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The Life and Games of Carlos Torre – 2nd revised and extended edition- Gabriel Velasco & Taylor Kingston

From the publishers’ blurb:

“This is what’s new in this edition: More accurate and more extensive annotations, computer-assisted. Every game has been examined under Stockfish 14, probably the best analytical engine available for home computers at this time. For the first edition we had only Fritz 4 and 5, which compare to Stockfish like a Model T Ford to a Ferrari, and many games were given no computer examination at all. Thus owners of the first edition will find most annotations here substantially different (and substantially better). However, many general assessments and heuristic notes proved valid and have been retained. ·

Torre’s own annotations to several games have been unearthed and added. These come from several sources: the American Chess Bulletin, his book of the 1926 Mexican Championship tournament, and his instructional booklet Development of Chess Ability. ·

Several games have been added. Some, frankly, are Torre losses, which we give in the interest of presenting a more complete, balanced picture of his play. The first edition, to some extent, looked at Torre through rose-colored glasses; here we aim only for untinted clarity. Also added are the six games between players other than Torre that he annotated for the Mexican Championship tournament book (see Chapter VIII). ·

There are many more diagrams and photographs than in the first edition. Also more thumbnail bios of Torre’s opponents. ·

More ancillary material about Torre’s life and career: pictures, anecdotes, interesting facts, opinions, bits of trivia etc., drawn from the ACB, the Wiener Schachzeitung, the film Torre x Torre, and other sources. ·

A 1927 interview with Torre, published in the Yucatán magazine Anahuac, in Chapter III. ·

Chapter IV, excerpts from the book 64 Variaciones Sobre un Tema de Torre by his friend Germán de la Cruz.”

About the Authors

Taylor Kingston (born 1949) has been a chess enthusiast since his teens. He holds a Class A over-the-board USCF rating, and was a correspondence master in the 1980s, but his greatest love is the game’s history. His historical articles have appeared in Chess Life, New In Chess, Inside Chess, Kingpin, and the web-site www.ChessCafe.com. He has edited and/or co-authored dozens of chess books, and translated three from Spanish, including the original Mexican edition of Vida y Partidas de Carlos Torre. He lives with his wife Emily in Paso Robles, California.

Taylor Kingston
Taylor Kingston

Gabriel Velasco (born 1949 in Mexico City) is a a professor of mathematics and author of over twenty books on mathematics. He has been a chess enthusiast since age 15. Besides Vida y Partidas de Carlos Torre, he is the author of Masterpieces of Attack (Chess Digest, 1990), presenting the best games of the late GM Marcel Sisniega Campbell. Velasco lived in Kiev 1985-1987 and shared 1st-3rd prize in a tournament of Candidate Masters and First Category players, earning thereby a norm of Candidate Master of the Soviet Union. Back in Mexico, he won the championship of the state of Guanajuato. He is now retired and lives in Mexico City with his wife and his son Richard, who was was given that name in honor of Richard Réti.

 

You probably know a few things about Carlos Torre. (In the interests of cultural sensitivity we now refer to people from some Spanish speaking countries by their first name, father’s surname and mother’s surname, so he’s now Carlos Torre Repetto, although I’ll refer to him just as Torre in the rest of this review.)

You may know he lost a Famous Game against the otherwise unknown EZ Adams. As always, click on any move for a pop-up window.

A beautiful game, to be sure, and one which is great if you want to teach combinations based on back rank mates. But it almost certainly wasn’t lost by Torre. As explained here on pp484-485, it was quite likely to be analysis which Torre published as a loss against his first teacher, Edwin Ziegler Adams, for whom he had great affection.

The next thing you probably know about Torre is that he won a Famous Game against the not at all unknown Emanuel Lasker.

Again, the finish is a great example of a windmill combination which everyone should know. But it wasn’t, as is demonstrated here (pp356-361) a very good game. Lasker, perhaps distracted by the receipt of a telegram, could have won material with 22… f6 and 23… Qd5 was a losing error.

The third thing you might know about Torre is that he invented the Torre Attack (1. d4, 2. Nf3, 3. Bg5), as he played in this game. The opening bears his name because of his usage here and in other games, but it had been played many times before.

Carlos Torre Repetto played some much better games than this in his very short international career. If you’re eager to find out more, you’ll want to read this book.

Vida y Partidas de Carlos Torre, written by Gabriel Velasco, was published in 1993. Taylor Kingston, working with Velasco, translated and expanded this book, which was then published in 2000. I think I may have a copy somewhere, so perhaps you do as well.

Now we have a Second Edition, expanded further by Kingston.

All the games have been re-annotated using Stockfish 14, some more games have been added, we have more diagrams, photographs and biographical details of Torre’s opponents, as well as a wealth of fascinating supplementary material.

Carlos Torre Repetto was born in the Yucatán province of Mexico on 29 November 1904, and, in 1916, the family moved to New Orleans where, under the mentorship of Edwin Ziegler Adams, he made rapid progress in chess.

In 1924 he travelled to New York in search of stronger opposition. After achieving some local successes he travelled to Detroit, representing New York in the Western Chess Association Championship. Here he scored a spectacular success, finishing unbeaten on 14/16, 2½ points ahead of his nearest rivals and 3 points ahead of the even younger Sammy Reshevsky.

The following spring, Torre crossed the Atlantic to take part in the Baden-Baden congress, where, crossing swords with the likes of Alekhine and Rubinstein, he scored a creditable 10½/20. The authors comment that Carlos Torre played somewhat nervously in his international debut. While attaining a respectable 10th place (out of 21), he clearly was more concerned with not losing rather than trying to win.

He then continued, with only a few days in between the two events, to Marienbad, where he played with more confidence, sharing third place with Marshall on 10/15, half a point behind the winners Nimzovich and Rubinstein.

That autumn he took part in his third international tournament of the year, in Moscow. A score of 12/20 left him sharing 5th-6th places with Tartakower, behind Bogoljubow (his greatest tournament result), Lasker (whom he beat in the above game), Capablanca and Marshall. Here, he started strongly but faded in the last few rounds.

However, his game from the penultimate round was one of his best: a delightful minor masterpiece, according to the authors.

He stayed on in the Soviet Union over the New Year, playing in a small quadrangular tournament in Leningrad, where, still tired from his exertions in Moscow, he only managed 50%.

He then returned to Mexico for the first time in more than a decade, winning their national championship with a 100% score. His next tournament was the Western Masters in Chicago, which, as well as most of the top American players, was given an international flavour by the participation of Maroczy. With one round to go, Torre was half a point ahead of the field, facing Edward Lasker, who was in the bottom half of the field, with white in the last round. He was unable to cope with the pressure, played badly and lost. Marshall came out on top with 8½/12, half a point ahead of Torre and Maroczy.

The final thing you might know about Torre is that he once took his clothes off on a bus. Sadly, it’s true. After this tournament he returned to New York where he suffered a psychotic episode which put an end to his brief tournament chess career. He was also suffering from some sort of eating disorder, perhaps brought on by anxiety. He had always had an immoderate fondness for sweets, sometimes eating a dozen pineapple sundaes in a day, but those who knew him in New York at this time report that he was eating almost nothing but candies and fudge. He then returned to Mexico, living there quietly until his death in 1978 at the age of 73, and retaining his interest in chess to the end.

A sad story, then. Here was a young player of exceptional talent who lacked the temperament for competitive chess. Torre comes across as a sensitive soul who, on the one hand was more interested in the beauty of his games than the result, but, on the other hand, was hampered by anxiety which caused him on some occasions to play too cautiously, and, on other occasions, to tire easily and make mistakes.

If you’re interested in chess in the 1920s you’ll certainly want to read this excellent book. You won’t be disappointed with the production qualities either: it’s a good-looking hardback (also available in paperback) of 588 pages. The Games Section covers most of the book: here you have 110 games annotated using the latest (at the time of writing) engines to ensure accuracy.

One of Torre’s most impressive performances was his draw with the black pieces against Capablanca (Moscow 1925). Not many players were able to hold an inferior ending against the World Champion, but he was able (with one exception which Capa failed to take advantage of) to find a string of ‘only moves’.

The annotations to this game demonstrate the improvements from the first edition.

The first edition of the book offered analysis claiming that White could still win if Black played 37… b6! here, but, with the help of Stockfish, this edition demonstrates that Torre could have drawn by following a very narrow path. After the game continuation 37… Kf5?? 38. Nxb7 Ke6 39. Kd3? (Nc5+ was winning), Torre was – just about – holding.

A few moves later, this position was reached.

The game continued 41. Na6+ Kb6 with an eventual draw. Capablanca claimed after the game that 41. Kc3 was winning, but Bogoljubov, writing in the tournament book, disagreed. The first edition sided with Capa, but now, in the second edition, we learn that it was Bogo who was correct.

Here’s the complete game.

The last 100 pages or so offer a wealth of other material including articles and annotations  by Torre himself. The games included here bring the total up to 128. Anyone with an interest in chess history will relish this part of the book.

If you already have the first English language edition, then, you’ll want to know whether or not to buy this version. If you want more accurate annotations, the answer is clearly ‘yes’. If you want the fascinating additional material, the answer is again ‘yes’. If you just want Torre’s best games, or if you’re of the opinion that historical games shouldn’t be subjected to computer analysis, the answer may well be ‘no’.

Instead of the familiar Informator symbols you instead get assessments such as (+0.61/25), indicating that Stockfish 14, at 25 ply, considers that White has an advantage of .61 of a pawn. I find this interesting, but I’m sure there will be those who disagree.

There are other production issues which might divide opinion. If you’re a completist you’d expect every traceable game played by Torre, which isn’t what you get here. White spaces in the book are filled with cute little cartoons. You might like this, but here I think I prefer the white space.

If you have any interest at all in chess history, chess culture or the psychology of chess players, you shouldn’t hesitate.

Gabriel Velasco, Taylor Kingston and the team at Thinkers Publishing should be congratulated on doing an outstanding job to preserve the memory of Carlos Torre Repetto’s life and all too short chess career.

Richard James, Twickenham 12th January 2024

Richard James
. Richard James

Book Details :

  • Softcover: 588 pages
  • Publisher: Thinkers Publishing; 2nd edition (21 Mar. 2023)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:‎ 9464201762
  • ISBN-13:978-9464201765
  • Product Dimensions: 23.88 x 4.06 x 17.27 cm

Official web site of Thinkers Publishing

The Life and Games of Carlos Torre – 2nd revised and extended edition- Gabriel Velasco & Taylor Kingston, Thinkers Publishing, March 21st 2023, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9464201765
The Life and Games of Carlos Torre – 2nd revised and extended edition- Gabriel Velasco & Taylor Kingston, Thinkers Publishing, March 21st 2023, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9464201765

Speed Demon: The Fascinating Games and Tragic Life of Alexey Vyzhmanavin

From the publisher:

“Almost as fascinating as chess is the community of chess players. In every major city in the world, you are guaranteed to meet interesting people when you walk into a local chess club or chess cafe. This book pays tribute to one of those characters who gave colour to the chess world, the Russian grandmaster Alexey Vyzhmanavin.

