All posts by Richard James

Improve Your Life by Playing a Game

Improve Your Life by Playing a Game, Dr. Jana Krivec, Thinker's Publishing, 28 Jan. 2021, ISBN 9464201029
Improve Your Life by Playing a Game, Dr. Jana Krivec, Thinkers Publishing, 28 Jan. 2021, ISBN 9464201029

From the author’s introduction:

“This book is partly designed as an autobiographical experience focusing on the processes that arise in the life of a chess player that have be translated into everyday life. In part, the book incorporates psychological theories that generally explain these processes, but overall it can be seen as a guide on how to use any activity to learn skills that will enrich your life. There are several activities in life which can be seen in the same way if we know where and how to exploit the opportunities. The truth is that all aspirations are interconnected when we keep an eye on the thematic links. I believe that this book will give you a new insight into how any ability can be transferred from a particular activity to the universal wisdom of life. It will awaken your networking skills and teach you how to turn life activities into lifelong skills that will improve your well-being. The course of the book follows the typical process of playing chess, starting with training, followed by the tournament situation, the course of the game, the time after the game and the tournament. Since I am not a poet, I have often borrowed some quotations from famous, imaginative and clever people from all over the world. I believe that these valuable thoughts have enriched the book. One thing I ask you to do while reading this book is to open your mind and enjoy the inner journey. So let us go and try to become aware of the processes behind our life activities. Let us find out what and why we do what we do in our daily lives.”

Dr. Jana Krivec at the Batumi Olympiad 2018
Dr. Jana Krivec at the Batumi Olympiad 2018

“Jana Krivec graduated from the Faculty of Psychology at the University of Ljubljana in 2004, where she successfully defended her doctoral thesis entitled “Cognitive Information Processing: the Case of Chess” in 2011. In 2004 she worked with the Faculty of Computer and Information Science on a project in which researchers developed a program for automatic annotation of a chess game. She was a researcher at the Department of Intelligent Systems at Jozef Stefan Institute, Ljubljana in the field of artificial intelligence. Her work was presented at several international conferences and published in scientific publications. She is a university professor of Psychology at the School of Advanced Social Studies in Nova Gorica. Jana Krivec is a Women’s Chess Grandmaster with a ELO rating peak of 2362 in 2008. She has been the Slovenian Women’s Champion seven times as well as a member of the Slovenian women’s chess team at eleven Chess Olympiads. At the 2006 Turin Olympics she and her teammates reached ninth place. She has won several international tournaments. Chess has been her passion and will probably remain explicitly or implicitly present throughout her life.”

 

The well deserved success of Barry Hymer and Peter Wells’ recent book Chess Improvement: it’s all in the Mindset, as well as The Moves that Matter, by Jonathan Rowson, two books which take very different, but essentially ‘serious’ approaches, suggests that there may be a hitherto untapped market for chess self-help books. A book which takes a more populist approach, then, should be welcomed.

What we have here is a book which can be read on two levels: as a self-help book for chess players, and as a book for general readers using chess as a metaphor. But the title: Improve your Life  by Playing a Game: what exactly does this mean? By playing one game, by playing chess generally, by playing any game? Bridge? Noughts and crosses? Snakes and ladders?

First impressions are good: a colourful book using nice shiny paper, with copious photographs, illustrations and cartoons as well as callouts in tasteful pastel-shaded boxes. Green for ‘key takeaways’, pink for ‘a minute of self-reflection, and so on.

The chapters take us through a chess tournament. In Chapter 1 we have to train for the tournament. Chapter sections look at goal setting, motivation, self-examination and improvement, discipline, hard work and persistence, learning from the masters, memorization techniques, working with modern technology, delayed reward … and never stop exploring.

In Chapter 2 we’re playing a game. First, we have to prepare for our opponent, then, during the game, we have ‘Always find a meaning’, ‘Focus and concentration’, ‘Systematic thinking, problem solving and decision making’, ‘Activation, patience and responsibility’, Courage and optimistic thinking’, Creative thinking and flexibility’, ‘Being in control of your feelings’, ‘Never stop fighting’ and ‘Ethics’.

After the game, in Chapter 3, we might have to cope with stress and losses, using cognitive techniques, behavioural techniques and understanding that if you don’t fail, you don’t learn.

Chapter 4 suggests what we might do after the tournament. We’re offered ‘A will to change’, ‘Who are you?’, ‘Mind and body work together’, ‘Positivity’, ‘Do what you like’ and ‘Gens una sumus’.

Chapter 5 warns us about the potential negative aspects of chess. Only two pages here, so clearly there’s not much worth talking about.

Chapter 6, Theories and Studies on Benefits of Chess’, moves into rather different territory. We learn about chess and education, and about chess and health problems, though I for one would raise a very strong objection to describing ADHD and Autism Spectrum Disorder as health problems.

Sadly, it’s not the only issue I have with the book. It starts right at the beginning, with the author’s introduction. We start with a quote, ‘Chess is life in miniature’, from ‘Gary’ Kasparov, but in the third line of text underneath he’s granted the preferred spelling of his first name: Garry. Gary and Garry seem to appear fairly randomly throughout the book, as do, for example, Bobby Fisher and Bobby Fischer.

Then we come to the inspirational quotations. You may well find many of them valuable, but there are attribution problems.

Page 37, for instance tells us ‘The only way to get smarter is by playing a smarter opponent’, attributed to a book entitled Fundamentals of Chess, published in 1885, with www.reddit.com as the source. The use of the word ‘smarter’ didn’t sound like 1885 to me, and a quick google located a Kingpin article by Justin Horton, which explained that this was a fictional book mentioned in the Guy Ritchie movie Revolver, where, however, it was given a publication date of 1883.

Page 66 offers ‘One bad move nullifies 40 good ones’, attributed to Vladimir Horowitz, an outstanding pianist, but not noted for his chess mastery. A search revealed that my guess was correct: it was actually written by the chess master and prolific author IA Horowitz, although it has also been misattributed to Bernhard Horwitz. Horwitz, Harrwitz or Horowitz? Vlad, Al, or even Anthony? If you’re looking for inspiration or self-help you might not care, but some of us do.

The advice, while no doubt invaluable to many readers, incorporates a ragbag of ideas familiar to any reader of pop psychology books. We have the Big Five personality traits and de Bono’s Thinking Hats. There’s Kahneman’s Fast and Slow Thinking as well as the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment. All of which is fine and understandable, as they’ll be new to some readers, but they are often presented without criticism or adequate source references. Ericsson’s 10,000 hours is, of course, there, also quoting Malcolm Gladwell, but failing to mention any possible reservations (there are many) or that Gladwell failed to understand Ericsson’s research. Flow is also there,  but mysteriously attributed to Alan Watts (or possibly Wats: both spellings appear at the top of page 68): Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, the originator of the concept, doesn’t get mentioned at all. Sometimes, but not always, sources are quoted. Page 25, for instance, offers us ‘Some studies have shown…’ and ‘In one study…’, without any further information. (This is about the possible dangers of external rewards, and I’m sure they’re all quoted by Alfie Kohn, so I can look them up myself, but not all readers will have this knowledge.)

The text is enlivened by many photographs, colourful illustrations and cartoons, taken, with brief acknowledgements, from online sources, but not always either relevant or fully explained.

There is a bit of chess here as well, although, bizarrely, the author uses long algebraic notation but without capture and check symbols.

While talking about marshmallows and instant gratification, Krivec presents us with this position which I’m sure you’ll recognise.

Coincidentally, this is something Joel Benjamin also mentions: “I believe that 8. Qxb7 is the best move. Bobby Fischer would have played it. Or, as you kids would say, Magnus would play it.” Krivec takes a different view: “(Qxb7) is not a good move because it follows the urge for immediate gratification and not the rules of good chess playing.” Far be it from me to argue with a WGM about the best move, but this seems a rather silly thing to say. My view is that both authors missed the opportunity to explain that both Qxb7 and Nc3 are excellent moves: your choice will be a matter of style.

If you want a chess example of the disadvantages of immediate gratification there are thousands of better examples to choose from, including one or two later in this book.

In some of the other chess ‘minutes for self-reflection’ you’re not told whose move it is: not very helpful, I think.

On page 110 we’re learning about creative thinking: thinking outside the box. An important topic, in life as well as in chess. To exemplify this we’re invited to solve the 9 dot puzzle.

A good example, I think, because you literally have to think outside the box to solve it. However, the ‘solution’ on the following page only connects seven of the nine dots and doesn’t go outside the box at all. Again, like so much of this book, unsatisfactory.

It’s all a great pity. I’m sure there’s a demand for a book of this nature, which should appeal to many players at all levels. Taking some well known ideas from psychology and applying them to both studying and playing chess is a great concept which will be inspirational to many readers. Jana Krivec’s passion both for chess and for helping people improve their lives comes through very well. If you can forgive the problems, you’ll probably enjoy and benefit from this book. It certainly contains a lot of valuable, although not especially original, advice about many aspects of both chess and life, as well as exercises in, for example, mindfulness, which many will find helpful.

However, the typos, errors, inadequate referencing and sourcing, amongst other reasons, preclude a general recommendation. It really needed a lot more editorial input, preferably from someone with specific subject knowledge, as well as better proof-reading.

Thinkers Publishing are well known for their high production qualities and excellent books, mostly on advanced chess subjects. It looks to me like, in a praiseworthy attempt to broaden their appeal, they stepped out of their comfort zone.

Richard James, Twickenham 17th April 2021

Richard James
. Richard James

Book Details :

  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Thinkers Publishing; 1st edition (28 Jan. 2021)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:9464201029
  • ISBN-13:978-9464201024
  • Product Dimensions: 16.51 x 1.27 x 23.5 cm

Official web site of Thinkers Publishing

Improve Your Life by Playing a Game, Dr. Jana Krivec, Thinker's Publishing, 28 Jan. 2021, ISBN 9464201029
Improve Your Life by Playing a Game, Dr. Jana Krivec, Thinker’s Publishing, 28 Jan. 2021, ISBN 9464201029

World Champion Chess for Juniors : Learn From the Greatest Players Ever

World Champion Chess for Juniors : Learn From the Greatest Players Ever : Joel Benjamin

World Champion Chess for Juniors: Learn From the Greatest Players Ever, Joel Benjamin, New in Chess, 2020, ISBN-10 : 9056919199
World Champion Chess for Juniors: Learn From the Greatest Players Ever, Joel Benjamin, New in Chess, 2020, ISBN-10 : 9056919199

From the book’s rear cover :

“Grandmaster Joel Benjamin introduces all seventeen World Chess Champions and shows what is important about their style of play and what you can learn from them. He describes both their historical significance and how they inspired his own development as a player. Benjamin presents the most instructive games of each champion. Magic names such as Kasparov, Capablanca, Alekhine, Botvinnik, Tal, and Karpov, they’re all there, up to current World Champion Magnus Carlsen. How do they open the game? How do they develop their pieces? How do they conduct an attack or defend when necessary? Benjamin explains, in words rather than in chess symbols, what is important for your own improvement. Of course the crystal-clear style of Bobby Fischer, the 11th World Champion, guarantees some very memorable lessons. Additionally, Benjamin has included Paul Morphy. The 19th century chess wizard from New Orleans never held an official title, but was clearly the best of the world during his short but dazzling career. Studying World Champion Chess for Juniors will prove an extremely rewarding experience for ambitious youngsters. Trainers and coaches will find it worthwhile to include the book in their curriculum. The author provides many suggestions for further study.”

