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Forcing Chess Moves : The Key to Better Calculation

Forcing Chess Moves : The Key to Better Calculation : Charles Hertan

Forcing Chess Moves : The Key to Better Calculation, New in Chess, Charles Hertan, 2019
Forcing Chess Moves : The Key to Better Calculation, New in Chess, Charles Hertan, 2019

From the publisher :

“Charles Hertan is a FIDE master from Massachusetts with several decades of experience as a chess coach. He is the author of the bestselling Power Chess for Kids series. Joel Benjamin broke Bobby Fischer’s record as the youngest ever US master. He won the US Championship three times and has been a trainer for more than two decades. His book Liquidation on the Chess Board won the 2015 Best Book Award of the Chess Journalists of America (CJA). His latest book is the highly acclaimed Better Thinking, Better Chess.”

Charles Hertan
Charles Hertan

From the book’s rear cover :

“Why is it that the human brain so often refuses to consider winning chess tactics? Every chess fan marvels at the wonderful combinations with which famous masters win their games. How do they find those fantastic moves? Do they have special vision? And why do computers outwit us tactically? Forcing Chess Moves proposes a revolutionary method for finding winning moves.

Charles Hertan has made an astonishing discovery: the failure to consider key moves is often due to human bias. Your brain tends to disregard many winning moves because they are counter-intuitive or look unnatural. It’s a fact of life: computers outdo us humans when it comes to tactical vision and brute force calculation. So why not learn from them? Charles Hertan’s radically different approach is: use COMPUTER EYES and always look for the most forcing move first.

By studying forcing sequences according to Hertan’s method you will: Develop analytical precision; Improve your tactical vision; Overcome human bias and staleness; Enjoy the calculation of difficult positions; Win more games by recognizing moves that matter. This New and Extended Fourth Edition of Hertan’s award-winning modern classic includes 50 extra pages with new and instructive combinations.

There is a foreword by three-time US chess champion Joel Benjamin, and a special foreword to this new edition by Swedish Grandmaster Pontus Carlsson. Charles Hertan is a FIDE master from Massachusetts with several decades of experience as a chess coach. He is the author of the bestselling Power Chess for Kids series.”

 

 

You might think a chess puzzle book is just that, but there are many ways of going about it.

Are you going to write a text book or an exercise book? Or perhaps a text book with exercises to reinforce the lessons in the text?

Are you going to deal with puzzles winning material, checkmate puzzles, or perhaps positional sacrifices?

Are you going to provide practical advice to your readers about how to find tactics in their own games, or are you simply content to let the positions you demonstrate serve as an inspiration?

How are you going to order it? By tactical device? By level of difficulty? By pieces sacrificed? By squares on which sacrifices are played? Alphabetically: by player? Chronologically: by date?

What level are you aiming it at? Novices? Club players? Experts? Masters?

Most importantly, perhaps, what’s your USP? How are you going to stand out from the crowd?

This is the fourth edition, so Charles Hertan’s book has certainly proved popular (I’d previously read the first edition) and rightly so as well. Everyone enjoys a good puzzle book and this is one of the best on the market.

Let’s take a look inside.

Chapter 1 is about Stock Forcing Moves.

It’s immediately clear that readers should already be very familiar with basic tactical ideas: forks, pins, discovered attacks, deflections and so on. They should also be aware of the concept of what Hertan calls Stock ideas: common ideas which you will gradually become aware of as you look at more and more tactical exercises.

So it’s very much a book for club standard players rather than a book for novices.

This, for example is a common idea. White won with 1. Rxf7+!! Rxf7 2. Qxh6+!! Kg8 3. Qh8+! when White emerges two pawns up (Gallagher – Curran Lyon 1993).

At the end of every chapter you’ll find some puzzles to test your growing tactical skills.

Chapter 2 moves onto Stock Mating Attacks . The same sort of thing, but this time we’re mating our opponents rather than just winning material.

Chapter 3 is Brute Force Combinations. Hertan rightly observes that tactical skill combines two elements, depth and breadth of vision, a point missed by many authors and teachers. This chapter is about depth of vision. “Accurate brute force analysis”, according to the author, “is the single most important chess skill”.  I wouldn’t disagree: I’d just add that you will often need to be able to assess the final position accurately: analysis = calculation + assessment.

This is where things start getting difficult.

A typical example.

