“Street Smart Chess is an expert guide to scoring more points at the chessboard. When does it pay off to play hard for a win? Or safe for a draw? And how do you adapt your playing style accordingly?
GM Axel Smith answers these questions, and more, by using a world-class player as a model for each chapter. Learn how Magnus Carlsen grinds out wins from level positions; how David Navara beats lower-rated opponents, and how Baskaran Adhiban beats higher-rated ones! Or serve-and-volley in the opening like Peter Heine Nielsen.
Playing well is a good start in chess, but you also need to be Street Smart.”
“Axel Smith is the award-winning author of The Woodpecker Method, Pump Up Your Rating and e3 Poison, which were all enthusiastically received by readers and reviewers. Using the Woodpecker as part of his training, as an adult he improved from a rating of 2100 to becoming a Grandmaster.”
End of blurb…
Quality Chess live up to their name by being one of the few publishers who offer a hardback as well as softback version of all of their titles.
The production values are superb with a “McFarland-like” feel. Of course, you could save a few pence and go for the paperback version but we would definitely treat ourselves with an early Christmas present and savour the hardback. In addition, high quality paper is used and the printing is clear: excellent glossy paper has been used. The weight of this paper gives the book an even better feel to it!
The book can easily be laid flat next to the board and does not require weights to prevent it from “self-closing” (a particular bugbear of ours). Each diagram is clear and the instructional text is typeset in two column format, which, we find, enables the reader to maintain their place easily. Figurine algebraic notation is used throughout and the diagrams are placed adjacent to the relevant text. (JEU)
There have been a number of books over the years where the author either asks his friends to contribute or interviews them. The advantage is that you get to look at chess from the perspective of different players with different styles. The disadvantage is that the chapters may vary in quality, in interest or in relevance.
In this book we have eight chapters, all featuring a different player. At the end of each chapter there are a couple of quiz questions using positions from the author’s games but relating to the previous content. Seven of the players were interviewed by the author. The eighth, Magnus Carlsen, wasn’t, but I guess there was no real need.
In his Preface, Axel Smith divides his chapters into two, suggesting how you should play against lower-rated and higher-rated opponents. Unless your name is Magnus Carlsen you’ll often find yourself encountering higher rated players, and unless you’re a complete beginner you’ll likewise often meet lower rated players, so we should all find this useful.
Learning to beat lower-rated opponents the way David Navara does, to play positionally like Ulf Andersson, to turn water into wine like Magnus Carlsen and to get rich positions from the opening like his second Laurent Fressinet – that will certainly broaden your playing style. All those chapters are useful when playing against lower-rated opponents.
When playing against higher-rated opponents you can have a serve & volley repertoire like Peter Heine Nielsen, go for the kill like Baskaran Adhiban, play safe like Aryan Tari, or even for the draw like Bu Xiangzhi.
Is it worthwhile to imitate the style of the world’s best even though we don’t reach the same level? I think I have used the metaphor before, but I don’t remember where, so I will do so again: junior and amateur soccer teams play 4-4-2 (or any other established set-up) not only to prepare for a senior career, but also because it gives the best results.
We copy the professional players’ openings, so why not copy their attitude?
Well, yes, but chess is not football. Do we copy the professional players’ openings? Should we do so? Does it make sense for an amateur with a job, a family and other interests to play the same openings as grandmasters? Does it make sense for amateurs to play the same openings as grandmasters rated 1000, or even 500 points higher than them? In my view, it doesn’t, and my criticism of many of the instructional books I’m asked to review is that many authors, especially those of a younger generation, teach from the perspective of a grandmaster, not of an amateur.
Having said that, there’s much, in general, to be said in favour of amateurs learning to copy the attitude, the mindset of grandmasters. It’s here that this book might come in useful.
Let’s take a look inside and see what we find.
Our first chess hero is GM Baskaran Adhiban, a creative attacker who specialises in beating higher rated opponents? What can we learn from his games?
Here, first, is Axel Smith again, quoting another of our heroes:
Playing safe against stronger opponents prolongs the game, but normally decreases the probability of obtaining points. Magnus Carlsen is one of many who recommend an aggressive attitude against stronger opponents. To Chess24 he said: “There’s this thing called ‘sudden death aversion’, that I think affects a lot of people. You make decisions that give you a lesser chance of winning overall, but decisions that at least extend the game or the match, because you feel like, ‘as long as I’m in it I have a chance, and losing it right now because I did something risky would be very unpleasant.’ I very much understand that, but you’re not always going to maximize your chances this way. The strategy that’s almost always correct is: if you’re down, complicate; if you’re winning, simplify! If you believe that you’re weaker you should always try and complicate as much as possible.”
Some of you will recall that the late Simon Webb offered very similar advice in his wonderful Chess for Tigers.
The first game we see is this one: admittedly his opponent had only a slightly higher rating.
Throughout the book, our heroes’ advice is summarised using helpful bullet or numbered points. Here’s Adhiban’s advice on how to play the ideal attacking game.
Strive for a pawn structure where it’s possible to throw pawns at the opponent’s king at a later stage.
Invite all the pieces to the party – advice valuable for a beginner as well as for a super-GM.
Remove the defenders – sometimes by sacrificing, but exchanges can do the job as well.
Calculate well when it’s time to finish it off.
I found this chapter enjoyable and inspirational, with Adhiban demonstrating some great attacking play.
This might be very helpful for a player like me who always struggles against higher rated opponents. These, though, are games in which a highly rated GM beats slightly higher rated opponents. Not what you’d consider upset victories. Not, as Simon Webb would have put it, tigers beating heffalumps.
But some of our other heroes propose a very different way of tackling a higher rated opponent.
The first four chapters of this book deal with the subject of winning, while the last two chapters are about opening preparation. Chapters 5 and 6 take on something close to my heart: avoiding defeat.
If we jump forward to Chapter 5 we’ll find the games of Bu Xiangzhi being used to explain how to draw against a higher rated opponent.
Well, I guess sometimes you’d be happy with a draw against a higher rated opponent. If you’re like me you’ll always be happy with a draw. Yes, it’s rather contradictory, but I guess that’s one of the points of the book.
Here’s how to play with White:
Play normal moves, develop all your pieces to good squares and get your king to safety.
Allow exchanges, but don’t spend time or damage your pawn structure to exchange pieces.
Sounds to me like good advice, whoever you’re playing.
If you’re Black:
Have a good opening repertoire that you know well, preferably with symmetrical pawn structures.
Play the move you think is best, even if you are not sure – there are no margins for passive moves, so you can’t be afraid with Black.
Avoid time trouble.
Again, sounds pretty sensible: the controversial bit is whether you should play for symmetrical pawn structures.
I guess it’s a matter of temperament, personality and style, but this isn’t really discussed in the book.
Bu, who became a GM in 1999 at the age of 13 (at the time the youngest ever) might be considered a player who didn’t quite fulfil his promise. Perhaps he was too eager to play for draws against higher rated opponents.
As well as getting results against higher rated opponents, whether by going for the win like Adhiban or playing safe for the draw like Bu, we also need to know how to beat lower rated opponents.
Returning to Chapter 2, our hero here is David Navara. You may not be surprised to discover that this is the longest chapter in the book.
Navara plays a lot in national leagues where he’s often faced with significantly lower rated opponents, and usually racks up a large plus score.
Here’s the first game he demonstrates for us, against an opponent rated about 150 points below him. In the book it’s annotated, like the other games in this chapter, with Navara’s customary attention to detail.
The lessons we can learn from this game:
Choose an unbalanced opening.
Avoid long theoretical variations.
Play moves that highlight the drawback of the opponent’s previous move.
Be careful and use your time when you get some chances.
However, when the opponent is in time trouble, it might be a good idea to calculate several moves in advance to be able to play them quickly.
Another excellent chapter, I think, which will be of interest to most players of club standard and above.
Magnus Carlsen, the hero of Chapter 3, has spent many years playing lower-rated opponents. Here, we look at some examples of how he plays on and on in seemingly drawn positions, waiting for his opponent to crack. Unlike the other subjects of this book, he wasn’t interviewed, but has written a lot elsewhere.
Here’s what he said to New in Chess in 2014.
My thought process is basically that I will be able to agree a draw in such positions when I am 40 or 50, but that right now I should try and find every little chance of winning. And as long as there is no risk and a two percent chance of winning, I think it’s worth the two hours of extra effort.
One of the examples of Carlsen turning water into wine you’ll find here is this ending against Nakamura.
Another useful and inspirational chapter, although those of us well past 40 or 50 will be only to happy to agree a draw and spend the next two hours in the pub rather than playing on with a 2% chance of victory. At my level, anyway, there’s rather more than a 2% chance that I’ll blunder and lose.
Chapter 4 features young Norwegian GM Aryan Tari. The chapter was originally going to be about playing for two results, but once Axel Smith got talking to him it changed to a chapter about forcing yourself to play for a win, even if your mindset wants the opposite.
Yes, I know the feeling.
This is one of the shorter chapters in the book, and is in part about how he’s trying to deal with being over-cautious. His advice for someone who wants to increase his courage is to study the games of Richard Rapport. Come to think of it, Rapport might have been a better subject for a chapter of this book.
I got the impression that Tari is a young player who is still developing and has not yet matured enough to make a really meaningful contribution to a book of this nature.
We do, however, get a chapter about playing for two results elsewhere. This is Chapter 6, featuring the games of the legendary Ulf Andersson, who has been the sole subject of a few other recent books.
To play like Andersson you must avoid playing anti-positional moves.
Don’t weaken your pawn structure.
Don’t lose coordination: no knights on the rim and no bishops without a future – unless the reward is clear enough.
Keep the king safe.
So in Chapters 3-6, then, we have, broadly speaking, four technicians, although there are differences between them. While Andersson avoids anti-positional moves, Carlsen is happy to make moves which might make his opponent uncomfortable. Bu prefers to play safe, especially with the black pieces, while Tari is trying to force himself to take risks and become less cautious.
Chapters 7 and 8 look at the subject of opening preparation.
Laurent Fressinet is the subject of Chapter 7, where we learn about his approach to preparing with Black. He recommends playing different openings to keep your opponents guessing, avoiding main line theory and also avoiding symmetrical pawn structures. This is exactly the opposite of Bu’s approach: meeting e4 with e5 and d4 with d5, heading for symmetry to increase your chances of drawing with a higher rated opponent.
You pay your money and you make your choice.
Finally, in Chapter 8, Peter Heine Nielsen recommends a ‘serve & volley’ approach to preparing with White, using heavy theoretical lines which you’ve studied in depth.
This is fine if you have the time and the study skills, but it’s not really appropriate for many of us. If you’re young and ambitious to reach master standard you’ll find this chapter helpful. But if you have a limited amount of time for chess, and if you’re mostly playing in league or weekend chess where you don’t usually know in advance who you’ll be playing, it’s not really relevant.
My feelings about this book are mixed, then: perhaps only to be expected from a book of this nature where each chapter features a different player. From my perspective as a club player I enjoyed the first three chapters (Adhiban, Navara and Carlsen) but found less of interest in the remainder of the book.
If you’re, say 2200+, or perhaps 1800+ and ambitious to reach that level, you’ll probably find this book very helpful. If you’re a club player hoping for a stimulating read that will perhaps gain you a few rating points, you’ll certainly find much to interest, educate and entertain you, although you might not find all the chapters equally valuable.
I should add that, as always from Quality Chess, the production values are excellent and put other publishers to shame.
“The Secret Ingredient is a grandmaster guide to maximizing your chess results, focusing on key elements of practical play which have received little to no attention in previous chess literature.
How exactly can we best make use of computers? What’s the ideal, step-by-step way to prepare against a specific opponent? How can we optimize our time management at the board? And what’s the one key skill that separates the best players from those who have yet to reach their full potential? GM Jan Markos sheds light on these topics and many more, helped by the world-class insights of his good friend GM David Navara.”
“Jan Markos is a Slovakian grandmaster and trainer. His previous book, Under the Surface, was the English Chess Federation’s 2018 Book of the Year.
David Navara is a ten-time Czech Champion and a world-class grandmaster. He is noted for combining fighting spirit with outstanding sportsmanship.”
End of blurb…
Quality Chess live up to their name by being one of the few publishers who offer a hardback as well as softback version of all of their titles.
The production values are superb with a “McFarland-like” feel. Of course, you could save a few pence and go for the paperback version but we would definitely treat ourselves with an early Christmas present and savour the hardback. In addition, high quality paper is used and the printing is clear: excellent glossy paper has been used. The weight of this paper gives the book an even better feel to it!
The book can easily be laid flat next to the board and does not require weights to prevent it from “self-closing” (a particular bugbear of ours). Each diagram is clear and the instructional text is typeset in two column format, which, we find, enables the reader to maintain their place easily. Figurine algebraic notation is used throughout and the diagrams are placed adjacent to the relevant text. (JEU)
From the introduction, written by Jan Markos:
This is above all a practical book. My goal is simple: I want to help you avoid as many disastrous defeats … as possible. I’ll show you what a real fight on the chessboard is all about. And I would like you to learn how to hold your ground in this fight. I’ll tell you how to cope with stress, how to use your time efficiently and how to make well-reasoned decisions. I’ll show you how to prepare for every individual opponent and how to play endgames in 30-second rhythm.
In short, this book wants to teach you how to win at chess.
I haven’t read Jan Markos’s previous award-winning book, so was interested to receive this. Most of the book is written by Markos, with contributions by David Navara, providing further examples, agreeing with, or, on occasion, disagreeing with his colleague, are printed using a sans serif font, helpfully allowing the reader to differentiate between the two authorial voices.
Diving into Chapter 1, looking at what grandmaster chess is really like, I was immediately taken by Markos’s comments on tactics:
In real chess, the width of your calculation is usually much more important than its depth.
Indeed so, and this is precisely the limitation of most tactics books, not to mention online tactics training.
This is Markos – Tomashevsky (Plovdiv 2008).
Markos takes up the story:
I knew I had to stop the advance of the black d-pawn, but I considered just one way to prevent d5-d4. I included only 22. Qa1 into my calculation, perhaps because I liked the potential threat of checkmate on g7. In fact, 22. Qa1 is only one of three good moves available to White in this position: the other two being 22. Ne2 and 22. Qb4.
He demonstrated the long variation he calculated, which is what happened in the game, but adds:
If I had focused more on the width of my calculation, I might have noticed that Black could have met 22. Qa1 with a much stronger reply: 22… Rc3!
Reviving the threat of …d5-d4 in a much better setting, To escape a downright losing position, White has to find the non-trivial:
23. Rc1! d4 24. Rxc3! dxe3+ 25. Kg1 (even the exotic 25. Ke1!? is playable) 25… exf3 26. gxf3
reaching a position where Black has sufficient compensation for the sacrificed material, but nothing more.
Good calculation doesn’t look like a way through a tunnel and isn’t meant to get you as far as possible in one direction. It resembles more a path through an unknown forest; you have to consider all the detours and paths you encounter, one step at a time.
In endings, though, things are very different. With fewer pieces on the board, you can – and have to calculate much further ahead.
I found Chapter 2, about the limits of computer evaluation, particularly interesting. We learn that there are several types of equal position: eternal balance, where anything sensible for either player draws, stable balance, where strong players will have no problem drawing with either colour, and fragile balance, where it’s difficult for one or both players to find the correct moves to maintain equality. Likewise, there are different types of advantage, again to do with how easy it is to find the best continuation.
Navara demonstrates a spectacular example.
Black is objectively winning, yet I believe that in 90 per cent of practical games, White players would win.
If, on the other hand, you presented it to grandmasters or international masters with a hint “Black to move wins”, the situation would be quite different. I would estimate that half of the players, or even more, would discover the correct continuation.
This is Ni Hua – Le Quang Liem (Ho Chi Minh City 2012).
The game concluded 29… h5? 30. Qxh5 Ba3+ 31. Kxb3 and Black resigned.
But is there a single, defining skill that any mature chess player should master?
Well, Jan, is there?
If you ask me, yes there is – and it’s the art of defence. The ability to defend themselves is that separates mature players from the youngsters in the chess world. There’s a certain logic behind it; defence is the most demanding part of the game – requiring not only chess skills, but also strength of character from an individual. You need to be both patient and able to take a risk. You need to devote a lot of energy to every single move and never take an immediate reward for granted.
Here’s Markos in 2018 playing black against Viktor Gazik, who, a few months later, would become World Junior Champion.
White’s position is quite uncomfortable, as Black can build up an attack along the g- and h-files in an instant. Yet, objectively speaking, it’s only slightly worse. To defend successfully, White only needs to exchange off the bishop on f2, which will enable him to cover g2 with his rook along the second rank. If Gazik had realized this, he would have played 25. Qd3, and after the possible continuation 25… Rg8 26. Bd4 Qg6 27. Rc2, I would have had only a slight superiority.
But Gazik panicked, playing the active but misguided 25. c5?, losing a few moves later.
An instructive moment, I think, because White has to trade off what looks like his opponent’s bad bishop. Yes, defence is difficult.
Chapter 4 concerns the important topic of time management.
Save your time for when you need it, advises Markos. The more important the decision you have to make, the more time you should spend making it. With small decisions, decide quickly; for bigger decisions, allow time to think them over.
Chapter 5 features a subject close to my heart: the draw. When should you offer a draw? When should you accept or decline your opponent’s offer?
There’s a lot of psychology involved here, and chess psychology is the subject of Chapter 6.
In the game Roiz – Holzke (Rijeka 2010) White missed the chance to win a piece: 21. Nd3! Qxb3 22. Nc5 Qb2 23. Rab1.
Roiz simply regarded this position as strategic, and from this point of view the pawn on b3 was untouchable. I’m quite sure that a player such as Shirov or Tal would have won the knight, even in a blitz game.
Seek and you will find. Its opposite is equally valid: if you don’t seek, you won’t find. It’s no coincidence that the best chess players are usually (at least behind the chessboard) optimists. Their optimism and confidence help them to find solutions and fight even in situations where other players would long have lost hope.
Chapters 7 and 8 are perhaps of less relevance to average club players. If you play most of your over the board chess in league matches and weekend congresses you’ll have little opportunity to prepare in depth for specific opponents.
Giving a few examples, Chapter 7 explains how to research your next opponent’s games, looking at their style, strengths and weaknesses. Chapter 8 takes this further, looking at how you can choose a specific opening variation that will make your opponent uncomfortable.
Then we have a quiz with ten (hard) questions, in which you can compare your answers with those of David Navara.
The book concludes with a chapter summarising the lessons to be learnt from the book.
Jan Markos is an excellent writer, who uses metaphors to draw you into his world. Each chapter starts a long way from chess, discussing anything from Aesop’s Fables, via Andy Warhol, to initiation rites in Vanuatu, and concludes with Markos asking his co-author three questions about the topic in question.
The examples themselves are, I think, pitched at a pretty high level: I’d say 2200+. As a player of about 2000 strength, I usually learn more from simpler positions taken from games played at lower levels, but, yes, I understand that looking at grandmaster play is the point of the book. The content, also, is, for the most part more suitable for higher rated players, although, in the first six chapters, there’s a lot of general advice which any serious player will find useful.
If you’re a strong, ambitious player aiming towards IM or GM level I’m sure you’ll find this book invaluable. But lower rated players will also find much to enjoy, from Markos’s engaging style of writing to a host of fascinating positions taken from grandmaster play, and pick up some helpful tips for general improvement along the way. Best of all, you also get a genuine understanding of what grandmaster chess is all about, taking you beyond the familiar brilliancies and sacrifices into the minds and brains of elite players.
The book is beautifully produced: the standard of translation, editing and proofreading by Quality Chess seems to me to be a class above that of many other chess publishers. Although there are a few insignificant translational infelicities, I’ve yet to find any typos: most unusual for a chess book.
