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Improve Your Chess Calculation: The Ramesh Chess Course – Volume 1

Improve Your Chess Calculation: The Ramesh Chess Course - Volume 1, RB Ramesh, New In Chess (31 May 2022), ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9056919979
Improve Your Chess Calculation: The Ramesh Chess Course – Volume 1, RB Ramesh, New In Chess (31 May 2022), ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9056919979

From the publisher:

“Calculation is key to winning chess games. Converting your chess knowledge into concrete moves requires calculation and precise visualisation. The bad news: calculation is hard work. You cannot rely on feeling or intuition — you will have to turn on your brainpower.

The good news: you can improve your calculation skills by training. Set up a position on a chessboard and try to solve exercises without moving the pieces! Grandmaster Ramesh RB is the perfect coach to awaken your chess brain and feed you precisely the right exercises. ‘After only a month of intensive training with Ramesh, I could sense a seismic shift in both the precision of my calculation as well as my general level of sharpness’, says GM Daniel Naroditsky.

“GM Ramesh is one of the world’s most successful coaches. He has trained many of India’s top talents at all stages of their development on their journey to become International Masters and Grandmasters. Ramesh understands what mistakes players can make while calculating. He knows that the best move in a specific position may be the opposite of what your intuition is urging you to play. And he serves you the exercises to correct these misconceptions and start finding the right solutions. Every chess player will benefit from the hundreds of exercises in this book. Coach Ramesh will take your calculation skills from a club players level to grandmaster level.”

 

This is the first of what promises to be a multi-volume series of coaching books under the title of The Ramesh Chess Course. As Ramesh is perhaps the world’s most successful chess coach this promises to be a treat for all ambitious players. As calculation is the single most important skill in chess, there’s no better place to start.

Ramesh starts off by telling us how to use the book. Here are his first two paragraphs.

  1. Have a good look at every position and try to understand what is going on behind the scenes. Compare the king positions, piece placements, pawn structure, material parity, etc., before beginning your analysis.
  2. Before we start analysing any move, we should make a list of reasonable looking moves and only then begin analysing them.

Good advice, although 2. is Kotov’s Candidate Moves idea, which not everyone finds useful in every position. Always useful when tackling the tasks set in this book, though.

The most important paragraph here is the final one, number 10.

I have divided the material into five categories:
Level 1 = Elo Rating 1200-1600
Level 2 = Elo Rating 1600-2000
Level 3 = Elo Rating 2000-2400
Level 4 = Elo Rating 2400-2600
Level 5 = Elo Rating 2600 & above

It’s always a problem for authors and publishers of multi-volume coaching courses whether to structure the material horizontally (by topic) or vertically (by difficulty of material). Ramesh and New in Chess have chosen the former rather than the latter route.

If you’re anywhere between 1200 and 2800 strength, then, you’ll find exercises pitched at the right level for you, but you’ll also find much which is either too hard or too easy. If you’re a coach working with students anywhere between 1200 and 2800 strength, likewise you’ll find plenty of great coaching material.

As you’ll see, quite a lot of the book is taken up with Level 5 exercises, which, by their nature, often involve several pages of detailed analysis.

Each exercise is labelled with the appropriate level, with the more complex exercises comprising a number of ‘tasks’. In each case we are told the amount of time the student should be allowed.

The first chapter considers the difference between dynamic and static positions: it’s the former which are the subject of this book. There are two critical areas to study: Calculation and Attack.

The first task is set at Level 1: you have 2 minutes to solve it.

This is Carlsen – Vachier-Lagrave, from a 2021 speed game. Magnus played 34. Bd4+ Rxd4 35. cxd4 Bxd4, which really should have been a draw, but he later managed to win it.

He missed the move I hope you found, 34. Rc8!, which would have forced immediate resignation as after 34… Rxc8 there’s 35. Bd4#. Ramesh points out the 34… Ra8 35. Rxa8 Rxa8 36. Bd4#. I don’t know about you, but I’d have preferred the immediate 35. Bd4# here. A slightly unfortunate start, but I guess it doesn’t really matter.

In Chapter 2 Ramesh shares with us some games and positions he’s used to train his students, aiming to recreate his training sessions and demonstrate typical mistakes. He expects you to look deeply into each position, calculate multiple variations without making mistakes and evaluate the position correctly at the end. I hope readers will find this instructive and exciting. 

The first example is an endgame study (there are a lot of studies in this book) composed by Alexandr Grin in 1989.

His student gave the solution as 1. Nb5 a2 2. Na7+? Kc7 3. c6 a1Q with stalemate, overlooking that Black could win in this variation by playing 3… Kb6 instead.

As Ramesh explains over 2½ columns, it’s very easy to get over-excited when you see a beautiful idea and fail to check it through thoroughly.

The correct solution to the study is 2. c6! a1Q+ 3. Na7+ Kd8 4. c7+ Kxc7, again with stalemate. His student had the right idea but failed to execute it correctly.

Chapter 3, The Analytical Process, is the heart of the book. Ramesh explains in detail how to calculate and how to analyse, taking into account psychological as well as purely chess factors.

The advice in this chapter will be of great interest and benefit both to chess coaches and to ambitious players at all levels.

Most of the examples here are extremely complex positions, usually Level 5 (suitable for 2600+ players).

Take, for example, this complex position (Smyslov – Rubinetti Palma de Mallorca Interzonal 1970).

Here, we have 16 pages of detailed analysis, broken down into 27 tasks, with nested variations given labels such as B3113242). You may well, like me, find it hard to follow, even with the copious diagrams provided.

Ramesh comments at the end:

In my training with young players for over a decade, I have seen that analysing very complicated positions without the help of moving pieces on the board is not only possible, but even essential for quicker and long-lasting improvement in a player’s analytical capabilities. This will require the coach to be patient and believe in the capabilities of his student in the long run. From the players’ part, they must put in a genuine effort to try to analyse the positions without giving in to self-defeating doubts. In my academy, even 1800-level players can follow all the analysis like this with some effort and without a chessboard. It is simply a question of patience and perseverance.

If you’re interested in the complete game, here it is. Click on any move for a pop-up window. Black’s last move was a losing blunder: the only way to draw was 44. a1Q.

It’s clear from this book that chess tuition has changed a lot in the past 20 years or so. (60 years ago, when I was learning chess, if you wanted to improve you had no choice but to read a book.) Visualisation exercises and solving endgame studies (recommended by Judit Polgar as well as Ramesh) are now common.

Later in the chapter, Ramesh has this to say.

Even though humans can probably never analyse at the level of engines anymore, it is possible to take the help and inspiration from engines to further our capabilities to previously unknown levels. I have personally trained players with ratings in the range of 1400-1800 to analyse variations that players of previous generations with a rating range of 2200-2400 were unable to do. This is one of the reasons my students in the 9 to 14 age group can quickly become International Masters or grandmasters.

Chapter 4 provides more examples of Forcing Moves. Judit Polgar, like me, uses the acronym CCTV: in her case Checks, Captures, Threats and Variations. Ramesh adds pawn breaks into his definition of Forcing Moves. If you still want to use CCTV you might try Checks, Captures, Threats and pawn leVers perhaps.

Here’s a Level 3 question (Henrichs – Fontaine Bremen (Bundesliga) 2012).

Black won this game by using a series of forcing moves: captures and threats: 20… f3 21. Nxf3 Rxf3 22. Bxf3 Nxb4 23. Bxb7 Nxc2 24. Be4 Nxa3 25. Rb3 Qa4 0-1

Ramesh mentions that 20… f3 wasn’t Black’s only strong move here: 20… Nd4 was another way to play for the win.

In Chapter 5 we learn about typical mistakes made while calculating variations.

Ramesh lists 14 types of mistake, starting with not being able to visualise the position in the mind, not seeing forcing moves and not making a list of candidate moves, giving examples and possible solutions.

In this world championship game from 2008 Kramnik, playing White, made a fatal error.

29. Nd4? was a blunder, missing 29… Qxd4 30. Rd1 Nf6! 31. Rxd4 Nxg4 32. Rd7+ Kf6 33. Rxb7 Rc1+ 34. Bf1 Ne3!, when Anand had a winning advantage.

I guess it’s debatable whether Kramnik’s error was one of calculation or evaluation, and whether he’d missed Anand’s 30th or 34th move.

Chapter 6 is devoted entirely to endgame studies.

Here’s Ramesh:

Whenever I feel my student’s calculation skills are not up to the mark, I will make them solve studies for three to four hours a day for around three to five days in a row. Usually, the students will show significant improvement in their calculation skills.

You might like to try your hand at solving this Level 2 study, composed by the great Leonid Kubbel and published in 1911. It’s White to play and draw.

The solution runs like this:

1. Rc1+ Bb1 2. Kb3 g2 3. Ka3 h2 4. Rc2 g1=Q (4… Bxc2) (4… Ba2 5. Rxg2 h1=Q 6. Rg1+ Qxg1) 5. Ra2+ Bxa2 *

Finally, Chapter 7 offers some more general suggestions for chess improvement. As with the suggestions throughout the book, these cover many aspects of chess psychology as well as practical advice which will be beneficial for all players and teachers.

While there’s an enormous amount of helpful advice both here and elsewhere in the book, there’s also some repetition which might have been better avoided.

For instance, returning for a moment to Chapter 6, we’re told on both p258 and p260 that solving a study might take anywhere between 5 and 40 minutes. I think this might have been picked up by the publishers at editing or proofing stage.

How to summarise?

This is an important book, and, by the look of it, part of an important series. The author is arguably the most successful high level chess teacher in the world, and, reading the book, you can understand why. The positions are all well chosen and the explanations throughout the book display profound insight into the minds of chess players. Although you might think it’s aimed at stronger or at least more ambitious players, it will, for the general advice, in particular that of a psychological nature, be a great read for many players of all levels. Even though not everyone will find the book’s structure particularly helpful, it’s also esssential reading for anyone who teaches chess to students rated 1200+.

Speaking as a retired 1900-2000 strength player, the Level 4 and Level 5 examples, which take up a lot of the book, were way beyond me and not always easy to follow. At one level, it was interesting to see how deeply highly complex positions can be analysed, and how talented young players who are prepared to put in the necessary time and effort can learn to perform these tasks, but at another level I found it rather disspiriting to work through so many pages of dense analysis. To be fair, though, I’m not really part of the target market for this book.

At the same time, the market for books aimed at 2400-2600 strength players must be very limited. What I’d like to see would be a book taking a more structured approach, with, for example, 100 pages each of exercises at Levels 1, 2 and 3 (which is anyone from 1200 to 2400 strength), along with some general advice at either the beginning or the end of the book.

