my first qualification to the Interzonal. Almost a third of a century has passed since then, but I am looking forward to hold this new book in my hands with no less excitement.”
You probably know how it is when your favourite singer releases a Greatest Hits compilation. As a big fan you have them all already, but there are always a couple of new songs, so, not wanting to miss out, you have to pay for the full album.
It’s been many years since I last read an Informant, but for some time now GM Mihail Marin, one of the best annotators around, has been publishing articles under the title Old Wine in New Bottles, in which he takes a recent game and compares it with games from the past which resemble it in some way. This might be, for example, a similar opening, a similar tactical idea, the same pawn formation, a comparable ending. Sometimes the comparison is very precise, but, on other occasions, rather tenuous.
What we have here is a collection of his articles, with some new ones added to tempt regular readers who will have seen most of the material before, along with some introductory comments.
There are 25 articles, or rather chapters, in total, grouped according to the general theme: Basic Principles, Tactics, Strategy, The Attack, Middlegame Plans of Specific Openings, and, finally, The Individual and Joined Abilities of the Pieces (some, but not all of which, feature endings).
You might assume from this, and you’d be correct, that the translation into English isn’t always idiomatic. There’s also an unacceptably large number of typos.
The publishers have also made some rather strange production decisions. They’ve chosen a non-standard diagram font with a defective symbol for a black rook on a white square, which makes a rather ugly impression. They’ve also chosen to use a sans-serif font throughout.
This is a handsome hardback, complete with a useful bookmark, which will look good on your bookshelf: it’s a pity that, internally, it doesn’t make such a good impression.
The text is punctuated by a lot of chess art, reproduced in black and white, from the Hereford Chess Club in 1814 up to the present day. All very attractive, if not especially relevant, but I can’t find any copyright information anywhere.
None of this may bother you, as long as the content is good, and, with reservations, it is.
To give you some idea, let’s take a fairly random chapter. Chapter 4 in the section on Attack deals with sacrificial attacks beginning with the move e5xf6, taking as its starting point this game from the 2017 Sinquefield Cup, where you will observe Vishy’s 22nd move. Marin doesn’t give us the first 21 moves, which presumably appeared elsewhere.
This game brought to mind a brilliant Tal victory from the 1962 Olympiad, where the sacrificial attack started on move 19.
Tal admitted that his 19th move was inspired by a Famous Game which observant readers will have seen before.
It’s, of course, a very well known game, but observant readers will recall encountering it with different annotations in an earlier chapter on positional queen sacrifices to obtain a passed pawn. Here, the annotations are in part based on Lilienthal’s autobiography, which are, along with Hecht’s comments on his loss to Tal, readily found on MegaBase. (It’s always fun to try to identify an author’s sources!)
There are three more games in this chapter, including another Tal brilliancy, but the repetition of the Lilienthal game confirms the impression that it’s really a collection of articles rather than a particularly coherent book.
Not all the annotations are by Marin himself: in many cases they are largely taken from earlier Informants, with occasional authorial interjections. You might not mind this, but I guess you might also feel you’ve been cheated.
Nevertheless, the concept of comparing contemporary games with those from the past is a great idea. If the idea attracts you, or if you’re an admirer of Marin’s books and haven’t seen most of the articles before, you’ll find a lot to interest, inform and stimulate. As the book covers all aspects of the game, there are lessons to be learnt here about both tactics and strategy, about openings and endings.
Although I have significant reservations about various aspects of the book, there is still much of value here, and anything Marin writes is always worth reading. Recommended, especially for serious students of the game of, say, 1800+ strength.
David Smerdon is an Australian chess grandmaster and behavioural economist. In 2015 he published the highly successful chess opening book Smerdon’s Scandinavian.
From the book’s rear cover :
“Chess is a cruel game. We all know that feeling when your position has gone awry and everything seems hopeless. You feel like resigning. But don’t give up! This is precisely the moment to switch to swindle mode. Master the art of provoking errors and you will be able to turn the tables and escape with a draw or sometimes even steal the full point!
Swindling is a skill that can be trained. In this book, David Smerdon shows how you can use tricks from psychology to marshal hidden resources and exploit your opponent’s biases. In a lost position, your best practical chance often lies not in what the computer recommends, but in playing your opponent.
With an abundance of eye-popping examples and training exercises, Smerdon identifies the four best friends of every chess swindler: your opponent’s impatience, their hubris, their fear, and their need to stay in control. Youll also learn about such cunning swindling motifs as the Trojan Horse, the decoy trap, the berserk attack, and ‘window-ledging’.
So, come and join the Swindlers’ Club, become a great escape artist and dramatically improve your results. In this instructive and wildly entertaining guide, Smerdon shows you how.”
As with every recent New in Chess publication high quality paper is used and the printing is clear. The book can easily be laid flat next to the board and does not require weights to prevent it from “self-closing” (a particular bugbear of ours !). Each diagram is clear and the instructional text is (mostly !) typeset in two column format, which, we find, enables the reader to maintain their place easily. Figurine algebraic notation is used throughout and the diagrams are placed adjacent to the relevant text.
Who doesn’t love a good swindle? Well, if you’ve just been swindled in the final of your online club championship I guess you might not, but, in truth, as long as we’re not the victim we all love a good swindle.
So it’s surprising, then, that it’s a subject which hasn’t been covered much in chess books. Australian GM David Smerdon’s new book promises to fill that gap in your library.
Here’s Smerdon’s description of a swindle:
1) The Swindler starts from an objectively lost position.
2) The Swindler consciously provokes the victim into blundering, usually by taking advantage of some psychological trait.
3) The victim squanders the advantage, allowing the swindler to escape with a draw or even the full point.
He also offers three questions to help you find swindles.
1) What does my opponent want?
2) How is he planning to do it?
3) What’s good about my position?
Let’s look at an example.
This is Shirov-Kramnik (Groningen 1993). White launched a manic attack right from the opening, but Black defended calmly.
Now Shirov had to make a choice. He saw 18. Qh4 Nxg3 19. Bxe7 Nxf1 20. Bxd8 Qxe5 21. Bf1 Qe3+ 22. Kb1 Bc6 which he assessed as favourable to Black due to White’s uncoordinated forces.
Instead he went for the spectacular 18. Bxh6!?! when the game concluded 18… Nxf4 19. Bxg7+ Kh7 20. Rxf4 Rg8 21. Rfg4 Rxg7 22. Rxg7+ Kh6 23. Rg8 Kh7 24. R8g7+ with a draw.
However, as Smerdon points out, Kramnik could have won with the beautiful counter queen sacrifice 21… Qxc3!!, when 22, Rxc3 Rxg7 leaves Black a piece up, while 22. bxc3 Ba3+ is a pretty standard mate. (Smerdon’s ‘exquisite’ seems a bit hyperbolic to me.)