Highly recommended, then, for anyone hoping to reach master strength, but also with a lot to interest club and tournament players . I can see why Markos’s previous book was so successful. If the content appeals, you won’t be disappointed.
The author has written what he believes to be an original book on the endgame, using a play on words for the title based on the historic battle of Hastings in 1066 which involved William the Conqueror. *****
Ray Cannon, a familiar frequenter of chess tournaments in London and elsewhere, has condensed his copious knowledge into an enjoyably instructive compendium of endgame positions. In tune with the Victorian notion of learning via fun, the reader cannot help but absorb the endgame stratagems that recur in the examples given and emerge as a better player without any conscious effort.
The endgame is a prime arena for the emergence of error through lack of practice, and even elite grandmasters can miss the unsuspected anti-intuitive resource that would have secured the rescue draw or shock win. I would go so far as to say this book would benefit master-standard players. Studying it has all the value of learning one’s times tables but without the repetitive drudgery! The end result is the same: increased knowledge.
My good friend Ray Cannon, who was, for many years, an invaluable part of the coaching team at Richmond Junior Club, has written a book which will be useful for all club standard players.
With faster time limits and online play now the norm, endings play a vital part in 21st century chess. A good knowledge of endgame theory and tactics is a fundamental requirement for all serious players.
From the author’s introduction:
Positions in this book have been taken from various sources including my collection of newspaper cuttings that go back to the 1970’s, books, magazines, websites and even from games I had witnessed personally at tournaments. Many have been modified for reasons of clarity and a few I have composed myself. Most of the positions have annotated solutions unless the moves are self-explanatory.
The 1066 diagram positions can be played out against a computer or an opponent but they are best solved using a chess set. You are invited to write down your choice of move for each position on the pages provided before looking up the answers. On the other hand, you may simply prefer to enjoy the instructive content of this book by dipping in and out of its pages.
Endgames may give the appearance of being easy but even the world’s best players misplay them from time to time and some of these missed opportunities from practical play are included among the 1066 stratagems.
The majority of the puzzles are elementary but there are a few that are quite difficult. When solving them, you will detect familiar methods of play. Knowledge of these is often referred to as pattern recognition and this is an important component of learning and improving at chess.
So what you get is 1066 endgame puzzles, or stratagems as Ray prefers to call them. It’s White’s move in positions 1 to 728, and Black’s move in positions 729 to 1066. In each position you’re told whether you’re trying to win or draw, and you know that there’s only one move to achieve your aim.
A few fairly random examples chosen simply by turning to a random page will show you what to expect. I’ll give the answers at the end of the review.
Q482 is a neat draw: White to play.
Q497 is of practical value. Endings with R + f&h pawns against R are very often drawn. How can White win here?
Q533, halfway through the book, has more pieces on the board (too many for an endgame?) and demonstrates the need to know your mating patterns. White to play and win again.
If you enjoyed these puzzles, you’ll certainly enjoy the rest of the book. If you think your students will enjoy these puzzles, you’ll also want to buy this book.
It’s self-published via Amazon so the production qualities are not quite up to the standard you’d expect from leading chess book publishers. However, the diagrams and text are both clear.
Ray has chosen to print the ‘Black to play’ puzzles with the 8th rank at the bottom of the board: not what I or most authors would have chosen but I can see why he did it. There’s a slight problem, though, in that the diagrams are without coordinates, which can make things slightly confusing in positions with few pawns on the board. (The diagrams in the answers to the ‘Black to play’ do have coordinates, though.) I understand the next edition will use diagrams with coordinates throughout.
You might also prefer to write your answers under the diagrams rather than in the pages provided for this purpose at the beginning of the book. I’d also have welcomed an index by material so that I could quickly locate, for example, pawn endings or rook endings.
These are just personal preferences, though. The quality of material is excellent (all positions have been thoroughly engine checked) and Ray Cannon should be congratulated for his efforts in producing a highly instructive puzzle book.
A basic knowledge of endgame theory is assumed, so I would consider the book ideal for anyone rated between about 1500 and 2000, although some of the puzzles will be challenging for stronger players.
Richard James, Twickenham, 17th September 2021
Q482: 1. f7+ Qxf7 2. Bb3 Qxb3 is stalemate. Or 1… Kxf7 2. Bh5+. In just two moves we have a fork, a skewer, a pin and a stalemate.
Q497: 1. Rg5+ Kxg5 (or 1… Kxh6 2. Rg8) 2. h7 Re1+ 3. Kd6 Rd1+ 4. Ke7 Rh1 5. f8Q wins (as long as you know how to win with queen against rook!)
Q533: 1. Re8+ Rxe8 2. Nf6 Ra7 3. Rxa7 Re7 4. Rxe7 a1Q 5. Rh7# – an Arabian Mate!
“If you want to improve your middlegame play, you will have to develop a FEEL for positions.
That’s what Boris Zlotnik has been stressing during his long and rich trainers career. Clicking through concrete variations (a popular pastime in the computer era) is not enough. To guide your thinking during a game you should be able to fall back on a reservoir of typical ideas and methods.
That is exactly what this book offers you: Zlotnik’s legendary study material about the middlegame, modernized, greatly extended and published in the English language for the first time. As you familiarize yourself with the most important strategic ideas and manoeuvres in important basic opening structures, you will need less time to discover the clues in middlegame positions.
You will find it so much easier to steer your game in the right direction after the opening has ended. Zlotnik’s Middlegame Manual is accessible to a wide range of post-beginners and club players. It is your passport to a body of instructive material of unparalleled quality, collected during a lifetime of training and coaching chess.
A large collection of exercises, carefully chosen and didactically tuned, will help you drill what you have learned. With a foreword by Fabiano Caruana.”
“Boris Zlotnik is an International Master from Russia and a prominent chess trainer. For many years he was the director of the legendary Chess Department of the INEF College in Moscow. In 1993 he emigrated to Spain. One of his most successful pupils is Fabiano Caruana, who in 2004, as a 12-year-old, moved to Madrid with his entire family to live near his trainer.”
From my first quick perusal through this middlegame manual, I was really impressed with the illuminative, explanatory paragraphs enumerating the possible plans of both sides particularly in Part 1 Typical structures in the middlegame. These typical schemes are demonstrated with instructive games from top players of many periods interspersed with many pithy paragraphs which effectively communicate key ideas. The reviewer will give examples as we navigate this excellent training manual for typical middlegame structures and manoeuvres.
The tome also effectively uses the analysis and evaluations of chess engines in conjunction with the excellent, explanatory passages to scrutinise games and emphasize key motifs. It is surprising how often the play and evaluations of the old masters is vindicated by the computer. (Of course there are tactical oversights, but that is to be expected.)
The book is divided into three sections. Part 1 is concerned with Typical structures in the middlegame and has three chapters:
The Isolated Queen’s Pawn
The Carlsbad Structure
Symmetrical Pawn Structures
Part 2 is titled Typical methods of play:
Restricted mobility in the King’s Indian Defence
Should we exchange the fianchettoed bishop (EFB) ?
The d5-square in the Sicilian
Part 3 has two chapters with exercises followed by solutions.
The reviewer will present a detailed report of chapters 1 and 2 to give the reader a good feel for the book. Chapter 3 will get modest coverage whilst Chapters 4-6 will get a very brief overview.
Chapter 1 The Isolated Queen’s Pawn
The author begins with an introduction with Tarrasch’s famous quote followed by showing the typical IQP pawn structures viz.:
As the author points out, these pawn structures can occur from a wide variety of openings which only makes their study more valuable for any aspiring player to improve.
As a young junior, the reviewer won a host of games against the IQP by exchanging pieces and exploiting the weak d-pawn in the endings. As a result of these comfortable victories, against mainly weaker opposition, I jumped to the false conclusion that the IQP was a “bad thing”. My poor education was soon exposed when I got crushed in games against stronger players who knew exactly how to handle the advantages of the IQP.
Zolotnik gives a quick historical survey of the IQP with a couple of games from the Victorian era including a game by the first official world champion William Steinitz.
The author explains the weakness of the IQP in the endgame with two didactic games by Sergei Tiviakov.
The first endgame starts here:
The second endgame commences here:
After the exchange of one pair of rooks, this position is reached:
The reader may well be thinking: black is slightly worse, but with opposite coloured bishops how did black lose those endgames, particularly as the white rook has no obvious entry point? Tiviakov’s second opponent was a decent GM close to 2600 and he got ground down thus displaying how difficult these type of equals minus mode endings are to defend with an inferior pawn structure and a semi-bad bishop. Stockfish helpfully indicates that the ending is drawn for many moves, but pity the mere mortals in practice with an increment finish! Buy the book to enjoy these ending masterclasses.
The author proffers some sagacious observations:
“As can be seen from these two endings, the main drawbacks of the IQP are that it cannot be defended by another pawn, and in addition the square in front of this pawn, as well as various squares to the side of the pawn, can be exploited by the opponent as strongpoints for his pieces. These disadvantages are most apparent following simplification, whereas the side with the IQP possesses several advantages which are present in the middlegame. First and foremost, the IQP confers a space advantage, which makes it easy to regroup the pieces and consequently to create threats in different areas of the board, especially on the kingside. Secondly, the IQP serves as support for the central deployment of one or two minor pieces, particularly a knight, which creates the conditions for an attack on the enemy castled king. Thirdly, the side with the isolated pawn can exert pressure along the c- and e- files.”
The author then lists the typical plans for both sides in the IQP battle of ideas:
“The side with the IQP has the following four plans available:
A) kingside attack;
B) opening the game by advancing the isolated pawn;
C) advancing the isolated in order to fix an enemy pawn on an adjacent file;
D) developing activity on the queenside
The side playing against the IQP employs basically two methods:
A) simplification of the position, aiming for an endgame;
B) transformation from an IQP structure to a structure with hanging pawns.”
The subsequent six sub-sections of the chapter analyses each of these plans in turn.
Sub-section A Kingside attack
This begins with an exemplary attacking game by Vladimir Tukmakov against Viktor Kortchnoi from the Soviet championship Riga 1960: the great defensive player Kortchnoi is smashed up. Well worth a visit: get the book to enjoy this slugfest with good notes.
The author adds this observation: “In the structure with a pawn on e6 versus a pawn on d4, the ‘hot spots’ where White often sacrifices his pieces are e6 and f7, while in the structure with pc7/c6 versus pd4, there is a typical sacrifice, as seen in the following game.”
Here is a modern game in the Petroff that shows these demolition of these ‘hotspots’.
Nils Grandelius (2653) – Anna Zatonskih (2424)
IoM Masters 2017
7…Bg4 (7…Be7 is more common and scores better, but Stockfish likes both moves) 8.c4 Nf6 9.Nc3 Be7 10.cxd5 Nxd5 11.h3 Be6 12.Re1 0-0 A typical IQP position
13.a3 (White employs a standard plan, preparing the well known queen on d3 and bishop on c2 battery eyeing up h7) 13…Re8 14.Bc2 (It is interesting to note that after 14.Qc2 h6 15.Rxe6!? white has sufficient compensation for the exchange)
A common sort of IQP position which contains hidden venom.
14…h6?? (This looks wrong in this type of position and is totally refuted. Black should wait for Qd3 and play g6 solidifying the b1-h7 diagonal, better is 14…Bf6, 15.Qd3 g6 16.Bh6 (or 16.Ba4!? with a tiny edge according to the iron monster) Nxc3 17.bxc3 Bf5 with equality) 15.Qd3 Nf6
The erroneous h-pawn advance is severely punished with a thematic breakthrough:
16.Bxh6! Winning by force 16…gxh6 (16…Qd7 is hopeless: 17.Bg5 g6 18.d5! Nxd5 19.Rxe6! Qxe6 20.Nxd5 crashes through) 17.Rxe6! Killing, as all the white squares collapse.
17…Qd7 (17…fxe6 leads to a typical finish: 18.Qg6+ Kh8 19.Qxh6+ Kg8 20.Ng5! bringing in the third piece for the attack and mate follows quickly, for example 20…Rf8 21.Bh7+ Kh8 22.Bf5+ Kg8 23.Bxe6+ Rf7 24.Bxf7#) 18.Rae1 fxe6 19.Qg6+ Kf8 20.Qxh6+ Kg8
21.Ne5 (White can also win in a similar manner to the line given above: 21.Qg6+ Kh8 22.Ng5 Rf8 23. Qh6+ Kg8 24.Bh7+ Kh8 25.Bf5+) Nxe5 22.dxe5 Bf8 23.Qxf6 Bg7 24.Qg6 Qd2 25.Re3 Re7 26.Ne4 Qc1+ 27.Kh2 Qxb2 28.Nf6+ Kf8 29.Nd7+ Rxd7 30.Rf3+ 1-0
A lesson in care about moving pawns in front of the king. A surprising mistake, 14…h6?? from an IM standard player.
Plan B: opening the game by advancing the IQP
Here is a superb game from the young Boris Spassky showing his brilliant tactical and positional skills:
Boris Spassky – Avtonomov
1.d4 d5 2.c4 dxc4 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.e3 e6 5.Bxc4 c5 6.0-0 a6 7.Qe2 b5 8.Bb3 (The main line, but 8.Bd3 is also a played) 8…Nc6 (Modern theory prefers 8…Bb7! or Stockfish prefers 8…Be7) 9.Nc3
A common position from the queen’s gambit accepted. Black now plays an obvious move that is a serious mistake.
9…cxd4? (Once again 9…Bb7! is the modern main line, Stockfish, again prefers kingside development with 9…Be7) 10.Rd1!
The point, a standard resource in the QGA after a previous Qe2 10…Bb7? (10…Na5 was essential surrendering a pawn for the bishop pair: 11.Nxd4 Bd6 12.e4 Qc7 13.Nf3 Nxb3 14.axb3 Be7 15.Nxb5 Qb8 16.Nc3 0-0) 11.exd4 Nb4? (The losing move! It is hard to believe that Black will not survive ten moves from here, 11…Na5 is better, but 12.d5! anyway which is similar to the game leads to a clear advantage to white)
The d5 square is covered five times, but….
12.d5!! (Completely crushing. Now we see why Stockfish liked Be7 on moves 8 and 9) 12…Nbxd5 (12…Nfxd5 loses a piece to 13.a3!) 13.Bg5! (Developing the last minor piece with a killing pin and more pressure on d5, simply 14.Nxd5 is threatened winning a piece)
13…Be7 Forced 14.Bxf6 (Crunch!, smashing up black’s kingside, so his king will never find shelter) 14…gxf6 15.Nxd5 Bxd5 (15…exd5 is better but black is still lost) 16.Bxd5 exd5 17.Nd4
Black’s position is a sorry sight. His king has no haven: the end is swift. Notice how the white steed is the key cavalryman in the execution.
17…Kf8 (17…0-0 18.Nf5! wins a piece owing to the threat of 19.Qg4+ mating) 18.Nf5 h5 19.Rxd5! Qxd5 20.Qxe7+ Kg8 21.Qxf6 A crisp finish in a fine attacking game 1-0
An exemplary display from the future World Champion.
Subsection C: advancing the isolated pawn to fix an enemy pawn
This plan occurs most frequently in structures with a black IQP arising from the Tarrasch Defence to the Queen’s Gambit. There are cases with a white IQP in the Gruenfeld Defence for example.
The reviewer will show some key positions from a game Nikolay Novotelnov – Igor Bondarevsky Moscow 1951.
This is the standard tabiya from the Tarrasch Defence to the Queen’s Gambit.
In the position below, Bondarevsky played a memorable idea which is not obvious 12…d4!
Boris Spassky was a pupil of Bondarevsky and in the position above played 12…h6 13.Bxf6 Qxf6 14.Nxb6 axb6 15.Qb3 Qd8 16.a3 d4!
Spassky’s expertise in this variation played a large part in his victory over Petrosian in the World Championship match in 1969.
The Bondarevsky game reached this position after move 21:
It’s all gone horribly wrong for white who has to endure horrendous pressure down the e-file. Black duly won after several mistakes by both sides.
Here is an instructive game from another former World Champion, Vasily Smyslov.
According to modern theory, this position should hold no terrors for black.
9…Nd7 9…Bg4 is a decent move: 10. Bc4 Bxf3 11.Qxf3 Bxd4 12. Rd1 Bxc3+ 13.Qxc3 Qd6 14.0-0 Nd7 15.Rfe1 Rac8 16.Qd4 Nb6 17.Bb3 with equality. This looks slightly easier to play for white who has more space and pressure on the e-pawn, Kasparov outplayed his opponent and went on to win.
Stockfish likes 9…Bg7 10.Qb3 e6!?
There are a lot of gambits in the Bg5 systems against the Gruenfeld after white has surrendered his dark squared bishop. This gambit is totally sound: after 11.dxe6 Bxe612.Qxb7 Qe8! 13.Be2 Nc6 14.0-0 Rb8 15.Qa6 Nxd4 16.Nxd4 Bxd4 17.Rad1 Bg7 With equality, black’s bishop pair and activity compensate for the pawn.
The Smyslov-Liberzon game continued:
10.Bc4 Nb6 11.Bb3 Bg4 12.0-0 Rc8 (12…Nc8 to blockade the d-pawn is also fine) 13.Re1 Bxf3 14.Qxf3 Bxd4 15.Rad1
This position is equal and black can continue as he did in the game or retain his bishop with equality in both cases. The reviewer agrees with the author and prefers the latter course. Equal does not mean drawn and white’s space advantage makes his position somewhat easier to play.
15…Bxc3 16.bxc3 Qd6 17.h4
17…h5?! (17…a5! undermining the bishop is better: 18.a4 h5 19.g4 hxg4 20.Qxg4 Rxc3 21.Re6 fxe6 22.Qxg6+ is only a draw)18.Rd4?! (Strike while the iron is hot: 18.g4! hxg4 19.Qxg4 Rxc3 20.h5 with a strong initiative and a clear advantage, e.g. 20…g5 21.Qxg5+ Kh8 21.Qxe7 Nc8 22.Qe4)
18…Kg7 19.Rf4 Rc7? (Disconnecting the rooks with fatal consequences, once again 19…a5! is the right idea with equality)
20.Re6! Qd8 21.Re3 I’ll be back 21…Qd6
22.Rfe4?! (22.g4! sets up a winning attack: notice how the d5-pawn confers on white a space advantage which allows easy manoeuvring of his major pieces whilst black’s rook and knight are still offside) 22…a5! 23.a4 Qf6 (23…Nd7 is better) 24.Rf4 Qd6
25.Re6! (Hello again! This time the rook brings the grim reaper with a specially sharpened scythe.) 25…Qc5 26.Rxg6+! Ouch fxg6 27.Rxf8 Qxc3 28.Qf7+ Kh6 29.Qf4+ Kg7 30.Rf7+ Kg8 31.d6 Qxb3 32.Rf8+ 1-0
Plan D – developing activity on the queenside
Here is one of the author’s games:
Alexander Bitman – Boris Zlotnik Moscow 1979
1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2 c5 4.Ngf3 Nf6 5.exd5 exd5 6.Bb5+ Bd7 7.Bxd7+ (7.Qe2+ is the main alternative) Nbxd7 8.dxc5 (8.0-0 is more accurate) Bxc5 9.0-0 0-0 10.Nb3 Bb6
In this position, white plays a seemingly natural move that is a mistake because it allows black to gain time for activating his pieces. The reviewer has made the same mistake in a very similar position in an on-line blitz game.