Instead, what we have is a book which is more about how to teach calculation and how to improve your calculation rather than one where you can start at page 1 and work your way through in sequential fashion. Ramesh also expects his students to have seriousness of purpose and a strong work ethic, as well as plenty of time to spend on chess improvement. If you’re just a hobby player looking to have fun and make a bit of progress, you might well find this rather scary.

The approach recommended here certainly isn’t for everyone, but even so, any reader who is prepared to work hard will gain a lot from this book.

I couldn’t really imagine Ramesh exclaiming ‘Awesome move!!’ and ‘Kaboom!!’ like Judit Polgar. If you’d prefer something that also covers calculation skills, but is an easier read taking a more ‘fun’ approach I’d recommend this book instead. They certainly have points in common: teaching you to look for Checks, Captures and Threats, and using endgame studies.

You can find more details here and read some sample pages here.

I’d also, by the way, recommend reading an excellent interview with Ramesh which appeared in New in Chess 2022#3, which puts his methods into context.

I look forward very much to seeing future volumes in this series.

Richard James, Twickenham 5th December 2022

Richard James
. Richard James

Book Details:

  • Softcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: New In Chess (31 May 2022)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9056919970
  • ISBN-13:978-9056919979
  • Product Dimensions: ‎17.25 x 2.64 x 23.67 cm

Official web site of New in Chess

Improve Your Chess Calculation: The Ramesh Chess Course - Volume 1, RB Ramesh, New In Chess (31 May 2022), ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9056919979
Improve Your Chess Calculation: The Ramesh Chess Course – Volume 1, RB Ramesh, New In Chess (31 May 2022), ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9056919979
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The Dragon Sicilian: A Take-No-Prisoners Repertoire Versus 1.e4

The Dragon Sicilian: A Take-No-Prisoners Repertoire Versus 1.E4, Anish Giri, New in Chess / ChessAble, 15th November 2022, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9493257351
The Dragon Sicilian: A Take-No-Prisoners Repertoire Versus 1.E4, Anish Giri, New in Chess / ChessAble, 15th November 2022, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9493257351
From the publisher:

“The Dragon Sicilian is the perfect choice for club players searching for chaotic and imbalanced positions. This opening manual shows how Black can turn up the heat against 1.e4, and enjoy dynamic winning chances game after game. Top-10 player Anish Giri is the best tutor to bring this complicated opening across to ‘everyday’ club players. Anish serves up his super-GM lines and clearly explains the ideas and strategies behind the moves. So when game time comes, you know exactly which moves to play, at what moment, and how to deliver the knockout blow. Make no mistake: This repertoire’s take-no-prisoners-strategy means you will sometimes reach razor-sharp positions, where both sides must play ‘only moves’. But that’s why you’ll love having Anish Giri as your opening coach. Giri delivers just the right mix of cutting-edge analysis and practical guidance for players of all levels with his trademark witty and down-to-earth teaching style. The Dragon Sicilian also covers all other major systems Black could face, including what to play against Anti-Sicilians such as the Rossolimo, the 2.c3 Alapin, and the Grand-Prix Attack.”

Anish Giri
Anish Giri

“Anish Giri became a chess Grandmaster at the age of 14 years, 7 months and 2 days. At the time, in 2009, that meant he was the youngest grandmaster in the World. Starting from the January 2013 list, the Dutch grandmaster was the leading junior player in the FIDE World Rankings. In June 2014 he turned twenty, which ended his junior years. Giri is a top-GM with a 2700-plus ELO rating.”

I am impressed with this colourful book, which is an accessible, lucid introduction to the Sicilian Dragon. The repertoire guide is a well- produced hardback book with an attractive vibrant front cover, good quality paper and many large diagrams, typically two per page and sometimes three making the work pleasant to browse and study.

The back cover blurb on the volume states that the opening manual work is aimed as an introduction for everyday club players, and it succeeds admirably in this respect. This title does not purport to be a major theoretical treatise or a “latest developments” style of publication, however, there is some cutting-edge theory and new ideas, some of which are new to the reviewer, who is a life-long Dragon addict.

The reviewer is not going to do a detailed theoretical critique the lines chosen by Giri for several reasons: time;  my knowledge of some of the lines recommended is not sufficiently well-developed yet and thirdly these surveys can often come down to a thicket of engine analysis which can be off putting for less experienced players and does not always enhance understanding: it is important to understand the typical ideas, so when your opponent deviates from the book main lines/engine main lines, you can work out a solution at the board.

Despite my comments above, it is important for any reader of an opening tome, to not blindly follow the lines and take everything as gospel: check with an engine and use other sources.

The book has a short, didactic introduction to the Sicilian Dragon introducing the ideas, and nineteen chapters.

DragonStartingPos
Dragon Starting Position

The book is effectively divided into four sections:

  • Yugoslav Attack main lines (five chapters)
  • Sixth move alternatives; non-Yugoslav Attack (five chapters)
  • Move orders, Accelerated Dragon and Drago(n)Dorf (two chapters)
  • Anti-Sicilians (seven chapters)

Yugoslav Attack Section

The first chapter gives a useful overview of the Yugoslav Attack main line 9.Bc4 variation.

This introductory part briefly surveys the other main systems, other than the recommended repertoire, that occur such as the Chinese Dragon, Soltis Variation, Modern Variation, Topalov Variation. This is a useful pointer for the reader to the myriad of Dragon systems.

Chapter 2 Yugoslav Attack 9.Bc4 Nxd4

This part covers the book’s suggestion against 9.Bc4 which is the rare system 9…Nxd4.

Yugoslav9...Nxd4
Yugoslav9…Nxd4

This system was popular in the late 1950s/early 1960s but fell into disuse after some high-profile white victories, such as Fischer-Larsen Portoroz 1958 and Tal-Portisch European Team Championship 1961.

The idea of the line is to reduce white’s attacking potential by exchanging some pieces. I can see the logic of recommending this line as it is a straightforward system which is not popular, so many white players won’t know how to meet it: white must be accurate to even get a small advantage. The disadvantage is that it could be regarded as passive as black defends a slightly inferior, but defensive ending in the main line.

Black’s move order in this variation is critical as Giri points out: black has just played 12…b5!

Yugoslav12...b5
Yugoslav12…b5

Giri offers a new twist on this ancient line with an intriguing positional pawn sacrifice in a main line, which has been played successfully in a correspondence game. Buy the book to find out.

Chapter 3 Dragon Main Line Konstantinov’s pawn sacrifice sidelines

This chapter covers the sidelines in the main line after 9.0-0-0 d5

White has a fair number of alternatives to the main line of 10.exd5 which are:

  • 10.Bh6
  • 10.h4
  • 10.Nxc6
  • 10.Kb1
  • 10.Qe1

The last two are definitely the most important with Giri covering these with main-line recommendations which are well known and fine for black.

After 10.Kb1 Nxd4 11.e5! Nf5 12.exf6 exf6 13.Bc5 d4! 14.Bxf8 Qxf8, this position is reached:

10Kb1MainLine
10.Kb1 Main Line

Black has sacrificed the exchange for active play: Magnus Carlsen has played this way; a host of games has vindicated black’s approach including Short-Carlsen London 2009 which was drawn after a serious of adventures.

Chapter 4 Dragon main line 9.0-0-0 d5 10.exd5

This chapter is divided into two sections covering the greedy pawn grab and what is probably the main line of the entire Dragon at top level.

The (in)famous pawn grab leads to this position:

PawnGrab
Pawn Grab Line

This position has been well known since the 1950s, black now plays 13…Qc7! with equality. White has to be accurate to hold on: as a youngster, I won many quick games in this line with black. The author covers this line well with respected well-known variations for black.

The main, main line occurs after 12.Bd4:

MainLine
Main Line 12.Bd4

Here Giri offers the old main line 12…e5 which has been under pressure in recent years. He offers an interesting, rare approach which if it holds up is very important for Dragon theory. Buy the book to find out.

Chapter 5 The early 9.g4

The idea behind this line is to prevent 9…d5 whilst avoiding one of the main lines 9.Bc4. the author recommends the well-rehearsed response 9…Be6 which is fine for black.

The second section of the book, chapters 6 to 10 cover the following variations:

  • Classical 6.Be2
  • Fianchetto System 6.g3
  • Levenfish 6.f4
  • 6.Bc4 system
  • Sixth move sidelines

These lines are perfectly respectable but do not threaten to extinguish the Dragon’s breath. Giri covers these with well-known antidotes. For example, in the Levenfish Variation:

Levenfish
Levenfish

Black has just played 6…Nc6! which neutralises white’s main idea to get in e5 to disrupt black’s development.

The third section has a couple of short chapters on the Accelerated Dragon and the Drago(n)dorf.  These are really supplementary chapters which are interesting but do not detract from the main book.

The fourth section has seven chapters on the Anti-Sicilians and covers over half the book which is excellent. These systems are very popular at all levels particularly at club level with the obvious intention to avoid reams of theory: we have all got stuffed on the white side of the Sicilian facing an opponent bristling with theoretical barbs. This part is divided as follows:

  • The Prins system 5.f3
  • The Hungarian system 4.Qxd4
  • Moscow Variation 3.Bb5+
  • Various 3rd moves
  • Closed Sicilian
  • Alapin 2.c3
  • Other second moves

I particularly like the chapter on the Moscow Variation, which introduced the reviewer to some new lines. As well as that, the author covers some excellent points about the importance of move order in the Maroczy system.

FM Richard Webb

FM Richard Webb, Basingstoke, Hampshire, 27th November 2022

Book Details :

  • Hardcover : 248 pages
  • Publisher:ChessAble / New in Chess (27 Sept. 2022)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:9493257355
  • ISBN-13: 978-9493257351
  • Product Dimensions: ‎17.73 x 1.91 x 23.85 cm

Official web site of New in Chess

The Dragon Sicilian: A Take-No-Prisoners Repertoire Versus 1.E4, Anish Giri, New in Chess / ChessAble, 15th November 2022, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9493257351
The Dragon Sicilian: A Take-No-Prisoners Repertoire Versus 1.E4, Anish Giri, New in Chess / ChessAble, 15th November 2022, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9493257351
 Save as PDF

Master Your Chess with Judit Polgar

Master Your Chess with Judit Polgar: Inspirational Lessons from the All-Time Best Female Chess Player by Judit Polgar, Andras Toth, New in Chess, May 31st 2022, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9493257337
Master Your Chess with Judit Polgar: Inspirational Lessons from the All-Time Best Female Chess Player by Judit Polgar, Andras Toth, New in Chess, May 31st 2022, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9493257337

From the publisher:

“Judit Polgar was the best female chess player in the world for a record 26 years. In this book she reveals some of the secrets of her success. Together with prize-winning coach, International Master Andras Toth, she has created a course based on the training she received as a young player. It feels like private lessons from one of the best players in the world.

