Category Archives: Books

The Complete Chess Swindler

The Complete Chess Swindler : David Smerdon

The Complete Chess Swindler
The Complete Chess Swindler
GM David Smerdon
GM David Smerdon

David Smerdon is an Australian chess grandmaster and behavioural economist. In 2015 he published the highly successful chess opening book Smerdon’s Scandinavian.

From the book’s rear cover :

“Chess is a cruel game. We all know that feeling when your position has gone awry and everything seems hopeless. You feel like resigning. But don’t give up! This is precisely the moment to switch to swindle mode. Master the art of provoking errors and you will be able to turn the tables and escape with a draw – or sometimes even steal the full point!

Swindling is a skill that can be trained. In this book, David Smerdon shows how you can use tricks from psychology to marshal hidden resources and exploit your opponent’s biases. In a lost position, your best practical chance often lies not in what the computer recommends, but in playing your opponent.

With an abundance of eye-popping examples and training exercises, Smerdon identifies the four best friends of every chess swindler: your opponent’s impatience, their hubris, their fear, and their need to stay in control. You’ll also learn about such cunning swindling motifs as the Trojan Horse, the decoy trap, the berserk attack, and ‘window-ledging’.

So, come and join the Swindlers’ Club, become a great escape artist and dramatically improve your results. In this instructive and wildly entertaining guide, Smerdon shows you how.”

As with every recent New in Chess publication high quality paper is used and the printing is clear. The book can easily be laid flat next to the board and does not require weights to prevent it from “self-closing” (a particular bugbear of ours !). Each diagram is clear and the instructional text is (mostly !) typeset in two column format, which, we find, enables the reader to maintain their place easily. Figurine algebraic notation is used throughout and the diagrams are placed adjacent to the relevant text.

 

Who doesn’t love a good swindle? Well, if you’ve just been swindled in the final of your online club championship I guess you might not, but, in truth, as long as we’re not the victim we all love a good swindle.

So it’s surprising, then, that it’s a subject which hasn’t been covered much in chess books. Australian GM David Smerdon’s new book promises to fill that gap in your library.

Here’s Smerdon’s description of a swindle:

1) The Swindler starts from an objectively lost position.

2) The Swindler consciously provokes the victim into blundering, usually by taking advantage of some psychological trait.

3) The victim squanders the advantage, allowing the swindler to escape with a draw or even the full point.

He also offers three questions to help you find swindles.

1) What does my opponent want?

2) How is he planning to do it?

3) What’s good about my position?

Let’s look at an example.

This is Shirov-Kramnik (Groningen 1993).  White launched a manic attack right from the opening, but Black defended calmly.

Now Shirov had to make a choice. He saw 18. Qh4 Nxg3 19. Bxe7 Nxf1 20. Bxd8 Qxe5 21. Bf1 Qe3+ 22. Kb1 Bc6 which he assessed as favourable to Black due to White’s uncoordinated forces.

Instead he went for the spectacular 18. Bxh6!?! when the game concluded 18… Nxf4 19. Bxg7+ Kh7 20. Rxf4 Rg8 21. Rfg4 Rxg7 22. Rxg7+ Kh6 23. Rg8 Kh7 24. R8g7+ with a draw.

However, as Smerdon points out, Kramnik could have won with the beautiful counter queen sacrifice  21… Qxc3!!, when 22, Rxc3 Rxg7 leaves Black a piece up, while 22. bxc3 Ba3+ is a pretty standard mate. (Smerdon’s ‘exquisite’ seems a bit hyperbolic to me.)

Smerdon might have mentioned that 20… Qxc3!! would also have worked, and that Black could equally well have played 19… Kg8 20. Rxf4 Qxc3!!.

All very interesting, but was it really a swindle?

It depends.  Did Shirov see Qxc3 at move 18. at move 21, or not until after the game? If he’d decided 18. Qh4 would lose, had seen the Qxc3 defence and played Bxh6 anyway, hoping Kramnik would miss it, then, yes, it was a swindle. But if he’d seen the game conclusion in advance and played it, thinking he was forcing a draw, then it was something arguably more interesting: a mutual blunder by two of the strongest players in the world.

Why, then, did Kramnik, a future world champion rated 2710 at the time of the game, miss, on two occasions, what was essentially a fairly simple two move tactic. A psychological flaw? A cognitive bias? Perhaps he was only looking at the king side, where all the action was, so missed a tactic on the other side of the board. You could say that looking at the wrong side of the board is a cognitive bias of sorts, but it’s not what Smerdon has in mind.

There are all sorts of reasons why we make the type of mistake we really shouldn’t make. Cognitive bias, yes, but also, for example, time trouble or fatigue. It’s always interesting to hear a great player explain how he made a simple oversight. Take this example.

This is Petrosian-Kortchnoi (1963) with Black to make his 32nd move. White has an overwhelming advantage in this rook ending, but he’s facing a resourceful defender.

Smerdon quotes Petrosian. “For a long time I had regarded my position as a winning one. Thus the whole opening phase of the struggle, when Kortchnoi was unable to get out of trouble, had psychologically attuned me to the idea that the ending would be favourable to me.”

Kortchnoi tried 32… Rf8 (sheer bluff: 33. Rxh6 or Re6 both win easily) 33. d6 Rh8 34. Kg4 Rf8 when the world champion fell straight into the cunning trap: 35. Rxh6?? f3!!.