Here’s Hertan’s commentary on the conclusion of Alatortsev – Boleslavsky (Moscow 1950).

“Black is able to parlay a fleeting advantage in activity into a stunning brute force win:

1… Bh3! 2. f4!

The natural 2. Rfe1 fails to 2… Rxf2! 3. Kxf2 Qe3#.

2… Bxf1!!

Since 2… Qc5 3. Rf2 holds, Black had to seek a creative solution, maintaining the initiative.

3. fxg5 Rxe2 4. Qc3 Bg2! 5. Qd3

There’s no time for 5. Re1 Bh3! and, at the right moment, … Rxe1+ and Rf1+! with a winning ending.

5… Bf3!

Not 5… Rff2 6. Re1!.

6. Rf1

White has no good answer to 6… Rg2+, e.g. 6. Kf1 Rxh2; or 6. Qd4 Rg2+ 7. Kf1 c5 8. Qxd6 Bc6+ 9. Ke1 Rg1+ 10. Ke2 Rxa1 11. Qe6+ Rf7.

6… Rg2+ 7. Kh1 Bc6!

A beautiful quiet forcing move; not 7… Rd2? 8. Rxf3 with drawing chances.

8. Rxf8+ Kxf8 9. Qf1+ Rf2+ 0-1”

You’ll see that some of the examples aren’t easy to solve from the diagram. You need what Hertan calls excellent ‘computer eyes’ to calculate accurately that far ahead.

The remainder of the book is devoted to improving your move selection by overcoming human bias. The point is sometimes made that the difference between experts and masters is not so much that they think further ahead, or that they consider more moves, but that they consider better moves. Hertan believes that we often miss the best moves because of cognitive bias. Computers, of course, don’t have this problem.

Chapter 4 looks at Surprise Forcing Moves. These fall into two categories: moves that look impossible and moves that appear unusual or antipositional.

This is from Vetemaa – Shabalov (Haapsalu 1986).

Here, Black found the ‘impossible’ 1… Qb5!!, leaving the queen en prise to two pieces, but spotting that, if either piece takes, the other is pinned so 2… Nb3 is mate.

White has to prevent Qb2# and 2. b4 loses to Nb3+. The game continued 2. Rd2 Nxc3 3. Qxc3 Nxb3+ 0-1.

Chapter 5 is about ESTs: Equal or Stronger Threats. When your opponent makes a threat it’s natural only to consider defensive moves. Sometimes your best option will be to create an equal or stronger threat, but cognitive bias makes these moves hard to find.

Chapter 6 looks for Quiet Forcing Moves, which are again easy to miss. I’m not sure that I’d call a move threatening mate ‘quiet’, though. I guess it all depends what you mean by the word.

Chapter 7 brings us onto Forcing Retreats. Again, when you’re attacking, human bias tend to lead you towards looking at forward rather than backward moves.

From Filguth – De la Garza (Mexico 1980):

“Are your computer eyes sufficiently trained to find the wondrous shot 1. Qh1!! and the two brute force variations that make it the strongest attacking move on the board?”

1… Qh5 would be met by g4 as the h-pawn is guarded, while 1… Qf6, the move played over the board, was met by 2. Bg5! 1-0 because, after 2… hxg5 hxg5, the white queen breaks through to h7.

You’ll realise at this point that there’s considerable overlap between chapters: Qh1 might be seen as a Surprise Forcing Move or a Quiet Forcing Move as well as a Forcing Retreat.

Chapter 8 offers Zwischenzugs: intermediate moves in which, instead of playing an automatic recapture, you find something stronger to do first. There are similarities here with ESTs here: again, human bias will lead you towards taking back without stopping to think about it.

Defensive Forcing Moves are the subject of Chapter 9: these might be moves using tactical force to refute a dangerous but unsound attack, or counterattacking moves, where the defender suddenly turns into the attacker.

Chapter 10 brings us to Endgame Forcing Moves, although Hertan’s definition of endgame is not the same as mine, including, as it does, positions where each side has queen, rook and minor piece.

Chapter 11, Intuition and Creativity, sums everything up. According to Hertan there are five factors which will enable you to develop master intuition: a strong knowledge of stock tactics, hard work in calculating variations, creativity, courage and practical experience and wisdom.