You will learn how to punish the three most common openings mistakes. And how to spot hidden tactical opportunities and how to force your opponent to play weakening moves. You will be taught how to master one of the most difficult skills in chess: seizing the initiative. And you will find the tools to turn yourself into a lean, mean, attacking machine. Master Your Chess with Judit Polgar covers all aspects of the game: from the opening to the endgame. The manual is accessible both for ambitious beginners wanting to build their chess development on a strong foundation and for intermediate players who have hit a plateau and need new insights to leap forward.”

Judit Polgar has been ranked 1st on the Women’s rating list from 1989 to this day. In 2005 she became the only woman in chess history to participate in the World Championship final.

GM Judit Polgar
GM Judit Polgar

What we have here is an online course from chessable.com converted into a book.

Here’s Judit Polgar in the preface:

As an attempt to provide a rock-solid foundation to your game, we are going to cover all aspects of the game from the opening to the endgame. Again, we will do this in a unique and very focused fashion. Instead of wading through masses of opening theory, we are going to examine the main culprits that allow positions to break down.

We are going to look at the foundations of tactical play and will begin to delve into the most common positional themes. Last but not least, we are going to learn about endgame techniques and use endgame studies, not only to establish solid theoretical knowledge but to greatly enhance our calculation skills!

All this is going to be presented to you through a selection of games played by me and other experts of our royal game.

It’s described by Judit as a ‘starter kit’ and on the back cover as for ‘ambitious beginners’. It all depends on what you mean by ‘starter’ and ‘beginner’.

There’s an assumption that the reader is familiar with basic tactical ideas, opening principles and endgame theory, and is able to look ahead and calculate with reasonable proficiency.

For this reason, I’d consider this a book suitable for readers rated in the region of 1500-2000, although ambitious readers of, say, 1250 upwards would also benefit if they were prepared to work hard.

You can read some sample pages on the publisher’s website here.

You’ll observe from the contents that the book covers a wide range of themes across all areas of the game: openings, strategy, tactics and endings. Some of the chapter headings suggest material that wouldn’t be suitable for beginners: for example, Positional Queen Sacrifices, Openings that Thrive on Initiative or Complex Endings. Each chapter is introduced by a page in which the reader is invited to find the best continuation in four diagrammed positions. The diagrams are repeated over the page with the correct answer underneath: these positions are then explained in detail within the chapter.

Judit Polgar is second to none at both playing and selecting games and positions which are at the same time instructive and aesthetically pleasing. Together with her co-author Andras Toth she does an excellent job at explaining the examples, asking questions to the reader where appropriate, avoiding too many variations, and providing short and pertinent nuggets of advice.

Here’s a short game from the second chapter which Judit describes as ‘a particularly educational game to model the dangers of bringing the queen out too soon and neglecting development!’, adding that 12… Nxc3 13. Bxc3 Qb5 14. Nd6+ wins the queen.

Click on any move for a pop-up window.

It’s good to see in Chapter 4 that Polgar, like me, uses the acronym CCTV when teaching tactics, although she refers to Checks, Captures and Threats Variations, while I prefer Checks, Captures, Threats and Violent moves (or looking for Checks, Captures and Threats leads to Victory).

Of course, tactics and strategy always go hand in hand, and, as a brilliant tactician who was brought up on a diet of solving tactical puzzles, even her chapters on strategy include examples with sparkling conclusions. Take this example from Chapter 7 on Misplaced Pieces, where another Hungarian demonstrates his skills.

You’ll find a number of endgame studies scattered throughout the book. Here, from the chapter on Unexpected Tactics, is the conclusion of an extraordinary study composed by Yuri Dorogov (Targoviste 1982).

Black is two queens up, with a pawn seemingly about to promote, but an inspection of the position reveals that there’s no way that 6. b3 can be prevented. Amazing! Who’d have thought it?

Chapter 21, Openings that Thrive on Initiative, includes the Botvinnik Semi-Slav, according to Polgar and Toth a super-exciting opening branch with vast theory and super-complicated games! Here’s an example, described by the authors as a remarkable victory and creative effort by Kaidanov.

This review wouldn’t be complete without an example of Judit Polgar’s play. There are many of her brilliant tactical finishes in the book, but, like all great players, she also excelled in the ending.

This example comes from Chapter 28: Complex Endings. Judit explains: This endgame was a particularly satisfying one as I managed to execute a wide range of strategic and tactical themes within one game, including some awesome king maneuvers…

As you can see, you get 500 pages of terrific chess in this book, with 287 ‘games’. Some of the positions were familiar to me, but most weren’t.

The book is a sturdy, good-looking hardback: a very welcome from the usual rather flimsy softback books. The presentation is rather unusual, and much more colourful than most chess books, as a result of its being produced from an interactive course. The diagrams are graphic rather than character based, in tasteful two-tone brown. I quite like them myself, but perhaps some readers will prefer something more traditional. Some of the diagrams are enhanced with shaded squares and arrows, which, for me, are more appropriate for a screen than a book, where they don’t display especially well. The book uses a wide sans serif font which is perfect for screen display, but again you might prefer a more traditional serif font. I think it looks rather attractive as there isn’t a lot of heavy text in the book, but you might disagree. Questions are asked in blue, which makes them stand out from the rest of the text. On the whole, I thought the book looked really good: much more appealing than many chess books and excellent value for money: you can get it for under £30 if you shop around.

Then there’s the writing style, which tends towards the hyperbolic. The other day I was teaching a 7-year-old beginner. Whenever he found a checkmate in a puzzle I set him he exclaimed ‘Boom’!. In this book you sometimes get ‘Kaboom!’ instead. Moves are often described as ‘awesome’, ‘super-exciting’ or similar epithets. You might find that this enhances your reading experience, making it more like a personal lesson. On the other hand, you might consider it more suitable for a primary school classroom than for a book written for intelligent adults.

One further minor complaint: as with many books from this publisher, it would have benefited from additional proofreading by a native English speaker.

The quality of the material is outstanding throughout – ‘awesome’ if you prefer. The book covers a wide range of important topics suitable for club standard players. The examples are both educational and inspirational, with clear and helpful annotations. You’ll learn a lot about calculation and tactics, about positional play and strategy, but, more than that, you’ll encounter a lot of excitement, creativity and beauty. Studying this course will undoubtedly improve your chess as well as giving you a greater appreciation of the aesthetics of the game. It’s hard to imagine a more enthusiastic and inspiring guide and role model than the world’s strongest ever woman player. If you prefer, you can purchase the online course instead, but if you favour more traditional media, this book will grace your library.

As long as you’re happy with the presentation and writing style, this book deserves a very strong recommendation for all club players, with the caveat that, despite the suggestion on the back cover, it’s not suitable for complete beginners.

You might also want to visit Chessable to hear Judit talking further about the course.

Richard James, Twickenham 25th October 2022

Richard James
. Richard James

Book Details:

  • Softcover: 510 pages
  • Publisher: New In chess (31 May 2022)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:9493257339
  • ISBN-13:978-9493257337
  • Product Dimensions: ‎17.81 x 3.33 x 23.83 cm

Official web site of New in Chess

GM Judit Polgar
GM Judit Polgar
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The Greatest Attacker in Chess: The Enigmatic Rashid Nezhmetdinov

The Greatest Attacker in Chess: The Enigmatic Rashid Nezhmetdinov, Cyrus Lakdawala, New in Chess, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9071689000
The Greatest Attacker in Chess: The Enigmatic Rashid Nezhmetdinov, Cyrus Lakdawala, New in Chess, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9071689000

From the publisher:

“Rashid Nezhmetdinov (1912-1974) played fearless attacking chess. With his dazzling style, the Soviet master already was a legend during his lifetime, but international fame largely eluded him. Only once did he get permission to show his exceptional talent in a tournament abroad. Five times Nezhmetdinov was chess champion of the Russian Federation. In the 1961 Soviet Championship, he won the ‘Best Game’ prize for a spectacular win against Mikhail Tal who praised his opponent for his ‘amazing creativity.’ Other stars that ‘Nezh’ defeated in grand style included Spassky, Polugaevsky, Bronstein, and Geller.

His games, full of tactical pyrotechnics, are his legacy and have reached an ever-growing audience. Nezhmetdinov’s shocking strategic queen sacrifice, in 1962 against Chernikov, as shown on Agadmator’s YouTube channel, has become the best-watched chess video of all time with millions of views. In this book, Cyrus Lakdawala pays tribute to the genius of the enigmatic Nezhmetdinov, a Tatar who grew up as an orphan in the part of the Soviet Union that is now Kazakhstan.

In more than one hundred impressive and instructive games and positions, Lakdawala shows how Nezhmetdinov fought for the initiative, how he bluffed and sacrificed, and how he kept his cool to out-calculate his opponents. Lakdawala’s lucid writing perfectly matches the power of ‘Nezh’s’ moves. This wonderful collection celebrates Nezhmetdinov as the Greatest Attacker in Chess.”

Cyrus Lakdawala is an International Master who lives in San Diego, CA. He has been teaching chess for four decades and is a prolific and widely read author. Much acclaimed books of his are How Ulf Beats Black, Clinch It! and Winning Ugly in Chess. He twice won the Best Instructional Book Award of the Chess Journalists of America (CJA), in 2017 for Chess for Hawks and in 2020 for In the Zone: The Greatest Winning Streaks in Chess History.

IM Cyrus Lakdawala
IM Cyrus Lakdawala

We all know and love the games of the great world champions, but there are also a few players who, while not reaching the summit, have become cult figures amongst chess fans for their creativity, imagination and brilliance.

Albin Planinc is one, and another is Rashid Nezhmetdinov, the subject of this book. He has been the subject of several books over the years, and now the prolific Cyrus Lakdawala adds his name to the lists.

