Category Archives: Middlegame

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 Grandmaster Mindset

The Grandmaster Mindset
The Grandmaster Mindset

From the book’s rear cover :

“By going through the chapters, you will get acquainted with my way of grandmaster type thinking. I can assure you of one thing: there are better and weaker grandmasters, but you won’t find a GM who is playing without ideas or, let’s say, without his way of thinking! As you will find out, I am basically trying to detect the problem or goal of the position and then I am starting to scan factors which can lead to the solution. That process you will find in many examples in the book. GM Alojzije Jankovic, April 2020.”

“Alojzije Jankovic (1983) is a Grandmaster and FIDE trainer from Croatia. In 2010 he shared first place in the Croatian National Championship, was national champion in 2015, shared third place with Croatia in the European Team Championships 2017 and played for Croatia in the Chess Olympiad. He won several international tournaments and also hosts weekly the broadcast ‘Chess commentary’, Croatian national tv, third channel. This is his second book for Thinkers Publishing, after his successful co-edition with GM Zdenko Kozul on the ‘Richter Rauzer Reborn‘ updated version 2019.”

GM Alojzije Jankovic
GM Alojzije Jankovic

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

A bibliography of sources along with suggestions for further reading would have been helpful.

 

I was rather confused when I first saw this book. The title, The Grandmaster Mindset, suggests a book for advanced players , while the subtitle A First Course in Chess Improvement suggests a book for novices.

Let’s take a look inside and find out.

The first chapter concerns pins. We start off with Légal’s Mate, which is important for novices but hardly necessary for advanced players.

En passant, we learn what Jankovic means by the Grandmaster Mindset. First, you assess the position, just as recommended by many other authors, such as Silman. Then you look for candidate moves: you consider all checks, captures and threats, as recommended by Kotov and many others, including me, over the past half century or so. Other authors, notably Willy Hendriks, will tell you to ignore protocols of this nature, to use your intuition and ‘move first, think later’.

We soon find ourselves in deeper waters, and by the end of the chapter we’re faced with a beautiful endgame study (M Matouš 1975) which is analysed in depth.

The second chapter, Candidate Moves, only seems to repeat the lessons from Chapter 1: if you assess the position and look for forcing moves you can find brilliant queen sacrifices.

Chapter 3, the longest in the book, brings with it a change of scenery. Useful endings: we have some pawn endings, rook against pawn, queen against rook, the bishop and knight checkmate explained in some detail, and finally rook against knight, again at length.

We’re back to tactics in Chapter 4, Knight Geometry.

This is Zvjaginsev-Schwarz (Novi Sad 2016).

White won with the aesthetically pleasing 44. Rxa6!! bxa6 45. b7 Qd8 46. Qxh6+!! Kxh6 47. Nxf7+. Beautiful, to be sure, with symmetrical major piece sacrifices on a6 and h6, but the queen sacrifice wasn’t necessary: 45. f4 Rg6 46. b7 was just as effective. (Note that 44. f4 also worked, but not, in the game, 46. f4? Qa5! and Black has a perpetual.) Perhaps this might have been mentioned.

The tactical ideas continue: Back Rank Mate (Chapter 5), Lure the King (Chapter 6: sacrificing a piece to expose the enemy king to danger), Unexpected Moves (Chapter 7: a collection of fairly random examples which you can discover by looking for Checks, Captures and Threats), Power of the Rooks (Chapter 8), Sudden Attack on the King (Chapter 9).

Chapter 10  is entitled Burying, which is a new one to me. The explanation, that it’s a very important tactical element when attacking the opponent’s king,  didn’t leave me much wiser. It seems to be something to do with taking away the king’s escape squares, but who knows?

In this position (Dizdarevic-Miles Biel 1985) Tony played a classic double bishop sacrifice: 13… Bxh2+! 14. Kxh2 Qh4+ 15. Kg1. Now after the immediate and obvious 15… Bxg2, 16. f3 defends. Instead, 15… Bf3!! (‘Burying!’) 16. Nd2 Bxg2!, and as the queen can no longer defend along the second rank, Black wins in short order.

There’s more to come: Underpromotion to a Knight in Chapter 11, and Different Tactical Motives in Chapter 12, but the whole book seems to me fairly random.

If you want to see some beautiful and spectacular chess, you’ll find a lot of great examples in this book: some hackneyed (the queen sac and knight fork from the 1966 Petrosian-Spassky match must have been in almost every tactics book for the past half century, and the Topalov-Shirov bishops of opposite colours ending for the past 20 years) but many unfamiliar.

Jankovic, by and large, explains his examples well and has an attractively friendly style of writing.

However, for this reviewer at least, the whole is rather less than the sum of its parts. With its mixture of elementary and advanced examples the book’s target market is not clear. The ‘Grandmaster Mindset’ advice (assess the position and consider candidate moves looking at checks, captures and threats) is far from original and, you might think, rather too simplistic. The contents seem fairly random (showy sacrifices, with some technical endings thrown in for good measure) but typical of what appears to pass for chess tuition in some circles. I’ll be writing a lot more about this at some point in the future.

It would require quite a lot of fleshing out, but there were potentially two much more useful books here. A book on finding tactical surprises, using the examples here but with the addition of exercises for the reader to solve. And then a much expanded version of Chapter 3 dealing with technical endings.

A qualified recommendation, then, but perhaps a missed opportunity which would have benefited from a more proactive approach from the publishers.

Richard James, Twickenham 13th August 2020

Richard James
. Richard James

Book Details :

  • Hardcover : 200 pages
  • Publisher:Thinkers Publishing; 1 edition (14 July 2020)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:9492510774
  • ISBN-13:978-9492510778
  • Product Dimensions: 16.8 x 1.8 x 23.4 cm

Official web site of Thinkers Publishing

The Grandmaster Mindset
The Grandmaster Mindset

Winning Ugly : Playing Badly is No Excuse for Losing

Winning Ugly in Chess: Playing Badly is No Excuse for Losing Paperback
Winning Ugly in Chess: Playing Badly is No Excuse for Losing Paperback

Cyrus Lakdawala is 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 include ‘How Ulf Beats Black’, a study of Swede Ulf Andersson, and ‘Clinch It! How to Convert an Advantage into a Win‘. He has become one of the most controversial writers around today!

IM Cyrus Lakdawala
IM Cyrus Lakdawala

From the cover :  Welcome to the world of imperfection! Chess books usually feature superbly played games. In this book you will see games where weird moves are rewarded. Cyrus Lakdawala knows that playing good chess is all very well, but that beating your opponent is better. A paradox? He demonstrates the fine art of winning undeserved victories by: miraculously surviving chaos; throwing vile cheapos; refusing to resign in lost positions; getting lucky breaks; provoking unforced errors, and other ways to land on your feet after a roller-coaster ride. Lakdawala shows how you can make sure that it is your opponent, not you, who makes the last blunder. If you’d rather win a bad game than lose a good one, then this your ideal guide. The next time the wrong player wins, you will be that player!”