Petrosian again. “I did not even see the threat f4-f3, possibly because it was in contrast to Black’s hopeless position. Personally, I am of the view that if a strong master does not see such a threat at one he will not notice it, even if he analyses the position for twenty or thirty minutes.”

This, then, unlike the Shirov-Kramnik position, is an excellent example of where Smerdon’s theory works. Petrosian was swindled because he was overconfident, convinced that nothing could possibly go wrong.

Smerdon identifies two pairs of psychological flaws which, in his view, are usually the cause of a player being swindled. Two, impatience and hubris, are caused by overconfidence, while two more, fear and kontrollzwang (the need to keep the position under control) are caused by lack of confidence.

He goes on to suggest that, if you know your opponent is impatient, you should look for a Trojan Horse: a move which seemingly offers your opponent a quicker or easier way to win, but instead sets a trap. If he’s overconfident, consider a Decoy Trap: a move which creates two threats: with any luck he’ll meet the minor threat while missing the major threat.

On the other hand, if your opponent is looking fearful, play a Berserk Attack, which will make him even more scared than he is already. If he’s a player who likes to keep control, adopt a window-ledging strategy: randomise the position so that neither player really knows what’s happening.

This is all very interesting, and great fun as well. Along the way, we meet characters such as Aussie swindling expert Junta Ikeda, and ever-optimistic German FM Olaf Steffens: in one game here we witness him window-ledging Richmond IM Gavin Wall.

But, I wonder how often you have a choice of swindles to set. In the real world, once we’re in swindling mode we’re just trying to find moves to stay in the game and pose problems for our opponent. We’re not really going to stop and take our opponent’s mindset into consideration before deciding which swindle to set up.

Understanding your cognitive biases is important, and, I’d suggest, this is rather more useful in helping to avoid being swindled yourself than in swindling your opponent. But is it really true that swindles usually exploit psychological flaws? I’m not entirely convinced.

By now we’ve reached Part IV, where the mood changes. We now look at the Core Skills swindlers need. The corollary is, of course, that if you want to avoid being swindled you also require these skills.

You can try to swindle your opponent by heading for an ending which might be difficult or impossible to win despite a large material advantage. For instance, KQ v KR is, generally speaking, a win, but notoriously difficult in practice. Knowing the defensive techniques to give your opponent the most trouble is helpful, as is knowing how to win against best defence. KRB v KR, on the other hand, is, generally speaking, a draw, but not so easy over the board (especially if you’re playing Keith Arkell). Knowing the correct technique is again useful – for both sides.

The next two chapters cover Fortresses and Stalemate, both familiar in the rarefied world of endgame studies but not often discussed in relation to competitive chess. We then continue with Perpetual Check, a very frequent guest in Swindleland.

We also look at Creativity. Here, for example, is the conclusion of the remarkable game between Detlev Birnbaum (2190) and Eloi Relange (2420) played at Cappelle-la-Grande in 1995. You’ll have to  buy the book to find out what was really happening here.

Part V demonstrates some complete games from both master and amateur chess, including Smerdon’s favourite swindle. Finally, Part VI presents 110 quiz questions, in which you have to find, or avoid, a swindle.

This is a unique book which covers a number of important topics not usually mentioned in text books, and does so in highly entertaining fashion. Smerdon’s writing style is lively, if sometimes loose, and he presents a lot of fascinating material. You’ll find a lot of creative and resourceful ideas here which should inspire all readers to look for ways to convert their potential losses into draws, or even wins. I would guess that, in terms of chess improvement, players in the 1800-2200 range would benefit most, but I really can’t imagine any reader not falling in love with this book. There is a lot of helpful advice – most importantly perhaps, not to give up in a lost position but to look for ways to provoke your opponent into making a mistake. Not only will it help you to find swindles in your own games: it will also help you to avoid being swindled yourself.

I do have a couple of reservations: as mentioned earlier I think Smerdon overstates the importance of cognitive bias in swindles when there are many other factors involved. What looks like a swindle might, on occasion, just be a mutual blunder: to be certain we need to know the swindler’s motive. As a behavioural economist by profession, he is naturally interested in why and how decisions are made, and this is something not very often mentioned in chess literature. Cognitive bias and psychological flaws undoubtedly affect how we study chess as well as our performance at all stages of the game. Given his academic background, Smerdon would, I think, be the ideal author for a book of this nature.

I would also have preferred a broader historical perspective, but then Smerdon, unlike some other authors, is sceptical about the value of studying the classics. Mention might also have been made of endgame studies, which frequently use many of the ideas discussed in this book: you might, at one level, see all endgame studies as the result of a swindle, and I suspect that solving studies, as recommended by a number of esteemed chess coaches, might be very beneficial in helping you to find, or avoid, swindles.

In spite of these reservations, I have no hesitation in recommending The Complete Chess Swindler to all readers. There have been some exceptionally interesting chess books published this year, and this is certainly one to add to the list.

Richard James, Twickenham 23rd September 2020

Richard James
. Richard James

Book Details :

  • Paperback : 368 pages
  • Publisher: New In chess (1 Jan. 2020)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9056919113
  • ISBN-13: 978-9056919115
  • Product Dimensions: 17 x 2.3 x 23.6 cm

Official web site of New in Chess

The Complete Chess Swindler
The Complete Chess Swindler

‘The Rise and Fall of David Bronstein’ – Genna Sosonko

‘The Rise and Fall of David Bronstein’ – Genna Sosonko.

