Technical Decision Making in Chess

Technical Decision Making in Chess : Boris Gelfand

Technical Decision Making in Chess, Boris Gelfand, Quality Chess, 2021, ISBN-13 : 978-1784830649
Technical Decision Making in Chess, Boris Gelfand, Quality Chess, 2021, ISBN-13 : 978-1784830649

From the Publisher’s Foreword:

“In Technical Decision Making in Chess former World Championship Challenger Boris Gelfand discusses his path to decision making in endgames and positions where one side possesses a structural or material advantage.
This investigation into a top Grandmaster’s technical understanding will illuminate difficult parts of the game that many players find elusive. Concepts like the “Zone of one mistake” are certain to be a revelation to many.”

From the back cover:

“In Decision Making in Major Piece Endings former World Championship Challenger Boris Gelfand discusses his path to decision making in endgames involving rooks or queens, as well as the neglected “4th phase”. Countless games are decided by good or bad technique in such endgames, so readers are certain to benefit from the insights of a word-class Grandmaster on this vital topic.

Grandmaster Boris Gelfand has been an elite player for over 30 years, winning the World Cup, Olympiad Gold, the Candidates and many other top tournaments.”

Boris Gelfand, FIDE Grand Prix, London, 2013, Courtesy of John Upham Photography
Boris Gelfand, FIDE Grand Prix, London, 2013, Courtesy of John Upham Photography

Grandmaster Jacob Aagaard is the only chess writer to have won all the major awards for chess writing.

GM Jacob Aagaard
GM Jacob Aagaard takes on all-comers!

Reaction to previous volumes in the series:

In 2015 Positional Decision Making In Chess won the ECF Book of the Year award.

“The most interesting chess book I have read in the last quarter-century.” Mikhail Shereshevsky on Positional Decision Making in Chess.

This new Quality Chess publication Technical Decision Making In Chess uses high quality paper and the printing is clear. The book can easily be laid flat next to the board and does not require weights to prevent it from “self-closing” (a particular bugbear of ours !). Each diagram is clear and the instructional text is typeset in two column format, which, we find, enables the reader to maintain their place easily. Figurine algebraic notation is used throughout and the diagrams are placed adjacent to the relevant text and each major diagram at the beginning of a chapter has a “to move” indicator. Where a “to move” indicator is not present, it is obvious which colour is to move from the accompanying moves in a variation.

Each chapter is introduced with a contemporary photograph of a player or players or a tournament  scene which  launches each chapter in a engaging manner. This is followed by a Diagram Preview page which shows the critical analytical diagrams in the following chapter and invites the reader to practise their analysis and decision making! If you can work out most of the variations you are stronger than a world champion.

The introduction of this book makes it clear that this book is about “positions where the main goal is the conversion of a static advantage. (A static or long term advantage can be anything from a weakness to better pieces to an actual material advantage.) The flip side is included in this, meaning when it is the opponent who is trying to convert an advantage and we are trying to resist.”

It is not an endgame primer or manual on basic endgames as there are plenty of these theoretical works already in existence: the author’s particular favourites are named.

The author suggests how to best use the book by first analysing the endgames without a chess engine and/or tablebases to prevent lazy thinking by relying too heavily on engine assessments without understanding: “I just want to say that any active work with the the engine, where you are probing, analysing, asking questions, examining and so on, is useful. Any passive submission to the engine evaluations is likely to make you a worse player.”

“The key question for us has not been which line wins. but why the line is winning.”

The chapter themes are not the usual themes that are found in other endgame books, for example arranged by material, except for the last chapter on opposite bishop endgames. Boris Gelfand shows the vast majority of the endgames in relation to the whole game including the opening and middlegame transitions. This is the modern way to study endgames and gives a much deeper understanding of chess in general and is the approach of a Grandmaster.

Chapter 1 Akiba Showing The Way

In this chapter, Boris showcases the great endgame skill of Akiba Rubinstein in his famous game versus Richard Reti at Gothenburg 1920. It is black to move in the position below which is included in Reuben Fine’s Basic Chess Endings and many other endgame manuals. Black is clearly better with multiple advantages:

  • Better pawn structure on the queen side, the c2 pawn needs constant vigilance. The white a2 is also a significant weakness.
  • Better minor piece
  • More space
  • Better pawn structure on the kingside: the white kingside is full of holes, hence black’s best move given below
Richard Reti-Akiba Rubinstein Gothenburg 1920 Move 30

30…Bd7! was the strongest move, fixing the white pawns on the dark squares. They are not in danger from the bishop, but they are unable to prevent the black king from penetrating the position, which is the greatest problem for white.

Rubinstein made one bad move in this game: 30…Ke6? 31.g4! Now white can draw with accurate play, but in practice, he missed the drawing ideas.

31…Kd6 32.h3 g6 33.Kd2 Bd7

Richard Reti-Akiba Rubinstein Gothenburg 1920 Move 33

34.Nf3 Better is 34.Ng2! The idea is simple. White wants to play d3-d4 and Ne3, when he has managed to plug the holes on the light squares on the kingside to a significant degree. 34…d4 is critical, cutting across this idea. 35.cxd4 cxd4 36.c4 dxc3+ 37.Kxc3 This looks to be good for black as he has a potential outside passed pawn on the queenside, but white can apparently hold! 37…g5 38.f5 Bc6 39.Ne3 Bf3 40.d4 Kc6 41.a3 and white draws. This is extremely instructive and should be studied carefully.

The game continued 34…Ke7 Another idea is 34…h6 35.Ke3 g5 and Gelfand shows that white has a lot of fantastic resources to just hold the game. Buy the book to find out how! 35.Ke3 h5

Richard Reti-Akiba Rubinstein Gothenburg 1920 Move 35

Reti now placed a horridly passive move 36.Nh2? which definitely loses. His last chance was a far sighted pawn sacrifice to draw as follows: 36.Nh4! Kf7 37.gxh5! gxh5 38.f5! Ke7 39.Ng6+ Kd6 40.h4! Bxf5 41.Nf4 Bg4 42.d4! and white has created an effective fortress. Black cannot make progress as he loses a pawn.

36…Kd6 37.Ke2? (37.gxh5 gxh5 38.h4 is tougher, but does not hold. 38…Bh3! The domination theme, a sample line is 39.Nf3 Ke6! 40. Nh2 b5 41.Kf2 Kd6 42.Ke3 a5 43.Nf3 Ke6 44.Nh2 a5 45.Kf2 (45.a3? Kf5 with the idea of b4 creating an outside a-pawn wins quickly) a3! 46.Ke3 Kf5 47.Kf3 Kg6 48.Ke3 d4+ 49.cxd4 Be6 50.Kd2 Bxa2 and black wins as the blockade does not hold.

The game continued 37…d4! Fixing a2 and c2 and widening the bridgehead for the king and bishop. 38.cxd4  cxd4

Richard Reti-Akiba Rubinstein Gothenburg 1920 Move 38

White lost quickly as follows 39.Kd2 hxg4 40.hxg4 Bc6 41.Ke2 Bd5 42.a3 b5 43.Nf1 a5 44.Nd2

Richard Reti-Akiba Rubinstein-Gothenburg 1920 Move 44

Now black won with the thematic 44…a4! forcing the creation of a passed a-pawn. We all know that knights are very poor at dealing with passed rook pawns. 45.Ne4+(45.Nb1 Kc5 46.c3 Ba2 wins) Bxe4 46.dxe4 b4 47.Kd2 bxa3 48.Kc1 g5 0-1

This ending is worthy of close study, not just to enjoy Rubinstein’s great technique, but also to discover hidden resources in difficult positions: a variation on the theory of infinite resistance.

Chapter 2 Turning Points

This section covers two interesting Gelfand games, one of which he wins and one he loses. As the chapter heading indicates, the key theme is recognising critical points in a game. The section culminates in the analysis of a fascinating same colour bishop endgame from the second game that was holdable by the inferior side.

Ivanchuk-Gelfand Wijk aan Zee 2012 Move 20

This is a middlegame position from a Catalan opening. Gelfand comments along the lines of white (Ivanchuk) is a little better with a better bishop and a bit more space. The important factor is that the position is easier to play for white and white risks little by playing on. Black’s main problem is the decision about when to stay passive (waiting) or go active. This general issue is covered more in chapter 3.

It is hard to believe that a player of Ivanchuk’s standard ends up in a losing position after only six more moves!

White played 21.Nel?! (Hoping to get the knight to b4 an apply some pressure. The simple and  natural 21.Bd3 was better. After 21…Qd6 white can try 22.Ne5, 21…Qc8 with the idea of a5 and Ba6 exchanging the semi-bad bishop is logical. 22.Qa3 Qf8 23.Qa4 Qc8 24.Kg2 a5 25.Bb5 Ba6 26.Bxa6 Qaa6 27.Ne5 Qc8 28.Qc6 and white is better in the inevitable double knight ending.

Ivanchuk-Gelfand Wijk aan Zee 2012 Variation Move 28

The game continued 21…Qc8 22.Nc2 Ne4! 23.Nxe4 dxe4

Ivanchuk-Gelfand Wijk aan Zee 2012 Move 23

White probably mistakenly thought this pawn structure transformation was in his favour. This is incorrect. The e4-pawn is fixed on the colour of the bishop, however, the e4 pawn gives a space advantage, the d5 square and a pivot for a pawn storm on the king side.

White should probably play 24.a4 then Bd5 25.Qc3 Qxc3 26.bxc3 White is optically better but 26…Bb7! 27.Nb4 Nb8! Black is going to bring his king over and hold. White played 24.Qc3? Qxc3 25.Bxc3 b5! This looks dangerous putting another pawn on the colour of the bishop, but white’s bishop is also hemmed in by black’s pawns and black has a significant space advantage.

Ivanchuk-Gelfand Wijk aan Zee 2012 Move 25

This is the crucial turning point of the game. White should have objectively realised that he had gone wrong and looked for  way to draw. 26.c4 looks reasonable, but after bxc4 27.Bxc4 Nb6 28.Be2 a5 29.Kf1 Bd5 30.a3 Bc4!? white is a fraction worse. Black has rid himself of the semi-bad bishop and has a space advantage in a knight endgame.

Ivanchuk-Gelfand Wijk aan Zee 2012 Variation Move 30

White played 26.a4? (See two diagrams back above, gifting black an outside passed a-pawn) and duly lost. An horrendous positional error from a world class player. Black combined the passed a-pawn distraction with a general advance on the king side to create entry points for his king and win.

In the second game, the aforementioned bishop ending reached this critical position.

Gelfand-Wang Sochi 2008 Move 43

White played 44.h4? which loses. 44.Kb6! would have drawn. The analysis is complicated but black’s best try is 44…Ke6 (44…Bd1 also leads to draw by a single tempo) 45.Bg6 Kd6 46.Be4 c5 47.Kb5 Bd5 48.Bxd5 Kxd5 49.Kxa4 h5 50. Kb5 c4 51.Kb6 Ke4 52.Kxb7 Kf3 53.Kc6 Kg2 54.Kc5 Kxh2 55.Kxc4 Kxg3 56.b4 h4 57.b5 h3 58.b6 h2 59.b7 h1=Q 60.b8=Q Qe4+ 61.Kc5 Qxf4 (see below) with a theoretical draw but still a practical challenge. The companion volume Decision Making in Major Piece Endings covers this type of ending.

Gelfand-Wang Sochi 2008 Variation Move 61

This whole bishop ending is worthy of close study as white has some amazing ideas to hold an ending that just looks lost.

Chapter 3 covers the important topic of active or passive defence.

Gelfand demonstrates this theme  with a complex double rook and knight endgame. Here is a position a few moves before that endgame, where black missed a chance to equalise comfortably.

Gelfand-Pelletier Biel 2001 Move 23

Gelfand points out that active defence with 23…Nd5! forces easy equality. 24.Qxe5 Nxe3! 25.Be4= (25.Qxe3? Qxe3 26.fxe3 Rxd3 27.Rxa7 Rxa7 28.Rxa7 Rxb3 and black is playing for a win)

Black played the passive 23…Qc6?! forcing a queen exchange. This is a common mistake when a (weaker) player wants a draw and exchanges pieces with small concessions 24.Qxc6 Bxc6 25.Bf1! Rdb8?! (26…Rab8! is more active when white can win a pawn but has great technical difficulties) 26.Bc4?! ( 26.Ra6! Rb6 27.Bc4 Bd5 28.Bxd5 Nxd5 29.Rxb6 Nxb6 30.Ra5! White is definitely in plus equals mode playing for two results.) 26…Bd5?! (26…Bb5 equalises) 27.Nxd5 Nxd5 28.Ne4 Rb4 29. Nd2! Rb7 Reaching the position below.

Gelfand-Pelletier Biel 2002 Move 29

White played 30.Ra5 which sets a small trap. 30.g4! was probably better gaining space and attempting to isolate the e5 pawn from its friends. Black played the obvious 30…Rd8?! activating the rook (30…Nc3 is better). After the game move, white has an edge and it’s very instructive to see how Gelfand increases his advantage in a practical game with mistakes from both sides.

