Are any members of your chess club rated below 1500?
Do you have any students rated below 1500?
If so, you’ll really want to take a look at my Chess Heroes books: a unique series of volumes taking players from learning the basics through to club standard and beyond. There’s nothing else like these books on the market. They’re based on 50 years experience teaching chess, using my private RJCC database of almost 17000 games played at this level. Every word and every position is there for a reason.
No gimmicks. No short cuts. No idle promises. Just simple no-nonsense instruction providing all the knowledge and skills you need, along with hard work and seriousness of purpose, to succeed at chess.
This is the starter book (0-500 range) explaining what a game of chess is really about. If you just want to learn the basics, this is for you.
If you want to take the game further, these four books, designed to be read in parallel, are what you require.
Written for players of about 500-1000 strength, if you’ve understood everything here you’ll be able to go along to your local chess club and play some social games without being totally outclassed. You might even be able to play lower level competitive chess if you want.
By now you may be eager to learn more. If you’re around 1000-1500 level, these books will help you make further progress. The Puzzles book is exactly what it says on the cover, while the Games book uses the ‘How Good is Your Chess’ format where you play through the games guessing the next move. I’ll soon be starting work on the second books for publication towards the end of 2024.
You can order them from Amazon here. You’ll see that I also have free downloads available if you want to have a look before you buy, or if, for instance, you want to print off some of the puzzle pages for your own or your students’ use.
I’d recommend you also read this blog post explaining some of the theory behind my teaching and writing.
Please do take a look, and if you like what you see, support me by purchases and 5* reviews!
Chess players spend hours and hours trying to memorize openings, but even Grandmasters forget their preparation.
Meanwhile, memory competitors routinely memorize thousands of facts and random digits, using special techniques that anyone can learn.
This book explains how to use these memory techniques for chess.
Teaches advanced memory techniques from scratch.
Contains full worked examples in the Ruy Lopez Exchange and Schliemann Gambit.
Ideal for tournament players who want to recall their opening repertoire perfectly.
1. Picture Notation
2. Essential Memory Techniques
3. Memory Palace Architecture
4. Example Palace: The Schliemann Transit Line
5. Example Palace: The Spanish Exchange Airport
6. Bonus: Memorising Endgames
Appendix: Picture Words for all 64 Squares
About the Author:
Author of The Chess Memory Palace (2022) and A Curious Letter from Nebuchadnezzar (2021)
I don’t know about you, but I like to know something about the author before I read a book. John Holden seems remarkably coy. It’s clear from the book that he’s a memory expert, but what are his chess credentials?
He tells us in the book that he lives in London, which is a start. His website is johnden.org, and there’s a chess.com user named John Holden whose username is NEDNHOJ (johnden reversed) with a blitz rating round about 900.
There was also a Kent junior on the grading list between 2007 and 2013, when he’d reached 160 (about 1900), who played a few rapidplay tournaments last year, giving him a 1755 rating. Are these the same person? You’d expect someone of that strength to have a higher chess.com rating than 900, especially if he’d put his memory training to good effect.
Is the author, then, either, both or neither?
If you’ve read anything about memory training in the past you’ll be aware of the Memory Palace technique which top competitive memory people use to learn the digits of pi or memorise the order of a shuffled deck of cards.
Here’s the start of the introduction. I have a few questions.
Modern chess requires its players to memorise more and more. “That’s probably the number one thing,” said top grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura, “For becoming a really strong grandmaster today you have to have a really good memory because there’s so much to memorise.”
Yes, if you want to become a really strong grandmaster like Nakamura you need a really good memory. But to what extent is this necessary if you’re a 900 online rapid player like NEDNHOJ or a 1755 rapid player like Kent’s John Holden? From my own experience, playing at that level is probably not about that sort of memory at all, and learning openings in that way might even confuse you.
Most of this effort goes on the opening moves, because you have to survive the opening to demonstrate your middlegame and endgame prowess. Although chess players have a good memory for moves, even elite players can struggle to remember their preparation at the board. And it is a constant source of frustration for all of us to spend so much time rehearsing openings.
There are some (teachers as well as players) who recommend that club level players should concentrate on opening study, while others prefer the 20-40-40 rule: 20% of your time on openings, 40% on middlegames and 40% on endings. Some even think that 20% is too high: you’re better off just playing simple openings leading to playable middlegames. One of the examples here is playing White against the Ruy Lopez Schliemann (1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 f5). How often are you going to reach this variation?
Meanwhile, a new sport of competitive memory has sprung up, which reaches new heights every year. The record for most numbers memorised in five minutes stands at over 540. In 15 minutes, 1300. A man from India has recited 70,000 digits of pi.