11.Re1?! (11.c3! or 11.Nbd4 is better) Re8! (Preventing 12.Be3) 12.Rxe8+ Qxe8 13.Nbd4 Ne5 (13…Qe4 is interesting: Stockfish likes the game move as well)
14.Bg5?! (A definite mistake, it’s as if white thought that black’s queen was still on d8! Better is 14.Nxe5 Qxe5 15.Be3 Re8 16.c3 h5 17.h3 with equality) Ne4 15.Bh4!? (The bishop is out of play here, 15.Bf4 is better; 15.Be3 Nc4!) 15…Nxf3+ 16.Nxf3 (Strangely 16.gxf3 is better ejecting the powerful knight at the cost of a weakened kingside)
16…Qb5! (Attacking the weak queenside which is made more effective because of white’s misplaced bishop) 17.Rb1 Re8 18.a3? ( A fatal weakening: better was 18.Qd3 or 18.c3 with the idea of 19.Nd4) 18…h6 19.Qd3 Qxd3 (Good enough to win a pawn and the game, but 19…Qc5!? is even better 20.b4 Qc6 with a big advantage) 20.cxd3 Nc5 Winning a pawn and the full point 21.Re1 (21.d4 Nb3 wins the d4-pawn because of white’s weak back rank) 21…Rxe1+ 22.Nxe1 Nb3 23.Nc2 Nc1 24.Nb4 (24.d4 Nb3 wins a pawn) 24…Bd4! 25.b3 Bc5! 26.Nxd5 Bxa3 27.b4 a6 28.Be7 f6 29.d4 Ne2+ 30.Kf1 Nxd4 and black won the pawn up technical endgame 0-1
The last two subsections of this chapter cover the two main plans for the defending side.
1.6 Plan A: simplification of the position
Here is a smooth win from the former World Champion, Anatoly Karpov at the height of his powers, over another ex-champion Boris Spassky.
Anatoly Karpov (2705) – Boris Spassky (2640)
Montreal Montreal 1979
10…Be7 (This move is still one of the main lines today, however 10…Rd8!? is the latest theory leading to a small edge for white, one complicated line is: 11.Nd2! d4!? 12.Nb3 Qb6 13.Na4 Bb4+, 14.axb4 Qxb4+ 15.Nd2 e5 16.Bg5 Qa5 17.Qb3 Nb4 18.Bxf6 gxf6 19.Be2 Bd7 20.Ra1 dxe3 21.fxe5 b5 22.0-0 bxa4 23.Qc3 with a small edge. The only reason the reviewer gives this line is to demonstrate the extent of computer home preparation today: in Karjakin-Anand, Shamkir 2019, white won after playing the first 36 moves of home preparation) 11.Nd2 Bd7? (11…e5! is better and is the main line leading to rough equality) 12.Be2 Rfc8?! (Again 12…e5! is better limiting white’s edge) 13.0-0 Qd8 14.cxd5 exd5 (14…Nxd5 15.Nxd5 exd5 16.Qb3 with a definite edge) 15.Nf3 h6
Karpov makes a pertinent note: “The exchange of at least one pair of knights favours White, as it makes it easier to control the d4-square. Furthermore the f3-square is available for the e2 bishop, exerting direct pressure on the d5-pawn.”
16.Ne5 Be6 17.Nxc6 (17…Bxc6? 18.Ba6! nets an exchange, showing the power of white’s active bishops) Rxc6 18.Bf3 Qb6 19.Be5! Threatening to win the d5-pawn forcing black’s reply
19…Ne4 20.Qe2 Nxc3 21.Bxc3
21…Rd8 (Stockfish recommends 21…Bxa3!? 22.Bxg7! Kxg7 23.bxa3 Qb3! 24.e4 Rc2 25.Qe1 d4 26.e5 d3 27.Qe4 d2 28.Qf4 Qc4 29.Be4 Rb2= Few human players would choose a line leading to a smashed up kingside with no material compensation.) 22.Rd3! Rcd6 23.Rfd1 23…R6d7
The position has clarified with a clear white advantage. Black has no compensation for the weak d-pawn. The author makes an interesting historical comment here stating that in the 1960s, many Soviet players erroneously believed that an IQP cannot be exploited without knights. This game should disabuse anyone of that myth. Karpov wins a model game with a patient build-up and some prophylactic moves: sit back and appreciate the game.
White now begins the assault to force a second weakness with a fine demonstration of a kingside initiative. The author points out that white has another good plan 31.Bd4 followed by doubling rooks on the c-file. The fact that white has two excellent plans shows how bad black’s cheerless position is.
Forced as 31…f5 allows 32.Qg6 Bf8 33.Be5 with the winning idea of …g3-g4
32.Qd1 Qb5 33.g4
33…g5? (The fatal error after defending for so long: black was probably is time trouble and lashed out wanting to do something, 33..Bf7! 34.h4 Qc6 35.Bd4 Bc5 36.Rc3 keeps white’s edge but black is still resisting) 34.Kh1 Qc6 35.f5 Bf7
36.e4! The decisive breakthrough against the IQP Kg7 37.exd5 Qc7 38.Re2 b5 39.Rxe7 Rxe7 40.d6 Qc4 41.b3 1-0
A didactic display from Karpov giving black not one iota of counterplay.
The final subsection covers:
Transformation from an IQP structure to a structure with hanging pawns
Here is an impressive blockade with an exquisite control of tactics from the former World Boss of chess, Garry Kasparov.
13.Bb2?! (A weak move as the bishop never sees the light of day. The main line is 13.Bd3, 13.Ne5 is ok as well with equality) 13… Bxf3 14.Qxf3? (The ugly 14.gxf3 had to be played, play could continue 14…Nc6 15.Bb3 Nh5 16.c4 Nf4 17.Qe3 with a definite black advantage) 14…Qxc4! A far sighted exchange sacrifice based on the weakness of the white squares and the imminent danger to white’s queen 15.Qxa8 The tempting cake is ingested but is laced with poison 15… Nc6 16.Qb7 Nd5
Black has a big advantage with a vice like grip on the white squares. The difference in activity of the respective sides’ pieces is quite striking: the only active white piece, the queen, is all alone and in dire danger of death.
17.Re1 Rb8 18.Qd7 Rd8 19.Qb7 h5?! (A rare Kasparov inaccuracy, 19…Na5! 20.Qxa7 Qc6 21.c4 Nxc4 22.Rac1 Nf4 23.f3 Nd3 24.Rxc4 Qxc4 25.Qxb6 Rc8 26.Rf1 h6 is easily winning for black. Notice how the knights stomp all over white combining threats against the queen, the kingside and white’s passively placed bishop and rooks) 20.Bc1? (The final mistake: Stockfish points out that with 20.Rac1! White can still put up a fight) 20…Na5 21.Qxa7 Qc6 22.Qa6 Nc4 23.Rb1 Nc7
After 24.Qa7 Ra8, the greedy queen meets her end on the executioner’s block 0-1
Chapter 2 – The Carlsbad structure
This is the famous Carlsbad structure, named from the great Carlsbad tournament in 1923 (in the modern day Czech Republic close to the German border), is one of the most important pawn structures in the game of chess both historically and in the modern game:
A deep understanding of how to play the positions with the Carlsbad structure is the hallmark of a very strong player and I suspect, every GM. The British GM, Keith Arkell was once asked how did you become a GM? He quipped: Carlsbad structures, and rook endings. Of course, Keith has a profound knowledge of more than just those two topics, but his pithy reply contains much more than a grain of truth. The titanic struggle between Capablanca and Alekhine for the World Championship in 1927 featured many games in the queen’s gambit including the Carlsbad structure. The reviewer’s scant knowledge of these games is a gap in his chess education. Many GMs have observed that one of their key skills over lower rated players is their superior knowledge and praxis of rook endings.
Back to the topic at hand: the author shares his knowledge of these positions with a lucid listing of both sides respective plans:
“Plan A: minority attack with b4-b5xc6;
Plan B: attack in the centre with e3-e4;
Plan C: kingside attack with both sides castled on the kingside;
Plan D: kingside attack with the kings castled on opposite sides;
Plan E: play in positions with both sides castled on the queenside.
Black in turn has the following methods of defence available:
i) Kingside counterattack with pawns;
ii) Kingside counterattack with pieces;
iii) Positional methods of defence, e.g. erecting a barrier with b7-b5 or controlling the squares c4 and b5 with the pieces;
iv) The central break c6-c5;
v) Counterattack against White’s queenside castled position.
Black’s choice of defensive method depends on which plan White adopts. For instance, method v) can only occur in the plan of Plan D or E.”
Plan A: the minority attack
This is a frequently adopted plan and is covered in great detail in this book. “The minority attack is a typical strategic method, which has the aim of creating a weak pawn in the opponent’s ranks, precisely where he has a pawn majority. The same procedure is applicable to a large number and variety of middlegame positions.”
There are many variations/lines of the Sicilian where Black launches a minority attack against white’s queenside.
This next position shows a celebrated endgame resulting from a classic minority attack: Kotov-Pachman from Venice 1950.
Stockfish helpfully suggests 42..h5! with a microscopic edge to White. I am not disagreeing with the silicon brain, but white has a more pleasant position to play. Black only has one weakness, so he can hold with patient, careful defence looking to go active at the right time. However, a decent GM went down here.
I will not reproduce a detailed analysis of this ending here: I will give the key positions in this ending including a fascinating line showing black’s defensive resources.
42… Kf6?! (42…h5! is better preventing white’s next cramping move) 43.g4! White fixes the h7-pawn as a potential weakness 43…Ke6?!
White has made significant progress but black can still hold.
51.Nc5+ Ke7?! (51…Bxc5 giving up a pawn offers good drawing chances) 52.Rc8 Bxc5 53.dxc5 Kd7 54.Rh8 Ke6 55.Rd8
55…Ke7? (The decisive mistake: counterplay with 55…Ra4! holds. This shows that the decision on whether to stay passive or go active is not obvious even for a strong GM: White now wraps up efficiently) 56.Rd6 Ra6 57.g5 fxg5 58.hxg5 Kf7 59.Kg3 Ke7 60.f3 Ra3 61.Kf4 Ra4+ 62.Ke5 Ra3 63.Rxc6 Rxe3+ 64.Kxd5 Rd3+ 65.Ke4 Rc3 66.f4 Rc1 67.Rc7+ Kd8 68.Rxh7 Rxc5 69.Rf7 1-0
Buy the book to see this endgame analysed in more detail.
A typical double rook endgame arising from a minority attack. Black only has one weakness but he is totally passive awaiting white’s attempts to breach his fortress. Stockfish defends this ending without breaking a sweat, however for flesh and blood, down on the clock in an increment finish against a good, grinding GM, there is zero chance of a draw. Buy the book to see how Mark Hebden won this ending.
Here is a model game from another former World Champion.
A Carlsbad structure from the 5.Bg5 line against the Gruenfeld.
10.Bd3 (White can also play 10.Be2, Qb3 or even b4 straightaway, none of these moves secure an edge against accurate play) Nc6 (The more common move order is 10…c6 11.0-0 Qd6 12.Rc1 a5) 11.0-0 Ne7 (Stockfish agrees with the reviewer’s preference: 11…a5) 12.b4
Bf5? [This exchange of bishops is a poor positional error as the game is now closer to the Kotov-Pachman ending. Better is 12…c6 13.Rc1 (13.b5 c5!) 13…a6 14.a4 Qd6 15.Rb1 Be6 16.h3 Nc8 with equal chances ] 13.Bxf5 Nxf5 14.b5 (14.Qb3 c6 15.b5 was more incisive)
Occupying the obvious square for the knight, Stockfish prefers 14…a6 15.bxa6 (15.a4 axb5 16.axb5 c5 17.bxc6 bxc6 18.Na4 Nd6 19.Qc2 Nc4 20.Nd2 Nxd2 21.Qxd2 and an endgame similar to Kotov-Pachman is near which we know is tenable but unpleasant) 15.bxa6 Rxa6 16.Qb3 Ra5 17.Rac1 c5 18.dxc5 Rxc5 19.Nb5 with a small advantage to white.
15.Qb3 Ne7 16.Rfc1 Kh8? (What on earth is this move for? 16…Rfc8 looks more relevant, but white is better in any case) 17.Rc2 h6 18.Rac1 c6
19.Na4! (19.bxc6 bxc6 20.Na4 20…Rfb8 gives black some play down the b-file) 19…Rab8 20.g3 (Typical prophylaxis securing the back rank and creating a stronger barrier against f5-f4, the direct 20.Nc5 is even stronger) 20…Kh7 21.Nc5 Rfd8?! Loses the c-pawn quickly, but Stockfish already assesses black’s game as dead, 21…b6 puts up more resistance 22.bxc6 bxc6 23.Qa4!
Eyeing both weak pawns on a7 and c6; this is why black should have played a6 or a5 earlier to exchange off the a-pawn 23…Qf6 24.Kg2 (The ever cautious Petrosian improves his king before winning the c-pawn as he saw that it cannot run away. This follows the Russian rule about about improving your king before the final assault. 24.Ne5 wins the pawn more quickly: 24…Ra8 25.Nb7 Rdc8 26.Nxc6) 24…Ra8 25.Nb7 Re8 26.Na5 g5 27.h3 Qf5 28.Nxc6 With the fall of this pawn, the game is over. Petrosian gives his opponent no chance. Qe4 29.Rc5 f5 30.Qc2 Nxc6 31.Rxc6 f4 32.exf4 gxf4 33.g4 Bxd4 34.Qd2 Bg7 35.Re1 Qa4 36.Qxd5 Rxe1 37.Nxe1 Rf8 38.Nf3 Kh8 39.Rc7 a6 40.Qb7 Rg8 41.Nh4 1-0
I like the didactic commentary of the author on the strategic features following this cruising crush by Petrosian:
“1. It is essential for white to carry out the b4-b5 advance in circumstances that do not allow Black to reply with c6-c5, which means that white needs to control the c-file and in particular the c5 square.
2. It is useful for white to exchange his own dark-squared bishop for the enemy knight, since this gains several tempi (the black bishop is badly placed on f6) and he can attack the c6-pawn with his knight after the usual minority attack.
3. The move g2-g3 is also good for White, forming a ‘saw’ against the possible advance of the enemy f-pawn.
4. It is appropriate for Black to play a7-a6 (or sometimes a5), since after White advances with a2-a4 and b4-b5, Black is able to exchange his a6-pawn, leaving him with just one weakness on c6 instead of two.
5. in anticipation of White’s b4-b5 advance, Black should prepare either Kingside counterplay or the advance c5.”
The author goes on to discuss the methods of defence against the minority attack beginning with:
i) Kingside counterattack with pawns
The following modern day clash shows this theme well even though Black lost:
Lev Aronian (2777) – Vishy Anand (2797)
1.c4 e6 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.Nf3 d5 4.d4 Bb4 5.cxd5 exd5 6.Qa4+ Nc6 7.Bg5 h6 8.Bxf6 Qxf6 9.e3 0-0 10.Be2 a6 11.0-0 Be6 12.Rfc1 Bd6 13.a3 Ne7 14.b4 c6 This time we reach the Carlsbad structure from the Ragozin 15.Qb3 g5! This looks good as black has the bishop pair pointing at the kingside. After this game, the white players of this variation went back to the drawing board as black is clearly better here with an initiative.
16.Qb2 Qg7 (Stopping e4 and preparing a possible f-pawn battering ram) 17.Na4 Rae8 18.Nc5 Bc8
Too slow and stereotyped forming the Nimzowitsch saw. White had to get on with it on the queenside with 19.a4! f5 20.b5 (20.Nd3?! f4 21.exf4 Ng6 22.Re1 Nxf4 23.Nfe5 now both 23…gxf4 and 23…Nxf4 lead to a black initiative with a superior position) 20…axb5 21.axb5 21…f4 22.Nd3 fxe3 23.fxe3 Nf5 24.bxc6 Nxe3 25.cxb7 Bxb7 26.Ra7 Re7 27.Nfe5 with approximate equality!
The game continued:
19…Nf5!? (This move is good, but Stockfish, the author and the reviewer prefer the obvious 19…f5! which is clearly much better for black, e.g. 20.Kh1 Ng6 21.Nd3 Qe7 22.Re1 Qe4 23.Kg1 f4 with a dangerous attack) 20.Bd3 Qf6 21.Rf1 h5! 22.Rac1 h4! 23.Qd2
23…Nh6? (A tactical blunder retreating the knight to the wrong square, letting White off the hook, 23…Ng7 is good, after say 24.Be2 the obvious 24…hxg3! leads to a big advantage for black; 24…Re7 is even better according to Stockfish, White’s position is unappealing in both cases; 23…hxg3 is also excellent for black ) 24.e4! Clearly missed by Anand
24…Bxc5?! (24…Be7! 25.Ne5 dxe4 26.Bxe4 Rd8 is equal, Anand probably missed that 24…Qxf3 loses to 25.Qxg5+ Kh7 26.e5+ Bf5 27.Bxf5+ Nxf5 28.Rc3!! Nxd4 29.Qxh4+) 25.e5! A powerful Zwischenzug
25…Qg7? (The final mistake, 25…Bxb4 26.axb4 Qg7 27.Nxg5 Bf5 28.Nf3 hxg3 29.fxg3 Bh3 leads to a slight edge for white) 26.bxc5 Now black is dead 26…f6 27.exf6 Rxf6 28.Nxg5 Bf5 29.Rce1 Rff8 30.Rxe8 Rxe8 31.Nf3 Bxd3 32.Qxd3 Re4 33.Re1 hxg3 34.hxg3 1-0
A pity that Vishy spoiled a well played game but his approach renders this line unplayable for White.
ii) Kingside attack with pieces
Here is a game played by the brilliant attacking player Rashid Nezhmetdinov (who famously once beat Mikhail Tal in the style of Tal).
Mark Taimanov – Rashid Nezhmetdinov
1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 e6 4.cxd5 exd5 5.Nc3 Nf6 6.Bg5 Be7 7.Qc2 Nbd7 8.e3 0-0 9.Bd3 Re8 10.0-0 Nf8 11.Rab1 a5 (A small refinement as the open a-file after a3 and b4 by White could be useful. However its drawback could have been exploited by White on move 14.)
12.a3 Ne4 (The standard move, but the silicon brain prefers 12…Ng6) 13.Bxe7 Qxe7 14.b4 (White should probably change plans here and remove black’s best minor piece and exploit the b6 square with 14.Bxe4! dxe4 15.Ne5 Bf5 16.Rfc1 Ne6 17.Nc4 Nc7 with an edge for white) axb4 15.axb4 Ng6 (The engine also likes 15…Bf5) 16.b5 Bg4
17.Nd2? (This is a definite mistake which loses, more prudent is 17.Bxe4! removing black’s most dangerous minor piece: 17…dxe4 18.Nd2 with a definite advantage to white) 17…Nxd2 18.Qxd2 Nh4! (Suddenly black has whipped up a very dangerous attack with threats of 19…Nf3+ and 19…Nh3)
19.f3!? (19.Be2 Bh3! 20.g3 wins an exchange, so Taimanov gives up a pawn) Qxe3+ 20.Qxe3 Rxe3 21.fxg4 Rxd3 22.bxc6 bxc6 23.Ne2 Rd2 24.Rf2 h6 25.Rbf1 Ng6 26.h3 f6 (This is clearly winning for black) 27.Ng3 Rxd4 winning a second pawn, but Black failed to convert and only drew!
iii) Positional methods of defence
The following game shows an important method of defence.
Pedrag Nikolic (2635) – Vladimir Kramnik (2790)
Monte Carlo Blindfold 1998
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Nc3 c6 5.cxd5 exd5 6.Bg5 Be7 7.e3 Bf5 8.Bd3 Bxd3 9.Qxd3 (9.Bxf6 is more accurate: 9…Bxf6 10.Qxd3, so black has to waste time getting his b8 knight to a good square like f6) 9…Nbd7 10.0-0 0-0 11.Rab1 a5
Zolotnik makes the pertinent observation that the minority attack is nothing like as effective with the white squared bishops off the board. One of the main reasons for this is that the black knights can gain a strong square on c4. White should manoeuvre patiently.