Chapter 4 covers the common idea of A Bad Plan is Better than No Plan.

Here is a complex middlegame position.

Gelfand-Harikrishna 2014 Move 21

The penalties of planless play are amply demonstrated in the middlegame between moves 21-30 where planless play by black spoils an equal position resulting in a difficult heavy piece middlegame and subsequent losing  king and pawn ending.

Gelfand-Harikrishna 2014 Move 30
Gelfand-Harikrishna Wijk aan Zee 2014

White to move on move 40. What would you play? 40.a4! springs to mind spoiling black’s majority and winning.

Chapter 5 is all about long games with an increment.

Gelfand demonstrates two games, the first is a complex rook and knight endgame; the second of which is a very long queen and minor piece ending with an extra pawn.

This queen and minor piece ending has just arisen after white forced the exchange of rooks a few moves ago.

Gelfand-Grachev Moscow 2016 Move 34

White played 34.Qe2? which is a blunder. 34.Kg1 is obviously better, 34…Nxh4 35.Bxe5 activates the bishop increasing white’s advantage. 34…Kg8? Missing 34…Nf4! 35. Qf3 (35.Bxf4 Qxh4! threatening mate) 35.Kg1 Qd2 with loads of counterplay 35.Kg1 Nxh4 36. Bxe5 Qa5 37.Bg3 Ng6

Gelfand-Grachev Moscow 2016 Move 37

White has increased his advantage by activating his bishop.

I shall show a couple of other positions from this instructive game with Gelfand’s pithy comments. Black sacrifices the h-pawn to open up the white king.

Gelfand-Grachev Moscow 2016 Move 44

White played 45.Qg3?! instead of the consolidating 45.Bc3! “White consolidates and is on the way to winning the game. In these long games where it is very hard to spot the critical moments, because every moment is a mini-version of it, inaccuracies are bound to happen. This is why it is important to analyse the games and improve our feeling for how to spend our time, how to organise our pieces, how to organise our thinking and how to control the opponent’s counterplay. A lot of happens subconsciously. We analyse the games, find out what actually happened, compared to our experience during the game, and our feeling for the details will be slightly better the next time around.”

At move 49 this position was reached:

Gelfand-Grachev-Moscow 2016 Move 49

Gelfand played 50.Qe3!? a perfectly decent move.  Gelfand comments that the computer suggests 50.Kf3 Qf5+ 51.Ke2 Qe5 52.Qe7 Qxb2+ 53.Ke3 reaching this position:

Gelfand-Grachev Moscow 2016 Variation Move 53

The knight is lost after 53…Nxf2 54.Qe6+ Kh8 55.Qc8+ Kh7 56.Qf5+ A brilliant line.

Gelfand makes a wise and honest observation: “Obviously this is the type of thing the engine does much better than a human. Finding a tactic in a position where there are a large number of possibilities. No human can go 2-3 moves deep in all lines and see these types of options. So, all in all, I pay attention to this kind of information, but I do not regret not seeing it.”

At move 101 (see position below), Boris comments: “At this point I was confident that I would win. I knew what I should do. The queen controls everything and the white king can go forward. White is also winning in this position if there are no f- or g- pawns on the board….White can also play f5-f6, creating a situation where the black king is exposed, liniting the number of checks Black is able to give. The general idea is basic: White will aim to put the queen in-between on one of these checks, spiking the black king, forcing the exchange of queens.”

Gelfand-Grachev Moscow 2016 Move 101

Having read the relevant section in the companion volume “Decision Making In Major Piece Endings”  even the reviewer would be confident of victory in this technical position.

Chapter 6 When is the Right Time to Run?

This chapter is about “situations in both the middlegame and the endgame, where both players had to make decisions about when to improve their position and target the opponent’s resources and when to roll the dice and attack the king or let passed pawns roll. This is perhaps the most essential theme in top level chess, as a good feeling for what kind of action is needed in various positions, when to calculate and when simply to improve the position, is worth many points.”

Gelfand demonstrates this with a complex rook and knight ending.

Gelfand also brings out a pertinent comment about computer evaluations in this section. This is a position from a short variation in that game:

Navara-Gelfand Prague 2006 Variation Move 26

Boris says “Stockfish helpfully tells us that the position is still equal. But is it really? Black is full control of the d-file and can penetrate to the second rank…..Black is much more comfortable….”

Objectively, a strong engine would hold as white, but who would choose white?

Chapter 7 Choosing the Right Transformations

This chapter shows a complex queen and knight ending which is really interesting considering all the transformations to knight endings.


Caruana-Gelfand Amsterdam 2010 Move 30

Black played a technical, far reaching move 30…Qg5! forcing 31.e3 and the weakening of the f3 square. Gelfand stresses the point that black cannot win on the queenside alone and must create weaknesses on the kingside. Gelfand analyses the alternative 30…Qa6 to a probable win giving some superb analysis including a brilliant positional knight sacrifice creating passed a- and h-pawns which is definitely worth studying:

Caruana-Gelfand Amsterdam 2010 Variation Move 37

37…Nf1+ 38.Ke1 Nxh2 39. Kf2 Kf8! 40. Kg2 Nxf3 41.Kxf3 (41.exf3 h5 ensures a passed h-pawn) f5! Black wins by a tempo.

Chapter 8 – Karjakin

This game is a technical queenless middlegame in the Chebanenko.

This position gives a flavour of the struggle:

Gelfand-Karjakin Nalchik 2009 Move 20

White is clearly better, but how does white proceed here? Buy the book to find out.

Chapters 9 and 10 are titled Stalemate and Stalemated respectively.

Here is an amusing finish:

Ponkratov-Bacrot Berlin 2015 Move 34

Black is under the cosh with a killing rook discovery on the cards.

Bacrot played 34…Bd3+!! 35.Bxd3 Qd5 36.Bc4 Renewing the threats. 36…Rh1+ 37.Kg2 Qd2+! 38.Kxh1 Qg2+ stalemate

Chapter 11 The Relevance Of Endgame Studies

This chapter is good and the title is self explanatory. Solving endgame studies is useful for getting a feel for the potential of the pieces – not only in the endgame. Endgame studies are the artistic side of chess. Here is an instructive and entertaining study composed by Sergey Tkachenko & Boris Gelfand:

Sergey Tkachenko & Boris Gelfand 2017.

I will not give the solution, but there is a beautiful zugzwang, so buy the book to find out!

Chapter 12 Geometry

This chapter has an intriguing title but covers mainly R+N v R and positions with R v N or B with just a few pawns. Here is  a good example:

Mamedyarov-Gelfand Pamplona 2004 Move 64

White is in great danger here with his monarch in the corner. 65. Rxa7 loses as it unpins the knight allowing the prosaic mate 65..Rh5+ 66. Kg1 Ne2+ 67.Kf1 Rh1# The move that springs to mind is 65.Kg1. In fact this does draw as does 65.Kh2.

White actually played 65.Nd4+? to distract the black rook, so he could capture the a7-pawn. After 65…Rxd4 66.Rxa7 black has a pretty win with 66…Rd6! 67.Ra2 (67.Rf7 Kg3 68.Rg7+ Ng6! shuts out the rook and mates) 67…Rh6+ 68. Rh2 Nh3! with a beautiful zugzwang that I have not seen before.

Mamedyarov-Gelfand Pamplona-2004 Move 68

69.Rh2 Nf2+ 70.Kg1 Rh1#

Chapter 13  – Endings with Opposite Coloured Bishops

This is one of the reviewer’s favourite chapters as it shows the immense complexity of such endgames.

Leko-Gelfand Dortmund 1996 Move 71

White has just played 71.Bxb4 and reached the haven of an opposite coloured bishop endgame. This is quite a common type of position reached in practice. This position is a draw but it is difficult and a world class player of Peter Leko’s standard did not succeed in practice. Buy the book to find out how black won and how white could have drawn.

To summarise this is a very good technical book with many instructive games with deep analysis and didactic commentary.  The book is clearly aimed at aspiring FIDE2000+ (ECF175+) players and above.

FM Richard Webb, Chineham, Hampshire, May 12th 2021

FM Richard Webb
FM Richard Webb
  • Paperback : 320 pages
  • Publisher:Quality Chess UK LLP (28 April 2021)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:178483064X
  • ISBN-13:978-1784830649
  • Product Dimensions: 17.35 x 1.52 x 24.16 cm

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Technical Decision Making in Chess, Boris Gelfand, Quality Chess, 2021, ISBN-13 : 978-1784830649
Technical Decision Making in Chess, Boris Gelfand, Quality Chess, 2021, ISBN-13 : 978-1784830649
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Minor Pieces 1: Samuel Walter Earnshaw (i)

Six months or so ago I had the opportunity to review Tim Harding’s excellent book Steinitz in London.

Whenever I see a game of chess I want to know more about the players, so did a bit of research into a few names that caught my eye. I threatened to write more about them at some point in the future. My first subject is Samuel Walter Earnshaw.

Tim gives two games played in Autumn 1866 between Earnshaw, a member of Birmingham Chess Club, and Steinitz. There’s another game further on in the book played at an unspecified date.


If you know anything at all about 19th century English chess history you’ll be aware of the number of clergymen who played. This seems to have been a specifically British – or even English – phenomenon.

Father Sam wasn’t one of the strongest of the Fighting Reverends, but he turns out to be rather interesting. He was born in Cambridge in 1833, the oldest child of Samuel and Ann (Wall) Earnshaw. Samuel senior (1805-88), originally from Sheffield, was a clergyman, but also a mathematician and physicist, still remembered today for Earnshaw’s Theorem. This is apparently something to do with magnetism, but I didn’t understand a word of the explanation. If you want to find out more I suggest you contact Dr John Upham, who studied this sort of thing for his doctorate.

And here, from an online family tree, he is. The tree also includes photographs of some of Samuel Walter’s brothers, but I haven’t yet been able to locate an image of the man himself.

He had a large family, and several of his sons emigrated to America, but his oldest son stayed in England, following in his father’s footsteps to Cambridge, and then into the church.

Samuel Walter held his first curacy in Bromley-by-Bow, in East London, from where, in 1858, he didn’t have far to go to watch Morphy in action. It was probably there that he first met Samuel Boden, who was to become a lifelong friend. (You might want to describe him as Boden’s Mate.) His next post was in Birmingham, from where he moved a short distance to the small village of Nether Whitacre, twelve miles or so from the city centre. By 1865, now in his early 30s, he was active in the Birmingham chess scene, and his games were being reported in local and national publications. But he also  had to make time for his clerical duties. We can pick him up in the Nether Whitacre registers, which record baptisms, marriages and burials in the parish. Here he is, for example, at about the time he played Steinitz in 1866, officiating at three baptisms.

The following August, though, he was to be involved in a tragic incident. The Coventry Standard of 16 August 1867 reported:

Nothing sinister should be taken from this. These days we’d be suspicious of a vicar being ‘much attached’ to ‘fine youths’ and taking them for a swim in the river, but relationships between adults and children were very different in those times.

It’s understandable, though, that Samuel might have felt the need to move on. After a brief curacy in Wales his career, quite typically for the time, changed direction, and he took on the post of Headmaster of Archbishop Holgate Grammar School, Hemsworth, Yorkshire, not all that far from his family roots. In 1888 the school would move to Barnsley, where it would educate the likes of Michael Parkinson, while the new Hemsworth Grammar School would count Geoff Boycott amongst its most famous alumni.

His new job seems to have left him little time for chess, and we don’t hear from him again until 1877, when he appears to be a member of chess clubs in both Sheffield and Leeds.

By this time he may have come to the end of his time at Archbishop Holgate, and he shortly took on a new post as Rector of Ellough, in Suffolk. Here, the work was less demanding and he was also rather nearer London, so he was able to travel down to the capital’s chess haunts where he was once again able to indulge his passion by taking on the great players of the time. He was also very happy to submit his losses for publication, so there are quite a few games available in newspaper columns, which might be the subject of another article.

The next decade saw him continuing what must have been a relatively quiet life, bringing up his children, tending to the needs of his parishioners, and, once every seven weeks, at least up to 1884, visiting London for a few games of chess.

He died at the relatively early age of 54 in 1887. Perhaps he’d been unwell for some time as there’s no chess reference to be found for the last three years of his life.

An obituary, presumably written by another of the Fighting Reverends, George Alcock MacDonnell, appeared in the Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News.

“He preferred being wrong with the books to being right with the innovators.”: yes, we all know players like this! It sounds like he was a solid and knowledgeable player, but perhaps lacking either the inspiration or the opportunity to reach master standard. A true and enthusiastic lover of chess, though, amiable, good-hearted and right-principled. A devotee of Caïssa could hardly hope for a better obituary.

The reference to Boden’s board and men is rather odd: I suspect there’s a mistake and it was actually Sam B who presented his set to Sam E before his death, not the other way round. I wonder what happened to the set: does anyone know? Perhaps it was handed down to one of his children.