Here’s Lakdawala in his Preface:

If you asked the question ‘Who do you believe was the most tactically creative player of the 20th century?’ then I’m guessing that most chess players would pick either Alekhine, Bronstein, Tal or Kasparov.  Now we have a new potential entry for the top spot: Rashid Nezhmetdinov. Why are so many people irrestistibly drawn to Mikhail Tal’s chess games? The spirit of Nezhmetdinov the pirate lived on in his friend’s games. Tal was merely a more powerful extension of Nezhmetdinov. Nezhmetdinov was Tal’s trainer and muse in his successful 1960 bid to dethrone Botvinnik as World Champion. Tal explained that Nezhmetdinov taught him ‘paradox’, taking risk-taking to previously unheard-of levels. Then Tal, his stylistic offspring, displayed to the world the power of this radical new style, when in 1960 he defeated the great Mikhail Botvinnik in a match for the World Championship. If you love Tal’s games, then by default you will automatically love Nezhmetdinov’s.

Who doesn’t love Tal’s games? Book collectors who enjoy brilliant tactics and sacrifices will surely have several collections of Tal’s games on their shelves. They’ll really need a collection of Nezhmetdinov’s games as well. Is this the right one for you?

If you’ve read other books by Cyrus Lakdawala, you’ll know what to expect. His, shall we say, picturesque style of writing divides the critics. There are those who find his friendly approach and sometimes outrageous metaphors draw them in, and others who find this distracts them from the chess. You pay your money, or not, as the case may be, and take your choice.

The annotations, as is customary with this author, feature Moments of Contemplation, where you’re encouraged to think about the position, and Exercises, split into Planning, Combination Alert and Critical Decisions, inviting you to guess the next move. There are also Principles (in italics) offering you nuggets of general advice. All this will help less experienced readers navigate their way through the book and gain tangible benefits which they’ll be able to employ in their own games.

Here’s an early game. Click on any move for a pop-up window.

This is one of his most famous victories – against a formidable opponent. If you haven’t seen it before, do take a look.

The ChessBase score concludes here. Lakdawala adds the moves 34. Ka6 Ndb4#, commenting, in typical style: This is an overkill on par with Rasputin’s murder, where the unlucky monk was stabbed, shot, poisoned, bludgeoned, and then, for good measure, drowned.

Your opinion of the book will depend on how you react to this sort of thing. Here are another couple of examples.

Everyone knows that the Dragon, much the same as a Bond villain babe, is simultaneously beautiful and dangerous.

You are on trial for your life for a murder you committed in front of a police station and 30 witnesses, most of whom recorded you with their cell phone video cameras. Your victim fought back and your blood was found on her and on the knife you used to stab her. I just described Aronin’s position’s chance of being found Not Guilty by the jury. 

You might enjoy them. You might be prepared to live with them even though you think they’re both irrelevant and bordering on tasteless, and that the publisher might have made more use of the Delete key. Or you might decide there’s no way you’d buy a book written like that. Me, I’m in the middle camp, as I am with most things.

In this game from towards the end of his career he defeats a future world champion.

Even if you don’t care for Lakdawala’s prose, you should admire his hard work and enthusiasm. He knows his audience, knows exactly what he’s doing and has perfected his art over many years. You may well think that his colourful annotations are a perfect match for Nezhmetdinov’s colourful chess.

For many readers, this will be a hugely enjoyable read, and one which may also take their play to new levels of creativity. You’ll find 116 ‘games’ (about half complete games – not all won by Nezhmetdinov – and the others just conclusions) against many of the Soviet greats of the time: Bronstein, Tal, Korchnoi and others. As you’ve seen, the book is a cornucopia of daring attacks and sacrifices, not all of which are completely sound. The book is produced to New in Chess’s customary high standards and can be highly recommended to anyone not put off by the author’s writing style.

You can read some sample pages on the publisher’s website here.

 

Richard James, Twickenham 30th September 2022

Richard James
. Richard James

Book Details:

  • Softcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: New In chess (25 Feb. 2022)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:907168900X
  • ISBN-13:978-9071689000
  • Product Dimensions: ‎17.15 x 1.88 x 23.57 cm

Official web site of New in Chess

The Greatest Attacker in Chess: The Enigmatic Rashid Nezhmetdinov, Cyrus Lakdawala, New in Chess, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9071689000
The Greatest Attacker in Chess: The Enigmatic Rashid Nezhmetdinov, Cyrus Lakdawala, New in Chess, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9071689000
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The Silicon Road To Chess Improvement: Chess Engine Training Methods, Opening Strategies & Middlegame Techniques

The Silicon Road To Chess Improvement: Chess Engine Training Methods, Opening Strategies & Middlegame Techniques, Matthew Sadler, New in Chess, 31st December 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9056919832
The Silicon Road To Chess Improvement: Chess Engine Training Methods, Opening Strategies & Middlegame Techniques, Matthew Sadler, New in Chess, 31st December 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9056919832

Here is the publishers blurb from the rear cover :

“Every chess player, from club level up, can improve their game by using engines. That is the message of Matthew Sadler’s thought-provoking new book, based on many years of experience with the world’s best chess software.

You may not be able to replicate their dazzling-deep calculations, but there is so much more your engine can do for you than just checking variations! Matthew Sadler, co-author of the ground-breaking bestseller Game Changer, presents some unique methods to improve by using your engine. He explains how in your opening preparation, instead of sifting through masses of computer analysis you should play training games against your engine. He also shows how to train your early middlegame play, the conversion of advantages, your positional play, and your defensive skills. And, of course: how to analyse your own games.

These generic training methods Sadler supplements with concrete techniques. He explains how the top engines tackle crucial middlegame themes such as entrenched pieces, whole board play, ‘attacking rhythm’, exchanging pieces, the march of the Rook’s pawn, queen versus pieces, and many others. He also opens your eyes to typical strategies that the engines found and fine-tuned in popular openings such as the King’s Indian, the Grünfeld, the Slav, the French and the Sicilian. Sadler illustrates his lessons with a collection of fantastic games, explained with his trademark enthusiasm. For the first time, the superhuman powers of the chess engine have been decoded to the benefit of all players, in a rich and highly instructive book.”

About the author :

Matthew Sadler (1974) is a Grandmaster and a former British Champion. He has been writing the famous ‘Sadler on Books’ column for New In Chess magazine for many years. With his co-author Natasha Regan, Sadler twice won the prestigious English Chess Federation Book of the Year Award. In 2016 for ‘Chess for Life’ and in 2019 for their worldwide bestseller Game Changer: AlphaZero’s Ground-breaking Chess Strategies and the Promise of AI.

GM Matthew Sadler
GM Matthew Sadler

 

This is the latest book by acclaimed author and 2 time British Champion Matthew Sadler. His previous book Game Changer: AlphaZero’s Groundbreaking Chess Strategies and the Promise of AI (co-authored with Natasha Reagan) won both the 2019 ECF Book of the Year and FIDE Book of the Year.  Following the publication of Game Changer the authors gave many talks around the country about Alpha Zero. They were frequently asked the same two questions “what could be learnt from AlphaZero’s games and were they too advanced for us mere mortals?”  This book sets out to show that there is a considerable amount that can be learnt from these computer engine games as well as discovering many new ideas that can be extracted and applied in one’s own games. The author also sets out to demonstrate that every chess player from Club level upwards can improve with the help of chess engines as the engines can do much more than just calculate variations.  Chess engines can be used to enhance opening preparation and to improve your skills in the middlegame. This book can be thought of as a sequel to Game Changer but it can also be read independently as it showcases the games played by all the top computer engines rather than focusing on the radical changes brought about by AlphaZero.

The book is split into two parts. The first part provides an overview of todays top chess engines and the associated training methods recommended by the author. This covers the methods that the author has employed as a professional player as well as some new and innovative ways to using chess engines. Part 2 contains the meat of the book, 18 chapters & 484 pages analysing a wide range of opening and middlegame themes. To assist the reader, there is also some supporting Supplementary Material available to download. This includes a PGN file containing all the games included in the book together with instructions on how to set up and configure the chess engines. Having downloaded everything I  found the instructions easy to follow and anyone with a moderate level of IT skills should to be able to do the same. The author has also recently created a YouTube channel: SiliconRoadChess which contains over 250 videos showing how to use chess engines and showcasing the best engine games. As well as covering topics such as Engine Openings (92 Videos) and Great Engine Games (74 videos) there are many other interesting videos to watch from TCEC events and analysis of some of the games from the recent Carlsen Nepomniachtchi match.  As well as the videos there is also a PGN database  available providing additional material for the channel. Currently there are over 2.21 K subscribers to Silicon Road but I am sure that this number will increase. After watching a few of these videos it is clear that Matthew’s has a passion and enthusiasm for engine chess and I shall be watching many more of these in the weeks to come.

The first two chapters in part 1 are an introduction into the world of computer chess and the Top Chess Engine Competition (TCEC) which is the source for most of the games in this book, the remainder were generated by the author himself. We are introduced to the top engines (our heroes) together with a description of their playing styles, strengths, weaknesses and associated technical notes.

In chapter 3 the author lays out the methods that he has used himself to study with chess engines during his career along with a couple of new and innovative approaches. These are as follows:

  • Playing Rapid Games – Good for opening and early middlegame play.
  • Playing against Leela Zero restricted to a one-node search. – Good for openings, positional play and conversion of winning positions.
  • Playing out positions with a rapid time control. – Good for conversion of advantages and developing defensive skills
  • Playing ‘correspondence chess’ against your engine. – Good for developing analytical skills and conversion of advantages.
  • Running engine matches from key opening positions. – Good for developing a feel for openings and related middlegames.
  • Letting your engines analyse an opening position for X hours (deep analysis). – Good for analysing a single position in great depth.
  • Periodic checking of your analysis against a live engine – Develops a real-time insight into a position

Like most players I have used computer engines in the past for analysing my own games and as a sparring partner, mainly using Fritz on only the lower handicap levels. Up until now I have not used the methods described above apart from the first and the last one. So I decided to try out a couple of other methods for myself. I began with method 5, playing engine matches from key positions and get an overview of specific openings. I won’t go into too much detail here as it would give away how the author has used this method but I tried out the approach on two types of openings. Firstly I used it on some lesser known gambits. The rationale being that firstly I have never played these openings and that they are difficult to learn. Not only are there are a many variations to memorise but also there are a lot of critical positions to evaluate. Secondly I chose selection of positional openings to see how the engines would get on. I used a number of different engines (Stockfish 15, Deep Fritz 13, Fat Fritz & Leela v22) running on an i5 Laptop and a time control of M20 + 5 second increments. The matches were set up to play 6 games in each opening. (I did run a number of matches with Blitz time controls but the results were not as good)  Running these matches with Cloud Engines or longer time controls would of course produce better quality games. I chose the following three gambits:

  • The Henning-Schara Gambit (1 d4 d5, 2 c4 e6, 3 Nc3 c5. 4 cd cd )
  • The Marshall Gambit in the Semi Slav (1 d4 d5, 2 c4 c6 3 Nc3 e6 4 e4)
  • The Portsmouth Gambit (1e4 c5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 b4)

And for the ‘positional’ openings I used:

  • The Ruy Lopez Exchange Variation and the Berlin Defence
  • Queens Gambit Accepted and Exchange variations.
  • Italian Game with c3 & d3

The Ruy Lopez Berlin Defence (aka Berlin Wall) has proved to be a very efficient drawing weapon since it was made ‘popular’ by Vladimir Kramnik back in 2000. It is also an opening that engines consider as best play with both colours.  (For a more detailed explanation see: Engine Openings Understanding the Ruy Lopez Berlin  which also includes the author demonstrating how to take on Leela Zero in the 1-node mode described above.) Once all the engine matches were completed I was pleasantly surprised to find out how much I learnt by just by playing through the engine games. This approach will not make you an instant expert and would only be a prelude to more detailed study but it will be something that I will definitely use in the future. I will also use this approach in conjunction with method 6 to examine some of the critical positions in more detail. I have not included the results of the matches are they are not important as I was not trying to determine which engine was the strongest but only interested in the games that the engines produced.