We have an Index of openings (rich in Sicilians and King’s Indians), an Index of Players, 10 chapters and 336 pages. Many games from all eras from Anderssen to recent Swisses. Subtitled ‘Playing badly is No Excuse for Losing’. Paperback, no use of Rabar codes, no photos but exercises scattered throughout. This exceptional book is offered for sale at the Chess & Bridge Shop in Baker Street for £20.95. Good value!

So, enquires the author, when was the last time you won a perfect game? A game that wasn’t tainted by inferior moves?

Every player knows that smooth wins are the exception and that play is often chaotic and positions are frequently irrational. The road to victory is generally full of bumps and misadventures.

Books supposedly feature superbly played games. In ‘Winning Ugly in Chess’ you will see games, usually quoted in full, where weird moves are rewarded. The prolific author (has he written 43 books?-Ed.) knows that playing good chess is all very well, but that beating your opponent is better, that these are not two heads on the same coin. He shows that this is no paradox or contradiction. It is a fact of life – of chess life, anyway – and he demonstrates the fine art of winning undeserved victories by:

  • miraculously surviving chaos
  • throwing  (setting up- Ed) vile cheapos (swindles)
  • refusing to resign in lost positions
  • getting lucky breaks
  • provoking unforced errors
  • finding other ways to land on your feet after a roller-coaster ride.

Lakdawala shows how you can make sure that it is your opponent, not you, who makes the last blunder. he calls it ‘flip-flop a result’. (What would Tartakower have said? Actually, towards the end of his life Tartakower was largely inaudible-Ed.). If you’d rather win a bad game than lose a good one, then this your ideal guide.

The next time the, supposedly, wrong player wins, you could be that player. Welcome to the fine art of winning undeserved victories.

A short review in CHESS 08/19 welcomes this title, adding that it is largely based on Lakdawala’s games and those of his students. This really is a book to be enjoyed on so many levels.

Random thought: I wonder why the book calls 1.e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nf6 – as well as the Petroff’s, naturally – the Russian Game? Unusual!

The author is an International Master.

James Pratt
James Pratt

James Pratt, Basingstoke, Hampshire, July 18th, 2020

Book Details :

  • Paperback : 336 pages
  • Publisher: New In chess (4 Jun. 2019)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9056918281
  • ISBN-13: 978-1781945070
  • Product Dimensions: 16.9 x 2 x 24.1 cm

Web site of New in Chess

Winning Ugly in Chess: Playing Badly is No Excuse for Losing Paperback
Winning Ugly in Chess: Playing Badly is No Excuse for Losing Paperback

On the Origin of Good Moves: A Skeptic’s Guide at Getting Better at Chess

On the Origin of Good Moves
On the Origin of Good Moves

On the Origin of Good Moves: A Skeptic’s Guide at Getting Better at Chess : Willy Hendriks

IM Willy Hendriks, Photo by Zhaoqin Peng
IM Willy Hendriks, Photo by Zhaoqin Peng

“Willy Hendriks (1966) is an International Master who has been working as a chess trainer for over 25 years. His acclaimed bestseller ‘Move First, Think Later’ won the English Chess Federation Book of the Year Award.”

From the rear cover :

“The way a beginner develops into a strong chess player closely resembles the progress of the game of chess itself. This popular idea is the reason why many renowned chess instructors such as former World Champions Garry Kasparov and Max Euwe, emphasize the importance of studying the history of chess.

Willy Hendriks agrees that there is much to be learned from the pioneers of our game. He challenges, however, the conventional view on what the stages in the advancement of chess actually have been. Among the various articles of faith that Hendriks questions is Wilhelm Steinitz’s reputation as the discoverer of the laws of positional chess.

In The Origin of Good Moves Hendriks undertakes a groundbreaking investigative journey into the history of chess. He explains what actually happened, creates fresh perspectives, finds new heroes, and reveals the real driving force behind improvement in chess: evolution.

This thought-provoking book is full of beautiful and instructive ‘new’ material from the old days. With plenty of exercises, the reader is invited to put themselves in the shoes of the old masters. Never before has the study of the history of chess been so entertaining and rewarding.”

 

What we have here is a hugely ambitious work covering the development of chess ideas over a period of almost 300 years, from roughly 1600 to 1900, from Greco to Tarrasch. Willy Hendriks considers the evolution of both tactical and positional concepts, as well as covering, to a lesser extent, opening theory.

A number of authors over the years, from Réti onwards, have attempted something similar but Hendriks takes the genre to a new level. His view is that previous authors, using a small sample of Famous Games, have presented a crude and misleading view of ‘the history of improvement in chess’. Chess, he believes, has evolved in very much the same way as species evolve.

Hendriks’ previous book, Move First, Think Later, (MFTL) proved controversial. It attracted the attention of the ECF Book of the Year panel, but there were others who considered it highly dangerous. A confrontational title and controversial, extremist views on how chess should be taught. My own views, are, as they are on most subjects, somewhere in the middle, but I still found it an entertaining read. You’ll find a typically well considered review by John Watson here.

Just as in MFTL, each of the 36 chapters is preceded by some exercises which readers might like to attempt before reading on.

Here’s one from Chapter 1:

Finding the answer won’t be difficult for any experienced player, but it was Greco who was the first to play, or at any rate publish, a Bxh7+ sacrifice. Ideas like this, and there are many, positional as well as tactical, throughout the book, gradually become better and better known until they become part of every serious player’s armoury, which is how standards improve. We’re all standing on the shoulders of giants, but it takes genius to be the first.

When we think of Greco we probably think of brilliant miniatures against opponents who either misplayed the opening or made tactical oversights, but Hendriks maintains there’s a lot more to him than that. “If you play over all the games by Greco you cannot but be amazed by the enormous strength of this player and by the importance and variety of his ideas.” In the first chapter we look at some of his tactical ideas, but in Chapter 2, where he is billed as the Nimzowitsch of the 17th century, we discover that Greco was also aware of some relatively sophisticated positional ideas.

The next few chapters continue Hendriks’ revisionist view of chess history. Philidor in Chapters 3 and 4, La Bourdonnais and McDonnell in Chapter 5, Staunton and Saint Amant in Chapter 6. Generally speaking, the book is free from mistakes, but here the magazine Le Palamède is sometimes awarded the wrong definite article. On p85 it’s both right and wrong within four lines.

In Chapter 7 we visit London in 1851 and look at some of the chess played in the first international tournament of modern times. The next two chapters then spin off to take a couple of detours.