That’s the end – at least for the time being – of Samuel Walter Earnshaw’s story. It’s not the end of my story, though.

Let me take you back to the church of St Giles, Nether Whitacre, on 30 December 1866. The foundation dates back to Norman times, but by then it may have been in a state of disrepair, as it would be rebuilt in 1870, not long after Samuel Earnshaw’s departure.

It’s the Sunday after Christmas, so the congregation will still be celebrating the birth of Christ  as well as looking forward to the new year ahead. There, we see the Houghton family (they pronounced it Howton rather than Horton, I believe). They’re a bunch of, frankly, rather undistinguished farm labourers, like most of the parishioners, but they’re dressed up in their finery today for the baptism of baby William. We really want to talk to his Aunt Jane, though, a sister of Will’s father George. She’s ten years old and proud to be wearing her Sunday best. Shall we reveal what her future holds?

Jane will marry a man named Charles Woolley, a blacksmith from Berkswell, some ten miles to the south of Nether Whitacre. She will present him with four strong and healthy sons, but their two youngest children will sadly die in infancy.

Their oldest son, Thomas, will become a farmer: he and his wife Kate will have to wait 15 years, though, for their only daughter to be born. After Janet’s birth, her mother will be confined in the county Lunatic Asylum, perhaps suffering from what would now be called post-natal depression. Tom, needing help with the farm and the new baby, employs a housekeeper, a middle-aged widow named Florence Smith. One thing leads to another, and, by the time Kate returns home, Flo is expecting Tom’s child. It’s now 1921, and Betty will be brought up by two of Flo’s many sisters, moving to another part of the country to escape from the scandal which had made headlines in the local press. Betty will never be told the identity of her father. History doesn’t record whether or not Jane met, or even knew about, her granddaughter.

In time, Betty will marry, and her elder son will take up chess. He’ll develop an interest in chess history, and, in 2020, will be asked to review a book called Steinitz in London, where he will come across the name of Samuel Walter Earnshaw.

We’ll now travel back in time half a century, to Easter 1971, where, at Hammersmith Town Hall, he will encounter chess journalist and former international Leonard Barden, who, himself, fifty years on and now in his nineties, still writes excellent chess columns.

We’ll now go back to 1948-49, where a young Leonard Barden finished second in the Premier Reserves Major Section in the annual Hastings Congress. Among his opponents was the veteran German master Jacques Mieses. You’ll see that the game was drawn, but the moves were never published and Leonard didn’t keep his scoresheet, so I’m afraid you’ll have to make do with the crosstable.

Let’s turn the clock back again, more than half a century this time, but we’re still in Hastings, for the great 1895 tournament. A young Mieses is there too, along with the former, and first official, World Champion Wilhelm (or William if you prefer) Steinitz.

Their game was also a draw, although my fishy friend tells me Steinitz had a clear advantage at a couple of points. Mieses did well to hold on and share the point.

And, with the Steinitz – Earnshaw games you saw at the start of the article, we complete the circle. I played Barden, who played Mieses, who played Steinitz, who played the Reverend Samuel Walter Earnshaw, who knew my great grandmother, the scion of a family of humble agricultural labourers.


Online family trees and newspaper articles from and (both £)

Samuel Earnshaw (

Yorkshire Chess History (

St Giles’, Nether Whitacre – ourparishwls


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George Henry Mackenzie: Third US Chess Champion, 1870

George Henry Mackenzie: Third US Chess Champion, 1870

George Henry Mackenzie. Third US Chess Champion 1870, Vlastimil Fiala, Moravian Chess, 2019, ISBN-13 : 978-8071890188
George Henry Mackenzie. Third US Chess Champion 1870, Vlastimil Fiala, Moravian Chess, 2019, ISBN-13 : 978-8071890188

From the publisher:

Definitive biography of the strongest American chess player, which cover the year 1870. Author worked out all available American (and other) chess sources for this year (The Turf, Field, and Farm, Sunday Mercury, New York Albion, New York Clipper, all New York dailies, British chess columns and European chess magazines, etc.) and collected in total 56 games played by Mackenzie in this year, almost of them are fully annotated. Author described in detail all chess tournaments and matches played by Mackenzie in 1870, including description of his all chess activities and New York chess life. 167pp. Indexes of players and openings.

Vlastimil Fiala is a professor of Political Science and distinguished academic and the main driving force behind the publishing house, Moravian Chess based in Olomouc in the Czech Republic. Fiala’s second love is chess history which he treats as a science. His publication portfolio is impressive : the web site of Moravian Chess provides a listing.

Vlastimil Fiala
Vlastimil Fiala


Professor Fiala’s Moravian Chess publishing house have been bringing out a lot of valuable material for more than two decades now.

This volume, dated 2019 but seemingly only recently published, is the first of a new series.

The Foreword provides some explanation:

The lives of famous chess players (Paul Morphy, Wilhelm Steinitz, Emanuel Lasker, Jose Raul Capablanca, Alexander Alekhine etc.) have by now been covered in dozens of publications of varying quality. Writing an exhaustive biography of professional chess players whose careers span multiple decades is a highly demanding task. When authors have attempted to do so, books containing a 700-900 A4 pages result (for instance several titles from MacFarland publishing house about A.A. Alekhine, A. Burn etc.), and these biographies moreover turn out to be less exhaustive than they first appear. Many details of their chess career are side-lined, or ignored entirely (e.g. chess exhibitions, consultation games, correspondence play, study composition, journalistic activities etc.). Their careers are usually not even contextualized into the wider, colourful canvas of chess events taking place in the same historical period. 

You might think he’s being a bit hard on McFarland there, and not just for spelling their name incorrectly.

After considering all the options, I decided on an unconventional solution: the creation of the “Great Chess Players” series, which features biographies of prominent chess players centred on brief periods of time, usually a single year. In the years to come I want to focus on increasingly details (hopefully definitive) accounts of the careers of the following world chess champions: Paul Morphy, Wilhelm Steinitz, Emanuel Lasker, José Raul Capablanca, Alexander Alekhine, and George Henry Mackenzie.

Well, it’s debatable whether or not you’d consider Morphy a world chess champion, even though he was undoubtedly the best player in the world for a few brief years, but Mackenzie?

Let’s not be too critical, though. Fiala seems to be a one man band working in what is (at best) his second language and performs a vital service for chess historians with both reprints and original research.

He takes a completist approach to history: publishing everything written about his subject in the year in question, as well as every published game. It’s by no means the only approach to writing chess history, or, indeed, any sort of history. Contextualisation, as Fiala says, is important, but completism is not the only way to contextualise.

As the prequels have not yet been published, some background information on Mackenzie might be in order.

George Henry Mackenzie was born in Scotland in 1837 and learnt chess in his teens. Originally destined for a business career, he instead decided to join the army, seeing service in South Africa and India. He then crossed the Atlantic to fight for the North in the American Civil War, reaching the rank of Captain but ending up in prison for impressment and desertion. On his release in 1865 he exchanged the battlefield for the chequered board, settling in New York to make a living as a chess professional, playing games against all-comers, organising clubs and tournaments, and writing newspaper columns. It soon became clear that, apart from Morphy, he was the strongest player in his adopted country, but, as we meet him for the first time seeing in the New Year at the Europa Chess Rooms, there had been little opportunity for him to take on top level opposition.

Morphy’s brief career had led to an increase in the popularity of chess, and New York was generally regarded as the home of most of the country’s strongest players. As we follow Mackenzie round the city’s chess clubs we learn a lot about how chess was played and organised at the time. Our hero was at the heart of everything going on, as player, journalist and organiser, and we can observe how chess was developing into the competitive activity we know today.

We have in total 56 games played by Mackenzie, with annotations taken from contemporary newspapers. No attempt has been made to update them with engine analysis: you might or might not approve. Given their nature, it’s not really a problem for me. Many of them are either odds games or consultation games: both of these were very popular at the time. Over the next decade or two they would gradually die out, to be replaced by a programme of tournament and match chess.

Here, for example, is Mackenzie giving odds of pawn and two moves to Augustus Zerega. These were common odds at the time: the odds giver takes the black pieces, plays without his f-pawn and allows his opponent to play the first two moves.

The highlight of early 1870 was the Brooklyn Chess Club championship, which included, apart from Mackenzie, a young James Mason, as well as names such as Eugene Delmar and Frederick Perrin, who might be familiar to those interested in chess history. It was run as an incomplete double-round all-play-all tournament with about 26 participants. You could choose who you played and when you played them. Mackenzie finished with 31 wins and 2 losses, just ahead of  F Eugene Brenzinger. Eight of his games have survived, and are given here.

In May Mackenzie played a match against Perrin, comprising four games on equal terms and four where Mackenzie gave odds of pawn and move (he played black and started without his f-pawn). Perrin held his opponent to a draw on level terms in the first game, but that was all he was able to score. Five of the games have survived.

The chess year continued with a mix of offhand, odds and consultation games, enlivened by a visit from two of Chicago’s leading players. In August the Brooklyn club decided to play a consultation game to find out whether a queen could beat eight pawns. Yes, it could.

But the most significant event of the summer months was an inter-club match between the Café International in New York (Mackenzie was its chess manager) and the Brooklyn Chess Club. Up to that point competitions between clubs had usually been consultation matches, but this was what we’d now consider a Scheveningen System tournament, but with some irregularities. Six rounds were due to be played, with six players on each side, and with each player facing a different opponent in each round. In fact, only five rounds were played as, by that time, the Café International had opened up an unassailable lead, and, in the fifth round there were only five players on each side.

Not everyone was available for each round so, in the end, eight players on each side took part.

A controversy arose as early as the second round, when the Café International fielded a ringer in the shape of Mackenzie’s Bostonian friend Preston Ware. Frederick Perrin was unimpressed. “Although happy at all times to meet so agreeable and accomplished a chess-player as Mr. Ware, we regretted that the Brooklyn players allowed this substitution. To allow substitutes when New York possesses such an array of chess-players, and the Brooklyn Chess Club comparatively so few, must be very prejudicial to the success of the latter, and to admit one of the very best players of Boston into their ranks looks very much like a practical joke on the Brooklynites.”

Just the sort of dispute that has plagued club chess competitions ever since. We’ve all been there.

Only one of Mackenzie’s games from this event is available:

Autumn 1870 witnessed another competition between the Café International and Brooklyn Chess Club: this time a series of 12 consultation games, with the New Yorkers running out narrow winners. Mackenzie was on the wrong side of two of the games. The results and games in the book don’t quite tally, though. It looks like the results of the 5th and11th games are the wrong way round.

But much of Mackenzie’s work in the last months of 1870 was administrative: setting up a chess congress for the following year.

There, at the end of 1870, we leave Mackenzie, at least for this volume. It’s not clear at the moment when the sequel will be published, but, of course, you’ll want to know what happened next.

The 1871 American Congress eventually took place in Cleveland the following December, with Mackenzie winning comfortably. He continued his rabbit-bashing career in New York until 1878, when, at the age of 41, he was invited to his first major international tournament, in Paris. He performed respectably, sharing 4th place with Bird, behind Zukertort, Winawer and Blackburne. His next major event was Vienna 1882, and, for the rest of the decade, he was a regular visitor to the top table. He scored his best result at the age of 50, winning at Frankfurt in 1887. His last tournament was Manchester 1890, but by then he was suffering from tuberculosis, and he died the following year.

He was clearly one of the world’s strongest players for the last 25 years or so of his life, but, living the wrong side of the Atlantic, he had, for many years, to content himself with acting the flat-track bully, along with his involvement in other aspects of chess.

An important, but not very well documented historical figure, then, who led an interesting life. It’s good to know that John Hilbert is working on a full biography for McFarland. I’m certainly eager to find out more about his military career.

If you’re interested in chess history you’ll find this well worth reading to give you an idea of how chess was played and organised a century and a half ago. From a personal perspective – and you might well disagree – I’d have preferred less detail on administrative issues, tournament regulations, committee meetings and so on, and more background information.

How did Mackenzie’s life work financially? Was he well off or struggling to make a living? How did he get paid? We all know about the Blackburne Shilling Gambit, so I guess many of his opponents were paying for the privilege of playing him. I suppose this information isn’t readily available, though.

Who were his opponents? What sort of person was attracted to the New York chess clubs at that time? Augustus Zerega, for instance, was seriously wealthy, having made a fortune as a shipping magnate. Eugene Brenzinger, by contrast, was a German-born baker, renowned for his delicious cakes. Napoleon Marache, born in France, most famous for losing a Famous Game to Morphy, was a problemist, editor and writer.

Perhaps there are lessons we can learn as well. There’s much talk, at least in chess clubs in my part of the world, about doing more to promote social chess. Perhaps we might consider reviving activities such as odds games and consultation matches in order to bring our clubs’ first team players together with their lower rated clubmates.