How is this possible? Is it a special photographic memory? Actually no, it’s the disciplined application of memory techniques – and the techniques are surprisingly simple! They tap into our brains’ natural ability to remember places, images and stories. We can all remember our route to work, and we can all understand a story, even when it’s told to us quite fast. The trick is to convert non-memorable information, like a number, into memorable images.
‘… our brains’ natural ability to remember places, images and stories’. You brain might well work like that but not everyone’s does. You might want to look at conditions such as aphantasia (the inability to form mental pictures) which would make techniques like this difficult, or perhaps impossible.
It’s like everything else: some people are very good at this sort of thing, others fairly average and others again will find it very difficult.
Here’s how it works.
We have eight consonant sounds representing the numbers 1 to 8. Therefore, each square can be associated with a word including the sound representing the file (a-h becomes 1-8) followed by the sound representing the rank (1-8). If more than one piece can move to the same square we deal with this through the number of consonants in the word. If more than one piece can move to the same square you use words with different numbers of syllables to determine which piece you should move.
You might possibly recognise this as a position from one of the main lines of the Schliemann.
Just out of interest, looking at some lichess stats (filtered on games with an average rating of 1400+:
e4 e5 (35% in this position)
Nf3 Nc6 (64% in this position)
Bb5 f5 (2% in this position)
Nc3 fxe4 (54% in this position)
Nxe4 d5 (46% in this position: the other main line, Nf6 is slightly more popular)
Nxe5 dxe4 (95% in this position)
Nxg6 Qg5 (62% in this position)
Qe2 Nf6 (93% in this position)
f4 Qxf4 (73% in this position)
Realistically, even if you play the Lopez at every opportunity you won’t get the Schliemann very often, and, even then, many of your opponents will choose alternatives at moves 4 or 5. If you’re just a club standard player I’d advise you to play something sensible like 4. d3 instead and get on with the rest of your life.
Anyway, let’s continue. Your opponent has gone down this line and you have to dig into your memory to remember what happens next.
Black’s last move was Qxf4: your word for f4 is ‘shark’ (f/6 is represented by ch/j/tch/sh, d/4 is represented by r, so you choose a monosyllabic word including these two sounds.)
It’s a sharp variation and you want to remember what to do next so you look into your Memory Palace. There you find a shark biting a jester; a match catching fire and burning a lion’s nose, making the lion roar; and a frog chewing gum. The jester gives you lol (laugh out loud, your word for e5), telling you that you now play 10. Ne5+. Well, hang on a minute. Stockfish slightly prefers Nxa7+, and d4 is by far the most popular choice on lichess, but Ne5+ is also fine, so we’ll let it pass. Then we have the match, indicating c6, so we expect our opponent to evade the check by playing 10… c6 – the only good move. Now the lion’s roar tells us to play 11. d4, again clearly best. Then the frog chewing gum gives you 11… Qh4+ 12. g3. It’s still a complicated position so you may need to extend your story a bit.
(If you’re interested in this variation, I’d add that, although 9. f4 is usually played, Stockfish flags 9. Nxa7+ as a significant improvement.)
You see how it works, then, and if you want to play this variation with either colour it’s a sharp line which you need to know well, so, in this case, memory is important.
You should by now have some idea of whether or not this technique will work for you (if you have a strong visual memory it may well do, but if you don’t, it won’t), and whether or not you’re prepared to spend the time to develop your memory in this way and apply it to improving your chess.
The second and third chapters, if you’re still undecided, explain more about memory techniques. The author has helpfully made the first three chapters available for free here.
The next two chapters provide worked examples. Chapter 4 returns to the variation of the Schliemann we looked at earlier, looking at it in more detail, including other variations that Black might choose. John Holden sees this as resembling a train journey: he’s very familiar with the journey on the London Underground from Waterloo to West Ham,
Chapter 5 takes a very different variation of the Lopez: the exchange variation, which is considered from Black’s perspective.
We’re most likely to reach this position, where White usually retreats the knight to either b3 or e2. In either case, Black will trade queens.
This time, Holden’s setting is an airport, where Ne2 is a journey through security to a connecting flight, while Nb3 takes you through immigration to leave the airport.
Again, I have a question. Yes, I can understand you need to memorise the moves in a tactical variation like the Schliemann line discussed earlier, but in this quiet line with an early queen exchange, understanding positional ideas might be more helpful.
Chapter 6 is a bonus chapter explaining how you can use the Memory Palace idea to learn theoretical endings such as KQ v KR. Chapter 7 is a miscellany, answering some of the questions you may have and tying up some loose ends. Holden mentions other learning techniques such as flashcards and spaced repetition, which I’m aware other improvers have used with success.
I notice that this book has been one of the best selling chess books on Amazon since its publication. The book is well written, well produced and well researched, and is being strongly promoted by its author, including sending a review copy to British Chess News. I’m all in favour of supporting authors who are self-publishing on Amazon if their books have something worthwhile to say (and I hope you’ll support my Chess Heroes books as well). John Holden is clearly very knowledgeable on the subject of memory training and, if you’re interested, you’ll want to read this book. However, I remain to be convinced that his chess knowledge is sufficient to make a good case for his methods.