Smerdon might have mentioned that 20… Qxc3!! would also have worked, and that Black could equally well have played 19… Kg8 20. Rxf4 Qxc3!!.
All very interesting, but was it really a swindle?
It depends. Did Shirov see Qxc3 at move 18. at move 21, or not until after the game? If he’d decided 18. Qh4 would lose, had seen the Qxc3 defence and played Bxh6 anyway, hoping Kramnik would miss it, then, yes, it was a swindle. But if he’d seen the game conclusion in advance and played it, thinking he was forcing a draw, then it was something arguably more interesting: a mutual blunder by two of the strongest players in the world.
Why, then, did Kramnik, a future world champion rated 2710 at the time of the game, miss, on two occasions, what was essentially a fairly simple two move tactic. A psychological flaw? A cognitive bias? Perhaps he was only looking at the king side, where all the action was, so missed a tactic on the other side of the board. You could say that looking at the wrong side of the board is a cognitive bias of sorts, but it’s not what Smerdon has in mind.
There are all sorts of reasons why we make the type of mistake we really shouldn’t make. Cognitive bias, yes, but also, for example, time trouble or fatigue. It’s always interesting to hear a great player explain how he made a simple oversight. Take this example.
This is Petrosian-Kortchnoi (1963) with Black to make his 32nd move. White has an overwhelming advantage in this rook ending, but he’s facing a resourceful defender.
Smerdon quotes Petrosian. “For a long time I had regarded my position as a winning one. Thus the whole opening phase of the struggle, when Kortchnoi was unable to get out of trouble, had psychologically attuned me to the idea that the ending would be favourable to me.”
Kortchnoi tried 32… Rf8 (sheer bluff: 33. Rxh6 or Re6 both win easily) 33. d6 Rh8 34. Kg4 Rf8 when the world champion fell straight into the cunning trap: 35. Rxh6?? f3!!.
Petrosian again. “I did not even see the threat f4-f3, possibly because it was in contrast to Black’s hopeless position. Personally, I am of the view that if a strong master does not see such a threat at one he will not notice it, even if he analyses the position for twenty or thirty minutes.”
This, then, unlike the Shirov-Kramnik position, is an excellent example of where Smerdon’s theory works. Petrosian was swindled because he was overconfident, convinced that nothing could possibly go wrong.
Smerdon identifies two pairs of psychological flaws which, in his view, are usually the cause of a player being swindled. Two, impatience and hubris, are caused by overconfidence, while two more, fear and kontrollzwang (the need to keep the position under control) are caused by lack of confidence.
He goes on to suggest that, if you know your opponent is impatient, you should look for a Trojan Horse: a move which seemingly offers your opponent a quicker or easier way to win, but instead sets a trap. If he’s overconfident, consider a Decoy Trap: a move which creates two threats: with any luck he’ll meet the minor threat while missing the major threat.
On the other hand, if your opponent is looking fearful, play a Berserk Attack, which will make him even more scared than he is already. If he’s a player who likes to keep control, adopt a window-ledging strategy: randomise the position so that neither player really knows what’s happening.
This is all very interesting, and great fun as well. Along the way, we meet characters such as Aussie swindling expert Junta Ikeda, and ever-optimistic German FM Olaf Steffens: in one game here we witness him window-ledging Richmond IM Gavin Wall.
But, I wonder how often you have a choice of swindles to set. In the real world, once we’re in swindling mode we’re just trying to find moves to stay in the game and pose problems for our opponent. We’re not really going to stop and take our opponent’s mindset into consideration before deciding which swindle to set up.
Understanding your cognitive biases is important, and, I’d suggest, this is rather more useful in helping to avoid being swindled yourself than in swindling your opponent. But is it really true that swindles usually exploit psychological flaws? I’m not entirely convinced.
By now we’ve reached Part IV, where the mood changes. We now look at the Core Skills swindlers need. The corollary is, of course, that if you want to avoid being swindled you also require these skills.
You can try to swindle your opponent by heading for an ending which might be difficult or impossible to win despite a large material advantage. For instance, KQ v KR is, generally speaking, a win, but notoriously difficult in practice. Knowing the defensive techniques to give your opponent the most trouble is helpful, as is knowing how to win against best defence. KRB v KR, on the other hand, is, generally speaking, a draw, but not so easy over the board (especially if you’re playing Keith Arkell). Knowing the correct technique is again useful – for both sides.
The next two chapters cover Fortresses and Stalemate, both familiar in the rarefied world of endgame studies but not often discussed in relation to competitive chess. We then continue with Perpetual Check, a very frequent guest in Swindleland.
We also look at Creativity. Here, for example, is the conclusion of the remarkable game between Detlev Birnbaum (2190) and Eloi Relange (2420) played at Cappelle-la-Grande in 1995. You’ll have to buy the book to find out what was really happening here.
Part V demonstrates some complete games from both master and amateur chess, including Smerdon’s favourite swindle. Finally, Part VI presents 110 quiz questions, in which you have to find, or avoid, a swindle.
This is a unique book which covers a number of important topics not usually mentioned in text books, and does so in highly entertaining fashion. Smerdon’s writing style is lively, if sometimes loose, and he presents a lot of fascinating material. You’ll find a lot of creative and resourceful ideas here which should inspire all readers to look for ways to convert their potential losses into draws, or even wins. I would guess that, in terms of chess improvement, players in the 1800-2200 range would benefit most, but I really can’t imagine any reader not falling in love with this book. There is a lot of helpful advice – most importantly perhaps, not to give up in a lost position but to look for ways to provoke your opponent into making a mistake. Not only will it help you to find swindles in your own games: it will also help you to avoid being swindled yourself.
I do have a couple of reservations: as mentioned earlier I think Smerdon overstates the importance of cognitive bias in swindles when there are many other factors involved. What looks like a swindle might, on occasion, just be a mutual blunder: to be certain we need to know the swindler’s motive. As a behavioural economist by profession, he is naturally interested in why and how decisions are made, and this is something not very often mentioned in chess literature. Cognitive bias and psychological flaws undoubtedly affect how we study chess as well as our performance at all stages of the game. Given his academic background, Smerdon would, I think, be the ideal author for a book of this nature.
I would also have preferred a broader historical perspective, but then Smerdon, unlike some other authors, is sceptical about the value of studying the classics. Mention might also have been made of endgame studies, which frequently use many of the ideas discussed in this book: you might, at one level, see all endgame studies as the result of a swindle, and I suspect that solving studies, as recommended by a number of esteemed chess coaches, might be very beneficial in helping you to find, or avoid, swindles.
In spite of these reservations, I have no hesitation in recommending The Complete Chess Swindler to all readers. There have been some exceptionally interesting chess books published this year, and this is certainly one to add to the list.
“A winning streak in chess, says Cyrus Lakdawala, is a lot more than just the sum of its games. In this book he examines what it means when everything clicks, when champions become unstoppable and demolish opponents. What does it mean to be “in the zone”? What causes these sweeps, what sparks them and what keeps them going? And why did they come to an end?
