Tag Archives: New in Chess

Re-Engineering The Chess Classics: A Silicon Reappraisal of Thirty-Five Classic Games

From the publisher:

“Matthew Sadler is the world’s greatest expert in computer chess – and what it brings to us humans in new insights. In this book, the authors have unleashed the collective power of Leela, Komodo and Stockfish to look at 35 classic games played by fan favourites such as Boris Spassky, Mikhail Tal, Bent Larsen and Bobby Fischer. The authors have re-engineered a wonderful collection of classic games. Their findings illustrate the richness and beauty of chess. But they have also generated dozens of positional chess lessons that will help every club player and expert to improve their game.”

From the back cover:

“Are you ready for new strategic insights about thirty-five of the most fascinating and complex chess games ever played by World Champions and other top grandmasters? Grandmaster Matthew Sadler and renowned chess writer Steve Giddins take a fresh look at some classic games ranging from Anderssen-Dufresne, played in 1852, to Botvinnik-Bronstein (1951) and Geller-Euwe (1953). They unleashed the collective power of Leela, Komodo and Stockfish to help us humans understand what happened in games of fan favourites such as Boris Spassky, Mikhail Tal, Bent Larsen and Bobby Fischer.

“The first chess engines improved our appreciation of the classic games by pointing out the tactical mistakes in the original, contemporary game notes, But the expertise of Matthew Sadler is to uncover the positional course of a game with the help of the second generation of chess engines that emerged after 2018.

“This book will change your perception of these games’ strategic and technical patterns. You will, for example, learn to appreciate and understand a classic Capablanca endgame. And a classic Petrosian exchange sacrifice. And a winning, and then losing, king-hunt endgame between Spassky and Tal. You will see how Larsen already understood the strength of the h-pawn march far before AlphaZero’s revelation. The engines offer new strategic ideas and plans that human players have yet to consider. Even ‘the best even anti-King’s Indian player’, Viktor Korchnoi, would be amazed by the engine’s unique ideas about White’s breakthroughs on the queenside.

The most instructive games are often those which are more strategic and technical. Using modern engines, the authors have re-engineered a wonderful collection of classic games, generating dozens of positional chess lessons that will help every club player and expert improve their game.”

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

GM Matthew Sadler
GM Matthew Sadler

Steve Giddins is a FIDE Master from England, and a highly experienced chess writer and journalist. He compiled and edited The New In Chess Book of Chess Improvement, the bestselling anthology of master classes from New In Chess magazine.

FM Steve Giddins
FM Steve Giddins

What we have here is a collection of 35 games annotated in depth using the latest technology. In their introduction the authors mention 40 games, and Matthew, in his technical note, refers to Korchnoi – Van Wely (Game 34) as Game 39. It seems, then, that five games were removed at the last minute to save space and keep the cost of the book down.

The games all predate the modern computer age, dating from Anderssen – Dufresne (the Evergreen Game) in 1852 to Portisch – Chiburdanidze in 1998. All the World Champions up to Karpov with the exception of Smyslov are featured. It’s noticeable that five of the games feature at least one female player.

It’s a lovely (to use Matthew’s favourite word) collection as well. We have some wild tactical games as well as strategic and technical masterpieces, and many games with both elements. While some will be perhaps over-familiar there will be others you probably haven’t seen before.

What the authors have done is subjected their chosen games to extensive computer analysis, playing engine v engine matches (mostly involving versions of Stockfish, Leela and Komodo) from critical positions in an attempt to discover the objective truth about at what point the winner reached a decisive advantage. Some of these games have been included in the notes, indicated by a vertical line to the left of the column, so that you can easily skip them if you don’t want to play them through. You can see how this works by referring to the sample pages here.

One game that interested me was Znosko-Borovsky – Alekhine (Paris 1933).

Ever since the days of Capablanca, there has been a tendency to assume that a small advantage somehow automatically leads to a win, in the hands of a great technical master such as Capablanca or Karpov.

If you’re familiar (as you should be) with Alekhine’s best games collections, you may recall that in this position he formed a six-point plan which would by force lead to a winning position.