You might have read other chess self-help books in which authors explain the methods they used to improve their rating. If the author had been able to relate how he had improved his rating as a result of using these techniques I might have been impressed, but, as far as I can tell, his rating appears to be modest and perhaps lower than when he was a junior.
Perhaps at some point I’ll write more about the place of memory in chess and how different peoples’ memory works in different ways. I know I’m not alone in thinking very much in words rather than pictures: I have a good memory for words, facts and connections but very little visual imagination and a relatively poor memory for images (which is why I can’t play blindfold chess). For this reason the method outlined here wouldn’t work for me. But, if your brain works in a different way to mine, it might be just the book to help you improve your opening knowledge and endgame techniques. I’d certainly be very interested to hear from anyone who has made a dramatic rating gain by using the Memory Palace method. But until I’ve seen some evidence I’ll remain sceptical.
“In reviews of the author’s books, Grandmaster Matthew Sadler wrote in New In Chess about David LeMoir’s writing “… always either entertaining or instructive”, and Grandmaster Jonathan Rowson (in the English Chess Federation’s Newsletter) wrote “I like LeMoir’s writing style a lot!”.
David LeMoir has written three popular and highly acclaimed chess books: How to Be Lucky In Chess, which showed how to use psychology to lure your opponent into error; How To Become A Deadly Chess Tactician, a worldwide hit which helped thousands of players to see spotting and analysing tactics as their friends, not things to be feared or shied away from; and Essential Chess Sacrifices, which made learning each of the fifteen most common piece sacrifices as easy and effective as learning a chess opening variation.
He has also become one of the UK’s most popular chess feature writers, his work having appeared in a number of national and regional magazines. Much of his work helps his readers to understand tactics and combinations in new ways, making it easier for them to spot such opportunities in their own games. This book brings together all of his articles for national magazines, a selection of articles from regional magazines plus an excerpt from each of his three previous books. Interspersed throughout are comments by the author on the trials, tribulations and motivations of the chess author. Prepare to be instructed and entertained!
Praise for Chess Scribe: “He is one of those rare talents with the necessary skill to help his readers better understand their craft… Compelling reading … Because his writing is often very funny, LeMoir’s ideas tend to stick in the memory” – Ben Graff in CHESS Magazine. “Now… a new audience can read his witty, clever and instructional articles… a glorious collection of chess articles that will keep you entertained and help to improve your rating” – IM Gary Lane in the English Chess Federation’s Newsletter.”
Christmas 1964. In Twickenham 14-year-old Richard receives a year’s subscription to British Chess Magazine. And in Bristol, 14-year-old David receives a year’s subscription to CHESS.
We both got hooked on reading about chess, and in time both became chess writers ourselves. While I was attracted to DJ Morgan’s Quotes and Queries column, David LeMoir was attracted to brilliant attacks and sacrifices. So, while I wrote about chess trivia, David wrote about tactics.
While we have a lot in common, the main difference between us is that he’s always been a much better player than me.
This, he tells us, was his lockdown project. A collection of his chess writings over half a century. You’ll find extracts from his three books, articles from CHESS and British Chess Magazine (some of you will have read some of these before) along with articles from local publications, most notably En Passant, a magazine from Norfolk, where David has lived since 1997, all interspersed with snippets of chess autobiography.
The articles cover a wide range of topics: David’s own games, tactical and sacrificial ideas, match and tournament reports, pen-pictures of other Norfolk players and much else. There’s plenty of variety here.
What you won’t get is a lot of opening theory: David often prefers less orthodox openings. You won’t get a lot of endings either: the games David demonstrates, whether his own or played by others, are usually decided in the middle game.
You will get a lot of open, attacking play with clear and informative explanations, which will inspire you to improve your tactical skills. Rapid development and open lines are often the order of the day. Bear in mind, though, that many of the articles were written in the pre-engine age, or when engines were much weaker than they are now. The author has, sensibly, I think, chosen not to rewrite his articles to reflect this.
David must be particularly fond of this early effort, which appears several times in different guises. (Click on a move on any game in this review and a board will magically appear enabling you to play through the game.)
I particularly enjoyed this game from a Norfolk club match. White outmanoeuvred his opponent, who then, with admirable imagination and presence of mind decided to sacrifice two pieces, leading to unfathomable (at least to humans) complications.
White’s choice of 31. fxe5 lost, but David LeMoir analyses three alternatives, Nxg4, Qf1 and Nb2, all of which he claims, correctly, lead to a draw. My spoilsport computer tells me White had a clear win with 31. Rd1, and that the improbable 31. Ke2 would also have given White some advantage. A fascinating position – and just the sort of chess David likes. There are important lessons here as well about randomising the position when you’re in trouble and not being scared of complications.