Chapter 12 is a final set of exercises, and Chapter 13 gives you the Hertan Hierarchy, a tool for teaching better calculation skills, which you might see as a flowchart to help you find the best move.

This isn’t the only way to write about tactics, and I’m not convinced that Hertan’s methods are as revolutionary as the publisher claims. Teaching students to look for checks, captures and threats dates back, I think, to Reinfeld and Purdy in the 1930s. I’ve always taught my pupils to use a CCTV to look at the board: look for Checks, Captures, Threats and Violent moves. What he adds, and I’m not sure how original this is, and whether it’s any more than common sense, is to advise you to analyse the most forcing moves first, no matter how foolish they might appear. The idea of using protocols to find the best move and avoid missing tactics dates back at least to Kotov in Think Like a Grandmaster.  Some players, including this reviewer, find protocols helpful in some situations, but others strongly dislike the whole idea.

You might also find the continual repetition of the phrase ‘Computer Eyes’ rather grating, and the language at times over hyperbolic. On the other hand, many readers like this style of writing.

But everyone loves tactics books full of beautiful, surprising, creative and imaginative moves, and this book is perhaps the best on the market in that respect. The author has spent decades collecting positions of this nature, and his experience and enthusiasm shines through every page.

It’s not a book for novices. You need a basic grounding in tactics and thinking skills, along with the understanding that most tactics don’t involve sacrifices or surprise moves, that most sacrifices you’ll consider in your games will be unsound, and that, at least at amateur level, more games are lost by unsound sacrifices than won by sound sacrifices (although many games at all levels are won by unsound sacrifices). But anyone from, say, 1400 or so upwards, will be enchanted and inspired by the hundreds of examples of spectacular play to be found here. They’ll also enjoy the exercises and find at least some of the advice, particularly, perhaps, about avoiding cognitive bias when selecting moves to analyse, helpful.

While the teaching methods might not suit all readers, you won’t be disappointed by the contents.

Richard James, Twickenham 1st December 2020

Richard James
. Richard James

Book Details :

  • Paperback : 432 pages
  • Publisher: New In chess; New and Extended 4th ed. edition (16 Aug. 2019)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9056918567
  • ISBN-13: 978-9056918569
  • Product Dimensions : 16.94 x 2.77 x 23.67 cm

Official web site of New in Chess

Forcing Chess Moves : The Key to Better Calculation, New in Chess, Charles Hertan, 2019
Forcing Chess Moves : The Key to Better Calculation, New in Chess, Charles Hertan, 2019

The Power of Defence and the Art of Counterattack in 64 Pictures

The Power of Defence and the Art of Counterattack in 64 Pictures : Nikola Nestorović and Dejan Nestorović

The Power of Defence and the Art of Counterattack in 64 Pictures, Nestor Nestorovic and Dejan Nestorovic
The Power of Defence and the Art of Counterattack in 64 Pictures, Nestor Nestorovic and Dejan Nestorovic

From Nikola’s web site :

“My name is Nikola Nestorović and I have been playing chess for more than 20 years. During that time I managed to accomplish most of my playing career goals. The most important fact is that I became a Grandmaster at the end of 2015 and officially I became FIDE Chess Trainer in 2018. As I was growing up I realized that I really enjoy teaching so I decided that I am going to pursue that kind of a profession. Whether at school or at home I was always in the mood for teaching others and that feeling was very important in my chess coaching career. The connection between teacher and student need to be professional but friendly because only with this trust student can improve in a special way. So first, I want to make a special connection with my student – and then, chess will be very easy to learn! For years I worked on my special chess materials, so I can adjust my lessons to any type of player! And one very important thing – your age is not important, you can ALWAYS improve your chess play! So, If you love chess and you want to learn and improve in this beautiful game – I am sure that together – we can achieve your (our) goals! I am waiting for you! Cheers! Nikola”

From the publisher’s website :

“A tale of 64 magical squares in 64 shrewdly created pictures. Many a book delved deep into the vast oceans of tactics, positional play and strategy, but very few dared to enter and master a notoriously elusive realm of defence in chess.

In this highly instructive tome the authors tried to accomplish several demanding goals. To uncover many of the secrets that remain hidden so very often, to tackle the most difficult area of chess skill – defence, and finally to teach a great number of ambitious chess-players helping them to improve their knowledge in this important area of chess expertise.