The best chance to bump into Vyzhmanavin in the 1980s and early 1990s was in Sokolniki park in Moscow, playing blitz. You could meet him at the 1992 Chess Olympiad as a member of the winning Russian team. Or in the finals of the PCA rapid events of the 1990s, frequently outplaying his illustrious opponents with his fluent and enterprising style. In Moscow in 1994, he reached the semi-final, narrowly losing out to Vladimir Kramnik, having already beaten Alexei Shirov and Viktor Korchnoi. Commentating at a PCA event, Maurice Ashley described Vyzhmanavin in predatory terms: ‘He’s a dangerous one, looking like a cat, ready to pounce’.

For this book, grandmaster Dmitry Kryakvin has talked to dozens of people, enabling him to give a complete picture of Vyzhmanavin’s life. The result is a mix of fascinating chess, wonderful anecdotes, and some heartbreaking episodes. The stories are complemented by the memories of Vyzmanavin’s ex-wife Lyudmila. They revive his successes but also reveal the dark side of this forgotten chess genius who battled with depression and the ‘green serpent’, a Russian euphemism for alcoholism. He died in January 2000 at the age of forty, in circumstances that remain unclear. The stories and games in this book are his legacy.

Dmitry Kryakvin is an International Grandmaster from Russia and an experienced chess trainer and author. For New In Chess he wrote Attacking with g2-g4: The Modern Way to Get the Upper Hand in Chess

————————————————————————————-

There’s always a demand for biographical works and games collections concerning lesser known players. Here we have a book about Alexey Vyzhmanavin, who, for a short time in the late 1980s and early 1990s, was one of the leading Soviet/Russian grandmasters.

Viorel Bologan provides the Foreword.

(Vyzhmanavin) was a very inventive and enterprising chess player, with deep and precise calculation skills. His best games featured in this book constitute great learning material. I must add that I rather liked the style of the book: it’s not a simple collection of best games – it’s a history of his life, bright and tragic. The narration of the author, Dmitry Kryakvin, is complemented by the memories of Vyzhmanavin’s ex-wife Lyudmila and stories from his friends.

Bright and tragic. This sums up Vyzhmanavin’s short life, with its highs and lows. A player of exceptional natural talent, particularly at speed chess, but his life blighted by his mental health problems and addictions to gambling and alcohol.

A fascinating book with an important story to tell – and some great chess along the way as well.

Right at the start, though, I should explain that I have one issue. Not, I suspect, to do with the book itself, but to do with what I assume was an editorial decision made by the publishers.

If I’m reading a Best Games collection I really want to see the complete games. Here, in the majority of cases, we don’t get all the moves, but only join the game after the opening, or, in some cases, at the start of the ending. This is something I find very frustrating: while it’s good to see how the winner exploited his advantage, I’d also like to know how he obtained that advantage in the first place, which might teach me something about the opening.

I appreciate that this is their house style, and that the decision was no doubt made for economic reasons, but for me it rather spoils what is otherwise an excellent book.

Vyzhmanavin had a difficult family background, with an alcoholic father. His mother was a kindergarten teacher, and he didn’t discover chess until his teens, when, accompanying his mother and her pupils to a summer camp, he chanced upon a chess book.

He had to start his playing career against much younger children, but, supported by Lyudmila Belavenets (daughter of pre-war Soviet master Sergey), he won books as prizes and rapidly became addicted to chess. As she later wrote: I am completely sure that it’s not necessary to start studying chess at the age of 4 or 6. When a teenager comes to the chess section, this means that it was his own choice.

I wholeheartedly agree with these sentiments.

Kryakvin writes:

We are all products of our childhood, and what we discuss here and now is very important in understanding what happened to Alexey Vyzhmanavin later. Alexey didn’t have any of the things that we love so much and sometimes value so little at home: warmth, loving and caring family members.

For him, much more than for most players, his childhood is the key to understanding both why and how he played chess.

He soon discovered the chess pavilion in Sokolniki Park in Moscow, where he honed his exceptional talent for blitz chess. By 1981, at the age of 20, he was beating players like Bronstein and Vaganian: you can see the games here.

By this time he had been conscripted into the armed forces. joining the sports unit, where he could pursue chess rather than military training. After his two year conscription period ended he signed up for another six years, winning the Armed Forces championship on seven occasions.

By 1985 he was approaching GM strength, winning this fine attacking game. Click on any move for a pop-up window.

By the late 1980s he was, like his father before him, experiencing problems with alcoholism and mental health, but in 1988 his life changed when he married a fellow chess player, Lyudmila Didenko, as she is now known. Soon after their marriage a daughter was born. Lyudmila’s moving recollections of Alexey play an important part in this book.

There was more good news in 1989 when Vyzhmanavin, now with a 2555 rating, finally attained the grandmaster title.

Here’s an example of his play from the following year.

He continued to progress, playing for the successful Russian Olympiad and European Championship teams in 1992, and reaching a peak rating of 2620 in 1993.

But, by the mid 1990s his problems with the ‘green serpent’ were getting worse. His results started to decline, and his marriage broke up, Lyudmila filing for divorce in 1996. He played little chess that year, and, despite sharing first place at Cappelle-la-Grande the following year, soon gave up completely.

By now his life had spiralled out of control, and, in January 2000, at the age of only 39, he was found dead in his Moscow flat.

A tragic story, then, of a talented but troubled man who was unable to control his demons.

As usual from this publisher, the book is well produced. The translation is excellent and the game annotations serve their purpose well. As is usual with New in Chess books, active learning is promoted by questions inviting readers to find the best continuation. Given that Vyzhmanavin excelled in positional chess, most of the questions involve planning rather than calculation. If you feel the purpose of this book is to inform rather than instruct,  they’re not necessary, but they don’t do any harm.

If you’re interested in the human side of chess you’ll certainly want to read this book. If you’re interested in chess life in the last days of the Soviet Union, this is also a book for you. If you enjoy powerful positional chess, particularly in queen’s pawn games, you’ll learn something from this book. I’d suspect you’d have learnt rather more, though, if you’d been able to see the complete games rather than, in the majority, just the conclusion.

Dmitry Kryakvin has done an outstanding job in producing a fine tribute to Alexey Vyzhmanavin, a man who deserves to be remembered for both his life and his games.

Before I leave you, I have one further question prompted by reading this book. Should international and national chess organisations do more to help members of their community suffering from problems in the areas of mental health and addictions? I consider this an important topic which isn’t being discussed enough. Of course it’s quite possible that Vyzhmanavin might have turned down offers of help anyway, but what do you think?

Richard James, Twickenham 30th November 2023

Richard James
. Richard James

Book Details:

  • Softcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: New In Chess (31 January 2023)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:9493257819
  • ISBN-13:978-9493257818
  • Product Dimensions: 17.15 x 1.19 x 23.09 cm

Official web site of New in Chess.

Speed Demon: The Fascinating Games and Tragic Life of Alexey Vyzhmanavin, Dmitry Kryakvin, New in Chess, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9493257818
Speed Demon: The Fascinating Games and Tragic Life of Alexey Vyzhmanavin, Dmitry Kryakvin, New in Chess, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9493257818

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

Zlotnik’s Treasure Trove: Enjoyable Chess Training for Amateurs (1600-2200 Elo)

From the publisher:

“Boris Zlotnik is an extraordinary trainer and coach. He was the director of a legendary chess school in Moscow before he emigrated to Spain in 1993. Ten years later, the super talent Fabiano Caruana moved to Madrid with his entire family to live near his trainer Zlotnik.

As a former coach of U.S. Champion Caruana, Zlotnik knows how top players work on their chess improvement. And his experience with club players allows him to translate that understanding into practical lessons for amateurs about highly original subjects like creativity or ‘putting up resistance’ – topics seldom touched on in other chess manuals.

Zlotnik covers a wide variety of topics and uses a wealth of material. Readers will love this new book, as they did his first book, Zlotnik’s Middlegame Manual. ‘A brilliant, important and extraordinarily instructive book’, said Florian Jacobs, the book reviewer for the Max Euwe Center in Amsterdam. ‘This is how probing, rich and motivating studying chess can be.'”

The publisher have provided sample pages

 

A slightly strange title, and perhaps a contradictory subtitle. I’m not sure that Zlotnik is exactly a household name, and therefore one that would sell more copies by its appearance on the cover. Dvoretsky’s books certainly sold by virtue of having his name in the title, but will Zlotnik do the same? If you thought more chess trainers should be household names, I wouldn’t disagree with you.

Treasure Trove? Buried treasure. According to Wiki:

The term is also often used metaphorically. Collections of articles published as a book are often titled Treasure Trove, as in A Treasure Trove of Science. This was especially fashionable for titles of children’s books in the early- and mid-20th century.

So perhaps that’s  what we have here: a collection of articles about chess training. A lucky dip. A grab bag. But given Zlotnik’s reputation one that will undoubtedly be worth reading.

But then Enjoyable Chess Training for Amateurs sounds like something rather more formal and structured. Kudos to the publishers, though, for highlighting the target market (1600-2200 Elo). Regular readers of my reviews will know that I’m frequently critical of publishers who claim books are suitable for much wider target markets and much lower rated players than they really are.

I was also wondering whether anyone would buy a book promising ‘unenjoyable’ or ‘boring’ chess training. But never mind: let’s look inside.

In his preface, Zlotnik describes the book’s contents. He appreciates that most amateur chess players have other demands on their time: there are books available for ambitious young players prepared to devote several hours a day to improving their chess, but this isn’t one of them.

He concludes like this:

I share the following opinion with the sixth World Champion Mikhail Botvinnik: ‘It is not possible to teach someone to play chess well, but this is something that can be achieved through ones own efforts.’ This book is a book of reflections on chess, rather than an attempt to teach how to play well, and its aim is to demonstrate the richness and at the same time the difficulty of chess and the possible ways to get better at this game.

I also agree with Botvinnik. Many parents seem to think that if their children spend an hour a week with a strong player they’ll learn by osmosis, and that the stronger the player the more they’ll learn. You, I’m sure, will realise that this is nonsense. But that’s something for another time and place.

In Chapter 1,  Zlotnik talks about the difference between amateurs and professionals, about the nature of chess talent, and about chess itself. An interesting read, but you won’t find any chess training there.

Chapter 2 is Factors which determine success in chess. We look at the different thought processes required for tactical and positional play. What they have in common is calculation: in tactical play you calculate forced variations while in positional play you calculate unforced variations.

In this position (Groningen 2013) IM Sergio Estremera Panos (2365) miscalculated against Jasel Lopez (2179). Rb7! would have won, but instead he blundered with Qe5?, when Ng7 gave the lower rated player a winning attack.

Chapter 3 provides advice on Training in tactical play.  Like many chess coaches today, Zlotnik is very keen on training visualisation skills through blindfold play and other exercises. He also looks at Kotov’s views on tactical training outlined in Think Like a Grandmaster.