Two of the sections that appealed to me most concerned the author’s Norfolk chess friends Owen Hindle and Mike Read.
Hindle is almost forgotten now, but for a short period in the mid sixties he was one of England’s strongest players before chess took a back seat to married life.
This game will be of interest to two of my online friends.
Mike Read overcame serious health problems to become a Senior International Master of correspondence chess. It’s well worth studying his games: you can find out more by visiting his website.
While we’re exact contemporaries, David and I have never met, although we may well have been in the same room at the same time on various occasions in the 1970s. I might possibly have witnessed this game from a Thames Valley League match against a Richmond & Twickenham team (possibly, given his opponent, Richmond B).
The same story as in so many games in this book: a sacrifice for open lines and rapid development. This book will teach you a lot about attacking chess.
One of David’s favourite openings is the Latvian Gambit: it’s amusing to learn that, paradoxically, it’s often a good way to score a quick draw as opponents will choose a safe and dull continuation to avoid theory. Again, perhaps a lesson there, although I’m not sure whether the lesson is ‘playing sharp but dubious openings can often pay off’ or ‘make sure you’re aware of the refutation of any sharp but dubious opening your opponent might play’.
Finally, a game which was both David’s best game and worst nightmare.
There’s a lot to enjoy, and a lot to inspire you in this book. David LeMoir is an excellent writer who values clarity of expression, and the tension and excitement of club and tournament chess really come across well. It’s a collection of articles rather than a coherent book so there’s a certain amount of repetition, and production values are not quite at the level you’d expect from a professional publishing house. There are some notation and spelling errors (he’s Graeme, not Graham Buckley, and it’s Middlesbrough, not Middlesborough, for example, but this is to be expected and won’t spoil your pleasure.
As David explains, self-publishing using Amazon is a free and easy way to get into print, although you may not sell many copies.
Books of this nature should, I think, be supported. If you buy it you won’t be disappointed.
A collection of the classic games of British chess, including one or two which, though truly memorable, are by no means masterpieces; with a few more included by way of a little light relief. We shouldn’t be serious all the time, even at the chess board.
Neil is a retired county court judge who, after living in Bedford for over 40 years and playing for Bedford (and on Bedfordshire on occasions when they got desperate), now lives near Norwich and plays for Wymondham chess club.
Before going further please take this opportunity to Look Inside.
Despite being published in 2019 BCN was recently offered a copy of Memorable Games of British Chess and was unable to resist the chance to review this self-published Amazon book from Neil Hickman, a friend of Jim Plaskett.
The book is a paperback and of a size making it physically easy to read. Unlike some Amazon published efforts the paper is of decent quality (not yellowing) and the printing is clear. The diagrams are frequent and excellent of a decent size. Each diagram has a [Position after 24.0-0] type caption.
Many of you will be familiar with
which highlight successes by British chess players.
The authors book presents ninety OTB and correspondence games (which is a nice touch) covering the period 1788(!) to 2016 and selecting just this number must have been challenging to say the very least. Confidence in the book is derived early from a truly excellent List of Sources demonstrating an academic and studious attitude to the job in hand.
Each game is prefaced by background information on the game, venue, circumstances and details of the players all of which is most welcome. The book started well since the first game Bowdler-Conway, London, 1788 was unknown to myself. Instantly memorable however since Thomas Bowdler caused the creation of the verb “Bowdlerise” and the game was one of the very first recorded double rook sacrifices that is also discussed in the charming
To give you some idea of the annotations here we have game 66, Ligterink-Miles, Wijk aan Zee, 1984:
A wonderful finish to be sure.
and secondly we have Game 58 played in Luton in 1976 between Viktor Korchnoi and Peter Montgomery:
also delightful in its own modest way.
The other 88 games all have their own significance including games of historical significance covering many of the greats with detailed articles on this review web site.
The author clearly has done his homework and a nice touch is the listing for each game of where in the literature it had been previously annotated. The notes are chatty and friendly and not spoilt by reams of dull engine analysis. It was delightful to find mentions of British players who rarely get a mention such as Edward Jackson, Thomas Lawrence, Francis William Viney of the General Post Office, Herbert Francis Gook of HM Customs, Harold Saunders and Kenneth Charlesworth to name but a few.
Of course, the old favourites are given the treatment including Alekhine-Yates, Capablanca-Thomas, Bronstein-Alexander, Penrose-Tal etc plus our modern heroes such as Michael Adams, Luke McShane, Gawain Jones, David Howell, Julian Hodgson, Nigel Short and John Nunn.
I particularly like the annotations which include those from other notable authors and sources and in summary, this is a charming book that would make an excellent coffee table book for any chess enthusiast and you won’t be disappointed.
We focus on the British Chess Scene Past & Present !
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