Joel Benjamin during the Lloyds Bank Masters
Joel Benjamin during the Lloyds Bank Masters

“Joel Benjamin won the US Championship three times and has been a trainer for almost three decades. His book Liquidation on the Chess Board won the Best Book Award of the Chess Journalists of America (CJA), and his most recent book Better Thinking, Better Chess is a world-wide bestseller.”

 

Naturally enough, given that I’ve been teaching chess to children since 1972, I’m always interested in reading chess books with ‘juniors’ or ‘kids’ in the title.

Let’s see what we have here.

From the introduction:

If you are not a junior, please don’t toss this book aside; there is still a lot of cool analysis and history in here for you. But I have written this book, primarily, to reach out to younger players. At any point in history, we see a ‘generation gap’, where young people see the world in a very different way than their elders. If you are, let’s say, a teen or a tween, you probably process most chess material from a computer. You follow recent events, work on tactics puzzles, practice against an engine, or whatever works for you. This may match your lifestyle of playing Minecraft or (worse) Fortnite on your I-pad instead of reading books.

A few years ago, I was horrified to learn that two of my (young) fellow instructors at a chess camp could not name the World Champions in order (or even place them roughly in their time periods). For someone of my generation, that fundamental lack of knowledge was unthinkable. And while I accept that kids today learn things in different ways,  I feel that they are still missing out on their ignorance of knowledge provided by books.

I’m in complete agreement with Joel Benjamin here. I believe that, for all sorts of reasons, learning about the great champions of the past should be part of everyone’s chess education. This issue has been raised in the introduction of several books I’ve reviewed recently: some authors agree, but others, sadly, don’t.

And from the back cover (presumably written by the publishers):

So you want to improve your chess? The best place to start is looking at how the great champs did it!

I’m not in agreement with this, though. I’ve spent the past 45 years or so failing to understand why round about 90% of chess teachers consider it a good idea to demonstrate master games, usually with sacrificial attacks, to inexperienced players.

What does it mean to write a book for ‘juniors’, anyway? What do we mean by a junior? Perhaps we mean Alireza Firouzja (rated 2759 at age 17 as I write this)? Or do we mean Little Johnny who’s just mastered the knight move? There’s an enormous difference between writing for 7-year-olds, writing for 12-year-olds and writing for 17-year-olds. Benjamin mentions ‘teens and tweens’ in his introduction. How do you write for this age group? Do you try to appear ‘down with the kids’ by writing things like ‘Yay, bro! Morphy was a real sick dude!”? Maybe not, but you might, as he does, throw in a lot of ‘cools’ and a few ‘legits’, as well as a lot of exclamation marks at the end of sentences.

There’s also an enormous difference between writing for players rated, say 500, 1000, 1500 and 2000. The nature of this difference is something I’ve been thinking about for many years. I think the most helpful information I’ve found about teaching at different levels is from this article (apologies if you’ve seen it before), in particular the section entitled ‘experts learn differently’. I’d consider a novice (apprentice) to be someone with a rating of under 1000, an expert (guild member) to have a rating of 2000 plus, and everyone else (which includes the vast majority of adults who know the moves) to be journeymen/women.

Novices, then, learn best through explicit instruction and worked examples, while experts learn best through discovery and/or an investigative approach. If you’re writing for a readership between novices and experts, you’ll use a mixture of both methods. I’d also suggest that, given the relative inexperience and immaturity of younger children, you’d probably be well advised to add two or three hundred points onto your novice/expert split.

Top GM games these days are, of course, insanely complicated, and only an expert player could expect to learn anything from looking at, say, a Carlsen – Caruana game.

Let’s plunge into this book, then, and decide who would benefit most from reading it, in terms of both age and rating.

Before I go any further, I’d add that there are many reasons you might want to read a chess book: information, enjoyment, inspiration or instruction, for example, but this book, as you might expect from the 21st century Zeitgeist, nails its colours firmly to the flagpole labelled ‘instruction’. LEARN from the Greatest Players Ever.

Taking the reader on a journey through chess history, stopping off on the way to introduce us to each of the world champions in turn, it reminds me of two other books I’ve reviewed on these pages: this and this (also from New in Chess), neither of which impressed me, as a cynic with a pretty good knowledge of chess history, greatly.

We start off, not unreasonably, with Morphy (the greatest showman). In every chapter we get some brief biographical notes, a handful of annotated games and a couple of unannotated games. Here he is, crushing the Aristocratic Allies at the opera house, and sacrificing his queen against Louis Paulsen in New York. Yes, you’ve probably seen them hundreds of times before, but the target reader, a young player with little knowledge of chess history, might not have done. The notes at this point focus, understandably, on ideas rather than variations.

Next up is Steinitz (the scientist). We visit Hastings, of course, just in time to witness von Bardeleben disappearing from the tournament hall rather than resigning. We also see him daringly marching his king up the board in the opening and exploiting the advantage of the two bishops. He beats Chigorin in a game that starts 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 Nf6 4. d3 when Benjamin points out that “With the rise of the Berlin endgame this move has become very popular in the 21st century”. Which is very true, but assumes that the reader knows something about the Berlin endgame. (It’s mentioned in slightly more detail later in the book, but you should describe it the first time you mention it.) Later on, though we’re advised not to forget the en passant rule. So this appears to be a book for readers who understand all about the Berlin endgame but might not remember en passant.

We move into the 20th century: Lasker (the pragmatist) beating Capa in an Exchange Lopez ending, Capablanca (the endgame authority) himself winning a rook ending against Tartakower, Alekhine (the disciplined attacker) winning complex encounters against Bogoljubov and Réti, Euwe (the professional amateur) in turn winning the Pearl of Zandvoort against Alekhine.

As we approach the present day, the games get more complicated and not so easy to use for specific lessons. The great Soviet champions all had their distinctive styles, though. There’s Botvinnik (the master of training), Smyslov (the endgame artist), Tal (the magician), Petrosian (the master strategist) and Spassky (the natural).

Then, of course, Fischer (the master of clarity), Karpov (the master technician) and Kasparov (the master of complications) are introduced as we approach the 21st century.

Today, all the top grandmasters excel in all areas of the game, and, with the aid of computer preparation, their games are often mind-boggling in their complexity. Kramnik is awarded the epithet ‘the strategic tactician’, but this could apply to any 21st century great.

It’s time to look at a few examples of Benjamin’s annotations, so that you can decide whether it’s a suitable book for you, your children or your students.

Here, at Linares in 1997, Topalov, the master of the initiative, has sacrificed the exchange for … the initiative.

White, Gelfand, is considering his 23rd move.

An exchange to the good, White has some leeway in defense. He must appreciate the need to give back to the community here.

Topalov points out that 23. Qd2 Ne5 24. Rxe5 Qxe5 25. Nxb7? is too dangerous (after almost any rook move, actually) but White can hold the balance with 25. b4 a5 26. Qe2!. White can play more ambitiously with 23. b4 Ne5 24. Rxe5 Qxe5 25. Nb2, though Topalov would likely pitch a pawn for good play after 25… d3 26. Nxd3 Qd4+. Finally, even the radical (and inhuman, I think) 23. Nc3!? dxc3 24. Qxc3 looks playable, as suddenly some black minor pieces look misplaced and the white rooks are working well. Chess players need a good sense of danger, but here Gelfand’s Spidey-sense fails to tingle.

An excellent note, I think, but it would, inevitably given the complexity of the position, be instructive for older and more experienced players.

For the record, the game continued 23. Ne4? Ne5 24. Qg5 Re8! 25. Rd2? when Topalov missed 25… Ng4+! 26. Kg1 Qxg5 27. Nxg5 Re1#. but his choice of Qc4 was still good enough to win quickly.

For another example of the style of annotation in this book, in this position Anand, the lightning attacker, has unleashed a TN against Kasparov’s Sicilian in the 1995 World Championship match. What will the champ play on his 20th move?

20… Bxb5

Anand had expected 20… Qa5, which has been played in subsequent practice. However, Kasparov would have had a lot to calculate and evaluate there. When you hit your opponent with an unpleasant opening surprise, they may hesitate to risk the most challenging lines.

20… Qa5!? 21. Nxd6 Bxa4 22. Bb6 Rxd6 and now Anand considered two lines:

A) 23. Qxd6 Rxd6 24. Bxa5 Bxf4 (24… Bxc2? 25. e5+-) 25. Rxb7 Bxc2 26 Rd8 Rxd8 27. Bxd8 Bxe4! 28. Rb4 Bxf3 29. Rxf4 Bd5 30. Bxf6 gxf6 31. Rxf6 and the position should be drawn;

B) Anand preferred 23. Bxa5! Rxd3 24. cxd3 Bxd1 25. Bxd1. White doesn’t win any material but keeps the potential for long-term pressure.

Well, I hope you followed all that.

The main part of the book concludes with Carlsen, the master of everything and nothing.

Here’s a position from a game which, according to Benjamin, displays his accuracy and brilliance in attacking play.

He’s playing the white pieces against Li Chao (Doha 2015) and is about to make his 24th move.

24. d5!!

Carlsen breaks down the defense with a beautiful interference tactic. By attacking the knight on b6, he enables the deadly push e5-e6.

White could easily go wrong here:

A) 24. gxf5 Nc4 25. Nxg6+ (25. e6?? a3 wins for Black) 25… Ke8 26. e6? a3! 27. exf7+ Kd7 28. f8N+! Ke8 29. bxa3 Rxa3+ 30. Kb1 Rda8 31. Na4! and White barely forces Black to take a perpetual. Instead 25. Ncd5!! wins for White. The idea is to kill the mate with Rc1xc4 and then proceed on the kingside;

B) Again the take-first mentality 24. Nxg8+? Ke8 loses ground. White can probably still win with 25 d5! but it’s a lot less clear.

Again, good analysis, although Benjamin’s notes do include rather a lot of ‘perhaps’ and ‘probably’, which you may or may not care for.

That’s not quite the end of the book. There’s some ‘fun stuff’ at the end, most usefully a 36 question tactics quiz: some easy and familiar  but others more challenging.

This is a good book of its kind, although if you like the first half you might find the last few chapters too hard, and if, like me, you enjoyed Benjamin’s coverage of contemporary players, the first half will offer you nothing new.

But is it a book for juniors, though?

Little Johnny, aged 8, is doing well in his school chess club, playing at about 1000 strength. His parents, who know little about chess, would like to buy him a book so that he can learn more and perhaps play like Fischer, Kasparov or Carlsen. What could be better, they think, than learning from the world champions? Is this a suitable book for him? Definitely not: it’s much too hard in every respect. Instead, as a young novice, he requires a book with explicit instruction and worked examples.

Jenny is 12, has a rating of about 1500, and is starting to play in adult competitions. Perhaps this would be a good book for her. Well, it’s more suitable for her than for Johnny, but again it’s rather too hard: I think you’ll agree from the extracts you’ve seen that it’s really aimed at older and more experienced players. She’ll still need, for the most part, explicit instruction and worked examples, but pitched at a higher level than Johnny’s book.

Jimmy is an ambitious 16-year-old with a rating of 2000 who would like to reach master strength while finding out more about the history of the game he loves. This could be an ideal book for him: as a player approaching expert standard with perhaps a decade’s experience of chess, he’d benefit from discovery and/or an investigative approach, for which he can use annotated grandmaster games. But would he be seen dead carrying a book with ‘juniors’ in the title under his arm? And, at least here in the UK, there are very few ambitious 16-year-olds around to read this book.

It’s nothing personal to do with the author or the publishers, but my view is that many people buy books which are much too hard to be useful, either for themselves or for their children or students. On the other hand, books which really would be helpful don’t sell. And you can’t blame publishers for bringing out books they think people will buy.