12.a3 Ne4 13.Bxe7 Qxe7
14.b4? (Too stereotyped blindly following a standard plan without considering the subtle differences with a standard minority attack when the white squared bishops are on the board. b4 had to be prepared properly, e.g. 14.Qc2 f5 15.b4 axb4 16.axb4 Ra3 17.Rb3 with equality) 14…b5! (The point, a Black knight will land on c4 blocking the c-file pressure)
15.Qc2 axb4 16.axb4 Nd6 17.Rb3 Nb6!
Let us absorb Vladimir Kramnik’s assessment of this position:
“The position has clarified. The knight goes to c4 blocking all White’s play on the queenside, after which the main events transfer to the kingside, where Black has more resources. Although in general the play seems nothing spectacular, in reality it is a classic game for the Carlsbad structure.
18.Ne5 Rfc8 19.Nd3 Nbc4! The other knight can move over to the kingside at its leisure. 20.Nc5Re8 21.h3 g6 22.Rc1
22…Ra7 (22…Nf5 is probably even better) 23.Qd1 h5 24.Kh1 Qg5 25.Rbb1 Rae7 26.Ra1
Black has skilfully moved his forces over to the new theatre of battle on the kingside: the end is close for White.
26…Nf5 Black could have sacrificed the knight on e3 now: 26…Nxe3! 27.fxe3 Rxe3 28. Ra2 Nf5 29.Rf2 Qg3 30.Re2 Rxe2 31.Nxe2 Qf2 winning
27.Ra2 Ncxe3! 28.fxe3 Rxe3 29.Rf2
29…Qg3! wins 30.Qd2Nh4! 31.Nd7 Nxg2! White’s king will die of exposure
Back to the game 30.Qd2 Amazingly 30.Kg1 holds according to our silicon friend 30… Nxd4
31.Rcf1?( Again 31.Kg1 holds) Nf5! with crushing threats 32.Rxf5 gxf5 33.Nd1 Re1 34.Kg1 R8e2 35.Qc3 Rxd1 0-1
Although Black muffed the final attack in the game allowing white a couple of chances to hold on, the really educational part of the game was from moves 14 to 26.
Another defensive method is the advance c6-c5-c4. Here is another lesson from Vlad:
Topalov (2740) – Kramnik (2790)
Linares 15th 1998
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Nc3 Be7 5.Bg5 h6 6.Bh4 0-0 7.e3 b6 8.Be2 Bb7 9.Bxf6 Bxf6 10.cxd5 exd5 11.b4 The bishop on b7 is misplaced compared with the Anand game above where it sits on e6 11…c6 12.0-0 a5
13.b5 (This is the most common move which scores better than the alternatives which are 13.a3 and 13.bxa5. It is interesting that Stockfish evaluates them all roughly the same) 13…c5! 14.Re1 (The modern main line is 14.Ne5 cxd4 15.exd4 Bxe5 16.dxe5 d4 17.Na4 Qg5 18.Bg4 Qxe5 19.Nxb6 Ra7 with an edge to white) 14…Re815.Rc1 Nd7 16.g3 (16.dxc5 Nxc5 17.Nd4 Qd6=) 16…Nf8 17.Na4?!
This move is controversial, probably better is 17.dxc5 bxc5 18.Na4 c4 19.Nc5 19…Qb6 (19…Bc8 is interesting) 20.Nxb7 Rxb7 21.a4 Ne6= 17…c4! Fixing the structure, so the weak spots b6,c6 will be less accessible. The bishops will enable black to position his pieces in such a way, as to enable activity on the kingside. The e4 break is hard for White to achieve. 18.Bf1 Qd6 (18…Qc7 is also good) 19.Bg2 Rad8 20.h4 Ne6 (The black squared bishop should be improved to the a3-f8 diagonal where it can influence the game more viz. 20…Qc7 21.Nc3 Be7, black is a bit better) 21.Nc3 g6 22.Nd2 Ba8 (Black has a total clamp on the position stopping e4, Stockfish assesses this position as pretty equal)
23.h5?! [This looks slightly suspect, after 23.f4!? with the idea of transferring the knight to e5, 23…Ng7 24.Bh3 (24.Nf3 Nf5!) 24…Qc7 25.Nf3 Be7 26.Ne5 Ba3 27.Rc2 Bb4 black is to be preferred]
Back to the game: 23…g5 24.Nf1 Be7 The first part of a regrouping of the black forces that improves his position considerably
25.g4?!Weakening the h2-b8 diagonal which is dangerous as Black has a dark squared bishop; white’s own bishop is becoming bad with the self induced structural changes on the kingside. 25.Nh2 is superior, e.g. 25…f5 26.g4 f4 27.e4! dxe4 28.Bxe4 Nxd4 29.Bxa8 Rxa8 30.Ne4 Qd5 31.Nf3 Nxf3+ 22.Qxf3 and the strong knight on e4 compensates for the pawn minus.
Black has a clear regrouping plan of Bc7, Qd6,Bc8,Rf8 and f5 crashing through
30.Nf5 Stopping f5 for good but at a great cost. The dark squares around White’s king look sickly and White’s light squared bishop is a bad bishop now. 30…Nxf5 31.gxf5 Bb4 32.Kg2 Qd6 33.f3 White is positionally busted and must await Black’s final assault 33…Re7 34.Re2 Rde8 35.Rce1 Qf6 36.Bg4
The once proud bishop on g2 is now choked by its own foot soldiers.
36…Bd6 37.Qd1 Bb4 38.Qc2 Rd8 39.Rd1 Bc8 40.e4? The f5-pawn is a source of great trouble for white, so he panics and defends it: but this last move before the time control is a decisive mistake. White had to sit tight and make Black find the winning breakthrough: 40.Na2 lasts longer. 40…Bxc3 41.e5 [41.Qxc3 dxe4 42.fxe4 (42.Rxe4 42…Rxe4 43.fxe4 Bb7 44.Qe3 c3 45.d5 c2 46.Rc1 Rc8 with a huge advantage) 42…Bb7 43.Bf3 g4! 44.Bxg4 Rxe4 45.Rxe4 Bxe4+ 46.Kf2 Bd3-+]
41…Rxe5!! 42.dxe5 (42.Rxe5 Bxd4! 43.Re2 Bc3 winning with the simple idea of d5-d4) 42…Bxe5 The triumph of strategical concept, despite an exchange sacrifice black controls the whole board and pawns c4-d5 will start rolling. 43.Rde1 Bc7 44.Re8+ Kg7 45.Rxd8 Bxd8 46.Rd1 Bb7 47.f4 d4+ 48.Bf3 d3 0-1 (49.Qxc4 Qb2+ 50.Kg3 Bxf3 51.Kxf3 Qe2+ wins)
Plan B: attack in the centre with e3-e4
This plan can occur in two forms depending on where White’s Ng1 is developed to e2 or f3. The first one is based on creating a pawn centre by means of f3 and e4. The second way of playing e4 is with the king’s knight on f3 leading to an IQP position.
The game below shows the first Soviet World Champion Mikhail Botvinnik at work against possibly the strongest player never to become the top dog: Paul Keres.
11.Rab1 (The author points out that Stockfish likes Botvinnik’s choice here, but modern players usually play 11.f3 immediately) 11…Bd6?! (This move is based on a tactical oversight,11…a5 is better here) 12.Kh1 Ng6?! Continuing the faulty plan
13.f3! Be7 (A loss of time, Black realised that his intended 13…h6? fails to 14.Bxf6! Qxf6 15.e4!Qh4 16.e5!) 14.Rbe1 (14.e4 dxe4 15.fxe4 Ng4 16.Bd2 c5 17.Nd5 cxd4! is unclear which was not Botvinnik’s style)
14…Nd7?! (It’s odd to waste more time simply exchanging off the dark squared bishops, 14…Be6 is better or 14…h6 15.Bxf6 Bxf6 16.Ng3 Nf8 17.Qf2 Bh4 18.e4 with a small edge to white) 15.Bxe7 Rxe7 16.Ng3 Nf6
17.Qf2! White is clearly better now as he prepares e4 and has a lead in development 17…Be6? (A kind of pseudo development of the bishop subjecting black’s minor pieces to a potential pawn roller, better is 17…b6 but Black is struggling anyway.) 18.Nf5
Better is 18.f4! which Stockfish assesses as winning already viz: 18…Bd7 19.f5 Nf8 20.e4! dxe4 21.Ngxe4 Nxe4 22.Nxe4 f6 23.Qg3 with a very strong attack for White: look at Black’s pieces cowering waiting for the inevitable end.
18…Bxf5 19.Bxf5 Qb6 20.e4! dxe4 21.fxe4 Rd8
22.e5! (Pushing the defensive knight away and preparing Ne4-Nd6) 22…Nd5 23.Ne4 Nf8 24.Nd6 Qc7
25.Be4! Stockfish likes Botvinnik’s move 25…Ne6 26.Qh4 g6 27.Bxd5! Removing one of Black’s best pieces, it’s now close to the end for Black 27… cxd5 28.Rc1 Qd7 29.Rc3 Rf8
A crushing strategic win for Botvinnik. One of the main reasons that Keres never got to the pinnacle was Botvinnik’s continual strategic mastery over him. Keres was a brilliant theoretician and attacking player but Botvinnik had clearly worked out how to play against Keres.
Plan C: kingside attack with both sides castled on the kingside
This plan can take two forms: The first is based on the advance f4 and is sometimes accompanied with the e4 break. The second is characterised by the advances g4 and h4.
The first plan here is demonstrated by Tigran Petrosian:
11.a3!? Not the commonest move but not without bite 11…Ne4 (A common response, but 11…Bg4 is ok as well) 12.Bf4
12…Ng5 (An interesting move; 12…f5 is the main line bolstering the knight but conceding e5; the author suggests a move not in Megabase which is surprising 12…Bf5!? although it involves a pawn sacrifice) 13.Nxg5
13.Ne5 is interesting keeping all the pieces on followed by f3 and e4 securing a space advantage with a full board of pieces, e.g. 13…g6 14.Rae1 Nge6 15.Bg3 Ng7 16.f3 Nf5 17.Bf2 Be6 18.Kh1 Nd6 19.e4 with an edge
13…Bxg5 14.Bxg5 Qxg5 15.Rae1 Bd7 16.f4 Qh6 17.Qf2
17…Re7? (17…f5! had to played despite weakening the e5 square and leaving Black with a bad bishop, White would improve his worst piece with 18.Nb1! b6! 19.Nd2 c5 20. Nf3 c4 Black has got counterplay on the queenside, but White is definitely better with a tough fight ahead.) 18.f5! g6 19.e4! dxe4
20.Nxe4 (20.Qg3! is very strong as well: 20…Bxf5 21.Rxf5 Qg7 22.Rf2 Qxd4 23.Rxe4 Rxe4 24.Nxe4 winning; 20…e3 21.Ne4 is very good, e.g. 21…Kh8 22.Qd6 Rae8 23.Qf6+ Kg8 24.Nd6 wins) 20…gxf5 21.Qg3+ Kh8 22.Nd6 f4 Trying to complicate matters
Plan D: kingside attack with opposite side castling
This game is a total annihilation of Black in an exciting good old fashioned kingside hack. Black had his chances but finding the accurate moves when subjected to such a brutal direct attack is not easy.
9.Ng3!? (This move was played in the 32nd game of the Capablanca-Alekhine World Championship match)9…h6 (Capablanca responded rather ineptly 9…Ne8 10.h4!? Ndf6 11.Qc3 Be6 12.Nf5 Bxf5 13.Bxf5 Nd6 14,Bd3 h6 15.Bf4 Rc8 16.g4!? Nfe4? 17,g5 h5 18.Bxe4 Nxe4 19.Nxe4 dx34 20.Qxe4 and white won with his extra pawn.) 10.h4 Nb6! (10…hxg5? is asking for a kicking 11. hxg5 g6 12.gxf6 Nxf6 13.Qd2 Re8 14.0-0-0 and white has a pleasant initiative) 11.Qc2 (11.Nh5!? leads to a perpetual: 11…Nbd7 12. Qf3 Re8! 13. Nxg7! Kxg7 14.Bxh6+ Kxh6 15.Qf4+ Kg7 16.Qg5 drawn) 11…Re8 12.0-0-0 12…hxg5 (Very brave: Stockfish likes this as well as 12…Nc4) 13.hxg5 Ne4 14.Bxe4 dxe4
15.f4 Deliberately complicating the game by not playing one of the two obvious recaptures on e4, 15.Ncxe4 leads to an unbalanced ending: 15…Bxg5 16. Rh5 Bh6 17.Rdh1 f5 18.Nxf5 Bxf5 19.Qxf5 Qxd4 20.Nf6+ gxf6 21.Rxh6 Qc4 22.Qxc4 Nxc4 23.Rg6+ Kf7 24.Rgxf6+ Ke7 25.Rf7+ when white has three pawns for a knight: this looks better for Black as his pieces are very active.
15.Qxe4 Bxg5 16.Qh7+ Kf8 17.Nce4 Be6 18.Nh5 Bh6 19.Nhf6 Ke7 20.Nxe8 Qxe8 is unclear but probably better for Black
15…Nd5 16.Ngxe4 (16.Rh2 is interesting when 16…f5! is the best reply which may well refute the attack)
16…Nxe3 (Greedy but sufficient to draw at least! The engine likes 16…f5! or 16…Bb4 which seem to be good for Black) 17.Qf2 Nxd1? (17…f5 definitely holds, I will leave the reader to spend some time with the silicon brain) 18.Qh4 f5! 19.Qh5
Kf8?? The losing mistake, taking yet more material leads to a probable draw viz.: 19…fxe4 20.g6 Bh4 21.Rxh4 Qxh4 22.Qxh4 Nxc3 23.bxc3 e3 White is left with a queen and pawns against a host of pieces but can probably draw as Black’s king is horribly exposed. 24.Qh7+ Kf8 25.Kd1! Using the king to stop the dangerous e-pawn25… Bf5 26.Ke1 e2 27.g4 Bxg4 28.Qh8+ Ke7 29.Qh4+ Kd6 30.Qxg4 Re7 31.f5 Rf8 with a black edge 20.Qg6 Kg8 21.Rh7 Qxd4
22.Qh5! Probably the move Black overlooked Qe3+ 23.Kc2 1-0
Plan E: play in positions with both sides castled on the queenside
Here is an impressive game from the World Championship candidate.
12.Nf3!? (White decides to save a tempo by omitting the customary h3 )12…Nf6 (12…Be6 13.Kb1 Nf6 14.Ne5 Ng4 15.Nxg4 Bxg4 16.Rde1 0-0-0 with equality; 12…Bg4 13.Kb1 Nf6 14.Rc1 Bxf3 15.gxf3 0-0-0 16.Qb3 Kb8 17.a4 with a slight edge to White) 13.Kb1 Be6 14.Ka1 (Preparing the minority attack, 14.Rc1 is another idea) 14…0-0-0 15.Na4
Kb8?! (14…Nxa4 removing the potentially annoying knight is better) 16.Rc1 Rhe8 (16…Nxa4 17.Qxa4 Ne4 18.Rc2 Rhe8 19.Rhc1 f6 20.Ne1 Bf5 with a slight edge for White) 17.Nc5 Bc8 18.b4 (Hasty, 18.Nd2 stops Black’s next move) 18…Ne4
19.a4 (The minority attack continues even though the kings are on the queenside, 19.b5! cxb5 20.Bxb5 Rg8 21.Qb2 Be6 leads to a slight edge for White) 19…Nd6! (Fighting for c4) 20.Nd2 (20…h5 21.Rhd1 g6 22.a5 Nd7 23.Nf3 a6 is roughly equal) 20…Qf6 21.Rhf1
21…Bf5?! (This is a typical move in the Carlsbad structure, but the bishop is a good defensive piece here holding black’s structure together) 22.Bxf5 Qxf5 23.Qxf5 Nxf5 24.a5
Possibly the decisive mistake, the retreat into the corner is better 24…Na8! 25.a6 b6 26.Nd3 Ne7 27.Ne5 f6 28.Nxc6+ Nxc6 29.Rxc6 Nc7 white has a slight edge
25.a6! Undermining the c6-pawn with a definite White edge
Black’s two weaknesses on a7 and c6 are covered. To win the game, White must open the position to increase the bridgehead for his more active rooks. This can be achieved by arranging the opening of the centre/kingside.
39…f6 40.f3 f5 Hindering e4 but White can break with g4 instead 41.Nd3 Ke6 42.Ne5 Rc7 43.g4 fxg4 44.fxg4 h5 45.h3 hxg4 46.hxg4 Kf6 47.Rf1+ Ke6 48.Rf7 Rg8 49.g5 Rb7
50.g6 Zugzwang 1-0
Chapter 3 – Symmetrical pawn structures
The introduction to this section contains some insightful observations about symmetrical positions. This paragraph stood out: “In modern chess, a tiny advantage, evaluated by the engine at 0.20, is already sufficient reason for the player with white to analyse the corresponding continuation in depth.” The reviewer wonders whether this approach is linked to the impressive technique of Magnus Carlsen in grinding out wins from positions with small edges: an impressive example is Carlsen’s win over Nakamura in the Airthings Masters rapid in December 2020 in the anti-Berlin line: 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 4.0-0 Nxe4 5.Re1 Nd6 6.Nxe5 Nxe5 7.Rxe5 0-0 8.Bf1. This game is not covered in this book but is instructive nevertheless.
In section 3.2, Zlotnik enumerates the possible advantages for the side to move in a symmetrical pawn structure situation:
Control of an open file;
Establishment of an outpost;
Active deployment of the pieces.
Control of an open file is such a fundamental concept of chess that this factor alone can win a game. The celebrated game Botvinnik-Alekhine from AVRO 1938 is a superb example of this. Alekhine gets a lousy opening but resists well forcing Botvinnik to show exemplary technique in the endgame. The reviewer will give this game with key positions and a few notes to remind the reviewer of this historic tussle.
Mikhail Botvinnik-Alexander Alekhine AVRO 1938
1.Nf3 d5 2.d4 Nf6 3.c4 e6 4.Nc3 c5 5.cxd5 Nxd5 6.e3 Nc6 7.Bc4 cxd4 8.exd4 Be7 9.0-0 0-0 10.Re1 b6?! Possibly the losing move 11.Nxd5! exd5 12.Bb5 Despite the symmetrical pawn structure Black is now doomed to a passive defence. Weaknesses on the c-file and a slight discoordination of the black pieces give White an easy game in which he can develop his initiative.
12…Bd7? Now after the inevitable exchange of the light-squared bishops the black position becomes even more vulnerable. 13.Qa4 Nb8 Forced 14.Bf4 Bxb5 15.Qxb5 a6 16.Qa4 Keeping the horse on b8 in its stable. 16…Bd6 In order to relieve pressure. 17.Bxd6 Qxd6 18.Rac1 Ra7 19.Qc2! c-file domination
19…Re7 20.Rxe7 Qxe7 21.Qc7 Qxc7 22.Rxc7 After these exchanges the white rook invades the seventh rank. This rook cannot win the game alone, as White must bring in the cavalry. 22…f6! 23.Kf1 23…Rf7 24.Rc8+ Rf8 25.Rc3! g5 A good idea: by pushing his pawns on the kingside, Black reduces the importance of the seventh rank. 26.Ne1 h5
27.h4!! Forcing new weaknesses on the kingside. 27…Nd728.Rc7 28…Rf7 29.Nf3! g4 30.Ne1 Aiming for f4 via d3 30…f5 31.Nd3 f4 The key square is temporarily under control, but the pawn on f4 is another weakness.