20 chapters, 17 black and white photos. Foreword by Garry Kasparov which states ‘Bronstein was the first player to propose changing the starting position of the pieces’. Now, is that really correct? But the former World No.1 gives the book the thumbs-up adding: ‘Soviet reality was so complicated’. Now, that I do agree with!

First published in 2014 in Russian, this is a more recent translation of rather a sad book. In what way ‘sad’? Well, Davy B (1924-2006) was obviously a top chesser but the stress of World Championship matches – he drew a match for the crown with Botvinnik in 1951 – meant that the remainder of his life was spent trying to explain, regroup and, above all, recover. None of the games of the match are given; in fact, no games are given at all.

It all began sadly. Dad was seven years in the Gulag. Davy narrowly escaped the Holocaust. The author is at some pains to explain his subject and I believe Sosonko has succeeded. Bronstein blamed his baldness (“I gave my hair” he told me) on the life he was obliged to live.

Chess.com on Twitter: "The great David Bronstein was born on this day in 1924 🗓️. Few have more narrowly missed the world championship title than Bronstein when he drew a match with

Ridiculously overpriced – the cover price is £24.15 – the book, one of a series, tells the tale of a gentleman sent mad by a board game whilst war raged. His writings are given generous praise but his riches lay in his games and wonderful annotations. Here we get none of this.

I met David a couple of times, in London and then Hastings, just after the second Fischer-Spassky match. We got on well. I had always dreamt of meeting the Soviet GM so this was a treat that nothing could spoil beyond everyday comparison. I wrote about it – twice, I think – so repeating much of it here about 30 years later is not going to happen.

The Sosonko text contains dozens of classical references to foreign authors chessers are not going to have heard of. Much is delivered verbatim. Bronstein, a born raconteur, told stories far into his old age when much of chess was lost to him. Having heard one or two, I can assert Sosonko has the patience, background and great love of the game; in short an excellent amanuensis. And you won’t get far into the book without encountering irrelevance heaped upon irrelevance.

The publishers website contains a 12 page PDF which I hope you’ll find revealing.  I did not like this book. I doubt David Bronstein would have liked it either.

The author is a Dutch, formerly Soviet, Grandmaster.

(Also see ‘American Chess Magazine’ No.7, p.122 and Richard James’s review of same penned on this site last May).
  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Limited Liability Company Elk and Ruby Publishing House (10 Aug. 2017)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 5950043316
  • ISBN-13: 978-5950043314
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.6 x 19.8 cm.

chessparrot

James Pratt  (on the right!)

Basingstoke 09/20

Openings for Amateurs – Next Steps

Openings for Amateurs - Next Steps
Openings for Amateurs – Next Steps

‘Openings for Amateurs – Next Steps’ – Pete Tamburro (Mongoose Press 2020). 5 sections. Amusing cartoon cover. Rabars.

This is the sequel to Openings For Amateurs ~ see below ~ which was written by the same author and published by the same publisher in 2014.

Openings for Amateurs
Openings for Amateurs

Since that time British Chess Magazine has published many monthly columns by Pete Tamburro, a US writer of vast experience and understanding with, I might add, a reference library as large as any ocean. He is a brilliant teacher, respectful of his material, his many students and of the past, in which he revels. The book has been favourably reviewed on Amazon.

Pete Tamburro
Pete Tamburro

He divides his material according to openings:

Open Games, Semi-Open Games, Closed Games, Isolated Queen’s Pawn games and Queen’s Pawn Majority Openings. Some (random) examples: Smith-Morra Gambit, Missed opportunities to play … d5, the Two Knights Defense (“Let’s look at the Ng5 matter first”), Petroff’s (” .. equal positions do not mean drawn positions .. “), the Wormald and Worrall Attack with George Thomas at the controls and so on.

He asks ‘How many games have you played when you made the right move one or two turns too late?.’ So there is philosophy here too and humour is not forgotten: though never intrudes.

Sixty-nine games are presented featuring encounters from almost every available decade including several visitors from the Nineteenth Century: Blackburne, Anderssen, Steinitz, Paulsen, Kieseritzky prowl these pages along with, for example, Adams, McShane and Hawkins. Is anybody forgotten? Not that I spotted. Is it necessary to have studied the first (2014) volume beforehand? For the stronger – Elo 1850+ – player, I would think not. Clearly it wouldn’t hurt, especially for the inexperienced or junior player. A pleasant checklist, a mere closing page, offers 20 tips to improve your rating by 100 points. Useful, useful.

A closing chapter, ‘Final Thoughts’ sees the author lapsing into autobiography, his lessons from Gulko, his bucket list and colleagues and so on. In sum, a sympathetic book. I hope it sells well.

The author is a veteran American chess man like no other. And he has written for the Kasparov Chess Foundation.