The production is serviceable, but, understandably, not up to the quality you’d expect from McFarland, for example. The project of which this is the first part, is extremely ambitious: perhaps too much so, but we’ll have to wait and see. I wish Professor Fiala every success in adding to his already extensive contribution to chess history. If you’d like to support him you know what to do.

Richard James, Twickenham 9th May 2021

Richard James
. Richard James

Book Details :

  • Softback : 168 pages
  • Publisher: Publishing House Moravian Chess; 1870th edition (1 Jan. 2019)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:8071890189
  • ISBN-13:978-8071890188

Official web site of Moravian Chess

George Henry Mackenzie. Third US Chess Champion 1870, Vlastimil Fiala, Moravian Chess, 2019, ISBN-13 : 978-8071890188
George Henry Mackenzie. Third US Chess Champion 1870, Vlastimil Fiala, Moravian Chess, 2019, ISBN-13 : 978-8071890188
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The Lasker Method to Improve in Chess

The Lasker Method to Improve in Chess : Gerard Welling and Steve Giddins

The Lasker Method to Improve in Chess, Gerard Welling and Steve Giddins, New in Chess, 2021, ISBN-13 : 978-9056919320
The Lasker Method to Improve in Chess, Gerard Welling and Steve Giddins, New in Chess, 2021, ISBN-13 : 978-9056919320

From the book’s rear cover :

“Many club players think that studying chess is all about cramming as much information in their brain as they can. Most textbooks support that notion by stressing the importance of always trying to find the objectively best move. As a result amateur players are spending way too much time worrying about subtleties that are really only relevant for grandmasters.

Emanuel Lasker, the second and longest reigning World Chess Champion (27 years!), understood that what a club player needs most of all is common sense: understanding a set of timeless principles. Amateurs shouldn’t waste energy on rote learning but just strive for a good grasp of the basic essentials of attack and defence, tactics, positional play and endgame play. Chess instruction needs to be efficient because of the limited amount of time that amateur players have available.

Superfluous knowledge is often a pitfall. Lasker himself, for that matter, also studied chess considerably less than his contemporary rivals. Gerard Welling and Steve Giddins have created a complete but compact manual based on Lasker’s general approach to chess. It enables the average amateur player to adopt trustworthy openings, reach a sound middlegame and have a basic grasp of endgame technique. Welling and Giddins explain the principles with very carefully selected examples from players of varying levels, some of them from Lasker’s own games.

The Lasker Method to Improve in Chess is an efficient toolkit as well as an entertaining guide. After working with it, players will dramatically boost their skills, without carrying the excess baggage that many of their opponents will be struggling with.”

FM Steve Giddins
FM Steve Giddins

“Steve Giddins is a FIDE Master from England, and a highly experienced chess writer and journalist. He compiled and edited The New In Chess Book of Chess Improvement, the bestselling anthology of master classes from New In Chess magazine. In 2019 Giddins published, together with Gerard Welling, the highly successful chess opening guide Side-Stepping Mainline Theory (ISBN 9789056918699).”

IM Gerard Welling
IM Gerard Welling

“Gerard Welling is an International Master and an experienced chess trainer from the Netherlands. He has contributed to NIC Yearbook and Kaissiber, the freethinker’s magazine on chess openings. In 2019 Welling published, together with Steve Giddins, the highly successful chess opening guide Side-Stepping Mainline Theory (ISBN 9789056918699).”


Most instructional chess books fall, broadly speaking, into one of two categories.

There are those, often written by younger players, which emphasise studying recent grandmaster games, teach openings by encouraging you to memorise long variations, provide annotated games with reams of computer-generated lines, offer very hard puzzles from top level competitions, and sometimes suggest you devise a timetable for study, setting aside a certain number of hours a day for opening study, tactics training, online games and so on.

Then there are books, usually written by older and, perhaps, wiser authors, very often not of GM strength, but with decades of experience both playing and teaching, who understand that most amateurs have a limited amount of time available. They recommend studying the classics, keeping things simple, choosing openings which are easy to learn, understanding ideas and plans, mastering the ending.

You won’t be surprised to learn that my sympathies are, with some reservations, more with the latter camp. And that’s what we have here.

You might not like the vivid yellow and blue cover, with our hero Manny Lasker wearing cool shades, but, putting that aside, let’s dive in.

The introduction is always a good place to start, so that we can see the authors’ aims in writing the book. In this case, they have much to say which I found particularly interesting, or perhaps just confirming my prejudices.

The amateur player has limited time for chess play and study, but still likes to practice his ‘major hobby’ as well as he can, and thus would like to base his game on reliable premises. He ideally wants to play trustworthy openings, and reach a sound middle game, and would welcome a basic grasp of endgame strategy, but often lacks the time to work on this.

Some amateurs, certainly, most, quite possibly, but not all. If you prefer to play dodgy gambits in the hope of winning a few quick brilliancies, this may not be the book for you.

You might recall, that a few years ago, John Nunn wrote a text book based on Lasker’s games. How does this book differ?

In the present book, we aim to do something completely different: we emphasise the specifically Laskerian approach and how it can be used by the average club player. Lasker emphasised most of all playing by understanding and general principles, with minimum rote-learning (especially of openings). This is perfect for the average amateur player, who wants to be able to maintain a good standard of play without relentless homework.

And again:

Nobody can possibly play the best moves all the time. Mistakes are inevitable and they are what decide games, so his (Lasker’s) aim was to try to induce more mistakes from the opponent than from ourselves. So, for example, for the average player, playing a position which he understands and feels comfortable in is more important than playing an objectively superior position that he doesn’t understand and doesn’t feel comfortable in, because he is more likely to go wrong in the latter. 

If you, like me, are broadly sympathetic to this view of chess instruction, then, you’ll almost certainly enjoy this book.  Younger and more ambitious readers, who prefer to study hundreds of ‘trainable variations’ on an online platform might have a different opinion.

Chapter 1 is very brief, looking at Lasker’s general ‘common sense’ chess philosophy. His Manual of Chess dates from 1925. Almost a century later, chess is very different, but do his principles still stand up? The authors believe they do.

Chapter 2 considers the three principles of positional play. 1: the principle of attack: if you have the advantage you must seek ways of exploiting it. 2: the principle of defence: as your opponent will attack your weakest point, you must defend it. 3: the aim of your actions should be proportionate to the size of your advantage.

In real life, of course, it’s not always as simple as that. You might, for example, have an extra pawn but a weakened king-side or a less effective minor piece. Imbalances of this nature are also important.

Chapter 3 looks at endings. The authors explain the need to know theoretical endgames, and offer a few examples from Lasker’s games.

In this position, for instance, from the first game of his 1911 World Championship match against Schlechter, he managed to draw the game by giving up a second pawn with 54… Re4! 55. Rc5 Kf6 to activate his pieces.

We move on to Attack in Chapter 4. Only the first game here was played by Lasker. The others, mostly unfamiliar, illustrate the point that if your opponent’s king is insufficiently well defended you sometimes need to strike quickly before he has time to bring up the reserves. The openings, though, are often not those you’d associate with Lasker. A small point here: in game 12, where Lodewijk Prins played the eccentric 1. e4 c6 2. b4, the black pieces were handled by Rupert, not Robert Cross.

The authors prefer verbal explanations to variations, and that can be seen in the instructive note here (Sosonko – Eising  Mannheim 1975), where Black played 30… Nxg2!

The Australian master and didact C.J.S. Purdy warned that tactics dominate the game and can come out of nowhere, even in positionally lost situations. We believe it is a matter of formulation, because if there are correct tactics available, then, by definition, the position is NOT strategically lost. Lasker formulated this in a clear way, where he mentioned ‘a large superiority of force in a quarter where the opponent has an important weakness’.

Well, yes, but we’ve all lost games by blundering and allowing a tactic in strategically winning positions.

After Attack you’d be right to expect Defence. Two of the four examples here come from Lasker’s games. We’re often taught to seek counterchances or to enter swindle mode, but here the authors demonstrate that, in some cases, just sitting tight and trying to hold everything is the best policy.

Next, we have a short chapter on knights and bishops. Lasker had a particular appreciation for positions where knights outshine bishops, and here we learn about Giddins’ friend Michael Cook, one of the inspirations behind this book: a Lasker admirer who also favours equine manoeuvres.

The following chapter is perhaps unexpected: Amorphous Positions. Restrained but resilient formations without weak links but with potential energy. We first look at a couple of Lasker games where he placed a bunch of pawns on the third rank before moving on to meet another amateur, in this case a Dutch player named Philip du Chattel, who, when playing black, seemingly favoured Nh6 on move 1 or 2. I’m not sure this is something Lasker would ever have considered.

(As an aside, Welling himself is a chess maverick, and his latest book has been co-written with English maverick IM Mike Basman. I suspect there’s an interesting book to be written about strong (say 2200+) players who favour offbeat openings.)

Finally in this chapter we see some games played by Canadian maverick GM Duncan Suttles, who also preferred non-committal openings of this nature.

We’ve now, travelling backwards from the ending, reached the opening, and in Chapter 8 the authors propose a repertoire based on Lasker’s principles.

At amateur level, especially, most games are decided by tactical opportunities and it is of no relevance at all whether one side or the other has a quarter of a pawn’s advantage after the opening. The important thing is just to reach a playable position, with the pieces developed and the king safe, preferably without significant pawn weaknesses.

(Another aside: the authors previously collaborated on a repertoire book which proposed playing a Philidor/Old Indian setup with both colours. Here we have something very different.

As Black, we’re going to defend classically. We’ll meet 1. e4 with e5, playing the Steinitz Defence (with 3… Nf6 followed by 4… d6) against the Ruy Lopez. Against the Italian Game we’ll play 3… Bc5, although we’ll need some concrete analysis. 4… d5!? is suggested against the Evans Gambit, but Greco’s 7. Nc3 in the old main line is dismissed rather too hurriedly. If you don’t like this, 3… d6 is an alternative. We’re also provided with safe and sensible lines against White’s alternatives. We’ll decline any gambit, meeting the King’s Gambit with 2… Nf6!? and the Danish Gambit with 3… d5. Against d4, likewise, we’ll opt for 1… d5, playing the Orthodox Defence to the Queen’s Gambit. Again, common-sense lines are offered against the main line, the Exchange variation, the Bf4 variation and the Catalan. But something seems to be missing here: there’s nothing about the currently popular and annoying London System, not to mention the Colle or Torre. The English and Réti are dismissed in a column and a half (1… e6 and 2… d5) and other first moves aren’t mentioned at all.

With White, we’ll play 1. e4. Against 1… e5 we’ll play the Ruy Lopez, but, following Lasker’s predilection for knights, we’ll trade on c6 at the first opportunity. In the Exchange variation proper we’re advised to play 5. Nc3 rather than O-O.

If Black offers the Petroff instead we’ll head for the ending with 5. Qe2.  We’ll play the Closed Sicilian, with our king’s knight on the flexible e2 square. Against the French and the Caro-Kann you won’t be surprised to hear that we’ll trade pawns on d5. Again, this seems incomplete: there’s no recommendation against any other defence to 1. e4.

What do you make of this? It makes sense as far as it goes, but it’s certainly not for everyone. You’ll need a lot of patience as well as endgame skill to enjoy it. It might, of course, be exactly what you’re looking for. You might, as one often does with repertoire books, like some, but not all the suggestions.

Chapter 9 is the meat of the book: games for study and analysis based on the openings recommended in the previous chapter, 41 of them in total, well selected (many deeply obscure so you almost certainly won’t have seen them before) and well annotated. The young guns who tell you to study recent GM games will be horrified to see that most of the games are from the last century, although Carlsen makes an appearance playing the Exchange French. Welling and Giddins are not the first authors to comment on the similarity between Lasker’s and Carlsen’s approach to chess.

You won’t find many short brilliancies, but this is an exception:

Black chooses a modest opening formation giving White a slight advantage, but this game demonstrates how easy it is for the first player to overreach in this type of position.

We also meet Michael Cook again, and see two of his wins against the Ruy Lopez, one of them against my old friend Malcolm Lightfoot. I found the ending of the other game particularly interesting.

This is from a 1980 county match where Cook is black against R Bristow. Like many of my generation, I was brought up on Basic Chess Endings and led to believe that bishops were stronger than knights in endings with pawns on both sides of the board. Of course this is very often the case, and there’s an excellent example earlier in the book.

This position is objectively drawn, but it’s Black who can press for the full point.

The game concluded 29. Kg1 Nd6 30. g3 f6 31. Bb4 Nb5 32. Kf2 Kf7 33. Ke3 Ke6 34. Ke4 f5+ 35. Kd3 Kd5 36. Bc3 g6 37. Be5 h5 38. Bb2 Kc5 39. Bc3 Nd6 40. Bd2 Ne4 41. Be1 Kd5 42. Ke3? (a3 would have held) Kc4 43. Ke2 Kd4 44. Bb4 h4 at which point time was called and the adjudicator (yes, that’s how we played chess 40 years ago) awarded Cook the point.  The authors claim that after 45. Kf3 hxg3 46. hxg3 Nc3 47. a3 Kc4  Black wins, but Stockfish isn’t convinced after, for example, 48. g4.