32.f3 (32.Nb4 wins a pawn, but Botvinnik doesn’t want to allow any counterplay) 32…gxf3 33.gxf3 a5 34.a4 Kf8 35.Rc6 Ke7 36.Kf2 Rf5 37.b3 37…Kd8 38.Ke2 Nb8
39.Rg6! (39.Rxb6? Kc7 and 40…Nc6 gives Black counter-chances.) 39…Kc7 40.Ne5 Keeping the steed tied up 40…Na6 41.Rg7+ Kc8 42.Nc6 Rf6 43.Ne7+ Kb8 44.Nxd5 Caching in 44…Rd6 45.Rg5 Nb4 46.Nxb4 axb4 47.Rxh5 Rc6 48.Rb5 Kc7 49.Rxb4 Rh6 50.Rb5 Rxh4 51.Kd3 1-0
Alekhine said after the tournament: “Of the 14 games I played in this tournament only once did I feel that my opponent outplayed me – it was the game with Botvinnik in round seven”. Praise indeed.
3.2.2 Establishment of an outpost
“Sometimes it happens that control of an open file is not in itself enough to ensure immediate superiority, in that case the best measure is to establish an output on that file.”
Here is a game from Botvinnik who loved playing positions with isolated pawns.
13.Bh3! Rb8 14.Re1 cxd4 15.exd4 Bb4 16.Rxe8+ Qxe8 17.a3 Bf8 (Better was 17…Bxc3 or 17…Bc8) 18.Qd3 g6 19.Re1 Qd8 20.Ne5 White has a slight pull
21…Bg7 21.f3 Na5 22.Qd1 a6 23.Na2 Nc6 24.Bc3 Qc7 25.Qd2 a5 26.Bb2 Qd6 27.Nc1 Bc8 28.Bf1!? Avoiding exchanging as White has more space 28…Be6 29.Ncd3 Ne7 (A definite error, 29…Nd7 is better)
30.b4! (Squeezing Black) axb4 31.axb4 Ne8 (31…Nd7 is better) 32.b5 f6 33.Ng4 Bd7? The fatal mistake, 33…Nf5 was ok
34.Bc3! (winning the d5-pawn) 34…Nf5 35.Nf4 Qf8?! (35…Qa3 is tougher) 36.Nxd5 Kh8 37.Bb4 Qf7 38.Ne7! Ned6 39.Nxf5 Nxf5 40.d5 Re8
And white won on move 62.
3.2.3 Active deployment of the pieces
Gulko – Radjabov
1.g3 g6 2.Bg2 Bg7 3.d4 d6 4.e4 e5?! A poor move allowing White a definite advantage. Stockfish does not rate this move at all. 5.dxe5
5…dxe5 (Stockfish prefers 5…Bxe5 6.Nf3 but white has a pleasant advantage in both cases] 6.Qxd8+ Kxd8
But the book to see how White exploited his lead in development and more active pieces.
3.3 Breaking the symmetry as a method of defence
Robert Byrne – Bobby Fischer New York 1963 began with a symmetrical structure.
This game looks pretty even. Bobby played the enterprising 12…e5!? to break the symmetry. Eleven moves later the game was over.
This celebrated game had to be included. Black has just played 21…Qd7!
The story goes that the grandmasters watching the game failed to understand what was happening.
Section 3.4 A clash of pawns covers some interesting symmetrical opening sequences such as:
The book contains the antidotes to these lines.
The last subsection is 3.5 Symmetrical structures from various openings.
Here are a couple of positions that are covered in depth:
Carlsen won an impressive game versus Nisipeanu at Medias in 2011.
White has just played 6.dxc3 which looks harmless, however in Radjabov-Svidler Geneva 2017, Black responded with some inaccurate moves and was lost at move 19! Book the book to find out how.
Part 2 of this publication covers Typical methods of play in three chapters.
Chapter 4 Restricted Mobility in the KID covers typical methods of play, particularly for White, but also for Black whrn the centre is blocked.
Two cautionary tales for White are given early on in the chapter showing White being blown away on the kingside. Here is one of them:
This position is pretty standard fare in the KID. White has just played 18.Nb5 and Black boots the knight with 18…a6. This manoeuvre by White looks odd to lose time, but b6 has been weakened and this is significant. White should play 19.Nc3! g4 20.Na4 g3 21.Nb6 Rb8 22.Bg1 gxh2 23.Bf2 Bd7 24.Nxd7! removing the dangerous bishop and White is slightly better.
So tried 19.Na3? and got stuffed.
The author discusses the main White methods to counter Black’s expansion with f7-f5:
The manoeuvre Nf3-h4
Pinning the Nf6 with Bc1-g5
Playing an early g2-g4
Exchanging pawns with exf5 gxf5, followed by f2-f4/f3
The reviewer will show a couple of typical positions involving each idea and leave the reader to get the book to study further.
White has just played 8.Bg5 which is named after Petrosian.
White played 17.g4!
Black has just played 14…f5. White played 15.exf5 gxf5 16,f4
Chapter 5 Should we exchange the fianchettoed bishop (EFB)?
This considers the matter of exchanging Black’s fianchettoed bishop in the KID, Sicilian Dragon and the Sicilian Accelerated Dragon. As the author points out, sometimes White seeks the exchange for attacking reasons but Black will also seek to exchange his bishop for positional reasons in say the Maroczy Bind.
The position below shows a common idea in the KID:
12… Bxh6! 13.Qxh6 Kg8! 14.h5 Ng8! 15.Qe3 g5! and the kingside remains closed.
Here is a mainline Dragon position from a game Geller-Kortchnoi Moscow 1971.
In this Dragon tabiya, Geller played 12.Bh6? which looks logical to exchange the bishop. Timing is everything and in this position Black has a well known riposte 12…Bxh6 13.Qxh6 Rxc3! 14.bxc3 a5!? (14…Qa5 and 14…Qc7 are also both good enough for equality)
Black achieved an excellent position but muffed the attack allowing Geller off the hook. The players agreed a draw when Geller was much better.
Here is a standard Maroczy Bind position in the Accelerated Dragon.
Black has just played 12…Nd7 offering an exchange of dark squared prelates. White has two plans here:
Gain space on the queenside with 13.b4 allowing the bishop exchange or retain the dark squared bishop 13.Be3 keeping it to guard the dark squares and avoiding exchanges as White has more spaces.
White played the inaccurate 13.Kh1?! after 13…Bxd4 14.Qxd4 Qb6 and black is equal.
The author gives a good introduction to the Maroczy style positions.
Chapter 6 – the d5-square in the Sicilian.
The chapter covers what is says in the title. The typical strategic manoeuvres for both White and Black are covered in the Boleslavsky’s Variation of the Najdorf, the Sveshnikov and related systems.
Topics covered are:
The power of Nd5
Bishops of opposite colours
Chapter 7 is an excellent set of exercises followed by Chapter 8 Solutions.
This publication is one of the best middlegames I have read and the reviewer definitely recommends this book for all club players and above.
FM Richard Webb, Basingstoke, Hampshire, 1st August 2021
“Every chess player wants to improve, but many, if not most, lack the tools or the discipline to study in a structured and effective way. With so much material on offer, the eternal question is: “”How can I study chess without wasting my time and energy?””
Davorin Kuljasevic provides the full and ultimate answer, as he presents a structured study approach that has long-term improvement value. He explains how to study and what to study, offers specific advice for the various stages of the game and points out how to integrate all elements in an actionable study plan. How do you optimize your learning process? How do you develop good study habits and get rid of useless ones? What study resources are appropriate for players of different levels? Many self-improvement guides are essentially little more than a collection of exercises.
Davorin Kuljasevic reflects on learning techniques and priorities in a fundamental way. And although this is not an exercise book, it is full of instructive examples looked at from unusual angles. To provide a solid self-study framework, Kuljasevic categorizes lots of important aspects of chess study in a guide that is rich in illustrative tables, figures and bullet points. Anyone, from casual player to chess professional, will take away a multitude of original learning methods and valuable practical improvement ideas.”
“Davorin Kuljasevic is an International Grandmaster born in Croatia. He graduated from Texas Tech University and played in USCL 2007 and 2008 for Dallas Destiny, the team that became US champion in both these years. He is an experienced coach and a winner of many tournaments.”
‘Study’ is the operative word here.
When I was learning chess in the 1960s and playing fairly seriously in the 1970s, chess wasn’t something you studied unless you were a top grandmaster. I’d play in club matches and tournaments. I’d read books and magazines because I enjoyed reading them, and, if I learnt something as well then so much the better. It wasn’t anything resembling serious study as you might study a subject at university. In those days, of course, you didn’t have a lot of opportunity to do much else.
In those days we couldn’t have imagined having a multi-million game database and a computer program capable of playing far better than any human on our desk, or being able to play a game at any time against opponents from anywhere in the world.
It’s not surprising, then, that ambitious players at any level are, if they have the time, keen to raise their rating by studying chess seriously.
We also know a lot more than we did, even 20 or 30 years ago, about the teaching and learning processes: lessons that can be applied to chess just as they can to other domains.
In the past, chess books told you what you should learn. Now, we’re seeing books, like this one, that teach you HOW you should learn. There’s a big difference.
Let’s start, controversially, at the end.
Chapter 9: Get organized – create a study plan
The author advises us to create a weekly timetable. Table 9.1 is based on the assumption that you’re at school in the morning, when you can spend 3 hours every afternoon and 2 hours every evening studying chess.
In my part of the world, if you’re an older teen you’re probably going to be at school in the afternoon as well as the morning, and have three hours of homework to do when you get home. Not to mention family commitments, other interests, hanging out with friends, eating, sleeping… I wonder how many chess players actually have time to study 4-5 hours a day, or even 1-2 hours a day, on a regular basis. On the other hand, 12-year-old Abhi Mishra, who has just become the youngest ever Grandmaster, spends at least 12 hours a day studying chess.
Returning to the Preface, the author anticipates your question: who will benefit the most from this book? “In my view, it would be self-motivated players of any level and age who are serious and disciplined about their chess study and have enough time to put the methods from the book into practice.”
If you fall into this category, read on. Even if you don’t: if you only have an hour or two a week to study, rather than 4-5 hours a day, you might still learn a lot.
What we have is 9 chapters looking at different aspects of studying chess, each concluding with a helpful list of bullet points. It’s not just a book of technical advise on how to study, though. There’s a lot of chess in there as well, mostly taken from games you probably won’t have seen before. The first eight chapters have, as is the case with many books from this publisher, some exercises for you to solve, based on the most interesting positions from the chapter. The tactics and middle-game chapters also have questions for you to answer: do they tally with the author’s solutions given in Chapter 10?
In Chapter 1, the author asks “Do you study with the right mindset?”. Now, he doesn’t mean mindset in this sense, although that will come in useful. Instead, he suggests that mastering chess requires both time and intelligent study. There’s no substitute for study time. He quotes the example of English GM Jonathan Hawkins, only an average club player at 18, but through hard work, much of which involved with studying endings, became a GM by the age of 31.
A proper chess study mindset means, in Alekhine’s words, ‘a higher goal than a one-moment satisfaction’. Four typical mistakes are: lack of objectivity, shallow study approach, short-run outlook and playing too much. Kuljasevic talks about the correct balance between playing and studying. He quotes Botvinnik as saying that chess cannot be taught, only learned, which he interprets as meaning that everyone learns in a different way, and that it’s you, rather than your coach, who will make yourself a stronger player.
Kuljasevic was shocked to read a well known GM’s coaching advert: “I have produced numerous top-level players”. “Excuse me, but chess players are not ‘produced’! Every chess player’s learning process is their unique experience that cannot be replicated on someone else.”
These days there are many study methods available, and Chapter 2 provides a guide to fifteen you might consider, and giving them all scores out of 5 for practical relevance, study intensity and long-term learning potential. The three methods which score a maximum of three fives are Deep Analysis, Simulation (pretending to play a real game by guessing the next move) and Sparring (playing a pre-arranged game or match with a training partner for a specific reason).
As an example of what is meant by Deep Analysis, this is Aronian – Anand (Zurich 2014) with Black to play. Anand played 58… Ke7 here, but Re1+ would have been a more stubborn defence. Kuljasevic wanted to prove that White can always win positions of this type, and here spends seven pages doing just that.
Of course such an approach won’t suit everyone, but this chapter will help all readers determine the most useful methods for them. The point is not so much the relevance or otherwise of this particular ending, but the process itself used to analyse it.
Chapter 3 is about identifying your study priorities. At this point the author divides his readership into five categories:
Intermediate player (1500-1800 Elo)
Advanced player (1800-2100 Elo)
Improving youngster (1900-2200 Elo)
Master-level player (2100-2400 Elo)
Strong titled player (2400+ Elo)
He suggests that, in general, you should spend 10% of your time on openings, 25% on tactics 25% on endgames, 20% on middlegames and 20% on general improvement. What proportion of your study time do you spend on openings? I thought so!
He then makes suggestions about how readers in each category might prioritise their studies.
If you’re an intermediate player you should concentrate on improving your tactical and endgame skills, while choosing a simple opening repertoire. Once you reach 1800 strength you can start working on more strategically complex openings. Club standard players should spend a large proportion of their time studying endings (Jonathan Hawkins would agree, as would Keith Arkell) and players of all levels would benefit from solving endgame studies on a regular basis.
Chapter 4 is about choosing the right resources for your study plan. Here we have a list of online resources: chess websites, the categories for which they are suitable, and, in each cases, the specific study opportunities they offer. Then we look at the best websites for each of the study methods from Chapter 2. An extensive list of recommended books for each of the five categories of player from Chapter 3 follows, arranged by subject matter. The books include classics by authors such as Alekhine, Spielmann and Chernev as well as more recent books. GM Grivas is quoted: “Reading the autobiographical games collections of great past players is like taking lessons with some of the greatest players in history”. Unlike Kuljasevic, I’m not convinced that Chernev’s Logical Chess, excellent though it is for novices, is suitable for anyone much over 1800, though. There’s also some very useful advice on the best way to use ChessBase and other database software.
Chapters 5 to 8 each focus on one specific aspect of chess: openings, tactics, endings and middlegames.
Chapter 5 tells you how to study your openings deeply. The author starts with a warning: “I have met many people, and I’m sure you have, too, who have fallen into the trap of spending too much time studying openings. If they were to study other aspects of the game as zealously as openings, I am sure that they would be more complete, creative, and, most likely, stronger chess players. Young players and their coaches should especially keep this in mind.” He quotes, with approval, Portisch’s opinion: “Your only task in the opening is to reach a playable middle game”, and advises simplicity and economy when deciding on your openings. The study material in this chapter, then, is more suited for master level players and above.
This, for example, is an example of a ‘static tabiya’: you may well recognise it as coming from the Breyer Variation of the Ruy Lopez.
“This is one of the most well-known opening tabiyas, not only in the Ruy Lopez, but in chess in general. Over 1000 tournament games have been played from this position, from the club to the super-GM level. There is something appealing about this static type of structure for both sides as it contains a lot of potential for creative strategic play. I would like to present my brief analysis of a fairly rare idea: 17. Be3!?”
17. Bg5 is usually played here, meeting 17… h6 with Be3, happy to spend a move weakening the black king’s defences. Be3 has a different attacking plan in mind: Nf3-h2-g4-h6+ and possibly also Qf3. This is discussed over 3½ pages: I think you have to be a very stong player with a lot of study time available to go into this sort of detail, though.
Chapter 6 advises you to ‘Dynamize’ your tactical training. We’re all used to solving puzzles where we play combinations to win material or checkmate the enemy king. We could do more than that, though, by studying dynamic positions, complicated, double-edged tactical positions and positional sacrifices. We can also improve our tactical imagination by solving endgame studies and problems.
At the end of this chapter we get the chance to take a tactics test: “20 exercises consisting of tactical puzzles, positions for analysis, endgame studies, and problems for the development of dynamics and imagination”.
It’s Black’s move in this tactical puzzle. Your challenge is to solve it blindfold.
This is taken from Xie Jun – Galliamova (Women’s World Championship 1999). Black played 30… Qc7 here and eventually lost. She should have preferred 30… Qc8! (Nd2+ also wins) 31. Rc1 Qg4!, an attractive geometric motif winning either rook or queen.
Here, by contrast, is an endgame study, composed by FK Amelung in 1907. It’s White to play and win. Again, you’re challenged to solve it without moving the pieces.
The solution is 1. Rd8+ Ke1 2. Re8+ Kd2 3. Nc3! c1Q+ 4. Nb1+ Kd1 5. Rd8+ Ke1 6. Rf8! and wins.
There’s a lot more to tactics training than sac, sac, mate!
Studying endings can seem rather dull, so it’s good to know that Chapter 7 tells you how to make your endgame study more enjoyable. Kuljasevic advises that, instead of reading books from beginning to end you look at practical examples, including your own games, and, (yes, again) endgame studies. He agrees with Capablanca that “Study of chess should commence with the third and final phase of a chess game, the endgame”.
Chapter 8 is all about strategy: how to systemize your middlegame knowledge. This is the hardest aspect of chess to study. The author looks at studying the pawn structures that might arise from your opening repertoire in a systematic way, and then goes on to discuss piece exchanges: understanding when exchanges might be favourable or unfavourable rather than just seeing them as a way to simplify towards an ending.
The chapter concludes with a short quiz on this subject. Here’s the first question: would you advise White to trade rooks, to give Black the option of trading, or to move his rook away?
This was Mamedyarov – Carlsen Baku 2008
White correctly moved his rook away, playing 25. Rf1, and later won after a Carlsen blunder. The coming kingside attack will be much stronger with the rook on the board, and Black can do nothing on the c-file.
Chapter 9, as we’ve seen, looks at how you might devise your own study plan – on the assumption that you have several hours a day to study, and Chapter 10 provides solutions to the quiz questions.
So, what to make of all this? I found it an extremely impressive book on an increasingly important aspect of chess: ‘how to learn’ as opposed to ‘what to learn’. Davorin Kuljasevic has clearly put an enormous amount of thought and hard work into writing it. If you’re within the target market – you want to improve your chess and have a lot of time available for that purpose – I’d give this book a very strong recommendation.
Even if you only have a few hours (or even less) a week, rather than a few hours a day to set aside for chess study, you’re sure to find much invaluable advice about how to make the most of your time.
There’s a lot of great – and highly instructive – chess in the book as well, so you might enjoy it for that alone. Much of it, though, I felt, was aimed more at the higher end of the rating scale. It would also be good to read a book on how to study chess written more for average players with limited study time.
Kuljasevic’s previous book (there’s an excellent review here) was shortlisted for FIDE’s 2020 Book of the Year, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this book was similarly honoured. He’s clearly an exceptional writer as well as an exceptional coach.
“Grandmaster Grivas presents the reader an unique and massive amount of amazing puzzles including their historical background. All the most famous and rare tactical themes are covered, promising the read of the year!”
“Efstratios Grivas (30.03.1966) is a highly experienced chess trainer and chess author. He has been awarded by the International Chess Federation (FIDE) the titles of International Chess Grandmaster, FIDE Senior Trainer, International Chess Arbiter and International Chess Organiser.
His main successes over the board are the Silver Medal Olympiad 1998 (3rd Board), the Gold Medal European Team Championship 1989 (3rd Board) and the 4th Position World Junior Championship U.20 1985. He has also won 5 Balkan Medals (2 Gold – 1 Silver – 2 Bronze) and he was 3 times Winner of the International ‘Acropolis’ Tournament. He has also in his credit the 28 times first position in Greek Individual & Team Championships and he has won various international tournaments as well.
He was also been awarded five FIDE Meals in the Annual FIDE Awards (Winner of the FIDE Boleslavsky Medal 2009 & 2015 (best author) – Winner of the FIDE Euwe Medal 2011 & 2012 (best junior trainer) – Winner of the FIDE Razuvaev Medal 2014 (Trainers’ education) and has been a professional Lecturer at FIDE Seminars for Training & Certifying Trainers.
He has written 95 Books in Arabic, English, Greek, Italian, Spanish & Turkish. Since 2009 he is the Secretary of the FIDE Trainers’ Commission and since 2012 the Director of the FIDE Grivas Chess International Academy (Athens).”
