Category Archives: Training

Thinkers Chess Academy Volume 3 – Test your chess knowledge – Crucial exercises to sharpen your understanding

Grandmaster Thomas Luther, born in 1969, is the first player with a disability to have entered the FIDE Top 100 rating list. In 2001 he was ranked 80th in the world. He has won the German Championship three times and is well known as an experienced and successful coach. In 2014 his achievements were recognised by being granted the title of FIDE Senior Trainer. In his career to-date he has published several books and DVDs. This is his fourth book for Thinkers’ Publishing, after a co-production with Jugend Schach Verlag entitled ‘Chess Coaching for Kids – the U10 Project‘ and the current series

GM Thomas Luther
GM Thomas Luther

This is the third volume in Thinkers’ Chess Academy (TCA), an ever-growing series written by Grandmaster and FIDE Senior Trainer Thomas Luther intended for beginners through to club standard players.

John Upham has previously reviewed the first volume, First Steps in Tactics, although I note a negative review on Amazon which considered the examples were too hard for the target market. Volume 2, From Tactics to Strategy – Winning Knowledge, which, I believe, hasn’t been submitted for review by BCN, covers more advanced tactics along with an introduction to strategy.

Volume 3 is designed as a workbook for readers of the two previous volumes, while also providing more challenging exercises for ambitious students.

From the author’s introduction (it’s also on the publisher’s website):

Not every reader is ambitious enough or has enough time to work very hard on his chess. That’s quite understandable and nothing to be ashamed of. You can enjoy chess very well without being a strong tournament player. You could just entertain yourself by playing through interesting combinations. In this case don’t try too hard to solve the Advanced Lessons or Master Class exercises. Have a look to make yourself familiar with the position, than look at the solution and enjoy the surprising combinations. You won’t learn as much as you would by racking your brain to crack the hard nuts. But some knowledge and experience will certainly rub off and increase your understanding of chess. I hope this book will help you to work towards your goals and let have you fun with chess.

The book has an unusual structure. We have 20 chapters alternately easier and harder, with the answers at the end of each chapter. Less experienced players are advised to work through the odd numbered chapters first before tackling the odd numbered chapters, while stronger players could work through the book in order, using the odd numbered chapters as ward-up exercises.

An interesting concept, but does it work? Let’s take a look inside. All the odd numbered chapters are billed simply as ‘Quick Test’, although their specific themes are discussed in the chapter introductions.  The first Quick Test, which corresponds to Chapter 7 of TCA1, features mates in up to 2 moves. Other tests involve winning material in various ways. There is a gradual increase in length and complexity, until, by Chapter 19 you’ll be able to find wins (material or mate) in up to 5 moves.

I enjoyed Chapter 9 (Quick Test 5): From The Good Old Times!

Can you find this mate in 3 (Napier – Amateur 1904)?

Ng5+ is only a mate in 4: it’s quicker and more spectacular to play 1. Qg6+ Bxg6 2. Ng5+ hxg5 3. hxg6#

This, for example is Q12 in Chapter 19.

If you can solve this within a few seconds you’re a pretty good tactician: quite a jump forward from the simple positions in Chapter 1.

In case you haven’t spotted it yet: 1. Bxf6 Bxf6 2. Qxe6+ Kg7 3. Qxf6+ Kxf6 4. Nxd5+ followed by 5. Nxb6.

The even numbered chapters, apart from Chapter 2, have more specific titles, Chapters 4-12 being Advanced Lessons and Chapters 14-20 being Master Classes. We have (from 4 in steps of 2): Easy Tactics in the Endgame, Chess History, Checkmate in Up to 5 Moves, Advantage or Mate in Up to 5 Moves, All Kinds of Draws, Advantage in 5 or More Moves, The Classics, Studies and finally The Long Way to Checkmate. Yes, of course some two move combinations can be much harder to spot than some five move combinations, but the author has been very careful in his choice of material.

This is from Chapter 10: Mohammad Fahad – Vatsal Mumbai 2018.

White won by continuing 17. fxe6 fxe6 18. Nxe5 dxe5 19. Nxe6 Bxe6 20. Bb5+ Kf7 21. Qf2+ Bf6 22. Rxd8. A nice example of a clearance; very difficult to see, according to Luther.

Like many leading chess teachers these days, Thomas Luther is very keen on endgame studies. “Don’t be frightened or repulsed by the studies”, he says in the introduction to Chapter 4. “They are not like problem chess but very practical and instructive. You can learn a lot by trying to solve them.”

Here, from Chapter 18, is an 1851 study by Horwitz and Kling.

The solution runs like this: 1. Ra4+ Ke5 2. Ra5 c5 3. Rxc5 Qxc5 4. d4+ Qxd4 5. Nc6+ Kd5 6. Nxd4 Kxd4 7. Kf3

Instructive, I think, because you need to know basic KP v K theory as well as being able to spot knight forks.

The book is beautifully produced and the author has clearly put a lot of thought into both the selection of the puzzles and the structure of the chapters.

If you’re following the Thinkers’ Chess Academy series you’ll definitely want this book. If you’re looking for a book, with puzzles you probably haven’t seen before, this book would also be an excellent choice. I would place this volume high up in my list of recommended puzzle books for club standard players.

Of course many players these days prefer to solve puzzles online, but there’s also much to be said for the old-fashioned method of using a book. Although I’d guess the main target market would be roughly 1250-1750 rated players, anyone between, say, 1000 and 2000 strength would find this book both instructive and enjoyable. Lower rated players should work through the odd numbered chapters first, while higher rated players will prefer to start at the beginning and work through sequentially.

If you want to make sure the book’s for you, you can read the first three chapters here.

Richard James, Twickenham 3rd June 2024

Richard James
. Richard James

Book Details:

  • Softcover : 362 pages
  • Publisher: Thinkers Publishing; 1st edition (20 Dec. 2022)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9464201673
  • ISBN-13: 978-9464201673
  • Product Dimensions: 17.02 x 2.54 x 23.37 cm

Official web site of Thinkers Publishing

Thinkers Chess Academy Volume 3 – Test your chess knowledge – Crucial exercises to sharpen your understanding, Thomas Luther, Thinker's Publishing, Thinkers Publishing; 1st edition (20 Dec. 2022)
Thinkers Chess Academy Volume 3 – Test your chess knowledge – Crucial exercises to sharpen your understanding, Thomas Luther, Thinker’s Publishing, Thinkers Publishing; 1st edition (20 Dec. 2022)
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Chess Lessons from a Champion Coach

From the Batsford web site:

Lessons, motivation and coaching to make you a better chess player.

In an ideal world, any aspiring chess player, at almost any level, would get better with a coach. If that’s not possible, having chess champion coach Thomas Engqvist’s book at your side is the next best thing.

In his series of lessons, Engqvist guides you through not only the most important elements of chess to master but also the psychology, how to marry knowledge with imagination, and how to stay motivated.

Suitable for older children through to adults, the lessons are drawn from chess games through history, from the 16th century to Magnus Carlsen and latest Alpha Zero computer chess. (Reviewer’s note: it doesn’t actually include Alpha Zero, stopping at Carlsen.) It features a range of key players, including Steinitz, Lasker, Nimzowistch, Botvinnik (Soviet chess school), and Fischer. With clear and accessible annotations to give clarity, the games highlight the most important lessons to learn and, just as importantly, how to ‘practise’ chess.

International Master Thomas Engqvist has travelled the world teaching and coaching chess to a very high level for decades – and with this book, he can be your coach too.”

About the Author (updated from the publisher’s website):

“Thomas Engqvist is an International Master from Sweden. He has 45 years’ experience as a chess coach and teacher. He has worked with players at world championship level in both junior and correspondence chess. He is the author of 300 Most Important Chess Positions, 300 Most Important Tactical Chess Positions and 300 Most Important Chess Exercises, all published by Batsford.

IM Thomas Engqvist (SWE)
IM Thomas Engqvist (SWE)

From the back cover:

Chess Lessons from a Champion Coach gives you the opportunity to assimilate the most important chess principles and concepts by following a study plan based on key encounters by over 30 great players.

With lessons from more than 60 instructive games in chronologically arranged chapters, this is the perfect guide for players who want to gain a broad knowledge of chess history and its evolution, but don’t have time to spend hours in what can be unproductive reading.

Featured in each chapter is a highly influential grandmaster who has played his part in developing chess into what it is today. There can be no more enjoyable way to improve your own play than to absorb your personal coach’s explanatory commentaries to exemplary games of past and present chess heroes, including Magnus Carlsen. In this way centuries of accumulated understanding of chess can be learned in just a few weeks.

By adopting the same tactics and strategies as demonstrated by these champions, you can also keep track of your own chess development by comparing it with the overall historical development of chess – and climb the ladder to success.

Swedish International Master Thomas Engqvist has approximately 45 years experience as a chess coach, teacher, writer and player. He has successfully worked with players at world championship level in both junior and correspondence chess.

 

What we have here is a book covering the history of chess ideas in chronological fashion, starting with Ruy Lopez and finishing with Magnus Carlsen. It’s hardly an original idea: the first book of this type was Richard Réti’s Masters of the Chessboard, and there have been quite a few others since then: off the top of my head I’ve reviewed a couple of them here myself. The second Chess Heroes: Games book will take a similar approach (using some of the games from Move Two!), but pitched at a much lower level.