The authors comment:

Within reason, the objective assessment of the position does not matter that much, when it is just a matter of a slight plus one way or the other – what is much more important is knowing what you’re doing and understanding that the white advantage, if any, is relatively small. 

… and:

An additional point, as we have seen, is that the white player will frequently overestimate his advantage and play too ambitiously, often just because ‘the books’ say this Steinitz Defence is not really very good. Just as Lasker said, he preferred the side ‘which has kept back his forces a little’. so deliberately heading for a position where one knows one is objectively slightly worse, but also knows that the disadvantage is small and manageable, and where one also knows how to handle the position, is often a very effective way to play for a win.

Interesting and thought-provoking, I think, and certainly a very different philosophy from the maximalist approach espoused by many authors of instructional manuals. It’s certainly not the only way to play chess,  but it might just be for you. An awareness that your opponents might be taking that approach could also be useful.

Finally, there’s the almost obligatory puzzle section. We have 50 puzzles, split into easy, intermediate and difficult, taken, with one exception, from the games of the authors and their hero.

Again, they have some helpful insights to share:

Talking about the experience of analysing with a much stronger player:

The other chap just seems to ‘see’ things so quickly, noticing immediately little tactical tricks which escape the lesser player altogether, or else take him much longer to spot. And we are mainly talking not about spectacular sacrificial combinations, but about routine tactical ideas, 2-3 moves deep, on which so much of a chess game hinges.

Indeed. At club level it’s precisely this which decides most games.

So how does one acquire such ability? Well, as with most things in life, talent is obviously a factor, but hard work and regular practice is crucial. Tactical ability and alertness is rather like physical fitness – when you start from a very low level, a lot of work is needed to build yourself up to a certain level, but once you are there, 15-30 minutes’ exercise a day is all you need to maintain that level.

Here’s one of the intermediate puzzles.

In this position White played 24. Nxc4. Is this a blunder? You’ll find the solution at the foot of the page.

It’s often interesting when reading a book with two authors to try to guess which author was primarily responsible for which chapter. (You might like to do this with The (Even More) Complete Chess Addict.) Welling (eccentric openings) and Giddings (safe and simple openings) seem to have slightly different chess philosophies, but they converge with the idea that it doesn’t matter if you’re slightly worse: just that have more understanding of what’s going on than your opponent.

If you’re young and ambitious you might turn your nose up at books of this nature, but club players rated anywhere between, say, 1600 and 2200 who would like to improve their chess in between family and work commitments may well find this book inspirational even though they might not agree with everything the authors say, and might well find some or all the repertoire recommendations don’t suit.

I really enjoyed reading it, and felt I learnt quite a lot as well. I’ve always believed that you’ll benefit more from studying games played by someone 200-300 points stronger than you than you would from top grandmasters. Looking at their games you can think “Yes: I could learn to play like that”, and as Michael Cook, for example, was, at his peak, 200 points or so stronger than me, I could learn a lot from his games. My frustration was that the book seemed incomplete, and, as a result, perhaps not always totally coherent. There were a couple of signs that it might have been edited down from something much longer at the request of  the publisher, but of course my hunch could well be incorrect.

The book is well written and produced to this publisher’s customary high standards. It may not be a book for everyone, but if you’re part of the target market you don’t need to hesitate. There are many fascinating and provocative insights which will encourage you to look at chess in a different way.

Solution to puzzle (Giddins – Carlier Antwerp 1993): 24. Nxc4 isn’t a blunder because after 24… Bxc4 he has the decisive blow 25.Rb6! Qxb6 26. Re6+ Kg8 27. Rxb6.

Richard James, Twickenham 4th May 2021

Richard James
. Richard James

Book Details :

  • Paperback : 240 pages
  • Publisher: New in Chess (16 Mar 2021)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:9056919326
  • ISBN-13:978-9056919320
  • Product Dimensions: 17.25 x 1.55 x 23.67 cm

Official web site of New in Chess

The Lasker Method to Improve in Chess, Gerard Welling and Steve Giddins, New in Chess, 2021, ISBN-13 : 978-9056919320
The Lasker Method to Improve in Chess, Gerard Welling and Steve Giddins, New in Chess, 2021, ISBN-13 : 978-9056919320
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Desert Island Chess Puzzle Omnibus

Desert Island Chess Puzzle Omnibus, Adams, Nunn, Burgess, So, Gambit Publications Ltd., 2021, ISBN-13 : 978-1911465652
Desert Island Chess Puzzle Omnibus, Adams, Nunn, Burgess, So, Gambit Publications Ltd., 2021, ISBN-13 : 978-1911465652

From the publisher:

“If you had to choose a single luxury chess item to take to a desert island, then how about this: a superb selection of 400 puzzles to solve? Each author has carefully chosen 100 original positions, graded by difficulty and theme into four sections of 25. The emphasis throughout is on entertainment, instruction and inspiration. The solutions pinpoint lessons to be learnt and explain why plausible but incorrect solutions fail.”

“This book is written by an all-star team of authors. Wesley So is the reigning Fischer Random World Champion, the 2017 US Champion and the winner of the 2016 Grand Chess Tour. Michael Adams has been the top British player for the last quarter of a century and was a finalist in the 2004 FIDE World Championship. John Nunn is a three-time winner of both the World Solving Championship and the British Chess Federation Book of the Year Award. Graham Burgess is Gambit’s Editorial Director and the author of 30 books.”

End of blurb…

Before we dig in we suggest you take at look at this video about the book from John Nunn himself.

We all love puzzle books and this book is no exception. This excellent, entertaining book is split up into four sections by author:

Each author supplies 100 puzzles broken up into four chapters which progressively get harder. There are a few specialist chapters such as Graham Burgess’ Opening Themes which is one of my favourite parts.

The reviewer will kick-off by demonstrating some of the puzzle posers from Michael Adams’ section.

Black has just moved his to queen to h5 to offer the exchange of queens. What did he miss?


Ray Robson-Eugene Perelshteyn Lubbock 2010

Solution: Black overlooked the stunning rejoinder: 14.Nd5! winning the bishop on e7. Black cannot move his queen to defend the bishop. If black tries 14…Qxd1, the intermezzo 15.Nxe7+ followed by recapturing the queen, wins a piece. Black cannot retreat the bishop with 14…Bd8 as 15.Nxf6+ followed by 16.Qxh5 wins black’s queen.

The next position reminds the reviewer of a game he won with this tactical idea in an early club match as a junior.

White has just played Ra5 going after the a-pawn. What did he overlook?

Boris Gulko-Michael Adams Internet 2020

Adams unleashed the devastating 37…Ne3+ exploiting the seventh rook for his rook. After 38. fxe3 Rb2+ white resigned because of 39. Kh3 Qxf3 40. Qc8+ Kh7 followed by a quick massacre of the white king.

In the next position, white has a clear advantage with a big lead in development. White played 20.Qd7 and won easily. Can you spot a quicker and more elegant  route to victory?

Laurent Fressinet-Vladimir Malaniuk Bastia 2010

20. Re8+ Bxe8 21.Qg3+ kills black prettily on the diagonals 21…Qe5 22.Qxe5#

In the next position, black is threatening the brutal Rc1#. How does white get the knife in first?

Vasilios Kotronias-Francisco Vallejo Pons Budva 2009

White wins with a common mating pattern: 42.Rh7+ Kxh7 43.Nf6+ Kh8 44.Rg8#

This next position was from a marathon blitz game. White has slowly edged his pawns forward and has just played 215. Re4. What was black’s response to abruptly end the game?

Vasily Ivanchuk-Peter Leko Moscow blitz 2007

Peter Leko found the incisive 215…Qf7+ 216.Kxf7 stalemate, ending the torture.

In the next puzzle, black has just played Rd8. What was white’s crisp response?

Michael Adams-Vladislav Borovikov Kallithea 2002

38. Qe8+ mates 38…Rxe8 39.Rxe8+ Kg7 40.Bf8+ Kg8 41. Bh6#

Nigel Short,  a brilliant tactician, missed a golden opportunity here. What is white’s best move?

Nigel Short-Jan Timman London 2008

The rampant white knights stomp all over black with 19.Nd6! threatening 20.Nxc6+ and Nf7+ 19…Nd5 (19…Qxd6 20. Nf7+ wins the queen, or  19…cxd6 20.Nc6+ Kd7 21.Nxb8+ also captures the queen) 20.Nxc6+ Kd7 21.Nxb8+ Kxd6 22. Qa3+ c5 23. Bd2 white has a material advantage and a virulent attack.

The next position shows a classic over press in a drawn ending. White has just played his queen from b8 to b2. How did black punish this careless move?

Klaus Bischoff-Mark Quinn Dun Laoghaire 2010

Black used the power of his centralised steed to fork the queen with the knight 65…Re3+! 0-1 After 66.Qxe3 Nc4+ snares the lady, 66. Kd1 Re1+ also captures the queen, similarly 66.Kf1 Re1+ wins

Black has just played the active Rd2. How did white exploit this?

Michael Adams-John-Nunn-European-Internet-Blitz-2003
Michael Adams-John Nunn European Internet Blitz 2003

26. Rxe6! exploits the weak back rank. 1-0 as 26…Rxf2 27.Re8# & 26…fxe6 27.Qf8#

In this next position white baled out with a perpetual. How could white win with a beautiful geometrical sequence?

Ivan Saric-Vidmantas-Malisauskas-Novi-Sad-2009
Ivan Saric-Vidmantas Malisauskas Novi Sad 2009

47.Qd7+ Kg6 48.f5+ Qxf5 black’s queen blocks his own king 49.Qg7+ Kh5 50.g4+ Qxg4 once again the queen gets in the way 51.Qh7# Very pretty

The next section is by John Nunn who is a brilliant problem solver having won the world problem solving championship three times. I shall show a couple of beautiful studies from his chapter on Advanced Tactics, Endings And Studies.

White to play and win.

Arpad Rusz-The Problemist-2019
Arpad Rusz The Problemist 2019

1.Rc1+! The obvious 1.a8=Q+ loses to 1…Kg1 2.Rc1+ Qf1+! 3.Rxf1+ Kxf1 4.Qa6+ Kg1 5.Qg6+ Rg2 6.Qf6 otherwise the pawn queens 6…Rf2+ skewers the queen and wins

1…Qf1+!! (1…Kg2 2.a8=Q+ Qf3+ 3.Qxf3+ Kxf3 4.Rc3+  Ke2 5.Ra3 and white wins the rook ending) 2.Rxf1+ Kg2

Arpad Rusz-The Problemist 2020 Move 3
Arpad Rusz The Problemist 2019 Move 3

3.Rh1!! (Deflecting either the black king or rook to an inferior square, 3.a8=Q+ loses as above) 3…Kxh1 (3…Rxh1 4. a8=Q+ Kh2 5. Qh8+ followed by Qg8+ winning the dangerous black pawn and the game) 4.a8=Q+ Kg1 (4…Rg2 5.Qh8+ Kg1 6.a6 wins) 5.Qg8+ Rg2 6. Qh8 stopping the pawn and white wins

Here is another brilliant problem. I could not solve this one, but just sit back and enjoy!

Mario Matous Dresden Olympiad Tourney 2008
  1. e7 cxb1=Q 2. e8=Q Nf3+! (To give access to h7 for a black queen) 3. Nxf3 Qh7+ 4. Kg3 b1=Q Black seems to have everything under control with the two queens poised to kill
Mario Matous Dresden Olympiad Tourney 2009 Move 5

5.Qe4!! Putting white’s queen en prise and forking the two queens. Black cannot take the queen because of a deadly rook check. 5…Qg1+ (5…Qg7+ 6.Ng5+ Qxe4 7.Rd1+ mates) 6.Nxg1 Qxe4 7.Nf3 black has no decent check to avoid mate. 7…Qxf3+ 8.Kxf3 with an easy RvN winning ending as black’s king is stuck in the corner, separated from the knight, for example 8…Nb7 9.Rd7 Nc5 10.Rd5 Ne6 11.Kg3 mating.

Section three is by Graham Burgess. The Opening Themes chapter is an instructive set of puzzles based on tactical possibilities in the opening. The reviewer had not seen these exact positions before, but a lot of the themes are common ideas and traps in the opening.

Black has just played the active and provactive Nb4. How should white deal with the threat to the d-pawn?

Igor Kovalenko-Axel Bachmann World Blitz Ch Berlin 2015

9.c3! Nbxd5 10. e4 and the knight is lost. 9.e4 is also good based on the same idea.

A typical position from the Sicilian.  Black has just kicked the bishop with h6, before deciding how to complete his development. How does white cut across this plan?

Denis Wiegner-Wolfgang Trebing Hamburg Juniors 1994

10.Ndxb5! axb5 11.Nxb5 threatening Nd6#  d5 12.Bf4! targeting the weak d6 and c7 squares 12…e5 13.exd5 exf4 14.dxc6 Nxc6 15.Re1+ Be7 16.Nd6+ Kf8 17.Nxb7 winning a couple of pawns

Black has just left his d-pawn en prise. Can white take it?