You could write a great book for Little Johnny, I think. A colourful hardback with short chapters about each champion. Photographs and perhaps also cartoons of each. A few simple one-move puzzles in each chapter taken from their games: perfect novice-level tuition. Some historical background as well. Maps to show the champions’ countries of birth, and, perhaps, where else they lived. The word for chess and the names of the pieces in their native languages. Cross-curricular benefits: children will learn about history, geography and languages as well as chess. Age-appropriate in terms of chess, vocabulary and grammar as well. All primary schools would welcome a few copies for their school library.

You could also write a good book for Jenny. You could introduce each champion again, and then look how the different champions interpreted openings like the Ruy Lopez and the Queen’s Gambit, how they played kingside attacks or IQP positions, how they navigated rook endings. Perhaps also, where available, some simple games played when they were Jenny’s age. She’ll learn, at a fairly basic level, about the history of chess ideas as well as the champions. You’d probably also want to include some puzzles where you have to look two or three moves ahead. This is how you teach students who are neither novices (like Little Johnny) or budding experts (like Jimmy). A mixture of harder ‘novice’ material and easier ‘expert’ material.

I think both Johnny’s and Jenny’s books should include female as well as male champions: Jenny, as well as Johnny, would like role models she can relate to. You might think it remiss of Benjamin (or New in Chess) not to have included any Women’s World Champions in this book.

It’s a good book, then, although, by it’s nature it’s not going to be earth-shatteringly original. But it’s not a book for juniors. If it was called simply World Championship Chess, or Learn Chess from the Champions I wouldn’t really have a problem with it.

I really ought to add that the games are well chosen and expertly annotated (if you don’t mind the slightly casual style), and the author, unlike others ploughing the same field, doesn’t stray beyond the limits of his historical knowledge.

It’s also, as to be expected from this publisher, excellently produced, with, unusually for these days, a refreshing lack of typos.

I mentioned earlier the reasons why you might want to read a chess book. You may well find this book informative, especially if your knowledge of chess history is lacking. It’s certainly an entertaining read: the author’s lively style of writing and annotation shines through. You’ll probably also find it inspirational to be able to play through the greatest games of the greatest players of all time. But is it also instructional? I’m not really convinced that this is the most efficient method of teaching anyone below 2000. It’s certainly not an efficient method of teaching this very experienced, 1900-2000 strength, player.

Recommended, then, if you want to know more about the world champions, but not really a book for juniors.

Richard James, Twickenham 12th April 2021

Richard James
. Richard James

Book Details :

  • Paperback : 256 pages
  • Publisher: New in Chess (7th August, 2020)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:9056919199
  • ISBN-13:978-9056919191
  • Product Dimensions: 16.51 x 1.78 x 22.86 cm

Official web site of New in Chess

World Champion Chess for Juniors: Learn From the Greatest Players Ever, Joel Benjamin, New in Chess, 2020, ISBN-10 : 9056919199
World Champion Chess for Juniors: Learn From the Greatest Players Ever, Joel Benjamin, New in Chess, 2020, ISBN-10 : 9056919199

Chess Rivals of the 19th Century : With 300 Annotated Games

Chess Rivals of the 19th Century : With 300 Annotated Games, Tony Cullen, McFarland Publishing, March 2020
Chess Rivals of the 19th Century : With 300 Annotated Games, Tony Cullen, McFarland Publishing, March 2020

Chess Rivals of the 19th Century : With 300 Annotated Games : Tony Cullen

From the publisher’s blurb :

“Many historical chess books focus on individual 19th century masters and tournaments yet little is written covering the full scope of competitive chess through the era. This volume provides a comprehensive overview, with 300 annotated games analyzed by past masters and checked by powerful engines.

Players such as Max Lange and Cochrane, known to the chess public only by the name given to a fierce attack or gambit, are brought to life. Fifty masters are each given their own chapter, with brief biographies, results and anecdotes and an endgame section for most chapters.

Tony Cullen played chess for the strong London Central YMCA Chess Club and organized tours playing team matches against strong opposition in various European cities. He lives in London.”

 

I guess I should start with a declaration of interest. Tony Cullen’s son was, fairly briefly, a member of Richmond Junior Chess Club about 30 years ago, so I got to know him quite well at that time. We also faced each other over the board in an inter-club match in 2009.

From the introduction:

This book aims to give the reader an overview of competitive chess throughout the 19th century. The battle for supremacy amongst the elite 19th century chess masters is a theme running throughout the book, but the second-rank masters also produced great chess at times, even against the top players, and so their games and their contributions to chess in general are given more attention in these pages than is normally the case. The bulk of the book is naturally concentrated on the second half of the century, since there were no international tournaments before then and not too many players of the first rank either.

There is a chapter devoted to each of the 50 masters: brief biographies, best games, results and anecdotes sprinkled throughout. Many of the games are annotated by 19th century masters, but any significant errors in their analysis of critical positions have been corrected using powerful chess engines. All 300 games are annotated. Although several of the players featured continued their careers well into the 20th century, the selected games are restricted to those played in the 19th century in order to retain the flavor of the period.

Philidor, who, although mentioned in the first chapter, just missed out on this book, famously said that pawns were the soul of chess. In one sense, yes, but you might also think of the soul of chess as its history and heritage, its literature and personalities.

This book takes you on a journey through the world of 19th century chess, from the coffee houses and cafés of London, Paris and Berlin through to the great international tournaments of the 1890s, from McDonnell and la Bourdonnais through to Pillsbury and Lasker. From players born in the closing years of the 18th century, to those who, like Maroczy and Mieses, lived on into the second half of the twentieth century, overlapping with the lives of both your author and your reviewer. The players are introduced in roughly chronological order.

The biographical sections often start with an obituary, taken perhaps from the British Chess Magazine, or from another contemporary source. Contemporary pen pictures are also included, along with entertaining anecdotes which tell us more about their lives and personalities. The author has used both Chessmetrics and Edochess to detail their match and tournament performances.

The annotations are taken from a wide range of contemporary sources. As well as magazines and tournament books, Cullen has used some fairly obscure books such as Examples of Chess Master-Play 2nd and 3rd series by CT Blanshard, Chess Sparks by JH Ellis and Modern Chess Brilliancies by GHD Gossip.

These were the days of old, when knights were bold and openings such as the King’s Gambit and Evans Gambit, usually accepted as a matter of principle, ruled the day. Today, Stockfish will laugh in your face if you essay the Kings Gambit, and will have no trouble equalising against the Evans Gambit, but Morphy and Anderssen didn’t have computer assistance, defensive skills were not well honed, and opening theory, although it went surprisingly far in some lines of the Evans, for example, was nothing like it is today.

Cullen clearly enjoys games with dashing sacrificial attacks, so you’ll be entertained with a feast of exciting and brilliant, although not always either subtle or sound, chess if you read this book.

You’ll meet a few familiar, over-anthologised, friends, it’s true, but, by and large, the author has avoided the obvious and included games which will be unfamiliar to many readers.

Anyone with a knowledge of chess history will know a lot about the likes of Morphy, Steinitz and Lasker, but they may well be less familiar with some of the lesser lights of their period.

The Pleiades, for example, were a group of seven strong players active in Berlin in the 1830s and 1840s. They played an important part in the development of chess theory, but are mostly forgotten today. The one who is remembered is Bernard Horwitz, who would later move to London, competing in the great 1851 tournament.

Another of the Pleiades was Ludwig Erdmann Bledow, a professor of mathematics noted for his aggressive and brilliant play. In this game from 1839 he’s playing Paul Rudolf von Bilguer, a failed army officer who died shortly before his 25th birthday, but whose name is immortalised in the famous Bilguer’s Handbook, a precursor of the likes of MCO which, for the best part of a century, would provide instruction for generations of German speaking chess players.

Emil Schallopp is one of those names you see, if you read about 19th century chess, in the middle or lower reaches of tournament cross-tables, but he was still, in Cullen’s estimation, ‘an outstanding tactician who produced many beautiful games’. This was a brilliancy prize winning game from towards the end of his career. The notes in the book are taken from two sources: Gossip and The Chess-Monthly, with further authorial comments.

Another German player, Miksa (Max) Weiss, was possibly one of the strongest players you’ve never heard of. He had a short career at the top level in the 1880s, finishing 2nd= with Blackburne at Frankfurt in 1887 behind Mackenzie and 1st= with Chigorin at New York in 1889 before retiring to concentrate on a career in banking. He ‘preferred a positional approach to the game and never played gambits’ but, at the same time, was ‘a fine tactician who was not at all afraid of combinations’. His favourite opening was the Ruy Lopez, but he was equally adept on the other side of the board, as here against a strong American opponent. Cullen publishes the game with Steinitz’s notes from the tournament book.

The one feature which somewhat confused me was the ‘endings’ at the end of most chapters. Many of them are indeed endgames, and fascinating they are as well, but some of them are game finishes with plenty of pieces still on the board, while a few serve as a basis for anecdotes.

It is, as Cullen says, ‘unbelievable’ that Johann Berger, a renowned Austrian endgame theorist as well as being of Sonneborn-Berger tiebreak system fame, should have played the losing Ke4?? rather than the drawing Ke3 in this position. If you haven’t seen the idea before, play it out for yourself!

This book is particularly strong on German and Austrian players: good news for me as I knew little about many of them. On the other hand, there were plenty of English players who might have been included: Buckle, Wyvill, Williams, Boden, Owen and others off the top of my head. I’m not sure whether or not this was a deliberate policy. Anyway, there’s certainly plenty of material for a second volume, perhaps taking us up to the outbreak of the First World War in 1914. I, for one, would certainly welcome this.

Although it makes extensive use of contemporary secondary sources, this may not be a book for the serious chess historian. Many of the recent excellent biographies of Cullen’s subjects are missing from the bibliography. I’m also not sure what to make of this: ‘Steinitz and Anderssen went into their London match of 1866 unaware that they were effectively playing for the vacant world championship title.’ and ‘However, there is a consensus among chess historians that Steinitz’s lengthy reign as world champion really began with his match victory against Anderssen in 1866.’ Is there? Yes, he was certainly considered the strongest active player in the world from 1866, but was he, or anyone else, really thought of as World Champion before 1886? Wikipedia thinks not: There is some debate over whether to date Steinitz’ reign as world champion from his win over Anderssen in 1866, or from his win over Zukertort in 1886. The 1886 match was clearly agreed to be for the world championship, but there is no indication that Steinitz was regarded as the defending champion. There is also no known evidence of Steinitz being called world champion after defeating Anderssen in 1866.

I’m not the first reviewer to say that this book is clearly a labour of love. Tony Cullen has a passion for 19th century chess history and literature, and for the romantic style of chess popular in those days, and this passion is evident in every page. The annotations, whether from contemporary sources or written by the author, are pitched at the right level for a book of this nature, only giving the most important lines rather than long, engine-generated variations.  Playing through the games won’t help your openings very much. Nor will it teach you a lot about modern middle-game strategy. On the other hand, it might just take your tactical play to a new level. It will also increase your knowledge and enjoyment of chess, which may then lead to better results.

The production is, as one would expect from McFarland, of a high standard. As this is more a popular work than an academic history book it comes in paperback rather than hardback. The layout is, inevitably, I suppose, given the amount of information contained, somewhat cluttered, with diagrams not always appearing adjacent to the correct position, and sometimes not even on the same page. I also noticed a few typos, notwithstanding the proofreading efforts of the late Steve Berry, to whom, along with the author’s wife and son, the book is dedicated.