This large tactical tome is action packed full of great tactics and some exciting, instructive games. It is an ideal companion for trainers and players who seek to develop their recognition of dozens of mating patterns. All these mating motifs are shown in constructed cut down diagrams followed by many different examples from real games with the checkmating ideas demonstrated with both colours and rotated to aid practising recognising them in different forms thus helping to form a kind of brain muscle memory for these crucial motifs.
The tactics are taken from a mixture of old classics and modern games.
I expect that most older players can remember going through many tactics/ puzzle books on their road to learning the game and this book is another excellent addition to this genre.
The book is divided into five parts:
Part 1 A Tactical World
Part 2 Tactical Play
Part 3 Basic Mates
Part 4 Combinative Mates (Queen & Rook)
Part 5 Combinative Mates (Bishop, Knight and Pawn)
Part 1 A Tactical World is a thoughtful introduction into the world of tactics with thoughts on Tactical Education and a brief history of the development of chess schools of thought.
Four very famous and brilliant games are then presented with objective modern analysis which points out not only the exciting attacking opportunities but also the defensive possibilities. The author is mindful of the fact that tactical patterns help defensive prowess as well as attacking acumen.
The four games are a mixture of old and new:
The Immortal Game Adolf Anderssen v Lionel Kieseritzky London 1851 (Offhand game)
The EverGreen Game Adolf Anderssen v Jean Dufresne Berlin 1852 (Offhand game)
The Rainbow Game Gregory Serper v Ioannis Nikolaisis St Petersburg 1993
The Chess Game Garry Kasparov v Veselin Topalov Wijk aan Zee 1999
I can remember playing through the two Adolf Anderssen games as a novice and being really impressed by the beautiful combinations and of the course the queen sacrifices. They are a must for any book on tactics.
The two modern games are also superb and are obviously of a much higher defensive standard than the games played in the 1850s.
Garry Kasparov’s win over Veselin Topalov is regarded by many people as his finest game.
The reviewer will not showcase these well known games here as experienced players will be well aware of them and new players should buy the book for a treat. However, I will whet your appetite by showing one position from the Rainbow Game:
White has sacrificed two pieces for a long term attack and two dangerous passed pawns. Black has just played 29…Qe8. How does white continue the attack?
Part 2 Tactical Play
This chapter examines various aspects of attacking play by presenting examples from real play:
Attack Via The Edged Files
Blocking the F6-Square
King In The Box
The King Hunt
The Novotny Interference
Defence & Counter-Attack
The section Attack Via The Edged Files discusses the opening of lines around the opponent’s king, typically the rook file and tactics associated therein.
Here is a nice tactic that could easily be missed in practice.
33…Ra3+! 34.Kxa3 Qa7+ 0-1 35.Kb3 Qa4#
The Blocking The F6 section has some entertaining attacking finishes. Here is a vintage Kasparov finish against his old rival Karpov:
22.Nf6+! Opening up the king (22…Kh8 23.Rh5! mates quickly) 22…gxf6 23.Qxh6 f5 24.Qg5+ Kh8 25.Qf6+ Kg8 26.Rxf5 Ne4
The King Hunt section reminds me of one of my favourite books as a junior player: The King Hunt by W.H. Cozens. Some of the games from that book are included here. I shall show one example here from Lodewijk Prins v Lawrence Day Lugano 1968:
White played the greedy 23.Ne1?? The punishment was a humiliating long, lonely walk to the scaffold for the white king. (23. Kf2 gxf3 24. Bxf3 is about equal) Rh1+ 24.Kf2 g3+! 25.Kxg3 Rxe1! 26.Qxe1 Qxg2+ 27.Kf4 g5+ 28.Ke5 Qe4+ 29.Kf6 (29.Kd6 Rc8 30. b4 Rc6#) Qf5+ 30.Kg7 Qg6+ 31.Kh8 0-0-0# 0-1
A Novotny interference is when the attacking side sacrifices a piece on a square where it can be taken by two different opponent’s pieces – whichever piece captures interferes with the other. Here is a Novotony example that was new to me:
White resigned here as he could not see any defence to 30…Rc1+ 31.Ke2 and 31…d1Q+ winning easily. What did he miss?
He could have won with 30.Rd6!! Rxd6 (30…cxd6 32.f7 wins) 31.g8=Q+ Kd7 32.Qf7+ Kc6 33.Qe8+ Kb6 34.Qe3! pinning the dangerous rook followed by taking it and f7 winning.
The section on the counterattack is didactic and shows some good examples. Here is a game Fischer-Gligoric from Varna 1962.
White clearly has had an initiative with active pieces but his attack has been halted and white’s exposed king will become a factor. His knight is also not really contributing much.
27…h6! (Stockfish prefers 27…Bb4 but also likes the move played) 28.Re3 Bb4 29.gxh6 Qxc2 30.Rg1 Kh7
31.Qg3 (31.Rxg6 does not work because white’s king is too exposed: 31…Kxg6 32. Rg3+ Kh7 33. Rg7+ Rxg7 34.hxg7 Qc1+ 35. Kg2 Qd2+ 36.Kf1 Kg6! wins) Rg8 32.e5
Bxc3! (stopping the knight from getting to g5) 33.Rxc3 Qe4+ 34.Rg2 Rd8! (Very strong, the counterattack is rolling) 35.Re3 Rd1+ 36.Kh2 Qb1 37.Qg4 (37.Rg1 Qxa2+ 38. Kh3 Rxg1 39.Qxg1 a4) Rh1+ 38.Kg3
Qc1? (38…Rh5! is more murderous 39.Qe4 Qc1 40.Rf3 Rd7 activating the other rook kills white) 39.Re4? (39.Qd4 is better) Rd7! Bringing up the reserves 40.Qe2 Qg5+ (40…Qxh6 is even more accurate but the game line is good enough) 41.Qg4 Rd3+ 42.Kf2 Rd2+ 43.Kg3 Rxg2+ 44.Kxg2 Qc1 0-1
Part 3 Basic Mates
As the title suggests, it covers basic checkmates. The chapter is divided into two sections covering the fundamental endgame mates with the pieces and common checkmates occurring at the beginning of the game.
A more experienced reader may think this section is too basic but you would be wrong as the author covers some pretty complex stuff in the endgame such as two knights against a pawn.
Grivas has an excellent section on the Bishop & Knight mate which is not trivial by any means. GM Vladimir Epishin failed to win this ending! I will confess that I had never heard of Delétang’s triangles although I am aware of the techniques to confine the king using triangles. I take my hat off the author for explaining the bishop and knight mate so clearly.
This is a surprising stalemate trap not mentioned in endgame manuals:
1…Nb6+? 2.Kd8! Oops black can only save his bishop by inflicting stalemate on white! A quick win was to be had: 1…Na5 2.Kd8 Ba4 3.Kc8 Bd7+ 4.Kb8 Kc6 5.Ka7 Bc8 6.Kb8 Kd7 7.Ka8 Kc7 8.Ka7 Nc6+ 9.Ka8 Bb7#
Some basic mates at the beginning of the game are covered such as Fool’s Mate, Scholar’s Mate and similar ideas. Importantly, the author considers the defences to Scholar’s mate. Some GM games are included!
Here is an example from a Greco game which is an offshoot of a foolhardy variation of Owen’s Defence.
Greco – NN
1.e4 b6 2.d4 Bb7 3.Bd3 f5?
4.exf5! Bxg2 5.Qh5+ g6 6.fxg6 Nf6
6…Bg7 is better, but there are two busts to this silly line:
7.gxh7+ Kf8 8.Qg6 or even better 7.Qf5! Nf6 8.Bh6!! Bxh6 9.gxh7 Bxh1 10.Qg6+ Kf8 11.Qxh6+ Kf7 12.Nh3! Qf8 13.Qg6+ Ke6 14.Nc3 d5 15.0-0-0 with a winning position
7.gxh7+! Nxh5 8.Bg6#
Part 4 Combinative Mates (Queen & Rook)
Although the author states in the introduction that knowing the names of the mates does not matter, I tend to disagree as a name gives some poetry. There are about 24 different types of mates in this chapter. The reviewer will show a few positions to give the reader a taste:
Here is a famous opening trap with Anastasia’s Mate:
12.Qh5! d5 (12…g6 13.Qh4 is nasty) 13.Qxh7!+ 1-0 (13…Kxh7 14.Rxh5#
The Arabian mate is a common mating motif:
Black’s a pawn is unstoppable, but white has seen further.
37.Qxf7! a1=Q+ 38.Kh2 and black’s extra queen cannot prevent the inevitable mate on h7! 38…Qxf7 39.Rxf7 b6 40,Rh7#
The back row mate (aka corridor mate) is probably one of the commonest tactical themes in chess:
Capablanca muffed the coup de grâce by playing 29.Qa8?? and black resigned obviously believing the future world champion. Black could have saved the game with 29…Rxa2!
White could have won with 29.Rxe8 or even simpler 29.Qb5! Rxb8 (29…c6 30.Rxe8 Qxe8 31.Qb8 Rc1+ 32.Kf2) 30.Qxb8 Kg8 31.Qb3+ or 31.Qa7
Here is another beautiful example of a back rate coupled with a self block mate:
White played 21.Qf5! (with a double threat on the black queen and h7) 21…Re6 (21…Qxf5 22.Rxe8#;Qa4 23.b3! Rxe4 24,bxa4 Re1+ 25.Bf1 wins;21…Qd8 22.Re7!! capturing the rook allows 23.Qxh7+ Kf8 24.Qh8#) 22.d5! Nxd3 23.dxe6 fxe6 24.Qxe6+ Qxe6 25.Rxe6 (25…Nxb2 26.Re7 wins by harvesting the black pawns) Kf7 26.Re2 1-0
No anthology of tactics would be complete without the Opera Mate:
Probably one of the most famous finishes 16.Qb8!+ Nxb8 17.Rd8#
This is an instructive example of Cozio’s Mate:
White looks to be in trouble here. However after 1.Qe7+ Qg5 (1…g5 2.Qe1+ Qg3+ 3.Qxg3#) 2.Qe4+ Qg4 3.Qe3!! black is in zugzwang and will be mated.
Here is an example of Marshall’s mate from a modern game:
White played 36.Ne2?? (36.Qxd1 Rf2 37.Qf1 Rxf1 38.Rxf1 wins as a rook and three pieces will overcome a queen and 3 pawns) overlooking 36…Rf1+ 37.Kxf1 Qf2#
Part 5 Combinative Mates (Bishop, Knight & Pawn)
There are about 11 different types of mates in this chapter. The reviewer will show a few positions to give the reader a taste:
Here is the original Boden’s Mate:
13…d5! 14.Bxd5 Qxc3+ 15.bxc3 Ba3#
Here is an example of the Pony Express mate from Joseph Blackburne:
White appears to have plenty of pieces round his king, but 20…Qg2+! 21.Rxg2 Nh3# is a pretty mate
Here is a example of the Suffocation Mate deep in the ending:
White has just played 84.h7! and black resigned. After 84…Kg7 85.h8Q+! Kxh8 86.Bh6 the black king is trapped in the corner. White mates with the moves 87.Bf8 followed by 88.Kg5, 89.Kh6 and 90.Bg7#
In summary, I recommend this book as an excellent training manual for practising pattern recognition of common mating patterns.
To make the book even better, I would have added a short section on common tactical motifs such as forks, skewers & pins.
FM Richard Webb, Basingstoke, Hampshire, 20th July 2021
Book Details :
Hardcover : 450 pages
Publisher:Thinkers Publishing; 1st edition (1 Mar. 2019)
How to Become a Candidate Master: A Practical Guide to Take Your Chess to the Next Level: FM Alex Dunne
From the publisher:
Surprise yourself and reach higher! This book is based on real amateur games and shows you how an average club player can proceed through the ranks and reach Candidate Master level. Its a hard struggle, nothing comes for free and your path will be strewn with setbacks and disappointments. Just like in real life.
Alex Dunne guides you in the more than 50 games that you will be playing and offers lots of practical, straightforward and effective advice. Slowly but surely, you will improve in all phases of the game: the opening, the middlegame and the endgame. Dunne explains when and how to activate your pieces and how to recognize and punish the errors your opponents are bound to make. At the end of the book, having absorbed these lessons, your experience, technique and confidence will have improved in such a way that your first win against a master will not come as a big surprise.
Alex Dunne is an American FIDE Master, ICCF Correspondence Chess Master and author of more than a dozen chess books. He lives in Sayre, Pennsylvania. This is a revised, improved and extended edition of the 1985 classic.
I’ve always thought that one of the best ways to improve your chess, especially if you don’t have the time or inclination for serious study, is to do two things:
Look at the games of players rated 200-300 points higher than you. Work out what they do better than you, and what you need to do to reach their level. They’re not that much stronger than you so you can think to yourself “Yes, I could do that”.
Look at the games of players of your own strength (best of all, your own games). Look at typical mistakes and work out how you could avoid those mistakes and take your chess up to the next level.
That’s exactly what this book aims to do. However, it was originally published in 1985. It was a best seller in its day, but does it really stand up to the test of time? Was it really worth updating and re-publishing?
Let’s get the title out of the way first. It’s rather misleading: FIDE considers Candidate Masters to be players rated 2200+, whereas this book uses the term to mean USCF Experts: players in the 2000-2199 range. The target market, according to the introduction, is USCF Grade A players: rated 1800-1999, although, as standards are higher now than 35 years ago, I’d put it lower than that.
As Dunne says in his introduction:
It is the design of this book to reveal the difference in play to the 1800 player to enable him to become a Candidate Master.
This book, then, differs from others in that the games contained within are mostly games between 1800+ players and Candidate Masters. These games were mainly selected from 1982 US tournaments with some more modern games included.
So what you get is 50 games, mostly between 1800-1999 rated players and 2000-2199 rated players, and mostly played in 1982. There are two later games, new to this edition, featuring stronger players.
It’s not the only book featuring amateur games. Reinfeld’s 1943 book Chess for Amateurs may have been the first. Older readers will also recall the Euwe and Meiden books, while, more recently, there have been books by the likes of Jeremy Silman and Dan Heisman. You might see Chernev’s Logical Chess Move by Move, although it features games by stronger players, as a book written with a similar purpose in mind.
The games are, as you’d expect, not of especially high quality. I’d also speculate that 1800 or 2000 rated players today are rather stronger than they were 40 years or so ago. Perhaps, because they’ll be more comprehensible to average club players, you’ll find them more instructive than those played by Magnus and his chums. You won’t encounter any brilliant sacrifices or spectacular attacks here, and not much in the way of complicated tactics either: just typical games that you or I might play in tournaments or league matches, where, in most cases, the stronger player displays greater knowledge or skill than his weaker opponent. You’ll even find one or two short draws here, though it’s debatable whether they add anything to the party.
You sit alongside the Candidate Master (or, more accurately, Expert), guessing, if you choose, his (or perhaps her: the players are not identified by name) moves, and are occasionally asked questions which are answered at the end of the chapter.
We’re assured that The analysis has been checked with modern computer engines for accuracy and that Also, a more modern view of some of the openings has been used, but there’s still a dated feel to many of the annotations. I’m not sure without checking how much has actually been changed since the original 1985 edition.
Here’s the first game.
Like many of the games here, it seems on the surface that the CM didn’t do anything especially difficult. The last move was pretty, but at that point everything reasonable would have won. At the same time, Mr 1907 didn’t make any very obvious mistakes. It was more a question of not understanding what was happening at the critical point in the game. I should add that I don’t play the Sicilian Najdorf with either colour: much too hard for me, as it was for poor Mr 1907.
Dunne asks us how important Black’s unusual 6th move (rather than the usual 6… e6) is. Stockfish tells me e6 is equal, but Qc7, amongst other moves, is slightly better for White. Dunne doesn’t say anything very helpful: I’d have thought the point was that White is always going to play Bb3 anyway, while Black may not want to play an early Qc7.
On move 9, Dunne rightly says that 9. O-O is slightly inferior because of tactics on the g1-a7 diagonal, but without mentioning any alternatives. It makes sense to me (and to my fishy friend) to play Be3 before castling. He gives a line starting 9… Nxd4 10. Qxd4 d5 11. Kh1?!, but the engine prefers White here after 11. Be3, thinking that Black would be better to play the immediate 9… d5, threatening to take on e4. It’s still only equal, though.
The critical part of the game is between moves 10 and 13. 10… Na5, to trade off the dangerous bishop, or 10… Be7, to castle the king into safety, are the two moves almost always chosen here, and both of them are absolutely fine and equal. On move 12 Black chose the wrong recapture: Bxc6, not leaving the queen exposed was better. The last chance to stay in the game was to play 13… Be7. The tactical point he may have missed is that 13… b4 14. a5 gives the white bishop access to a4.
Although Black played what looked like natural moves between moves 10 and 13, his position went from equal to totally lost. At one level he lost because he failed to develop his king-side and castle his king into safety. I suppose you could also say he chose a complicated opening variation without having enough understanding and played a few casual moves when more concrete decisions were required, but, without access to 21st century technology it’s understandable that Dunne didn’t mention this explicitly.
Dunne has some interesting views on opening choices: you might or might not agree. In game 16 Mr CM is congratulated on meeting 1. Nf3 with the relatively unusual 1… b6 to get his opponent out of the books, even though he unexpectedly loses the game. But in game 25 Mr 1816 is roundly castigated for choosing the Trompowsky. This is bad strategy on the 1800 player’s part. The weaker player with white has a better chance of gaining a good position by playing book lines.
In other words, weaker players should play book lines while stronger players should try to get weaker players out of the book by playing less usual variations. I can see why he thinks this way, but it might not suit everyone. It might not suit you.
I was interested in the double rook ending in this game.
Mr 1863, playing black, had rather the better of the opening and has now reached this double rook ending where he has the superior pawn formation.
Let’s pick up the story after White’s 29th move.
Dunne rightly and instructively points out that if the rooks were off the board Black would win the pawn ending. He therefore proposes that, instead of 29… g6, suggesting he doesn’t understand the ending, he continues with 29… Rxd1 30. Rxd1 a5! 31. c4 Ra8 32. Rc1 Ke6, when he will have made further progress towards the win. Stockfish has several problems with this: 32. c5, to prevent b5, is equal, 32… b5 would indeed give Black winning chances, and again after 32… Ke6, 33. c5 would be equal.
The game continued:
29… g6 30. Ke3 Ke6 31. h4 h5 32. Ra1 a6
This move passes without comment, but Stockfish prefers to give up the pawn and double rooks on the d-file: something like 32… Rd7 33. Rxa7 Red8, with adequate counterplay.
An instructive moment, I think, demonstrating the important principle that, in rook endings, the initiative is often worth a pawn. No mention in the annotations, though.
33. Ra5! f6? (Poor endgame play – Black allows his pawns to become weakened.) Yes, quite possibly. Dunne’s improvement, Re7, is probably better, but Black missed a tactical defence next move.
34. f5+ Kf7
Here Black could have equalised with 34… gxf5 35. Rxf5 Rd5!, so White should have maintained his advantage by playing 34. c4! to prevent this possibility.
By solid play White has overcome his inferiority of eight moves ago and now owns an advantage. Thus is the advantage frittered away because of the 1800 player’s lack of endgame technique (read: understanding).
White was actually equal (although his position may have been harder to play) 8 moves ago, and the point about Mr 1863’s lack of endgame technique is well made, but there are also analytical errors which can easily be picked up by modern computer engines.
There are other more minor issues as well. You might want to consider, for example, how White’s inaccurate 52nd move gave Black a defensive chance.
One reason for the difference between 1800 and 2100 players is indeed that Mr 2100 is more likely, in a general way, to understand what’s going on in the position, which is what this book is all about. Another reason, though, is that Mr 1800 is more likely to miss tactical points than Mr 2100. The annotations in this book focus more on positional rather than tactical ideas. You might think that, at this level, understanding ideas is more important than getting tactics right: if so, the analytical errors might not concern you too much.