By this point Alekhine had completed his plan, reaching a position where his king is more active and his rook can infiltrate via the open a-file. Znosko-Borovsky erred here by playing 33. c4?, after which he was definitely losing, but the engine games where White remained passive with something like Be1 were all drawn.

Of course you have to factor in the human element as well. The position was easier for Black to play, and the black pieces were handled by a player of extraordinary ability, but one of the lessons you learn from this book is how many positions that appear bad can be defended successfully.

A game I really enjoyed was that between two future World Champions, Spassky and Tal, from the final round of the 1958 Soviet Championship. Spassky, playing white, had to win to guarantee qualification for the Interzonal later that year. A rook ending was reached in which both players promoted. Spassky started chasing Tal’s king round the board, but, tragically for him, blundered away first the win and then the draw, and found himself out of the world championship cycle. As you know, Tal went on to win first the Interzonal, and then the Candidates before taking the title off Botvinnik (the 6th game from this match also features here).

The analysis of the queen and rook ending provided by the authors here is some of the most extraordinary I’ve seen. If, like me, you find positions with major pieces on the board and both kings in danger extremely scary you’ll want to see this.

Here’s the complete game, without annotations. Click on any move to play it through.

The Korchnoi-Van Wely game mentioned above (Antwerp 1997) reached this typical Mar del Plata King’s Indian position.

Korchnoi played 17. a6, and suggested that, instead of the game continuation of bxa6, 17… b6 18. cxb6 cxb6 should have been played.

The engines disagree, thinking that White is a lot better in that variation, and continuing 19. Nb4, Nc6, Na4, with Nxa7 and Nxb6 to follow.

“So many things about this game were new, unexpected and instructive for me, and so many things are now memorable for me too”,  says Matthew in his technical note.

It’s a fascinating book, I think you’ll appreciate, which will be of interest to most chess players. Stronger players in particular will find a lot to learn from the games demonstrated here as well. The names of the authors, along with that of the publisher, are a guarantee of excellence, and the production is up to their customary high standards.

If, like one prominent UK chess book reviewer, you think pre-computer games should be left as they are rather than taken apart like this, you should perhaps turn away. I’m also not sure how many readers will actually play through the engine v engine games. I certainly haven’t done so, and, from a purely personal perspective, would have preferred rather fewer of them in the book, with perhaps a download available so that I could play through them on my computer at my leisure. This might have made room for the mysteriously missing five games.

I do have one other problem, which probably won’t matter to you, but does to me, but the authors fail the Yates test. His first name was plain Fred, not Frederick as given in the book.

The short final chapter sums up what you can learn from the engines:

1. Avoid passive pieces!
2. Grab space!
3. Use your rook’s pawns!
4. Small advantages don’t always win!
5. Use the whole board!
6. Be an absolute tactical genius, who never misses anything!!

Read this book, learn these lessons, and perhaps you too will be able to play as well as Stockfish!

Highly recommended if you like the concept of the book (I’d suggest you look at the sample page first). I’d be more than happy to see a second volume.

Richard James, Twickenham 2nd May 2024

Richard James
. Richard James

Book Details:

  • Paperback: 440 pages
  • Publisher: New In Chess (31 May 2023)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:9083311260
  • ISBN-13:978-9083311265
  • Product Dimensions: 17.12 x 2.64 x 22.83 cm

Official web site of New in Chess.

Re-Engineering The Chess Classics: A Silicon Reappraisal of Thirty-Five Classic Games, FM Steve Giddins, New in Chess (31 May 2023), ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9083311265.
Re-Engineering The Chess Classics: A Silicon Reappraisal of Thirty-Five Classic Games, FM Steve Giddins, New in Chess (31 May 2023), ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9083311265.

The Essential Sosonko: Collected Portraits and Tales of a Bygone Chess Era

From the publisher:

“Genna Sosonko is widely acclaimed as the most prominent chronicler of a unique era in chess history. In the Soviet Union chess was developed into an ideological weapon that was actively promoted by the country’s leadership during the Cold War. Starting with Mikhail Botvinnik, their best chess players grew into symbols of socialist excellence. Sosonko writes from a privileged dual perspective, combining an insider’s nostalgia with the detachment of a critical observer. He grew up with legendary champions such as Mikhail Tal and Viktor Korchnoi and spent countless hours with most of the other greats and lesser chess mortals he portrays.