Chapter 8 features a positional idea: the pawn formation labelled by Hans Kmoch (whose book Pawn Power in Chess Hendriks seems to admire, although it would have been helpful if the publishers had used the English title) the Wyvill Formation – doubled c-pawns such as White might acquire in the Nimzo-Indian. The English player Elijah Williams, a man ahead of his time, demonstrated how to fight against this in his games against the eponymous Marmaduke Wyvill and Howard Staunton.

In this rather modern  looking position Williams played Ba3 against Staunton (Hendriks points out that Na4 and Qf2 were also strong), winning the c5 pawn and, eventually, the game.

We then look at some much more recent examples of games featuring this formation.

Chapter 9 returns to London and riffs off in a tactical direction.

This is a position from another Elijah Williams game. Here, he was Black against Johann Löwenthal. White, to move, decided Black might be threatening Bxh3, so played Bf4 to prevent the sacrifice, later losing after a blunder. Staunton, writing in the tournament book, considered it a mistaken precaution. Hendriks demonstrates that the sacrifice would have been sound, and spends the rest of the chapter looking at precursors and more recent examples of the same tactical idea.

Chapter 10 is a brief visit to India in the company of John Cochrane, where opening theory developed very differently – an interesting topic in its own right.

We then move on to Paul Morphy, the hero of the next few chapters. Chapter 13, Anderssen versus Morphy, will raise a few eyebrows. We all know what to think, don’t we? Both men were tactical geniuses but Morphy was also a positional genius, while Anderssen, a representative of the romantic school of chess, was just a high class hacker. Hendriks, acknowledging Mihail Marin, who first made the point some years ago, explains that the opposite was closer to the truth. We all know Anderssen’s brilliant Immortal and Evergreen Games, but they were casual encounters where he could afford to take risks. In tournament games he sometimes experimented with more modern openings and ideas while Morphy stuck resolutely to 1. e4 e5. The difference between them was not that Morphy was a better positional player but that he was more accurate and efficient.

As we continue through the 19th century we meet Steinitz and reach what, in some ways, is the heart of the book. Because Morphy gave up serious chess before Steinitz achieved prominence, it’s easy to forget that the latter was a year older.

Very many writers over the years, from Lasker onwards, have portrayed Steinitz as the father of modern positional chess. Hendriks begs to differ. Steinitz never wrote down his principles: it was Lasker who did this, attaching Steinitz’s name to them.  Hendriks demonstrates that most of his ideas were generally known before his time. His only genuinely new idea was to do with using the king as a strong piece in the opening, and that didn’t stand the test of time. Chapter 25 deals with this.

The first exercise at the start of the chapter poses an intriguing question. “Your opponent in the coming World Championship match is prepared to play this position as Black at least four times against you. Do you accept?”

Well, you certainly should as, after Nb6, White is clearly much better, even though Steinitz stubbornly insisted that Black was fine.

Here is the infamous Steinitz Gambit after White’s 5th move. Steinitz played it a lot but, although White does quite well with it over the board, it really is as bad as it looks.

As we approach the end of the 19th century, it’s time for Hendriks to start drawing conclusions. Comparisons are often made between today’s players and those from the past. If Magnus Carlsen were to travel back in time, how would he fare against Lasker, Morphy or Philidor? Here’s Hendriks, in Chapter 28: “If I might venture a wild guess regarding the average strength of say the top five or top ten players throughout the (19th) century I would say it gradually went from about 2000 around the thirties to 2400 near the end of the century.”

This sounds about right to me, but even near the end of the century, top players were making horrendous blunders which would shame a 1400 player, let alone a 2400 player.

A famous example: Chigorin-Steinitz from the 23rd game of their 1892 World Championship match.

Rxb7, for example, wins for White, but Chigorin’s choice of Bb4 proved rather unsuccessful.

Chapters 31 and 32, in which Hendriks links his discoveries to his teaching methods outlined in MFTL, might prove controversial to some.  In Chapter 31 he explains why he believes that creating plans is overrated, and in Chapter 32 he tells you that, contrary to the recommendations of other teachers, you should spend a lot of time studying openings. Of course you might not agree, but it’s often worthwhile listening to those who have well thought out views which differ from yours.

Finally, we reach Chapter 36. Here’s how Hendriks concludes:

“The human history of chess, with all its theoretical struggles and its remarkable personalities, is a fascinating one. However, the general theories that supposedly unify and systematize all those pieces are in my opinion more the result than the cause of the progress made, and as a guide to finding the best moves they are of only limited use.

“As in nature, variety and complexity in chess aren’t the result of some sort of plan from above. It works the other way around, on all levels, even the individual one. As soon as you start looking at a position, all those basic bits of knowledge you gathered before start working. They come up with plans and moves to be played. You can almost sit by and wonder. And watch the good moves replicate.”

I’ve said before that we’re fortunate to be living in a golden age for chess literature, and On the Origin of Good Moves goes right in somewhere very near the top of my favourite chess books of all time. I found it well researched, endlessly fascinating, always thought provoking, often digressive, sometimes provocative and sometimes extremely funny. (Humour in chess books seems to be something of a Dutch speciality: think of Donner and Tim Krabbé.) It’s well produced, and enlivened by copious illustrations, some of only tangential relevance (soldiers in the Franco-Prussian War, a police telephone box, Charles Darwin). If you have any interest at all in the development of chess ideas this will be an essential purchase. If you want to improve your rating you’ll find a lot of inspiring suggestions, although you might not agree with all of them, a lot of great chess, much of which will probably be unfamiliar to you, and a lot of beautiful moves. You’ll find quite a lot of rather bad chess as well, but it all adds to the fun.

Five stars and a top recommendation from me. I do hope you enjoy it as much as I did. It’s certainly a book I’ll return to over and over again.

You can read some sample pages here.

Richard James, Twickenham 3rd June 2020

Richard James
. Richard James

Book Details :

  • Paperback : 432 pages
  • Publisher: New in Chess (10 April 2020)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9056918796
  • ISBN-13: 978-9056918798
  • Product Dimensions: 17 x 23.1 cm

Official web site of New in Chess

On the Origin of Good Moves
On the Origin of Good Moves

Chess Tests

Chess Tests
Chess Tests

Chess Tests : Mark Dvoretsky

From the rear cover :

“Mark Dvoretsky (1947-2016) is considered one of the greatest chess instructors in the modern era. He left behind a great legacy of many books and publications. At the time of his passing, there were two unpublished manuscripts he had finished (and one other co-authored with study composer Oleg Pervakov).”