Ian Marshall-John Henderson Corr. 1993

No. After 6.Nxd5?? Nxd5 7.Qxd5 c6! white cannot prevent Qa5+ picking up the bishop on g5. Strange error considering that this was a postal game!

This is a Modern Defence.  Black has just unmasked his fianchettoed bishop with Nfd7. White can refute this outright. How?

Wolfgang Schaser-Hubertus Hilchenbach Corr. 2004

10.Bxf7+ Kxf7 11.Ng5+ Kg8 12.Qf3 Nf6 13.Qb3+ wins, e.g. e6 14.Ncxe6 Qe7 15.0-0 Bxe6 16.Nxe6 Qf7 17.Nc7

Finally an old trap in the Slav Defence. White has just played 12.e4. What is black’s surprising reply?

Zdenko Kozul-Miguel Illescas Erevan Olympiad 1996

12…Nc5!! 13.dxc5 dxe4 14.Qxd8 (14.Qe3 exf3 is bad for white as well) Rfxd8 white loses back the piece and will be a pawn down 15.Na4 (15.Nxe4 Nxe4 16.Be3 Nxc5 and 15.Be3 exf3 16.gxf3 Rd3 leave black in a superb position) 15…exf3 16.Rfd1 Rd3 with a huge plus.

Finally, I will show a complex king and pawn ending given by Wesley So. Black to play – how does he capitalise on his better pawn structure and better king?

Alexander Grishchuk-Wesley-So Leuven rapid 2018

The first few moves are obvious 31…Kg6 32.Ke2 Kg5 33.Kf3 f5 34.gxf5

Now what should black play?

Buy the book to find out.

In summary, this is a superb puzzle book with a varied pot-pourri of problems such as opening traps, pure tactics, attacking ideas, defensive ideas, endings,  and studies with a varying  degree of difficulty to suit all standards. An excellent book for not just junior training but for players of all standards to hone their tactical skills.

FM Richard Webb, Chineham, Hampshire, 30th April 2021

FM Richard Webb
FM Richard Webb

Book Details :

  • Hardcover :320 pages
  • Publisher:  Gambit Publications Ltd (16 Dec. 2020)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:1911465651
  • ISBN-13:978-1911465652
  • Product Dimensions: 17.15 x 1.65 x 24.77 cm

This physical book is also available as an eBook and as an App book from Gambit.


Official web site of Gambit Publications Ltd.

Desert Island Chess Puzzle Omnibus, Adams, Nunn, Burgess, So, Gambit Publications Ltd., 2021, ISBN-13 : 978-1911465652
Desert Island Chess Puzzle Omnibus, Adams, Nunn, Burgess, So, Gambit Publications Ltd., 2021, ISBN-13 : 978-1911465652
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The Iron English

The Iron English, Richard Palliser & Simon Williams, Everyman Chess, 2020, ISBN-13 : 978-1781945803
The Iron English, Richard Palliser & Simon Williams, Everyman Chess, 2020, ISBN-13 : 978-1781945803

Here is the publishers blurb from the rear cover :

Grandmaster Simon Williams was taught the English Opening at the age of six and 1 c4 was his weapon of choice until long after he became an International Master. For this new work, he teamed up with acclaimed theoretician International Master Richard Palliser to explore his old favourite. 1 c4 remains an excellent choice for the club and tournament player. This book focuses on the set-up popularised by the sixth world champion, Mikhail Botvinnik, the so-called Botvinnik formation with 2 Nc3, 3 g3, 4 Bg2, 5 e4 and 6 Nge2.

This system is compact but still aggressive and rewards an understanding of plans and strategies rather than rote memorisation of moves. In Opening Repertoire: The Iron English leading chess authors Simon Williams and Richard Palliser guide the reader through the complexities of this dynamic variation and carves out a repertoire for White.

They examine all aspects of this highly complex opening and provide the reader with well-researched, fresh, and innovative analysis. Each annotated game has valuable lessons on how to play the opening and contains instructive commentary on typical middlegame plans.

and. from the publisher, about the authors :

IM Richard Palliser
IM Richard Palliser

Richard Palliser is an International Master and the editor of CHESS magazine. In 2006 he became joint British Rapidplay Champion and in 2019 finished 3rd in the British Championship. He has established a reputation as a skilled chess writer and written many works for Everyman, including the bestselling The Complete Chess Workout.”

GM Simon Williams
GM Simon Williams

Simon Williams is a Grandmaster, a well-known presenter and a widely-followed streamer, as well as a popular writer whose previous books have received great praise. He is much admired for his dynamic and spontaneous attacking style.”

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

The diagrams do not have a “to move” indicator or any kind of caption so you will need to work out for yourself how they relate to the text that they are embedded in. However, this is fairly obvious.

The book consists of nine chapters :

  1. Key Ideas for White
  2. Kickstarter: An Outline of the Iron English Repertoire
  3. English Versus King’s Indian
  4. The Modern: 1.c4 g6 and 1…d6
  5. Other Fianchetto Defences
  6. The Reversed Sicilian
  7. The Symmetrical English
  8. The Mikenas Attack
  9. Other Lines (1…c6/1…e6)

Opening books are becoming thicker and more imposing year on year and at 464 pages this recent offering from Everyman Chess is no exception. Any book with the involvement of Richard Palliser deserves, without doubt, to be paid special attention to and complimenting him is the h (and now f) pawns favourite advocate Grandmaster, Simon Williams.

Having two authors with contrasting playing styles (we felt) would lead to interesting recommendations rather in the vein of “Good cop, bad cop”. We will leave you to decide which might be which!

In essence this book (and the strongly associated Chessable course) is a complete repertoire for White based around the English Opening.

In the BCN office one of our favourite English Opening books is the 1999 classic “The Dynamic English” by Tony Kosten

The Dynamic English, Tony Kosten, Gambit Publications, 1999, ISBN 1 901983 14 5
The Dynamic English, Tony Kosten, Gambit Publications, 1999, ISBN 1 901983 14 5

which is of a mere 144 pages and of even smaller physical dimensions. A timeless classic in our opinion.

The Iron English is the first (we think) book (in the English language) to provide a complete repertoire around the Botvinnik flavour of the English in which White clamps or strongpoints the d5 square with an early e4 thus:

or even more simply

and this solid generic structure is advocated against almost all of Black’s reasonable and unreasonable defences.

Chapter One provides sample games (mainly from the authors) to give an idea of what White should be striving to achieve and Chapter Two outlines the repertoire.

In order to benefit from the chapters following these two  should probably be read more than once. One of the reasons for this is the huge complexity of the transpositional possibilities and move orders. The end-of-book Index of Variations helps the reader to navigate their way through the mire of variations and following that is an Index of Games bringing up the rear.

The style of presentation is friendly and very, very chatty (Alan Carr is nowhere to be seen you’ll be pleased to learn)  and presumably driven by the same material’s presentation as part of a Chessable course.

To get a feel of this style here are sample pages to whet your appetite and here is a example extracted game from Chapter One:

which provides for engaging instruction (if you like that sort of thing!).

Quite correctly, the content is dominated by the King’s Indian (73 pages), Reversed Sicilian (102 pages) and 100 pages on 1. c4 g6 and 1.c4 d6 lines. Clearly a wealth of material and probably most suited to someone who already plays the English but not the Botvinnik System. Taking up the English for the first time via this book (and/or the course) could well be somewhat daunting and not for the faint hearted.

Each of chapters Three – Nine adopts the now familiar Everyman format of example games delivering the theoretical discussion. Thirty-three games are dissected in detail including six of SKWs.

In the BCN office we always like to see how we would fair defending “against the book” and since we play the slightly offbeat 1.c4 c6 we turned to page 440 for Theory 9A (!).

where we won our internal wager that White would be advised to play 2.e4 and transpose into a Pseudo-Panov (called the Steiner Variation in Win with the Caro-Kann) rather than to a Slav. So, how did the “game” go?

1.c4 c6; 2. e4 d5; cd:; 4. ed: Nf6; 5.Nc3 Nxd5; 6.Bc4!?

which is a little off the beaten track (but easily met) with 6…Nb6; 7.Bb3 Nc6; 8.Nf3 Bf5; 9. d4 e6; 10 0-0, Be7; 11.a4 Na5 12. Ba2 0-0; 13.Qe2 and instead of the move suggested (13…Rc8) we played 13…Nc6! with a totally playable position.

The text suggests that someone who plays 1…c6 could be unfamiliar with a transposition to the Caro-Kann. Yes, they may well be but more likely this is a forlorn hope.

Anyway, this recreational digression is not really germane to the main thrust of the book…

In summary, this book is a major piece of work by Richard Palliser and Simon Williams that adds considerable material to the increasingly popular Botvinnik English.

In a sense the Botvinnik English is a kind of very grown-up London System and Colle Opening approach to playing with the White pieces (i.e. a system approach) and a welcome addition to White’s armoury.  Anyone wishing to take it up will find this book to be a reliable and friendly companion.

John Upham, Cove, Hampshire, 29th April, 2021

John Upham
John Upham

Book Details :

  • Paperback : 464 pages
  • Publisher: Everyman Chess (1 Oct. 2020)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1781945802
  • ISBN-13: 978-1781945803
  • Product Dimensions: 17.3 x 1.7 x 23.8 cm

Official web site of Everyman Chess

As is fairly common these days, the book has been migrated to the Chessable platform. Here are reviews of that course.

The Iron English, Richard Palliser & Simon Williams, Everyman Chess, 2020, ISBN-13 : 978-1781945803
The Iron English, Richard Palliser & Simon Williams, Everyman Chess, 2020, ISBN-13 : 978-1781945803
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1.d4! : The Chess Bible : Understanding Queen’s Pawn Structures

1.d4! The Chess Bible, Armin Juhasz, Thinker's Publishing, 2021, ISBN-10 9464201118
1.d4! The Chess Bible, Armin Juhasz, Thinker’s Publishing, 2021, ISBN-10 9464201118

From the publisher:

“In his first book (we anticipate many more), the young Hungarian author makes a worthy attempt to walk his readers through a complete 1.d4 opening repertoire. Yet while he is taking you thru the opening he never forgets the other phases of the game. As a result, the subsequent middlegame and endgame elements are remarkably well organized benefiting both beginner and advanced players to acquire powerful skills with 1.d4!”

IM Armin Juhasz
IM Armin Juhasz

“Europe’s youngest FIDE accredited trainer, IM Armin Juhasz, is an active player and a successful coach living in Budapest, Hungary. Born in 1998 he is currently 22 years of age and earned the IM title when 17. In 2016 he achieved his highest Elo of 2424. Armin has twice won the Hungarian Youth Championship. He was a member of the Hungarian U18 team which won the silver medal at the European Youth Team Championship in 2016. In addition to being an active competitor he is also the owner and CEO of Center Chess School. This thriving start up effort in Budapest has seen outstanding results. Several of his students have won numerous medals on both the world and national stage. Included in this list of success are two Hungarian Championships, on in the U16 and the other in the U14 division. He has also coached a World U12 Champion from the United States.”

End of blurb.

As with every recent Thinkers Publishing publication high quality paper is used and the printing is clear. We were hoping that the excellent glossy paper of previous titles would be used for this one but never mind.

With a small amount of persuasion the book can be laid flat next to the board and does not require weights to prevent it from “self-closing” (a particular bugbear of ours !). Each diagram is clear and the instructional text is typeset in two column format, which, we find, enables the reader to maintain their place easily. Figurine algebraic notation is used throughout and the diagrams are placed adjacent to the relevant text and each diagram has a “to move” indicator and a “position after: x move” type caption.

There is no Index or Index of Variations but, despite that, content navigation is relatively straightforward.

The main content is divided into six chapters :

  1. The King’s Indian Defense
  2. The Grünfeld Defense
  3. The Benoni Defense
  4. The Slav Defense
  5. The Catalan Opening
  6. Frequent Endgame Types

Pedant warning: before we look at the important stuff you might have noticed above the above use of “defense” rather than “defence”. This is the spelling used throughout which we are surprised that the editor/proof readers/typesetter allowed through. We will shall not dwell further on this. The rear cover (but the not the preface) introduction by GM Horvath uses the horrible “thru” instead of “through”. Moving on…

Our first attempt at reviewing was to hit the buffers and this was caused by wording within the Preface (and rear cover text) from GM Horvath. He writes

the young Hungarian author makes a worthy attempt to talk his readers through a complete 1.d4 opening repertoire,

Complete? This did not fit with the above chapter listing (unless the definition of “complete” has recently been updated. Seeking clarification we consulted Thinker’s Publishing and they confirmed that the word “complete” was indeed employed erroneously by Horvath. In fact, the sub-title (which does not appear on the front or rear covers) of “Understanding Queen’s Pawn Structures” we were informed should have been given greater prominence. Moving on…

So what we actually have here is a partial repertoire for White against the five Black defences listed above plus an intriguing sixth  bonus chapter. Each of the five chapters selects a line for White and proceeds to help you understand that recommendation  using the same methodology (which appears to be both novel and sensible) as follows:

For each of chapters 1-5 we have sections:

  1. Introduction
  2. Model Games (I)
  3. Theoretical Section
  4. Model Games (II)
  5. Typical Tactics
  6. Homework
  7. Concluding Tips

Interestingly Model Games (I) provides annotated games that are not in the line for White suggested but important stem games for the Black defence providing extra background about the typical plans and structures for Black that you should be aware of.