Lakdawala takes you on a trip through chess history looking at peak performances of some of the greatest players who ever lived: Morphy, Steinitz, Pillsbury, Lasker, Capablanca, Alekhine, Botvinnik, Fischer, Tal, Kasparov, Karpov, Caruana and Carlsen. They all had very different playing styles, yet at a certain point in their rich careers they all entered the zone and simply wiped out the best players in the world.
In the Zone explains the games of the greatest players during their greatest triumphs. As you study and enjoy these immortal performances you will improve your ability to overpower your opponents. You will understand how great moves originate and you will be inspired to become more productive and creative. In the Zone may bring you closer to that special place yourself: the zone.
“Cyrus Lakdawala is an International Master and a former American Open Champion. He has been teaching chess for four decades and is a prolific and widely read author. His Chess for Hawks won the Best Instructional Book Award of the Chess Journalists of America (CJA). Other much acclaimed books of his are How Ulf Beats Black, Clinch It! and Winning Ugly in Chess.”
Most of you will be aware of Cyrus Lakdawala’s style of writing. You’ll know that he polarises opinions: some love his books while others hate them. From what I’d read, I’d always thought his books weren’t for me: I’ve never bought one, although a friend gave me a copy of his recent book on the French Defence last year.
So I could write a very brief review. If you’re a Lakdawala fan, and there are many around, you’ll certainly want to read this book. If you’re not a fan you should stay well clear.
I guess you’re expecting me to say more, and there’s quite a lot to say.
This is an excellent and original idea for a book. We meet some of the greatest players from Morphy onwards and look at their peak performances. You get a broad view of chess history over the past 160 or so years, witness how chess knowledge has accumulated and how styles have changed over that time. You also get to see a lot of great chess, with some very (too?) familiar games being contextualised by their juxtaposition with less familiar games played by the same player in the same event. It might even inspire you to get ‘into the zone’ yourself in your next tournament, whenever that might be.
The chapters feature:
Morphy 1st American Chess Congress 1857
Steinitz match v Blackburne 1876
Pillsbury Hastings 1895
Lasker New York 1924
Capablanca New York 1927
Alekhine Bled 1931
Botvinnik World Championship Tournament 1948
Fischer 1963/4 US Championship
Tal Riga 1979
Kasparov Tilburg 1989
Karpov Linares 1994
Caruana Sinquefield Cup 2014
Carlsen Grenke Chess Classic 2019
In total there are 120 games: some complete, some just the conclusion, almost always won by the heroes of each chapter, all annotated in Lakdawala’s trademark lively style. As a highly experienced author and teacher, he knows just how to get the balance right between words and variations, and has used a modern engine to check the analysis. You’ll find lots of Exercises (for you to solve), Principles (to help you improve) and Moments of Contemplation (to think about an interesting position).
This has always been one of the author’s favourite games, but you’ll have to buy the book to read the annotations.
Cyrus Lakdawala is clearly some sort of crazy (to use one of his favourite words) genius. I’m in awe of his productivity, his work ethic, his imagination, his general knowledge, his wide range of references. It’s well worth listening to this interview on Ben Johnson’s excellent Perpetual Chess Podcast in which he explains how and why his brain doesn’t work like anyone else’s.
But – and, for me, at any rate, it’s a very big but, he comes across as a writer who rushes to complete the book without double checking everything, and who lacks any awareness as to whether or not his light-hearted asides and fanciful analogies are helpful or appropriate. He’s also, by no means uniquely among chess authors, a lot stronger writing about contemporary players than about historical figures.
There are various mistakes which might not be important, but are unnecessary and, at least for this reader, annoying. Blackburne’s first names appear at various points as ‘Joseph Henry’, ‘Henry Joseph’ and ‘Henry’. In the heading of a game between Lasker and Marshall, Emanuel’s name becomes Edward, confusing because they both played at New York 1924. In Fischer’s Famous Game against Robert Byrne the heading is correct, but a few lines further down Robert turns into his brother Donald, who, again, was playing in the same event. These errors should really have been picked up by the editor or proofreader.
Then there’s the hyperbole. “Paulsen routinely took eight full hours to make his moves.” “Marshall’s normal temperament was that of a belching, gurgling volcano…” “Alekhine destroyed every stick of furniture in his hotel room, in a near psychotic rage.” Sentences like this would induce a near psychotic rage in several chess historians I could mention.
Most seriously, many of the more frivolous asides might be considered by some to be in poor taste. We have throwaway references to Jeffrey Epstein, Michael Jackson and, on several occasions, the British Royal Family. Then, what do you make of this? “Blunders like this one are a first-rate reason why no sane person should voluntarily take up chess as a hobby. It’s basically like marrying a spouse who beats you up on a daily basis.” Or this, after mentioning that Raymond Weinstein has been in a psychiatric hospital since 1964? “Thanks a lot, Ray! This does a lot to help eradicate the stereotype that we chess players are just a touch crazy!” You might think domestic abuse and mental illness are inappropriate subjects for levity in a book of this nature.
Now I don’t want to knock the author, any more than I’d knock Reinfeld and Chernev. I’m all in favour of people whose brains work in a different way. I’m all in favour of teachers and writers whose communication skills enable them to share their passion and enthusiasm for chess. There’s always a place within the chess world for authors who can bring our game to a wider audience, and Lakdawala’s colourful writing style, although not for chess and linguistic purists like me, offers a lot of pleasure to a lot of people.
On the other hand, he can easily go over the top, and perhaps it’s the responsibility of his publishers to be more proactive. With a pair of scissors to remove the pointless and sometimes tasteless analogies and a red pen to correct the mistakes and typos this could have been an excellent and – 50 pages shorter – addition to chess literature. Nevertheless, if you’ve enjoyed Lakdawala’s previous volumes and can live with the faults, you’ll like, and perhaps learn a lot from, this book.
“At the U.S. Championship in 1989, Stuart Rachels seemed bound for the cellar. Ranked last and holding no IM norms, the 20-year-old amateur from Alabama was expected to get waxed by the American top GMs of the day that included Seirawan, Gulko, Dzindzichashvili, deFirmian, Benjamin and Browne. Instead, Rachels pulled off a gigantic upset and became the youngest U.S. Champion since Bobby Fischer. Three years later he retired from competitive chess, but he never stopped following the game. In this wide-ranging, elegantly written, and highly personal memoir, Stuart Rachels passes on his knowledge of chess. Included are his duels against legends such as Kasparov, Anand, Spassky, Ivanchuk, Gelfand and Miles, but the heart of the book is the explanation of chess ideas interwoven with his captivating stories. There are chapters on tactics, endings, blunders, middlegames, cheating incidents, and even on how to combat that rotten opening, the Réti. Rachels offers a complete and entertaining course in chess strategy. At the back are listed 110 principles of play–bits of wisdom that arise naturally in the book’s 24 chapters. Every chess player will find it difficult to put this sparkling book down. As a bonus, it will make you a better player.”