You may well disagree but I found the annotations in general both frustrating and outdated. Frustrating because of Dunne’s tendency to ask questions without providing answers and criticise moves without suggesting improvements. Outdated because of the tactical oversights mentioned above, but also because readers are constantly exhorted to read My System and Basic Chess Endings, rather than more modern, and, at least in the case of My System, more relevant and approachable books. Occasional references to ChessBase have been added but, apart from that there’s little indication that the book is intended for 21st century readers rather than those in the pre-computer age.
The world’s a very different place now. I couldn’t have imagined, half a lifetime ago, that I’d be sitting here with a database of almost 8.5 million games and a free engine which plays far better than any human. We know a lot more now about teaching and learning processes as well.
It’s a great idea for a book, and was pretty good in its day. There’s certainly a lot of excellent general advice and encouragement within the annotations. But, in my opinion, it’s well past its best-before date. I’m afraid it’s only a qualified recommendation then.
Having said that, players of average club standard, say 1400-1800 strength, will certainly learn a lot from it, and, if they like the style and concept (there’s a sample chapter on the publisher’s website), they won’t be too disappointed.
I’d love to see more books written for average players based on amateur games, but I’d prefer to see something with more recent games, more accurate tactical analysis and more interaction between author and reader.
New in Chess have an enviable reputation for publishing excellent books, not to mention an excellent magazine. I’m not convinced that re-publishing outdated books will do much to enhance that reputation.
“Chess has the rare quality that children love it despite the fact that it is good for them. Playing chess is just like life: you have to make plans, take decisions, be creative, deal with challenges, handle disappointments, interact with others and evaluate your actions.
Psychologist and chess teacher Karel van Delft has spent a large part of his life studying the benefits of chess in education. In this guide he provides access to the underlying scientific research and presents the didactical methods of how to effectively apply these findings in practice.
Van Delft has created a dependable toolkit for teachers and scholastic chess organizers. What can teachers do to improve their instruction? How (un)important is talent? How do you support a special needs group? How do you deal with parents? And with school authorities? What are the best selling points of a chess program? Boys and girls, does it make a difference? How do ‘chess in schools’ programs fare in different countries?
This is not a book on chess rules, with lots of moves and diagrams, but it points the way to where good technical chess improvement content can be found. Van Delft offers a wealth of practical advice on how to launch and present a chess program and how to apply the most effective didactics in order for kids to build critical life skills through learning chess.”
“Karel van Delft is a Dutch chess teacher and chess organizer. He holds a Master’s degree in Psychology of the University of Amsterdam and has lectured and published widely on the subject of the benefits of chess in education.”
Chess education is an important subject which has been much discussed over the past decade or more, but, up to now, it hasn’t been the topic of many books, at least in the English language.
Karel van Delft is ideally qualified to write this book. He’s been teaching chess very successfully at all levels for many years and will be known to many of us who have attended the London Chess Conference. His son, Merijn, is an IM whose recent book was favourably reviewed on this site. He generously mentions me twice within these pages.
For whom is the book written? Although there’s very little chess and very few diagrams, there’s an assumption that readers know something about the game and are either already chess teachers, or are interested in teaching chess to young children. For the most part, we’re looking, then, at chess in primary schools, or for children of primary school age.
A couple of quotes from the Introduction:
Chess is a playground for the brain. Children enjoy playing it, and it poses fascinating challenges to their brain. But the game also widens their horizon.
Chess can contribute to the cognitive, social, emotional and meta-cognitive development of children. For children with special needs and other groups, chess can also be a means for empowerment. It helps them to develop self-respect, and to get a grip on themselves and their environment.
In other words, especially for children, chess has many benefits. What are these exactly, and how can chess have a positive effect on the education of children? That is what we examine in this book. We will discuss didactics and teaching methods, the organization of school clubs, scientific research on the benefits of chess education, and chess as a means of emancipation within the scope of school chess and special needs groups.
Chapter 2 is an important look at Didactics in School Chess. Van Delft recommends that lessons should combine instruction and playing, and take place within groups of children at the same level, with, ideally, a maximum of 12 children in each group. If, however, chess is on the curriculum, the classes will be larger and not all children will be motivated.
Chapter 3 is perhaps more controversial: Pre-School Chess, which, by its definition, applies to chess at home rather than at school. We hear about grandmasters – the Polgar sisters and others – who started chess very young. Various ways of encouraging children from the age of 2 upwards to take an interest in chess are suggested, for instance getting them to watch chess videos or a chess engine playing itself. You may well have reservations about whether 2-year-olds should be encouraged to use screens in this way, or, indeed, to use screens at all.
The next few chapters provide checklists for organising school chess clubs and youth tournaments, and, critically, the role of parents is also discussed. The School Chess Club chapter is very revealing: it’s certainly completely different from most school chess clubs I’ve seen, which involve a visiting tutor coming in to teach 20-30 children of different ages and playing strengths, with minimal support from the school. If you showed this to most primary schools here in the UK they’d be horrified: the teachers are under far too much pressure elsewhere to deal with anything like this. On the other hand it’s perfect for anyone wanting to start a professionally run junior chess club within their community.
Chapter 7 is worthwhile for all readers, looking at Fernando Moreno’s work in teaching life skills through chess.
Chapter 8, again, is invaluable, talking about chess, intelligence and teaching highly gifted children. Here, van Delft differentiates between ‘top down teaching’, which is favoured by schools in the Netherlands, and ‘bottom up teaching’, of which the Steps Method is, at least in part, an example. There’s a lot of food for thought for all chess teachers here.
The following chapters look at how to encourage specific categories of chess player: those with visual or hearing impairments, with autism or dyslexia, girls and women, and then, in a catch-all chapter, those with ADHD, Down Syndrome, long-term illnesses or handicaps, and depression. All of this is of vital importance, and should be considered by anyone involved in chess education or administration.
We’re now onto Chapter 15, Class Management, especially useful for those, like me, who struggle in this area. The author provides several pages of helpful advice for chess tutors who may not be trained teachers.
Chapters 16 to 20 cover various aspects of chess instruction, most notably a description of research into the possible academic benefits, with descriptions of the methodology and results of various studies around the world along with constructive criticisms of current research and suggestions for future studies. As you would expect, he uses the work of Fernand Gobet and his colleagues here, but reaches a rather different conclusion.
Gobet is, broadly speaking, critical of the movement to promote chess on the curriculum for it’s perceived academic benefits: “In my view, chess is a great game providing much excitement, enjoyment and beauty on its own. There is no need to justify its practice by alluding to external benefits.”. (The Psychology of Chess Routledge 2019) I agree with Gobet here, but I’m not sure that van Delft would share my views. If you want to make chess more popular by promoting it in schools, though, you’ll probably need to convince them of the potential academic advantages.
Finally, we have Chapter 21, the best part of 120 pages, devoted to an Alphabet of Methods and Teaching Tips for Chess Education. There are dozens of ideas here, some just of one sentence, others taking several pages. No one will want to use all these ideas, but all readers will find something to enhance and enliven their chess tuition.
You may have gathered that this book doesn’t really provide a coherent narrative, but that is of little importance, and I know from personal experience how difficult it is to write on this subject in a logical and structured way.
You should be aware that this book is written from a Dutch perspective. Although you might think our two countries are culturally similar, in fact there are many differences. If you’re interested in this sort of thing you might start by reading this book. Dutch schools are very different from British schools. The Dutch, in general have (and have had since Euwe became World Champion in 1935) a rather more positive view of chess than we do. Dutch chess clubs are also much more suitable for children than our clubs with their evening meetings in less than adequate venues. So things that work in the Netherlands might not work in the UK or elsewhere. If you’re writing for a UK audience you might also want to provide links to, for example, the Delancey UK Chess Challenge and the English Primary Schools Chess Association as well as the ECF.
There are also a few translation problems, although the meaning is usually clear. Page 75, for example, uses the word ‘retardedness’, in relation to autism, which many teachers, parents and advocates here in the UK would consider both inappropriate and offensive. I appreciate that the economics of chess publishing make it impractical, but in an ideal world the book would have been checked through by a native English speaker with appropriate subject knowledge.
There are also many involved in various aspects of childhood who are concerned about the increasing professionalisation of children’s leisure activities and the ‘schoolification’ of childhood, as well as about young children’s screen time. Of course it’s all about striking the right balance, and that balance will vary a lot from one child to another. I’d have liked to see these issues and others discussed. Is it, in general, a good idea to encourage schools to put chess on the curriculum instead of, say, music or PE? Accentuating the positive is all very well, but you can’t always eliminate the negative.
Nevertheless, this book is essential reading for everyone interested in chess education, whether in practice or only in theory. Both established chess teachers and those just setting out will find great ideas to inspire them on every page. Karel van Delft is one of the world’s leading experts on the subject, so the book is an ocean of wisdom. You won’t find everything equally useful, and you might not agree with everything, but then no critical reader will agree with everything in any book on education, no matter what the subject. I wouldn’t say that I disagree with him at all, but that I bring a very different perspective, in part from living in a different country and in part from being a very different person.
The most important aspect of the book for me, on a very personal level, is the understanding that chess has potential social as well as cognitive benefits for a very wide range of young- and not so young – people. We hear a lot about chess ‘making kids smarter’ but not so much about chess ‘making kids happier’, by which I mean genuine long-term benefits rather than short-term fun playing with your friends.
There is certainly a need for more books on the subject of why, how, when, where and by whom chess should be taught, offering a multiplicity of views and perspectives. I hope Karel’s book meets with the success it deserves: you could start by buying a copy yourself.
The Lasker Method to Improve in Chess : Gerard Welling and Steve Giddins
From the book’s rear cover :
“Many club players think that studying chess is all about cramming as much information in their brain as they can. Most textbooks support that notion by stressing the importance of always trying to find the objectively best move. As a result amateur players are spending way too much time worrying about subtleties that are really only relevant for grandmasters.
Emanuel Lasker, the second and longest reigning World Chess Champion (27 years!), understood that what a club player needs most of all is common sense: understanding a set of timeless principles. Amateurs shouldn’t waste energy on rote learning but just strive for a good grasp of the basic essentials of attack and defence, tactics, positional play and endgame play. Chess instruction needs to be efficient because of the limited amount of time that amateur players have available.
Superfluous knowledge is often a pitfall. Lasker himself, for that matter, also studied chess considerably less than his contemporary rivals. Gerard Welling and Steve Giddins have created a complete but compact manual based on Lasker’s general approach to chess. It enables the average amateur player to adopt trustworthy openings, reach a sound middlegame and have a basic grasp of endgame technique. Welling and Giddins explain the principles with very carefully selected examples from players of varying levels, some of them from Lasker’s own games.
The Lasker Method to Improve in Chess is an efficient toolkit as well as an entertaining guide. After working with it, players will dramatically boost their skills, without carrying the excess baggage that many of their opponents will be struggling with.”
“Steve Giddins is a FIDE Master from England, and a highly experienced chess writer and journalist. He compiled and edited The New In Chess Book of Chess Improvement, the bestselling anthology of master classes from New In Chess magazine. In 2019 Giddins published, together with Gerard Welling, the highly successful chess opening guide Side-Stepping Mainline Theory (ISBN 9789056918699).”
“Gerard Welling is an International Master and an experienced chess trainer from the Netherlands. He has contributed to NIC Yearbook and Kaissiber, the freethinker’s magazine on chess openings. In 2019 Welling published, together with Steve Giddins, the highly successful chess opening guide Side-Stepping Mainline Theory (ISBN 9789056918699).”
Most instructional chess books fall, broadly speaking, into one of two categories.
There are those, often written by younger players, which emphasise studying recent grandmaster games, teach openings by encouraging you to memorise long variations, provide annotated games with reams of computer-generated lines, offer very hard puzzles from top level competitions, and sometimes suggest you devise a timetable for study, setting aside a certain number of hours a day for opening study, tactics training, online games and so on.
Then there are books, usually written by older and, perhaps, wiser authors, very often not of GM strength, but with decades of experience both playing and teaching, who understand that most amateurs have a limited amount of time available. They recommend studying the classics, keeping things simple, choosing openings which are easy to learn, understanding ideas and plans, mastering the ending.
You won’t be surprised to learn that my sympathies are, with some reservations, more with the latter camp. And that’s what we have here.
You might not like the vivid yellow and blue cover, with our hero Manny Lasker wearing cool shades, but, putting that aside, let’s dive in.
The introduction is always a good place to start, so that we can see the authors’ aims in writing the book. In this case, they have much to say which I found particularly interesting, or perhaps just confirming my prejudices.
The amateur player has limited time for chess play and study, but still likes to practice his ‘major hobby’ as well as he can, and thus would like to base his game on reliable premises. He ideally wants to play trustworthy openings, and reach a sound middle game, and would welcome a basic grasp of endgame strategy, but often lacks the time to work on this.
Some amateurs, certainly, most, quite possibly, but not all. If you prefer to play dodgy gambits in the hope of winning a few quick brilliancies, this may not be the book for you.
You might recall, that a few years ago, John Nunn wrote a text book based on Lasker’s games. How does this book differ?
In the present book, we aim to do something completely different: we emphasise the specifically Laskerian approach and how it can be used by the average club player. Lasker emphasised most of all playing by understanding and general principles, with minimum rote-learning (especially of openings). This is perfect for the average amateur player, who wants to be able to maintain a good standard of play without relentless homework.
Nobody can possibly play the best moves all the time. Mistakes are inevitable and they are what decide games, so his (Lasker’s) aim was to try to induce more mistakes from the opponent than from ourselves. So, for example, for the average player, playing a position which he understands and feels comfortable in is more important than playing an objectively superior position that he doesn’t understand and doesn’t feel comfortable in, because he is more likely to go wrong in the latter.
If you, like me, are broadly sympathetic to this view of chess instruction, then, you’ll almost certainly enjoy this book. Younger and more ambitious readers, who prefer to study hundreds of ‘trainable variations’ on an online platform might have a different opinion.
Chapter 1 is very brief, looking at Lasker’s general ‘common sense’ chess philosophy. His Manual of Chess dates from 1925. Almost a century later, chess is very different, but do his principles still stand up? The authors believe they do.
Chapter 2 considers the three principles of positional play. 1: the principle of attack: if you have the advantage you must seek ways of exploiting it. 2: the principle of defence: as your opponent will attack your weakest point, you must defend it. 3: the aim of your actions should be proportionate to the size of your advantage.
In real life, of course, it’s not always as simple as that. You might, for example, have an extra pawn but a weakened king-side or a less effective minor piece. Imbalances of this nature are also important.
Chapter 3 looks at endings. The authors explain the need to know theoretical endgames, and offer a few examples from Lasker’s games.
In this position, for instance, from the first game of his 1911 World Championship match against Schlechter, he managed to draw the game by giving up a second pawn with 54… Re4! 55. Rc5 Kf6 to activate his pieces.
We move on to Attack in Chapter 4. Only the first game here was played by Lasker. The others, mostly unfamiliar, illustrate the point that if your opponent’s king is insufficiently well defended you sometimes need to strike quickly before he has time to bring up the reserves. The openings, though, are often not those you’d associate with Lasker. A small point here: in game 12, where Lodewijk Prins played the eccentric 1. e4 c6 2. b4, the black pieces were handled by Rupert, not Robert Cross.
The authors prefer verbal explanations to variations, and that can be seen in the instructive note here (Sosonko – Eising Mannheim 1975), where Black played 30… Nxg2!
The Australian master and didact C.J.S. Purdy warned that tactics dominate the game and can come out of nowhere, even in positionally lost situations. We believe it is a matter of formulation, because if there are correct tactics available, then, by definition, the position is NOT strategically lost. Lasker formulated this in a clear way, where he mentioned ‘a large superiority of force in a quarter where the opponent has an important weakness’.
Well, yes, but we’ve all lost games by blundering and allowing a tactic in strategically winning positions.
After Attack you’d be right to expect Defence. Two of the four examples here come from Lasker’s games. We’re often taught to seek counterchances or to enter swindle mode, but here the authors demonstrate that, in some cases, just sitting tight and trying to hold everything is the best policy.
Next, we have a short chapter on knights and bishops. Lasker had a particular appreciation for positions where knights outshine bishops, and here we learn about Giddins’ friend Michael Cook, one of the inspirations behind this book: a Lasker admirer who also favours equine manoeuvres.
The following chapter is perhaps unexpected: Amorphous Positions. Restrained but resilient formations without weak links but with potential energy. We first look at a couple of Lasker games where he placed a bunch of pawns on the third rank before moving on to meet another amateur, in this case a Dutch player named Philip du Chattel, who, when playing black, seemingly favoured Nh6 on move 1 or 2. I’m not sure this is something Lasker would ever have considered.
(As an aside, Welling himself is a chess maverick, and his latest book has been co-written with English maverick IM Mike Basman. I suspect there’s an interesting book to be written about strong (say 2200+) players who favour offbeat openings.)
Finally in this chapter we see some games played by Canadian maverick GM Duncan Suttles, who also preferred non-committal openings of this nature.
We’ve now, travelling backwards from the ending, reached the opening, and in Chapter 8 the authors propose a repertoire based on Lasker’s principles.
At amateur level, especially, most games are decided by tactical opportunities and it is of no relevance at all whether one side or the other has a quarter of a pawn’s advantage after the opening. The important thing is just to reach a playable position, with the pieces developed and the king safe, preferably without significant pawn weaknesses.
(Another aside: the authors previously collaborated on a repertoire book which proposed playing a Philidor/Old Indian setup with both colours. Here we have something very different.
As Black, we’re going to defend classically. We’ll meet 1. e4 with e5, playing the Steinitz Defence (with 3… Nf6 followed by 4… d6) against the Ruy Lopez. Against the Italian Game we’ll play 3… Bc5, although we’ll need some concrete analysis. 4… d5!? is suggested against the Evans Gambit, but Greco’s 7. Nc3 in the old main line is dismissed rather too hurriedly. If you don’t like this, 3… d6 is an alternative. We’re also provided with safe and sensible lines against White’s alternatives. We’ll decline any gambit, meeting the King’s Gambit with 2… Nf6!? and the Danish Gambit with 3… d5. Against d4, likewise, we’ll opt for 1… d5, playing the Orthodox Defence to the Queen’s Gambit. Again, common-sense lines are offered against the main line, the Exchange variation, the Bf4 variation and the Catalan. But something seems to be missing here: there’s nothing about the currently popular and annoying London System, not to mention the Colle or Torre. The English and Réti are dismissed in a column and a half (1… e6 and 2… d5) and other first moves aren’t mentioned at all.
With White, we’ll play 1. e4. Against 1… e5 we’ll play the Ruy Lopez, but, following Lasker’s predilection for knights, we’ll trade on c6 at the first opportunity. In the Exchange variation proper we’re advised to play 5. Nc3 rather than O-O.
If Black offers the Petroff instead we’ll head for the ending with 5. Qe2. We’ll play the Closed Sicilian, with our king’s knight on the flexible e2 square. Against the French and the Caro-Kann you won’t be surprised to hear that we’ll trade pawns on d5. Again, this seems incomplete: there’s no recommendation against any other defence to 1. e4.
What do you make of this? It makes sense as far as it goes, but it’s certainly not for everyone. You’ll need a lot of patience as well as endgame skill to enjoy it. It might, of course, be exactly what you’re looking for. You might, as one often does with repertoire books, like some, but not all the suggestions.
Chapter 9 is the meat of the book: games for study and analysis based on the openings recommended in the previous chapter, 41 of them in total, well selected (many deeply obscure so you almost certainly won’t have seen them before) and well annotated. The young guns who tell you to study recent GM games will be horrified to see that most of the games are from the last century, although Carlsen makes an appearance playing the Exchange French. Welling and Giddins are not the first authors to comment on the similarity between Lasker’s and Carlsen’s approach to chess.