I really enjoyed this book, and, whatever your rating, if you love, or would like to find out more about, chess history, I’m sure you will too. If we make the mistake of only thinking about chess in terms of its extrinsic benefits, or in terms of the likes of Carlsen and Caruana, we’re missing out on its true soul. Every time we play a game, whether it’s in a match or tournament, an online blitz game, or a friendly game in the pub, we’re part of the same continuum. Here, for instance, is Mieses, continuing to play as a refugee from Nazi Germany into my lifetime, and sharing at least one opponent (Leonard Barden) with me. We can follow him back into the 19th century, and then follow chess back to Philidor, Greco, Ruy Lopez and beyond. This is the golden braid that binds us all together, whether woodpushers or grandmasters, and, at a deeper level, what chess is all about.

Richard James, Twickenham 1st April 2021

Richard James
Richard James

Book Details :

  • Format: softcover (7 x 10)
  • Pages: 477
  • Bibliographic Info: 54 photos, diagrams, games, bibliography, indexes
  • Copyright Date: 2021
  • pISBN: 978-1-4766-8072-9
  • eISBN: 978-1-4766-3924-6
  • Imprint: McFarland

Official web site of McFarland

Chess Rivals of the 19th Century : With 300 Annotated Games, Tony Cullen, McFarland Publishing, March 2020
Chess Rivals of the 19th Century : With 300 Annotated Games, Tony Cullen, McFarland Publishing, March 2020

Postscript : Tony Cullen was kind enough to provide his feedback on this review which may be found here:

Tony Cullen Response to Book Review

Bobby Fischer Rediscovered : Revised and Updated Edition

Bobby Fischer Rediscovered: Revised and Updated Edition, Andrew Soltis, Batsford, 2020
Bobby Fischer Rediscovered: Revised and Updated Edition, Andrew Soltis, Batsford, 2020

“International Grandmaster Andrew Soltis is chess correspondent for the New York Post and a very popular chess writer. He is the author of many books including What it Takes to Become a Chess Master, Studying Chess Made Easy and David vs Goliath Chess.”

GM Andrew Soltis
GM Andrew Soltis

From the Batsford web site :

“Nearly 30 years since his last chess game, Bobby Fischer’s fame continues to grow. Appearing in Hollywood movies, documentaries and best-selling books, his life and career are as fascinating as they ever were and his games continue to generate discussion. Indeed, with each new generation of computer, stunning discoveries are made about moves that have been debated by grandmasters for decades.

International Grandmaster Andrew Soltis played Fischer and also reported, as a journalist, on the American’s legendary career. He is the author of many books, including Pawn Structure Chess, 365 Chess Master Lessons and What it Takes to Become a Chess Master.”

 

 

No chess library is complete without a copy of Bobby Fischer’s My  60 Memorable Games. If you’re interested in Fischer, and you certainly should be, you’ll also want a games collection looking at the whole of his career through 21st century eyes.

There are several to choose from and, I guess, you’d find a comparative review useful, but I’m not in a position to do that. All I can do at the moment is comment on the book in front of me.

This is a new edition of a book first published in 2003. I don’t have the original to hand to make a comparison. Seven games have been added, making a total of 107: mostly Fischer wins but a few draws are also included.

Here’s Soltis, from his Author’s Note:

Thirty years later (in 2002), I looked at Fischer’s games for the first time since they were played. What struck me is that they fell into two categories. Some were, in fact, overrated. But many more were underrated – if known at all. And his originality, so striking at the time, had been lost with time. It seemed to me Fischer deserved an entirely new look.

Soltis identifies several recurring themes in Fischer’s games. By emphasizing these themes in his annotations he provides instructive lessons for his readers.

“To get squares you gotta give squares”, as Fischer himself said.

Ugly moves aren’t bad.

Material matters. Soltis adds here that Fischer was a materialist: most of his great sacrificial games were played before he was 21.

Technique has many faces. Fischer was equally good at both obtaining and realizing an advantage – two different skills – often by converting one type of advantage to another.

Soltis concludes his note as follows:

Since the first edition of this book, Fischer’s games have been re-analyzed by many others, including Garry Kasparov, with the help of computers. Everyone finds something new – hidden resources, nuances and errors in earlier annotations. This is almost certain to go on with each new generation of stronger analytic engines. I have made extensive revisions since I tackled these games in 2003. But I suspect Fischer’s moves, like his life, will remain a source of fascination – if not mystery – well into this century.

One of the big plusses of this book is that the author was there at the time: he knew Fischer and all his contemporaries. Each game is preceded by a brief introduction putting it in context, often with the inclusion of a timely anecdote revealing an aspect of Fischer’s complex and contradictory personality.

If you’re familiar with Soltis’s style of annotation you’ll know what to expect: detailed annotations, using words to tell a story and only including variations where necessary: no reams of unexplained computer-generated analysis here.

Have a look at how Soltis deals with a game you might not have seen before: the lightweight encounter Fischer – Naranja, played in the Philippines in 1967. (MegaBase thinks this is from a simul, whereas Soltis describes it as one of a series of clocked games.) Note that these are just the more pertinent of his annotations.

1. e4 c5 2. Nc3 Nc6 3. Nge2 e5

The principled reply, as the Russians would say. It was unfairly criticized at the time for surrendering d5.

4. Nd5 Nf6 5. Nec3 Be7 6. Bc4 O-O 7. d3 h6?

Black wanted to avoid 8. Nxe7+ and 9. Bg5 but this puts his king on the endangered species list. Today’s grandmasters get close to equality with 7… Nxd5 8. Bxd5 d6 and a trade of bishops after Bg5.

8. f4! d6?

Black must exchange on f4.

9. f5!

This strategically decides the game. White stops …Be6 and sets the stage for a decisive advance of the g-pawn.

9… b6

It was too late for 9… Nxd5 10. Nxd5 Bg5 because 11. Qh5! Bxc1 12. Rxc1 threatens 13. f6 with a quick mate. … But Black should at least eliminate the bishop with 9… Na5.

10. h4!

A striking move which prepares g4-g5, with or without Nxe7+ and Qh5. The key variation is 10… Nxd5 11. Bxd5! Bxh4+ and now 12. g3! Bxg3+ 13. Kf1, à la King’s Gambit, gives an overwhelming attack. 

10… Bb7 11. a3!

Another exact move, preserving the bishop against 11… Na5 and stopping … Nb4. The significance of this is shown by 11. Nxf6+ Bxf6 12. Qh5? when Black has 12… Nb4! with good chances, e.g. 13. Bb3 d5 14. g4 c4!.  

11… Rc8 12. Nxf6+! Bxf6 13. Qh5

13… Ne7

Black had to do something about 14. g4 and 15. g5, and this enables him to shoot back with 14. g4 d5.

14. Bg5!

Another terrific move, threatening Bxf6. Of course, 14… hxg5 15. hxg5 is taboo because of mate on the h-file.

14… d5 15. Bxf6 dxc4 16. Qg4 g6 17. dxc4!

There must have been a huge temptation to try to finish the game off in style – particularly after White saw 17. Qg5 hxg5?? 18. hxg5 and Rh8#…. But again … Nxf5 bursts the bubble: 17. Qg5? Nxf5! and now 18. Bxd8 hxg5 19. Bxg5 Nd4 is a roughly equal ending, or 18. exf5 hxg5 19. hxg5 Qxf6.

17… Qd6

This acknowledges defeat but 17… Kh7 would have breathed life into 18. Qg5!!:

(a) 18… Re8 19. h5! hxg5 20. hxg6+ and Rh8#

(b) 18… Rc6 19. h5! (the fastest) Nxf5 20. hxg6+ Kg8 21. Nd5! and

(c) 18… Ng8 19. Bxd8 hxg5 20. hxg5+ Kg7 21. f6+ and mates

18. Bxe7!

Black’s last move was designed to meet 18. Qg5 with 18… hxg5 19. hxg5 Qxf6!. So Fischer decides to cash in.

18… Qxe7 19. fxg6 fxg6 20. Qxg6+ Qg7 21. Qxg7+ Kxg7 22. Rd1 Rcd8 23. Rxd8 Rxd8 24. Nd5 b5 25. cxb5 Bxd5 26. exd5 c4 27. a4 Rxd5 28. Ke2 Rd4 29. Rd1 Re4+ 30. Kf3 Rf4+ 31. Ke3 c3 32. b3 1-0

Nice tactics, to be sure, but Fischer was winning from move 9, and, so Stockfish 13 tells me, had many other ways to bring home the point. Was it really one of his greatest games, then? Or is this not the point of the book?

The third, tenth and thirteenth games from the 1972 Fischer – Spassky match are included, but not, to my surprise, the sixth, one of my favourite Fischer games. Most of the old favourites, though, are included, but all except his most devoted fans will find a few unfamiliar games.

As you would expect, this is a solid book which serves its purpose well. If you want the best of Bobby on your bookshelves you’re unlikely to be disappointed, but you might perhaps prefer to consider his games from a 2020 rather than an updated 2000 perspective. You’ll probably want to look around and decide which of several on the market best suits your requirements.

My main problem is a lack of references: although sources are sometimes given, all too often we read that ‘Botvinnik wrote’ or ‘Boleslavsky said’ without being told where. There are several blank pages at the end of the book which might usefully have been filled by a bibliography.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed the book, which gave me a new insight into Fischer’s games, along with some valuable background information.

Richard James, Twickenham 8th March 2021

Richard James
Richard James

Book Details :

  • Paperback: 312 pages
  • Publisher: Batsford Ltd; 2nd revised edition (5th March 2020)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:184994606X
  • ISBN-13:978-1849946063
  • Product Dimensions: 15.57 x 2.29 x 23.5 cm

Official web site of Batsford

Bobby Fischer Rediscovered: Revised and Updated Edition, Andrew Soltis, Batsford, 2020
Bobby Fischer Rediscovered: Revised and Updated Edition, Andrew Soltis, Batsford, 2020

A Modern Guide to Checkmating Patterns

A Modern Guide to Checkmating Patterns : Vladimir Barsky

A Modern Guide to Checkmating Patterns, Vladmir Barsky, New in Chess, 2020
A Modern Guide to Checkmating Patterns, Vladmir Barsky, New in Chess, 2020

From the book’s rear cover :

“Giving mate is the ultimate goal of every chess player. Finding that all-decisive combination is immensely satisfying. But how are you supposed to spot a checkmate when you are sitting at the board with the clock ticking?

In this guide International Master Vladimir Barsky teaches the method created by his mentor Viktor Khenkin (1923-2010). It’s based on an ingenious classification of the most frequently occurring mating schemes. A wide range of chess players will find it an extremely useful tool to recognize mating patterns and calculate the often narrow path to the kill.

All the 1,000 examples (850 of them in exercise format) that Barsky presents are from games played in 21st century. He has carefully selected the most instructive combinations and lucidly explains the typical techniques to corner your opponent’s king. More often than you would expect, positions that look innocent at first sight, turn out to contain a mating pattern. This is not just another book full of chess puzzles.

It’s a brilliantly organized course that has proven to be effective. Finding mate isn’t rocket science, but you need to know what to look for. Vladimir Barsky teaches you exactly that.”

Vladimir Barsky in 2007, Courtesy of Frederic Friedel
Vladimir Barsky in 2007, Courtesy of Frederic Friedel

“Vladimir Barsky (1969) is an International Master, an experienced chess coach and a well-known journalist and author. He lives in Moscow.”

 

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the difference between instructing novices and experts.

You might find this chart (source) helpful. It’s from an education blog but there’s some chess there as well!