James Pratt
James Pratt

James Pratt, Basingstoke, Hampshire, September 10th, 2020

  • Paperback 280 pages
  • Publisher Mongoose Press, 1005 Boylston St., Suite 324, Newton Highlands, MA 02461, USA. (04/20)
  • Language English
  • ISBN-10 1936277948
  • ISBN=13 978-1936277940
  • Product Dimensions: 15.24 x 1.91 x 22.86 cm
  • Kindle £11.35   Paper £18.89.
Openings for Amateurs - Next Steps
Openings for Amateurs – Next Steps

In the Zone : The Greatest Winning Streaks in Chess History

In the Zone: The Greatest Winning Streaks in Chess History
In the Zone: The Greatest Winning Streaks in Chess History

From the rear cover :

“A winning streak in chess, says Cyrus Lakdawala, is a lot more than just the sum of its games. In this book he examines what it means when everything clicks, when champions become unstoppable and demolish opponents. What does it mean to be “in the zone”? What causes these sweeps, what sparks them and what keeps them going? And why did they come to an end?

Lakdawala takes you on a trip through chess history looking at peak performances of some of the greatest players who ever lived: Morphy, Steinitz, Pillsbury, Lasker, Capablanca, Alekhine, Botvinnik, Fischer, Tal, Kasparov, Karpov, Caruana and Carlsen. They all had very different playing styles, yet at a certain point in their rich careers they all entered the zone and simply wiped out the best players in the world.

In the Zone explains the games of the greatest players during their greatest triumphs. As you study and enjoy these immortal performances you will improve your ability to overpower your opponents. You will understand how great moves originate and you will be inspired to become more productive and creative. In the Zone may bring you closer to that special place yourself: the zone.

“Cyrus Lakdawala is an International Master and a former American Open Champion. He has been teaching chess for four decades and is a prolific and widely read author. His Chess for Hawks won the Best Instructional Book Award of the Chess Journalists of America (CJA). Other much acclaimed books of his are How Ulf Beats Black, Clinch It! and Winning Ugly in Chess.”

IM Cyrus Lakdawala
IM Cyrus Lakdawala

Most of you will be aware of Cyrus Lakdawala’s style of writing. You’ll know that he polarises opinions: some love his books while others hate them. From what I’d read, I’d always thought his books weren’t for me: I’ve never bought one, although a friend gave me a copy of his recent book on the French Defence last year.

So I could write a very brief review. If you’re a Lakdawala fan, and there are many around, you’ll certainly want to read this book. If you’re not a fan you should stay well clear.

I guess you’re expecting me to say more, and there’s quite a lot to say.

This is an excellent and original idea for a book. We meet some of the greatest players from Morphy onwards and look at their peak performances. You get a broad view of chess history over the past 160 or so years, witness how chess knowledge has accumulated and how styles have changed over that time. You also get to see a lot of great chess, with some very (too?) familiar games being contextualised by their juxtaposition with less familiar games played by the same player in the same event. It might even inspire you to get ‘into the zone’ yourself in your next tournament, whenever that might be.

The chapters feature:

  1. Morphy 1st American Chess Congress 1857
  2. Steinitz match v Blackburne 1876
  3. Pillsbury Hastings 1895
  4. Lasker New York 1924
  5. Capablanca New York 1927
  6. Alekhine Bled 1931
  7. Botvinnik World Championship Tournament 1948
  8. Fischer 1963/4 US Championship
  9. Tal Riga 1979
  10. Kasparov Tilburg 1989
  11. Karpov Linares 1994
  12. Caruana Sinquefield Cup 2014
  13. Carlsen Grenke Chess Classic 2019

In total there are 120 games: some complete, some just the conclusion, almost always won by the heroes of each chapter, all annotated in Lakdawala’s trademark lively style. As a highly experienced author and teacher, he knows just how to get the balance right between words and variations, and has used a modern engine to check the analysis. You’ll find lots of Exercises (for you to solve), Principles (to help you improve) and Moments of Contemplation (to think about an interesting position).

This has always been one of the author’s favourite games, but you’ll have to buy the book to read the annotations.

Cyrus Lakdawala is clearly some sort of crazy (to use one of his favourite words) genius. I’m in awe of his productivity, his work ethic, his imagination, his general knowledge, his wide range of references. It’s well worth listening to this interview on Ben Johnson’s excellent Perpetual Chess Podcast in which he explains how and why his brain doesn’t work like anyone else’s.

But – and, for me, at any rate, it’s a very big but, he comes across as a writer who rushes to complete the book without double checking everything, and who lacks any awareness as to whether or not his light-hearted asides and fanciful analogies are helpful or appropriate. He’s also, by no means uniquely among chess authors, a lot stronger writing about contemporary players than about historical figures.

There are various mistakes which might not be important, but are unnecessary and, at least for this reader, annoying. Blackburne’s first names appear at various points as ‘Joseph Henry’, ‘Henry Joseph’ and ‘Henry’. In the heading of a game between Lasker and Marshall, Emanuel’s name becomes Edward, confusing because they both played at New York 1924. In Fischer’s Famous Game against Robert Byrne the heading is correct, but a few lines further down Robert turns into his brother Donald, who, again, was playing in the same event. These errors should really have been picked up by the editor or proofreader.

Then there’s the hyperbole. “Paulsen routinely took eight full hours to make his moves.” “Marshall’s normal temperament was that of a belching, gurgling volcano…” “Alekhine destroyed every stick of furniture in his hotel room, in a near psychotic rage.” Sentences like this would induce a near psychotic rage in several chess historians I could mention.