In the late 1980s he began to write about the champions he knew and their remarkable lives in New In Chess magazine. First, he wrote primarily about Soviet players and personalities, and later, he also began to portray other chess celebrities with whom he had crossed paths. They all vividly come to life as the reader is transported to their time and world. Once you’ve read Sosonko, you will feel you know Capablanca, Max Euwe and Tony Miles. And you will never forget Sergey Nikolaev.

This monumental book is a collection of the portraits and profiles Genna Sosonko wrote for New in Chess magazine. The stories have been published in his books: Russian Silhouettes, The Reliable Past, Smart Chip From St. Petersburg and The World Champions I Knew. They are supplemented with further writings on legends such as David Bronstein, Garry Kasparov and Boris Spassky. They paint an enthralling and unforgettable picture of a largely vanished age and, indirectly, a portrait of one of the greatest writers on the world of chess.

Genna Sosonko (1943) was born in Leningrad, where he was a leading chess trainer. Following his emigration from the Soviet Union in 1972, he settled in The Netherlands. He won numerous tournaments, including Wijk aan Zee in 1977 (with Geller) and 1981 (with Timman) and an individual gold medal at the Olympiad in Haifa 1976. After his active career, Sosonko discovered a passion for writing.

GM Gennadi Borisovich Sosonko
GM Gennadi Borisovich Sosonko

‘Each new story of Genna Sosonko is the preservation of grains of our chess life’ — from the foreword by Garry Kasparov”

Gennadi Borisovich Sosonko
Gennadi Borisovich Sosonko

 

If you’re a lover of chess culture and literature you’ll be familiar with the writings of Genna Sosonko, whose essays chronicle, in particular, chess life in the former Soviet Union in the post-war period.

What we have here is a compendium of his biographical essays: 58 of them plus a short foreword by Kasparov. Most of them have appeared twice before, in New in Chess magazine, and in previous collections of his essays. In addition to the books mentioned above, some of them appeared, in some cases with different titles, in Genna Remembers, published by Thinkers Publishing and previously reviewed here. One of the essays is based on extracts from Sosonko’s book on Bronstein, published by Elk and Ruby. But, in the case of the books, you only get the biographies, not everything.

If you’re a Sosonko fan you’ll have read it all before. If not, and you’re attracted to the subject matter, this might be a good place to start.

You don’t just get Soviet players, though. English readers will be drawn to the chapter on Tony Miles, billed as The Cat That Walked By Himself, whose mental health problems are treated sympathetically.

But, for me, the lesser known figures are of the most interest. Take, for instance, the stories of two players whose lives both ended in tragic circumstances in 1997.

The brilliant Latvian theorist and tactician Alvis Vitolins was born in 1946. ‘Naïve, unusual and absorbed in himself’, had he been born a few decades later, he would undoubtedly have been diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, or, today, with ASD, and later developed schizophrenia. “He did not have any close friends. He avoided other people, especially strangers, especially those who were not chess players.” He never fulfilled his potential, his mental health declined and, in 1997, he threw himself from a railway bridge onto the ice of a frozen river.

Then there was Evgeny Ruban, from what is now Belarus, born in 1941. A positional player with a classical style who excelled with the white pieces, but another man with his own demons. Ruban was an alcoholic, permanently broke, and also gay, living in a small apartment with his elderly mother. Like Vitolins he also had problems with his mental health. In autumn 1997, in a state of inebriation, he was hit by a car, dying as a result of his injuries. His mother couldn’t afford the cost of his funeral, which was paid for by the car driver.

Two poignant stories which serve as a salutary reminder that, as well as the grandmasters and champions, we need to hear about those who had the talent but not the good fortune, those who fell through the cracks. You might wonder whether chess was a cause of their problems or provided solace in difficult times. It would have been good if their chapters had included a few of their games, but this wouldn’t have fitted into the format of the book.