Stuart Rachels only had a short international career which came to an end almost 30 years ago. He’s now, like his late father James, a philosopher, specialising in ethical theory. Why, you might ask, does he deserve a 400+ page book? It seems rather like a vanity project, doesn’t it?
Let’s look inside and find out.
What you don’t get is a chronological account of the author’s career. Instead you get 24 chapters of varying length discussing a wide variety of aspects of chess and offering, in total, 124 games or extracts from his earliest efforts onwards. The book is also full of stories and anecdotes, many of which are highly entertaining. Rachels writes in a friendly style, alternating, perhaps slightly uncomfortably, between self-deprecating humour and arrogance: he might almost be sitting across the board from you explaining his games.
The first few chapter headings will give you some idea of what to expect: Losing Benonis to Kasparov, Five Stories and Their Positions, Two Rogue Sozins, Tactical Snippets, Beware the Sickly Pawns.
Yes, Rachels enjoyed tactics, favouring openings like the Sicilian Dragon and the Modern Benoni, while disliking the ‘rotten Réti’ and the English (‘Is there a Nobel Prize for Worst Opening as White?’), so you’ll see a lot of exciting play. At the same time, his trainer, Boris Kogan, played like Petrosian (‘You must play seemple chess’) and instilled in him a love of endings, again strongly represented here.
His opponents include many of his illustrious contemporaries, whom he met in international junior tournaments: you’ll find games against Anand, Ivanchuk, Gelfand, Adams and others here.
Although much of the book is US-centric, there’s also a lot to interest British readers. In 1983 Rachels spent some time in England, where, apart from playing in a simul against Kasparov, he lost a training match against David Norwood (‘the best tactician for my age I’ve ever known, aside from Anand’) which has its own chapter.
In the early 90s Rachels studied at Oxford University for two years: in the 1992 Varsity Match it was he who owned the aforementioned sickly pawns in a thrilling victory over Jonathan Wilson. After the game Ray Keene, suitably impressed, asked him to provide annotations. Rachels was surprised to see one of his sentences quoted verbatim in The Spectator. “Who would’ve suspected that the 44-year-old Brit cribbed that sentence off a 22-year-old American?”
There’s also a tense draw against Tony Miles (‘unpretentious, good-humored, and easy to be around’) from the 1989 US Championship. (Tony had satisfied the residency qualification by renting a post box in New York.) The ‘Foolish Drinker, Optimistic Patzer’ of the chapter heading is Rachels, not Miles. You’ll have to read it yourself to find out why.
In the final chapter Rachels offers his two best games. One played against his friend Kyle Therrell at the age of 11 (‘… might this have been the best game ever played by someone under the age of 12, as of March 29, 1981?’), and his win, given below, against Sergey Kudrin, again from the 1989 US Championship. If you buy the book you’ll be able to read his annotations.
The book concludes with three appendices. Appendix A explains adjournments (‘… a 20th century phenomenon, mostly occurring in high-level events’). Not in my part of the world: I had an adjournment from a local league game hanging over me at the start of lockdown: it was eventually agreed drawn via email. Appendix B, Principles of Play, offers some maxims which you may or may not find helpful, and Appendix C is what looks to me like a fairly arbitrary list of recommended books.
The format of the book does mean you miss the trajectory of his career, but at the same time the constant switching between topics will ensure you never get bored. Although Rachels is a relatively minor figure in chess history who retired nearly 30 years ago, he still has an infectious passion for chess, writes well, annotates lucidly and tells a great story. It’s often very funny too: a hugely entertaining and engrossing read which I thoroughly enjoyed. If you like games collections and biographies you shouldn’t hesitate to snap this one up.
“By going through the chapters, you will get acquainted with my way of grandmaster type thinking. I can assure you of one thing: there are better and weaker grandmasters, but you won’t find a GM who is playing without ideas or, let’s say, without his way of thinking! As you will find out, I am basically trying to detect the problem or goal of the position and then I am starting to scan factors which can lead to the solution. That process you will find in many examples in the book. GM Alojzije Jankovic, April 2020.”
“Alojzije Jankovic (1983) is a Grandmaster and FIDE trainer from Croatia. In 2010 he shared first place in the Croatian National Championship, was national champion in 2015, shared third place with Croatia in the European Team Championships 2017 and played for Croatia in the Chess Olympiad. He won several international tournaments and also hosts weekly the broadcast ‘Chess commentary’, Croatian national tv, third channel. This is his second book for Thinkers Publishing, after his successful co-edition with GM Zdenko Kozul on the ‘Richter Rauzer Reborn‘ updated version 2019.”
As with every recent Thinkers Publishing publication high quality paper is used and the printing is clear. The book can easily be laid flat next to the board and does not require weights to prevent it from “self-closing” (a particular bugbear of ours !). Each diagram is clear and the instructional text is typeset in two column format, which, we find, enables the reader to maintain their place easily. Figurine algebraic notation is used throughout and the diagrams are placed adjacent to the relevant text and each diagram has a “to move” indicator.
A bibliography of sources along with suggestions for further reading would have been helpful.
I was rather confused when I first saw this book. The title, The Grandmaster Mindset, suggests a book for advanced players , while the subtitle A First Course in Chess Improvement suggests a book for novices.
Let’s take a look inside and find out.
The first chapter concerns pins. We start off with Légal’s Mate, which is important for novices but hardly necessary for advanced players.
En passant, we learn what Jankovic means by the Grandmaster Mindset. First, you assess the position, just as recommended by many other authors, such as Silman. Then you look for candidate moves: you consider all checks, captures and threats, as recommended by Kotov and many others, including me, over the past half century or so. Other authors, notably Willy Hendriks, will tell you to ignore protocols of this nature, to use your intuition and ‘move first, think later’.
We soon find ourselves in deeper waters, and by the end of the chapter we’re faced with a beautiful endgame study (M Matouš 1975) which is analysed in depth.
The second chapter, Candidate Moves, only seems to repeat the lessons from Chapter 1: if you assess the position and look for forcing moves you can find brilliant queen sacrifices.
Chapter 3, the longest in the book, brings with it a change of scenery. Useful endings: we have some pawn endings, rook against pawn, queen against rook, the bishop and knight checkmate explained in some detail, and finally rook against knight, again at length.
We’re back to tactics in Chapter 4, Knight Geometry.
This is Zvjaginsev-Schwarz (Novi Sad 2016).
White won with the aesthetically pleasing 44. Rxa6!! bxa6 45. b7 Qd8 46. Qxh6+!! Kxh6 47. Nxf7+. Beautiful, to be sure, with symmetrical major piece sacrifices on a6 and h6, but the queen sacrifice wasn’t necessary: 45. f4 Rg6 46. b7 was just as effective. (Note that 44. f4 also worked, but not, in the game, 46. f4? Qa5! and Black has a perpetual.) Perhaps this might have been mentioned.