I’d say from the outset is that if you’re knowledgeable about the subject, and have read similar books before, you’re probably already familiar with many of the games displayed by Engqvist here.

But if you’re a club standard player with little knowledge of the history of your favourite game you should certainly read on.

Most of the subjects are represented by just one game, so we quickly whizz through the likes of Greco (‘the first tactical player’), Philidor (‘the first positional player’) and even Morphy until we reach Steinitz (‘the scientific player’), the first of four players to be considered in rather more detail.

According to Engqvist:

The basis of Steinitz’s teachings is to construct a plan which is in accordance with the requirements of the position. These requirements could be an advantage in development, a strong centre, open files etc. One should gather such advantages, one by one, as preparation for an attack. This is the so-called theory of accumulation.

This theory is demonstrated by the following game. As always, click on any move for a pop-up window.

Engqvist adds after the game:

This is why such classic games are much more instructive than modern games. Steinitz’s opponents didn’t realise or didn’t want to realise what he was doing, whereas today’s more knowledgeable players do know – because they have studied such “one-sided” but very instructive classic games.

You might disagree – but I don’t.

Lasker (‘pragmatism and psychology’), the star of the next chapter, also receives special treatment.

In this instructive game, where he defeats Rubinstein’s IQP, he uses the ‘pivot square’ d5 in a variety of ways.

It is indeed a game to be understood in depth and learned by heart, because the idea of a pivot being a source of energy can be used in an untold number of situations.

Engqvist quotes Nimzowitsch’s comments on this game with approval, and makes it very clear throughout the  book that Nimzo is one of his chess heroes.

Although he only gets one game (yes, it’s the Immortal Zugzwang game), the author has this to say:

Nimzowitsch is just as important as Steinitz, since his principles do complement those of his predecessor, However, to appreciate Nimzowitsch’s precepts in depth one needs to also properly understand Steinitz’s classical principles, otherwise the true meaning of Nimzowitsch’s theories will be lost.

and:

In my opinion (reading Nimzowitsch) is much more important than learning from computers, which are very bad teachers indeed, and sometimes incomprehensible. Nimzowitsch must be regarded as one of the greatest, if not the greatest ever, teachers…

Controversial, perhaps, and you might well think he’s overstating his case.

The other two subjects awarded more extensive treatment are, predictably, Capablanca (‘The Chess Machine’) and Alekhine (‘The Complete Chess Artist’).

From then on it’s just one game each, even for giants such as Botvinnik, Fischer, Karpov and Kasparov. right the way through to Carlsen.

Here’s the game used to illustrate Fischer (‘The Aggressive Classical Player’).

Engqvist:

This game is one of Fischer’s best and it is remarkable that he was only 16 years old when it was played. It proves that he was a genius. The good news is that Fischer’s style is possible to emulate,  because it it largely based on positional technique à la Capablanca,  which to a high degree can be learned.

It’s clear from this book, as well as from the author’s earlier volumes, that Thomas Engqvist is an exceptional writer, teacher and annotator. He has also made extensive use of a wide range of secondary sources (but, sadly, he fails the Yates test: he was Fred (Dewhirst), not Frederick Dewhurst). Each chapter is prefaced by a series of quotes by or about its subject, which in itself makes fascinating reading. Computer analysis has been used to correct analytical errors made by earlier authors, but this is done judiciously: he doesn’t go over the top in providing reams of engine generated variations. You might, I suppose, disagree with some of his views, especially on Nimzowitsch, but that’s part of the enjoyment you’ll get from the book. You might also think there’s some simplification and generalisation, but that’s inevitable in a book of this nature.

The production values are, of their type, excellent. The book, like others from this publisher, has a reassuringly old-fashioned look about it. While younger readers may well prefer something glossier and glitzier, it’s not likely to be a problem for those, like me, of the Batsford generation.

Many publishers these days prefer more interactivity, with puzzles at the start of each chapter, or, with annotated games, stopping every few moves to ask you a question. There’s none of that here, just solid, accurate and instructive comments. Different readers will prefer different styles of annotation. The one concession to interactivity is a couple of quizzes with questions like What was Ponziani’s opinion of the theories of Philidor and del Rio?, which I could really do without as they’re testing memory rather than understanding.

I had two other thoughts when reading this book. I often wonder whether chess authors are writing the book they wanted to write or the book the publishers thought would sell. Perhaps I’m mistaken, but my impression was that Engqvist really wanted to write something like The 60 Most Instructive Positional Games rather than a book with a historical perspective offering, for the most part, one game per star player.

I also wonder what exactly the market is for this book. Younger readers, if they want a book at all, might prefer something with a more modern feel, while older readers might have seen many of the games before.

But, if you’re, say, 1500-2000 strength, you’re serious about improving your chess and you’re happy with the style and contents, you won’t go wrong with this excellent book from one of the best authors and teachers around.

Richard James, Twickenham 14th February 2024

Richard James
Richard James

Book Details :

  • Paperback: 312 pages
  • Publisher: Batsford; 1st edition (13 April 2023)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:1849947511
  • ISBN-13:978-1849948043
  • Product Dimensions: 15.04 x 2.01 x 23.04 cm

Official web site of Batsford

Chess Lessons from a Champion Coach, Thomas Engqvist, Batsford, 13th April 2023, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1849948043
Chess Lessons from a Champion Coach, Thomas Engqvist, Batsford, 13th April 2023, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1849948043
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The Chess Heroes Books

Are you rated below 1500?

Do you have friends who are rated below 1500?

Are any members of your chess club rated below 1500?

Do you have any students rated  below 1500?

If so, you’ll really want to take a look at my Chess Heroes books: a unique series of volumes taking players from learning the basics through to club standard and beyond. There’s nothing else like these books on the market. They’re based on 50 years experience teaching chess, using my private RJCC database of almost 17000 games played at this level. Every word and every position is there for a reason.

No gimmicks. No short cuts. No idle promises. Just simple no-nonsense instruction providing all the knowledge and skills you need, along with hard work and seriousness of purpose, to succeed at chess.

This is the starter book (0-500 range) explaining what a game of chess is really about. If you just want to learn the basics, this is for you.

If you want to take the game further, these four books, designed to be read in parallel, are what you require.

Written for players of about 500-1000 strength, if you’ve understood everything here you’ll be able to go along to your local chess club and play some social games without being totally outclassed. You might even be able to play lower level competitive chess if you want.

By now you may be eager to learn more. If you’re around 1000-1500 level, these books will help you make further progress. The Puzzles book is exactly what it says on the cover, while the Games book uses the ‘How Good is Your Chess’ format where you play through the games guessing the next move. I’ll soon be starting work on the second books for publication towards the end of 2024.

You can order them from Amazon here. You’ll see that I also have free downloads available if you want to have a look  before you buy, or if, for instance, you want to print off some of the puzzle pages for your own or your students’ use.

I’d recommend you also read this blog post explaining some of the theory behind my teaching and writing.

Please do take a look, and if you like what you see, support me by purchases and 5* reviews!

 

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The Chess Memory Palace

Blurb from the publisher, Amazon:

Chess players spend hours and hours trying to memorize openings, but even Grandmasters forget their preparation.

Meanwhile, memory competitors routinely memorize thousands of facts and random digits, using special techniques that anyone can learn.

This book explains how to use these memory techniques for chess.

  • Teaches advanced memory techniques from scratch.
  • Contains full worked examples in the Ruy Lopez Exchange and Schliemann Gambit.
  • Ideal for tournament players who want to recall their opening repertoire perfectly.

CONTENTS:
Introduction
1. Picture Notation
2. Essential Memory Techniques
3. Memory Palace Architecture
4. Example Palace: The Schliemann Transit Line
5. Example Palace: The Spanish Exchange Airport
6. Bonus: Memorising Endgames
7. Miscellanea
Notes
Appendix: Picture Words for all 64 Squares

About the Author:

Author of The Chess Memory Palace (2022) and A Curious Letter from Nebuchadnezzar (2021)

 

I don’t know about you, but I like to know something about the author before I read a book. John Holden seems remarkably coy. It’s clear from the book that he’s a memory expert,  but what are his chess credentials?

He tells us in the book that he lives in London, which is a start. His website is johnden.org, and there’s a chess.com user named John Holden whose username is NEDNHOJ (johnden reversed) with a blitz rating round about 900.

There was also a Kent junior on the grading list between 2007 and 2013, when he’d reached 160 (about 1900), who played a few rapidplay tournaments last year, giving him a 1755 rating. Are these the same person? You’d expect someone of that strength to have a higher chess.com rating than 900, especially if he’d put his memory training to good effect.

Is the author, then, either, both or neither?

If you’ve read anything about memory training in the past you’ll be aware of the Memory Palace technique which top competitive memory people use to learn the digits of pi or memorise the order of a shuffled deck of cards.

Here’s the start of the introduction. I have a few questions.

Modern chess requires its players to memorise more and more. “That’s probably the number one thing,” said top grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura, “For becoming a really strong grandmaster today you have to have a really good memory because there’s so much to memorise.”