IM Mark Izrailovich Dvoretsky
IM Mark Izrailovich Dvoretsky

And from the Foreword by Artur Yusupov :

“Chess Tests offers chess players material of very high quality for working on various themes, from training combinative vision to techniques of realizing advantages. I recommend using those materials for in-depth work in the directions mentioned in the book. If you follow this advice, then this volume will become a valuable addition to your chess studies and will help you reinforce skills and knowledge you have already obtained. “And here is probably the most important point. Dvoretsky wanted to write a book that would not only teach some intricacies of chess, but would also be simply a pleasure to read for aficionados of the game, so he tried to amass the ‘tastiest’ of examples here. I hope that this last book by him is going to achieve this, presenting its readers with many chess discoveries and joy of communication with the great coach and author.”

IM Mark Izrailovich Dvoretsky holding forth with Jonathan Speelman, Jonathan Manley., Mihai Suba and Bernard Cafferty. Photograph : Mark Huba
IM Mark Izrailovich Dvoretsky holding forth with Jonathan Speelman, Jonathan Manley., Mihai Suba and Bernard Cafferty. Photograph : Mark Huba

This book (also available as an eBook) is divided into seven chapters as follows :

  1. Training Combinational Vision, 32 tests
  2. Candidate Moves, 38 tests
  3. Calculating Variations, 18 tests
  4. Attack and Defense, 28 tests
  5. Positional Play, 52 tests
  6. Realizing an Advantage, 24 tests
  7. Endgame Tests, 35 tests

and each of these is further sub-divided. Above we have indicated a number of tests for each chapter. Each of these tests comprises a position diagram with a whose move it is indicator.

Unusually, the tests sections comprise the first 62 pages and pages 63 – 206 are the solutions. So, this book is a little unusual for a standard “tactics” book in that the bulk of the text is in form of solutions and explanations.

So, this is much, much more than a routine tactics book. As you might expect from Dvoretsky the bonuses come from the solutions. It is clear that Dvoretsky had gone to great lengths to collect the test positions, and, as we found (in the BCN office), they were an absolute delight to work on. To whet your appetite here is a pleasing example from “Tasty Tactics #2 :

And here is the solution that you may wish to cover up for now :

6. Stern-Sanakoev, corr wch 1994-99

51…Ra5-a1!!

A fine queen deflection that prepares a mating attack.

52.Qb1xa1 Qd6xh2+1 53.Rh3xh2 Nf5-g3+ 54.Kh1-g1 Bc7-b6+ 55.Re1-e3 Bb6xe3#

52.Qe4 does not help..

The same combination leads to a won endgame : 52…Qxh2+ 53.Rxh2 Ng3+ 54. Kg1 Bb6+ 55.Qd4 Bxd4+ 56.cd Rxe1+ 57.Kf2 Nf1 (57…Re3!?;57…Rh1!?), but a quicker way to finish the game is 52…Qf4! (there is a threat of both 53…Qxe4 and 53…Qf1+) 53.Qe8+ Kg7 54.Rxa1 Qxh2+! 55.Rxh2 Ng3+ 56.Kg1 Bb6+.

and here is a beautiful example from Tasty Tactics #4 :

but we won’t give the solution here : you will either have to solve this yourself or buy the book or both !

The general standard of these tests is high : even the tests labelled as “not very difficult” are challenging to say the least. Particularly instructive was the “Realizing an Advantage” section which includes subsections labelled “Technique”.  Here is an example :

and here is a particularly tricky example :

In summary, this is a wonderful book and a great testament to the legend that is Mark Dvoretsky. We cannot recommend this book highly enough and claim that is it one of the best chess books of 2019. Please get it and enjoy it !

John Upham, Cove, Hampshire 24th February 2020

John Upham
John Upham

Book Details :

  • Softcover : 208 pages
  • Publisher:  Russell Enterprises (15 Nov. 2019)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1949859061
  • ISBN-13: 978-1949859065
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 0.6 x 22.9 cm

Official web site of Russell Enterprises

Chess Tests
Chess Tests

Your Chess Battle Plan

Your Chess Battle Plan
Your Chess Battle Plan

Neil McDonald is an English GM, an active player, a FIDE Trainer and a coach to the England junior teams. Neil has authored thirty-seven books for The Chess Press, Batsford and, most recently, Everyman Chess. One of his most recent works, The King’s Indian Attack : Move by Move, impressed considerably.

In 2019 we reviewed “Coach Yourself

GM Neil McDonald
GM Neil McDonald

From the book’s rear cover we have :

“One of the most challenging tasks in a chess game is to find the correct strategy. It is far easy to attack too randomly, to miss a vital opportunity, or even choose the wrong plan altogether. These are all mistakes frequently seen by even quite strong players.

Your Chess Battle Plan focuses on how Magnus Carlsen and other great masters decide on the best strategy in a position and then find the right ways to implement it. Clear advice shows you how to hone in on the most relevant features of a position in order to decide what your general plan needs to be. Factors that are addressed include when to exchange pieces, when to make long-range manoeuvres, when to offer sacrifices and how to identify and focus on key squares. Your Chess Battle Plan will get you thinking along the right strategic lines and using your pieces and pawns in a much more efficient and skilful manner.

  • A complete self-improvement programme.
  • Advice to evaluate the current level of planning in your own games.
  • Utilizes a structured approach, making the most of your study time.”
  • The content is divided into ten chapters as follows :

    1. Improving the Activity of your Pieces
    2. Stopping the Opponent Playing Good Moves
    3. Full Grovel Mode
    4. Punishing Faulty Freeing Moves
    5. Exploiting a Hole
    6. Manoeuvring Against Pawns
    7. Promoting a Pawn
    8. Using a Pawn as a Battering Ram
    9. Sacrificing to Gain the Initiative
    10. Deciding the Character of the Game in the Opening

    For each of these themes the author selects a dozen or so games between high quality opponents. He fast forwards to the key moment, sets the scene and then analyses the play from this moment onwards.

    To get a flavour for yourself here is an excerpt from the books’s Kindle version.

    Each of the game fragments is analysed with a friendly and candid style emphasizing the key elements not only in the position but, more importantly, in the tactics and strategy implied by the chosen plan. To get most benefit from the authors text it would be best to set-up the start position of the fragment on the board and cover the following text. Spend some time getting “into the zone” of the position and try and decide the best plan for yourself. Having done that then reveal the authors notes and see how much you have predicted. Do this time and time again in a give chapter / theme then the ideas should start occurring to yourself with less prompting.

    For a little context here is the full game (up to White 46th) that is discussed below :

    From the Promoting a Pawn chapter there is the game (49) Demchenko – Gukesh, 2019 that reached this position after white’s 46th move :

    and this is the instructional text from the author :

    “Question : Can you see killer blow White had missed?

    it looks as if Black is going to have to resign in view of the unstoppable mate, but :

    Answer : 46…Qxf5+!

    A horrible surprise for White. If he takes the queen it is mate on h1.

    47 Kh2 Qc2+ 0-1

    It will be mate on g2.