We present you the book by GM Nikola Nestorović, and his father IM Dejan Nestorović with firm belief that you will appreciate many hours of their hard work and devotion to this intriguing topic. The games presented in this tome are both recent and older ones, played by the chess elite and their lower rated peers, but without exception instructive, deeply and diligently analysed for your reading and learning pleasure.

You learned to attack – now it is time to sharpen your defensive tools!”

 

The first thing to notice is that this is a handsome hardback, complete with a bookmark, and enhanced by photographs of some of the players featured within. Unlike the previous book I reviewed from this publisher, it uses orthodox fonts for both text and diagrams.

When turning to the first game you’ll see a game from a tournament that is still, at the time of writing this review, unfinished. This is Grischuk – Alekseenko from the 2020 Candidates Tournament. The first section, Modern gladiators, features 19 games or positions from recent tournaments, working backwards from 2020 to 2017, featuring many of today’s leading players.

Knights of XXI century takes us back from 2016 to 2007 with another 19 examples. Then, Pearls don’t lose their luster offers ten more positions going back to Savon – Tal in 1971. A moment of glory gives us seven specimens from slightly less celebrated players, and finally, From the maker’s mind treats us to nine games from the authors themselves.

This is an advanced book covering a difficult topic, that of defence and counterattack, and probably most suitable for players above, say, 2200 strength. You’ll find a lot of exciting, double-edged games, demonstrating all that is best in contemporary chess. Many of the games feature positional sacrifices, so if you’ve read and enjoyed Merijn van Delft’s recent book, this might be a useful follow-up. But the analysis here is much denser: lots of presumably computer generated tactical variations for you to work your way through.

Let’s look at one of the shorter and simpler examples.

We join the game Kožul – Stević (Nova Gorica 2007) with White about to play his 31st move. (Informator’s house style is to omit capture and check signs: I’m following that here, but using letters for pieces instead of the book’s figurines.)

31. g3

“Kožul is resigned to the fact that he has to wait for his opponent’s mistake in the realisation because Black’s extra pawn on b4 along with excellent placement of his pieces don’t bode well for White.”

31… Rd3?!

“A mistake that wouldn’t have needed to drastically affect assessment and events in the game had the danger alarm made a sound in good time.

“31… Qd3!? After simple exchange of queens Black would have only minor technical problems in the realisation of his material advantage. 32. Qd3 Rd3 33. Rc6 Ba5 34. Rc8 Kh7 35. Kg2 g5 With further strengthening of the position.”

32. Rc8

“The only way to create a chance, of course. White is still waiting for his opponent’s help.”

32… Kh7?

“After Rd3 one could surmise that Stević overlooked his opponent’s threat and that he only expected a passive defence. 32… Rd8! after the rook returned to the eighth rank, the chance for salvation disappeared, at least at this moment.”

33. Ng5!

“A nice tactical stroke which immediately changed the situation on the board. This was an absolute shock for Stević! All of a sudden he had to deal with concrete problems. And as it is usually the case, one mistake follows another.”

33… Kg6

“33… hxg5?? 34. Qh5#”

34. Qe4

“After Qe4 good defence is required in order not to lose the game.”

34… f5?

“Now a fatal error which brings White closer to victory. Black has two responses after which his opponent would be forced to draw.”

(Now there’s some analysis of Black’s drawing moves Kg5! and Kh5!, along with a diagram after Kh5, which I’ll omit here.)

35. ef6 Kg5 36. fg7!?

“36. Qe5! The safest path to victory. 36… Kg4 37. Qf4 Kh5 38. fg7+-”

36… Bf2

“A good attempt to create a counter-chance. 36… Qb1! The best practical chance. 37. Kg2 Rg3! 38. hg3 Qe4 39. Kh2 Qh7 40. g8Q Qg8 41. Rg8 Kf6 42. f4 There would still be some play here, although it can be said that White only needs to resolve some technical problems in the realisation of his material advantage.”

37. Kg2!

(There’s another diagram here: rather redundant as we’re only two half moves away from the previous one.)

“The game can still be lost for White: 37. Kf2?? Rd2 38. Kf1 Qd1 39. Qe1 Qf3 40. Kg1 Qg2#”

37. Rg3 38. Kf2 1:0

“Dangerous checks have disappeared. Black resigns due to the simple capture of the rook followed by promotion of the pawn to queen. Certainly, the key moments happened in time-trouble which is the period of the game when the side experiencing problems in the position should be concentrated and should seek its chance carefully.