Let’s assume that a novice has a rating below 1000 and an expert has a rating of 2000 or over. There’s also a rather large area in between the two, which would include most competitive players, for whom you’d use a combination of the two approaches.

expertnovice

A novice, then, learns best through explicit instruction and worked examples. Just as you probably learnt maths at school. You learn something specific, hold your teacher’s hand while she demonstrates how to do it, then go away and try it out for yourself. You will then receive feedback on how well you have done and transfer your new found knowledge and skills from short-term to long-term memory.

Learning skills such as playing a new opening or winning a rook ending with an extra pawn, will require personalised feedback, but tactics can be taught through books or apps: you solve a puzzle on a specific theme and find out whether or not you have the correct answer.

Tactics books and, these days, apps, are rightly popular. You might, in general, think of books where each chapter concerns a specific subject to be ‘novice’ books while books with random examples where you don’t know what you’re going to get next (just as in a game) to be ‘expert’ books. But within each of these categories there are easier and harder books. Players rated between 1000 and 2000 will probably benefit most from a mixture of harder ‘novice’ books and easier ‘expert’ books.

A basic knowledge of checkmate patterns is essential for every serious player, and all chess libraries should contain at least one book on the subject. Even though most games at higher levels end in resignation, and, at lower levels, in very simple checkmates, a knowledge of these patterns plays a part in every kingside attack. You might not force mate, but your opponent may have to give up material to avoid it.

Let’s see what the author has to say in his foreword.

“The remarkable trainer and Soviet Master of Sport, Viktor Lvovich Khenkin (1923-2010), proposed systematizing mating schemes or ‘pictures’ by reference to the piece or pawn which brought the mate to its conclusion. It turned out that there were not so many of these schemes – about a hundred basic ones – and about 20 or 30 which occur in the great majority of mating combinations. These can be remembered even by an inexperienced player: ‘it’s not rocket science’, as the popular saying runs.

Khenkin was a mentor and colleague of the author and a number of other celebrated chess writers and journalists.

Barsky continues:

“This book A Modern Guide to Checkmating Patterns is divided into ten chapters: first, we present schemes and examples with explanations, and then positions for independent solving. These number 851.”

Excellent pedagogic principles. We have a total of 1000 positions, all taken from 21st century games, most of which will probably be new to you, so you won’t see the same tired old examples repeated by many authors. The chapters, in turn, feature, the rook, the queen, the minor pieces and pawns, two rooks, rook and bishop, rook and knight, queen and bishop, queen and knight, queen and rook, and, finally, three pieces. In each chapter you work through some examples with the author holding your hand before being let loose to solve some puzzles on your own. As you know what you’re looking for, most of these will not be too difficult for experienced players. Most of the positions are not forced mates, but positions in which mate threats will lead to material gain.

Here, from the game Barsky – Logunov (Moscow 2004) in Chapter 1, is the author himself in action:

White’s position looks critical since the bishop cannot retreat because of mate on d1, whilst exchanging on f4 leads to the loss of the c4-pawn. But there is an unexpected tactical blow…

37. R5xb6! a5

Mate results from 37… axb6 38. Ra8+.

38. Rb4+!

Black’s misfortunes continue – again he cannot take the rook because of 39. Ra8+.

38… Ka3 39. Rb3+

He could also win with 39. R4b5+ Ka4 40. Ra8 with mate in a few moves.

39… Ka4 40. Rxf3 Rxd6 41. Rxf4 1-0

My next example is from Chapter 7 (queen and bishop mates). It’s Black’s move in Kamsky – Svidler (Khanty-Mansiysk 2011).

White has an extra rook but it is Black to play. He could take either of the two attacked white pieces, but in that case, White gets a valuable tempo to beat off the attack, e.g. 26… Rxb8 27. Be3 or 26… Qxh6 27. Nc6,and the knight cannot be driven away, because the square e6 is attacked by the white bishop. 

26… Re2!!

A very beautiful idea by the St Petersburg GM. Now after 27. Qxe2 Qg3 mate is inevitable. But why not the immediate 26… Qg3? In this case the knight retreat (27. Nc6) allows the key diagonal to be blocked.

27. Qc3 Rxf2 28. Nc6 Rxf1+

White resigned (29. Kxf1 Qf2#)

Finally, a beautiful finish from West London Chess Club’s Mark Lyell (Lyell – Bradac Zdar nad Sazavou 2010)

With three successive sacrifices, White underlines the vulnerability of the enemy king, trapped in the centre:

17. Rxe5! dxe5 18. Bxa5! Qxa5

Otherwise he is mated on d8.

19. Qa4!!

The final blow. Black resigned: after any reasonable reply, he is mated by 20. Nc7.

All serious chess players should have at least one book concerning checkmating patterns in their library. This book is an excellent example of the genre. The author knows exactly what he’s doing and why he’s doing it: something that can’t be said for the majority of instructional chess books. Furthermore, most of the examples will be unfamiliar to most readers.

My impression was that the puzzles were, by and large, easier than the worked examples: perhaps this was deliberate.

This is ‘novice’ rather than ‘expert’ tuition in that it trains specific skills and provides hints to help you solve the puzzles, but at the same time it’s not a book for beginners: there’s an assumption that you are already reasonably proficient at calculating and spotting checkmates. If you’re rated anywhere between about 1250 and 2000 and want to improve your attacking skills you’ll find this book invaluable. In addition, it provides useful coaching materials for anyone teaching students at this level. Stronger players might also want to use it as a refresher course.

You can also, if you choose, just sit back and enjoy 1000 21st century examples of brilliant and beautiful sacrificial chess.

Highly recommended, then, for all chess players who enjoy attacking the enemy king.

Richard James, Twickenham 25th February 2021

Richard James
. Richard James

Book Details :

  • Paperback : 256 pages
  • Publisher: New in Chess (7th August, 2020)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:9056918877
  • ISBN-13:978-9056918873
  • Product Dimensions: 17.5 x 1.68 x 23.55 cm

Official web site of New in Chess

A Modern Guide to Checkmating Patterns, Vladmir Barsky, New in Chess, 2020
A Modern Guide to Checkmating Patterns, Vladmir Barsky, New in Chess, 2020

Universal Chess Training

Universal Chess Training, Wojciech Moranda, Thinker's Publishing, 2020
Universal Chess Training, Wojciech Moranda, Thinker’s Publishing, 2020

From the book’s rear cover :

“Are you struggling with your chess development? While dedicating hours and hours on improving your craft, your rating simply does not want to move upwards? Spending loads of money on chess books and DVDs, but feeling no real improvement at all? No worries – the book that you are holding in your hands might represent a game changer! Years of coaching experience as well as independent research has allowed the author to identify the key skills that will enhance the progress of just about any player rated between 1600 and 2500. Becoming a strong chess thinker is namely not only reserved exclusively for elite players, but actually constitutes the cornerstone of chess training, being no less important than memorizing opening theory, acquiring middlegame knowledge or practicing endgames. By studying this book, you will:- learn how to universally deal with any position you might encounter in your games, even if you happen to see it for the first time in your life, – have the opportunity to solve 90 unique, hand-picked puzzles, extensively annotated and peculiarly organised for the Readers’ optimal learning effect, – gain access to more than 300 pages of original grandmaster thoughts and advice, leaving you awestruck and hungry for more afterwards!”

GM Wojciech Moranda, Photo courtesy of GM Moranda
GM Wojciech Moranda, Photo courtesy of GM Moranda

“Wojciech Moranda (1988), Grandmaster since 2009, rated FIDE >2600 in standard/rapid/blitz. Poland’s TOP 7 player (February 2020) and FIDE TOP 100 in Rapid (2018). Member of top teams from the German (Schachfreunde Berlin), Belgian (Cercle d’Échecs Fontainois) and Swedish (Visby Schackklubb) league. Captain of the third best Polish team (Wieża Pęgów) as well as the PRO Chess League team, The New York Marshalls. Professional chess coach, running his own chess school ‘Grandmaster Academy’ seated in Wroclaw (Poland), while training students worldwide, from California to Sydney. His other notable coaching experiences include i.a. working with the National Youth Chess Academy of the Polish Chess Federation (since 2012) and the Polish National Female Chess Team (2013). In his work as a trainer, Wojciech puts special emphasis on improving his students’ thought-process and flawless opening preparation.”

Time was when you knew what to expect from a puzzle book. With a few notable exceptions they tended to be ‘sac sac mate’ type of position.

21st century puzzle books are very different, and, at least for stronger players, quite rightly so as well. These days you can run a blundercheck on a bunch of games to identify the turning point, and then, with a careful selection of positions, produce a puzzle book in which anything might happen. A book of positions in which very strong players, even leading grandmasters, failed to find the correct plan. A book which exemplifies the wonderful complexity of contemporary chess, covering all aspects of the game: strategy as well as tactics.

What we have here is very much a 21st century book written for strong and ambitious players. Indeed it seems in many ways very similar to this book from the same publisher: aimed at a similarly wide range of players and divided into three sections of increasing difficulty. One wonders if the authors of both books received a similar brief from Thinkers Publishing.

Let’s see what Moranda has to say for himself.

He identifies that his students have strategic problems in five areas:

  1. Anticipation & prophylaxis
  2. Attack & defense
  3. Coordination
  4. Statics & dynamics
  5. Weakness

Together, he considers these to be the basis of ‘Universal Chess Training’, “because knowing them will most certainly help you play a good move whether the position seems familiar or not”.

His book offers:

  1. Original content (he’s dismissive of books which repeat examples from the past, and also of books which haven’t been computer checked)
  2. Three levels of difficulty (the first part is for players of 1600-1900 strengh, the second part for 1900-2200 strength and the third part, presumably for 2200+ strength, where the questions demand ‘the highest level of abstract thinking’)
  3. Mixed exercises with no hints (so you have no idea what’s going to come next)
  4. Focus on what remained behind the scenes (so, instead of analysing the rest of the game he provides a possible conclusion  given best play, which, he believes, provides more solid training material than the flawed continuation in the game)

There are 90 questions in total, 30 in each section. As a 1900 strength player the first two sections should be appropriate for me.

The first position in the book comes from Winterberg – Lubbe (Magdeburg 2019). You have to choose a continuation for White here.

Here’s how Moranda assesses the position:

“A brief review of the position reveals that a major backlash is coming in White’s direction. Black just needs to remove the queen from e6 and make way for the e7-pawn to go all the way to e5. As a result, White will not only be forced to concede space, but also have to spend time re-routing his minor pieces from their overly exposed outposts on d4 and h4.  But this would by no means be the end of the story for White. With Black expanding his pieces would improve in quality, and it would only be a matter of time before they would shift their attention towards possible weaknesses present in White’s camp. Such a weakness is represented by the c5-pawn, which would be rather difficult to defend should the white bishop be compelled to step aside. At the same time, if White becomes too absorbed with maintaining control over the queenside, Black could very effectively switch to an attack against the white king due to his space advantage by means of …Nf7-g5. That is a grim prospect for sure but maybe there is an antidote to this looming chaos?”

I won’t tell you the answer: you’ll have to buy the book to find out.

Now look at the first question in Chapter 2:

It’s again White’s move in L van Foreest – Navara (Skopje 2018).

What do you think?

Moranda’s explanation again:

“At first sight it is hard to believe that this crazy position arose out of a Giuoco Piano which is a rather timid, manoeuvring opening. White has just embarked on a risky venture sending a knight deep into the heart of the opponent’s position. Black has responded with an offer to exchange queens, a perfectly viable solution from the perspective of limiting White’s chances of playing for an attack afterwards. The decision White should take is far from obvious as there are, at this point in time, five different discovered checks at his disposal. All of them look dangerous, but simultaneously none of them looks lethal enough. White would also love to include the remaining pieces into play, but he does not seem to have the time to do this. Notably, the proximity of the black queen to his own monarch constitutes an element White cannot easily ignore before furthering his attack. Thus I ask you dear reader, what should White do?”