Most seriously, many of the more frivolous asides might be considered by some to be in poor taste. We have throwaway references to Jeffrey Epstein, Michael Jackson and, on several occasions, the British Royal Family. Then, what do you make of this? “Blunders like this one are a first-rate reason why no sane person should voluntarily take up chess as a hobby. It’s basically like marrying a spouse who beats you up on a daily basis.” Or this, after mentioning that Raymond Weinstein has been in a psychiatric hospital since 1964? “Thanks a lot, Ray! This does a lot to help eradicate the stereotype that we chess players are just a touch crazy!” You might think domestic abuse and mental illness are inappropriate subjects for levity in a book of this nature.

Now I don’t want to knock the author, any more than I’d knock Reinfeld and Chernev. I’m all in favour of people whose brains work in a different way. I’m all in favour of teachers and writers whose communication skills enable them to share their passion and enthusiasm for chess. There’s always a place within the chess world for authors who can bring our game to a wider audience, and Lakdawala’s colourful writing style, although not for chess and linguistic purists like me, offers a lot of pleasure to a lot of people.

On the other hand, he can easily go over the top, and perhaps it’s the responsibility of his publishers to be more proactive. With a pair of scissors to remove the pointless and sometimes tasteless analogies and a red pen to correct the mistakes and typos this could have been an excellent and – 50 pages shorter – addition to chess literature. Nevertheless, if you’ve enjoyed Lakdawala’s previous volumes and can live with the faults, you’ll like, and perhaps learn a lot from, this book.

Caveat Emptor.

Richard James, Twickenham ?th September 2020

Richard James
. Richard James

Book Details :

  • Paperback : 400 pages
  • Publisher: New in Chess (7 Aug. 2020)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 905691877X
  • ISBN-13: 978-9056918774
  • Product Dimensions: 17.15 x 1.91 x 23.5 cm

Official web site of New in Chess

In the Zone: The Greatest Winning Streaks in Chess History
In the Zone: The Greatest Winning Streaks in Chess History

The Best I Saw in Chess: Games, Stories and Instruction from an Alabama Prodigy Who Became U.S. Champion

The Best I Saw in Chess: Games, Stories and Instruction from an Alabama Prodigy Who Became U.S. Champion
The Best I Saw in Chess: Games, Stories and Instruction from an Alabama Prodigy Who Became U.S. Champion

From the rear cover :

“At the U.S. Championship in 1989, Stuart Rachels seemed bound for the cellar. Ranked last and holding no IM norms, the 20-year-old amateur from Alabama was expected to get waxed by the American top GMs of the day that included Seirawan, Gulko, Dzindzichashvili, deFirmian, Benjamin and Browne. Instead, Rachels pulled off a gigantic upset and became the youngest U.S. Champion since Bobby Fischer. Three years later he retired from competitive chess, but he never stopped following the game. In this wide-ranging, elegantly written, and highly personal memoir, Stuart Rachels passes on his knowledge of chess. Included are his duels against legends such as Kasparov, Anand, Spassky, Ivanchuk, Gelfand and Miles, but the heart of the book is the explanation of chess ideas interwoven with his captivating stories. There are chapters on tactics, endings, blunders, middlegames, cheating incidents, and even on how to combat that rotten opening, the Réti. Rachels offers a complete and entertaining course in chess strategy. At the back are listed 110 principles of play–bits of wisdom that arise naturally in the book’s 24 chapters. Every chess player will find it difficult to put this sparkling book down. As a bonus, it will make you a better player.”

The best I saw in chess - by Stuart Rachels
The best I saw in chess – by Stuart Rachels

 

Stuart Rachels only had a short international career which came to an end almost 30 years ago. He’s now, like his late father James, a philosopher, specialising in ethical theory. Why, you might ask, does he deserve a 400+ page book? It seems rather like a vanity project, doesn’t it?

Let’s look inside and find out.

What you don’t get is a chronological account of the author’s career. Instead you get 24 chapters of varying length discussing a wide variety of aspects of chess and offering, in total, 124 games or extracts from his earliest efforts onwards. The book is also full of stories and anecdotes, many of which are highly entertaining. Rachels writes in a friendly style, alternating, perhaps slightly uncomfortably, between self-deprecating humour and arrogance: he might almost be sitting across the board from you explaining his games.

The first few chapter headings will give you some idea of what to expect: Losing Benonis to Kasparov, Five Stories and Their Positions, Two Rogue Sozins, Tactical Snippets, Beware the Sickly Pawns.

Yes, Rachels enjoyed tactics, favouring openings like the Sicilian Dragon and the Modern Benoni, while disliking the ‘rotten Réti’ and the English (‘Is there a Nobel Prize for Worst Opening as White?’), so you’ll see a lot of exciting play. At the same time, his trainer, Boris Kogan, played like Petrosian (‘You must play seemple chess’) and instilled in him a love of endings, again strongly represented here.

His opponents include many of his illustrious contemporaries, whom he met in international junior tournaments: you’ll find games against Anand, Ivanchuk, Gelfand, Adams and others here.

Although much of the book is US-centric, there’s also a lot to interest British readers. In 1983 Rachels spent some time in England, where, apart from playing in a simul against Kasparov, he lost a training match against David Norwood (‘the best tactician for my age I’ve ever known, aside from Anand’) which has its own chapter.