“Kožul seized his chance while for Stević it can be said that he first missed a huge opportunity to win and then when he had to calculate where to go with his king and how o do it, he made incorrigible mistakes and suffered defeat.”

Here’s one of the authors in action in a very recent game: Todorović – N Nestorović (Smederevska Palanka (rapid) 2020).

“The position on the board shows us the moment when White has the opportunity to prevent a counterattack with a simple bc3 or enter calculations by playing tactical Ne8 where, at first glance, he wins material and easily promotes the e-pawn to queen.”

29. Ne8?

“29. bc3! (I’ve omitted the diagram) The simplest move! Now White is threatening to capture the rook on e8 and create the best defensive setup. 29… Qc4! 30. R4e3! After two simple defensive moves, Black’s hope vanishes. 30… Rc7 (30… Re7 31. Qa8! Capturing material.) 31. Qc7 And Black doesn’t have any possibility to create threats. 31… Qa2 32. cd4 Qa1 33. Kd2 Qb2 34. Kd1 Qb1 35. Ke2+-

“The king goes to the part of the board where there are no more checks and so the last threats will disappear.”

29… Qc4!!

(There’s another diagram here.) “The only way to create threats and shift the focus of play to the other side of the board.”

30. Qb8

“The most logical way to defend the white castling.”

(There’s a long note here demonstrating that 30. Nd6!? and 30. Qa5!? both lead to perpetual check, and again there’s a diagram after each of these moves.)

30… cb2 31. Kb2 Qc2 32. Ka1 Qc3

33. Qb2?

“Our desire to win sometimes gets us off the right path. 33. Kb1=

33… Nc2 34. Kb1

(Surely this diagram should be after, rather than before Black’s next move.)

34… Rb6!!

“A phenomenal way to end a counterattack!

“White resigns due to his inability to defend from checkmate!”

35. Qb6 Na3# 0:1

 

These extracts should give you some idea of the strengths and weaknesses of this book. There’s a lot of great chess here: exciting, creative and imaginative, as well as, as you’d expect in games of this nature, even at the highest level, a lot of mistakes as well. You certainly get a feeling of the inexhaustible riches of our beloved game. The subject of defence and counter-attack is not an easy one to teach, but the main point is well made. If you’re under attack you must meet immediate threats, but, beyond that, you should, if possible, avoid passive defence and look for opportunities to create active counterplay, even if this involves taking risks. Don’t be afraid to consider moves which may not be objectively best but will put your opponent under pressure.

The authors clearly have a keen eye for games of this nature and all readers will enjoy playing through and studying them.

However, you can probably also see some negatives. The translation, while mostly making sense, is a long way below professional standards. The layout of the book is poor and makes the games difficult to follow. You’d certainly need two boards and even then it wouldn’t be easy. There are lots of long tactical variations with embedded diagrams the same size as those in the main text. In some cases the game continuation is in the annotations while the book follows a more interesting line that wasn’t played. It all gets rather confusing, and the translation, along with the lack of capture and check signs, doesn’t help. It’s especially confusing when the actual game continuation is in the notes, while another variation, which would have led to a different result, is given as the main line.

Speaking as a 1900 strength player, I thought the book was pitched rather above me. I’d have preferred annotations with fewer computer generated variations and less verbose prose, and perhaps a puzzle section at the end to reinforce the lessons learnt from the examples, along with an improved layout and a better translation. The van Delft book mentioned above handles a similar subject in a much more appropriate way for players of my level, in terms of a more logical structure and more helpful annotations.

A qualified recommendation, then, for lovers of thrilling tactical games with vacillating fortunes played, mostly, at the highest level.

 

Richard James, Twickenham 22nd November 2020

Richard James
. Richard James

Book Details :

  • Hardback : 352 pages
  • Publisher: Sahovski Chess (aka Chess Informant or Informator) 2020
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: ?
  • ISBN-13: ?
  • Product Mass : ?