    It feels as white was somewhat unlucky in that the logical course of his plan required him to find the ‘only’ move 45.Rf3!, without which he was lost. When the opponent queens first, the stakes on he accuracy of your moves become very high. Meanwhile, Black had to find the tricky 44…Qb7+! and hope that White would overlook the deadly idea behind it. Gukesh was a 12-year old Grandmaster at the time of this game, and not likely to miss such a tactical chance!”

    In total 76 games are examined either in full or partly. This book provides a rich pot pourri of well selected examples that demonstrate the ideas of the chapter / theme.

    We think this that book will get the student thinking about his or her own potential plans for a position hopefully adding dimensions that would not normally have been considered. The rewards from studying this book are likely to be much greater confidence in middle game positions and perhaps even less fear of murky or unclear positions. Many previous middle game books examine superb examples of play from Capablanca and others where perhaps the positions are less “messy” and not as “lifelike”. These 76 examples from the author are very down to earth and will benefit the student from study.

    A couple of small gripes with the production are : the diagrams do not have a “to move” indicator. Secondly, some Everyman books (but not this one) have an extra folding part to the front and rear covers. These we find protect the book from damage and also can be used as an emergency book mark !

    In conclusion we like this book a great deal and hope to find the time to study all of it in depth : highly recommended !

    John Upham, Cove, Hampshire, 21st February, 2020

    John Upham
    John Upham

    Book Details :

    • Paperback : 318 pages
    • Publisher: Everyman Chess (15 Feb. 2020)
    • Language: English
    • ISBN-10: 1781945284
    • ISBN-13: 978-1781945285
    • Product Dimensions: 17.8 x 22.9 cm

    Official web site of Everyman Chess

    Your Chess Battle Plan
    Your Chess Battle Plan

Crucial Chess Skills for the Club Player – Volume 2

Crucial Chess Skills for the Club Player - Volume 2
Crucial Chess Skills for the Club Player – Volume 2

Robert Ris is an IM from the Netherlands who spends a lot of his time training other players, and it shows in the clarity of explanation in this book, in which the material is split into eleven chapters, followed by forty exercises, then their solutions.

IM Robert Ris
IM Robert Ris

The first six chapters cover the roles of pieces, primarily using endgame positions to bring out ideas in sharpest relief, although some chapters require middlegame positions.  The next five chapters cover various types of material imbalance. These chapter titles are:-

  1. The role of the king in the ending
  2. Same-coloured bishop endings
  3. Opposite-coloured bishop endings
  4. Initiative in opposite-coloured bishop endings
  5. Bishop v knight
  6. The power of major pieces
  7. Queen vs. two rooks
  8. Two minor pieces vs. rook
  9. Worth of a queen
  10. Exchange sacrifice
  11. Piece vs. pawns

The material covered here can be found in many other books, but what differentiates  the coverage in this book, in addition to the aforementioned clarity of explanation, is the analysis of sidelines. There  is a difficult balance to strike here. Too many sidelines, too much detail and you lose the reader’s attention. To  few sidelines, too little detail and you aren’t answering the reader’s questions. In my opinion Ris gets the balance exactly right.

Here is example to illustrate Ris’ style. It’s from Chapter 6 (The power of major pieces) and illustrates the idea of combining files and ranks:

The occupation of an open file is not a goal in itself, but rather a first step in strengthening your own position. In the previous example we have seen the impact of major pieces controlling the only open file. From there they were enabled to infiltrate the seventh rank with devastating effect. The following game nicely shows that with one extra pair of rooks the side with the initiative is able to pose even more problems. By employing the other rook laterally White creates extra threats against the king.

Bacrot, Etienne (2730) v Giri, Anish (2749), Germany 2013

19.b4!

White makes use of the unfortunate placement of the black king on g7 to prepare the advance of the c-pawn. Clearly inferior is 19.cxb5? axb5 when Black becomes active on the a-file.

19…bxc4

This is practically forced, because after 19…Rac8 White plays 20.c5! dxc5 21.bxc5, and Black can’t now take on c5 in view of Qd4+, while after other moves the pawns on c5 and d5 are very powerful, dominating Black’s major pieces.

20.Rxc4 h5

A) First of all, Black is unable to start disputing control over the c-file, as 20…Rac8? fails to 21.Qc3 winning the rook.

B) With the text Black admits that the possible rook lift to h4 is very dangerous for him. The alternative 20…f6 is not much fun to play either. White has the luxury of being able to choose between playing for an attack on the kingside, pressurizing the backward pawn on the e-file or simply mobilizing his queenside majority. The latter is a good option and moves like a4, Qc3 and Rc6 are very useful. The black pieces have been paralyzed and even though there is no immediate way for White to break down the barricades, Black’s task of avoiding any concessions seems to be much harder.

21.Qc3+ Kg8

21…f6 is met by 22.Rc7 followed by taking on e7.

22.Rc7 Qb6

23.a4!

Superb technical play by Bacrot, who doesn’t get tempted into winning a pawn with 23.Rcxe7? Rxe7 24. Rxe7, because after 24…a5 Black obtains reasonable counterplay and drawing chances despite the minus pawn.

23…Rab8 24.Re4!

The point of White’s play. His queenside majority is well supported by the major pieces and Black doesn’t get a single chance to create counterplay. After the text White is ready to expose the black weaknesses on the kingside with the powerful break g2-g4.

24…f6

A) They say that in bad positions mistakes are easily made, but what else should Black do? The attempt to simplify the position with 24…Qxc7 25.Qxc7 Rbc8 backfires in view of 26.Qc6! Rxc6 27.dxc6 and the white pawns are too strong.

B) Trying to reduce the pressure on the seventh rank with 24…Rb7 is strongly met by 25.Rexe7! Rxe7 26.Rc8+ and mate on h8.

C) 24,,,a5 will always be met by 25.b5! The only conclusion we can draw is that Black is in zugzwang!

25.g4! Rb7

Giri overlooks a nice tactical shot and can resign immediately, but his position was already impossible to defend. A great illustration of White’s dominance is seen in the following variation where Black is attacked from all sides: 25…hxg4 26.Rxg4 Kf7 (Black also collapses after 26…Kg7 27.Qc2 g5 28.h4) 27.Rh4

(27.Qc2 f5 is less convincing) 27…Rh8 (27…g5 leads to mate after 28.Rh7+ Kg6 29.Qd3+ f5 30.Qh3 Kf6 31.Qc3+ Kg6 32.Qg7#) 28.a5 Qb5 29.Qe3 Rhe8 (29…Rxh4 30.Qxe7+ Kg8 31.Qg7#) 30.Rh7+ Kg8 31.Qh6 and mate on g7.

26.Qxf6!