The tactical ideas continue: Back Rank Mate (Chapter 5), Lure the King (Chapter 6: sacrificing a piece to expose the enemy king to danger), Unexpected Moves (Chapter 7: a collection of fairly random examples which you can discover by looking for Checks, Captures and Threats), Power of the Rooks (Chapter 8), Sudden Attack on the King (Chapter 9).
Chapter 10 is entitled Burying, which is a new one to me. The explanation, that it’s a very important tactical element when attacking the opponent’s king, didn’t leave me much wiser. It seems to be something to do with taking away the king’s escape squares, but who knows?
In this position (Dizdarevic-Miles Biel 1985) Tony played a classic double bishop sacrifice: 13… Bxh2+! 14. Kxh2 Qh4+ 15. Kg1. Now after the immediate and obvious 15… Bxg2, 16. f3 defends. Instead, 15… Bf3!! (‘Burying!’) 16. Nd2 Bxg2!, and as the queen can no longer defend along the second rank, Black wins in short order.
There’s more to come: Underpromotion to a Knight in Chapter 11, and Different Tactical Motives in Chapter 12, but the whole book seems to me fairly random.
If you want to see some beautiful and spectacular chess, you’ll find a lot of great examples in this book: some hackneyed (the queen sac and knight fork from the 1966 Petrosian-Spassky match must have been in almost every tactics book for the past half century, and the Topalov-Shirov bishops of opposite colours ending for the past 20 years) but many unfamiliar.
Jankovic, by and large, explains his examples well and has an attractively friendly style of writing.
However, for this reviewer at least, the whole is rather less than the sum of its parts. With its mixture of elementary and advanced examples the book’s target market is not clear. The ‘Grandmaster Mindset’ advice (assess the position and consider candidate moves looking at checks, captures and threats) is far from original and, you might think, rather too simplistic. The contents seem fairly random (showy sacrifices, with some technical endings thrown in for good measure) but typical of what appears to pass for chess tuition in some circles. I’ll be writing a lot more about this at some point in the future.
It would require quite a lot of fleshing out, but there were potentially two much more useful books here. A book on finding tactical surprises, using the examples here but with the addition of exercises for the reader to solve. And then a much expanded version of Chapter 3 dealing with technical endings.
A qualified recommendation, then, but perhaps a missed opportunity which would have benefited from a more proactive approach from the publishers.
Richard James, Twickenham 13th August 2020
Book Details :
Hardcover : 200 pages
Publisher:Thinkers Publishing; 1 edition (14 July 2020)
Hein Donner : The Biography : Alexander Münninghoff
“Alexander Münninghoff is an award-winning author from the Netherlands. He wrote the acclaimed biography of the man that was dethroned by Hein Donner as Dutch champion: former World Chess Champion Max Euwe. His memoir The Son and Heir, which tells the complex story of the Münninghoff family in the 20th century, is an international bestseller.”
From the rear cover :
“Hein Donner (1927-1988) was a Dutch Grandmaster and one the greatest writers on chess of all time. He was born into a prominent Calvinistic family of lawyers in The Hague.
His father, who had been the Minister of Justice and later became President of the Dutch Supreme Court, detected a keen legal talent in his son. But Hein opted for a bohemian lifestyle as a chess professional and journalist. He scored several excellent tournament victories but never quite fulfilled the promise of his chess talent.
Hein Donner developed from a chess player-writer into a writer-chess player. His provocative writings and his colourful persona made him a national celebrity during the roaring sixties. His book ‘The King’, a fascinating and often hilarious anthology spanning 30 years of chess writing, is a world-wide bestseller and features on many people’s list of favourite chess books. The author Harry Mulisch, his best friend, immortalized Hein Donner in his magnum opus The Discovery of Heaven. In 2001 the book was adapted for film, with Stephen Fry playing the part that was based on Donner. Included in Hein Donner is the interview in which Harry Mulisch tells about his friendship with Donner.
After suffering a stroke at the age of 56, Donner lived his final years in a nursing home. He continued writing however, typing with one finger, and won one of the Netherlands’ most prestigious literary awards. Alexander Münninghoff has written a captivating biography of a controversial man and the turbulent time and age he lived in.”
First, a bit of background. This biography was originally published in Dutch in 1994. Only now, a quarter of a century later, has it appeared in an English translation, partly in response to the success of The King, a collection of Donner’s writings.
Sadly, Alexander Münninghoff died at the age of 76 on 28 April this year, just before the publication of this book.
Johannes Hendrikus Donner (Jan Hein to the chess world, Hein to his friends) was one of the most colourful and controversial chess players of his time. His family have been for many years prominent in politics and law: his father was a government minister, his oldest brother was President of the European Court of Justice, and his nephew also a government minister. It was clear from an early age that Jan Hein was different. Troublesome and obnoxious, lazy but gifted. His father had him assessed by a professor of psychology who found him ‘very egocentric and immature/unbalanced’, with ‘a certain angst, with, in contrast, an inclination towards narcissism, and a sense of inferiority, with, in contrast, an inclination to act tough’.
Possibly the ideal combination of attributes for a chess player and journalist.
What should we make of a man who donated his prize from Venice 1968 to the Viet Cong, on the condition that the proceeds were used to buy machine guns rather than medicines? A man who wrote that women were hopeless at chess and would never learn? A man who used his chess columns to insult his fellow Dutch players, most notably a long running feud with his older contemporary Lodewijk Prins?
Someone, I think, who was deliberately provocative, who spoke and acted to gain a response more than anything else.
Like everyone else, I found The King highly entertaining, but my enjoyment was tempered by the feeling that he was someone I wouldn’t have liked had I known him.
Münninghoff, however, knew him and clearly liked him, and, as an outstanding writer and journalist, was the ideal person to tell the story of Donner’s relatively short but eventful life. This is a conventional biography, following his life from birth to death and, as you might expect, is crammed full of entertaining anecdotes. We learn a lot about his often chaotic personal life (he was married three times) as well as his career both as a chess player and a journalist. There’s also a lot of fascinating information about chess in the Netherlands during the post war decades. It’s not an academic biography, though: a rather inadequate index of names, no sources and few footnotes (I’d have welcomed more).
You might have expected a colourful and provocative player to have a similarly colourful and provocative style, but in fact his play was mostly rather dull, with a lot of short draws. His results were wildly erratic: at his best he could win strong grandmaster tournaments, but these triumphs would be interspersed with disasters. He had wins to his credit against most of the top non-Russians, even including Fischer, but an abysmal record against Soviet grandmasters. (Looking at his games in MegaBase it’s also notable how well he scored against English opponents.) He was also famous for losing a remarkable number of miniatures.