A lot of words, a lot of explanations. The style is informal, often colloquial and sometimes amusing. “Do you ever have chess nightmares? You know, dreams of yourself taking part in a tournament and losing every single game or, even worse, finding yourself playing a game with the London System as White?” “At first glance this move is uglier than a Fiat Multipla.” You might like this sort of thing, or you might consider it out of place in a serious instructional book. Your choice. In general, though, I found the explanations excellent.

From a personal point of view, the 30 questions in the first chapter were pitched at just the right level for me: instructive and helpful. The second chapter, as well as the third, though, were much too deep. While I enjoyed reading the solutions and explanations I thought they were too hard for me to learn from. There’s a lot more than simply understanding the strategic ideas: you also have to calculate accurately to justify them: it was the calculation as much as the strategy that was too much for me. The book demonstrates clearly that tactics and strategy are inextricably entwined, and that, in today’s chess, positional sacrifices are an increasingly important weapon which ambitious players need to understand.

I’d have liked to have seen the openings of the games in question, and could have done with shorter explanations rather than the three or four pages of partly computer-generated analysis provided for each position, but, if you’re more serious about studying chess books than I am you may well disagree.

I read chess books mainly for enjoyment, and it’s 40 years or more since I had any real ambitions about improving my chess, so, although I’m the right strength, I’m not really part of the target market for this book.

Moranda is clearly an outstanding teacher at this level, and seems to come highly recommended online. The positions are well chosen and the ideas clearly explained: it’s obvious a lot of work and passion has gone into creating this book. The author is also an openings expert, seemingly favouring lines leading to positions which are both tactically and strategically rich: you’ve seen that he’s pretty scathing about the Giuoco Piano and the London System. If you prefer simpler methods of starting the game you will be less likely to reach the sort of positions featured here. While I consider the claim that it’s for anyone 1600+ to be a trifle optimistic, if you’re a strong and ambitious player (say 2000+, although anyone 1800+ will benefit from at least the first chapter) and you’re prepared to work hard, this book will undoubtedly improve your understanding of grandmaster chess strategy.

Richard James, Twickenham 2nd February 2021

Richard James
. Richard James

Book Details :

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Thinkers Publishing; 1st edition (19 Nov. 2020)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:9492510901
  • ISBN-13:978-9492510907
  • Product Dimensions: 17.78 x 2.54 x 24.13 cm

Official web site of Thinkers Publishing

Universal Chess Training, Wojciech Moranda, Thinker's Publishing, 2020
Universal Chess Training, Wojciech Moranda, Thinker’s Publishing, 2020

How to Swindle in Chess

How to Swindle in Chess, Andrew Soltis, Batsford, 2020
How to Swindle in Chess, Andrew Soltis, Batsford, 2020

“International Grandmaster Andrew Soltis is chess correspondent for the New York Post and a very popular chess writer. He is the author of many books including What it Takes to Become a Chess Master, Studying Chess Made Easy and David vs Goliath Chess.”

GM Andrew Soltis
GM Andrew Soltis

From the Batsford web site :

“A book by (a) stalwart chess writer on an aspect of chess that is quite common, but little is written about, swindling in chess. In chess, a swindle is a ruse by which a player in a losing position tricks his opponent, and thereby achieves a win or draw instead of the expected loss. Renown(ed) chess writers Horowitz and Reinfeld observe that swindles, “though ignored in virtually all chess books”, “play an enormously important role in over-the-board chess, and decide the fate of countless games”. Andrew Soltis, American chess journalist, says swindles are not accidental or a matter of luck. Swindling is a skill. But there has been almost nothing written about how to do it, how to make yourself lucky in chess. Swindling means setting traps that exploit an opponent’s over-confidence. It means choosing the move that has the greatest chance of winning, rather than the move that has the least chance of losing. Soltis’ new proposal will explain to players of all levels how to do just that with plenty of examples to explain along the way.”

“… there has been almost nothing written about… ” swindles. True until recently (although books by Shamkovich/Schiller and LeMoir come to mind), but perhaps it’s unfortunate that this book was published at about the same time as David Smerdon’s outstanding book on the same subject.

Soltis’ view of what constitutes a swindle seems rather narrower than Smerdon’s. Most of the examples here are longer extracts from games where the player with an advantage in a complex position failed to win.

The first three chapters define swindles and explain the difference between swindles and traps.

Chapter Four tells you how to Make Yourself Lucky.

According to Soltis you should:

(a) Identify your best tactical resources,

(b) Give your opponent choices, and,

(c) Confuse him.

There’s quite a lot of British interest in this book, and here is Rowson – Emms (Gibraltar 2004).

If you’re clearly winning, but the position is chaotic and you perhaps don’t have too much time left to calculate it’s natural to make safe, sensible moves rather than looking for the quickest win.

This policy doesn’t always work, though.

This looks grim for Rowson: he’s two pawns down and all his opponent’s forces are in ideal attacking positions, with the immediate threat of Rxb2+.

“In mutual time pressure, White found an inspired bid to confuse, 34. Nb5~.

“It is confusing because all of Black’s main options seem to win. In fact, they all do. ‘But visually there is a lot to process’, White said after the game.”

Soltis then analyses the four captures on b5 and continues:

“No human can analyze all that in time pressure. Black made the common-sense decision 34… Rxb2+ 35. Rxb2 axb5.”

The game continued 36. Qf4~ Nc3+ 37. Ka1 when we rejoin Soltis:

“Again 37… Rf8 would have won. So would 37… Qa7. But common sense says Black should not be making his pieces passive when the tactics are reaching a peak.

“They are actually pretty active after 37… Qa7 38. Rh2 Ra8! because he mates first after 39. Qh6 Nb3+! 40. Rxb3 Qxa2+!

“Black made the intuitive decision to keep his pieces more flexible with 37… Rb7.

“White still needed a miracle. He might have tried 38. Qg5, with the idea of Qd8+. But 38… Rd7 is more than adequate.

“He changed the subject of the conversation with 38. Qe3~. That gave Black something new to think about, the threat to his knight.

“(It set a delicious trap 38…. Nc6 39. Rfc2! b4 40. Rxc3! and wins.)”

Now Soltis points out that 38… Qc5 would have won (as, according to Stockfish 12 would Rc8). Instead, Emms played 38… e5??, when Soltis mentions 39. Bc4! as leading to a position with equal chances, and Stockfish 12 adds 39. Rh2 as also being equal. After 39. Qg5!, Qa5 would have won, but 39… Ra7 turned out to be a blunder. White won after 40. Qd8+ Kg7 41. Qf6+ Kd8 42. Bc4! d5 43. Rh2! and Black resigned.

You’ll notice the symbol ~, which Soltis uses to annotate a move which, although not objectively best, is the most practical.

Chapter Five looks at swindles from the perspective of the victim (swindlee) and asks why players fall for swindles. For instance ‘The swindlee believes only two results are possible’ and ‘The swindlee wants to win quickly’. You might think differently: ‘The swindlee is in time trouble’, ‘The swindlee miscalculates’ or ‘The swindlee loses concentration’.

Further chapters again take other approaches, although there seems to be some overlap between them: ‘False Narrative and Bluffing’, ‘Panic Worthy’, ‘The Swindling Process’, ‘Swindler Versus Swindlee’. ‘Royal Swindles’ looks at swindles involving kings: perpetual check, stalemate and king marches. Finally, ‘The Very Lucky’ features three great swindlers, Judit Polgar, Lasker and Carlsen.

Here’s another all British example: Norwood – Plaskett from the 1990 British Championship held in Eastbourne.

Black’s a pawn up at the moment but, as Soltis explains:

“White threatens 26. Bb7, trapping the queen (26… Qa3 27. Ra1).

“Black can give up the Exchange, 25… Rc7 26. Be5 Qc8 27. Bxc7 Qxc7. But even with his extra pawn he would be significantly worse.

“An experienced defender – not just a swindler – would try to distract White by offering a choice. After 25… e5 Black would be alive after 26. Bxe5 Qe6.

“But if White makes the right decision, 26. Bb7! Qe6 27. Bxc8 Rxc8, he again has good winning chances. (Remember this position.)

“After 28. Qe2 a6 29. Ra5, for example, it would be harder for Black to draw than for White to win.

“Black felt his situation was dire and went for 25… Nd5~. It was partially based on 26. cxd5?? Qxb5 and 26. Bxd5? exd5 27. Rxd5 Be7 with near-equality.

“He was mainly betting that he would find counterchances if White replied 26. Rxc5! Rxc5 27. cxd5.”

Soltis then spends some time analysing that position and concluding that White would have been winning.

Returning to his narrative:

“But there was one other option for White and it occurred on the board: 26. Ra1? overlooked Black’s threat, 26… Qxb5! 27. cxb5 Nxc3 (28. Qxc3?? Bxf2+).

“The position is slightly better for White. Black can anchor his bishop on d4 with …e5. He may also be able to use tactics to liquidate the queenside pawns, bringing the position closer to a draw, e.g. 28. Bc6 Bd4 29. Ra5 a6!? 30. Rxa6 Nxb5.

“But the jarring effect of a swindle took effect and play went 28. Ra6? Bb6 29. Qb3 Ne2+ 30. Kh2? Bxf2 31. Qf3? Bxg3+ 32. Kh1 Rc1+ and Black eventually won.

“So was Black’s decision to choose 25… Nd5 over 25… e5 correct?

“The experienced swindler would say ‘Yes’ because White had three ways to go wrong (26. cxd5??, 26. Bxd5? and 26. Ra1?)

“The experienced defender would say ‘No!’ because 26. Rxc5! would have given White better winning chances than after 25… e5.”

This extract exemplifies some of the slight problems I have with the annotations. Some of it, inevitably I suppose, doesn’t quite stand up to Stockfish 12, which thinks that 25… Rc7 was a better drawing chance than either Nd5 or e5, and in that variation, Qc3 was better than Bxc7. It also considers the position in the 28. Bc6 line in the game to be completely level. Perhaps, from a GM perspective, White is slightly better, but I’m not a GM so I really have no idea.

Soltis also writes as if it’s plausible that a strong player will fall for an obvious trap. Is it really likely that a strong tactician like Norwood would have considered 26. cxd5??, or would have played 26. Bxe5 rather than 26. Bb7 after 25… e5?

At the same time I felt that he sometimes reads too much into what the players might have been thinking about and how far ahead they saw. Were Norwood’s subsequent mistakes caused by ‘the jarring effect of a swindle’, by time trouble, perhaps by a combination of the two, maybe by something else entirely? You’d have to ask him to find out.

As is to be expected from Soltis, this is a workmanlike book with, as you will have seen from these examples a lot of exciting chess, as well as some helpful advice on how to play – and how to avoid -swindles. I certainly enjoyed reading it, but I’m not convinced I learnt anything new. The general appearance of the book is rather old-fashioned, and there are a few – admittedly insignificant – notation errors.

If you’re looking for a book on swindles I’d strongly advise you go for Smerdon first: it really is an excellent – and highly entertaining – read. If that book whets your appetite for more swindles, you won’t be disappointed with Soltis. Recommended for players of all levels, but not a first choice.