Here’s Zlotnik with another recommendation:

It is beyond doubt that chess problems and studies, by their very nature, present us with many more possibilities of encountering something original and are useful for us in training our combinative vision.  … I think that a good criterion is to assess the ability to solve ‘mate in two’ problems, although exceptionally some of them are difficult even for GMs. Among especially creative puzzle composers, Samuel Loyd stands out, well-known above all for his mathematical puzzles.  

Again, solving compositions of this nature is something now recommended by most leading chess coaches.

If you’re a tactical star (and that’s a big hint) you’ll be able to solve this mate in two composed by Sam Loyd in 1891.

Zlotnik also recommends, again following in Kotov’s footsteps, playing through a complex game, stopping at interesting points to analyse the position, and then comparing your analysis with that of the annotator or your computer. He then offers you Kramnik – Topalov (Skopje 2015), with ten questions for you to answer.

After training in tactical play, we have, naturally enough, Training in positional play in Chapter 4. Inevitably, given the nature of the subject, the advice here is of a rather more nebulous nature.

Something I don’t recall seeing before is this:

… usually you should attack your opponent’s most advanced piece or pawn, and if you cannot do so directly, then you should attack its base of support. Curiously, and in my experience, this very simple piece of advice is valid in many cases.

The next two chapters are what makes this book unusual. Chapter 5 tackles Creativity in chess.  Zlotnik shows us some endgame studies, along with some games by Nezhmetdinov and the less well-known Konstantin Chernyshov. Click on any move for a pop-up window.

The exercises at the end of the chapter include some Proof Game puzzles, which are always fun. I used one of them here.

Chapter 6 then tells us how to put up Maximum resistance in practical situations.

If you’re in the target market for this book you’ll reach a bad position at some point in about half your games, so you might think this is an important subject which should be discussed more than it is. In 1967 Zlotnik asked Bronstein about the difference between masters and non-masters. He was surprised by the reply: a master knows how to fight against another human being!

In this extract, a dangerous tactician turns the tables on her strong opponent in a time scramble.

We then have 20 pages, plus two pages of exercises, on Studying the opening.

In this game the amateur playing white, unlike his opponent, was aware of a sharp tactical variation, but Black’s superior practical skill soon told.

Zlotnik concludes the chapter:

The main advice I can give to an amateur player is to seek a balance between specific knowledge of opening lines and typical ideas. Also, whatever the opening being studied, it is useful to  have as a model an active high-level player who is an expert in the variation/opening we plan to play. From their games we can receive specific answers to any questions we might have and also learn a number of typical methods for this variation in the middlegame and perhaps also in the endgame.

Finally, the book wouldn’t be complete without Zlotnik’s ideas on Studying the endgame, which take up 18 pages along with three pages of exercises. As an example of what an amateur needs to know he devotes seven pages to some theory in the important ending of rook and pawn against rook.

His conclusion:

The endgame is a difficult science and it requires the investment of a great deal of work to master this aspect of the game.

This is a rather unusual coaching book, then, and I’m not sure whether either the title or subtitle does it justice. ‘Reflections of a Chess Coach” might give the prospective purchaser a better idea of what to expect. If you’re in the target market, an amateur rated between about 1600 and 2000 with a limited amount of time to spend on the game, it might be just what you’re looking for to help you put on another 100 points or so. But, while the examples and exercises have been chosen with exemplary care, this relatively slim volume will serve more as a guide to the sort of work you should be doing to make that improvement rather than something which will, in itself, bring it about.

For anyone with any interest at all in chess coaching, whether as an instructor or as a student, the opinions of one of the world’s most experienced and distinguished chess teachers will undoubtedly be both fascinating and inspiring. The book is produced to this publisher’s customary high standards and, if you’ve enjoyed the examples demonstrated in this review, it deserves a warm recommendation.

Richard James, Twickenham 19th September 2023

Richard James
. Richard James

Book Details:

  • Softcover: 248 pages
  • Publisher: New In Chess (31 Mar. 2023)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:9493257894
  • ISBN-13:978-9493257894
  • Product Dimensions: 17.25 x 1.6 x 22.91 cm

Official web site of New in Chess.

You can read some sample pages here.

Zlotnik's Treasure Trove: Enjoyable Chess Training for Amateurs (1600-2200 Elo) , Boris Zlotnik, New In Chess (31 Mar. 2023), ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 9493257894
Zlotnik’s Treasure Trove: Enjoyable Chess Training for Amateurs (1600-2200 Elo) , Boris Zlotnik, New In Chess (31 Mar. 2023), ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 9493257894

Irrational Chess

Here is the publishers blurb from the rear cover:

“The vast majority of chess games witness familiar strategies and well known tactical motifs. These are the games that you will find in the anthologies and opening repertoires. Sometimes however, games appear that seem to have been played on a different planet.

Conventional strategies go out of the window. Familiar tactical themes are nowhere to be seen. Chaos has broken out. The pieces appear to be in open rebellion and are steadfastly refusing to do the natural jobs that they were designed for.

Having to navigate a path in such a game can be a nightmare. Do you rely purely on calculation? Is it better to trust your instincts? Can you assess the position using “normal” criteria?

In order to answer these questions, prolific chess author and coach Cyrus Lakdawala has assembled a collection of brilliantly unconventional and irrational games. The positions in these games appear almost random. Kings have gone walkabout, pieces are on bizarre squares, huge pawn rollers are sweeping all before them.

Irrational chess is like nothing you’ve seen before. As well as being highly instructive this is a hugely entertaining book.

Do not adjust your set. It’s chess, Jim, but not as we know it.”

and about the author:

Cyrus Lakdawala is an International Master, a former National Open and American Open Champion, and a six-time State Champion. He has been teaching chess for over 30 years, and coaches some of the top junior players in the U.S.

As with every recent Everyman Chess publication high quality paper is used and the printing is clear. Each diagram is clear as is the instructional text. Figurine algebraic notation is used throughout and the diagrams are placed adjacent to the relevant text.

 

Here we have another title from the ever prolific keyboard of Cyrus Lakdawala. Irrational Chess seems like a good match for this author’s sometimes irrational writing style.

But my first question is: what makes a game irrational? If you watch two beginners playing, their moves will mostly be irrational because they have little or no idea what they’re doing. We’re really talking about games between strong players where no one really knows what’s going on. Games where pieces end up on unlikely squares, where there are unusual material imbalances, where one player has decided to take a risk, or to confuse his or her opponent.

As  Mikhail Tal, the Patron Saint of Irrational Chess said, “You must take your opponent into a deep, dark forest where 2+2=5 and the path leading out is only wide enough for one.”

That, for the most part, is what you’ll find here. We all enjoy playing through and studying games of this nature. Some of us enjoy playing games like this ourselves as well.

In his rather rambling introduction, Lakdawala tells us how to identify positions of disorder/irrationality.

He offers 12 pointers, for example:

1. A lack of continuity, in that one thing doesn’t necessarily logically lead to what we expected. In this book we try to decode the “without words” positions, which cannot be accessed logically/verbally broken town and explained easily. In such positions the logical mind tends to transform atavistically into a kind of animal consciousness, where nothing is fixed and we are engulfed in a deep realization of terrifying impermanence, where all which matters is our survival.

2. You are lost in the woods and hungry. Then you come upon a patch of unfamiliar berries and mushrooms which could be edible or could be poisonous. The question is: are you going to risk eating them? This book examines the mechanics of risk. Go too far and you overextend; play too safely with too strong a self-preservatory instinct and you may suppress opportunity.

and…

10. While the Sesame Street Muppets taught us that learning can be fun, in this book we look at games so irrationally complex that it is actually difficult to learn from many of them. Nonetheless, in a position’s confusion, just because we lose our faculty of sight, doesn’t also mean we also lose our power of reason. The idea behind this book is: any position, no matter how complex, can still be broken down (at least to some degree!) into points of data, from which we hope to come up with the correct idea. So before most of the examples, I try my best to “explain” that which is often unexplainable. In such positions when we think: “I have a strong intuition on the matter”, it won’t be code for “I’m taking a wild guess!”

If you’re at all familiar with this author’s work you won’t be surprised by all this chattering about Muppets and mushrooms. Cyrus has a devoted fanbase who will lap this up, but it’s not to everyone’s taste.

Reading on, what we have here is eight chapters: four relatively long chapters, covering Attack, Defence and Counterattack, The Dynamic Element (I’m not sure how exactly this differs from Attack, but never mind) and Exploiting Imbalances, followed by four shorter chapters, on Irrational Endings, Opening Shockers, Crazy Draws and Promotion Races. We have 89 games or extracts, copiously illustrated with many diagrams.

Cyrus, quite rightly, is a devotee of active learning, sprinkling his annotations, as he always does, with exercises (Planning, Combination Alert or Critical Decision). You might like to cover up the page and try to solve them before reading on. The author is a highly experienced annotator who knows his market well. He’s always thorough, but without going over the top with long computer generated variations, and makes ample use of the latest engines to ensure accuracy. Once you get past the verbiage, he does an excellent job of explaining complex ideas and tactics in a way that is understandable to his readership.

You’ll find most of the greats featured within the 400 pages, from Morphy and earlier through to Carlsen and AlphaZero. You might consider the likes of Capablanca, Euwe and Smyslov to be supremely rational players, but they’re there as well. Tal, unsurprisingly, features on several occasions, but there’s no sign of Alekhine.

If you’re knowledgeable about chess history and literature you’ll encounter a lot of old friends, but they will always be new to some readers. There were quite a few games that were new to me – and I much enjoyed discovering them for the first time.

I wouldn’t dispute the irrationality of most of them, but there were one or two, especially in the first chapter, which you might consider were just very well played attacking games. How would you judge this much anthologised game? (Click on any move for a pop-up window.)

On the other hand, there’s no argument about the irrationality of games like this, described by Lakdawala as one of the most crazy, head-spinning games in the book.

My heart is thudding, as if watching a Quentin Tarantino movie while on the treadmill is how Lakdawala introduces the following encounter.

A small historical point – the game Van der Loo – Hesseling (Game 75 here) is known to be a fake, with White’s name usually given as Van de Loo, but the author is apparently unaware of this.

Irrational Chess is produced to this publisher’s customary high standards: well laid out with many large diagrams.  This book will appeal to players of all standards, and will undoubtedly bring a lot of pleasure to a lot of readers, demonstrating, to anyone who might doubt it, the excitement and richness of chess. Lakdawala’s obvious enthusiasm and love of chess shine through everything he writes, but his eccentricities will always divide the critics.

If you’re easily offended you should perhaps steer clear. If you’re on the religious right you’ll find some of the words blasphemous, while elements of the woke left will consider other words to be mental health slurs.

Then you read something like this:

Black’s position pulls him down, like our demanding, emotional, high-maintenance college ex-girlfriend.

Or this:

If Fischer’s pawns are an athlete’s body, then his rook represents the love handles.

Sexist? Inappropriate? It’s your decision. A sensitivity reader would have a field day with his/her red pen. You might think, and I might well agree with you, that a lot of people these days are over-sensitive, but we are where we are. The author’s many devoted admirers don’t seem to have a problem.