Theoretical Section gets down to the nitty gritty of detailed variations and analysis. Model Games (II) is not more of the same of (I) but model games that are directly from the recommendations contained in the Theoretical Section.  Thinking back over the history of opening books for many of them this would have been the only style of content. Things have evolved for the better.

Typical Tactics is a collection often repeating tactical ideas and themes directly arising from these variations and therefore very relevant.

Homework sounded a little weird (to us at least) since surely all of the above are examples of homework? However the point of these sections is interesting. The book provides the reader / student  with half a dozen or so high quality games that are devoid of any notes or annotations. The student is invited to play through these games on a real chessboard (!), make notes, identify critical moments and find potential improvements for both sides. Finally, the student should check their work with an engine.

Finally, each chapter ends with Concluding Tips which is a series of bullet points that should be taken away.

We could end this review here and now but perhaps mention of some chess would be welcome?

Rather than tediously listing all of the recommendations of each chapter the BCN office staff chose the Slav chapter to dip into.

The author’s fourth move recommendation for White is perhaps not one you would have even considered. This is good since it means almost certainly neither will have your opponent!

Yes, 4.g3 which is an unpretentious little move but appears 4527 times in Megabase 2020 compared with 83884 times for the more familiar 4.Nc3.

4.g3 scores a decent 57.5% at all levels at 56.5% with the Top Games option enabled.

By comparison 4.Nc3 scores 57% and 58.6% respectively.

If you would like to see some sample pages from the book then click here.

If you would like to know all of the other recommendations then you will have to buy the book!

Possibly, the most interesting and novel chapter of all is the final one, Frequent Endgame Types. Nine games are provided starting as the middlegame ends and annotated in detail. Strong players will select openings based on a structure they like and understand and potentially because of the endgame it is likely to provide.

Here is an example of a provided game (the book annotations start at move 33):

In summary, if you play 1.d4 then this book will provide a unique insight into many typical structures and plans and if you play the King’s Indian, Grünfeld, Benoni, Slav or the black side of the Catalan then this book will be beneficial.

In many ways this book has provided a fresh approach to teaching openings and, tells us a great deal about the author in the process.

It is clear as daylight that IM Armin Juhasz is a talented trainer and author with a great passion for teaching. We are convinced that his time must be in high demand!

We think you will enjoy this book and derive benefit from it.

John Upham, Cove, Hampshire, 27th April, 2021

John Upham
John Upham

Book Details :

  • Hardcover : 280 pages
  • Publisher:Thinkers Publishing; 1st edition (12 April 2021)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9464201118
  • ISBN-13: 978-9464201116
  • Product Dimensions: 17.02 x 23.5 cm

Official web site of Thinkers Publishing

1.d4! The Chess Bible, Armin Juhasz, Thinker's Publishing, 2021, ISBN-10 9464201118
1.d4! The Chess Bible, Armin Juhasz, Thinker’s Publishing, 2021, ISBN-10 9464201118
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To Exchange or Not? The Ultimate Workbook

To Exchange or Not?, Eduardas Rozentalis, Thinker's Publishing, 8th December 2020, ISBN-13 : 978-9492510945
To Exchange or Not?, Eduardas Rozentalis, Thinker’s Publishing, 8th December 2020, ISBN-13 : 978-9492510945

From the publisher:

“When should we exchange a piece in the endgame and when should we keep it? Why is it so important? How to make a right choice? Different types of endings and guidance on how to make the correct decision were the subject of my book The Correct Exchange in the Endgame. Two editions were very well accepted by chess players of different levels. I am especially happy that many chess coaches and teachers found it useful for their training programs.

The book was announced as a silver winner of the Boleslavsky Award 2016 by the FIDE Trainer’s Commission. Many readers and coaches expressed a wish to see more instructive exercises, so together with Thinkers Publishing we decided to make an exercise book. It can be widely used by chess teachers in schools, coaches in chess clubs and all chess players.

Trying to solve 120 instructive exercises and then going through the correct solutions, you will certainly improve your decision-making ability and analysing skills, as well as enrich your knowledge and understanding of the final stage of the chess game.”

GM Eduardas Rozentalis at the Jersey International, 2013.
GM Eduardas Rozentalis at the Jersey International, 2013.

From the publisher:

“Lithuanian Grandmaster Rozentalis lifetimes achievements in chess are enormous. We mostly remember him being champion of Lithuania in 1981 and 2002, 3 times champion of the Young Masters of the USSR, 1984-85-87, World Youth Team champion in 1985 and World Senior Team champion in 2014. In between 1985 until now, he won 85 international tournaments, played for many European different club teams and in 10 Chess Olympiads for Lithuania. This is his second book for Thinkers Publishing. His first, ‘The Correct Exchange in the Endgame’, became a great success and was nominated as ‘FIDE CHESS BOOK 2016’.”

End of blurb…

There are two short introductory sections: a preface and an introduction that clarify the purpose of the book as an exercise book with 120 endgame positions to solve. The problems are all concerned with exchanging issues: exchange a piece or not; which piece to exchange; when and where to exchange.

The main workbook is divided up into six chapters based on three increasing levels of difficulty for the problems:

  • Warm Up
  • Warm Up Solutions
  • Intermediate
  • Intermediate Solutions
  • Advanced
  • Advanced Solutions

There are forty exercises from real games at each complexity level, presented as four problems per page.  Many of the positions are from Rozentalis’ own games. Each solution chapter demonstrates the answers with typically one to two pages of analysis for each solution accompanied by two to three diagrams.

The problems cover all types of piece configurations in endgames from single piece endgames through to complex multi piece endgames. The problems vary in their nature with these typical example themes:

  • Pure tactics
  • Calculation (for example pawn races in king and pawn endgames)
  • Knowledge of basic endgames
  • Exploitation of weaknesses
  • Suppression of counterplay
  • Positional considerations

The reviewer will show some positions from each problem chapter to give a flavour of the coverage.

Here is the first position in the book demonstrating an exchange to exploit pawn weaknesses and suppress counterplay:


The problem posed is should white exchange rooks or not?

General positional considerations say that a rook and bishop are slightly better than a rook and knight in an endgame: this advantage is regarded as a “grindable” endgame advantage by good endgame players. However, in this position black has numerous pawn weaknesses on both sides of the board, that can be exploited by the active bishop in an open position: namely a fixed g4 pawn and a vulnerable pawn chain on a6/b7. Black’s rook is also active on the c-file, if white moves his rook along the d-file to say 41.Rd5 Rc1+ is annoying for white.

41.Rd7+! exchanging rooks to exploit black pawn weaknesses and prevent counterplay by black with his rook.

41…Rxd7 42.Bxd7 Nd6 This loses the pawn on g4, but 42…Kf6 43.Bc8 wins either the b7 pawn or the g4 with a technically winning endgame

43. Bxg4 fxg3 44. fxg3! Capturing with the f-pawn, not the h-pawn to eventually make a distant passed pawn on the h-file which makes black’s defence even more difficult. White now has a straightforward technical win.

44…a5 45.Kf2 Nc4 46. b3 Ne5 47. 47.Be2 Kf6 48. Ke3 Kf5 49. Kd4 g4 Black tries to block the white pawns, and hopes for Nf3 as some point, but the g4 will just become another target.

50.Kd5 b6 After 50…Nf3, white wins with 51.h3!

51.a4 Zugzwang, if 51…Nf3 52.h3! wins, if the knight moves to say d7 or f7, white’s king penetrates decisively on the queen side.

51…Kf6 52.Ke4 1-0 (The g-pawn drops after Kf4 and Bxg4)


The second example shows a common tactical theme to simplify to a winning king and pawn endgame.

B.Wyczling-E.Rozentalis-Warsaw-2008-Move 44
B.Wyczling-E.Rozentalis-Warsaw-2008-Move 44

Black has achieved a lot in this endgame with the better placed pieces and a far more potent pawn majority, plus the white knight is utterly dominated. Black’s next move achieves a transformation that quickly decides the game.

44…Bxb2!  45.Nxb2 (45.axb4+ makes no difference: 45…Kxb4 46.Nxb2 c3+ wins)

45…c3+ 46.Kc2 axb2 47.axb4+ Kxb4

The white king has to deal with the black’s passed a-pawn, while the black king goes to the kingside for a delicious meal of white pawns.


Here is another position showing that exchanging the opponent’s most active piece is always an important consideration.


White has a very active rook which holds his position together. If white was to move, he would play Rf4 collecting black’s dangerous passed pawn.

But it black to move and he played 44…Rf8! (44…h3 allows 45.Rf2 and white fights on) and white resigned 0-1. Why did he resign?

If the white rook avoids the exchange, for example 45.Rd5, then after 45…h3 the black cannot be stopped.

Exchanging rooks is hopeless as the black knight dominates the bad bishop. Black’s passed pawn will distract the white king, while the black king mops up the weak white g-pawns:

45.Rxf8+ Kxf8 46. Ke2 Ke7 47. Kf2 Ke6 48.Kg2 Kf5 wins easily


Here is a cautionary tale regarding transitioning into a king and pawn ending. White had been pressing for a while, playing on for the win with an outside passed pawn and the better minor piece. It did not occur to him that he could lose, but just watch, enjoy and learn!


46.Kd4? (A poor move, over pressing, but white can still draw. Safer was 46. Bc2 b3 47.axb3 cxb3 48.Bd1 Na4 with a simple draw)

46…Nxe4 47. Kxe4?? (The losing move as white’s king is too far away to prevent a classic pawn breakthrough which is covered in all good endgame primer manuals. White must have lost his sense of danger. 47. Kxc4! Kg6 48.Kb5 with a quick draw as the knight cannot prevent the exchange of both queenside pawns.)

47…a4 48.Ke3 Only now did white realise that after 48.Kd4


one of the black pawns queens in a well known and instructive motif: 48…c3! 49.bxc3 b3 50. axb3 a3! winning.

After the game move of 48.Ke3 black played 48…c3 which wins. The players agreed a  draw in this position! An amazing escape for white, particularly as both players were at least IM strength (2400+).

To see why black is winning, analyse on.

49.b3 (Forced as 49.bxc3 allows 49…b3! queening a pawn as in the variation above) 49…axb3 50.axb3 Kg6


Black wins using a well known technique covered in Fine’s Basic Chess Endings and many other endgame manuals.

51.Kd3 Kxh6 52.Kc2 Kg5 53.Kd3 Kf4 54.Kc2 Ke3 55.Kc1 c2!


The key idea breaking into white’s position: black’s king seizes the critical squares and wins the b3 pawn by force.

56.Kxc2 Ke2 winning easily.

Now, the reviewer will showcase three positions from the intermediate problems chapter.

Here is a transitioning problem.


Black played the very poor 75…Qxh4?? throwing away a win. Was this bad evaluation or a lack of knowledge? If black hadn’t played so quickly, he would have easily found the win by retaining his much more active queen: 75…Qe3+ 76.Kf1 (76.Kh1 Qe2 mates, exploiting white’s passive queen) 76…Qe4 77.Qh2 Bd5! bringing the bishop into the attack and either mates or wins both g-pawns with check.


The game continued: 76.gxh4 g3 77.h5+ Kxh5 78.Kh1 Kg5 79. Kg1 Kf4 80. Kh1 0.5-0.5


This is a well known fortress draw, once again covered in Fine’s BCE and other good endgame books. Black can collect the a-pawn and bring his king over the kingside but the white fortress cannot be breached. A decent effort is put the black king on e1, e2 or e3 and wait for the white king to move into the corner and try the poisoned offer of the bishop on f3 viz 89…Bf3!?


If white rids himself of the turbulent priest, then 90…Kf2 wins for black. However, the calm 91. Kg1! from white, ignoring the proferred prelate, draws for white. Note that with a knight instead of a bishop, this would be winning for black as white must capture!

The next position shows a complex position with two rooks and a minor piece each. The attacking power and mating potential of two rooks is well known, particularly in conjunction with the absolute seventh. The example aptly demonstrates this.