On the other hand you may well be inspired by the life of Abram Khasin ((1923-2022): he played at Hastings in 1963-64), who lost both legs in the Battle of Stalingrad, but lived to within ten days of his 99th birthday, playing chess right until the end.

There’s also the exotically named Lidia Barbot-de-Marny (1930-2021), born in Shanghai but with French, German and Russian family roots. She eventually settled in Estonia, where she became one of their leading woman players. “Chess has given me a colossal amount of good things, everything you could say.” Although she never became a master, she was a much loved chess teacher, working with young children in the Tallinn House of Chess.

There are always stories, some happy, others sad, all of which need to be told. The stories of the failures are as important as those of the successes, the stories of the lesser players as important as those of the world champions.

Much of the book is, as you’d expect, concerned with the great Soviet players of that era, but, for me, the real value of Sosonko’s work is in his writing about those you don’t read about elsewhere.

He writes beautifully as well, and the translations, mostly by Ken Neat, Steve Giddins and Sarah Hurst, are exemplary. But at some point you start to realise that Sosonko is, up to a point, playing on your emotions. There are no sources or references, just his memory, which is undoubtedly extraordinary, but perhaps, like everyone’s, fallible. At the start of his essay on Ludek Pachman, he writes about visiting London for the first time to play in the 1972 Islington Congress. He took the ferry from Hook of Holland and then, apparently, had his papers checked in Brighton. If you take the ferry from Hook of Holland now you’d end up in Harwich, on the east coast, nowhere near Brighton, on the south coast, and, as far as I can tell, it was the same in 1972. Once I find something I don’t believe, I start to question everything else.

If you’re looking for a book which will improve your rating, this isn’t for you as there are no games at all. But, if you’re attracted to human interest stories, Sosonko is essential reading. You might want to invest in all his essay collections, and, if you do so, you probably won’t need this volume. If your interest is mostly in his biographical essays, and you haven’t read them elsewhere, this will be the book for you.

As a hefty 840-page hardback it’s more suited for weight training than for putting in your pocket to read between rounds of your next tournament, so you might opt for the eBook instead. I’d have liked some games, and ideally more photographs than the 32 glossy pages we get here, but this would clearly have been impractical.

A strong recommendation, then, for anyone who’s interested in this aspect of chess and hasn’t read it all before. You can find out more and read sample pages on the publisher’s website here.

 

Richard James, Twickenham 12th April 2024

Richard James
. Richard James

Book Details:

  • Hardcover: 840 pages
  • Publisher: New In Chess (31 May 2023)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:9083311287
  • ISBN-13:978-9083311289
  • Product Dimensions: 18.06 x 6.32 x 23.5 cm

Official web site of New in Chess.

The Essential Sosonko: Collected Portraits and Tales of a Bygone Chess Era, Genna Sosonko, New in Chess, June 17th 2023, ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 9083311287
The Essential Sosonko: Collected Portraits and Tales of a Bygone Chess Era, Genna Sosonko, New in Chess, June 17th 2023, ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 9083311287

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

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

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

The Match of All Time: The Inside Story of the legendary 1972 Fischer-Spassky World Chess Championship in Reykjavik

The Match of All Time: The Inside Story of the legendary 1972 Fischer-Spassky World Chess Championship in Reykjavik, Gudmundur Thorarinsson, New In Chess (30 Jun. 2022), ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9493257474
The Match of All Time: The Inside Story of the legendary 1972 Fischer-Spassky World Chess Championship in Reykjavik, Gudmundur Thorarinsson, New In Chess (30 Jun. 2022), ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9493257474

From the publisher:

“When the Icelandic Chess Federation made a bid to host the 1972 world title match between Soviet icon Boris Spassky and American challenger Bobby Fischer, many Icelanders were rightly shaking their heads in disbelief. How could their small island country in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean with a population of less than 300 thousand people stage such a prestigious event in the first place?