If you’re a Lakdawala fan, and there are many around, or if his writing style appeals to you, you’ll really enjoy this book, and the often extraordinary and thrilling games featured within. The games are certainly a lot of fun, especially if you haven’t seen them before. If you find Cyrus’s writing fun as well, there’s no reason to hesitate.

Richard James, Twickenham 28th August 2023

Richard James
Richard James

Book Details :

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher:  Everyman Chess (20 Feb. 2023)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1781946485
  • ISBN-13: 978-1781946480
  • Product Dimensions: 17.4 x 2.29 x 23.52 cm

Official web site of Everyman Chess

Irrational Chess, Cyrus Lakdawala, Everyman Chess (20 Feb. 2023), ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1781946480
Irrational Chess, Cyrus Lakdawala, Everyman Chess (20 Feb. 2023), ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1781946480

The Hidden Laws of Chess: Mastering Pawn Structures: 1

From the publisher:

“Have you ever wondered why strong chess players immediately grasp what is happening in complex positions? The secret is pawn structures. The pawn structure dictates the game’s flow, and different structures require distinct approaches. You can improve your game by studying a large variety of pawn structures and the Hidden Laws of Chess.

IM Nick Maatman invented the Hidden Laws of Chess as an instructional tool to help his students bridge the gap between the basic understanding of a club player and the next level of knowledge of Masters and Grandmasters. A grandmaster knows from experience what pieces to exchange when facing an isolated pawn, while a club player wonders if he should keep his rooks on the board – or not.

The Hidden Laws go one level deeper than the basic laws on piece development, king safety or material balance. The Hidden Laws will uncover elements such as space, the quality of a pawn structure, and a doubled pawn’s strength or weakness. Maatman will answer questions like: Are backward pawns the worst in chess? What is the value of a space advantage? Could doubled pawns be an asset? How can I win symmetrical positions?

Using his coaching experience and writing with a touch of science and philosophy, Maatman will guide any ambitious chess player to the next level. His book contains dozens of actionable tips, instructive games and carefully selected exercises.

“Nick Maatman (1995) is an International Master, experienced chess coach, and training partner of Super-GM Jorden van Foreest. Maatman has won the Dutch U20 Championship and has beaten many strong grandmasters in tournament games. The Hidden Laws of Chess is his first book, but he expects many more to follow. He graduated from Groningen University in both Business and Philosophy.”

 

From the author’s introduction:

What is a Hidden Law in chess? With a ‘Hidden Law’, I refer to the deeper structures that spring from a mere contingency of the rules of chess. This might sound like a mouthful of gibberish to you. What I mean is that there are certain patterns that underlie good play. Had the rules of chess been different, these hidden structures would have been different as well. On a surface level, there are Laws that comprise the comparative value of the pieces. On a deeper level there are Hidden Laws that encompass elements such as the importance of space, the quality of a pawn structure, the strength or weakness of an isolated pawn, the importance of a key square, etc.

… and …

.. the Hidden Laws are context dependent. Good chess strategy may vary immensely in different types of positions. That’s why this book is divided into eight chapters featuring eight different types or aspects of pawn structures.

In this book, my objective is to explore these Hidden Laws of Chess. My goal is … to provide actionable tips and ideas that you can apply to elevate your game. Ideas that form the foundation for a solid positional understanding. A mastery of the Hidden Laws of Chess contributes to sound judgment – and sound judgment leads to good moves, which ultimately leads to better results.

So what we have here is, according to the author, essentially a positional book covering eight different types of pawn formation. He suggests that combining reading this book with tactics training will enable you to make progress with your chess.

The eight chapters cover in turn: space advantage, doubled pawns, backward pawn, isolani, hanging pawns, mobile pawn centre, locked pawn centre, symmetry.

Each chapter is, as with many books from this publisher, preceded by some puzzles (Preview Exercises) taken from games analysed within the chapter, and followed by a Quiz reinforcing the lessons learnt in the chapter. The difficulty of the puzzles is indicated using a star system: one star for the easiest through to five stars for the hardest. The solutions to the quiz questions are to be found at the end of the book. Helpfully, important sentences are highlighted throughout, and each chapter concludes with the author’s Hidden Laws concerning that particular pawn formation.

Of course it’s a lot harder to set meaningful position exercises than tactical exercises. I was interested to see how Maatman dealt with this.

As this is a relatively slim volume, the chapters themselves are fairly short, mostly 20-25 pages excluding the puzzles, although the chapter on isolani is slightly longer.

The main question I always have with instructional books such as this concerns the target market. There is, or should be, an enormous difference between books written for 1500s and books written for 2000s, and again between books written for 2000s and books written for 2500s. Books written for, say, 1750s or 2250s will, or again should be, rather different again. The danger for authors and publishers is that if your book is too specific you’ll limit your target market, while if you try to offer something for everyone you’ll and up pleasing nobody.

Again, I was interested to see how this book approached these issues. Neither the publisher’s blurb nor the author’s introduction give any indication as to the approximate rating range of the book.

I turned to Chapter 2, as my view for many years has been that doubled pawns are, by and large, not dealt with very well in chess literature. Have there been any books specifically devoted to this subject? If not, someone, perhaps Nick Maatman, should certainly write one.

Maatman does a good job, given that he only has twenty pages, in explaining the potential advantages, as well as the disadvantages of doubled pawns. We get a few classic examples, for example the 1938 Botvinnik – Chekover game, which made a big impression on me when I first came across it in about 1970. We also get some recent games, for example Caruana – Carlsen (Wijk aan Zee 2015), in which the doubled pawns were only on the board for a few moves. I can’t help thinking the game was selected for the fascinating tactical possibilities both in the game and in the notes, rather than because it was particularly instructive in helping the reader to understand the subject. I’m not sure how games like this fit it with the author’s claim that the book is more of a positional manual.

The Hidden Laws of Doubled Pawns at the end of the chapter include, amongst others:

Having fewer pawn islands is favourable

Isolated doubled pawns are particularly vulnerable

A doubled pawn can create a semi-open file.

Could these rules really be considered Hidden? While they’re all very useful, I’d have thought that most club standard players, even 1500 standard players, would be aware of them.

The pattern is repeated through all the chapters. You’ll find some classic games which will be very familiar to most 2000 strength players, but new to less experienced players, along with more complex contemporary games often featuring interesting tactics. Of course there’s a generational issue. While I’m very familiar with many of the older games and less familiar with the 21st century examples, younger readers may well have the opposite experience.

As well as questions at the beginning and end of the chapter, there are questions in the text as well.

Take this example from Chapter 3 (Backward Pawns), where the author’s friend Jorden van Foreest is facing Nigel Short at Malmo in 2021, about to play his 12th move.

Try to put yourself in White’s shoes for a moment. You have prepared the game all the way to move 10. Now, you realise that your opponent played a move that wasn’t in your notes, suggesting it may be inferior. How would you try to take advantage.

12. Bxb6!!

I was truly impressed when I witnessed this move. In Chapter 2, we learned about the weaknesses of doubled pawns and how they can be especially problematic if their presence creates multiple pawn islands. Furthermore, you probably knew something about the value of the bishop pair already. Here, Van Foreest throws all conventional wisdom out of the window. He voluntarily gives up a great bishop for a shabby-looking knight on b6, and on top of that he repairs the black pawn structure. What did Van Foreest notice that made him commit to this decision?

It’s all about the pawn that’s left behind on d7 and the gaping hole this creates on d6, Van Foreest accurately assesses that the creation of a backward pawn outweighs all other factors in this position.

Well, you might perhaps have guessed the answer given that the chapter features backward rather than doubled pawns, but active learning, forcing you to think for yourself, is always good.

It’s all about trading advantages, isn’t it? A complex and difficult topic which could do with a book to itself. Here, a vastly experienced former World Championship Candidate misjudged the position. If it was too hard for Nigel, what hope do the rest of us have?

There’s always a danger when you demonstrate advanced material to your students that they will fail to contextualise the information and go round randomly trading great bishops for shabby-looking knights or straightening out their opponents’ pawn structure. On the other hand, seeing how top GMs make decisions might inspire us to become better players. What do you think?

I think Maasman’s introduction to the chapter on Isolani will be instructive to many readers. He offers two positions, both with White to move, and asks which you’d prefer.

and

Which  position would you prefer?

In fact, it’s the first position that offers White more winning chances: Rd4! gives a clear advantage. The second position is optically very good for White but Black can hold comfortably as long as he finds 1. Bd1 Bd7!.

Maatman proposes two Hidden Laws:

When playing against an isolated queen’s pawn, the preservation of major pieces increases winning chances

and

When playing against an isolated queen’s pawn, the exchange of minor pieces increases winning chances.

According to the author: These laws are very specific and there is a good chance that you haven’t heard them before.

Actually, I had heard them before, in a book written for children published in the 1980s (I prefer not to name the title and author), which demonstrated the 9th game of the 1981 Karpov – Korchnoi World Championship Match – the same game which, in this book, provides three of the quiz questions at the end of this chapter.

I’d guess, though, that this will be new to most players of, say, 1500 strength, but might well be known to many 2000 strength players.

If you play the King’s Indian Defence or anything similar with either colour, you’ll certainly enjoy Chapter 7 on Locked Pawn Centres, but if you prefer the French Defence, for example, you might be disappointed.

One of the games demonstrated here is a 2022 computer game between versions of Stockfish and Scorpio.

In this position Stockfish has to choose it’s 23rd move. What would your plan be here?

Stockfish found 23. c5!!, with the idea of meeting bxc5 with Nc1, with a later Bb5 to follow, trading off White’s bad bishop for Black’s good bishop.

Maatman comments after the game:

An enthralling concept by Stockfish. The move 23. c5!! is just so captivating. Extraordinary imagination is needed to even consider such an idea. White’s only path forward appears to be on the dark squares, but the machine completely forfeits the dark squares. Instead it contests the light squares at the cost of a pawn. Eventually, the black a-pawn was lost, and its White counterpart promoted. Outstanding foresight by the machine.

The famous evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins once remarked: ‘Personally, I rather look forward to a computer program winning the World Chess Championship. Humanity needs a lesson in humility.’ The times that humans were able to compete with computers have long gone, but the above game showcases that computers now have our number in any position. 

I found the idea of puzzles both before and after each chapter rather confusing. Yes, like all good teachers, Maatman likes to offer his students a way of testing their understanding of the contents of the lesson. And yes, it’s this publisher’s house style to include preview puzzles at the start of each chapter to draw you in. I’m not convinced, though, that having both types of puzzle works. In an instructional book you’re assuming the reader isn’t very familiar with the study material, which makes me rather sceptical of the value of the preview puzzles here.

You also have to be careful that your quizzes at the end of the lesson are testing genuine understanding rather than just memory. To give you an example, one of the Hidden Laws in Chapter 1 states that, if you’re playing against a Hedgehog formation you should consider a2-a4-a5. (I don’t think I’ve ever played against a pure Hedgehog in my very long chess career, but that’s another issue.) In the quiz there’s a position from a Hedgehog in which White has a pawn on a4. It’s given four stars for difficulty, but once you’re read the chapter you’ll play the move automatically.