Yes, if you want to become a really strong grandmaster like Nakamura you need a really good memory. But to what extent is this necessary if you’re a 900 online rapid player like NEDNHOJ or a 1755 rapid player like Kent’s John Holden? From my own experience, playing at that level is probably not about that sort of memory at all, and learning openings in that way might even confuse you.

Most of this effort goes on the opening moves, because you have to survive the opening to demonstrate your middlegame and endgame prowess. Although chess players have a good memory for moves, even elite players can struggle to remember their preparation at the board. And it is a constant source of frustration for all of us to spend so much time rehearsing openings.

There are some (teachers as well as players) who recommend that club level players should concentrate on opening study, while others prefer the 20-40-40 rule: 20% of your time on openings, 40% on middlegames and 40% on endings. Some even think that 20% is too high: you’re better off just playing simple openings leading to playable middlegames. One of the examples here is playing White against the Ruy Lopez Schliemann (1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 f5). How often are you going to reach this variation?

Meanwhile, a new sport of competitive memory has sprung up, which reaches new heights every year. The record for most numbers memorised in five minutes stands at over 540. In 15 minutes, 1300. A man from India has recited 70,000 digits of pi.

How is this possible? Is it a special photographic memory? Actually no, it’s the disciplined application of memory techniques – and the techniques are surprisingly simple! They tap into our brains’ natural ability to remember places, images and stories. We can all remember our route to work, and we can all understand a story, even when it’s told to us quite fast. The trick is to convert non-memorable information, like a number, into memorable images.

‘… our brains’ natural ability to remember places, images and stories’. You brain might well work like that but not everyone’s does. You might want to look at conditions such as aphantasia (the inability to form mental pictures) which would make techniques like this difficult, or perhaps impossible.

It’s like everything else: some people are very good at this sort of thing, others fairly average and others again will find it very difficult.

Here’s how it works.

We have eight consonant sounds representing the numbers 1 to 8. Therefore, each square can be associated with a word including the sound representing the file (a-h becomes 1-8) followed by the sound representing the rank (1-8). If more than one piece can move to the same square we deal with this through the number of consonants in the word. If more than one piece can move to the same square you use words with different numbers of syllables to determine which piece you should move.

You might possibly recognise this as a position from one of the main lines of the Schliemann.

Just out of interest, looking at some lichess stats (filtered on games with an average rating of 1400+:

  1. e4 e5 (35% in this position)
  2. Nf3 Nc6 (64% in this position)
  3. Bb5 f5 (2% in this position)
  4. Nc3 fxe4 (54% in this position)
  5. Nxe4 d5 (46% in this position: the other main line, Nf6 is slightly more popular)
  6. Nxe5 dxe4 (95% in this position)
  7. Nxg6 Qg5 (62% in this position)
  8. Qe2 Nf6 (93% in this position)
  9. f4 Qxf4 (73% in this position)

Realistically, even if you play the Lopez at every opportunity you won’t get the Schliemann very often, and, even then, many of your opponents will choose alternatives at moves 4 or 5. If you’re just a club standard player I’d advise you to play something sensible like 4. d3 instead and get on with the rest of your life.

Anyway, let’s continue. Your opponent has gone down this line and you have to dig into your memory to remember what happens next.

Black’s last move was Qxf4: your word for f4 is ‘shark’ (f/6 is represented by ch/j/tch/sh, d/4 is represented by r, so you choose a monosyllabic word including these two sounds.)

It’s a sharp variation and you want to remember what to do next so you look into your Memory Palace. There you find a shark biting a jester; a match catching fire and burning a lion’s nose, making the lion roar; and a frog chewing gum. The jester gives you lol (laugh out loud, your word for e5), telling you that you now play 10. Ne5+. Well, hang on a minute. Stockfish slightly prefers Nxa7+, and d4 is by far the most popular choice on lichess, but Ne5+ is also fine, so we’ll let it pass. Then we have the match, indicating c6, so we expect our opponent to evade the check by playing 10… c6 – the only good move. Now the lion’s roar tells us to play 11. d4, again clearly best. Then the frog chewing gum gives you 11… Qh4+ 12. g3. It’s still a complicated position so you may need to extend your story a bit.

(If you’re interested in this variation, I’d add that, although 9. f4 is usually played, Stockfish flags 9. Nxa7+ as a significant improvement.)

You see how it works, then, and if you want to play this variation with either colour it’s a sharp line which you need to know well, so, in this case, memory is important.

You should by now have some idea of whether or not this technique will work for you (if you have a strong visual memory it may well do, but if you don’t, it won’t), and whether or not you’re prepared to spend the time to develop your memory in this way and apply it to improving your chess.

The second and third chapters, if you’re still undecided, explain more about memory techniques. The author has helpfully made the first three chapters available for free here.

The next two chapters provide worked examples. Chapter 4 returns to the variation of the Schliemann we looked at earlier, looking at it in more detail, including other variations that Black might choose. John Holden sees this as resembling a train journey: he’s very familiar with the journey on the London Underground from Waterloo to West Ham,

Chapter 5 takes a very different variation of the Lopez: the exchange variation, which is considered from Black’s perspective.

We’re most likely to reach this position, where White usually retreats the knight to either b3 or e2. In either case, Black will trade queens.

This time, Holden’s setting is an airport, where Ne2 is a journey through security to a connecting flight, while Nb3 takes you through immigration to leave the airport.

Again, I have a question. Yes, I can understand you need to memorise the moves in a tactical variation like the Schliemann line discussed earlier, but in this quiet line with an early queen exchange, understanding positional ideas might be more helpful.

Chapter 6 is a bonus chapter explaining how you can use the Memory Palace idea to learn theoretical endings such as KQ v KR. Chapter 7 is a miscellany, answering some of the questions you may have and tying up some loose ends. Holden mentions other learning techniques such as flashcards and spaced repetition, which I’m aware other improvers have used with success.

I notice that this book has been one of the best selling chess books on Amazon since its publication. The book is well written, well produced and well researched, and is being strongly promoted by its author, including sending a review copy to British Chess News. I’m all in favour of supporting authors who are self-publishing on Amazon if their books have something worthwhile to say (and I hope you’ll support my Chess Heroes books as well). John Holden is clearly very knowledgeable on the subject of memory training and, if you’re interested, you’ll want to read this book. However, I remain to be convinced that his chess knowledge is sufficient to make a good case for his methods.

You might have read other chess self-help books in which authors explain the methods they used to improve their rating. If the author had been able to relate how he had improved his rating as a result of using these techniques I might have been impressed, but, as far as I can tell, his rating appears to be modest and perhaps lower than when he was a junior.

Perhaps at some point I’ll write more about the place of memory in chess and how different peoples’ memory works in different ways. I know I’m not alone in thinking very much in words rather than pictures: I have a good memory for words, facts and connections but very little visual imagination and a relatively poor memory for images (which is why I can’t play blindfold chess). For this reason the method outlined here wouldn’t work for me. But, if your brain works in a different way to mine, it might be just the book to help you improve your opening knowledge and endgame techniques. I’d certainly be very interested to hear from anyone who has made a dramatic rating gain by using the Memory Palace method. But until I’ve seen some evidence I’ll remain sceptical.

Richard James, Twickenham 17th October 2023

Richard James
Richard James

Book Details :

  • Hardcover : 206 pages
  • Publisher:  Amazon (15 July 2021)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-13:979-8370251146
  • Product Dimensions: 15.24 x 1.19 x 22.86 cm

Official web site of Amazon Purchase location

The Chess Memory Palace, John Holden, Amazon, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 979-8370251146
The Chess Memory Palace, John Holden, Amazon, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 979-8370251146
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300 Most Important Chess Exercises

300 Most Important Chess Exercises, Thomas Engqvist, Batsford (5 May 2022), ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1849947510
300 Most Important Chess Exercises, Thomas Engqvist, Batsford (5 May 2022), ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1849947510

From the Batsford web site:

“An informative and accessible new book by Thomas Engqvist, the practical follow up to his previous two authoritative chess books: 300 Most Important Chess Positions and 300 Most Important Tactical Chess Positions.

Filled with 300 engaging chess exercises and complete solutions in the end of the book, this book will allow you to apply and consolidate your newfound knowledge. The book is divided into four key sections: ·75 exercises practising positional ideas in the opening/middlegame ·75 exercises covering the endgame ·75 tactical exercises in the opening/middlegame ·75 tactical endgames.

The exercises featured in the book are taken from real game positions from various renowned chess players, including Capablanca and Magnus Carlsen.”

About the Author:

“Thomas Engqvist is an International Master from Sweden. He has over 30 years’ experience as a chess coach and teacher. He has worked with players at world championship level in both junior and correspondence chess. He is the author of 300 Most Important Chess Positions and 300 Most Important Tactical Chess Positions, both published by Batsford.

IM Thomas Engqvist (SWE)
IM Thomas Engqvist (SWE)

From the back cover:

  • In-depth analysis of the 300 most important exercises according to the famous principle “less is more”. The less you study the less you forget.
  • Practice the most important positional and tactical ideas in all phases of the game by solving just five positions every week for one year.
  • Find out if the positional or tactical idea crops up in your mind, regardless of whether you have seen the idea before or not.

Well, if you solve five positions every week it will take you 60 rather than 52 weeks to complete the book, but never mind. The claim that you’ll improve more by studying less is also rather silly: the real point is that the quality rather than the quantity of your study is important.