“Undeterred and naively optimistic, the young President of the Icelandic Chess Federation, Gudmundur Thorarinsson, set to work and to everyone’s astonishment theirs was the winning bid. But that was only the beginning of one of the most amazing stories in chess history… Bobby Fischer’s demands and whims constantly jeopardised the match. First the American chose not to board his plane in New York, and then he came late for the first game. That game he lost after a silly blunder and the second game he lost because he didn’t turn up in a fight about noisy cameras. But next he won the third game, that was played in a back room, and the rest…. is history.

“Fifty years on, Gudmundur Thorarinsson has written a tell-all book about ‘The Match of the Century’, crammed with behind-the-scenes stories and improbable twists and turns. Reading his gripping account of probably the most iconic sports contest during the Cold War, you will understand why he prefers to call it ‘The Match of All Time’. And why reliving this most unlikely adventure he comes to the conclusion: ‘It was not possible to organise this match, nor was it possible to rescue it…but still it was done!'”

“Gudmundur Thorarinsson is a chess organizer and businessman from Iceland. In 1972, as the chairman of the Icelandic Chess Federation he organized the Match of All Time, the World Championship Match between the Russian incumbent champion Boris Spassky and the American challenger Bobby Fischer.”

 

Half a century on from the legendary Fischer – Spassky World Championship match, and still the books keep on coming.

From Chapter 1 (Prologue):

Why write another book about the World Chess Championship match in 1972? Approximately 140 books have been published about the match already, plus films, TV and radio programs, newspapers and magazine articles. To add another book to this list seemed too much to me. But many people have been encouraging me to write about the match, people working for radio and television, chess players and friends. But many have simply said: ‘We still do not have a book written by someone who was working behind the scenes, where the bombs were falling.

One thing is certain: a long time ago this match acquired a life of its own. Nowadays people tend to look at the course of events from a different perspective. Looking at the match from afar enables the observer to put the whole saga into another context, broadening the horizon, so to speak. It may be true that the viewpoint and experiences of those of us who were on the frontline during the planning and execution of the event have not been widely documented. Those who wrote about the match in the following months, or even years after it happened, did so mostly by annotating the games, explaining the battle from the perspective of the chess players or the audience.

If you’re looking for the games of the match you’ll be disappointed: but of course they are readily available elsewhere.

What you have instead is a source document telling the story of what was going on in the background, written by someone who was there and very closely involved at the time.

The book is designed to be interesting to the general reader as well as the chess specialist. Chapter 2, therefore, looks at the origins of chess, including a contribution from GM Fridrik Olafsson, an expert in this field, and, specifically, the early history of chess in Iceland.

Chapter 3 relates the history of the world chess championship prior to Spassky, starting with Stamma and Philidor, and taking us as far as Petrosian. There is little here that will be new to readers familiar with chess history.

Chapter 4, on the prelude to the 1972 match, is where things start getting interesting. We read about Fischer’s wins in his Candidates Matches against Taimanov, Larsen and Petrosian before being introduced to the two protagonists, with background information about their family, upbringing and chess career. Then the bidding process for the match venue is discussed, with Iceland, a small country in the Atlantic Ocean, but with a proud chess history, unexpectedly being selected.

The author of this book had, as a young man, been appointed President of the Icelandic Chess Federation in 1969. He had been proposed in his absence by his brother and not wanting to cause embarrassment, felt he had no choice but to accept.  As a result, he found himself in the middle of negotiations which would have a dramatic effect on the history of chess.

Chapter 5, the longest in the book, covers the match itself in fascinating and engrossing detail. Everyone who was interested in chess at the time will have vivid memories of Fischer’s demands and conditions, and of the problems and arguments these caused. Thorarinsson was at the heart of everything that was happening, and it was to no small extent due to his diplomatic skills, often described here in a self-deprecating way, that the match eventually started and, more or less successfully, concluded with Bobby as the new World Champion. There’s a lot of documentary material here which will be new to many readers.

Chapter 6 describes the aftermath of the match. Fischer’s life over the next three and a half decades is related, including his return match with Spassky in 1992. Bobby spent the last few years of his life in Iceland, and Thorarinsson was again very much involved with expediting his journey from a Japanese detention centre, and with helping him settle in for what would be his rather sad endgame.