You’ll find a lot of useful instruction throughout this book, and I found the highlighted sentences an excellent way of getting the most important points across. Maatman is an engaging writer and a great communicator with a friendly style, occasionally digressing into football or philosophy, but never overdoing the jollity. He’s chosen an important and underestimated topic: many club players would do well to study pawn formations rather than just memorising openings. Players of all standards will enjoy and learn something here.

While I appreciate that publishers want to aim their books at as wide a readership as possible, I can’t help feeling that less experienced players would benefit from more concrete examples rather than games decided by complex tactics, while more experienced players would value more detail and depth, more pages and even more volumes, along with some less familiar examples.

As is to be expected from this publisher, the book is attractively produced. If you like the idea you won’t be disappointed, but while everyone will learn something, many would learn more from a book focussed on their specific needs.

 

 

Richard James, Twickenham 30th June 2023

Richard James
. Richard James

Book Details:

  • Softcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: New in Chess; 1st edition (31 Jan. 2023)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:9493257622
  • ISBN-13:978-9493257627
  • Product Dimensions: ‎17.15 x 1.73 x 22.99 cm

Official web site of New in Chess.

You can read some sample pages here.

The Hidden Laws of Chess: Mastering Pawn Structures: 1, Nick Maatman, New in Chess; 1st edition (31 Jan. 2023),ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 9493257622
The Hidden Laws of Chess: Mastering Pawn Structures: 1, Nick Maatman, New in Chess; 1st edition (31 Jan. 2023),ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 9493257622

The Ink War: Romanticism versus Modernity in Chess

From the publisher:

“The rivalry between William Steinitz and Johannes Zukertort, the world’s strongest chess players in the late nineteenth century, became so fierce that it was eventually named The Ink War. They fought their battle on the chessboard and in various chess magazines and columns. It was not only about who was the strongest player but also about who had the best ideas on how to play the game. In 1872, Johannes Zukertort moved from Berlin to London to continue his chess career.

Ten years earlier, William Steinitz had moved from Vienna to London for the same purpose; meanwhile, he had become the uncrowned champion of the chess world. Their verbal war culminated in the first match for the World Championship in 1886. Zukertort is certainly the tragic protagonist of this book, but is he also a romantic hero? He has often been depicted as a representative of romantic chess, solely focusing on attacking the king. Steinitz is said to have put an end to this lopsided chess style with his modern scientific school. This compelling story shakes up the traditional version of chess history and answers the question which of them can claim to be the captain of the modern school. With his first book, Move First, Think Later, International Master Willy Hendriks caused a minor revolution in the general view on chess improvement.

His second book, On the Origin of Good Moves, presented a refreshing new outlook on chess history. In The Ink War, Hendriks once again offers his unique perspective in a well-researched story that continues to captivate until the tragic outcome. It gives a wonderful impression of the 19th-century chess world and the birth of modern chess. Hendriks invites the reader to actively think along with the beautiful, instructive and entertaining chess fragments with many chess exercises.”

“Willy Hendriks (1966) is an International Master who has been working as a chess trainer for over thirty years. His bestseller Move First, Think Later won the English Chess Federation Book of the Year Award in 2012. In his much-acclaimed second book, On the Origin of Good Moves, he presented a provocative new view on chess history.”

 

There are always dichotomies, aren’t there? You only have to look at any news website or paper to see them playing out before your eyes. Passionate people on either side of an argument taking extreme views and unwilling to listen to the other side.

In the world of education, for example, there’s the dichotomy between ‘trad’ and ‘prog’, traditional or progressive values, which has been going on, in one form or another, since the days of Rousseau. (Sensible teachers, of course, know that you need some of both.) The same terms are also used in music: perhaps you’re a fan of prog rock, or a devotee of trad jazz.

Let me take you back now to the musical world of the 1850s and 1860s, specifically to central Europe and, in particular, Germany. There were two groups of composers in opposition in what would later become known as the War of the Romantics. Both groups, in very different ways, saw themselves as heirs to Beethoven. The conservative, traditionalist camp was led by the likes of Brahms and Clara Schumann, while, in the opposite corner, were the progressive modernists such as Wagner and Liszt. Nowadays we have no problems listening to the music of both groups with equal pleasure.

Moving forward a couple of decades we come to a very similar war, which, although the camps were led by Central Europeans, took place mostly in London. The Ink War: Romanticism and Modernity in Chess, the subject of Dutch IM Willy Hendriks’ latest book, features Johannes Zukertort flying the romantic flag while William Steinitz sports the colours of Modernity. Two men with, at least if you believe their writings, very different views about how chess should best be played.

This is a successor to the author’s previous book which I reviewed enthusiastically here. Whereas the previous book took a wide-ranging view of 19th century chess history, here we look in more detail at a period of fourteen years: between Zukertort’s arrival in London in 1872 and the first official world championship match, between Steinitz and Zukertort, in 1886.

In the course of 468 pages we meet not just our two protagonists, but a whole host of colourful characters who enlivened the 19th century London chess scene. While we’re given an in depth look at the games of Steinitz and Zukertort, there are many other games included to put their moves in context. A lot of fascinating history, and also a lot of fascinating chess.

At the time there were very few players making a living out of chess, and, if you wanted to be a professional player, the place to go was London. Steinitz had moved there in 1862, and, not the most likeable of men, soon made enemies. The British Chess Association wanted to put him in his place, and, invited Zukertort, who had just won a match against Anderssen, to London.

As Hendriks relates in his prologue:

This book tells the story of this struggle, which was fought on the chessboard, but also, to a significant extent, in chess magazines and in columns in newspapers. First and foremost, this battle was about who was the strongest, and who could eventually call himself the first World Champion. But there was more at stake. Chess and chess theory were in full development and the ideas about how the game should be played were quite divergent. Steinitz had a very outspoken position and saw himself as the foreman of a scientific modern school. For our story it would be nice if Zukertort represented the other pole, the romantic attacking school, but things are not that simple. The larger public, however, understood the rivalry between the two for the greater part along these lines. Thus, the struggle on and around the chessboard was closely linked to the societal developments of the time, such as the rise of science and technology and the romantic resistance to them.

After introductions to Steinitz and Zukertort, in Chapter 3 Hendriks tackles the question of chess style. This ‘primitive dichotomy’, between tactics and strategy, ‘plays a major role in (traditional) chess history writing.’  ‘The danger of this is that it can easily lead to caricatures’.

Of course these caricatures can be seen in later rivalries as well: Alekhine v Capablanca, Tal v Petrosian, Kasparov v Karpov. The tactician against the strategist.

But, in reality, we’re all just trying to find the best moves.

As you’ll know if you’ve read his previous book, Hendriks takes a different approach, looking at ‘the quantitative changes that led to an increase in chess knowledge and to a higher level of skill’. He’s contextualising the games he demonstrates by looking at what the players would have known from previous experience about the positions on the board.

Here, for example, is Zukertort, just having arrived in London in 1872, playing White against the archetypal tragic/romantic hero Cecil de Vere.

You’ll recognise this as a Sicilian Taimanov, which, almost a century later, would become very popular, but this would have been virgin territory to both players. It’s quite understandable, given what he would have known at the time, that de Vere now blundered with 7… Nge7? (you can play this in similar positions but not here), and likewise impressive that Zukertort found the refutation, Ndb5!, over the board.

In the same event Steinitz and Zukertort met for the first time. Steinitz, playing White, essayed his favourite gambit, based on his  belief that the king was a strong piece which could take care of itself.

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

A strong defensive performance by Steinitz, according to Hendriks, who, understandably, only gives us the first 24 moves. A triumph for materialism over romanticism, you might think. Or equally that Zukertort’s second piece sacrifice on move 12 was tempting but unsound.

Hendriks is at his best discussing the development of both positional and tactical ideas. His contextualisation is both informative and instructive.

In those days the French Defence was considered a dull and even cowardly opening, an opinion which continued well into the 20th century. The justification at the time was that the lines where White plays e5 were considered favourable for Black, so the first player usually chose the Exchange Variation.

In 1875 Zukertort played a match against (the very interesting) William Norwood Potter. In the 10th game they reached this position.

A stark contrast to the Steinitz game above. Zukertort, playing White, saw nothing wrong with winning a pawn: 9. Bxf6 Qxf6 10. Nxd5, but after 10… Qh6 11. h3? Nxd4! he was losing material. The Nxd4 idea is very familiar to most club players today, but back in 1875 it would have been unknown: they would have had to discover it for themselves.

Another idea in this sort of position  was for one player to swing the queen’s knight over to the kingside, allowing doubled pawns after a trade on f6. In exchange you get the two bishops and a possible attack down the g-file.

It didn’t work in this game from Paris 1878.

You’ll observe that by no means all the games in this book feature Steinitz or Zukertort.

Chapter 11 is intriguingly titled The discovery of the queenside. In his 1880 match against Samuel Rosenthal, Zukertort switched from his usual Ruy Lopez to the Queen’s Gambit. This was by no means a new opening: it dates back to Greco and de Labourdonnais played it on many occasions against McDonnell. In those days the Queen’s Gambit, like the King’s Gambit was usually accepted: after all accepting gambits was the chivalrous thing to do. Rosenthal preferred to decline Zukertort’s gambit, and, in the 9th match game White was able to carry out his favourite plan of a queenside pawn roller, playing an early c5 followed by advancing his a- and b-pawns.

In the 9th game of the match he reached this position, with White to play.

Any strong player will start by considering Rb6, having seen the idea many times before in games played by the likes of Botvinnik and Petrosian. Stockfish agrees that it’s the best move here. Zukertort saw it but, not having had the advantages we have, mistakenly rejected it, eventually drawing a favourable ending. As Hendriks demonstrates, 12 years later, in a very similar position against Chigorin, Steinitz, who had learnt from this example, did indeed play Rb6 with success.

Again and again, throughout the book, we see examples of ideas which are familiar to us now, but would have been new at the time.

By 1881, as Hendriks relates, Steinitz and Zukertort were engaged in a war of words over the analysis of recent chess games: the Ink War. The war was not just about the rights and wrongs of particular moves, but about how games should be annotated: a debate which is still continuing today.  Zukertort tended to publish long variations while Steinitz took a more scientific approach.

It was generally understood that Steinitz was, following Morphy’s retirement, the strongest player in the world (EdoChess ranks him top from 1868 onwards) but he hadn’t been active since his 1876 match against Blackburne, and his last tournament had been Vienna 1873. Questions were now being asked as to whether Zukertort was now stronger, so Steinitz decided to return to the fray in 1882, again in Vienna.

This was the strongest tournament yet held, and resulted in a very exciting finish. Steinitz and Winawer shared first place, a point ahead of Mason, with Zukertort and Mackenzie another half point behind, but Zukertort scored 1½/2 against his arch rival.

Another strong tournament took place in London in 1883, and again Steinitz and Zukertort took part.

Here’s Zukertort’s exciting Round 3 encounter with Mason.

White had the draw in hand before blundering on move 57. Curiously, Mason lost the return encounter with Zukertort through a very similar oversight.

Hendriks comments: Such small tactics were often missed in those days, as back then the possibilities for training your tactics were minimal. Today’s diligent student solves more tactical puzzles in a day than the old masters did in their entire lives.