Black resigned, in view of 26…Qxc7 (26…exf6 27.Rxe8#) 27.Qxg6+ Kh8 (27…Kf8 28.Rf4#) 28.Re6! Qc1+ 29.Kg2 and there is nothing Black can do against Qxh5, Rg6 and Qf5 mate.

1-0

So what do you think? For me this is just the right amount of description and analysis. For you it may be too little or too much, but this is broadly what you’re going to get from Ris in this book (there are some exceptions where more analytical detail is given, but only when it’s unavoidable.)

Moving on to the next five chapters on material imbalances, Ris himself remarks in the Preface: “Of course these topics have been discussed in other works as well, but I can offer you a lot of fresh examples from the highest level as well as quite a number of games from my own practice.” Modesty inhibits him from saying that he explains these imbalances as well as anyone and better than almost all.

Here is an example from Chapter 10 (Exchange sacrifice) subtitled “Knight v rook: the octopus

Ris, Robert (2419) v Beliavsky, Alexander (2597), Reykjavik 2017

Everything had gone wrong for me in the early middlegame. I had lost an exchange, was down one hour on the clock and was basically hoping not to lose in 25 moves. With a bit of fortune on my side, I have managed to avoid an immediate disaster and still reach some sort of playable position. The main reason for that is my knight on d6 (in chess terminology called thge octopus!), which restricts the mobility of the black rooks. The only open file has been kept closed by the knight (and the very important pawn on e5!), so there is no immmediate way to activate the rooks and exploit the material advantage.

24.e4 b5

It looks very logical to mobilize the queenside majority, aiming to create a passed pawn and open the  files for the black rooks, either to invade White’s position or just to liquidate into a winning endgame thanks to the material plus. We will see that this plan of advancing the pawn majority simply takes too much time and is therefore unrealistic to carry out. Opening the files  for the rooks is the right plan, though, but it needs to be carried out in a different way.

Correct is 24…f6! which is a move I considered at various moments during the game, but I also thought that weakening the kingside would give me reasonable practical chances with three powerful pieces standing ready to attack the black king. Well, that’s what I was thinking during the game with only a few minutes left on the clock, no time to calculate concrete variations.

After the intended 25.exf6? (centralizing the queen with 25.Qc3 might have been a better idea, though after 25…Rad8 Black is clearly better, and soon will try increasing the pressure on White’s centre) 25…Rxf6 26.Qe3 Raf8 White is losing his grip on the position. That’s mainly because the knight has lost the support from the pawn on e5, while the black rooks are now exerting pressure on the f-file and simply threaten to take on f4.

25.Qe3

25…Qb6

A) In case of 25…b4 it had been my intention to follow up with 26.f5 and Black has to watch out for White’s mating threats with Qh6 and f6.

B) 25…f6! would still have been a very reasonable option.

26.Qg3 Qa5 27.Rf2 b4 28.f5 c3 29.bxc3 bxc3 30.Qf4!

30.f6? would have been a serious mistake, as it allows Black to close the kingside with 30…h6! 31.Qh4 Kh7 and there is no convenient way for White to continue the attack, as his own king is too exposed.

30…c2?

During the game I was very optimistic about my chances here, but it turns out that there is still a way to stop White’s attack.

A) Correct is 30…exf5 31.gxf5 f6

and the position is still quite balanced, e.g., 32.exf6 Rxf6 33.e5 Qd5+ 34.Qf3 Qxf3+ 35.Rxf3 Rff8 36.Rxc3 gxf5 37.Rg3+ Kh8 38.e6 and soon White will win back the exchange, resulting in a drawn rook ending.

B) It’s worth pointing out that the immediate 30…f6? is inferior, in view of 31.exf6 Rxf6 32.e5 Rff8 33.f6 ansd White retains a very dangerous attack.

For example, 33…Kh8 34.Qh6 Qc7 35.Rf3 c2 36.Rc3! and after White picks up the c-pawn, Black remains very passive as he still can’t activate the rook while the queen needs to cover  the seventh rank.

31.f6! Qxe5

31…Kh8 32.Qh6 Rg8 33,Nxf7#.

32.Qh6!

Black resigned, as the only way to avoid mate is 32…Qxf6 33.Rxf6 but then my queen is still guarding the c1 square and White enjoys a huge material advantage.

1-0

In summary then, this book covers familiar ground, but it does so very impressively, with plenty of diagrams, lucid explanations and  appropriate levels of analyis. In my opinion Ris’ book becomes the leader of the pack in a relatively crowded field. I commend it unreservedly.

Mark Taylor, Windsor, Berkshire, 1st February 2020

Mark Taylor
Mark Taylor

Book Details :

  • Paperback : 390 pages
  • Publisher: Thinkers Publishing; 1 edition (15 Feb. 2019)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9492510456
  • ISBN-13: 978-9492510457
  • Product Dimensions: 17.3 x 2.3 x 23.4 cm

Official web site of Thinkers Publishing

Crucial Chess Skills for the Club Player - Volume 2
Crucial Chess Skills for the Club Player – Volume 2

Planning : Move by Move

Planning : Move by Move
Planning : Move by Move

According to Wikipedia :

Zenón Franco Ocampos (American Spanish: [seˈnoɱ ˈfɾaŋko oˈkampos];[a] born 12 May 1956, Paraguay) is a chess grandmaster (GM) from Paraguay. In the 1982 Chess Olympiad at Lucerne, he won the gold medal at board one by scoring 11 of 13. In the 1990 Chess Olympiad at Novi Sad, he shared first place at board one with 9 points in 12 games. As of 2007, Ocampos is the top-ranked player and only GM in Paraguay (now, there are three GMs: Zenon Franco, Axel Bachmann and Jose Cubas). He has written several books on chess for Gambit Publications under the name Zenon Franco.

GM Zenon Franco
GM Zenon Franco

A few days ago my friend Paul Barasi asked me a question on Twitter: “Does planning play a distinctive & important role in deciding inter-club chess match games? I don’t hear players saying: I lost because I picked the wrong plan or failed to change plan, or won by having the better plan. Actually, they never even mention the subject.”

I replied: “It does for me. I usually lose because my opponent finds a better plan than me after the opening. But you’re right: nobody (except me) ever mentions this.”

I can usually succeed in putting my pieces on reasonable squares at the start of the game, but somewhere round about move 15 I have to decide what to do next. If I’m playing someone 150 or so Elo points above me (as I usually am at the moment), I’ll choose the wrong plan and find out, some 20 moves later I’m stuck with a pawn weakness I can’t defend and eventually lose the ending.

Perhaps Zenón Franco’s book Planning Move by Move will be the book to, as the blurb on the back suggests, take my game to the next level.