To give you some idea of the quality of the games here is an example game from the Portsmouth Gambit match played between Stockfish 15 and Leela 0 v22.

Stockfish 15 – Lc0 v0.22.0 cpu [B30] Rapid 20.0min+5.0sec

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.b4 Nxb4 4.c3 Nc6 5.d4 cxd4 6.cxd4 e6 7.Nc3 Bb4 8.Bd2 d5 9.e5 Nge7 10.Bd3 Qa5 11.Rc1 Bd7 12.0-0 h6 13.Nb5 0-0

14.Bxh6 gxh6 15.a3 Bxa3 16.Ra1 f5 17.Rxa3 Qb6 18.Rb3 Na5 19.Rb1 Bxb5 20.Rxb5 Qc7 21.Qd2 Nec6 22.Qxh6 Rae8 23.g4 Qg7 24.Qxg7+ Kxg7 25.gxf5 exf5 26.Rd1 a6 27.Rxd5 Rd8 28.Rxd8 Rxd8 29.Bxf5 Nc4 30.Ng5 Nxd4 31.Rxd4 Rxd4 32.Ne6+ Kh6 33.Nxd4 Na5 34.f4 1-0

A fascinating combination beginning with the bishop sacrifice on h6 immediately followed by pawn sacrifice on a3 then finally 21 Qd2 with a double attack on h6 & a5. There is a whole chapter in the book devoted to the concept of whole board play and this game is an excellent demonstration of this theme.

I also tried out method 2, playing some games against Leela Zero in 1-Node mode. This approach restricts Leela Zero to a single node (looking one move ahead) instead of the usual millions of nodes per move.  Leela Zero is so good that its first choice move is usually good enough for  high level of play. Also, when playing in 1-node mode the engine moves are made instantly. The only weakness that I found with this approach was that is that the engine does not see any tactics. However this is a blessing in disguise as it replicates ‘human’ play as the engine plays a series of good moves followed by the occasional blunder. Having played a number of games against Leela Zero in this mode I can see the benefits of using this approach.  I was really impressed with the quality of play considering the engine is only looking one move ahead. You can try playing against Fritz in one of the ‘handicap’ modes and get similar results but the Leela Zero engine and Nibbler GUI are both available as free open source alternatives.

Part 2 is devoted to the author’s research into chess engine games. This covers the identification of the recurring middlegame themes and highlighting the exceptional games that contain these ideas. Sixteen different themes are covered. The games in this section have been analysed very deeply and the author explains his approach which is as follows:

  • An initial analysis of each game without any engine assistance.
  • Checking the analysis with live engine help
  • Identifying interesting points in the game to be investigated further (typically between 10 -15)
  • Run an engine match on all the positions of interest (anything from 40 -120 games)
  • Pick out the key games and add to the original analysis
  • Iterate until all above questions have been resolved
  • Distil and summarise all the above information into the game annotations

Also at the beginning of Part 2 there is a chapter covering the typical opening scenarios covered in the book from the following openings: Kings Indian Defence, Grunfeld, Slav & Semi Slav, English and the French Defence.

One chapter is devoted to a specific middlegame theme and each theme is discussed with a selection of annotated engine games followed by a deeply annotated illustrative game. The analysis of these illustrative games is incredibly deep and several run to over 20 pages!  Amongst the topics covered here are exchanging active pieces to leave the opponent with passive ones, the march of the rooks pawn (one of the major discoveries from Alpha Zeros games), Engine Sacrifices, Whole Board Play and the Kings Indian Opposite Wing Pawn Storm.  The final chapter discusses how best to apply the themes in your own games. The author also describes one of the most memorable moment in his chess career was when he first had an opportunity to play through hundreds of AlphaZero Stockfish games. Specifically the number of high quality games that were produced. He thought that this was more memorable than any of his OTB achievements (which included winning the British championship and representing England in the Olympiads).

This has been a fascinating book to review. Previously I had not paid a great deal of attention to computer chess in the past, either because I didn’t think it was relevant to OTB play or the games were far too difficult to understand. The author clearly has a very deep understanding of computer chess and has done a tremendous amount of research analysing engine games, identifying and classifying the recurring patterns contained therein, then showing how this knowledge can be applied taken to your own games. As well as reading the book I took the opportunity to watch many of the videos on the associated YouTube channel. The majority of which have been produced since the book was first published in 2021. No doubt many more videos produced in the future. Although this is a large book (560 pages) it is not ‘heavy’ book to read. Some of the topics in part 2 are very complex but the author explains them all in a clear and concise manner. The more that I find out about this subject the more interesting it becomes. So if you have ever wanted to find out more about the fascinating world of computer chess and how to use the engines to improve your own game then this is a good place to start. I highly recommend buying this book.

 

Tony Williams, Newport, Isle of Wight, 21st September 2022

Tony Williams
Tony Williams

Book Details :

  • Paperback : 560 pages
  • Publisher:New In chess (31 December 2021)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:9056919830
  • ISBN-13:978-9056919832
  • Product Dimensions: 17.17 x 2.11 x 23.67 cm

Official web site of Everyman Chess

The Silicon Road To Chess Improvement: Chess Engine Training Methods, Opening Strategies & Middlegame Techniques, Matthew Sadler, New in Chess, 31st December 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9056919832
The Silicon Road To Chess Improvement: Chess Engine Training Methods, Opening Strategies & Middlegame Techniques, Matthew Sadler, New in Chess, 31st December 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9056919832
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United States Women’s Chess Champions, 1937–2020

United States Women’s Chess Champions, 1937–2020, Alexey W Root, McFarland and Company, Inc. (10 Jun. 2022), ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1476686936
United States Women’s Chess Champions, 1937–2020, Alexey W Root, McFarland and Company, Inc. (10 Jun. 2022), ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1476686936

From the publisher’s blurb:

“As late as 1950, many chess clubs in America excluded women. The Marshall Chess Club in New York City was an exception, organizing the U.S. Women’s Chess Championship beginning in the late 1930s. Since the 1980s, the average rating of the players has increased. The Saint Louis Chess Club has organized the championship since 2009, with record-setting prizes. Drawing on archives and original interviews with the living U.S. Women’s Chess Champions, this book examines their careers with biographies, photos, and 171 annotated games, most of which are from the 60 championships between 1937 and 2020.”

“Alexey W. Root, Ph.D., is a lecturer at the University of Texas at Dallas and a former United States Women’s Chess Champion. This is her eighth book.”

 

For many years chess was traditionally seen as a game for white males, and, in these days where representation is considered so important, there is much that needs to be written about other aspects of the game.

In particular, it’s important that the history of women’s chess is written, that stories are told, that games are published. So it’s a particular pleasure to welcome this new book by former US Women’s Champion Alexey Root, featuring every champion from 1937 to 2020.

We have 29 chapters in total, one for each champion, with winners of multiple titles granted more space. Some of the recent winners will be well known to many readers, but many of the earlier champions will have names only remembered by those who enjoy digging around in chess archives.

In each chapter you’ll learn about their lives both within and outside chess as well as seeing some of their games, all with light annotations. Each chapter also includes a photograph of its protagonist. The book has been thoroughly researched, and all living champions were asked to assist: advising on games and, on occasion, providing scoresheets and photographs.

Whereas the first British Championship took place back in 1904, with the British Ladies Championship incorporated in the congress, the first US Women’s Championship didn’t happen until 1937, hosted by the Marshall Chess Club. In fact, the first US Championship tournament only took place the previous year, the title having up to that point been decided by challenge matches.

The first champion was Adele Rivero Belcher, a new name to me, who also won in 1940, but the first few decades were dominated by two names, Gisela Kahn Gresser, who won nine titles between 1944 and 1969, and Mona May Karff, who won seven titles between 1938 and 1974. Other strong players who took part in that period included Mary Bain, winner in 1951, and Sonja Graf, Vera Menchik’s rival back in the 1930s, who took the title in 1964.

By today’s standards they weren’t amazingly strong players (Gresser was just below 2200 and Karff just below 2100 at their best in the 1950s), but as pioneers who achieved success in a male dominated field they deserve our respect and remembrance.

Here’s a game between Gresser and Karff. Click on any move for a pop-up window.

1959 champion Lisa Lane briefly caused a sensation in the chess world, appearing on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1961.

If you’ll excuse a digression into the history of Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club, I had a particular interest in this brief encounter.

Lane’s opponent, Henry Herbst (at least I presume it’s the same one) was a member of my club for several years in the middle to late 1970s, often playing on the adjacent board to me. From what I can piece together, he was born in Germany, moved to Canada, then to the USA, where he played this game, before moving to England and then back to Germany, where I believe he died a few years ago.

I was editing the club magazine at the time and Herbst submitted his game against Bobby Fischer for publication. When I checked it out in my book of Fischer’s collected games it was played by somebody with a different name, but with a similar rating and, as far as one can tell from two short games, a similar style of play.

Assuming he wouldn’t otherwise have claimed to have played a rather indifferent game, why was my friend Henry Herbst using two names? Both names appeared occasionally in other US tournaments at the time these games were played. I have my suspicions based on something I was told in confidence many years ago, but I couldn’t possibly repeat it here.

To return to the book, perhaps the leading figure in US Women’s chess between the mid 1970s and the mid 1980s was Diane Savereide, who took the title five times between 1975 and 1984.

She nominated this, against the author of this book (Rudolph was her maiden name) as her best game from the 1981 championship.