This is one of the themes of both this and his previous book. We might assume that the 19th century greats didn’t have today’s opening knowledge but were equally good at tactics. Hendriks’ view, reinforced by many examples here, is that they weren’t – and unsurprisingly so, as they didn’t have the opportunities for practice and training. Zukertort himself was particularly prone to blunders which would have shamed your club’s third team players.

It was in Round 6 of this game when Zukertort played his Most Famous Game, to which Hendriks develops a whole chapter.

With three rounds to go, Zukertort had reached the extraordinary score of 22/23, losing only to Steinitz in the first cycle, but he then lost his last three games, two of them to the tournament tail-enders. Was this due to problems with his health, or with the medication he was using to treat his health problems, or just a random occurrence? Hendriks considers the evidence here.

Finally, we move onto the 1886 World Championship match. By that point Steinitz had moved to America, and Zukertort was also spending time there, so the contest took place in New York, St Louis and New Orleans. Most of the twenty games are full of interest, and Hendriks contextualises and analyses them in depth.

Ironically, the ‘modernist’ Steinitz opened with the king’s pawn in all his white games, while the ‘tactical’ Zukertort, in all but one of his white games, chose the supposedly more modern and positional Queen’s Gambit. This demonstrates, I suppose, that the dichotomy between them was more about a personality clash than anything else, although, by this point, the two men seemed to have been on tolerably friendly terms.

Several of Zukertort’s white games reached IQP positions, which were, at the time, very little understood, so are of some historical interest.

Here’s the 9th game.

Hendriks has some interesting things to say about the hanging pawns position after Black’s 22nd move, which will give you some idea of his annotation style.

The exchange of pieces in the past few moves did not help White, but Zukertort apparently had a lot of confidence in his attacking chances in this position. However the beautiful knight on e5 can be chased away, and White does not have that many pieces to strengthen his attack either, so he no longer has the better chances. Therefore, this was a good moment for the quiet move 23. h3. Many contemporary players would play this way, but in those days such a prophylactic move was not a matter of course. The idea of prophylaxis would only be introduced a quarter of a century later by Aron Nimzowitsch. This strategy consists of improving one’s position and protected potential weaknesses even before they are threatened.

Steinitz won the first game in brilliant style, but Zukertort then won four in a row. After that, with Zukertort’s health problems worsening, it was mostly one-way traffic, with Steinitz emerging a convincing winner by 12½ to 7½, becoming the first official world champion.

The end of the story is rather sad: Zukertort’s standard of play and health both declined rapidly, and he died in London two years later.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, just as I did its predecessor. Willy Hendriks is a born storyteller: the book is grippingly written. You’ll always want to turn over the page to see what happens next. If you thought chess history was boring this book may persuade you to think again. It’s beautifully produced and copiously illustrated. I suppose more serious chess historians than me might regret that it’s not as fully referenced as you’d expect from an academic history book, but it’s quite understandable that the author and publisher would take the approach they chose. The English is fluent and highly readable, if not always totally idiomatic. I found one or two minor mistakes, but they didn’t interfere with my enjoyment. If you’re interested in improving your rating, the book is there to help you as well. As with many books from this publisher, most chapters are preceded by puzzles based on games discussed within: if you feel inclined you can attempt to solve them before reading on. If you love, as I do, 19th century chess history, you won’t want to miss this book. You don’t just get the games: there’s a lot of engrossing information about the leading personalities of the day and the way top level chess was organised as well.

You might want to start, if you haven’t read it already, with On the Origin of Good Moves, which is more general and wide-ranging, before continuing with this book. You may not agree with all the author’s opinions and conclusions, but you’ll find something thought-provoking on every page. This is the ideal chess book for me and goes straight into my list of all-time favourites. I can’t wait to see what Willy Hendriks writes about next.

Richard James, Twickenham 5th June 2023

Richard James
. Richard James

Book Details:

  • Softcover: 468 pages
  • Publisher: New in Chess (30 Nov. 2022)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:9493257649
  • ISBN-13: 978-9493257641
  • Product Dimensions: ‎17.22 x 1.52 x 23.65 cm

Official web site of New in Chess.

You can read some sample pages here.

The Ink War: Romanticism versus Modernity in Chess, Willy Hendriks, New in Chess (30 Nov 2022), ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 9493257649
The Ink War: Romanticism versus Modernity in Chess, Willy Hendriks, New in Chess (30 Nov 2022), ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 9493257649

Kingwalks: Paths of Glory

Blurb from the publisher, Russell Enterprises:

The Fearsome Fascination of Kingwalks!

Marching your king across the board – at times right through or into enemy lines – may be both exhilarating and terrifying. Nothing may be quite as satisfying as a majestic kingwalk across the board which brings you glorious victory. And nothing as tragicomic as a needless journey ending in epic failure.

Chessplayers are fascinated by kingwalks, perhaps because of their inherent contradiction and even implausibility. The most important – and vulnerable – chess piece does something other than trying to remain safe.

Topics include: Kingwalks to Prepare an Attack; Kingwalks in Anticipation of an Endgame; Kingwalks to Defend Key Points; Kingwalks to Attack Key Points or Pieces; Mating Attacks; Escaping to Safety Across the Board; Escaping to Safety Up the Board; Kingwalks in the Opening; Kingwalks in the Endgame; Double Kingwalks; and Unsuccessful Kingwalks.

For sheer entertainment as well as instructive value, the kingwalk is transcendent!

“Executing a successful kingwalk has the power to make a chessplayer happy and the same can be said about playing over the many beautiful examples in this book. Enjoy!” — From the Foreword by Hans Ree

About the Authors:

American grandmaster Yasser Seirawan is a four-time U.S. champion. He also won the World Junior Championship in 1979. He is one of the best-selling chess authors and is considered one of the top commentators for games broadcast on the web.

Yasser Seirawan and Jeremy Morse at the Lloyds Bank Masters
Yasser Seirawan and Jeremy Morse at the Lloyds Bank Masters

Canadian master Bruce Harper has been champion of British Columbia many times and has also participated in several Canadian championships. He is the co-author with Yasser Seirawan of the highly acclaimed three-volume series, Chess on the Edge, chronicling the career of Canadian grandmaster Duncan Suttles. He is also co-author, with American grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura, of Bullet Chess: One Minute to Mate.”

 

From the rather rambling introduction:

While our hope is that readers of all strengths will enjoy this book, there is also much to be learned from the study of kingwalks. They are a legitimate part of chess, and can transform the nature of the position to a great extent. given the difficulty people, including chess players, have in coping with change, the psychological effect of kingwalks cannot be overestimated.

and

In the pages that follow, we not only give examples of different types of kingwalks, but we try to explain the positional, tactical or psychological basis for each example. A legitimate kingwalk doesn’t come out of the blue, any more than a combination arises by chances. By exploring the preconditions for the different types of kingwalks, we hope the attentive reader will recognize positions from his or her own games where a kingwalk might be the path to victory. Equally, this type of analysis will help players in coping with opponent’s kingwalks.

Chapter 1 takes us straight into Kingwalks to Prepare an Attack. In a position where your opponent can do nothing, you want to break through to the enemy king, but first you move your king to the other side of the board to deprive your opponent of potential counterplay.

I was struck by the very first example: Kevitz & Pinkus v Alekhine in a 1929 consultation game.

Here’s the position after White’s 28th move.

Black has a potential pawn break with g6 followed by f5, but Alekhine decided to move his king to the other side of the board first.

The authors explain:

In  this position, Black has a clear advantage. White’s pieces are tied to the defense of his weak e4-pawn and the light-square weaknesses around White’s king are a constant source of concern. The engine of course recommends direct action, but Alekhine, who was no stranger to that type of play, first takes the time to reposition his king.

Black’s 42nd move completed the kingwalk, reaching this position.

You’ll observe that, while Alekhine has made considerable progress, the consultation partners’ position is exactly the same as it was in the previous diagram.

The game continued 43. Bf2 f5 and Black won a few moves later.

We then move on to other motivations for kingwalks, in Anticipation of an Ending (Chapter 2: the examples all taken from Petrosian’s games), to Defend Key Points (Chapter 3) and to Attack Key Points or Pieces (Chapter 4).

Chapter 5 ramps the excitement up a notch as we look at kingwalks as part of Mating Attacks.

Hillarp Persson – Laurusas (not, as in the book, Laurusus), from the 2018 Olympiad in Batumi, reached this position after White’s 24th move.

Seirawan and Harper take up the story.

White has some compensation for his pawn deficit, but that’s about all. It is difficult to see how, in only ten moves, this game will become the best in the 2018 Olympiad.

Since there really isn’t anything happening in this position, White’s motif brings to mind the theme song for the Mary Tyler Moore Show:

“Who can take a nothing day, and suddenly make it all seem worthwhile?”

Of course we’re referring to Joan Jett’s cover version, not the original…

White gets some help at this point. The engine recommends the supremely logical 24… Rfd8!, allowing 25. Rxh5 so that 25… Qg7 forces the exchange of queens, leaving Black with a favorable endgame. Black instead surrenders the wrong pawn.

Black played 24… Qg7?! instead, and soon started an attack on White’s king, forcing him up the board.

After mutual inaccuracies in what was, to be fair, a very difficult position, this position was reached.

The game concluded: 34. Qxg6+! Kh8 35. Kh6 and it’s mate next move.

A beautiful creative achievement by White, with some help from his opponent at the critical moment. The most remarkable aspect of this game is there wasn’t really anything to make one think that something like this was even possible ten moves ago.

We then move on from attacking kingwalks to defensive kingwalks: Escaping to Safety Across the Board in Chapter 6 and Up the Board in Chapter 7.

Even the greatest tacticians can end up confused when their opponent starts a kingwalk.

This is from Geller – Tal (Moscow 1975).

In a difficult position, Tal has just played 29… Bd4!?, hoping for complications in the impending time scramble.

30. Qe2?

As Kasparov points out, White should first drive Black’s queen off the first rank by offering an exchange of queens with 30. Qc1!, switching to the attack only after 30… Qxa2 31. Qe1! Then Black would have no play against White’s king.

30… Ne7! 31. Nb5

If White takes Black’s e7-knight, either before or after checking on e6 with his queen, Black wins: 31. Qxe7 Qg1+ 32. Kg3 Qf2+ 33. Kg4 Qxg2+ 34. Bg3 h5+ 35. Kh4 Qe4+! 36. Qxe4 Bf6#

31… Bg1+

31… Qg1+ is also sufficient to draw. Now White has no choice other than to begin a kingwalk, and the road to victory for White, and for a draw for Black lies along the White king’s path, which is wide enough only for one…

Short of time, Tal went wrong a couple of moves later and Geller’s king fled up the board to safety. Tal resigned on move 41 (perhaps at the adjournment), not waiting for 42. Kf8, which would have given this position.

Chapters 8, 9 and 10 consider, respectively, Kingwalks in the Opening (here’s Steinitz’s king boldly venturing into the centre of the board right at the start of the game, Kingwalks in the Ending (well, it’s what you do in the ending anyway, isn’t it?) and Double Kingwalks.