You won’t find many short brilliancies, but this is an exception:
Black chooses a modest opening formation giving White a slight advantage, but this game demonstrates how easy it is for the first player to overreach in this type of position.
We also meet Michael Cook again, and see two of his wins against the Ruy Lopez, one of them against my old friend Malcolm Lightfoot. I found the ending of the other game particularly interesting.
This is from a 1980 county match where Cook is black against R Bristow. Like many of my generation, I was brought up on Basic Chess Endings and led to believe that bishops were stronger than knights in endings with pawns on both sides of the board. Of course this is very often the case, and there’s an excellent example earlier in the book.
This position is objectively drawn, but it’s Black who can press for the full point.
The game concluded 29. Kg1 Nd6 30. g3 f6 31. Bb4 Nb5 32. Kf2 Kf7 33. Ke3 Ke6 34. Ke4 f5+ 35. Kd3 Kd5 36. Bc3 g6 37. Be5 h5 38. Bb2 Kc5 39. Bc3 Nd6 40. Bd2 Ne4 41. Be1 Kd5 42. Ke3? (a3 would have held) Kc4 43. Ke2 Kd4 44. Bb4 h4 at which point time was called and the adjudicator (yes, that’s how we played chess 40 years ago) awarded Cook the point. The authors claim that after 45. Kf3 hxg3 46. hxg3 Nc3 47. a3 Kc4 Black wins, but Stockfish isn’t convinced after, for example, 48. g4.
The authors comment:
Within reason, the objective assessment of the position does not matter that much, when it is just a matter of a slight plus one way or the other – what is much more important is knowing what you’re doing and understanding that the white advantage, if any, is relatively small.
An additional point, as we have seen, is that the white player will frequently overestimate his advantage and play too ambitiously, often just because ‘the books’ say this Steinitz Defence is not really very good. Just as Lasker said, he preferred the side ‘which has kept back his forces a little’. so deliberately heading for a position where one knows one is objectively slightly worse, but also knows that the disadvantage is small and manageable, and where one also knows how to handle the position, is often a very effective way to play for a win.
Interesting and thought-provoking, I think, and certainly a very different philosophy from the maximalist approach espoused by many authors of instructional manuals. It’s certainly not the only way to play chess, but it might just be for you. An awareness that your opponents might be taking that approach could also be useful.
Finally, there’s the almost obligatory puzzle section. We have 50 puzzles, split into easy, intermediate and difficult, taken, with one exception, from the games of the authors and their hero.
Again, they have some helpful insights to share:
Talking about the experience of analysing with a much stronger player:
The other chap just seems to ‘see’ things so quickly, noticing immediately little tactical tricks which escape the lesser player altogether, or else take him much longer to spot. And we are mainly talking not about spectacular sacrificial combinations, but about routine tactical ideas, 2-3 moves deep, on which so much of a chess game hinges.
Indeed. At club level it’s precisely this which decides most games.
So how does one acquire such ability? Well, as with most things in life, talent is obviously a factor, but hard work and regular practice is crucial. Tactical ability and alertness is rather like physical fitness – when you start from a very low level, a lot of work is needed to build yourself up to a certain level, but once you are there, 15-30 minutes’ exercise a day is all you need to maintain that level.
Here’s one of the intermediate puzzles.
In this position White played 24. Nxc4. Is this a blunder? You’ll find the solution at the foot of the page.
It’s often interesting when reading a book with two authors to try to guess which author was primarily responsible for which chapter. (You might like to do this with The (Even More) Complete Chess Addict.) Welling (eccentric openings) and Giddings (safe and simple openings) seem to have slightly different chess philosophies, but they converge with the idea that it doesn’t matter if you’re slightly worse: just that have more understanding of what’s going on than your opponent.
If you’re young and ambitious you might turn your nose up at books of this nature, but club players rated anywhere between, say, 1600 and 2200 who would like to improve their chess in between family and work commitments may well find this book inspirational even though they might not agree with everything the authors say, and might well find some or all the repertoire recommendations don’t suit.
I really enjoyed reading it, and felt I learnt quite a lot as well. I’ve always believed that you’ll benefit more from studying games played by someone 200-300 points stronger than you than you would from top grandmasters. Looking at their games you can think “Yes: I could learn to play like that”, and as Michael Cook, for example, was, at his peak, 200 points or so stronger than me, I could learn a lot from his games. My frustration was that the book seemed incomplete, and, as a result, perhaps not always totally coherent. There were a couple of signs that it might have been edited down from something much longer at the request of the publisher, but of course my hunch could well be incorrect.
The book is well written and produced to this publisher’s customary high standards. It may not be a book for everyone, but if you’re part of the target market you don’t need to hesitate. There are many fascinating and provocative insights which will encourage you to look at chess in a different way.
Solution to puzzle (Giddins – Carlier Antwerp 1993): 24. Nxc4 isn’t a blunder because after 24… Bxc4 he has the decisive blow 25.Rb6! Qxb6 26. Re6+ Kg8 27. Rxb6.
World Champion Chess for Juniors : Learn From the Greatest Players Ever : Joel Benjamin
From the book’s rear cover :
“Grandmaster Joel Benjamin introduces all seventeen World Chess Champions and shows what is important about their style of play and what you can learn from them. He describes both their historical significance and how they inspired his own development as a player. Benjamin presents the most instructive games of each champion. Magic names such as Kasparov, Capablanca, Alekhine, Botvinnik, Tal, and Karpov, they’re all there, up to current World Champion Magnus Carlsen. How do they open the game? How do they develop their pieces? How do they conduct an attack or defend when necessary? Benjamin explains, in words rather than in chess symbols, what is important for your own improvement. Of course the crystal-clear style of Bobby Fischer, the 11th World Champion, guarantees some very memorable lessons. Additionally, Benjamin has included Paul Morphy. The 19th century chess wizard from New Orleans never held an official title, but was clearly the best of the world during his short but dazzling career. Studying World Champion Chess for Juniors will prove an extremely rewarding experience for ambitious youngsters. Trainers and coaches will find it worthwhile to include the book in their curriculum. The author provides many suggestions for further study.”
“Joel Benjamin won the US Championship three times and has been a trainer for almost three decades. His book Liquidation on the Chess Board won the Best Book Award of the Chess Journalists of America (CJA), and his most recent book Better Thinking, Better Chess is a world-wide bestseller.”
Naturally enough, given that I’ve been teaching chess to children since 1972, I’m always interested in reading chess books with ‘juniors’ or ‘kids’ in the title.
Let’s see what we have here.
From the introduction:
If you are not a junior, please don’t toss this book aside; there is still a lot of cool analysis and history in here for you. But I have written this book, primarily, to reach out to younger players. At any point in history, we see a ‘generation gap’, where young people see the world in a very different way than their elders. If you are, let’s say, a teen or a tween, you probably process most chess material from a computer. You follow recent events, work on tactics puzzles, practice against an engine, or whatever works for you. This may match your lifestyle of playing Minecraft or (worse) Fortnite on your I-pad instead of reading books.
A few years ago, I was horrified to learn that two of my (young) fellow instructors at a chess camp could not name the World Champions in order (or even place them roughly in their time periods). For someone of my generation, that fundamental lack of knowledge was unthinkable. And while I accept that kids today learn things in different ways, I feel that they are still missing out on their ignorance of knowledge provided by books.
I’m in complete agreement with Joel Benjamin here. I believe that, for all sorts of reasons, learning about the great champions of the past should be part of everyone’s chess education. This issue has been raised in the introduction of several books I’ve reviewed recently: some authors agree, but others, sadly, don’t.
And from the back cover (presumably written by the publishers):
So you want to improve your chess? The best place to start is looking at how the great champs did it!
I’m not in agreement with this, though. I’ve spent the past 45 years or so failing to understand why round about 90% of chess teachers consider it a good idea to demonstrate master games, usually with sacrificial attacks, to inexperienced players.
What does it mean to write a book for ‘juniors’, anyway? What do we mean by a junior? Perhaps we mean Alireza Firouzja (rated 2759 at age 17 as I write this)? Or do we mean Little Johnny who’s just mastered the knight move? There’s an enormous difference between writing for 7-year-olds, writing for 12-year-olds and writing for 17-year-olds. Benjamin mentions ‘teens and tweens’ in his introduction. How do you write for this age group? Do you try to appear ‘down with the kids’ by writing things like ‘Yay, bro! Morphy was a real sick dude!”? Maybe not, but you might, as he does, throw in a lot of ‘cools’ and a few ‘legits’, as well as a lot of exclamation marks at the end of sentences.
There’s also an enormous difference between writing for players rated, say 500, 1000, 1500 and 2000. The nature of this difference is something I’ve been thinking about for many years. I think the most helpful information I’ve found about teaching at different levels is from this article (apologies if you’ve seen it before), in particular the section entitled ‘experts learn differently’. I’d consider a novice (apprentice) to be someone with a rating of under 1000, an expert (guild member) to have a rating of 2000 plus, and everyone else (which includes the vast majority of adults who know the moves) to be journeymen/women.
Novices, then, learn best through explicit instruction and worked examples, while experts learn best through discovery and/or an investigative approach. If you’re writing for a readership between novices and experts, you’ll use a mixture of both methods. I’d also suggest that, given the relative inexperience and immaturity of younger children, you’d probably be well advised to add two or three hundred points onto your novice/expert split.
Top GM games these days are, of course, insanely complicated, and only an expert player could expect to learn anything from looking at, say, a Carlsen – Caruana game.
Let’s plunge into this book, then, and decide who would benefit most from reading it, in terms of both age and rating.
Before I go any further, I’d add that there are many reasons you might want to read a chess book: information, enjoyment, inspiration or instruction, for example, but this book, as you might expect from the 21st century Zeitgeist, nails its colours firmly to the flagpole labelled ‘instruction’. LEARN from the Greatest Players Ever.
Taking the reader on a journey through chess history, stopping off on the way to introduce us to each of the world champions in turn, it reminds me of two other books I’ve reviewed on these pages: this and this (also from New in Chess), neither of which impressed me, as a cynic with a pretty good knowledge of chess history, greatly.
We start off, not unreasonably, with Morphy (the greatest showman). In every chapter we get some brief biographical notes, a handful of annotated games and a couple of unannotated games. Here he is, crushing the Aristocratic Allies at the opera house, and sacrificing his queen against Louis Paulsen in New York. Yes, you’ve probably seen them hundreds of times before, but the target reader, a young player with little knowledge of chess history, might not have done. The notes at this point focus, understandably, on ideas rather than variations.
Next up is Steinitz (the scientist). We visit Hastings, of course, just in time to witness von Bardeleben disappearing from the tournament hall rather than resigning. We also see him daringly marching his king up the board in the opening and exploiting the advantage of the two bishops. He beats Chigorin in a game that starts 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 Nf6 4. d3 when Benjamin points out that “With the rise of the Berlin endgame this move has become very popular in the 21st century”. Which is very true, but assumes that the reader knows something about the Berlin endgame. (It’s mentioned in slightly more detail later in the book, but you should describe it the first time you mention it.) Later on, though we’re advised not to forget the en passant rule. So this appears to be a book for readers who understand all about the Berlin endgame but might not remember en passant.
We move into the 20th century: Lasker (the pragmatist) beating Capa in an Exchange Lopez ending, Capablanca (the endgame authority) himself winning a rook ending against Tartakower, Alekhine (the disciplined attacker) winning complex encounters against Bogoljubov and Réti, Euwe (the professional amateur) in turn winning the Pearl of Zandvoort against Alekhine.
As we approach the present day, the games get more complicated and not so easy to use for specific lessons. The great Soviet champions all had their distinctive styles, though. There’s Botvinnik (the master of training), Smyslov (the endgame artist), Tal (the magician), Petrosian (the master strategist) and Spassky (the natural).
Then, of course, Fischer (the master of clarity), Karpov (the master technician) and Kasparov (the master of complications) are introduced as we approach the 21st century.
Today, all the top grandmasters excel in all areas of the game, and, with the aid of computer preparation, their games are often mind-boggling in their complexity. Kramnik is awarded the epithet ‘the strategic tactician’, but this could apply to any 21st century great.
It’s time to look at a few examples of Benjamin’s annotations, so that you can decide whether it’s a suitable book for you, your children or your students.
Here, at Linares in 1997, Topalov, the master of the initiative, has sacrificed the exchange for … the initiative.
White, Gelfand, is considering his 23rd move.
An exchange to the good, White has some leeway in defense. He must appreciate the need to give back to the community here.
Topalov points out that 23. Qd2 Ne5 24. Rxe5 Qxe5 25. Nxb7? is too dangerous (after almost any rook move, actually) but White can hold the balance with 25. b4 a5 26. Qe2!. White can play more ambitiously with 23. b4 Ne5 24. Rxe5 Qxe5 25. Nb2, though Topalov would likely pitch a pawn for good play after 25… d3 26. Nxd3 Qd4+. Finally, even the radical (and inhuman, I think) 23. Nc3!? dxc3 24. Qxc3 looks playable, as suddenly some black minor pieces look misplaced and the white rooks are working well. Chess players need a good sense of danger, but here Gelfand’s Spidey-sense fails to tingle.
An excellent note, I think, but it would, inevitably given the complexity of the position, be instructive for older and more experienced players.
For the record, the game continued 23. Ne4? Ne5 24. Qg5 Re8! 25. Rd2? when Topalov missed 25… Ng4+! 26. Kg1 Qxg5 27. Nxg5 Re1#. but his choice of Qc4 was still good enough to win quickly.
For another example of the style of annotation in this book, in this position Anand, the lightning attacker, has unleashed a TN against Kasparov’s Sicilian in the 1995 World Championship match. What will the champ play on his 20th move?
Anand had expected 20… Qa5, which has been played in subsequent practice. However, Kasparov would have had a lot to calculate and evaluate there. When you hit your opponent with an unpleasant opening surprise, they may hesitate to risk the most challenging lines.
20… Qa5!? 21. Nxd6 Bxa4 22. Bb6 Rxd6 and now Anand considered two lines:
A) 23. Qxd6 Rxd6 24. Bxa5 Bxf4 (24… Bxc2? 25. e5+-) 25. Rxb7 Bxc2 26 Rd8 Rxd8 27. Bxd8 Bxe4! 28. Rb4 Bxf3 29. Rxf4 Bd5 30. Bxf6 gxf6 31. Rxf6 and the position should be drawn;
B) Anand preferred 23. Bxa5! Rxd3 24. cxd3 Bxd1 25. Bxd1. White doesn’t win any material but keeps the potential for long-term pressure.
Well, I hope you followed all that.
The main part of the book concludes with Carlsen, the master of everything and nothing.
Here’s a position from a game which, according to Benjamin, displays his accuracy and brilliance in attacking play.
He’s playing the white pieces against Li Chao (Doha 2015) and is about to make his 24th move.
Carlsen breaks down the defense with a beautiful interference tactic. By attacking the knight on b6, he enables the deadly push e5-e6.
White could easily go wrong here:
A) 24. gxf5 Nc4 25. Nxg6+ (25. e6?? a3 wins for Black) 25… Ke8 26. e6? a3! 27. exf7+ Kd7 28. f8N+! Ke8 29. bxa3 Rxa3+ 30. Kb1 Rda8 31. Na4! and White barely forces Black to take a perpetual. Instead 25. Ncd5!! wins for White. The idea is to kill the mate with Rc1xc4 and then proceed on the kingside;
B) Again the take-first mentality 24. Nxg8+? Ke8 loses ground. White can probably still win with 25 d5! but it’s a lot less clear.
Again, good analysis, although Benjamin’s notes do include rather a lot of ‘perhaps’ and ‘probably’, which you may or may not care for.
That’s not quite the end of the book. There’s some ‘fun stuff’ at the end, most usefully a 36 question tactics quiz: some easy and familiar but others more challenging.
This is a good book of its kind, although if you like the first half you might find the last few chapters too hard, and if, like me, you enjoyed Benjamin’s coverage of contemporary players, the first half will offer you nothing new.
But is it a book for juniors, though?
Little Johnny, aged 8, is doing well in his school chess club, playing at about 1000 strength. His parents, who know little about chess, would like to buy him a book so that he can learn more and perhaps play like Fischer, Kasparov or Carlsen. What could be better, they think, than learning from the world champions? Is this a suitable book for him? Definitely not: it’s much too hard in every respect. Instead, as a young novice, he requires a book with explicit instruction and worked examples.
Jenny is 12, has a rating of about 1500, and is starting to play in adult competitions. Perhaps this would be a good book for her. Well, it’s more suitable for her than for Johnny, but again it’s rather too hard: I think you’ll agree from the extracts you’ve seen that it’s really aimed at older and more experienced players. She’ll still need, for the most part, explicit instruction and worked examples, but pitched at a higher level than Johnny’s book.
Jimmy is an ambitious 16-year-old with a rating of 2000 who would like to reach master strength while finding out more about the history of the game he loves. This could be an ideal book for him: as a player approaching expert standard with perhaps a decade’s experience of chess, he’d benefit from discovery and/or an investigative approach, for which he can use annotated grandmaster games. But would he be seen dead carrying a book with ‘juniors’ in the title under his arm? And, at least here in the UK, there are very few ambitious 16-year-olds around to read this book.
It’s nothing personal to do with the author or the publishers, but my view is that many people buy books which are much too hard to be useful, either for themselves or for their children or students. On the other hand, books which really would be helpful don’t sell. And you can’t blame publishers for bringing out books they think people will buy.
You could write a great book for Little Johnny, I think. A colourful hardback with short chapters about each champion. Photographs and perhaps also cartoons of each. A few simple one-move puzzles in each chapter taken from their games: perfect novice-level tuition. Some historical background as well. Maps to show the champions’ countries of birth, and, perhaps, where else they lived. The word for chess and the names of the pieces in their native languages. Cross-curricular benefits: children will learn about history, geography and languages as well as chess. Age-appropriate in terms of chess, vocabulary and grammar as well. All primary schools would welcome a few copies for their school library.
You could also write a good book for Jenny. You could introduce each champion again, and then look how the different champions interpreted openings like the Ruy Lopez and the Queen’s Gambit, how they played kingside attacks or IQP positions, how they navigated rook endings. Perhaps also, where available, some simple games played when they were Jenny’s age. She’ll learn, at a fairly basic level, about the history of chess ideas as well as the champions. You’d probably also want to include some puzzles where you have to look two or three moves ahead. This is how you teach students who are neither novices (like Little Johnny) or budding experts (like Jimmy). A mixture of harder ‘novice’ material and easier ‘expert’ material.
I think both Johnny’s and Jenny’s books should include female as well as male champions: Jenny, as well as Johnny, would like role models she can relate to. You might think it remiss of Benjamin (or New in Chess) not to have included any Women’s World Champions in this book.
It’s a good book, then, although, by it’s nature it’s not going to be earth-shatteringly original. But it’s not a book for juniors. If it was called simply World Championship Chess, or Learn Chess from the Champions I wouldn’t really have a problem with it.
I really ought to add that the games are well chosen and expertly annotated (if you don’t mind the slightly casual style), and the author, unlike others ploughing the same field, doesn’t stray beyond the limits of his historical knowledge.
It’s also, as to be expected from this publisher, excellently produced, with, unusually for these days, a refreshing lack of typos.
I mentioned earlier the reasons why you might want to read a chess book. You may well find this book informative, especially if your knowledge of chess history is lacking. It’s certainly an entertaining read: the author’s lively style of writing and annotation shines through. You’ll probably also find it inspirational to be able to play through the greatest games of the greatest players of all time. But is it also instructional? I’m not really convinced that this is the most efficient method of teaching anyone below 2000. It’s certainly not an efficient method of teaching this very experienced, 1900-2000 strength, player.
Recommended, then, if you want to know more about the world champions, but not really a book for juniors.
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