Official web site of Sahovski Chess

The Power of Defence and the Art of Counterattack in 64 Pictures, Nestor Nestorovic and Dejan Nestorovic
The Power of Defence and the Art of Counterattack in 64 Pictures, Nestor Nestorovic and Dejan Nestorovic

Mastering Positional Sacrifices : A Practical Guide to a Vital Skill in Chess

Mastering Positional Sacrifices : A Practical Guide to a Vital Skill in Chess : Merijn van Delft

Mastering Positional Sacrifices: A Practical Guide to a Vital Skill in Chess.New In Chess, August 2020, Merijn van Delft
Mastering Positional Sacrifices: A Practical Guide to a Vital Skill in Chess.New In Chess, August 2020, Merijn van Delft

From the publisher :

“Merijn van Delft is an International Master from the Netherlands. He has been a chess trainer for more than two decades and created instructional material both online and offline.”

IM Merijn van Delft
IM Merijn van Delft

From the book’s rear cover :

“Most chess games of beginners and post-beginners are decided by fairly straightforward tactics. Anyone who wants to progress beyond this level and become a strong club player or a candidate master, needs to understand that somewhat mysterious-looking resource, the positional sacrifice.

International Master Merijn van Delft has studied and loved positional sacrifices for as long as he can remember. This non-forcing tool is not just a surprising and highly effective way of creating a decisive advantage during a game. Positional sacrifices are also instruments of superior beauty.

Van Delft has created a unique thematic structure for all types of positional sacrifices. He shows the early historical examples, explains which long-term goals are typical for each fundamental theme and presents lots of instructive modern examples. He then concentrates on those sacrifices that have become standard features of positional play. Solving the exercises he has added will further enhance your skills.

Playing a positional sacrifice will always require courage. Merijn van Delft takes you by the hand and not only teaches the essential technical know-how, he also helps you to recognize the opportunities when to take the plunge. Mastering Positional Sacrifices is bound to become a modern-day classic.”

 

 

Dutch IM Merijn van Delft introduces readers to one of the most complex and fascinating aspects of chess: the positional sacrifice. He’s not the first author to tackle this subject: previous books by McDonald and Suba, which I haven’t read are discussed in the bibliography.

A few quotes from the introduction will give you some idea of what this book is about, and who the target readership is.

“I am trying to write for as broad a readership as possible, but let me give a mild warning to beginning chess players: this book may not be the best place to start for you. … Here is a mild warning for very experienced players as well: you may come across a fair amount of examples you already know. I considered it my job to combine the most impressive classical games with new material, and to find a nice balance there.

“A feel-good book is what this is meant to be. It should be fun to play through the games and the book can easily be used for entertainment purposes only. If you are simply seeking inspiration, feel free to open it at a random page and check the diagrams. The most exciting moments are always covered with a diagram and described in the text that follows.

“Having said that, my main intention has been to present the material as systematically as possible. My goal was to create a unique framework of positional sacrifices. The structure should have an inner logic and should help the reader to build up his knowledge systematically.”

Let’s look inside and see whether or not the author has achieved his aim. There are 115 complete games in the main body of the book, ranging from Morphy to Wijk aan Zee 2020, so it’s nothing if not up to date. All but the first two (in the introduction) feature positional sacrifices. All games are fully annotated, mostly verbally, with variations only given when necessary. It’s particularly good to see the complete games, so that readers can witness how the positional sacrifices arose from the opening.

The first part of the book deals with the four basic reasons for positional sacrifices: piece play, pawn structure, colour complexes and domination.

Chapter 1 teaches us how we can use positional sacrifices to create play for our pieces: by opening files, opening closed positions or opening diagonals.

Here, for example, is a position from Leko – Vachier-Lagrave (Batumi Ol 2018), with Black just about to use a positional sacrifice to open some files on the queen side.

“For now White seems to have everything under control, but what follows is a true thunderbolt.

23… Nxa4!

Vachier-Lagrave’s handling of the opening stage may have been unfortunate, but now he displays very deep understanding of the position with a truly amazing piece sacrifice.”

The game continued 24. Bxa4 b5 25. Bxb5 a4 26. Nd4 a3 and Black won on move 71.

Chapter 2 looks at how we can use positional sacrifices to help our pawns. We can create a Perfect Pawn Centre, a Pawn Steamroller or a Mighty Pawn Chain.

This is Gemy Vargas – Fier Sao Paolo 2019. White’s f-pawn has just moved two squares, and van Delft points out the alternative 30… exf3, which is the engine recommendation. But instead…

30… e3!