It continues:

In this highly instructive exercise book, International Master and experienced chess coach Thomas Engqvist outlines the 300 most important chess exercises. A sequel to 300 Most Important Chess Positions and 300 Most Important Tactical Chess Positions, this is the perfect manual for players who want to reach a higher level but don’t have the time to spend hours every week on less productive study.

Each numbered position is a test-yourself quiz to help cement the positional and tactical understanding that you have acquired. This book can be your life-long companion, enabling you to apply and solidify your positional and tactical chess knowledge.

Swedish International Master Thomas Engqvist has almost 40 years experience as a chess coach, teacher, writer and player. He has successfully worked with players at world championship level in both junior and correspondence chess. He works as a teacher at a school outside Stockholm. He is the author of eight chess books. This is his third book for Batsford Chess.

Yes, I get the point. Not everyone who wants to improve has the sort of time to spare that would be required to benefit from a book like this. Most of us have other commitments: just solving five exercises a week might be ideal. And what about the title? Are these exercises more important than the positions in the previous books? Who is to determine importance anyway. An exercise that’s important to me might not be important to you.

Let’s see what the author has to say in his introduction.

300 Most Important Chess Exercises starts off with 150 opening and middlegame positions to solve and the quota is 75 exercises where you practice positional ideas, and 75 exercises where the focus is on tactics. The other half of the book deals with 75 positional endings and 75 tactical endings. This is the only hint the solver will get.

This, then, is the final volume of a trilogy, with exercises based on the material in Engqvist’s two earlier Batsford books. If you’ve read and enjoyed them (sadly, I haven’t) you’ll undoubtedly want this as well. However, the author points out that it’s not necessary to have read them to read and benefit from this book.

The back cover claims that it’s a Universal book – suitable for players of all strengths.

No, it’s not. There’s an assumption that readers are proficient players with a good understanding of the game – say about 1500 strength. At the same time, some of the exercises will be familiar to more experienced players. I’d put the target range for this book, then, as in the region of 1500-2000 rating, although slightly weaker and slightly stronger players may also benefit.

I found Engqvist’s comments on the very first position in the book particularly interesting.

This is from a Morphy – Schulten game (New York 1857) with White to play.

White played 10. Bf4 here, but was it best? What would you suggest?

Engqvist:

Morphy claimed his 10th move was an improvement on 10. Qxd6 which was given in the leading treatises of the day (Hanstein – von der Lasa in Staunton’s “Handbook”). However this is not true if one consults the computer programs Komodo and Stockfish. It’s good to capture the d6-pawn as long as White can maintain pressure on the d-file. What’s more is that there is an even better move, suggested by both computers, namely 10. Nc3!. This is very interesting since Komodo makes good evaluations and Stockfish is good at deep calculations,  but they still come up with the same move!

This simple Knight move also follows Lasker’s principle that a knight should be developed before the bishop. The idea is to prepare Bf4 next move without allowing the d-file to be closed after …d5 . Morphy played according to the principle of development so his move is understandable, but the computers’ choice is the most precise. Even if we do know that development is on the agenda, we must also think carefully which piece to move first.

This tells you a lot about the author. Here we have someone who is well versed in chess history and culture, but also able to use modern technology effectively. Beyond that he has the ability to explain abstact concepts clearly and unambiguously.

Although that example may have been familiar to you if you’ve studied Morphy’s games, there are other exercises which you almost certainly won’t have seen before. Like this one, number 79, so it’s a tactical puzzle.

What would you play for White here?

This is from the less than Famous Game Kludacz – Pavlovskaya (Hasselbacken Open (Women) Stockholm 2001).

The whole game is interesting for anyone playing the Queen’s Gambit with either colour. White has launched a Minority Attack and now continued with 21. e4? which Black met with Bxh3!?, eventually winning the game.

Did you see how she could have done better?

21. h4! Ne6 22. Nce4!!

Presumably Kludacz missed the following knight sacrifice…

22… dxe4 23. Nxe4

White exploits the tactical weaknesses on f6 and c6. Black has no effective defence.

23… Qc7

If 23… Qe7 then 24. Qxc6

24. Nf6+ Kf8

White doesn’t need to cash in on f8 but can exploit the pin on the c-file.

25. d5!

Now Black’s position collapses and White wins.

Helpfully, Engqvist provides the whole game here so that readers can see how the position arose from the opening.

The second half of the book covers endgame exercises. Like other authors such as Judit Polgar and RB Ramesh, whose books I’ve reviewed recently, Engqvist believes that solving endgame studies is a very valuable form of chess training, so here we have a mix of studies and positions from practical play. He finds pawn endings especially fascinating, so there are plenty here.

Take this one, for example.

It’s White to play here (Kalinicev – Schulz Cham 1992). What would you suggest.

I guess most players, like me, would play 1. Ke7 here without a second thought, but it’s not the correct answer.

Engqvist:

The first time I saw this endgame I wrote in my private annotations that it’s “incredible that this move doesn’t win!” From a visual point of view it certainly seems that White’s king will wipe out the whole kingside of pawns like a vacuum cleaner,  but that turns out to be an optical illusion. The key move to winning is to play according to Nimzowitsch’s rule, which states that you should hem in the target before blockading it and only then destroy it!

 1. g4! would have prevented Black from moving his f-pawn to f5. Then 1… Kd3 2. Ke7 f6 3. Kf7 Ke2 4. f4 Kf3 5. f5. The f-pawn is now blockaded and a future attacking target. 5… Kg3 6. Kxg7 Kxh3 7. Kxh7 (7. Kxf6 Kxg4 8. Ke6 also wins but it’s unnecessary to give Black some hope even though that would be futile.) 7… Kxg4 8. Kg6 and White’s f-pawn decides.

Instead, the game concluded:

1. Ke7? f5 2. Kf7 Kd3 3. Kxg7 f4!! 4. Kxh7 Ke2 5. g4 Kxf2 6. g5 f3 7. g6 Kg3! 8. g7 f2 9. g8=Q+ Kxh3 with a drawn position because an eventual Qg3+ will be met by Kh1.

If you mistakenly went for Ke7 here then this may well be the book for you.

It does beg a question, though. This is billed as a positional endgame exercise, which it undoubtedly is, but it’s certainly tactical as well.

Of course positional and tactical chess are inextricably entwined, and, by the time you get to the ending, they’re really the same thing. The whole idea of splitting endgame exercises into ‘positional’ and ‘tactical’ seems very artificial to me. I’d guess this was the publisher’s rather than the author’s decision.

You probably hadn’t seen that position before (it’s not even in MegaBase), but if you’ve read anything on pawn endings you’ll almost certainly have seen the Famous Ending Cohn – Rubinstein (St Petersburg 1909), which you’ll also meet here. “If you only study one endgame with many pawns this is the one”, according to Engqvist, who discusses it over two pages. Regular readers of endgame manuals will find several other old friends as well: there’s six pages devoted to another Famous Ending, Timman – Velimirović (Rio de Janeiro 1979), to take just one example. Exercises 212-214 cover the ending of RB v R: the solutions cover 11 pages: extremely useful if you want to learn this ending, but I guess it’s debatable how important it is for average club players.

Here’s a quick endgame study from the last section of the book: tactical endgame exercises. See if you can solve it yourself before reading on.

White to play and draw (Prokes 1939)

A very game-like position, you’ll agree, and you were probably brought up with the knowledge that, in the absence of kings, two pawns on the sixth rank beat a rook.

In this instructive study, White’s king, contrary to appearances, is just about close enough.

Here’s the solution:

1. Kg4 e2 (1… d2 2. Kf3 Kd3 3. Ra1 e2 4. Ra3+ Kc2 5. Ra2+ Kc1 6. Ra1+ Kb2 7. Kxe2 =) 2. Rc1+ Kd4 (2… Kb3 3. Kf3 d2 4. Rb1+ Kc2 5. Kxe2 Kxb1 6. Kxd2 =) 3. Kf3 d2 4. Rc4+!!  Kd3 (4… Kxc4 5. Kxe2 Kc3 6. Kd1 Kd3 =) 5. Rd4+!! Kxd4 6. Kxe2 Kc3 7. Kd1 =

I hope you managed to solve this. But was it purely tactical or positional as well? What do you think?

To sum up, then, it’s very clear from this book that Thomas Engqvist is an exceptional teacher, who, like all exceptional teachers, knows exactly what he’s doing and why he’s doing it. Unlike some less experienced authors he doesn’t just throw a load of GM positions at you, show you a pile of computer generated variations and expect you to play like Carlsen.

To refer again to two other excellent books I’ve reviewed recently, if you find Ramesh too heavy and Polgar’s exciting enthusiasm grating, I’m sure Engqvist will hit the sweet spot for you. In that case you’ll probably want to investigate his two earlier Batsford books as well, and perhaps read them first. As the authors take very different approaches and cover different topics, ambitious club  players would do well to buy both Polgar and Engqvist. Young players who are aiming for IM or GM titles and have plenty of time to study would, on the other hand, be better off with Ramesh.