The overall standard of play gradually improved as the 20th century reached its end, but it wasn’t until the 1990s, with an influx of players from the former Soviet Union, that players with higher ratings started to compete on a regular basis.

This game won the brilliancy prize in 1997.

The dominant competitor in recent years has been Irina Krush, who took the title for the first time in 1998 and has won on seven further occasions between 2007 and 2020, leaving her only one behind Gisela Gresser: an impressive feat considering the strength of her opposition in recent years.

This game is from the 2015 championship.

Woven into the biographies and games are occasional stories of sexism and abuse, and, although they sometimes make uncomfortable reading, it’s entirely fitting that we can read them here. This is an issue the chess world has to deal with in order to make the game more attractive and inclusive.

I have a few minor gripes about the production. There are inconsistences, particularly in the presentation of the crosstables at the back of the book, which have been produced in the format in which they appeared in print. Perhaps it’s just a personal thing, but inconsistency really annoys me. I’d prefer them to be standardised in the same format. I also found the covers too flimsy, and, a point I’ve made before with softback books from this publisher, the presentation of the games, with very few diagrams, rather unattractive. I like to be able to follow games from the book without resorting to a board and pieces. I appreciate that the solutions I’d have preferred would not have been economically viable.

Nevertheless, this is a well-researched and thoughtfully compiled book which fills an important gap in the market. We need more books about women’s chess.

Whether you’re a female chess player, you teach female chess players, you have friends who are female chess players, or you have an interest in chess history and culture, this is a book you should read. Perhaps someone should also commission a book about the British Ladies/Women’s Chess Championship as well. That, too would be a very worthwhile project.

 

Richard James, Twickenham 13th September 2022

Richard James
Richard James

Book Details :

  • Format: Softback
  • Pages: 240
  • Bibliographic Info: photos, diagrams, games, bibliography, indexes
  • Copyright Date: 10th June 2022
  • ISBN-10: 1476686939
  • ISBN-13: 978-1476686936
  • Imprint: McFarland & Company Inc.

Official web site of McFarland

United States Women’s Chess Champions, 1937–2020, Alexey W Root, McFarland and Company, Inc. (10 Jun. 2022), ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1476686936
United States Women’s Chess Champions, 1937–2020, Alexey W Root, McFarland and Company, Inc. (10 Jun. 2022), ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1476686936
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The Magnus Method: The Singular Skills of the World’s Strongest Chess Player Uncovered and Explained

The Magnus Method: The Singular Skills of the World's Strongest Chess Player Uncovered and Explained, Emmanuel Neiman, New In chess (9 Oct. 2021), ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9056919689
The Magnus Method: The Singular Skills of the World’s Strongest Chess Player Uncovered and Explained, Emmanuel Neiman, New In chess (9 Oct. 2021), ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9056919689

Here is the publishers blurb from the rear cover :

“What is it that makes Magnus Carlsen the strongest chess player in the world? Why do Carlsen’s opponents, the best players around, fail to see his moves coming? Moves that, when you replay his games, look natural and self-evident?

Emmanuel Neiman has been studying Carlsen’s games and style of play for many years. His findings will surprise, delight and educate every player, regardless of their level. He explains a key element in the World Champion’s play: instead of the absolute’ best move he often plays the move that is likely to give him the better chances. Carlsen’s singular ability to win positions that are equal or only very slightly favourable comes down to this: he doesn’t let his opponents get what they hope for while offering them the maximum amount of chances to go wrong. In areas such as pawn play, piece play, exchanges as a positional weapon and breaking the rules in endgames, Neiman shows that Magnus Carlsen has brought a new understanding to the game.

Neiman also looks at Carlsen’s key qualities that are not directly related to technique. Such as his unparalleled fighting spirit and his ability to objectively evaluate any kind of position and situation. Carlsen is extremely widely read and knows basically everything about chess. What’s more, as the most versatile player in the history of the game he is totally unpredictable. The Magnus Method presents a complete analysis of the skills that make the difference. With lots of surprising and instructive examples and quizzes. Examining Carlsen’s abilities together with Emmanuel Neiman is a delightful way to unlock you own potential.”

About the author :

Emmanuel Neiman is a FIDE Master who teaches chess in his home country France. He is the (co-) author of Invisible Chess Moves and Tune Your Chess Tactics Antenna, highly successful books on tactics and training.

The Chapters are as follows:

Explanation of symbols

Foreword

Introduction

Chapter 1) Style: from Karpov to Tal?

Chapter 2) The opening revolution

Chapter 3) Attack: inviting everyone to the party

Chapter 4) Defence: the preventive counter-attack

Chapter 5) Tactics: ‘les petites combinaisons’

Chapter 6) Exchanges: Carlsen’s main positional weapon

Chapter 7) Calculation: keeping a clear mind

Chapter 8) Planning: when knowledge brings vision

Chapter 9) Pawns: perfect technique and new tips

Chapter 10) Pieces: the art of going backwards

Chapter 11) Endings: breaking the principles

Chapter 12) How to win against Magnus Carlsen: the hidden defects?

Chapter 13) Games and solutions

Index of names

Bibliography

Emmanuel Neiman has produced a fascinating book in which he tries to answer the question; what makes Magnus Carlsen unique  and sets him apart from his peers? Magnus is currently the 5 time world champion and been the no.1 position in the FIDE World rankings since July 2011. In addition to this remarkable feat Magnus has also been the World Rapid Chess Champion (three times) and the World Blitz Champion (five times). This is even more remarkable when you consider that Magnus is still only 31. Since the book was published in 2021 Magnus has announced that he will not be defending his title and will effectively step down as world champion in 2023. As well as his achievements over the board Magnus co founded the company Play Magnus AS in 2013 and in Aug 2022 the company accepted an offer from Chess.com that will see the two companies merge.

A lot has been written about Magnus Carlsen over the years but one of the most interesting articles I  found was written by Jonathan Rowson in 2013 in which he described Magnus as a ‘nettlesome’ player.   “we needed the word ‘nettlesomeness’ to capture the quintessence of his strength, which lies in his capacity to induce errors by relentlessly playing moves that are not only good, but bothersome.”   (https://en.chessbase.com/post/carlsen-the-nettlesome-world-champion  Magnus is a very pragmatic player, who has the ability to play accurate moves that maximise the chances for inaccuracy by his opponents rather than always looking for the ‘best’ move. Magnus is  also an extremely  well-rounded chess player.  In terms of dynamic attacking play, Kasparov was probably better than him. In terms of positional play people will argue that Karpov and Kramnik at their best could give Magnus a run for his money. However, no player in chess history can play both tactical, strategic and technical positions as well as Magnus. He is also one of the toughest defenders out there. He does occasionally get bad positions but when he does, he digs in and defends like his life depends on it. His opponent has to play with razor-sharp precision to even think about winning. Finally, Gary Kasparov in an interview once described Magnus as a lethal combination of  both Fischer and Karpov https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Np1zODg5cqc.

In writing this book the author sets out to answer two questions; firstly, what does Magnus bring to the game and secondly what specific tools does he use?  When you play though his games they  can look deceptively simple. At some point his opponent (often one of the best players in the world) will blunder, often after  conducting  a long and difficult defence in a seemingly level endgame.

The introduction spans 21 pages and could have been a stand-alone chapter  covers two aspects of Carlen’s play, his technique and the characteristics of his play that are not directly related to technique. The technique covers how Magnus is able to win equal or slightly advantageous positions, even against the strongest players in the world. Carlsen will try and keep the position alive at all costs and avoid getting to a position where his opponent knows what to do. Carlsen will constantly look for ways to change the position in both the middlegame and the endgame. So that when his opponent has solved one problem he will be faced with a further set of  problems.

Moving onto Carlsen’s strong points the author examines the following attributes:

  • Evaluation – constantly trying to get an objective assessment of a position before making any decisions or making a plan.
  • Chess Knowledge – practically knows everything there is to know about the game.
  • Versatility – he can play virtually any opening and any type of game.
  • Fighting Spirit – sets out to win every game he plays.
  • Pragmatism and Perfectionism – Carlsen is a pragmatist rather than a purist.
  • Intelligence/psychology – Carlsen was a gifted child and owes very little to coaches or outside help.

Chapter 1 covers Magnus’s style of play and how that has changed over time. Starting out as a tactician then becoming a more technical player then evolving into the universal player that he is today. This has enabled Magus to be successful in all formats of the game.  Chapter 2 describes the changes that have taken place in opening preparation. Previously elite players would prepare long concrete lines and spend a considerable time researching opening novelties. Many openings were not played by the top players as they weren’t considered to be strong enough. Carlsens approach is radically different and he will literally will play anything and everything. This has minimised the importance of the opening and placed more emphisis on middlegame and endgame play.

Chapters 3 -10 These 10 chapters each cover a particular characteristic of Carlsen’s play and begin with a short introduction followed by a number of exercises for the reader to solve. The solutions are found in the final chapter of the book. (Games and Solutions) This consists of 248 annotated games or positions. The structure of  this book is different from other similar books where the reader is asked to solve a position and find the correct move for one side. Here the diagrams at the end of each chapter refer to specific games and specific diagrams within the game.  However I did have a problem with this approach as I feel that there were too many problems to solve  from specific games and in many cases several diagrams were included where there are only few moves between the diagrams. In several cases like this  I was able to work out the solution to a problem by referring to the next diagram and deducing how to get to the next position. Also,  it is not clear whether the reader is being asked to find a single move or to calculate a number of variations. I would have liked to have known in advance how difficult each problem is to solve. This does detract from the book but it making it a good book rather than an excellent one.

Clearly a lot of research has gone into producing this book and organising the material therein. Virtually all of the games in this book were played against the world’s elite players with the most recent games played in 2021. Some of these games are from online events  even including a couple of games from ‘Banter Blitz’ events. There are also a few of his junior games as well. The games are well annotated with a nice balance between explanations and analysis. This book can be read either as a collection of puzzles to solve or the reader can skip the puzzles and just enjoy playing through the games.

Overall the author succeeded in answering the two questions that he posed at the beginning of the book specifically what Magnus Carlsen brings to the game and what is his approach.  The book does not cover how Magnus was able to adapt his play and be so  successful in the online tournaments that were played throughout 2020 & 2021. I presume that this was because the book was written in early 2021 and perhaps this will be addressed in a future edition.

Addendum, the day after I finished completed this review I saw an article on the Chessbase website that Magnus Carlsen had just recorded a podcast with Lex Fridman (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0ZO28NtkwwQ ) This is a 2.5 hour conversation covering a wide range of chess (and non-chess) related topics. Lex has previously interviewed Gary Kasparov (see link above) and more recently Demis Hassabis ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gfr50f6ZBvo ) CEO and co-founder of DeepMind.