“The artist is taking over. Black sacrifices a piece to increase the size of his pawn steamroller. As Alexandr said at the Masterclass he gave recently at Apeldoorn, during his early years as a chess player he was heavily influenced by Kasparyan’s book with endgame studies on the theme of domination.”

By move 41 he’d reached this position, where White resigned.

“A pretty picture, the ultimate pawn steamroller, minding a bit of the famous McDonnell – De la Bourdonnais finish with black pawns on d2, e2 and f2.”

Chapter 3 moves onto the idea of positional sacrifices to control colour complexes. As van Delft explains, because this is a more abstract concept than pieces and pawns, it’s harder to understand.

Chapter 4 then puts everything together: we can play a positional sacrifice to achieve domination of the entire board.

In Wojtaszek – Hracek (Aix-les-Bains 2011) White, who had already sacrificed a pawn,  now gave up the exchange to dominate the board.

17. Rxc5! “The key move, a strong positional exchange sacrifice.”

Now we understand the reasons why we might want to play a positional sacrifice, we can move onto Part 2, where we can learn about typical sacrifices and store the ideas in our long-term memory. Many of them, though, will already be familiar to experienced players.

Chapter 5 concerns pawn sacrifices: as you might expect the Benko and Marshall Gambits are among the openings considered. Chapter 6, concluding Part 2, moves onto typical exchange sacrifices.

Part 3 goes way beyond this, to more difficult and dangerous ideas. Chapter 7, Extreme Sports, asks how much you can get away with sacrificing. You’ll find double exchange sacrifices, queen sacrifices for a couple of minor pieces, and even positional rook sacrifices.

In Firouzja – Karthikeyan (Xingtai Asian Championship 2019) Black sacrificed his queen on move 9:

9… Qxc3+! “A great positional queen sacrifice.”

10. bxc3 dxe3

“Black now has two minor pieces and a pawn for the queen. White has many weak pawns and squares, which makes Black’s position much easier to play.”

In Chapter 8, Heroes, van Delft introduces us to some of the games that have inspired him over the years, played by the likes of Shirov, Aronian and Carlsen.

Finally, Chapter 9 goes beyond human positional sacrifices to the Superhuman, including recent games by Leela Chess Zero and Stoofvlees.

Now it’s time to put your new found knowledge and skills into action with a final chapter of Exercises.

“In total there are 48 exercises, on four different levels, with 12 exercises each. Every reader should have a fair chance at Level 1, while at Level 2 things are already becoming more difficult. Level 3 is serious business, and at Level 4 most people will be running into a wall. Level 4 is mainly there to remind us how rich chess is, and that we will not easily be done learning.”

The answers always include the play up to the question, and in some cases the complete game as well.

As you’ll realise, there’s a lot of great chess in this book. The author has also achieved his aim of treating a difficult subject in a logical and well structured way. But what really appeals to me is van Delft’s style of writing. There are many strong players who excel at writing or talking about chess, but not all of them understand how their readers or viewers might learn. He is at pains to differentiate between material which provides specific lessons you can employ in your own games and more difficult material which might serve as an inspiration.  Although the English isn’t always totally idiomatic, the meaning is never less than totally clear. Not for him the fanciful analogies and flowery language preferred by some authors to make their books fun: for van Delft the fun comes from the moves themselves. Although the intent is serious, his approach is warm, friendly and encouraging. Enjoy your chess and don’t be afraid to try out new ideas: this is how you improve. He comes across to me as, above all, an excellent teacher. I look forward to reading whatever he writes about in future.

Personally, I’d have liked a broader historical perspective. Those 19th century favourites the King’s Gambit and Evans Gambit are positional sacrifices for, amongst other things, an Ideal Pawn Centre, and many other 19th century gambits have aims relating to themes in the book. While there are a few 19th century games along with some discussion of the Steinitz Gambit and a brief mention of its context, a chapter on the history of positional sacrifices would have been interesting.

Nevertheless,, this is yet another outstanding book from New in Chess in what has been an exceptional year for chess literature. Very highly recommended: I’m sure you’ll find it both enjoyable and instructive, and, if you’re rated, say, 1800+, this book will add a new dimension to your chess.