Seirawan and Harper are at pains to point out, throughout the book, that there’s often an element of danger in kingwalks, so Chapter 11 shows us some Unsuccessful Kingwalks.

Then, in Chapters 12-16, we have chapters devoted to players particularly associated with kingwalks: Steinitz (again), Nimzowitsch, Petrosian (again), and, less expectedly perhaps, the highly creative Canadian GM Duncan Suttles (the subject of a previous 3-volume series by the same authors), followed by Yasser Seirawan himself. You might or might not consider this slightly narcissistic.

Finally, Chapter 17 demonstrates some recent examples.

For my last example I offer you this 2019 game between Dubov and Giri.

After a very sharp opening, a complex position has arisen. Objectively White is slightly better, and the engine recommends 19. Nd2, with an edge. Instead Dubov shocks his opponent with a stunning move.

19. 0-0-0

Is there another example in chess history where a player castled on the side where there were no friendly pawns at all? We can’t term castling a “kingwalk”, but don’t worry. White’s king is just getting started.

White has unpinned his c3-knight, so he threatens 20. Nxb5, as well as 20. Qd8 mate. But Black has a logical reply that ruins White’s dream.

19… Qa5?!

After 19… Qb6!, Black defends against mate and forces a queen trade, because 20. Nb5? fails to 20… Qc6+! 21. Kb1 Na6.

White’s king went to b1 on move 22,  but by move 28 it was perfectly safe on f3.

You’ll have to read the book to discover how this happened.

This is an attractive and enjoyable book which will appeal to competitive players of all levels. It covers an aspect of chess which hasn’t been much written about so will have a unique place on your bookshelves. It’s a subject which leads itself naturally to creative and imaginative play, so you’ll find a feast of exciting chess within its pages.

Many readers will be re-acquainted with a host of old friends. There’s Short, marching his king up to h6 to mate Timman. And Botvinnik. with his king scuttling up the board to evade Capablanca’s checking queen. But there are also a lot of examples which will be probably be new to you. It’s good to have them all, both the familiar and unfamiliar, in the same place.

It’s  nicely produced, but, although there’s a short list of sources (four chess books/series and two Tolkien books), an index of players might have been helpful. You might also wish, for a number of reasons, that the authors had included initials as well as surnames for the players. I wonder whether or not it’s culturally insensitive only to give the family names of players of East Asian origin (Wei, Hou and so on) rather than their full names. The examples have all been analysed using Stockfish 10, so it’s safe to assume that there will be few, if any, significant tactical errors.

Given that kingwalks are relatively rare, at least before you get to the ending, I suppose this might not be the first choice of book to improve your rating. But taking a different approach, looking at chess, and in particular your king, in a different way, might well add another dimension to your play. Even if it does little to improve your rating, it will certainly provide you with a lot of entertainment and a wider appreciation of the beauty of your favourite game. If the subject matter appeals, and you like the style of writing typified by the examples in this review, this book can be highly recommended.

You can find an excerpt online here.

 

Richard James, Twickenham 11th April 2023

Richard James
Richard James

Book Details :

  • Hardcover : 288 pages
  • Publisher:  Russell Enterprises (15 July 2021)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:194985938X
  • ISBN-13:978-1949859386
  • Product Dimensions: 15.24 x 2.54 x 22.86 cm

Official web site of Russell Enterprises

Kingwalks: Paths of Glory, Yasser Seirawan & Bruce Harper, Russell Enterprises, Inc. (20 Jun. 2021), ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1949859386
Kingwalks: Paths of Glory, Yasser Seirawan & Bruce Harper, Russell Enterprises, Inc. (20 Jun. 2021), ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1949859386

Kupreichik: The Maestro From Minsk

From the London Chess Centre Publishing web site:

Kupreichik: The Maestro from Minsk features tributes to the legendary attacker from those who regularly faced him at the board, including Alexander Beliavsky, Oleg Romanishin, Evgeny Sveshnikov and Vladimir Tukmakov. Kupreichik also inspired the next generation, as the contributions of Boris Gelfand, Garry Kasparov, Andrey Kovalev and Rauf Mamedov reveal.

Our picture of Viktor Kupreichik is completed by a series of pen portraits from his family, which make clear the kind and principled man this hero of Belarusian chess was, as well as his love for the 64 squares.

Translated by Ken Neat, this work is also a collection of Kupreichik’s best games, many annotated by the man himself. His wins over Tal and Zilbershtein are legendary examples of the power of a knight sacrifice on d5 in the Open Sicilian. Inside you will learn not just about handling Kupreichik’s favourite Classical Sicilian, Slav and King’s Indian, but attacking and sacrificial chess in general. Readers even have the chance to solve 26 positions and so play like Kupreichik!

Viktor Kupreichik (1949-2017) was a leading Soviet Grandmaster in the 1970s and 1980s, famed for his attacking prowess. He twice won a staggering five games in a row at the super-strong USSR Championship. A former world student champion, Kupreichik won many tournaments, including the Masters section at Wijk aan Zee in 1977 and the Hastings Premier of 1981/82.

with forewords by Anastasia Sorkina and Genna Sosonko”

If I asked you to guess who played this game you’d be forgiven for thinking Tal. (Click on any move in any game in this review for a pop-up window)

You’d be partly right: Tal was playing – the black pieces. Spoilsport Stockfish will tell you he should have won, but it’s not easy, even for a genius, to defend against that sort of attack over the board. It was played in Sochi i n 1970, in a match tournament between a team of young  layers and a team of grandmasters.

On the white side was the hero of this book, Viktor Davydovich Kupreichik (1949-2017). This book, unusually without a credited author, was compiled by his family and friends after his death and published in Russian in 2019 to celebrate what would have been his 70th birthday. Here we have an English translation from London Chess Centre Publishing.

Genna Sosonko wrote the foreword to the English edition:

A master of attack, he demonstrated play that you rarely see nowadays. Even today when playing over games by Minsk’s favourite, an expression of Tal’s comes to mind – “tasty chess”.

Memories of him have been written by world champions, trainers, colleagues, friends and Viktor’s pupils. They all remember not only a wonderful chess player, but also an extraordinary personality. Even in the world of Soviet chess, Viktor was distinguished by his independence.

Mikhail Tal, Viktor’s idol, once said that his favourite squares on the chess board were d5 and f5. Viktor, who was similar to Tal not only in his constant striving for the initiative, but also the incredible boldness of his play, repeatedly placed his pieces en prise too on these very squares. And his most brilliant firework display began with a knight sacrifice on d5 in a game with Tal himself.

If you’re a fan of Tal’s games, then (and who isn’t?), you’ll enjoy Kupreichik’s games as well. You might put him in the same category as other chess mavericks such as Nezhmetdinov and Planinc: a player who valued creativity, beauty and excitement above results.

One of the contributors, Boris Gelfand, recalls, as an 11-year-old in 1979, being deeply impressed by this game.

Kupreichik’s niece, Anastasia Sorokina, is President of the Belarus Chess Federation and a FIDE Vice-President. She wrote the foreword to the Russian edition.

The publication of this book is timed to coincide with the 70th birthday of an outstanding chess-player, the first Belarusian Grandmaster, a true friend and a wonderful person, Viktor Davydovich Kupreichik. Vitek – that’s what his friends and the fans called him.

In the distant 1980s the name of Kuprechik resounded throughout the country. He was recognised in the street, fans would queue up to watch him play, and largely thanks to him a chess boom began in the Republic.

and

A sensitive and tactful person, he did not like boasting and bravado, so when the idea of this book emerged I wanted to make it modest, like him, but at the same time show all the power of his chess talent and the charm of his human character.

The first half of the book, then, comprises tributes to Kupreichik from friends and colleagues, including Kasparov and Karpov, very often with annotated games.

His friend Andrey Kovalev describes this encounter as ‘one of the best King’s Indian games in the history of chess’.

See what you think.

Throughout his long career, lasting 55 years or so, Kupreichik remained loyal to his favourite openings. He preferred 1. e4 with White, replying to 1. e4 with the Sicilian, and to 1. d4 with the King’s Indian or the Slav. If you enjoy these openings yourself you’ll find a lot of inspiration from the games in this book.

The second major section of the book is a collection of games annotated by Kupreichik himself. Those he annotated for Chess Informant have had verbal explanations added by the editorial team.

Here’s a quick win against Nigel Short.

By now you might be wondering why Kupreichik isn’t better known, or why he never reached the heights these games would suggest he deserved (his highest rating was 2575). I guess he was one of those players who loved chess too much, who valued beauty above success.

You might also think there are many higher rated players who deserve to be the subject of a games collection. You may well be right, up to a point, but were their games as entertaining as Kupreichik’s?

Here’s one final example: another spectacular miniature.

At the end of the book you’ll find a puzzle section: 26 tactical puzzles based on his games, spaciously laid out with only two diagrams per page. Finally, and charmingly, we have short memoirs from his closest family: his sister, niece and daughter.

There are also 16 pages of photographs, on glossy paper. Here you’ll see pictures of Kupreichik throughout his life, from the young boy with his parents to playing in tournaments at the end of his life: sadly he was denied the pleasures of old age. You’ll see him playing chess – and also playing football and volleyball.

All in all, it’s a delightful book: 85 games brimming with exciting tactics and sacrifices as well as reminiscences of someone who was a much loved human being as well as a highly creative player.

It’s beautifully produced as well: a handsome hardback which will look good on your bookshelf. It’s refreshingly free from typos and the translation is, as you’d expect from Ken Neat, outstanding. I very much hope that the London Chess Centre plan to publish more books of this quality.

The one thing that’s missing, for me, is a career summary. I’d have appreciated a full list of Kupreichik’s tournament results and perhaps also his ratings over the years. We do, however, have indexes of openings and opponents.

While it might not be an essential purchase, many readers will enjoy this book. If it appeals to you it comes with a strong recommendation.

If you enjoy games collections you’ll want this book. If you enjoy the games of players like Tal, Nezhmetdinov and Planinc, you certainly won’t be disappointed in this book. If you play the Sicilian (with either colour), the King’s Indian or the Slav, or you’re an e4 player looking for new ideas, you’ll find this book inspirational.

 

Here are some sample pages in pdf format.

Richard James, Twickenham 6th March 2023

Richard James
Richard James

Book Details :

  • Hardback: 344 pages
  • Publisher: London Chess Centre Publishing; New edition (10 Sept. 2021)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:0948443960
  • ISBN-13:978-0948443961
  • Product Dimensions: 15.24 x 3.49 x 23.5 cm

Kupreichik: The Maestro From Minsk, Translated by Ken Neat, London Chess Centre Publishing; New edition (10 Sept. 2021), ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0948443961

Kupreichik: The Maestro From Minsk, Translated by Ken Neat, London Chess Centre Publishing; New edition (10 Sept. 2021), ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0948443961

The Immortal Games of Capablanca

The Immortal Games of Capablanca: Fred Reinfeld

From the publisher:

“We are pleased to release another book in the Fred Reinfeld Chess Classics series. The Immortal Games of Capablanca was – and continues to be – one of Reinfeld’s most popular books. A detailed biography of the third world chess champion introduces the 113 games. They are presented chronologically, with clear and instructive annotations.