Even so, the games selection at the end is slightly disappointing. Games are sometimes discussed in the text but don’t appear in the book. One example is his 1957 win over Troianescu, which he considered one of his best:
On p128 we’re told that his 1961 loss to Korchnoi appears at the back of the book as game 23. No, it doesn’t: the index tells us Viktor is on p259, but neither he nor the game is anywhere to be seen.
I’m always happy to oblige:
What we actually get is a short collection of 18 games with brief annotations: wins, losses and draws, followed by another 16 short defeats, intended as a supplement to Tim Krabbé’s collection which you can find online here.
Donner would have been amused that his biography should contain more embarrassing defeats than brilliant victories. “I love all positions. Give me a difficult positional game, I’ll play it. Give me a bad position, I’ll defend it. Openings, endgames, complicated positions, and dull, drawn positions, I love them all and will give my best efforts. But totally winning positions I cannot stand.”
Anyone who was following international chess between the 1950s and the 1970s will undoubtedly want to read this book. For younger readers it will be ancient history, but still a highly entertaining read.
If you’ve read The King this book will need no recommendation from me, and, likewise, if you’ve read this book you certainly won’t want to miss The King.
A thoroughly enjoyable, if informal, biography of a fascinating and unusual personality which comes highly recommended, but is slightly let down by the rather perfunctory games section.
“Nine-time Czech champion David Navara, 35, became a grandmaster in 2002 at the age of sixteen. Amongst his many achievements are: 1st at the Ordix Open rapid tournament in Mainz, Germany, in 2007. World Cup quarterfinalist in 2011. Gold medal winner on 2nd board at the 2012 Chess Olympiad in Istanbul. Gold medallist with the Nový Bor team at the 2013 European Club Cup in Rhodes, Greece. Winner of the European Blitz Championship in Wrocław, Poland, in 2014. Silver medallist in the European Individual Championship in Jerusalem in 2015.”
From the rear cover :
“This book is not a pure (auto)biography, rather a games collection. It consists mainly of interesting high-class games played by me, including many losses. Most of the games are preceded by accompanying texts, which vary from essays to tournament reports. The title of the book might seem presumptuous, but I wanted to show how I see or experience the competitions without denying the chess worlds of others. While the texts are mostly light and subjective, at the same time I tried hard to stick to the facts and provide some food for thought. GM David Navara May 2020.”
David Navara is one of the most distinctive and popular personalities on the contemporary chess scene, renowned for his uncompromising play, for his politeness and friendliness, and, most of all, for his eccentricities. He’s been just below the world elite for the past 15 years or so, usually rated between 2700 and 2750.
In this chunky 600+ page book he offers us a collection of 64 (for Navara it could be no other number) games, chosen for their interest rather than the result, so you’ll find draws and losses as well as wins here. His opponents include many of today’s top grandmasters and a wide range of openings is represented.
Authors have a difficult decision to make about how detailed their analysis should be. Navara explains the dilemma nicely in what he calls the Navara Antinomy:
Substantial games are interesting.
Substantial games require extensive annotations.
Extensive annotations are boring.
Yes, the annotations are pretty extensive, but the games are interesting enough to merit this. There are plenty of variations and sub-variations which, if you’re playing through the games, might be confusing unless you’re making use of a second board. You’ll discover a host of exciting middle games and, in particular, some fascinating endings.
One game that particularly drew my attention was his game with White against Radoslaw Wojtaszek from Biel 2015.
Not all games with early queen exchanges are dull. The moves up to 25. Kf6 were pre-game preparation, and by move 30 the white monarch reaches h8, which must be some sort of record for a top level game.
If you want to find out what was really happening in this game you’ll need to buy the book.
Navara likes to categorise chess games as either porridge (good for you but boring) or ice cream (tasty but not so healthy) and tells us both types are featured in the book. I think he’s, very typically, being too modest. Most of the games, like the one above, seem to me to be both tasty and good for you. A delicious main course of salmon, perhaps (Navara likes fish, especially Stockfish), or a refreshing fruit salad.
There’s no better way to end a meal than with a light sorbet. Here’s the conclusion of the last game of the book, against Vojtech Zwardon (Ostrava 2019).
How would you continue with White?
Full credit for 1. Qxg7+ Kxg7 2. Bf6+ and 3. Rh8#, but Navara preferred the cuter 1. Qh8+ Bxh8 2. Rxh8+ Kg7 3. Bf6#.
If you’re looking for a collection of top level games with excellent annotations, you won’t be disappointed with this book.
You get a lot more for your money, though. Most games are preceded by essays originally published on Navara’s chess blog (‘a blog past its sell-by date’) covering a wide variety of subjects: part travelogue, part tournament report, part meditation on chess and life.
You’ll find out a lot about the life of a chess player travelling round Europe, and occasionally further afield (Cuba, China) taking part in national and international team competitions as well as individual matches and tournaments.
There’s much more besides. As well as ‘Porridge and ice cream in Barcelona’ you’ll encounter ‘Sea hedgehogs’, ‘Swans on the top floor’ and ‘On Karl Marx and locking a bishop’.
The book is also full of humour, particularly verbal humour, which the translator has done well to render into English successfully. Humour is something very personal, and, I guess, you might find this aspect of the book either endearing or annoying. As for me, I love it. It’s great to meet someone who uses exactly the same jokes as I do.
Beyond the moves, then, this is, in many ways, a very personal book. The first few pages offer some biographical background. ‘I have no recollection of it, but according to reliable sources, I was born on 27 March 1985.’
He concludes this section: ‘I can’t drive or dance, and my knowledge of films and TV series is minimal.’ (Me too, David.) … ‘Chess is my choice. It has given me a lot: fun, success, friends, self-realisation, money, popularity, the chance to travel.’
At the end of the book he returns to the same theme, offering us a chess poem:
‘But still I remain like a child, who finds the outside world so wild. I still so much like to play chess, that it looks like both curse and bless.’
‘Chess has given me a lot. It can unite people of various nations, different ages, gender, political views, social and economic background or health conditions. It contains elements of art and some chess games are real masterpieces. (Of course they are rare, as masterpieces tend to be.) Chess might relieve the worries of everyday life, bring one good friends and uplift one’s spirit.
‘What more can you expect from a board game with seemingly simple rules?’
I think we can all, whatever our rating, agree with David Navara’s sentiments.
The book is well produced and enhanced with photographs of our hero. My one complaint, as so often, is the lack of an index. Perhaps I’m old-fashioned, but if I’m reading a games collection I’d like to be able to look up the games where Navara played Carlsen, or where he was on the black side of a Sicilian Defence.
What you do get is an excellently annotated games collection as well as an insight into the life and mind of a charming and unusual personality, who perceives the world with a mixture of child-like wonder and self-deprecating amusement. For me, it also provides the opportunity to meet someone who seems, in some respects, a kindred spirit.
I really enjoyed reading this book and finding out more about David Navara, both as a chess player and as a person. Very highly recommended.