Richard James, Twickenham 13th November 2020

Richard James
. Richard James

Book Details :

  • Paperback : 320 pages
  • Publisher: New in Chess (1st June 2020)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-13: 978-9056918835
  • Product Dimensions : 6.82 x 0.82 x 9.3 inches

Official web site of New in Chess

Mastering Positional Sacrifices: A Practical Guide to a Vital Skill in Chess. New In Chess, June 2020, Merijn van Delft

The Grandmaster Mindset

The Grandmaster Mindset
The Grandmaster Mindset

From the book’s rear cover :

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

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

GM Alojzije Jankovic
GM Alojzije Jankovic

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

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

 

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

Let’s take a look inside and find out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is Zvjaginsev-Schwarz (Novi Sad 2016).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Richard James, Twickenham 13th August 2020

Richard James
. Richard James

Book Details :

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

Official web site of Thinkers Publishing

The Grandmaster Mindset
The Grandmaster Mindset

Winning Ugly : Playing Badly is No Excuse for Losing

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

Cyrus Lakdawala is a former American Open Champion. He has been teaching chess for four decades and is a prolific and widely read author. His ‘Chess for Hawks’ won the Best Instructional Book Award of the Chess Journalists of America (CJA). Other much acclaimed books include ‘How Ulf Beats Black’, a study of Swede Ulf Andersson, and ‘Clinch It! How to Convert an Advantage into a Win‘. He has become one of the most controversial writers around today!

IM Cyrus Lakdawala
IM Cyrus Lakdawala

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The author is an International Master.

James Pratt
James Pratt

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

Book Details :

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

Web site of New in Chess

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

Your Chess Battle Plan

Your Chess Battle Plan
Your Chess Battle Plan

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

In 2019 we reviewed “Coach Yourself

GM Neil McDonald
GM Neil McDonald

From the book’s rear cover we have :

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    and this is the instructional text from the author :

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

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

    Answer : 46…Qxf5+!

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

    47 Kh2 Qc2+ 0-1

    It will be mate on g2.

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

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

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

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

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

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

    John Upham
    John Upham

    Book Details :

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

    Official web site of Everyman Chess

    Your Chess Battle Plan
    Your Chess Battle Plan

Crucial Chess Skills for the Club Player – Volume 2

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

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

IM Robert Ris
IM Robert Ris

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

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

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

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

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

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

19.b4!

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

19…bxc4

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

20.Rxc4 h5

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

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

21.Qc3+ Kg8

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

22.Rc7 Qb6

23.a4!

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

23…Rab8 24.Re4!

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

24…f6

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

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

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

25.g4! Rb7

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

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

26.Qxf6!

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

1-0

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

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

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

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

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

24.e4 b5

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

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

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

25.Qe3

25…Qb6

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

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

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

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

30…c2?

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

A) Correct is 30…exf5 31.gxf5 f6

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

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

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

31.f6! Qxe5

31…Kh8 32.Qh6 Rg8 33,Nxf7#.

32.Qh6!

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

1-0

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

Mark Taylor, Windsor, Berkshire, 1st February 2020

Mark Taylor
Mark Taylor

Book Details :

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

Official web site of Thinkers Publishing

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

Planning : Move by Move

Planning : Move by Move
Planning : Move by Move

According to Wikipedia :

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

GM Zenon Franco
GM Zenon Franco

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

White played 20. Rde1!

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

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

Answer: “I’ll answer that with an ….”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I have a few minor criticisms:

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

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

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

Richard James, Twickenham, 20th January, 2020

Richard James
Richard James

Book Details :

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

Official web site of Everyman Chess

Planning : Move by Move
Planning : Move by Move

Chess Logic in Practice

Chess Logic in Practice : Erik Kislik

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A few moves later they reached this position:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Richard James, Twickenham, January 14th 2020

Richard James
Richard James

Book Details :

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

Official web site of Gambit Publications Ltd.

Improve Your Practical Play in the Middlegame

Improve Your Practical Play in the Middlegame : Alexey Dreev

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

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

GM Alexey Dreev
GM Alexey Dreev

From Wikipedia :

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Ivanchuk-Kasparov, Linares 1991

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

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

15…Qc7

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

16.Nd2 d5!!

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

17.exd5 Qe5!

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

18.Qxe5

18.Qd3 Bxb4 19.Rac1 Kf8∞

18…fxe5 !9.Rab1 f5!

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

Black can expect compensation.

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

Mark Taylor, Windsor, Berkshire, July 2019

Mark Taylor
Mark Taylor

Book Details :

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

Official web site of Thinkers Publishing

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