In the early 90s Rachels studied at Oxford University for two years: in the 1992 Varsity Match it was he who owned the aforementioned sickly pawns in a thrilling victory over Jonathan Wilson. After the game Ray Keene, suitably impressed, asked him to provide annotations. Rachels was surprised to see one of his sentences quoted verbatim in The Spectator. “Who would’ve suspected that the 44-year-old Brit cribbed that sentence off a 22-year-old American?”

There’s also a tense draw against Tony Miles (‘unpretentious, good-humored, and easy to be around’) from the 1989 US Championship. (Tony had satisfied the residency qualification by renting a post box in New York.) The ‘Foolish Drinker, Optimistic Patzer’ of the chapter heading is Rachels, not Miles. You’ll have to read it yourself to find out why.

In the final chapter Rachels offers his two best games. One played against his friend Kyle Therrell at the age of 11 (‘… might this have been the best game ever played by someone under the age of 12, as of March 29, 1981?’), and his win, given below, against Sergey Kudrin, again from the 1989 US Championship. If you buy the book you’ll be able to read his annotations.

The book concludes with three appendices. Appendix A explains adjournments (‘… a 20th century phenomenon, mostly occurring in high-level events’). Not in my part of the world: I had an adjournment from a local league game hanging over me at the start of lockdown: it was eventually agreed drawn via email. Appendix B, Principles of Play, offers some maxims which you may or may not find helpful, and Appendix C is what looks to me like a fairly arbitrary list of recommended books.

The format of the book does mean you miss the trajectory of his career, but at the same time the constant switching between topics will ensure you never get bored. Although Rachels is a relatively minor figure in chess history who retired nearly 30 years ago, he still has an infectious passion for chess, writes well, annotates lucidly and tells a great story. It’s often very funny too: a hugely entertaining and engrossing read which I thoroughly enjoyed. If you like games collections and biographies you shouldn’t hesitate to snap this one up.

Richard James, Twickenham 31st August 2020

Richard James
. Richard James

Book Details :

  • Paperback : 372 pages
  • Publisher: New in Chess (7 July 2020)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9056918818
  • ISBN-13: 978-9056918811
  • Product Dimensions: 17.02 x 2.79 x 23.37 cm

Official web site of New in Chess

The Best I Saw in Chess: Games, Stories and Instruction from an Alabama Prodigy Who Became U.S. Champion
The Best I Saw in Chess: Games, Stories and Instruction from an Alabama Prodigy Who Became U.S. Champion

An Idiot-Proof Chess Opening Repertoire

An Idiot-Proof Chess Opening Repertoire : Graham Burgess

An Idiot-Proof Chess Opening Repertoire
An Idiot-Proof Chess Opening Repertoire

FIDE Master Graham Burgess needs no introduction to readers of English language chess books ! Minnesota, USA based, Graham has authored more than twenty five books and edited at least 250 and is editorial director of Gambit Publications Ltd. In 1994 Graham set a world record for marathon blitz playing and has been champion of the Danish region of Funen !

We previously reviewed Chess Opening Traps for Kids also by Graham Burgess and, more recently we reviewed (and enjoyed) A Startling Chess Opening Repertoire (New Edition)

FM Graham Burgess
FM Graham Burgess

We searched the BCN office and, as the most obvious idiot, it was decided that John should evaluate the repertoire to test the title’s ambitious claim…

Burgess has provided a comprehensive repertoire aimed at the club player for both colours. Here are the chapters :

Repertoire for Black

  1. Scandinavian
  2. Queen’s Gambit Accepted
  3. Slav
  4. Queen’s Pawn
  5. Flank Openings (as Black)

Repertoire for White

  1. Closed English
  2. Other Reversed Sicilians
  3. Symmetrical English (as White)
  4. English : Other 1st Moves

So, Burgess recommends the Scandinavian (Centre Counter) Defence against 1.e4 and specifically the relatively modern Pytel-Wade Variation as championed by GM Sergei Tiviakov and others :

Of course this is a very reasonable alternative to the (arguably) more mainstream 3…Qa5 and is well supported in the literature and with DVD and online resources. In other words, if you adopt this line and want to delve deeper then the resources are out there.

As the second player versus 1.d4 Burgess offers an interesting hybrid of the Queen’s Gambit Accepted and the Slav Defence :

popularised by David Navara, Igor Khenkin, Christian Bauer and Matthew Sadler to name but a few : clearly a respectable line. The “idea” is that after 4. e3 Black will attempt to hang on to the pawn with 4…Be6 :

and an interesting struggle will ensue more or less on Black’s terms. If you had to name this line then The Khenkin Variation is most likely.

Against the various queen pawn openings (where White does not play an immediate c4) then Burgess champions concrete lines against the London System (Modern and with 2.Nf3), Torre Attack, Veresov Attack, Colle System, Pseudo-Trompovsky and even the amusing Blackmar-Diemar Gambit! Missing (for some reason) is the Stonewall Attack : not sure why?

Burgess provides recommendations for Black against the most common and sensible Flank openings.

For White we are offered the English Opening with a quick “Kosten style” g3 with most material covering 1…e5 but also good coverage of 1..c5, 1…Nf6 and others. In fact, you could buy this book simply to learn the English Opening as Burgess provides an excellent introduction and not worry about the Black repertoire.

For amusement we pitted the book’s white repertoire against its black repertoire and came up with this fabricated game :

which has been seen in just under 900 games in MegaBase 2020.