This and the final section, the author’s tribute to his friend, which he delivered at Fischer’s memorial service, are both intensely moving.

If you’re looking for chess moves, this won’t be the book for you. But if you want to know more about Fischer, and about the background to the 1972 match, it will be an essential purchase.

The book is, like everything from this publisher, beautifully produced and copiously illustrated with photographs and cartoons. There are many entertaining and enlightening anecdotes to keep you amused as well. It’s a great story, reminiscent of a Greek tragedy, and well told here from the author’s unique perspective. Whether or not you’re familiar with what happened half a century ago, you’ll find it a gripping read.

Do bear in mind, though, that while it may be an important source document for future historians (and we really need a fully sourced and referenced biography of Fischer) it’s a memoir with its fair share of uncertainty and speculation. You read that ‘Harry Golombek states in one of his books…’: yes, but which one? Or, to take another example, ‘According to some sources…’. Which ones?

I have a few other issues, just as I do with many New in Chess books, essentially coming down to the fact that it could have benefitted from a firmer editorial hand and a final read-through from a native English speaker. There are odd words and sentences that are not quite idiomatic. There’s also a certain amount of repetition (Fischer’s parentage is discussed on page 82, and again on pages 90-92) and one or two places where I felt continuity might have been improved.

Nevertheless, this book is essential reading for anyone with an interest in Fischer as a person, or in the 1972 Fischer – Spassky match. If the subject matter appeals to you, and, if you have any interest at all in chess culture and history, it undoubtedly will, don’t hesitate.

You’ll find pricing and other details here and sample pages here.

 

 

 

Richard James, Twickenham 26th December 2022

Richard James
. Richard James

Book Details:

  • Softcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: New In Chess (30 Jun. 2022)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:9493257479
  • ISBN-13:978-9493257474
  • Product Dimensions: ‎17.22 x 1.52 x 23.65 cm

Official web site of New in Chess

The Match of All Time: The Inside Story of the legendary 1972 Fischer-Spassky World Chess Championship in Reykjavik, Gudmundur Thorarinsson, New In Chess (30 Jun. 2022), ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9493257474
The Match of All Time: The Inside Story of the legendary 1972 Fischer-Spassky World Chess Championship in Reykjavik, Gudmundur Thorarinsson, New In Chess (30 Jun. 2022), ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9493257474

The Dragon Sicilian: A Take-No-Prisoners Repertoire Versus 1.e4

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

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

Anish Giri
Anish Giri

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

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

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

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

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

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

DragonStartingPos
Dragon Starting Position

The book is effectively divided into four sections:

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

Yugoslav Attack Section

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

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

Chapter 2 Yugoslav Attack 9.Bc4 Nxd4

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

Yugoslav9...Nxd4
Yugoslav9…Nxd4

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

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

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

Yugoslav12...b5
Yugoslav12…b5

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

Chapter 3 Dragon Main Line Konstantinov’s pawn sacrifice sidelines

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

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

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

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

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

10Kb1MainLine
10.Kb1 Main Line

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

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

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

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

PawnGrab
Pawn Grab Line

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

The main, main line occurs after 12.Bd4:

MainLine
Main Line 12.Bd4

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

Chapter 5 The early 9.g4

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

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

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

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

Levenfish
Levenfish

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

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

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

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

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

FM Richard Webb

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

Book Details :

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

Official web site of New in Chess

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

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

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

From the publisher:

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ramesh comments at the end:

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

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

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

Later in the chapter, Ramesh has this to say.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 6 is devoted entirely to endgame studies.

Here’s Ramesh:

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

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

The solution runs like this:

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

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

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

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

How to summarise?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Richard James, Twickenham 5th December 2022

Richard James
. Richard James

Book Details:

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

Official web site of New in Chess

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

Master Your Chess with Judit Polgar

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

From the publisher:

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

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

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

GM Judit Polgar
GM Judit Polgar

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

Here’s Judit Polgar in the preface:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click on any move for a pop-up window.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Richard James, Twickenham 25th October 2022

Richard James
. Richard James

Book Details:

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

Official web site of New in Chess

GM Judit Polgar
GM Judit Polgar