Richard James, Twickenham 26th January 2021

Richard James
Richard James

Book Details :

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Batsford Ltd; 1st edition (5th March 2020)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:1849945632
  • ISBN-13:978-1849945639
  • Product Dimensions: 15.24 x 2.03 x 23.11 cm

Official web site of Batsford

How to Swindle in Chess, Andrew Soltis, Batsford, 2020
How to Swindle in Chess, Andrew Soltis, Batsford, 2020

Sherlock’s Method – The Working Tool for the Club Player

Sherlock's Method - The Working Tool for the Club Player
Sherlock’s Method – The Working Tool for the Club Player

From the book’s rear cover :

“The book before you is a product of what happens when two chess players start a relationship (which started over six years ago) and enter a dialogue about how to get ready for the next tournament. The content of this book is a training program for players who plan to play an over-the-board tournament a few weeks from the time they start training with this book. This book, unlike other similar books in the field of improvement, does not have a central theme. In other words, we are not focused solely on openings, middlegames or endgames. Moreover, the book does not only concentrate on specific themes (calculation, positional decisions, or other strategic aspects), though many of these concepts are addressed throughout the book. Instead, this book offers a holistic view on how to approach every single position in it, regardless of the phase of the game or the nature of the position. We try to teach players how to identify types of decisions in various positions, while pointing at the trade-off between a hardcore calculation and a heuristics judgment.”

“GM Elshan Moradiabadi was born and raised in Tehran, Iran. He learned to play chess at age 7 by watching his dad play against a friend. His passion and will to get better grew fast and in 2001, at the age of 15, he won Iran’s Chess Championship with a 2712 rating performance. He became a GM in 2005 and represented Iran in five Chess Olympiads. He won the Bronze Medal at the Asian Games in 2006 with the Iranian team. Elshan received his B.S. in Chemical Engineering from Sharif University of Technology and moved to the United States in 2012. Since then, he has been active in the US chess scene. In his first years, he pursued two master’s degrees from Texas Tech University (TTU). With the TTU chess team he won the Final Four in 2012 and the Pan Ams in 2015. Elshan has also essayed numerous articles and reports for different chess websites and publications. Elshan coached the US team in the World Team Championship in 2019 in Astana, Kazakhstan.”

“WGM Sabina Foisor was born in 1989 in Romania to a chess family and learned to play chess at age 4. With two International Masters and her mother being one of the strongest female chess players in the country and world, Sabina soon followed in her footsteps. She won multiple National and European titles in her age category (from Girls under 8-20) in different styles of chess (Normal, Blitz, Rapid and Solving Problems). Sabina was awarded the title of WGM in 2007 and a year later, she received a full scholarship to attend college in the United States. She pursued her undergraduate and master’s degrees in Linguistics and Intercultural Communication. She has represented the United States since 2009, being an important part of the US team in five Chess Olympiads and four Women’s World Team Championships. Her biggest achievement was winning the US Women’s Chess Championship in 2017 after unexpectedly losing her mother two months previously.”

 

I have two theories.

One is that most players would be much better off reading books aimed at a lower level than books aimed at a higher level.

(Here, for example, is a friend of mine, possibly a slightly stronger player than me, discussing Michael Stean’s excellent book Simple Chess, a short pre-computer book aimed at average club players.  Just the sort of book that many of today’s coaches would advise you not to read, partly because some of the analysis no longer stands up and partly because it’s over-simplistic.)

My second theory follows on from this: most chess books are really suitable for much higher rated players than the publishers claim. Consider, for example, books marketed as being ‘for kids’ which are essentially books written for adult club players with a few added cartoons.

Here’s what the authors have to say in their introduction:

“This book is composed of three parts, each broken down into two subsections. The parts are as follows: simple positions, endgames, and complex decisions. There are 150 positions in the first part, 120 in the second part, and 42 in the third part. The targeted readers for the book are players rated between 1700 and 2300. The range may seem rather wide, but the variety of concepts addressed makes it possible for the players in the aforementioned range to enjoy and learn from the book’s content.”

They recommend you spend up to 15 minutes per exercise in Parts I and II, and 25 minutes per exercise in part III.

You should write down your thoughts, read the solutions, and, in a week’s time, repeat the process to see how your thinking process has changed.

The USP of this book is that the authors, who are fans of detective fiction, introduce each part with a Sherlock Holmes pastiche, which you might, I suppose, either like or find a trifle annoying. The idea is that, just as Holmes used specific thinking processes to solve crimes, the reader has to use specific thinking processes to solve the exercises.

As a player of about 1900 strength, I should, at least in terms of rating, be part of the target audience for the first two parts of the book. Let’s look at a few examples and find out.

This is Q8. It’s in Chapter 1 so it’s a Simple Position. It’s Black to play his 24th move in Handke – Naiditsch (Bundesliga 2017). Here’s the authors’ analysis of this position.

24… Rxd4!

This would have been the correct continuation.

Instead 24… Bxb4?? was chosen by Black. OK, the ideas are easy, but not too easy! This is an example of considering the opponent’s counterplay before committing to a non-forcing tactical sequence. Black picks up a pawn, but White is not forced to take back immediately, and in fact obtains a winning position with a critical in-between move. After 25. Ng5! g6 26. cxb4 Rxd4 27. Qc3! the queen’s path is paved for her to be transferred to the kingside where Black is rather helpless due to the numerous weaknesses and the lack of presence of his pieces to defend his king. After 27… Rd5 28. Qh3 h5 29. Bxh5! +- White is completely winning, but somehow ended up losing this winning position after not committing to 29… Kg7 30. Bxg6! Rh8 31. Bh5!.

25. cxd4 Bxb4 (slight advantage to Black)

Now White can continue with his attacking plan on the kingside. However after:

26. f5 exf5 27. Rxf5 g6 28. Rf2 Bxa5!

White’s idea with Nd6 is not so consequential as f7 is well-protected.

29. Nd6 Qc7 30. Rcf1 Bd5 31. Bf3 Be6

and White’s initiative is gone, while Black’s queenside will start to roll soon.

(Well, Stockfish 12 is much less convinced than Stockfish 11 that Black is a lot better here, but we’ll let it pass.)

Would you consider this a Simple Position? I didn’t try to solve it myself, and am not sure how much, if anything, I would have seen in 15 minutes. If the position was too hard for a 2684 rated GM it would certainly be too hard for me.

In fact many of the examples in the book are positions which top GMs (Carlsen, Anand and many others) failed to get right.

I found this position, where Anand played the correct move, instructive.

In the game Anand – Grischuk (WCh Rapid 2017) White’s bishop on b2 looks strong, but Vishy chose to trade it off with 16. Bxf6!.

The authors explain:

“Great judgment and a simple decision.

“The pawn on e4 was under fire from Black’s pieces while Black was planning to exert more pressure by playing … Ba5. With this move and the next one, Vishy completely outplays Black’s bishop on b6.”

After 16… Qxf6 17. Nc4! they add:

“White gradually builds up his play on the kingside as the bishop on b6 does not take part in the game!”

Here’s an everyday pawn ending. With seconds remaining on the clock, Quang Liem Le had what looked like a 50-50 shot in his game against Mamedov.

He chose 52. Kd3?, which soon lost, but could have saved a half point by going the other way:

52. Kf3! Kd4 53. Kf2! taking the diagonal opposition, when both players queen.

Very instructive again, but what you really want to know is whether I enjoyed the book.

To be perfectly honest, not very much.

I read chess books primarily for enjoyment. If I happen to learn something as well, that’s a bonus. I found the more positional questions helpful, while the tactical exercises, with a lot of computer generated analysis, made my brain hurt. But that’s just me.

If, however, you’re really serious about improving your chess and you’re prepared to follow the instructions, working hard on each position, then this could be just the book for you.

The positions are well chosen to cover a wide range of themes, and the solutions are fully explained. You might think some of the explanations might have been clearer, and the English, although it doesn’t really matter, might have been more idiomatic. You might also notice that, in positions where margins are very thin, different engines will choose different moves and give different assessments. You might wish for some recognition of human factors such as ‘playability’ rather than just computer analysis. But strong and ambitious players who have the time and motivation to put in the required effort will undoubtedly benefit a lot.

Where I’d disagree with Moradiabadi and Foisor is that I’d consider it most suitable for players of at least 2000 strength. I think the 1700-1999 folk would probably learn more from either simpler or more specifically targeted positions.

As a final word, I should add that, as always with Thinkers Publishing, the production values are excellent.

Richard James, Twickenham 21st January 2021

Richard James
. Richard James

Book Details :

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Thinkers Publishing; 1st edition (19 Nov. 2020)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:949251091X
  • ISBN-13:978-9492510914
  • Product Dimensions: 16.51 x 1.91 x 22.86 cm

Official web site of Thinkers Publishing

Sherlock's Method - The Working Tool for the Club Player
Sherlock’s Method – The Working Tool for the Club Player

Magnus Carlsen : 60 Memorable Games

Magnus Carlsen : 60 Memorable Games, Andrew Soltis, Batsford, 2020
Magnus Carlsen : 60 Memorable Games, Andrew Soltis, Batsford, 2020

“International Grandmaster Andrew Soltis is chess correspondent for the New York Post and a very popular chess writer. He is the author of many books including What it Takes to Become a Chess Master, Studying Chess Made Easy and David vs Goliath Chess.”

GM Andrew Soltis
GM Andrew Soltis

From the Batsford web site :

“Following on from the long success of one of the most important chess books ever written, Bobby Fischer: My 60 Memorable Games, renowned chess writer Andrew Soltis delivers a book on today’s blockbuster chess player Magnus Carlsen.

Magnus Carlsen has been the world’s number one player for more than a decade, has won more super-tournaments than anyone ever and is still in his prime. He is the only player to repeatedly win the world championships in classical, speed and blitz chess formats. This book details his remarkable rise and how he acquired the crucial skills of 21st-century grandmaster chess

He will defend his world championship title this autumn and if he wins, it will set a record of five championship match victories. This book take you through how he wins by analysing 60 of the games that made him who he is, describing the intricacies behind his and his opponent’s strategies, the tactical justification of moves and the psychological battle in each one.

This book is essential for chess enthusiasts, competitors and professionals of all skill sets.”

 

Andrew Soltis has been a prolific author of chess books over the course of several decades. I first encountered him when I read – and thoroughly enjoyed The Younger School of Soviet Chess, published by Bell, the predecessors of Batsford, back in 1976. I particularly relished his unique, story-telling style of annotation, which has been a feature of many of his books.

His titles have ranged widely, from opening monographs to serious historical works, often concerning chess in the old Soviet Union. Yet he’s never received the publicity accorded to other, more colourful and controversial, writers, nor, perhaps, the respect he deserves.

Perhaps this is because he’s never been published by today’s leading chess book publishers. His historical works are published by McFarland, while he’s written a steady stream of books for average club player under the Batsford imprint.

Ah yes, Batsford. Back in the day they were the most celebrated publisher of chess books on the planet. They can trace their chess ancestry back to Staunton’s friend and publisher Henry Bohn, whose business was later taken over by George Bell & Sons, who were in turn taken over by Batsford. But that’s a story for another time. Batsford are still publishing chess books, although, compared to their glitzier rivals, they have a rather old-fashioned appearance. Soltis is the author of many of their more recent books, but they also have the rights to a number of classic titles, most notably Fischer’s My Sixty Memorable Games.

The first thing you’ll notice about Soltis’s new collection of Magnus Carlsen’s games is the title: Magnus Carlsen: 60 Memorable Games. Cheeky, or what? It wasn’t difficult to get the publishers’ approval, and the original author was sadly not around to object, although I suspect his ghost is ranting and raging even now.

A misjudgement, I think: a different number of games and a different adjective would have been fine. But they say you can’t judge a book by its cover, so let’s look inside.