There are five chapters: Typical Structures, Space Advantage, The Manoeuvring Game, Simplification and Attack and Defence, with a total of 74 games or extracts. Although most of the games are from recent elite grandmaster practice, there are also some older games, dating back as far as Lasker-Capablanca from 1921. Three masters of strategy, Karpov, Carlsen and Caruana, make regular appearances.

Each game is interspersed with exercises (where the author is asking you to answer his question) and questions (which you might ask the author).

Compared to the Kislik book I reviewed last week which covers fairly similar territory, Franco’s book is more user friendly for this reason. It’s the difference, if you like, between a teacher and a lecturer. Kislik is talking to you from the demo board without giving you a chance to interact, while Franco is answering your questions and asking you questions in turn.

Let’s take as an example from the book Game 31, which is Caruana-Ponomariov Dortmund 2014

In this position, with Caruana, white, to play, you’re given an exercise.

“A decision must be taken. What would you play?”

White played 20. Rde1!

Answer: “Seeking the favourable exchange of dark-squared bishops and preventing 20… f6 for tactical reasons. Caruana didn’t see a favourable way of continuing after 20. h4 f6 and he commented that he wasn’t happy about allowing … h4, but he thought it was more important to prevent … f6.”

You might then ask the question: “But how did 20. Rde1 prevent 20… f6?”

Answer: “I’ll answer that with an ….”

Exercise: “How can 20… f6 be punished?”

Answer: “White can gain a positional advantage by exchanging the bishops with 21. Be5, but even better is 21. exf6 Bxf6 and now 22. Bxc7! Kxc7 23. Qf4+ wins a pawn.”

Taking you through to the end of the game, we reach this position with Caruana to play his 39th move.

“Exercise: Test position: ‘White to play and win’.”

You might want to solve this exercise yourself before reading on.

With any luck you’ll have spotted the lovely deflection 39. Re7!!

“Exercise: “What’s the key move now for solving the problem I set you?”

If you found the previous move you’ll have no problem finding the second deflection 40. Ba6 Kxa6 41. Qa8#

You’ll see from this example that the book is far from just a guide to chess strategy. At this level tactics and strategy are inseparable, and in order to solve Franco’s exercises you’ll have to calculate sharply and accurately both to justify your chosen plan and to finish your opponent off at the end of the game.

What we have, then, is a collection of top class games and extracts with annotations which are among the best I’ve seen. Copious use is made of other sources: the notes on the above game incorporate, with acknowledgement, Caruana’s own notes which can be found, amongst other places,  on MegaBase. Franco also refers to computer analysis, in places making interesting comparisons between modern (early 2019) and older engines, and frequently comments on the difference between human and computer moves.

Having said that, the games are not easy, and, although all readers will enjoy a collection of great games instructively analysed, I would suggest that, to gain full benefit from the book, you’d probably need to be about 1800+ strength and prepared to take the book seriously, reading it with a chessboard at your side, covering up the text and attempting to solve the exercises yourself.

We’ve all seen games where Capablanca, for example, wins without having to resort to complex tactics, because his opponents are far too late to catch onto what’s happening. I could well imagine a book written for players of, say, 1400-1800 strength featuring this type of game, perhaps with some more recent examples. There must be many games from Swiss tournaments where GMs beat amateurs in this way.

I have a few minor criticisms:

  • While I understand that publishers want to save paper, I’d have preferred each example to start on a new page
  • There is some inconsistency as to whether or not we’re shown the opening moves before the exercises start. I’d have preferred to see the complete game in all examples.
  • There are a few shorter examples, lasting only a few moves, in the final chapter which seem rather out of place and might have been omitted.
  • The games disproportionately favour White: I’d have preferred a more equal balance between white and black wins.
  • Some of the ‘exercises’, it seems to me, are mistakenly labelled as ‘questions’. The first question/exercise in Game 1 is an example.
  • Names of Chinese players are sometimes given incorrectly: for instance, Bu Xiangzhi appears both in the text and the index as B. Xiangzhi. Bu is his family name and Xiangzhi his given name, and Chinese names are customarily printed in full. Failure to do so (and the book is inconsistent in this) seems to me rather disrespectful.

In spite of these resservations I can recommend the book very highly as a collection of excellent and often beautiful top level games with first rate annotations. Stronger club standard players, in particular, will find it helpful in improving not just their planning skills but their tactical skills as well.

I really enjoyed reading it and I’m sure you will as well.

Richard James, Twickenham, 20th January, 2020

Richard James
Richard James

Book Details :

  • Paperback : 416 pages
  • Publisher: Everyman Chess (1 Sept. 2019)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1781945373
  • ISBN-13: 978-1781945377
  • Product Dimensions: 17.1 x 2.3 x 23.8 cm

Official web site of Everyman Chess

Planning : Move by Move
Planning : Move by Move

Chess Logic in Practice

Chess Logic in Practice : Erik Kislik

Erik Kislik is an American IM and chess coach who has been based in Hungary for some years.

This is his second book, a successor to Applying Logic in Chess, which proved rather controversial, containing rather more words and less chess than you might expect. John Hartmann’s review proved even more controversial than Kislik’s book, and was subjected to some rather aggressive online responses by the author’s friends and supporters.

As someone who likes chess books with lots of words and has a specific interest in logic, I was sufficiently intrigued to buy the book myself and find out what all the fuss was about. While agreeing with Hartmann’s reservations, I enjoyed the book and was looking forward to the sequel.

Kislik’s premise is that, by using logical thought processes, we can eliminate bias from our thinking and improve our choice of candidate moves. According to the introduction: “I decided to write this book to lay out straightforward problem-solving approaches to the tough decisions we face in practical games. We have all sorts of biases that get in our way and stop us from finding, considering and calculating strong moves.”

Unlike his previous book, you’ll find a lot more chess than verbiage here. The book is full of interesting extracts from top GM games, games by the author and his students, and positions from opening theory.

Kislik splits his material into two parts. The first part, Thinking Concepts, concerns identifying specific cognitive biases which might prevent us finding the best moves. The second part, Positional Concepts, looks at more directly chess-related ideas.

You can find a contents list and sample pages on the publisher’s website.

I guess I’m not really part of the target market as I have had no particular interest in improving my own chess for several decades now and am gradually winding down my playing career.

For reference, my ECF grade is, at the time of writing, 167, which would be round about 1900 Elo.

What did I make of the material? Does it succeed in its aim? What level of player is it aimed at?

Chapter 3, The Method of Elimination, tells us that we can simplify our choices if there’s only one move that meets our opponent’s threat or, in some other way, reacts to the demands of the position. Sure, but I’ve certainly played games where I’ve done just that only to find that the one move to meet my opponent’s threat, which I’ve played without too much thought, allows something much worse. There seems to be an assumption here that the reader calculates much more accurately and quickly than I do.