In summary, this is a coherent and well-thought out repertoire devoid of cheap tricks or dodgy gambits. I’m not entirely convinced that someone who enjoys the English Opening would also champion the Pytel-Wade Variation of the Scandinavian but who knows ! Clearly the first player opening is solid and “positional” (whatever that means). The second players lines are active and interesting and may even allow our player to dictate terms with The Khenkin Variation.

So, is the title accurate?

With careful study and practice (online for the time being!) you can learn this repertoire without fuss. So, the answer must be Yes!

As with every Gambit publication the typesetting is excellent and the use of diagrams generous. The book is available in physical form and, for around half the price, in Kindle format. In usual fashion you may “Look Inside” before purchasing. At $22.95 (physical) this is a lot of material for your money and represents good value.

As a bonus we decided to play a game where the “Idiot-Proof” repertoire plays the “Startling” repertoire. Here is what happened :

Gambit Publications have recently started their own YouTube channel to publicise their products. Here we have GM John Nunn introducing this book :

Enjoy and good luck !

John Upham, Cove, Hampshire, August 31st 2020

John Upham
John Upham

Book Details :

  • Hardcover : 192 pages
  • Publisher: Gambit Publications Ltd (11 Jun. 2020)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1911465422
  • ISBN-13: 978-1911465423
  • Product Dimensions: 17.15 x 1.52 x 24.77 cm

Official web site of Gambit Publications Ltd.

An Idiot-Proof Chess Opening Repertoire
An Idiot-Proof Chess Opening Repertoire

The Greenbecker Gambit

‘The Greenbecker Gambit’ – Ben Graff (The Conrad Press 2020).

cp £9.99, US $13.00,

15 euro. www.theconradpress.com. Tel +44 (0) 1227 472 874.
The Greenbecker Gambit This is a novel rich in content.
Everything is surely here! The author has bitten off more than he can chew but (but!) this is surely deliberate. He just loves what he does. As a reviewer I probably never have been written to by the actual author. Until now! Ben Graff dropped me a line last March sending me, quite unbidden, a copy of this well produced book. He has written stuff before, see ‘Find Another Place’ (Matador 2018). He is a journalist, Corporate Affairs professional and clearly knows his chess.
From the blurb cover:
Tennessee Greenbecker is bravely optimistic as he sets out to claim what he sees as rightfully his – the title of world chess champion. But who is he really? Is he destined to be remembered as a chess champiom or fire-starter? Either way, might this finally be his moment?
 
If you like your novels nice and straightforward:  standard stories, boy meets girl, old befriends young, the anti-hero learns a painful lesson and emerges a better, reformed, person. All well and trusted formats. I am sure you can think of other, hopefully better, examples.
Well, this is nothing like that! Arson mixes with match chess. Real players – Fischer and Kasparov for example – mix in with the fictitious. Donald Trump even appears, Brian Eley gets mentioned and who is Dubrovnik who ‘has elected not to press charges’? I’ve got you hooked haven’t I? And the narrator – that’s Greenbecker, of course (do keep up) – plays the London System.
See CHESS 04/20, pp 36-37 for extract, chapter and verse.
Having read 75% of this story I gave up, confused, though I did skip to the end.
I hope you’ll like this ambitious thriller more than I did.
  • Paperback : 355 pages
  • Publisher: The Conrad Press  (2020)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN 978-1-913567-02-6
  • Product Dimensions: 20 x 13 x 3 cm
James Pratt
Basingstoke

Book Review ‘The Hippopotamus Defence’ – Alessio De Santis

16 Chapters, Bibliography, Explanation of Symbols, Contents, 3 page Index.

This is too detailed a book for what amounts to a very trivial system, an opening pattern obviously popular in bullet or blitz chess.

The Hippopotamus Defence: A Deceptively Dangerous Universal Chess Opening System for Black

A booklet would have done. I don’t give it the thumbs down here because the author has made a sincere and enthusiastic stab at a difficult topic, divided his text into well classified sections and annotated with great guts and gusto. A glance at the Index also shows that he has the courage of his convictions and, by this I mean, lots of games by him. Keene and Botterill wrote about this sort of thing 40+ years ago and I would still refer interested parties to an elderly Batsford rather than this newly issued effort, pleasant and imaginative read though it is.

In case you are wondering, such as  … e6 … d6 … a6 … h6 … Bg7 … Bb7 is the sort of thing this River Horse begins as, labelled on its cover as ‘A Deceptively Dangerous Universal Chess Opening System for Black’. I begin to wonder whether the author may very well have argued his case so well that GMs throughout the known world will sign-up. The cover price of $32.95 looks too expensive to this Old Scrooge.

The author is an FM from Italy.

  • Flexicover : 320 pages
  • Publisher: New in Chess 2019
  • Language: English
  • ISBN 978-90-5691-831-6
  • Product Dimensions: 23.5 x 17 x 2 cm

James Pratt

Basingstoke

 

The Modernized Grünfeld Defense

The Modernized Grünfeld Defense
The Modernized Grünfeld Defense

From the rear cover :

“Yaroslav Zherebukh was born in July 1993 in Lviv, Ukraine. He earned the Grandmaster title in January of 2009 at 15.5 years of age. In 2011 Yaro participated in the World Cup where he was seeded 97 th out of 128 contestants. He won his first three matches against Pavel Eljanov, Ruben Felgaer and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov before losing to David Navara. In 2013 he moved to the United States shifting his focus to coaching and academics. In 2017 he competed in the US Championship in 2017 where he scored a spectacular win over world #2 Fabiano Caruana and qualified to the 2017 World Cup! He has coached a plethora of talented American youths including world class GM Jeffery Xiong. Besides his chess activities, Yaro holds an MA in financial economics from Saint Louis University and has experience working for private equity firms in New York City.”