Richard James, Twickenham, 13th July 2020
Book Details :
Paperback : 616 pages
Publisher: Thinkers Publishing; 1 edition (28 July 2020)
On the Origin of Good Moves: A Skeptic’s Guide at Getting Better at Chess : Willy Hendriks
“Willy Hendriks (1966) is an International Master who has been working as a chess trainer for over 25 years. His acclaimed bestseller ‘Move First, Think Later’ won the English Chess Federation Book of the Year Award.”
From the rear cover :
“The way a beginner develops into a strong chess player closely resembles the progress of the game of chess itself. This popular idea is the reason why many renowned chess instructors such as former World Champions Garry Kasparov and Max Euwe, emphasize the importance of studying the history of chess.
Willy Hendriks agrees that there is much to be learned from the pioneers of our game. He challenges, however, the conventional view on what the stages in the advancement of chess actually have been. Among the various articles of faith that Hendriks questions is Wilhelm Steinitz’s reputation as the discoverer of the laws of positional chess.
In The Origin of Good Moves Hendriks undertakes a groundbreaking investigative journey into the history of chess. He explains what actually happened, creates fresh perspectives, finds new heroes, and reveals the real driving force behind improvement in chess: evolution.
This thought-provoking book is full of beautiful and instructive ‘new’ material from the old days. With plenty of exercises, the reader is invited to put themselves in the shoes of the old masters. Never before has the study of the history of chess been so entertaining and rewarding.”
What we have here is a hugely ambitious work covering the development of chess ideas over a period of almost 300 years, from roughly 1600 to 1900, from Greco to Tarrasch. Willy Hendriks considers the evolution of both tactical and positional concepts, as well as covering, to a lesser extent, opening theory.
A number of authors over the years, from Réti onwards, have attempted something similar but Hendriks takes the genre to a new level. His view is that previous authors, using a small sample of Famous Games, have presented a crude and misleading view of ‘the history of improvement in chess’. Chess, he believes, has evolved in very much the same way as species evolve.
Hendriks’ previous book, Move First, Think Later, (MFTL) proved controversial. It attracted the attention of the ECF Book of the Year panel, but there were others who considered it highly dangerous. A confrontational title and controversial, extremist views on how chess should be taught. My own views, are, as they are on most subjects, somewhere in the middle, but I still found it an entertaining read. You’ll find a typically well considered review by John Watson here.
Just as in MFTL, each of the 36 chapters is preceded by some exercises which readers might like to attempt before reading on.
Here’s one from Chapter 1:
Finding the answer won’t be difficult for any experienced player, but it was Greco who was the first to play, or at any rate publish, a Bxh7+ sacrifice. Ideas like this, and there are many, positional as well as tactical, throughout the book, gradually become better and better known until they become part of every serious player’s armoury, which is how standards improve. We’re all standing on the shoulders of giants, but it takes genius to be the first.
When we think of Greco we probably think of brilliant miniatures against opponents who either misplayed the opening or made tactical oversights, but Hendriks maintains there’s a lot more to him than that. “If you play over all the games by Greco you cannot but be amazed by the enormous strength of this player and by the importance and variety of his ideas.” In the first chapter we look at some of his tactical ideas, but in Chapter 2, where he is billed as the Nimzowitsch of the 17th century, we discover that Greco was also aware of some relatively sophisticated positional ideas.
The next few chapters continue Hendriks’ revisionist view of chess history. Philidor in Chapters 3 and 4, La Bourdonnais and McDonnell in Chapter 5, Staunton and Saint Amant in Chapter 6. Generally speaking, the book is free from mistakes, but here the magazine Le Palamède is sometimes awarded the wrong definite article. On p85 it’s both right and wrong within four lines.
In Chapter 7 we visit London in 1851 and look at some of the chess played in the first international tournament of modern times. The next two chapters then spin off to take a couple of detours.
Chapter 8 features a positional idea: the pawn formation labelled by Hans Kmoch (whose book Pawn Power in Chess Hendriks seems to admire, although it would have been helpful if the publishers had used the English title) the Wyvill Formation – doubled c-pawns such as White might acquire in the Nimzo-Indian. The English player Elijah Williams, a man ahead of his time, demonstrated how to fight against this in his games against the eponymous Marmaduke Wyvill and Howard Staunton.
In this rather modern looking position Williams played Ba3 against Staunton (Hendriks points out that Na4 and Qf2 were also strong), winning the c5 pawn and, eventually, the game.
We then look at some much more recent examples of games featuring this formation.
Chapter 9 returns to London and riffs off in a tactical direction.
This is a position from another Elijah Williams game. Here, he was Black against Johann Löwenthal. White, to move, decided Black might be threatening Bxh3, so played Bf4 to prevent the sacrifice, later losing after a blunder. Staunton, writing in the tournament book, considered it a mistaken precaution. Hendriks demonstrates that the sacrifice would have been sound, and spends the rest of the chapter looking at precursors and more recent examples of the same tactical idea.
Chapter 10 is a brief visit to India in the company of John Cochrane, where opening theory developed very differently – an interesting topic in its own right.
We then move on to Paul Morphy, the hero of the next few chapters. Chapter 13, Anderssen versus Morphy, will raise a few eyebrows. We all know what to think, don’t we? Both men were tactical geniuses but Morphy was also a positional genius, while Anderssen, a representative of the romantic school of chess, was just a high class hacker. Hendriks, acknowledging Mihail Marin, who first made the point some years ago, explains that the opposite was closer to the truth. We all know Anderssen’s brilliant Immortal and Evergreen Games, but they were casual encounters where he could afford to take risks. In tournament games he sometimes experimented with more modern openings and ideas while Morphy stuck resolutely to 1. e4 e5. The difference between them was not that Morphy was a better positional player but that he was more accurate and efficient.
As we continue through the 19th century we meet Steinitz and reach what, in some ways, is the heart of the book. Because Morphy gave up serious chess before Steinitz achieved prominence, it’s easy to forget that the latter was a year older.
Very many writers over the years, from Lasker onwards, have portrayed Steinitz as the father of modern positional chess. Hendriks begs to differ. Steinitz never wrote down his principles: it was Lasker who did this, attaching Steinitz’s name to them. Hendriks demonstrates that most of his ideas were generally known before his time. His only genuinely new idea was to do with using the king as a strong piece in the opening, and that didn’t stand the test of time. Chapter 25 deals with this.
The first exercise at the start of the chapter poses an intriguing question. “Your opponent in the coming World Championship match is prepared to play this position as Black at least four times against you. Do you accept?”
Well, you certainly should as, after Nb6, White is clearly much better, even though Steinitz stubbornly insisted that Black was fine.
Here is the infamous Steinitz Gambit after White’s 5th move. Steinitz played it a lot but, although White does quite well with it over the board, it really is as bad as it looks.