Tony Williams, Newport, Isle of Wight, 30th August 2022

Tony Williams
Tony Williams

Book Details :

  • Paperback : 320 pages
  • Publisher:New In chess (9 Oct. 2021)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:9056919687
  • ISBN-13:978-9056919689
  • Product Dimensions: 17.17 x 2.11 x 23.67 cm

Official web site of Everyman Chess

The Magnus Method: The Singular Skills of the World's Strongest Chess Player Uncovered and Explained, Emmanuel Neiman, New In chess (9 Oct. 2021), ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9056919689
The Magnus Method: The Singular Skills of the World’s Strongest Chess Player Uncovered and Explained, Emmanuel Neiman, New In chess (9 Oct. 2021), ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9056919689
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Blind Faith

Blind Faith, Chris Ross, Steel City Press, 23rd May 2022, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1913047313
Blind Faith, Chris Ross, Steel City Press, 23rd May 2022, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1913047313

From the publisher:

“Chris Ross has come a long way from the back streets of Middlesbrough to a senior administrative role at Sheffield Hallam University, helping the education of those with a wide range of disabilities. A former teacher, Chris’s natural ability to educate has developed many of his colleagues in UK chess clubs – and not least, fellow members of the Braille Chess Association.

Join Britain’s strongest ever blind player and 2015 IBCA Olympiad silver-medallist Chris Ross on a journey through 80 of his most memorable games. Many years ago Chris elected to follow Botvinnik’s advice by writing deep analysis to his games: initially to better understand his own style, but later because his highly detailed annotations are also highly instructive for weaker players.

This collection charts his journey from turbulent days as a strong club player in 2006 to a more polished and rounded style by 2020. From smooth, positional wins, to bumpy, sharp encounters, we watch and learn with Chris as he develops into a 2250-strength player. The reader will pick up many handy tips to improve their own game: opening repertoire, middlegame and endgames strategies, and – crucially – appreciating how to plan.”

Chris Ross, Braille Chess Association, What chess did for me, courtesy John Upham Photography
Chris Ross, Braille Chess Association, What chess did for me, courtesy John Upham Photography

 

I’ve long thought that, while looking at top level games can be inspirational, you can learn much more either from studying games played at your level and looking at typical mistakes, or from studying games played by someone rated about 200-300 points above you and learning to do what they do.

Chris Ross is about 200-300 points stronger than me, so, at least in rating terms, I might be seen as the ideal reader for this book.

If I look at a Magnus Carlsen game I’d think “Wow! I could never conceive how I could play like that!”, but, looking at a Chris Ross game I might think “Yes! I could learn to play like that by studying his book!”.

I’ve always seen myself, by temperament rather than ability, as a positional rather than a tactical player, but when I played someone of about Chris’s strength I’d often find my opponent would latch onto a, to me, imperceptible weakness, win a pawn and grind me down in the ending. If I ever played Chris, I’m sure the same thing would happen.

Chris is a positional player as well, but, unlike me, he really knows what he’s doing.

Having been coached for many years by GM Neil McDonald has clearly helped.

Here’s Neil in the Foreword:

Many years ago Chris Ross made the excellent decision to follow Botvinnik’s advice by writing deep analysis to his games, and then sending it to his colleagues and friends in the chess world. Many players including myself regularly receive emails with his deep and interesting comments to his games. 

and

You can see the outcome of decades of exhaustive and objective analysis in this book. Although Chris has never been a full-time chess player, having pursued a successful career in academia, his approach has always been professional. He has developed an impressive opening repertoire, as well as worked on his endgames and middlegame planning. I hope the reader enjoys this fine collection, and is inspired to follow Chris’s example in studying their own games.

Chris provides the reader with 80 games played between 2006 and 2020, mostly, but not exclusively, games he won.

In his introduction he explains his method of annotating games.

I do not display lengthy variations of computer analysis. Indeed I deliberately avoid many annotated games that possess such streams of text. I find it baffling and unhelpful. So, I do not adopt that style in my own writings. My analysis is instead based on my way of thinking, how I am attempting to obtain something and the such like. Naturally, that may inevitably mean that the annotated game may have flaws in it, due to computer analysis finding a better way to play. This does not interest me either. My intention is to show how I’ve focussed myself mentally and how, through that elaborate dance of non-visualisation and figuring out a way to play the game of chess, I’ve gradually but inevitably improved. 

A very unusual approach to annotation, then, and something very different from anything I’ve seen in any other recent book. Another, perhaps, unique, feature of Chris’s annotations is that he provides the opening references at the end of each game rather than incorporating them at the appropriate points. You might think this is an excellent idea, not interrupting the flow of the text, or you might find it rather frustrating. I guess you could argue either way.

One of the things that immediately struck me when reading this book was that, on several occasions, he’d present a diagram of a position which looked to me about equal and claim that one player had a winning advantage. Well, perhaps. We’ll see.

Here’s a particularly interesting example which will give you a flavour of the style of Chris’s annotations, and, perhaps its weaknesses as well as its strengths.

This is from Peter Mercs – Chris Ross (4NCL 2014), with Black about to play his 15th move.

Some extracts from Chris’s annotations:

Ultimately, Black is positionally winning, despite the aggressive potential of the white attack. To fully appreciate the position in its entirety, the actual manoeuvrability of all the forces have to be considered and their fluidity. What is White immediately threatening, and is Black able to react immediately, or slowly against such a threat? 

A position deep with potential, but rich in understanding. Consider carefully and read on!

15… Nb8!

A remarkable retreat, which resolves all of Black’s difficulties and puts into place all his positional objectives. In doing so, Black also defends against all of White’s intentions. After this incredibly calm, slow move, White has no real play at all.

Now we have another five paragraphs of explanations and a few variations before:

16. g4

With very little left for White in the position, he pins all of his hopes on a last minute king-side hack, which is doomed to fail from the outset, due to the superiority of the black pieces.

Now, another paragraph and a half of comments.

16… d5

A flank attack is suitably countered by a central attack. Due to the superior positioning of the black forces, the tactics work themselves out.

17. g5 dxe4

After 17… Nxe4 18. Bxe4 dxe4 White can play around the blockading pawn on e4 with his kingside attack still rampaging. The text-move is the calm, simple way to eliminate all the tactics and reduce the white king to an exposed status.

18. gxf6

When we get this annotation:

Only the computer could come out with the variation 18. Bxb5 axb5 19. gxf6 Bxf6 20. Nc5 with seeming equality. No human would play 18. Bxb5 though!

I’m not entirely convinced that no human would play Bxb5. It looks like a fairly natural desperado try to me.

This extract raises all sorts of interesting questions about the nature and purpose of annotations. Chris claims that Black has a winning positional advantage: well, arguably he does, but sometimes tactics get in the way. Objectively, I suppose, the diagrammed position is level, but Black’s positional trumps, as long as he’s aware of what they are, give him excellent practical chances. Chris explains in the introduction that there may be analysis errors, but that’s not the point of the annotations or the book. The important thing is that he’s explaining the strategic ideas of the game and how he decided on his moves.

Different annotators take different approaches, and that is one thing which, in these days of approaching engine perfection, makes our game so fascinating. Should annotators search for the objective truth in any position, justifying their verdict with extensive computer analysis, or should they consider the human angle? Whose position is easier to play? Could you realistically expect players at their level, or at the readers’ level, to find the best moves?

There are some annotators, usually leading GMs, who take the former approach, but Chris, a strong amateur, prefers the latter approach. There’s plenty of room for both. As long as you’re happy to buy into the overall concept, you might find this book a refreshing change.

Chris is very proud of this game, which won a Best Game prize, where he beat an opponent rated almost 200 points above him. (Click on any move for a pop-up window.)

However, Chris comments on move 22 that Black could have tried Qxe2, ‘but this is pretty miserable for him and the white pieces will still swarm all over the black camp’. Stockfish just shrugs its shoulders and tells me it’s completely equal.

I was also impressed by this short game, where he’s merciless against his opponent’s dubious third move.

For some of us, playing a simple but beautiful positional game like this is at least as satisfying as a flashy queen sacrifice. There may not be a lot of tactics in most of the games, but without exception they’re anything but dull: Chris has chosen games of strategic complexity and interest to present to his readers. Contrary to what some people think, positional chess is not synonymous with boring chess. Chris also demonstrates in some of these games that he excels at playing tactical chess when the opportunity arises,

But once he’s reached a winning position, simplicity is the keyword to Chris’s approach. There are several examples in the book where he rejects a quick tactical win which requires calculation, preferring instead a simple positional route which will guarantee victory more slowly. Keep it simple, don’t rush, avoid unnecessary risks and tactics. There are important lessons here for many more impulsive players.

On a personal level, as a lover of words rather than variations, I enjoyed the book very much, although I realise that the annotations may not be to everyone’s taste. You have to accept that not everything will stand up to computer analysis, and that this isn’t really the point of the book. If you work at it, though, it will be well worth your while. I think anyone from, say 1600 to 2200 strength will find a lot of invaluable insight into positional chess within these pages. Perhaps it might even encourage you to start annotating your own games. The book will also appeal to those readers, and I know there are quite  a few around, who enjoy collections of games played by amateurs.

As many of the games are against strong English amateurs well known on the chess circuit, you’ll probably find games played by some of your friends included. Chris has moved round the country a lot over the years and played in a lot of different leagues.

Chris plays both 1. e4 and 1. d4 with White, choosing strategically rich variations such as Bb5 lines against the Sicilian, slow d3 lines in the Spanish and the QGD Exchange, and, with Black favours the Sicilian Taimanov/Kan complex and the King’s Indian. If these openings appeal, you’ll find a lot of useful study material in his games.

The book is impressively and refreshingly free from typos, although, if I were to be picky I might suggest that some editing for excessive verbosity and clumsy grammar might have been useful. You might also think, I suppose, that a more ‘chessy’ title would be preferable to the name of a short-lived 1969 supergroup.

But, for many reasons, this is an inspirational book. You may well, quite rightly, be inspired by how Chris has overcome his disability to become a formidably strong player. You might also be inspired to take his approach to chess improvement: to hire a GM coach, to annotate your games deeply (preferably without too much engine assistance) and send them to your friends and colleagues asking for their suggestions. You might be inspired to improve your positional play and strategic understanding, using Chris’s annotations as a starting point, or to take up the Sicilian Taimanov or another of his favourite openings.