I’m just not sure that the format of the book is the best way to present Engqvist’s material, especially since endgames are both positional and tactical at the same time. (What the best format actually would be is an interesting question: different readers will prefer different formats. If you really, as Engqvist does, want to make the training environment resemble a tournament game you might want to mix the positions up rather than give a clue as to whether it’s a positional or tactical exercise.) I’m also not sure that the subtitle ‘Study five a week to become a better chess player’ is particularly helpful or realistic. Some of the positions require little time and explanation while others require a lot. The author himself doesn’t suggest in his introduction that this is the best way to use his book. As I suggested above, this book, notwithstanding the claims on the back cover, is far too advanced for beginners, but would be a great choice for anyone rated in the region of 1500-2000, or perhaps a bit higher.

But of course publishers do whatever it takes to sell copies, including resorting to unhelpful titles and unrealistic claims, and people don’t always buy chess books for rational reasons. Which is why it’s a good idea to read impartial reviews first.

The book is published to Batsford’s usual standards and appears to be free from the typos that mar books by some other publishers. The English might not always be totally idiomatic but is perfectly comprehensible throughout. I note that there is no mention of translators or proofreaders at the front of the book.

A book by an outstanding teacher, then, and, if the style and contents appeal to you, very highly recommended for club standard players ambitious to improve their rating.

Richard James, Twickenham 12th January 2023

Richard James
Richard James

Book Details :

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Batsford (5 May 2022)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:1849947511
  • ISBN-13:978-1849947510
  • Product Dimensions: 15.57 x 2.29 x 23.5 cm

Official web site of Batsford

300 Most Important Chess Exercises, Thomas Engqvist, Batsford (5 May 2022), ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1849947510
300 Most Important Chess Exercises, Thomas Engqvist, Batsford (5 May 2022), ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1849947510
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Improve Your Chess Calculation: The Ramesh Chess Course – Volume 1

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

From the publisher:

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ramesh comments at the end:

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

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

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

Later in the chapter, Ramesh has this to say.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 6 is devoted entirely to endgame studies.

Here’s Ramesh:

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

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

The solution runs like this:

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

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

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

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

How to summarise?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Richard James, Twickenham 5th December 2022

Richard James
. Richard James

Book Details:

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

Official web site of New in Chess

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

Street Smart Chess, Axel Smith, Quality Chess, 29 November 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1784831219
Street Smart Chess, Axel Smith, Quality Chess, 29 November 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1784831219

From the publisher:

“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, courtesy of David Smerdon
Axel Smith, courtesy of David Smerdon

“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.

  1. Strive for a pawn structure where it’s possible to throw pawns at the opponent’s king at a later stage.
  2. Invite all the pieces to the party – advice valuable for a beginner as well as for a super-GM.
  3. Remove the defenders – sometimes by sacrificing, but exchanges can do the job as well.
  4. 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.

Richard James, Twickenham 4th November 2021

Richard James
. Richard James

Book Details :

  • Paperback : 248 pages
  • Publisher: Quality Chess UK LLP (17 Mar 2021)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:1784831212
  • ISBN-13:978-1784831219
  • Product Dimensions: 17 x 2 x 24 cm

Official web site of Quality Chess

Street Smart Chess, Axel Smith, Quality Chess, 29 November 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1784831219
Street Smart Chess, Axel Smith, Quality Chess, 29 November 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1784831219
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The Secret Ingredient: To Winning at Chess

The Secret Ingredient: To Winning at Chess, Jan Markos & David Navara, Quality Chess, 7th Feb 2022, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1784831424
The Secret Ingredient: To Winning at Chess, Jan Markos & David Navara, Quality Chess, 7th Feb 2022, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1784831424

From the publisher:

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…

GM David Navara
GM David Navara

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)

GM Jan Markos
GM Jan Markos

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.

He adds:

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.

Engines prefer to continue 29… Ba3+! 30. Kxb3 a1N+!! 31. Rxa1 Qb6+!! 32. Bxb6 Nd4+! 33. Kc3 Rxc4+! 34. Kxc4 Rc8+ 35. Bc7 Rxc7#.

In Chapter 3, Markos asks a question.

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.

 

Richard James, Twickenham 3rd October 2021

Richard James
. Richard James

Book Details :

  • Paperback : 224 pages
  • Publisher: Quality Chess UK LLP (7 Feb. 2022)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:1784831425
  • ISBN-13:978-1784831424
  • Product Dimensions: 17 x 2 x 24 cm

Official web site of Quality Chess

The Secret Ingredient: To Winning at Chess, Jan Markos & David Navara, Quality Chess, 7th Feb 2022, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1784831424
The Secret Ingredient: To Winning at Chess, Jan Markos & David Navara, Quality Chess, 7th Feb 2022, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1784831424
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Battle of Endgames: 1066 Stratagems for you to Conquer

Battle of Endgames, Ray Cannon, Amazon, 9th June, 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 979-8518031715
Battle of Endgames, Ray Cannon, Amazon, 9th June, 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 979-8518031715

From the back cover:

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.

Julian Simpole

Jimmy Adams and Ray Cannon at a 2012 meeting in Norwich of the Ken Whyld Association

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

Richard James
Richard James

Answers:
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!

You can buy the book on Amazon here.

  • ASIN ‏ : ‎ B096TTR6RB
  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Independently published (9 Jun. 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 248 pages
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 979-8518031715
  • Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 15.6 x 1.42 x 23.39 cm
Battle of Endgames, Ray Cannon, Amazon, 9th June, 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 979-8518031715
Battle of Endgames, Ray Cannon, Amazon, 9th June, 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 979-8518031715
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Zlotnik’s Middlegame Manual – Typical Structures And Strategic Manoeuvres

Zlotnik's Middlegame Manual - Typical Structures And Strategic Manoeuvres,  Boris Zlotnik, New in Chess, 7th December 2020, 7th December 2020, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9056919269
Zlotnik’s Middlegame Manual – Typical Structures And Strategic Manoeuvres, Boris Zlotnik, New in Chess, 7th December 2020, 7th December 2020, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9056919269

Blurb from the publisher:

“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.”

IM Boris Zlotnik
IM Boris Zlotnik

“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.”

End of blurb.

Courtesy of Amazon we have an option to Look Inside the Kindle version of this book

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.:

IQP1
IQP1
IQP2
IQP2
IQP3
IQP3
IQP4
IQP4

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:

Tiviakov-Neverov Warsaw 2015 White To Play Move 33
Tiviakov-Neverov Warsaw 2015 White To Play Move 33

The second endgame commences here:

Tiviakov-Miladinovic Algiers 2015 White To Play Move 25
Tiviakov-Miladinovic Algiers 2015 White To Play Move 25

After the exchange of one pair of rooks, this position is reached:

Tiviakov-Miladinovic Algiers 2015 Black To Play Move 36
Tiviakov-Miladinovic Algiers 2015 Black To Play Move 36

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

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nxe5 d6 4.Nf3 Nxe4 5.d4 d5 6.Bd3 Nc6 7.0-0

Grandelius-Zatonskih IOM 2017 Move 7 Black to move
Grandelius-Zatonskih IOM 2017 Move 7 Black to move

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

Grandelius-Zatonskih IOM 2017 Move 13 White to move
Grandelius-Zatonskih IOM 2017 Move 13 White to move

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)

Grandelius-Zatonskih IOM 2017 Move 14 Black to move
Grandelius-Zatonskih IOM 2017 Move 14 Black to move

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

Grandelius-Zatonskih IOM 2017 Move 16 White to move
Grandelius-Zatonskih IOM 2017 Move 16 White to move

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.

Grandelius-Zatonskih IOM 2017 Move 17 Black to move
Grandelius-Zatonskih IOM 2017 Move 17 Black to move

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

Grandelius-Zatonskih IOM 2017 Move 21 White to move
Grandelius-Zatonskih IOM 2017 Move 21 White to move

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
Leningrad 1949

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

Spassky - Avtonomov Leningrad 1949 Move 7 Black to move
Spassky – Avtonomov Leningrad 1949 Move 7 Black to move

 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!

Spassky - Avtonomov Leningrad 1949 Move 10 Black to move
Spassky – Avtonomov Leningrad 1949 Move 10 Black to move

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)

Spassky - Avtonomov Leningrad 1949 Move 12 White to move
Spassky – Avtonomov Leningrad 1949 Move 12 White to move

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)

Spassky - Avtonomov Leningrad 1949 Move 13 Black to move
Spassky – Avtonomov Leningrad 1949 Move 13 Black to move

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

Spassky - Avtonomov Leningrad 1949 Move 17 Black to move
Spassky – Avtonomov Leningrad 1949 Move 17 Black to move

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.

Novotelnov-Bonarevsky Moscow 1951 Move 9 Black to move
Novotelnov – Bonarevsky Moscow 1951 Move 9 Black to move

In the position below, Bondarevsky played  a memorable idea which is not obvious 12…d4! 

Novotelnov-Bonarevsky Moscow 1951 Move 12 Black to move
Novotelnov – Bonarevsky Moscow 1951 Move 12 Black to move

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!

Chernikov-Spassky Moscow 1966 Move 17 White to move
Chernikov – Spassky Moscow 1966 Move 17 White to move

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:

Novotelnoy-Bondarevsky Moscow 1951 Move 21 White to move
Novotelnoy – Bondarevsky Moscow 1951 Move 21 White to move

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.