GM Yaroslav Zherebukh
GM Yaroslav Zherebukh

Also from the rear cover

“The Modernized Grünfeld Defense will be extremely helpful for any chess player looking for a reliable lifetime repertoire against White’s 1.d4. It will benefit current Grünfeld players as Yaro unveils his analysis and numerous novelties waiting to be played over the board.”

This new book on the Grünfeld, a welcome addition to Thinkers Publishing’s “Modernized” series, is written by a 2600+ GM who plays the defence himself. It is a repertoire book,  with the author recommending which variation (and sometimes a choice of variations) to play against each system that White may employ.

The book is arranged into five parts (Exchange Variation, 4Nf3, other 4th moves etc) each containing several chapters for the main sub-variations. There is no overall index of variations, but the reader can quite easily navigate to a particular line by using the Table of Contents and then the Guide at the beginning of each chapter.

The book is very up-to-date (one chapter is devoted to 5 h4) and includes much of Zherebukh’s own analysis and many of his novelties. He typically recommends combative lines which have been much tested in practice. When he does recommend an ambitious sideline (such as 5 …dxc4 in the 5 Bg5 variation) he also provides analysis of the less ambitious “main” line (5 …Ne4 in that example).

This excerpt from the book is, I think, quite typical of Zherebukh’s style. It arises from a rare line in the 7 Bb5+ variation:

Position after: 9…b5

10. Bb3
10 Bc2 b4N A cute novelty, although not terribly important as only 6 games have reached this position according to the ChessBase online database. Still, let’s enjoy the underlying idea. 11. cxb4 a5!

Position after: 11…a5!

A) 12. bxa5 c5=+ The last three pawn moves remind me of checkers: Black is begging White to take all of the pawns to get to the grand prize, the d-pawn.

B) 12. Bd2 axb4 13. Bxb4 c5! And yet one more pretty pawn sacrifice.

Position afer 13… c5!

14. Bxc5 [14.dxc5 Bxa1 15.Qxa1 Ba6 -+] 14 …Na6 The bishop on c5 suddenly doesn’t have any good squares. Note that it cannot retreat to a3 because we would win it after the devastating … Qa5+ followed by …Qxa3. If 15.Rb1 Nxc5 16.dxc5 Qa5+ 17.Qd2 Qxc5 18.Bd3 Be6 -/+ we are about to capture the extra pawn White currently enjoys and then our bishop pair would be vastly superior to White’s knight and bishop.

The material is well-presented and the repertoire suggestions are both aggressive and sound.

The book has some interesting features which I believe add value to the actual chess content. For example, it contains a “Conclusion” in which the author describes, in one or two paragraphs, what was covered in each of the 16 chapters with a couple of additional insights about the variation the chapter covers. For example, about the 4,e3 variation he writes:

While this system is not the most ambitious and is commonly played to avoid the major theoretical battles, I still recommend memorising the precise move orders for Black. In my opinion, White may have some venom in the 5.Nf3 6.b4 system which I suggest studying in detail.

Also, Zherebukh gives some tips on how to learn openings and how to memorise them, including some specifics on how to use software or web sites to achieve this and how he himself prepares to use a newly-learnt opening. (I should point out that the book itself does not rely on software or online content.)

As someone who has been playing the Grünfeld recently, I very much like this book and I can recommend it it to anyone who is seeking to take up the Grünfeld, or who is already playing it.

Colin Purdon, August 23rd 2020

Colin Purdon
Colin Purdon

Book Details :

  • Flexicover : 302 pages
  • Publisher: Thinkers Publishing; 1 edition (14 July 2020)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9492510790
  • ISBN-13: 978-9492510792
  • Product Dimensions: 17 x 23.5 cm

Official web site of Thinkers Publishing

The Modernized Grünfeld Defense
The Modernized Grünfeld Defense

Happy Birthday Peter Griffiths (15-viii-1946)

Peter Griffiths (15-viii-1946)
Peter Griffiths (15-viii-1946)

BCN sends Happy birthday wishes to Peter Griffiths

Peter Charles Griffiths was born on Thursday, August 15th, in 1946 in Birmingham, Warwickshire. His mother’s maiden name was Ward.

Peter was a strong player active from the 1960s until 1989. He played in the British Championships more than once and was a professional coach and writer. He wrote the column “Practical Chess Endings” which appeared in the British Chess Magazine. The column commenced in the December 1972 issue and columns became less frequent until around 1991.

Peter Griffiths (far left)
Peter Griffiths (far left)

He wrote Exploring the Endgame

Exploring the Endgame
Exploring the Endgame

and co-authored Secrets of Grandmaster Play with John Nunn.

Secrets of Grandmaster Play
Secrets of Grandmaster Play

and wrote Improving Your Chess

Improving Your Chess
Improving Your Chess

and Better Chess for Club Players

Better Chess for Club Players
Better Chess for Club Players
Peter Griffiths (far left)
Peter Griffiths (far left)