The format is very similar to Bobby’s book. Sixty chapters with one game to a chapter, each having a catchy title and a brief introduction putting it in context. One difference is that all the games are wins for our hero. You wouldn’t say they were necessarily his greatest games, though. They include blitz and blindfold games, and, for example, the game where he famously hung a piece in the opening against Gawain Jones. In fact you get more than 60 games for your money: there are several others in Soltis’s introduction, and more buried within the annotations.

At the start of the book Soltis asks “What made Magnus?”. The first answer is revealing: playability. The ability to judge how easy positions are to play. This is a point which is hammered home throughout the book. Carlsen excels at assessing positions, but his assessments are based on which player will find it easier to play good moves, which is often very different from computer assessment. Then there’s his versatility: he can play any type of position equally well and might play almost any opening against you. As we all know, he has an exceptional memory. He also has a very strong mindset: he is able to recover quickly from defeats and fight back from mistakes in his games. Readers of Chess Improvement: It’s all in the Mindset will know how important this is. He has exceptional stamina, which is why he will play on and on waiting for a mistake in positions which most of us would give up as drawn. He is also highly intuitive.

This is not the only anthology of Carlsen’s games on the market. Whether or not it’s the one for you will depend on how you react to Soltis’s style of annotation, which is very much based on verbal explanations. Variations are given where necessary, but what you don’t get, and many potential readers will be relieved by this, is pages of long computer-generated analysis.

This is a position from one of the earlier games in the book, Brynell – Carlsen (Gausdal 2005), with White to play his 32nd move.

If I were Black here I’d look at the equal material and bishops of opposite colours and consider offering a draw followed by heading off to the bar for a pint.

Here’s Soltis:

“Why doesn’t White have the superior winning chances? After all, he has the famous ‘queenside pawn majority’.

“Yes, but there are two factors that matter much more. One is the difference in bishops.

“White’s bishop has no offensive power. While queens are on the board it can only defend.

“Black’s bishop, on the other hand, ties White’s queen to the defense of f2.

“That’s not enough to give Black an edge. But it’s enough to keep the game going.”

32. Qf3 f5!

“This is the second factor that favors Black. Carlsen has a kingside pawn majority.

“They cannot create a useful passed pawn, as a queenside majority might.

“But they can become a powerful offensive weapon if …e5-e4 and …f4-f3+ drives the white queen from the defense of f2.

“A secondary plan is … g5-g4 and … h5-h4-h3+.

“Note that if White offers a trade of queens, even by 33. Qf4 Qxf4 34. gxf4, Black could refuse, 33… Qb2!, for example.”

What do you think? I, as a 1900 strength player, found the explanation very instructive, but I’d imagine someone of, say, 2200 strength would find it obvious and over-simplistic.

Here’s another example, this time an opening.  Carlsen – Wojtaszek (Gashimov Memorial 2018).

Carlsen’s just played his 9th move in an unusual variation of the Sicilian.

“Here’s an admittedly over-simplified way of evaluating the position:

“First, just look at the top half of the diagram.

“The Black pieces and pawns are on the same squares they could be on in other balanced Sicilian positions, such as in the Richter-Rauzer or Scheveningen variations.

“Now look at the bottom half of the diagram. White’s pieces and pawns are uncommon but coordinated. The worst thing you could say is that he has no obvious plan except a kingside attack, begun by pushing his g-pawn.

“Now let’s consider specifics. After 9… Be7 White must avoid 10. g4? because 10… Nxg4! 11. fxg4? Bg5! loses his queen.

“Instead, 10. Kb1 0-0 11. g4 and then 11… Nd7, perhaps followed by … Nc5 and … b4 would have the double-edged nature of a typical Sicilian.”

Instead, Wojtaszek played 9… h5, when, because Carlsen’s knight was on g1 rather than d4, he was able to meet by Nh3 followed by Ng5, winning in short order when Black chose to keep his king in the centre.

“Over-simplified”? That word again. But top level games these days are so complicated that it’s hard to annotate them for club standard players.

I found the annotations of more tactical positions slightly confusing on occasion, but, given the nature of the games, that’s entirely understandable. By and large, Soltis does a good job in attempting to explain his selected games in terms that are readily understandable and instructive to club standard players. He’s a highly experienced journalist who really knows how to write: something that can’t be said of all chess authors.

You might have noticed that, although published in England, US spellings are favored (sic). I spotted a few notation and diagram errors: slightly annoying but there will always be one or two that slip through the net.

Games collections are rightly popular, and every chess library needs at least one volume of Carlsen’s best games. This isn’t the last word, not least because Magnus has many more years ahead of him, and there are other books on the market which I don’t have to hand for direct comparisons. It’s always a good idea to consider alternatives before making your move.

I enjoyed it: the games were well chosen and all full of interest. I found the annotations were pitched at the right level for me. While higher rated players find prefer more detailed notes, if you’re between about 1500 and 2000 strength I’m sure you’ll enjoy it too.

 

Here, in full, but without annotations, are the games referred to above.

 

Richard James, Twickenham 14th January 2021

Richard James
Richard James

Book Details :

  • Paperback : 384 pages
  • Publisher:Batsford Ltd; 1st edition (12 Nov. 2020)
  • Language:English
  • ISBN-10:1849946507
  • ISBN-13:978-1849946506
  • Product Dimensions: 15.24 x 2.79 x 23.37 cm

Official web site of Batsford

Magnus Carlsen : 60 Memorable Games, Andrew Soltis, Batsford, 2020
Magnus Carlsen : 60 Memorable Games, Andrew Soltis, Batsford, 2020

Rewire Your Chess Brain : Endgame studies and mating problems to enhance your tactical ability

Rewire Your Chess Brain: Endgame studies and mating problems to enhance your tactical ability, Cyrus Lakdawala, Everyman Chess, August 2020
Rewire Your Chess Brain: Endgame studies and mating problems to enhance your tactical ability, Cyrus Lakdawala, Everyman Chess, August 2020

Cyrus Lakdawala is an IM and former US Open Champion who teaches chess and has written over 25 books on chess openings.

IM Cyrus Lakdawala
IM Cyrus Lakdawala

The ever prolific Cyrus Lakdawala’s latest book offers a collection of endgame studies and problems aimed primarily at players who are not all that familiar with the world of chess compositions.

Much of the material is taken from the Facebook group Chess Endgame Studies and Compositions which Lakdawala runs with Australian GM Max Illingworth. I should declare an interest here as I’m a member of, and a very occasional contributor to, this group.

The first half of the book introduces the reader to the world of endgame studies. After a brief preliminary chapter taking us on a journey of almost a thousand years up to 1750 (though I’m not sure how Al Adli was composing in both 800 and 900), we move onto a collection of studies with the stipulation ‘White to play and draw’. Like this one (the solutions are at the end of the review).

Frédéric Lazard L’Échiquier de Paris 1949

(Lazard’s first name is anglicized to Frederick in the book. He died in 1948: perhaps this was first published in a posthumous tribute.)

The next, and longest, chapter is, you won’t be surprised to hear, devoted to ‘White to play and win’ studies.

Another short example:

Mikhail Platov Shakhmaty 1925

Then we move on from studies to problems. After a brief excursion to Mates in 1 in Chapter 4, Chapter 5 deals with mates in 2, like this one from the ever popular Fritz Giegold.

Fritz Emil Giegold Kölnische Rundschau 1967

(The first word of the newspaper is given as Kolner, without an umlaut: Wikipedia tells me the correct name.)

Another composer to feature heavily in this book is the great Puzzle King himself: Sam Loyd. Here’s an example from Chapter 6: Mates in Three Moves.

Sam Loyd Cleveland Voice 1879

Chapter 7 brings us some mates in four or more moves. Chapter 8 looks at some eccentric problems, Chapter 9 looks at study like themes in real games (yes, Topalov-Shirov, as you probably guessed, is there), and finally Chapter 10 presents us with some studies composed by young American IM Christopher Yoo.

On a personal level, I’d have liked some helpmates, which are often very attractive to practical players, and perhaps also problems with other stipulations: serieshelpmates or selfmates, for example. A short introduction to fairy pieces and conditions would also have been interesting. Something for a sequel, perhaps?

Cyrus Lakdawala has a large and devoted following, and his fans will certainly want this book. Those who don’t like his style will stay well clear. As for me, I find Everyman Cyrus a far more congenial companion than NiC Cyrus: do I detect a firmer editorial hand in removing some of the author’s more fanciful analogies? Given the nature of the book I think it works quite well: entertaining positions can take ‘entertaining’ writing but more serious material demands more serious writing.

The studies and problems are well chosen to be attractive to the keen over the board player who is not very familiar with the world of chess compositions. If you don’t know a lot about this aspect of chess and, perhaps enjoying the examples in this review, would like to investigate further, this book would be a good place to start.

The current Zeitgeist seems to demand that chess books are marketed as being good for you rather than just enjoyable and entertaining, and here it’s claimed that solving the puzzles in this book will ‘without question, undoubtedly improve the ‘real world’ tactical ability of anyone attempting to do so. Well, possibly. Solving endgame studies has been considered by many, Dvoretsky for one, to be beneficial for stronger players, and I quite understand why. I’m less convinced, though, that solving problems is the most effective way to improve your tactical skills, but it may well give you an increased appreciation of the beauty that is possible over 64 squares, and inspire you to find beautiful moves yourself.

My issue with the book concerns lack of accuracy, particularly in the problem sources. Puzzle 190 was composed by (the fairly well known) Henry D’Oyly Bernard, not by (the totally unknown) Bernard D’Oily. Frustratingly for me, I seem to remember pointing this out to the author on Facebook. Puzzle 242, a much anthologised #3 by Kipping, is given as ‘Unknown source 1911’. It took me 30 seconds (I know where to look) to ascertain that it was first published in the Manchester City News. As Fritz Giegold was born in 1903, it seems unlikely that he was precocious enough to compose Puzzle 237 in 1880.  Again, a quick check tells me it was actually published in 1961. And so it goes on.

It’s not just the sources: the final position of puzzle 203 has three, not four pins. Someone with more knowledge of chess problems might have pointed out that in Puzzle 164 Sam Loyd displays an early example of the Organ Pipes Theme.

Even the back cover, which you can see below, is remiss, in claiming that ‘In a chess puzzle, White has to force mate in a stipulated number of moves’. No – you mean ‘chess problem’, not ‘chess puzzle’.

Chess problem and study enthusiasts are, by their nature, very much concerned with accuracy. It’s unfortunate that this book doesn’t meet the high standards they’d expect.

To summarise, then: this is a highly entertaining book which will appeal to many players of all levels, especially those who’d like to find out more about studies and problems. It’s somewhat marred by the unacceptable number of mistakes, which might have been avoided with a bit of fact checking and a thorough run through by an expert in the field of chess composition.

 

(Apologies for the repeated diagrams in the solutions: it’s a function of the plug-in used by British Chess News.)

Richard James, Twickenham 7th January 2021

Richard James
Richard James

Book Details :

  • Paperback : 530 pages
  • Publisher:Everyman Chess (31 August. 2020)
  • Language:English
  • ISBN-10:1781945691
  • ISBN-13:978-1781945698
  • Product Dimensions: 17.45 x 2.97 x 24.08 cm

Official web site of Everyman Chess

Rewire Your Chess Brain: Endgame studies and mating problems to enhance your tactical ability, Cyrus Lakdawala, Everyman Chess, August 2020
Rewire Your Chess Brain: Endgame studies and mating problems to enhance your tactical ability, Cyrus Lakdawala, Everyman Chess, August 2020