As we approach the end of the 19th century, it’s time for Hendriks to start drawing conclusions. Comparisons are often made between today’s players and those from the past. If Magnus Carlsen were to travel back in time, how would he fare against Lasker, Morphy or Philidor? Here’s Hendriks, in Chapter 28: “If I might venture a wild guess regarding the average strength of say the top five or top ten players throughout the (19th) century I would say it gradually went from about 2000 around the thirties to 2400 near the end of the century.”
This sounds about right to me, but even near the end of the century, top players were making horrendous blunders which would shame a 1400 player, let alone a 2400 player.
A famous example: Chigorin-Steinitz from the 23rd game of their 1892 World Championship match.
Rxb7, for example, wins for White, but Chigorin’s choice of Bb4 proved rather unsuccessful.
Chapters 31 and 32, in which Hendriks links his discoveries to his teaching methods outlined in MFTL, might prove controversial to some. In Chapter 31 he explains why he believes that creating plans is overrated, and in Chapter 32 he tells you that, contrary to the recommendations of other teachers, you should spend a lot of time studying openings. Of course you might not agree, but it’s often worthwhile listening to those who have well thought out views which differ from yours.
Finally, we reach Chapter 36. Here’s how Hendriks concludes:
“The human history of chess, with all its theoretical struggles and its remarkable personalities, is a fascinating one. However, the general theories that supposedly unify and systematize all those pieces are in my opinion more the result than the cause of the progress made, and as a guide to finding the best moves they are of only limited use.
“As in nature, variety and complexity in chess aren’t the result of some sort of plan from above. It works the other way around, on all levels, even the individual one. As soon as you start looking at a position, all those basic bits of knowledge you gathered before start working. They come up with plans and moves to be played. You can almost sit by and wonder. And watch the good moves replicate.”
I’ve said before that we’re fortunate to be living in a golden age for chess literature, and On the Origin of Good Moves goes right in somewhere very near the top of my favourite chess books of all time. I found it well researched, endlessly fascinating, always thought provoking, often digressive, sometimes provocative and sometimes extremely funny. (Humour in chess books seems to be something of a Dutch speciality: think of Donner and Tim Krabbé.) It’s well produced, and enlivened by copious illustrations, some of only tangential relevance (soldiers in the Franco-Prussian War, a police telephone box, Charles Darwin). If you have any interest at all in the development of chess ideas this will be an essential purchase. If you want to improve your rating you’ll find a lot of inspiring suggestions, although you might not agree with all of them, a lot of great chess, much of which will probably be unfamiliar to you, and a lot of beautiful moves. You’ll find quite a lot of rather bad chess as well, but it all adds to the fun.
Five stars and a top recommendation from me. I do hope you enjoy it as much as I did. It’s certainly a book I’ll return to over and over again.
Sultan Khan : The Indian Servant Who Became Chess Champion of the British Empire : Daniel King
“Daniel King (1963) is an English grandmaster, coach, journalist and broadcaster. He has written 16 chess books on topics ranging from opening preparation to the self-tutoring How Good is your Chess? and Test Your Chess.”
From the rear cover :
“Sultan Khan arrived in London in 1929. A humble servant from a village in the Punjab, he created a sensation by becoming the British Empire champion. Sultan Khan competed in Europe with the leading chess players of the era. His unorthodox style often stunned his opponents, as Daniel King explains in his examination of the key tournaments in Khan’s career. King has uncovered a wealth of new facts about Khan, as well as dozens of previously unknown games. Now for the first time the full story can be told of how Khan was received in Europe, of his successes in the chess world and his return to obscurity after his departure for India in 1933.”
Daniel King, well known as a writer and broadcaster, here turns his hand to chess history, and one of the most fascinating stories our game has produced.
It would be remiss of me not to mention at the start that Sultan Khan’s family, whom the author chose not to consult, are very unhappy about the book. You can read a review by Dr Atiyab Sultan, Sultan Khan’s granddaughter, here.
Dr Sultan and her father also write about Sultan Khan here.
I’ll leave that with you: you can decide for yourself whether or not it will deter you from buying the book. I have my views but prefer to concentrate on the chess.
What we have is a collection of Sultan Khan’s most interesting games (in some cases only the opening or conclusion) with excellent annotations. It’s not a ‘Best Games’ collection: there are plenty of draws and losses. As you would expect from such an experienced commentator, King knows exactly what, and how much, to tell you. You’ll get clear and concise verbal explanations, with variations only when necessary: an approach entirely suited to Khan’s style of play.
Sultan Khan’s openings were sometimes very poor, even by the standards of the day, on occasion running into trouble by neglecting the essentials of development and king safety, and not always learning from his mistakes. You won’t find a lot of brilliant tactics and sacrifices in his games, either. But he excelled at manoeuvring, and was an outstanding endgame player, winning many points through sheer determination. It was these skills that enabled him to beat Capablanca, draw with Alekhine, and reach, according to Jeff Sonas, the world’s top ten.
Here’s his most famous game, which is treated to six pages of annotations in the book.
King offers a lot more than just the games, though. The descriptions of the events in which Sultan Khan participated are enlivened by contemporary reports from newspapers and magazines which portray a vivid picture of the chess world 90 years ago, and of how Khan was perceived within the chess community. Then as now, newspapers would sometimes send non-playing journalists to write a ‘let’s laugh at the weird chess players’ article. Here, for example, is a Daily Herald reporter visiting Hastings for the 1930-31 congress. “DRAWING THE LONG BROW AT HASTINGS”, chortled the headline. “Moving (sometimes) scenes at chess congress.” Yes, very droll.
Although Sultan Khan was a very popular member of the British chess community, much respected for his quiet and modest demeanour, remarks which would today be considered racist sometimes appeared in the press. The London Evening News on Hastings 1932-33: “Sultan Khan, the British Champion, of course, did well; but he is not English by birth, which makes a difference.”
King also sketches in the political background behind Sultan Khan’s time in England: the discussions concerning the future of the Indian subcontinent which would eventually lead to independence and the partition in 1947. Writing as someone with embarrassingly little knowledge of the subject, I thought these sections of the book were written with sensitivity and impartiality, but, as the partition is still highly emotive today, I quite understand why others might take a different view.
My main problem with the book is the lack of indexing. There’s an index of names, but I’d also expect indexes of games and openings: something I’d consider essential for a book of this nature. While it was interesting to read something of the history of Western chess in India, a section on John Cochrane would have been useful. I noticed a couple of errors in tournament crosstables (pp 22 and 309), and on p322, EM Jackson mysteriously becomes EM Mackenzie (his middle name).
What you don’t get is a definitive and complete biography and games collection such as McFarland might publish, but Daniel King knows his audience well, and, from the chess perspective, does a thoroughly professional job. If you don’t feel strongly about Sultan Khan’s family’s criticisms, then this book is highly recommended, telling a story full of chess, human and historical interest.
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