Perhaps not a perfect book, and perhaps not to everyone’s taste, but if you’re happy with the style of annotations it’s highly recommended for readers looking for a very different approach to chess. You can find some sample pages, including a couple of complete games, on the publisher’s website here.

Richard James, Twickenham 24th August 2022

Richard James
. Richard James

Book Details:

  • Softcover: 421 pages
  • Publisher: Steel City Press (23 May 2022)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:1913047318
  • ISBN-13: 978-1913047313
  • Product Dimensions: 250mm by 176mm

Official web site of Steel City Press

Blind Faith, Chris Ross, Steel City Press, 23rd May 2022, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1913047313
Blind Faith, Chris Ross, Steel City Press, 23rd May 2022, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1913047313
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From Ukraine with Love for Chess

From Ukraine with Love for Chess, Ruslan Ponomariov, New in Chess, 30 Jun. 2022, SBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9493257573
From Ukraine with Love for Chess, Ruslan Ponomariov, New in Chess, 30 Jun. 2022, SBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9493257573

From the publisher:

“The Ukrainian chess community is helping Ukraine in the war against Russia. The chess genius Vasyl Ivanchuk is giving online simuls to raise funds. European champion and Olympic gold medal winner Natalia Zhukova is working as a politician in Odessa. And FIDE World Champion Ruslan Ponomariov coordinated this wonderful collection of chess games from Ukrainian players, published by New In Chess. All games were nominated and annotated by the players themselves. The proceeds of this book will support Ukrainian charities. The book also covers the three legendary Olympic victories by Ukraine, in 2004 and 2010 for the men’s team and 2006 for the women’s team. Oleg Romanishin remembers his training match against Mikhail Tal. And Jan Timman has a look at his favourite Ukrainian study composers. With contributions by Vasyl Ivanchuk, Ruslan Ponomariov, Anna and Mariya Muzychuk, Anton Korobov, Vladimir Tukmakov, Pavel Eljanov, Andrei Volokitin, and many, many others.”

Ruslan Ponomariov (1983) is a Ukrainian chess grandmaster. He was FIDE World Chess Champion from 2002 to 2004 and he won the Ukrainian Chess Championship in 2011 with a performance rating of 2853. Ponomariov was born in Horlivka in Ukraine. He was taught to play chess by his father at the age of 5.

 

What we have here is a chess book written and published to support Ukrainian chess players and Ukrainian charities in general.

GM Ruslan Ponomariov in the preface:

All funds from the sales will be used to help the Ukrainian people. By doing something good, I hope you can also enjoy and share a passion for chess with us.

And:

In your hands is the work of many authors and contributors. It was not a simple task, as it would be in normal circumstances. Some of them had fled from their homes without knowing what would happen on the next day. Some were hiding in a bomb shelter, trying to survive. But we managed to do it!

The publisher, Remmelt Otten, writes in the Acknowledgements:

This book started with an email by Steve Giddins, chess author, translator, and contributor to New in Chess. He wanted to share his desire to help the Ukrainian chess community in the terrible times after the invasion of Ukraine by Russia. If New in Chess was planning to publish anything by Ukrainian chess players, Steve offered to translate their writings for free.

We embraced his idea and decided to publish a book to support Ukrainian chess and Ukrainians in need. All proceeds (all revenue minus costs such as printing and distribution) will go to Ukrainian charities.

It’s the chess book equivalent of a charity compilation album, then. It’s extraordinary, given the circumstances in which it was conceived, that the book could have been compiled and published within less than four months. If you want to support a great cause there’s no need to hesitate.

But it’s also a remarkably good and well produced book, so not only will you make a contribution to charity if you buy a copy, you’ll also get some great chess as well. There are 42 well annotated games as well as a chapter on endgame studies. Some of the material has previously appeared in New in Chess, so if you’re a subscriber you might have seen it before, but there will still be much that is new to you, and you may well find it convenient to have the best in Ukrainian chess all in one place.

The first chapter introduces us to the pioneers of Ukrainian chess: Stein, Savon, Kuzmin, Tukmakov and Beliavsky.

Here’s the game chosen to illustrate Gennady Kuzmin. Click on any move for a pop-up window.

The second chapter will be, for many readers, the most interesting of the book. Oleg Romanishin talks about his secret training matches against Tal in 1975 and 1976.

Here’s a sample game.

Chapter 3 contains pen pictures of some of the older generation of current Ukrainian players, headed by Ivanchuk and Ponomariov.

Ukrainian Olympiad successes feature in Chapters 4-6: the 2004 open team, the 2006 women’s team and the 2010 open team.

In Chapter 7 we meet the younger Ukrainian players, born in 1985 or later, including Anna Ushenina and the Muzychuk sisters.

Here’s another game:

Finally, Chapter 8 is an article by Jan Timman featuring endgame studies by Ukrainian composers.

This pawn ending (White to play and draw) was composed by Mikhail Zinar (2nd Pr Moscow ty 1983)

You’ll see that, as well as supporting a great cause you’ll get a lot of great chess for your money. The content will appeal to all serious players, from 1500 or so upwards. It may not be the last word on Ukrainian chess or a book that will add a few hundred points to your rating, but it’s a well structured, highly entertaining and enjoyable read. Considering the timescale and circumstances the publishers have done an outstanding job and our thanks are due to everyone involved in the project, not just for the quality of their work but for their generosity in doing it for free. You can find further details and sample pages here.

Should you buy this book? Certainly. If the content appeals (as it should to almost everyone) you won’t be disappointed, and you’ll also be helping both Ukrainian chess players and the wider Ukrainian community in that war-torn country.

Richard James, Twickenham 4th August 2022

Richard James
. Richard James

Book Details:

  • Softcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: New In Chess (30 Jun 2022)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:9493257576
  • ISBN-13:978-9493257573
  • Product Dimensions: ‎16.51 x 1.57 x 24.33 cm

Official web site of New in Chess

From Ukraine with Love for Chess, Ruslan Ponomariov, New in Chess, 30 Jun. 2022, SBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9493257573
From Ukraine with Love for Chess, Ruslan Ponomariov, New in Chess, 30 Jun. 2022, SBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9493257573
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Across the Battlefield: A Pawn’s Journey

Across the Battlefield: A Pawn's Journey, Jonathan Perry, Chess Tales, LLC (17 Oct. 2022), ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 979-8986059211
Across the Battlefield: A Pawn’s Journey, Jonathan Ferry, Chess Tales, LLC (17 Oct. 2022), ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 979-8986059211

From the author and illustrator:

In our first book, Across the Battlefield: A Pawn’s Journey, we imagine what it might feel like to be a pawn in the game of chess. The rules of the game make it possible so that a mere pawn can one day become a queen, the strongest piece on the board. But the barriers to get there must seem overwhelming! Can you identify with a pawn who dreams of becoming a queen? Across the Battlefield aims to inspire children to pursue their goals no matter how impossible they may seem, all while teaching them key strategies to winning in chess and in life.

And:

Chess comes alive like never before as readers experience the game through the eyes of Prunella, a nervous little pawn who believes she must become a queen for her life to matter. Join her journey as she discovers not only strategies and tactics for mastering chess, but also lessons about teamwork and how every piece, including pawns, has value.

About the Author:

Jon first learned to play chess in the 4th grade, and he has carried a passion for the game ever since. Like Prunella, he grew up believing that he had to become someone famous or extraordinary, like the President, for example, to be worthwhile. In some small way, the story of Prunella reflects Jon’s journey to finding happiness and peace within. He is raising three daughters with his wife Ann-Marie. When playing chess with his girls, they love to pretend what the pieces might be thinking and experiencing and he enjoys using those exploratory imaginings to teach lessons about life, leadership and becoming a whole person.

Caroline Zina is a children’s book illustrator with an imaginative and whimsical art style. She has illustrated bestsellers such as The Great Unknown Monster and Melody’s Magical Flying Machine. You can view more of her artwork and contact her at CarolineZina.com.

 

The idea of using chess as a morality or an allegory dates back to The Game and Playe of the Chesse, published by William Caxton 450 or so years ago.

A number of authors, including your reviewer, have, over the years, used the concept of a story to introduce chess to children. It’s a very attractive idea as well: most children enjoy stories and the game offers a lot of possibilities for teachers and parents to use chess related stories both to introduce children to chess for the first time and to help children who already play.

Just as in any battle, the participants have to show courage, have to work together as a team, and sometimes have to make sacrifices to help bring their team victory. Stories based on chess can be used to teach children all sorts of positive qualities, and even to improve their mental health. (Indeed, this topic is covered in my forthcoming book Chess for Schools.)

Here, we follow Prunella, the black b-pawn, who is helped by Norry the knight and the rest of her team as she travels across the board.

It’s a lovely story, beautifully written and enchantingly illustrated, that will appeal to many children – especially, but not only, girls – aged from about 6 or 7 upwards. It might spark an interest in chess, or encourage them to play more chess. By talking to their parents and teachers about Prunella and the other characters in the story, children will learn to understand and regulate their emotions, deal with fear and apprehension and help make their dreams come true.

Having said that, I’m not certain the actual chess content is suitable for most young beginners. The view of many chess teachers, including myself, is that most children will gain more long-term benefit from starting by playing simpler games before moving onto ‘big chess’.  Here, we’re thrown straight into a fairly sophisticated Queen’s Gambit, with the story on the left-hand page and some general advice, mostly of a positional nature (which might be unhelpful or confusing to newcomers), on the right-hand page. It’s also not possible to follow through the complete game: we can play through the opening, but then jump quite a few moves ahead to see how the game concludes, without any clues to reconstruct the bit in the middle.

To summarise, then: great story with great illustrations: many children will, understandably, fall in love with the book, and, perhaps, be hooked on chess for life as a result. I’m not convinced about the value of the pedagogic material,  which is, for me, too general and too advanced for the young beginners who would be attracted by the story, but I suppose that’s not really the point. If you’re a chess teacher or parent and you know children who would like this story, especially, perhaps, children who have issues with low self-esteem and anxiety, then don’t hesitate.

 Richard James, Twickenham 18th July 2022

Richard James
. Richard James

Book Details:

  • ASIN ‏ : ‎ B0B6DJBTY9
  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Chess Tales, LLC (17 Oct. 2022)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 50 pages
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 979-8986059211
  • Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 17.78 x 0.64 x 25.4 cm

Official web site of Chess Tales

Across the Battlefield: A Pawn's Journey, Jonathan Perry, Chess Tales, LLC (17 Oct. 2022), ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 979-8986059211
Across the Battlefield: A Pawn’s Journey, Jonathan Perry, Chess Tales, LLC (17 Oct. 2022), ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 979-8986059211
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