This position is from Harikrishna-Dominguez (Wijk aan Zee 2014) with Black to play.

Black’s a pawn down, so he has no choice but to play Qg6, which, as you will see, regains the pawn with equality. Not so hard, even for me, but I was more interested in the position a couple of moves earlier where he chose to free his position by a temporary sacrifice of his e-pawn.

A few moves later they reached this position:

Here Dominguez played a5. Kislik: “This very unnecessary defensive move allows White to make a lot of progress and set some awkward problems. 32… Ke7 is a move I would have chosen by a process of elimination. Black improves his worst-placed piece and White has no threats anyway.” The position should still be within the bounds of a draw, but Harikrishna gave a textbook example of how to maintain the pressure and eventually brought home the full point.

Yes, but you might equally well say that Black would have been following general principles: bringing his king up for the ending and not creating unnecessary pawn weaknesses.

This is from Chapter 12: Painfully Slow Moves: Kislik-Szalanczy Budapest 2009 with White to play.

Looking at what I’d learnt from Chapter 3, I’d quickly eliminate everything except gxf7+ and Rxf7 as I don’t want to lose the g6 pawn for nothing. In fact both moves give White a slight plus. Kislik chose gxf7+ and a few moves later allowed a perpetual.

As he explains, he missed a Painfully Slow Move: “33. Rf4!! wins by threatening the very modest Qxe7.” Wait a minute. Why does Rf4 threaten Qxe7?  Why can’t I play Qxe7 at once? He analyses various other lines but doesn’t answer my questions. I asked Stockfish 10, who told me that 33. Qxe7 Qg1+ 34. Kc2 Qxg2+ 35. Nd2 fxg6 is equal, but if the white rook was on f4 rather than f5 White would be mating with Qe6+ followed by Rh4+. All rather too deep for me, I’m afraid.

I believe there have been several recent books based on the opposite premise: that to play at a high level you need to use creativity, imagination and intuition rather than just pure logic. At my level, at any rate, I’d need to go beyond pure logic to find Rf4.

I get the feeling from this example that the book is really aimed at stronger players than me. The book is full of punctuation marks and assessments without further comment. From my perspective I’d have preferred fewer examples and more explanation.

I wonder also if the author might have had a database of instructive positions and a list of interesting chapter headings and tried to shoehorn everything in somehow and somewhere.

The other quibble I have is with the layout. It’s all rather breathless, with one position being followed by another without a pause, I’d have liked a gap, or even a horizontal line, to separate examples, so that my brain could take a break.

In spite of my reservations, I’m sure that a player of, say, 2000+ strength prepared to work hard will get a lot out of this book. Kislik’s theories are thought provoking and his examples fascinating. Slightly lower rated players will, as I did, get a lot of pleasure out of reading this book and enjoying some excellent chess.

Richard James, Twickenham, January 14th 2020

Richard James
Richard James

Book Details :

  • Hardcover : 240 pages
  • Publisher: Gambit Publications Ltd (18 September 2019)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1911465244
  • ISBN-13: 978-1911465249
  • Product Dimensions: 17.1 x 2.3 x 24.8 cm

Official web site of Gambit Publications Ltd.

Improve Your Practical Play in the Middlegame

Improve Your Practical Play in the Middlegame : Alexey Dreev

Improve Your Practical Play in the Middlegame
Improve Your Practical Play in the Middlegame

“Before the endgame the gods have placed the middlegame.” – Dr. Seigbert Tarrasch

GM Alexey Dreev
GM Alexey Dreev

From Wikipedia :

Alexey Sergeyevich Dreev (Russian: Алексей Сергеевич Дреев; born 30 January 1969[1]) is a Russian chess player. He was awarded the title Grandmaster by FIDE in 1989

This concise but dense book covers a range of middlegame ideas, but not the standard set you find in many other volumes. The backcover rubric says: “…Alexey…believes that through careful reading and study of his book, any player regardless of level will significantly improve their skills. Even if you are unable to solve some of his exercises, they will still be of great use for improving your understanding of chess.

Alexey considers that his book will be useful for both club and professional chess players.” Allowing for a little publisher’s rhetoric, this tells you that this isn’t an easy read and you’ll have to work hard to reap the benefits, which I think is an accurate assessment.

The book is split into six sections, the first five each containing an introduction, followed by examples from real games, including positions where the ideas don’t work (rigorous analysis is the watchword throughout), then exercises and solutions. In the final chapter seven games demonstrating ideas from the first five chapters are analysed in detail.

The ‘Practical Play’ aspect of the title are found in the example solutions, some of which to lead to a clear advantage, but many are far less prescriptive in their outcome (”with compensation for the exchange”, for example).

There are a few minor idiosyncrasies in the English, but nothing to trouble the scorers.

Here is an illustrative example from the Pawn Sacrifice chapter which gives a flavour of the book:-

From Ivanchuk-Kasparov, Linares 1991

This is a case where the knights are stronger than the bishops due to the specific nature of the pawn structure. Black’s problem is the absence of counterplay. As the further course of the game showed, White achieved a convincing victory.

But this is thebeauty of chess, that sometimes there are incredible defensive resources in a position which are hidden at first glance

15…Qc7

In the game Black played 15…a5, by means of which he gets a transfer point for his heavy pieces, the c5-square, but this does not bring relief.  16.b5 Qc7 17.Nd2 Qc5 18.Qd3 Rg8 19.Rae1±. White has many ways to enhance his position, e.g., by advancing the f-pawn. It is difficult to recommend anything for Black. 1-0 (38)

16.Nd2 d5!!

Only here and now, otherwise it will be too late!

17.exd5 Qe5!

I admit these moves do not lead to complete equality, but thanks to the pawn sacrifice, Black no longer feels besieged and doomed to a long defence. His bishops are gradually awakening from hibernation, and this gives him solid compensation for the sacrificed pawn.

18.Qxe5

18.Qd3 Bxb4 19.Rac1 Kf8∞

18…fxe5 !9.Rab1 f5!

Another important move!. Black limits the knights and prepares to connect his rooks with …Kf7, when his King will clearly be better placed than its counterpart and his pieces will gain in activity.

Black can expect compensation.

In summary, this is an excellent but difficult book, and you’ll require some pretty decent analytical chops to assess whether the ideas it covers may be sometimes applicable in your own games.

Mark Taylor, Windsor, Berkshire, July 2019

Mark Taylor
Mark Taylor

Book Details :

  • Paperback : 208 pages
  • Publisher: Thinkers Publishing (8 Sept. 2018)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9492510316
  • ISBN-13: 978-9492510310
  • Product Dimensions: 16.5 x 1.9 x 22.9 cm

Official web site of Thinkers Publishing

Improve Your Practical Play in the Middlegame
Improve Your Practical Play in the Middlegame