Vasily Smyslov – Vladimir Liberzon
Moscow 1969

1.c4 g6 2.Nc3 Bg7 3.d4 Nf6 4.Bg5 c5 5.e3 cxd4 6.exd4 d5 7.Bxf6 Bxf6 8.cxd5 0-0 9.Nf3

Smyslov-Liberzon Moscow 1969 Move 9 Black to move
Smyslov-Liberzon Moscow 1969 Move 9 Black to move

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.

Kasparov-Kasimdzhanov Bastia 2007 Move 17 Black to move
Kasparov-Kasimdzhanov Bastia 2007 Move 17 Black to move

Stockfish likes 9…Bg7 10.Qb3 e6!?

Smyslov-Liberzon Moscow 1969 Variation Move 11 White to move
Smyslov-Liberzon Moscow 1969 Variation Move 11 White to move

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

Smyslov-Liberzon Moscow 1969 Variation Move 15 Black to move
Smyslov-Liberzon Moscow 1969 Move 15 Black to move

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

Smyslov-Liberzon Moscow 1969 Variation Move 17 Black to move
Smyslov-Liberzon Moscow 1969 Move 17 Black to move

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)

Smyslov-Liberzon Moscow 1969 Variation Move 20 White to move
Smyslov-Liberzon Moscow 1969 Variation Move 20 White to move

20.Re6! Qd8 21.Re3 I’ll be back 21…Qd6

Smyslov-Liberzon Moscow 1969 Move 22 White to move
Smyslov-Liberzon Moscow 1969 Move 22 White to move

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

Smyslov-Liberzon Moscow 1969 Move 25 White to move
Smyslov-Liberzon Moscow 1969 Move 25 White to move

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)

Bitman -Zlotnik Moscow 1979 Move 14 White to move
Bitman -Zlotnik Moscow 1979 Move 14 White to move

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)

Bitman -Zlotnik Moscow 1979 Move 14 White to move
Bitman -Zlotnik Moscow 1979 Move 14 White to move

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

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Nc3 Be7 5.Bf4 0-0 6.e3 c5 7.dxc5 Nc6 8.Qc2 Qa5 9.a3 Bxc5 10.Rd1

Karpov-Spassky Montreal 1979 Move 10 Black to move
Karpov-Spassky Montreal 1979 Move 10 Black to move

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-Spassky Montreal 1979 Move 10 Black to move
Karpov-Spassky Montreal 1979 Move 10 Black to move

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

Karpov-Spassky Montreal 1979 Move 19 Black to move
Karpov-Spassky Montreal 1979 Move 19 Black to move

19…Ne4 20.Qe2 Nxc3 21.Bxc3

Karpov-Spassky Montreal 1979 Move 21 Black to move
Karpov-Spassky Montreal 1979 Move 21 Black to move

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

Karpov-Spassky Montreal 1979 Move 24 White to move
Karpov-Spassky Montreal 1979 Move 24 White to move

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.

24.R1d2 Qb5 25.Qd1 b6 26.g3 Bf8 27.Bg2 Be7 28.Qh5! a6 29.h3 Qc6 30.Kh2 a5

Karpov-Spassky Montreal 1979 Move 31 White to move
Karpov-Spassky Montreal 1979 Move 31 White to move

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.

31.f4! f6

Forced as 31…f5 allows 32.Qg6 Bf8 33.Be5 with the winning idea of …g3-g4

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Karpov-Spassky Montreal 1979 Variation Move 33 Black to move

32.Qd1 Qb5 33.g4

Karpov-Spassky Montreal 1979 Variation Move 33 Black to move
Karpov-Spassky Montreal 1979 Move 33 Black to move

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

Karpov-Spassky Montreal 1979 Move 36 White to move
Karpov-Spassky Montreal 1979 Move 36 White to move

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.

Vladimirov (2612) – Kasparov (2838) Batumi 2001

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e3 0-0 5.Bd3 d5 6.Nf3 c5 7.0-0 cxd4 8.exd4 dxc4 9.Bxc4 b6 10.Qe2 Bb7 11.Rd1 Bxc3 12.bxc3 Qc7

Vladimirov-Kasparov Batumi 2002 Move 13 White to move
Vladimirov-Kasparov Batumi 2002 Move 13 White to move

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

Vladimirov-Kasparov Batumi 2002 Move 17 White to move
Vladimirov-Kasparov Batumi 2002 Move 17 White to move

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

Vladimirov-Kasparov Batumi 2002 Move 24 White to move
Vladimirov-Kasparov Batumi 2002 Move 24 White to move

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:

Carlsbad structure
Carlsbad structure

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.

Kotov-Pachman Venice 1950 Move 42 Black to play
Kotov-Pachman Venice 1950 Move 42 Black to play

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?!

Much better is 43…Kg5! 44.h3 f5! 45.gxf5

Not 45.f4+? Kh4 46.gxf5

Kotov-Pachman Venice 1950 Variation 1 Move 46 Black to play
Kotov-Pachman Venice 1950 Variation 1 Move 46 Black to play

46…Kg3!! 47.fxg6 (47.f6 Rf7) 47…hxg6 48.Rd8

Kotov-Pachman Venice 1950 Variation 1 Move 48 Black to play
Kotov-Pachman Venice 1950 Variation 1 Move 48 Black to play

48…Ra7! 49.Kf1 Bc7 50.Rd7 Ra1+ 51.Ke2 Ra2+ 52.Kd1 Ba5 53.Ne5 Bd2=

45…Kxf5 46.Kf1 Kg5 47.Kg2 Kf6 48.Kf3 Kf5 with a slight edge to white, but black’s king is active.

Kotov-Pachman Venice 1950 Variation 2 Move 49 White to play
Kotov-Pachman Venice 1950 Variation 2 Move 49 White to play

Back to the game:

44.Kg2 Rb7 45.Re8+ Re7 46.Rh8 f6 47.h4 Rb7 48.Kf3 Rf7 49.Re8+ Re7 50.Rd8 Ra7

Kotov-Pachman Venice 1950 Move 51 White to play
Kotov-Pachman Venice 1950 Move 51 White to play

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

Kotov-Pachman Venice 1950 Move 55 Black to play
Kotov-Pachman Venice 1950 Move 55 Black to play

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.

Mark Hebden-Peter Shaw Leeds rapid 2013 Move 34 White to play
Mark Hebden-Peter Shaw Leeds rapid 2013 Move 34 White to play

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.

Tigran Petrosian – Nikolai Krogius
Tbilisi 1959

1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 g6 3.c4 Bg7 4.Nc3 d5 5.Bg5 Ne4 6.cxd5 Nxg5 7.Nxg5 e6 8.Nf3 exd5 9.e3 0-0

Petrosian-Krogius Tbilisi 1959 Move 10 White to play
Petrosian-Krogius Tbilisi 1959 Move 10 White to play

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

Petrosian-Krogius Tbilisi 1959 Move 12 Black to play
Petrosian-Krogius Tbilisi 1959 Move 12 Black to play

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)

Petrosian-Krogius Tbilisi 1959 Move 14 Black to play
Petrosian-Krogius Tbilisi 1959 Move 14 Black to play

14…Qd6?!

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

Petrosian-Krogius Tbilisi 1959 Move 19 White to play
Petrosian-Krogius Tbilisi 1959 Move 19 White to play

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!

Petrosian-Krogius Tbilisi 1959 Move 23 Black to play
Petrosian-Krogius Tbilisi 1959 Move 23 Black to play

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)
Baden-Baden 2015

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.

Aronian-Anand Baden-Baden Move 16 White to move
Aronian-Anand Baden-Baden Move 16 White to move

16.Qb2 Qg7 (Stopping e4 and preparing a possible f-pawn battering ram) 17.Na4 Rae8 18.Nc5 Bc8

Aronian-Anand Baden-Baden Move 19 White to move
Aronian-Anand Baden-Baden Move 19 White to move

19.g3?!

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!

Aronian-Anand Baden-Baden Variation 1 Move 27 Black to move
Aronian-Anand Baden-Baden Variation 1 Move 27 Black to move

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

Aronian-Anand Baden-Baden Move 23 Black to move
Aronian-Anand Baden-Baden Move 23 Black to move

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

Aronian-Anand Baden-Baden Move 24 Black to move
Aronian-Anand Baden-Baden Move 24 Black to move

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

Aronian-Anand Baden-Baden Move 25 Black to move
Aronian-Anand Baden-Baden Move 25 Black to move

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
Kiev 1954

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.)

Taimanov-Nezhmetdinov Kiev Move 12 White to play
Taimanov-Nezhmetdinov Kiev Move 12 White to play

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

Taimanov-Nezhmetdinov Kiev Move 17 White to play
Taimanov-Nezhmetdinov Kiev Move 17 White to play

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)

Taimanov-Nezhmetdinov Kiev Move 19 White to play
Taimanov-Nezhmetdinov Kiev Move 19 White to play

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

Nikolic-Kramnik Monte Carlo 1998 Move 12 White to move
Nikolic-Kramnik Monte Carlo 1998 Move 12 White to move

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

Nikolic-Kramnik Monte Carlo 1998 Move 14 White to move
Nikolic-Kramnik Monte Carlo 1998 Move 14 White to move

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)

Nikolic-Kramnik Monte Carlo 1998 Move 15 White to move
Nikolic-Kramnik Monte Carlo 1998 Move 15 White to move

15.Qc2 axb4 16.axb4 Nd6 17.Rb3 Nb6!