This 21st century edition has been revised and reformatted to meet the expectations of the modern chessplayer. This includes:

(a) The original English descriptive notation has been converted to modern figurine algebraic notation;
(b) Over 200(!) diagrams have added, along with more than a dozen archival photos; and
(c) The Index of Openings now has ECO codes.

Reinfeld’s annotations were also cross-checked by Stockfish 14, one of the most powerful engines available. When Stockfish had a different, meaningful evaluation from that of Reinfeld’s, the engine’s suggestion is indicated by “S14:” followed by the specific line.

As in our other “21st Century Editions,” and with the exception of the occasional supplement by Stockfish, Reinfeld’s original text has been preserved.

Follow the life and games of the brilliant Cuban world champion in Reinfelds’s timeless classic The Immortal Games of Capablanca.”

End of blurb…

Fred Reinfeld
Fred Reinfeld

According to Wikipedia:

“Fred Reinfeld (January 27, 1910 – May 29, 1964) was an American writer on chess and many other subjects. He was also a strong chess master, often among the top ten American players from the early 1930s to the early 1940s, as well as a college chess instructor.”

In July 2019 Richard James reviewed Fred Reinfeld: The Man Who Taught America Chess, with 282 Games and perhaps you might like to read this to get a better feel for FRs legacy.

Russell Enterprises (via New In Chess) with this new edition have, to date,  added a total of eight titles to their Fred Reinfeld Classic Series: the more the merrier!

Over the years many have looked down their noses at publications from Reinfeld, Chernev, Schiller and others but if we are completely honest then Reinfeld and Chernev have brought a huge amount to the chess buying public and many have found much benefit from their publications.

The Immortal Games of Capablanca by Russell Enterprises is (to use a modern phrase) a “re-imagining” of a timeless classic. Most of us reading this review would have almost certainly had one of the previous versions. The first edition dates from 1942 and, interestingly,  the copyright lies with Beatrice Reinfeld rather than Fred, himself. Published by Horowitz and Harkness, New York here is an original first edition copy from the collection of Jose Font:

The Immortal Games of Capablanca, Fred Reinfeld, Horowitz and Harkness, New York, 1942.
The Immortal Games of Capablanca, Fred Reinfeld, Horowitz and Harkness, New York, 1942.

Betts (Chess: An Annotated Bibliography of Works Published, 1850-1968) informs us that this very edition was re-issued in 1953 by the same publisher. In 1974, Collier Books (A Division of Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc. New York) brought out their own edition and added an Introduction by Robert Byrne, Chess Editor of The New York Times. This had the following appearance front and rear:

The Immortal Games of Capablanca, Fred Reinfeld, Collier Books, New York, 1974
The Immortal Games of Capablanca, Fred Reinfeld, Collier Books, New York, 1974
The Immortal Games of Capablanca, Fred Reinfeld, Collier Books, New York, 1974
The Immortal Games of Capablanca, Fred Reinfeld, Collier Books, New York, 1974

and, for the sake of completeness, and because it is worth reading, here is the Introduction from Robert Byrne:

Robert Byrne, Hastings 1971-72
Robert Byrne, Hastings 1971-72
Introduction

I joined the Manhattan Chess Club a year or so after Capablanca’s death, and the afterglow of the great Cuban’s presence still filled his favourite haunts. There was an old white-haired patzer, Richard Warburg, who would collar me, my brother Donald, and several other young high school players to tell us the “compliment” Capa had once paid him. What Capa had said was, “Warburg, nobody plays the Rinky-Dink the way you do!” So overcome with pride and delight was Warburg that the great man had deigned to remark on his play that he never stopped to think why Capa had dubbed his Accelerated Dragon Variation the “Rinky-Dink.” Needless to say, the ironic joshing of Capablanca’s remark was totally lost on him.

Moreover, it would not have mattered, for Capablanca was so idolized that it was deemed a privilege to breathe the same air he did. Not only did his fans feel that way about him, but the man from whom he won the world championship, Emanuel Lasker, said of him, “I have known many chess players, but only one chess genius.” Capablanca’s successor, Alexander Alekhine, also termed him “a very great genius whose like we shall never see again.”

What lent Capablanca the glamour that was denied to his fellow champions of the game was the incredible speed of his play. Hard work at the board, consuming the full two and one half hours for forty moves, was unknown to him at the peak of his career. Brilliant strategic plans, marvellous com binational possibilities, scintillating turns in the play came tumbling out of him in response to his extraordinarily quick sight of the configuration before him.

He did not consider what he achieved as coming under the head of thinking, scandalizing his colleagues by insisting that chess was not an intellectual game. For him it was nothing remotely resembling problem solving, but rather flashes of intuition in which he grasped the essential pattern governing each individual position. That is why he looked upon chess playing as an aesthetic activity.

Quite obviously, no greater natural player ever lived. At the age of four, Capablanca learned the moves by watching his father play and, years later, he declared that he had never bothered to study the game. Of course, growing up in the fertile chess climate of Havana and later New York, he honed himself on very strong opposition. Watching the games of his competitors could hardly have failed to serve as an education in itself.

In chess style, Capablanca was the master par excellence of reduction, stripping positions down to the bare backbone by exchanging off all irrelevant material. In what were for others
positions of unfathomable complexity, he could, with uncanny lucidity, expose the genuinely dominant but often hidden theme that dictated the strategy to be pursued.

It is this astonishing clarity in Capablanca’s conceptions that makes his games a gold mine for the aspiring student. The elements of chess strategy can all be seen here purged of the confusion introduced by side issues. The late Fred Reinfeld has made an excellent selection of 113 Capablanca games which give a rounded picture of the scope and invention of Cuba’s greatest genius. These are the wonderful performances that have so heavily shaped the play of current world champion Bobby Fischer, Capablanca’s spiritual descendant.

One of my favourites, which I have replayed many times, is game 6, from Capablanca’s match with Frank Marshall (see page 39 ). It is not too much to say that this is the indispensable stem game for the understanding of how White develops a kingside attack in the Ruy Lopez. Another lesson in the Ruy Lopez, this time in the exchange variation by transposition, is given by game 17 against David Janowski (see page 83). Capablanca’s handling of the pawn structure and his fine rook play in the ending beautifully illuminate a formation reintroduced into current practice by Bobby Fischer.

In the realm of bishops-of-opposite-colour play, the drawing chances of the defence can only be defeated by the kind of positional mastery Capablanca evinces in game 2L against Richard Teichmann (see page 97 ) and in game 25 against Aron Nimzovich (see page 111). Capablanca’s terrifically coolheaded defensive play shows up in his defeat of Frank Marshall’s anti-Ruy Lopez gambit in game 36 (see page 157), which the American champion kept under wraps for eight years to spring on him. I could go on and on, but, if I must limit myself to just one more, Capablanca’s best-played-prize-winning Caro-Kann Defense in game 63 against Aron Nimzovich (see page 276) would be my choice. It is a wonderfully instructive masterpiece of infiltration tactics to undermine a passive position and score with Zugzwang.

Fred Reinfeld’s annotations are clear and schematic and give a dramatic portrayal of these epic battles. Fred, the epitome of the hero-worshipper, is a little too harsh in fastening on the very human foibles that brought about Capablanca’s loss of the world championship to Alekhine. With the ease of success Capablanca enjoyed, it was all but impossible for him to have taken Alekhine’s challenge seriously, especially since Capablanca had a 6-O record against him going into the match. No one could have guessed the fanatic zeal that Alekhine put into his preparation for the struggle.

Moreover, the last word on Capablanca’s enormous capacity can be gleaned from Alekhine’s behaviour. He sought lesser opponents rather than give the awesome genius a return match.

-Robert Byrne”

In 1990 Dover did their usual “reprint” thing and re-issued the Horowitz and Harkness, New York, 1942 version with this cover:

The Immortal Games of Capablanca, Fred Reinfeld, Horowitz and Harkness, Dover Publishing, 1990 and then 2011 by Sam Sloan
The Immortal Games of Capablanca, Fred Reinfeld, Horowitz and Harkness, Dover Publishing, 1990 and then 2011 by Sam Sloan

and in 2011 Sam Sloan put on his anti-copyright Ye-Ha! cowboy spurs and re-issued his version with the original 1942 cover.

So, in 2022, what do we have that is new in this 21st century edition?

Firstly, we have FAN or figurine algebraic notation which should help to bring in those for whom English Descriptive is old hat (their words not ours).

Secondly, thirteen photographs of of Capa and his opponents liven up the pages that once contained a single image of Capa giving a simultaneous display at the Imperial Chess Club in London, 1911. Printing quality could have been improved but welcome they are nonetheless.

The format has transitioned from the old style single column with diagrams few and far between to a double column format with a liberal sprinkling of diagrams of greater printed clarity than the originals. Each game has been allocated an ECO code (or Rabar Index for our more mature readers). Indeed, the font is a little smaller than it was in 1942 but quite readable all the same.

The authors pithy annotation style has been retained for the modern student to enjoy and engine worshippers (“I cannot read a chess book that has not been engine checked”) are acknowledged using supplemental comments indicated by a Stockfish (S14) label.

We carried out a detailed edition comparison with the Collier edition and found some subtle differences. As noted previously the Robert Byrne Introduction  is not present but then again, it wasn’t in the original. Game 2a, Corzo-Capablanca is now Game 3 and the comment “This game discovered just as the book was going to press” is no longer present.

Capablanca-Voight, Philadelphia, 1910  is labelled as a Team Match between Manhattan CC and Franklin CC in 1942 and in 2022 as a simultaneous display game. Both Megabase 2023 and Chessgames.com concur with the recent verdict: any Capa scholars (EGW)  out there with definitive knowledge?

Game 15 is now identified as Capablanca – Bacu Arus from a blindfold simul whereas Black was listed simply as “Amateur” in the original.

Through out this fresh, new edition there are subtle additions of detail together with corrections to the original which are to be admired.

The Stockfish (S14) comments are sparse and unobtrusive but of value. For example, from Capablanca- Janowski we have reproduced the comments to Black’s 24th move only:

In summary it was an absolute pleasure to be re-united with this timeless classic and Russell Enterprises are to be congratulated on producing this fresh new edition with added value.

John Upham, Cove, Hampshire, 2nd March 2023

John Upham
John Upham

Book Details :

    • Softcover : 256 pages
    • Publisher:  Russell Enterprises (September 12, 2022)
    • Language: English
    • ISBN-10: 1949859274
    • ISBN-13: 978-1949859461
    • Product Dimensions: 15.24 x 1.27 x 22.86 cm

    Official web site of Russell Enterprises

    The Immortal Games of Capablanca Reinfeld, Fred Reinfeld, Russell Enterprises, Hanon Russell, September 12, 2022, ISBN: 9781949859461
    The Immortal Games of Capablanca Reinfeld, Fred Reinfeld, Russell Enterprises, Hanon Russell,
    September 12, 2022, ISBN:
    9781949859461