White has a massive passed a-pawn and is winning. White continued with 33.Be7 and did win pretty quickly. There is however, a simpler and cleaner win:

33.Bxe5! Rxe5 34. Rb7 Rxg5+ (34…Re8 35.a7 Rcc8 36.Rxb6 Ra8 37.Rb7 followed by Rfb1 & Rb8 wins) 35.Kh1 Ra5 (black does not have time to attack white’s king as the a-pawn is too fast) 36.a7 Rca3 (Stopping the pawn, but…)

37.Rd1 mating after Rxa7 38.Rd8# (Pretty)


Here is a really educational ending about hidden dangers in so called drawn endings. Here white has an extra pawn in a Q+4 v Q+3 with all the pawns on one side. This is a drawn ending, but the stronger side can torture the opponent for a long time. To put this position into context, the last two moves were 81.Qd8+ Kg7?


White played an unexpected, but amazing move, which is not obvious unless you have seen similar ideas before.

82.Qf6+!! (Giving up the extra pawn to force a pawn ending with a better king.) Qxf6 83. exf6+ Kxf6 84.Kf4


Zugzwang! Black is totally lost. Black’s king must move one way and white’s king goes the other way. White exploits the weakness on h5 and his reserve tempi with the f-pawn.

84…Ke6 (84…Kg7 85.Ke5 f6+ 86.Ke6 f5 87.f4 Kg8 88.Kf6 Kh7 89.Kf7 Kh6 90.Kg8 wins) 85.Kg5 Ke5 86.f3! Zugzwang again.


86…Ke6 87.f4! The black king must retreat and white plays f5 destroying the pawn structure and wins the h-pawn with a simple technical win. 1-0

To finish, the reviewer will demonstrate one of the advanced problems. This is an exchanging problem in a Q+B ending.


The ending is complex with both sides having a spoiled pawn majority. White has the better bishop as black has many pawns fixed on black squares. White may have difficulty getting into black’s position as the position is fairly blocked. Black can hold but must be careful. Black forced the play with 25…Qd2? which was the wrong decision as white can win with a clever bishop manoeuvre, ruining black’s potential fortress, clearly overlooked by black.

25…Bf4+! was the correct move which looks like a pointless check but is extremely subtle. White must reply 26.g3 to make progress which restricts white’s own bishop: a quick h5 and Bh4 is no longer available. If 26.Kh3 Kf7 27.Qf3 Kg8 and black simply waits. 26…Bd2


If white goes for a queen exchange hoping to the win the better bishop ending, black is safe after 27.Qd3 (27.Qc4+ Kf8 is ok) 27…Qxd3 28.cxd3 c5 followed by c6 and white can never break through and it is a fortress.

In the game, white took the queens off with 26.Qxd2 Bxd2 27.Bg3! (Black probably expected 27.h5 Kf7 28.Bh4 Bg5 with a clear draw.) 27…Bc3 (The bishop is distracted to defend the e-pawn) 28.h5! Opening the way for the white bishop. Black has a nightmare bishop ending which cannot be saved as he has far too many weaknesses.

D.Harika-Ju-Wenjun Lausanne-2020-Move-28

28…Kf7 29.Bh4 (Threatening the Bd8) Ke6 30. g5 Bd2 31.gxh6 was played which wins easily as white has undoubled his pawn and black still has the weak h6 pawn. However 31.g6! wins more quickly fixing the g7 pawn. The main point is that Kd7 from black allows Bf6! in reply.



If black plays 31…Bb4, 32.Bd8 Bd6 (32…Kd7 33.Bf6) 33. Kh3 Zugzwang, eventually black will have to lose a pawn and the game.

All in all, this is an very good endgame puzzle book to work through. Players of all standards will learn a lot from attempting to solve the positions followed by studying  the solutions which are well structured and easy to follow.

FM Richard Webb, Chineham, Hampshire, 26th April 2021

FM Richard Webb
FM Richard Webb

Book Details :

  • Hardcover : 192 pages
  • Publisher:Thinkers Publishing; 1st edition (8 Dec. 2020)
  • Language:English
  • ISBN-10:9492510944
  • ISBN-13:978-9492510945
  • Product Dimensions: 16.51 x 0.64 x 23.5 cm

Official web site of Thinkers Publishing

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Minor Pieces: An Introduction

Minor Pieces : A Bishop and Knight
Minor Pieces : A Bishop and Knight

Minor pieces for two reasons. These articles cover minor pieces of chess history. And, for the most part, they will concern minor players in our game’s history. Grandmasters are often described as the kings and queens of chess, in which case international masters, and perhaps also national masters, might be seen as rooks: lesser major pieces. Children playing at a low level in school clubs are the pawns, while the rest of us, from social players through to club and tournament players like me. They might not have produced brilliant games or enhanced the knowledge of chess, but, by just being there, each one of them has been a link in the chain. You won’t just meet players, though. You’ll encounter a few problemists, maybe study composers, and others who made their mark in chess in other ways.

Some of you will be aware that, as well as chess history, I’m also interested in both family and local history. None of my ancestors were, to my knowledge, chess players, although I almost certainly share a very small piece of DNA with an English international. However, some of them married into the families of chess players, and others might have encountered chess players as they went about their daily lives.

Some of these stories will take the form of a circular tour, where we travel through the ages, and, on occasion, round the world as well, to find connections.

I’m also researching chess in my area: Richmond and Twickenham, along with neighbouring areas such as Kingston and Surbiton. I’ll be looking at the stories of some of those who lived in, or represented chess clubs in this part of the world. Where they’re available, I’ll show you some of their games or problems as well. In parallel, wanting to consider other parts of the country, I’ll look at chess in Leicester, my father’s home city and also the city where I studied half a century ago.

I’ll try to contextualise the stories in terms of social history. Who were these people? What were their jobs? What about their families? When did they learn? Why did they play? What part did chess play in their lives? Understanding history of this nature might help us in considering the changing nature of chess as we emerge from the pandemic.

Some of the stories I tell will have no connection with either my family or my locations of interest: just stories I came across and wanted, often for sociological reasons, to investigate further.

A quick note on sources. Genealogy websites provide ready access to birth, marriage and death records from 1837 to date, as well as parish records often going back a further two or three hundred years. Census records from 1841 to 1911 are also online, with the 1921 census being released in January 2022. The 1939 Register is also available. Many of the families I’ll consider have already been researched, with extensive and (sometimes, but not always) accurate trees having been created by relatives or historians. Others, though, are not, in which case I’ll have a go myself.

I hope you enjoy these articles. If you have any corrections, suggestions for further research, or other comments, please get in touch.

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Basic Chess

Basic Chess, David Levens, Hamlyn, 2021, ISBN 978-0-600-63718-9
Basic Chess, David Levens, Hamlyn, 2021, ISBN 978-0-600-63718-9

From the publisher:

“Now anyone can play chess with this straightforward, jargon-free introduction. Written especially for beginners, it’s the most comprehensive manual available and includes everything from explanations of each piece to orchestrating endgames. In addition to expert advice, simple instructions, and more than 200 easy-to-follow diagrams, novices will find: basic tactical principles, aggressive openings, the top-ten traps and attacks, specimen games to learn and crib from, and a test your chess IQ section.

Basic Chess is the book you need to master the game.”

End of blurb.

The book provides no background about the well-known author  (and neither does the Hamlyn web site) The book’s Amazon entry claims that David is the BCFs Director of Marketing (which David was in 2004).

David Levens, British Championships, Torquay, 2013, Round 11
David Levens, British Championships, Torquay, 2013, Round 11

From David’s coaching web site we have

“David Levens is a successful chess coach and experienced player.

Accredited by the English Chess Federation, and an experienced player, once ranked in the top 50 players in Britain, now an England Junior selector!

I am also Head Coach to Notts. Primary Schools Chess Association, who were NATIONAL CHAMPIONS in 2009 and 2010, and also England coach and manager for Glorney and Faber Cup U-18 teams, plus U14 and U12 teams, Glamorgan 2010.”

It is not often we receive a new chess book of “Penguin Paperback” dimensions. In fact some of our favourite chess books are of these handy measurements such as

The Penguin Book of Chess Positions, CHO'D Alexander, Penguin, 1973, ISBN 0 14 046 199X
The Penguin Book of Chess Positions, CHO’D Alexander, Penguin, 1973, ISBN 0 14 046 199X

In many ways Basic Chess reminds us of this BH Wood classic

Easy Guide to Chess, BH Wood, CHESS, Sutton Coldfield, 1945
Easy Guide to Chess, BH Wood, CHESS, Sutton Coldfield, 1945

Basic Chess, published in 2021, was originally published by Hamlyn (now an imprint of Octopus Books) in 2005 and reprinted as Basic Chess and Chess Basics since.

The 2021 edition has the branding of The Daily Mail at the head of the front cover. You might be forgiven forgiven for thinking “I was not aware of The Daily Mail’s interest in matters cerebral and least of all their interest in chess.” Do they have a regular chess columnist / feature or perhaps more modestly a chess puzzle to solve alongside their crossword and Sudoko puzzles?

We did our research (thanks Stephen Wright of Vancouver and Leonard Barden of The Guardian and The Financial Times) and it turns out The Daily Mail had a chess column from 14/11/1906 until 1908 edited by James Mortimer.  From 08/10/1919 until 04/05/1920 the editor was R.C. Griffith and finally from 14/10/27 until 1935 it was edited by  W. Hatton-Ward. Possibly in the 1970s Bill Hartston had a column but this is to be confirmed.

If The Daily Mail was to revive a chess column then this, of course, would be most welcome.

Maybe noticing that the various lockdowns plus the acclaimed “Queen’s Gambit” from Netflix has generated an extraordinary increase in on-line playing and sales of chess equipment and books the title has decided to derive some benefit?

Basic Chess is divided into twelve main sections as follows:

  1. Introduction
  2. Before You Start
  3. Chess Tactics
  4. Openings
  5. The Middlegame
  6. Endgames
  7. Test Your Chess IQ
  8. The Way Forward
  9. Glossary
  10. Index
  11. Notes
  12. Acknowledgements

It would seem that Basic Chess is most suitable for adults and in 2021 we have adults who want to

  • Start chess for the first time,
  • Restart chess after playing at school,
  • Restart chess to help their son or daughter.

However, this book is also appropriate for older children (13+) to supplement their school chess club experience or perhaps those who are home schooled: they’ve learnt a little and want to know more and perhaps value a physical book over yet more screen time and Zoom meetings.

The text is excellent and clearly written and does (as it says on the lid) take the reader from zero knowledge to a reasonable starting level. There are no assumptions of prior knowledge and the first few pages are really quite evangelical in style helping to create motivation.

At this point I feel obliged to report a fairly major mis-giving and it is this:

Diagram 2, Basic Chess, David Levens, Hamlyn, 2021
Diagram 2, Basic Chess, David Levens, Hamlyn, 2021

The above is a typical diagram. I have enlarged it for this article in the hope it will make it clearer.  I really do not understand the need to use such terrible representations of the pieces, the king is particularly poor and Black pieces on dark squares are worse still.

In the book the King is described as having “a crown topped by a cross” Well, clearly the graphic designer did not read this text and neither were they a chessplayer. There are no crosses for the diagrammed kings.

The discussion on chess clocks could easily have included an image of a modern DGT timer and mentioned the older analogue models.

Since this book was published to ride on the back of lockdown chess I was looking forward to the advice on playing on-line. Surely this section would be slap-bang up-to-date listing many of the  most useful resources? Sadly, you will be disappointed.  The two best sites for online chess are, apparently,  The Internet Chess Club and The latter (which became known as FICS) has not been updated for years and gives the impression that tumbleweed is breezing past its offices.

What of chess engines?  well, the word “engine” does not get a mention (it did not exist in 2005 of course)  and apparently one has to purchase a separate piece of dedicated hardware to play against a chess playing program.  There is no installing software on a laptop, tablet or mobile telephone : these are not options whereas for some time they have been main stream.

I don’t want to be too harsh. The really important material is really rather good for a beginner or someone who has returned to chess after a long absence.

However, there was a golden opportunity with this book that was missed : sort out the appalling diagrams and update the content that was way past its use-by date. It really would not have been difficult to do these things had there been the will.

Since I knew David fairly well (he was the editor of the ill-fated Junior British Chess Magazine that he subsequently discovered he had “volunteered” to do) through British Chess Magazine during 2013 – 14 I made contact and asked him about the 2021 edition. He wanted  to update the elderly content pertaining to computer use and online chess and he also wanted to see the diagrams improved. Sadly, the opportunity did not arise.

In summary, this is a good little book for beginners that will undoubtedly be stocked on the shelves on WH Smiths, Waterstones, motorway service stations and airports. It has missed an opportunity for an update in the light of Queen’s Gambit and lockdowns.

It will sell and I wish it good luck! PLEASE improve the diagrams!

John Upham, Cove, Hampshire, 21st April, 2021

John Upham
John Upham

Book Details :

  • Hardcover : 240 pages
  • Publisher:Hamlyn (2021)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:978-0-600-63718-9
  • Product Dimensions: 12.6 x 19.7 cm

Official web site of Octopus Books

Basic Chess, David Levens, Hamlyn, 2021, ISBN 978-0-600-63718-9
Basic Chess, David Levens, Hamlyn, 2021, ISBN 978-0-600-63718-9
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