Nikolic-Kramnik Monte Carlo 1998 Move 18 White to move
Nikolic-Kramnik Monte Carlo 1998 Move 18 White to move

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.Nc5 Re8 21.h3 g6 22.Rc1

Nikolic-Kramnik Monte Carlo 1998 Move 22 Black to move
Nikolic-Kramnik Monte Carlo 1998 Move 22 Black to move

22…Ra7 (22…Nf5 is probably even better)  23.Qd1 h5 24.Kh1 Qg5 25.Rbb1 Rae7 26.Ra1

Nikolic-Kramnik Monte Carlo 1998 Move 26 Black to move
Nikolic-Kramnik Monte Carlo 1998 Move 26 Black to move

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

Nikolic-Kramnik Monte Carlo 1998 Variation 1 Move 32 White to move
Nikolic-Kramnik Monte Carlo 1998 Variation 1 Move 32 White to move

27.Ra2 Ncxe3! 28.fxe3 Rxe3 29.Rf2

Nikolic-Kramnik Monte Carlo 1998 Move 29 Black to move
Nikolic-Kramnik Monte Carlo 1998 Move 29 Black to move

29…Qh4?

29…Qg3! wins 30.Qd2Nh4! 31.Nd7 Nxg2! White’s king will die of exposure

Nikolic-Kramnik Monte Carlo 1998 Variation 2 Move 32 White to move
Nikolic-Kramnik Monte Carlo 1998 Variation 2 Move 32 White to move

32.Nf6+ Kf8 33.Nxe8 Qxh3+ 34.Kg1 Nf4! 35.Rxf4  Rg3+ 36.Kf2 Qh2+ winning

Back to the game 30.Qd2 Amazingly 30.Kg1 holds according to our silicon friend 30… Nxd4

Nikolic-Kramnik Monte Carlo 1998 Move 31 White to move
Nikolic-Kramnik Monte Carlo 1998 Move 31 White to move

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

Topalov-Kramnik Linares 1998 Move 13 White to move
Topalov-Kramnik Linares 1998 Move 13 White to move

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…Re8 15.Rc1 Nd7 16.g3 (16.dxc5 Nxc5 17.Nd4 Qd6=) 16…Nf8 17.Na4?!

Topalov-Kramnik Linares 1998 Move 17 White to move
Topalov-Kramnik Linares 1998 Move 17 White to move

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)

Topalov-Kramnik Linares 1998 Move 23 White to move
Topalov-Kramnik Linares 1998 Move 23 White to move

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]

Topalov-Kramnik Linares 1998 Varaition 1 Move 28 White to move
Topalov-Kramnik Linares 1998 Variation 1 Move 28 White to move

Back to the game: 23…g5 24.Nf1 Be7 The first part of a regrouping of the black forces that improves his position considerably

Topalov-Kramnik Linares 1998 Move 25 White to move
Topalov-Kramnik Linares 1998 Move 25 White to move

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.

Topalov-Kramnik Linares 1998 Variation 2 Move 32 Black to move
Topalov-Kramnik Linares 1998 Variation 2 Move 32 Black to move

 25…Qd7 26.Ng3 Ng7 27.a4 Bb4 28.Bh3 Bb7 29.Qc2 Bd6!

Topalov-Kramnik Linares 1998 Variation 2 Move 30 White to move
Topalov-Kramnik Linares 1998 Move 30 White to move

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

Topalov-Kramnik Linares 1998 Variation 2 Move 36 Black to move
Topalov-Kramnik Linares 1998 Move 36 Black to move

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-+]

Topalov-Kramnik Linares 1998 Move 41 Black to move
Topalov-Kramnik Linares 1998 Move 41 Black to move

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)

Topalov-Kramnik Linares 1998 End
Topalov-Kramnik Linares 1998 End

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.

Botvinnik – Keres
Moscow, 1952

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 d5 4.cxd5 exd5 5.Bg5 Be7 6.e3 0-0 7.Bd3 Nbd7 8.Qc2 Re8 9.Nge2 Nf8 10.0-0 c6

Botvinnik-Keres Moscow 1952 Move 11 White to play
Botvinnik-Keres Moscow 1952 Move 11 White to play

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

Botvinnik-Keres Moscow 1952 Move 13 White to play
Botvinnik-Keres Moscow 1952 Move 13 White to play

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)

Botvinnik-Keres Moscow 1952 Variation 1 Move 18 White to play
Botvinnik-Keres Moscow 1952 Variation 1 Move 18 White to play

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

Botvinnik-Keres Moscow 1952 Move 17 Black to play
Botvinnik-Keres Moscow 1952 Move 17 Black to play

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.

Botvinnik-Keres Moscow 1952 Move 23 Black to play
Botvinnik-Keres Moscow 1952 Variation Move 23 Black to play

18…Bxf5 19.Bxf5 Qb6 20.e4! dxe4 21.fxe4 Rd8

Botvinnik-Keres Moscow 1952 Move 22 White to play
Botvinnik-Keres Moscow 1952 Move 22 White to play

22.e5! (Pushing the defensive knight away and preparing Ne4-Nd6) 22…Nd5 23.Ne4 Nf8 24.Nd6 Qc7

Botvinnik-Keres Moscow 1952 Move 25 White to play
Botvinnik-Keres Moscow 1952 Move 25 White to play

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

Botvinnik-Keres Moscow 1952 Move 31 White to play
Botvinnik-Keres Moscow 1952 Move 31 White to play

30.Nf5! Crunch  30…Rfe8 (30…gxf5 21.Rg3+ Ng7 22.Qf6 and mate next ) 31.Nh6+ Kf8 32.Qf6 Ng7 33.Rcf3 Rc8 34.Nxf7 Re6 35.Qg5 Nf5 36.Nh6 Qg7 37.g4 1-0

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:

Petrosian 2605 – Beliavsky (2570)
Moscow 1983

1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.cxd5 exd5 5.Bg5 Be7 6.e3 0-0 7.Bd3 Nbd7 8.Nf3 Re8 9.0-0 c6 10.Qc2 Nf8

Petrosian-Beliavsky Moscow 1983 Move 11
Petrosian-Beliavsky Moscow 1983 Move 11

11.a3!? Not the commonest move but not without bite 11…Ne4 (A common response, but 11…Bg4 is ok as well) 12.Bf4

Petrosian-Beliavsky Moscow 1983 Move 12 Black to move
Petrosian-Beliavsky Moscow 1983 Move 12 Black to move

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

Petrosian-Beliavsky Moscow 1983 Variation 1 Move 19 Black to move
Petrosian-Beliavsky Moscow 1983 Variation 1 Move 19 Black to move

 13…Bxg5 14.Bxg5 Qxg5 15.Rae1 Bd7 16.f4 Qh6 17.Qf2

Petrosian-Beliavsky Moscow 1983 Move 17 Black to move
Petrosian-Beliavsky Moscow 1983 Move 17 Black to move

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

Petrosian-Beliavsky Moscow 1983 Move 20 White to move
Petrosian-Beliavsky Moscow 1983 Move 20 White to move

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

Petrosian-Beliavsky Moscow 1983 Move 23 White to move
Petrosian-Beliavsky Moscow 1983 Move 23 White to move

23.Rxe7! Qxd6 (27…fxg3+ 28.Nxf7+ wins) 24.Rxd7 Qxd7 25.Qxf4 Rd8

Petrosian-Beliavsky Moscow 1983 Move 26 White to move
Petrosian-Beliavsky Moscow 1983 Move 26 White to move

Black’s king is horribly exposed and cannot survive long.

26.Qf6+ Kg8 27.Kh1 Qxd4 28.Qxf7+ Kh8 29.Qe7! Ng6 30.Bxg6 hxg6 31.h3 b5 32.Rf6!

Petrosian-Beliavsky Moscow 1983 Move 32 Black to move
Petrosian-Beliavsky Moscow 1983 Move 32 Black to move

32…Rg8 33.Rxc6

A quicker way 33.Rd6! Qg7 34.Qh4+ Qh7 35.Qg5 c5 36.Re6 b4 37.Re7 Rg7 38.Re4

Petrosian-Beliavsky Moscow 1983 Variation 2 Move 38 Black to move
Petrosian-Beliavsky Moscow 1983 Variation 2 Move 38 Black to move

33..Rg7 34.Qg5 Kh7 35.Kh2 b4 36.Rf6 bxa3 37.bxa3 Qc4 38.Rf4 Qc7 39.Qh4+ Kg8 40.Qg3 a5 41.a4 Qb6 1-0

Petrosian-Beliavsky Moscow 1983 Final
Petrosian-Beliavsky Moscow 1983 Final

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.

Boris Gulko – Paul Van der Sterren
Amsterdam 1988

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 d5 4.cxd5 exd5 5.Bg5 Be7 6.e3 0-0 7.Bd3 c6 8.Nge2 Nbd7

Gulko-van der Sterren Move 9 White to play
Gulko-van der Sterren Move 9 White to play

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

Gulko-Van der Sterren Amsterdam 1988 Move 15 White to play
Gulko-Van der Sterren Amsterdam 1988 Move 15 White to play

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.

Gulko-van der Sterren Move 9 Variation 2 Move 25 White to play
Gulko-van der Sterren Variation 2 Move 25 White to play

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)

Gulko-Van der Sterren Amsterdam 1988 Move 16 Black to play
Gulko-Van der Sterren Amsterdam 1988 Move 16 Black to play

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

Gulko-Van der Sterren Amsterdam 1988 Move 19 Black to play
Gulko-Van der Sterren Amsterdam 1988 Move 19 Black to play

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

Gulko-Van der Sterren Amsterdam 1988 Move 22 White to play
Gulko-Van der Sterren Amsterdam 1988 Move 22 White to play

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.

Nepomniachtchi (2757) – Nisipeanu (2672)
Dortmund 2018

1.c4 e6 2.Nc3 d5 3.d4 Nf6 4.cxd5 exd5 5.Bg5 c6 6.Qc2 Be7 7.e3 Nbd7 8.Bd3 h6 9.Bh4 Nh5 10.Bxe7 Qxe7 11.0-0-0 Nb6

Nepomniachtchi-Nisipeanu Doermund 2018
Nepomniachtchi-Nisipeanu Dortmund 2018 Move 12

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

Nepomniachtchi-Nisipeanu Dortmund
Nepomniachtchi-Nisipeanu Dortmund

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

Nepomniachtchi-Nisipeanu Dortmund 2019 Move 19 White to play
Nepomniachtchi-Nisipeanu Dortmund 2019 Move 19 White to play

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

Nepomniachtchi-Nisipeanu Dortmund 2019 Move 21 Black to play
Nepomniachtchi-Nisipeanu Dortmund 2019 Move 21 Black to play

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

Nepomniachtchi-Nisipeanu Dortmund 2019 Move 24 Black to play
Nepomniachtchi-Nisipeanu Dortmund 2019 Move 24 Black to play

24…Nd7?

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

Nepomniachtchi-Nisipeanu Dortmund 2019 Variation 1 Move 30 White to play
Nepomniachtchi-Nisipeanu Dortmund 2019 Variation 1 Move 30 White to play

25.a6! Undermining the c6-pawn with a definite White edge

Nepomniachtchi-Nisipeanu Dortmund 2019 Move 26 Black to play
Nepomniachtchi-Nisipeanu Dortmund 2019 Move 26 Black to play

25…Nxc5 26.bxc5! Kc7 27.axb7 Rb8 28.Kb2 Rxb7+ 29.Kc3 Rb5 30.Ra1 Kb7 31.Ra2 Ne7 32.Rfa1 Ra8

Nepomniachtchi-Nisipeanu Dortmund 2019 Move 33 White to play
Nepomniachtchi-Nisipeanu Dortmund 2019 Move 33 White to play

White has a huge plus, now a knight manoeuvre improves his position further

33.Nb1! (Or Nf3, Ne5,Nd3,Nb4) Kb8 34.Ra6 Kb7 35.R6a4 Kb8 36.Na3 Rb7 37.Ra6 Kc7 38.Nc2 Kd7 39.Nb4

Nepomniachtchi-Nisipeanu Dortmund 2019 Move 39 Black to play
Nepomniachtchi-Nisipeanu Dortmund 2019 Move 39 Black to play

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

Nepomniachtchi-Nisipeanu Dortmund 2019 Move 50 End
Nepomniachtchi-Nisipeanu Dortmund 2019 Move 50 End

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.

Botvinnik-Alekhine AVRO 1938 Move 12 Black to move
Botvinnik-Alekhine AVRO 1938 Move 12 Black to move

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

Botvinnik-Alekhine AVRO 1938 Move 19 Black to move
Botvinnik-Alekhine AVRO 1938 Move 19 Black to move

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

Botvinnik-Alekhine AVRO 1938 Move 27 White to move
Botvinnik-Alekhine AVRO 1938 Move 27 White to move

 27.h4!! Forcing new weaknesses on the kingside. 27…Nd7 28.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.

Botvinnik-Alekhine AVRO 1938 Move 32 White to move
Botvinnik-Alekhine AVRO 1938 Move 32 White to move

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

Botvinnik-Alekhine AVRO 1938 Move 39 White to move
Botvinnik-Alekhine AVRO 1938 Move 39 White to move

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.

Botvinnik – Petrosian
Moscow 1964

1.c4 c5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nc3 e6 4.g3 b6 5.Bg2 Bb7 6.0-0 Be7 7.b3 d5 8.e3 0-0 9.Bb2 Nc6 10.cxd5 exd5 11.d4 Re8 12.Rc1 Rc8

Botvinnik-Petrosian Moscow 1964 Move 13 White To Move
Botvinnik-Petrosian Moscow 1964 Move 13 White To Move

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

Botvinnik-Petrosian Moscow 1964 Move 20 Black To Move
Botvinnik-Petrosian Moscow 1964 Move 20 Black To Move

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)

Botvinnik-Petrosian Moscow 1964 Move 30 White To Move
Botvinnik-Petrosian Moscow 1964 Move 30 White To Move

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

Botvinnik-Petrosian-Moscow-1964-Move-34-White-To-Move.jpg 26 July 2021 118 KB 852 by 852 pixels Edit Image Delete permanently Alt Text Describe the purpose of the image(opens in a new tab). Leave empty if the image is purely decorative.Title Botvinnik-Petrosian Moscow 1964 Move 34 White To Move Caption Description File URL: http://britishchessnews.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/Botvinnik-Petrosian-Moscow-1964-Move-34-White-To-Move.jpg Copy URL to clipboard ATTACHMENT DISPLAY SETTINGS Alignment None Link To None Size Medium – 300 × 300 Selected media actions 1 item selected Clear Insert into post
Botvinnik-Petrosian Moscow 1964 Move 34 White To Move

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

Botvinnik-Petrosian Moscow 1964 Move 41 White To Move
Botvinnik-Petrosian Moscow 1964 Move 41 White To Move

And white won on move 62.

3.2.3 Active deployment of the pieces

Gulko – Radjabov
Malmo 2001

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

Gulko-Radjabov Malmo 2001 Move 5 Black to move
Gulko-Radjabov Malmo 2001 Move 5 Black to move

 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.

Robert Byrne-Bobby Fischer New York 1964 Move 12 Black to move
Robert Byrne-Bobby Fischer New York 1964 Move 12 Black to move

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!

Robert Byrne-Bobby Fischer New York 1963
Robert Byrne-Bobby Fischer New York 1963 End position

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:

Petrov Copycat Variation Move 5 White to move
Petroff Copycat Variation Move 5 White to move
Petrov Copycat Move 4 White to move
Petrov Copycat Move 4 White to move
Queens Gambit Move 3
Queens Gambit Move 3

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:

QGA Move 7 Black to move
QGA Move 7 Black to move

Carlsen won an impressive game versus Nisipeanu at Medias in 2011.

Anti-Gruenfeld Move 6 Black to move
Anti-Gruenfeld Move 6 Black to move

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:

So-Nakamura St Louis 2015 Move 19 White to play
So-Nakamura St Louis 2015 Move 19 White to play

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.

So-Nakamura St Louis 2015 Checkmate
So-Nakamura St Louis 2015 Checkmate

The author discusses the main White methods to counter Black’s expansion with f7-f5:

  1. The manoeuvre Nf3-h4
  2. Pinning the Nf6 with Bc1-g5
  3. Playing an early g2-g4
  4. 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.

Petrosian-Hort Wijk aan Zee 1971 Move 19 White to play
Petrosian-Hort Wijk aan Zee 1971 Move 19 White to play

19.Nh4!

Nikcevic-Djukic Cetinje 2016 Move 13 White to play
Nikcevic-Djukic Cetinje 2016 Move 13 White to play

13.Nh4!?

Petrosian-Yukhtman Tbilisi 1959 Move 8 Black to play
Petrosian-Yukhtman Tbilisi 1959 Move 8 Black to play

White has just played 8.Bg5 which is named after Petrosian.

Karpov-Spassky Leningrad 1974 Move 17 White to play
Karpov-Spassky Leningrad 1974 Move 17 White to play

White played 17.g4!

Botvinnik-Boleslavsky Move 15 White to play
Botvinnik-Boleslavsky Move 15 White to play

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:

Averbakh-Petrosian Moscow 1961 Move 12 Black to play
Averbakh-Petrosian Moscow 1961 Move 12 Black to play

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.

Geller-Kortchnoi Moscow 1971
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.

Tukmakov-Velimirovic Odessa 1975 Move 13 White to move
Tukmakov-Velimirovic Odessa 1975 Move 13 White to move

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:

Boleslavsky’s idea

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
FM Richard Webb

FM Richard Webb, Basingstoke, Hampshire, 1st August 2021

Book Details :

  • Hardcover : 400 pages
  • Publisher:New In chess (7 Dec. 2020)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:9056919261
  • ISBN-13:978-9056919269
  • Product Dimensions: ‎17.22 x 2.67 x 23.67 cm

Official web site of New in Chess

Zlotnik's Middlegame Manual - Typical Structures And Strategic Manoeuvres,  Boris Zlotnik, New in Chess, 7th December 2020, 7th December 2020, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9056919269
Zlotnik’s Middlegame Manual – Typical Structures And Strategic Manoeuvres, Boris Zlotnik, New in Chess, 7th December 2020, 7th December 2020, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9056919269
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