“International Grandmaster Andrew Soltis is chess correspondent for the New York Post and a very popular chess writer. He is the author of many books including What it Takes to Become a Chess Master, Studying Chess Made Easy and David vs Goliath Chess.”
From the Batsford web site :
“Following on from the long success of one of the most important chess books ever written, Bobby Fischer: My 60 Memorable Games, renowned chess writer Andrew Soltis delivers a book on today’s blockbuster chess player Magnus Carlsen.
Magnus Carlsen has been the world’s number one player for more than a decade, has won more super-tournaments than anyone ever and is still in his prime. He is the only player to repeatedly win the world championships in classical, speed and blitz chess formats. This book details his remarkable rise and how he acquired the crucial skills of 21st-century grandmaster chess
He will defend his world championship title this autumn and if he wins, it will set a record of five championship match victories. This book take you through how he wins by analysing 60 of the games that made him who he is, describing the intricacies behind his and his opponent’s strategies, the tactical justification of moves and the psychological battle in each one.
This book is essential for chess enthusiasts, competitors and professionals of all skill sets.”
Andrew Soltis has been a prolific author of chess books over the course of several decades. I first encountered him when I read – and thoroughly enjoyed The Younger School of Soviet Chess, published by Bell, the predecessors of Batsford, back in 1976. I particularly relished his unique, story-telling style of annotation, which has been a feature of many of his books.
His titles have ranged widely, from opening monographs to serious historical works, often concerning chess in the old Soviet Union. Yet he’s never received the publicity accorded to other, more colourful and controversial, writers, nor, perhaps, the respect he deserves.
Perhaps this is because he’s never been published by today’s leading chess book publishers. His historical works are published by McFarland, while he’s written a steady stream of books for average club player under the Batsford imprint.
Ah yes, Batsford. Back in the day they were the most celebrated publisher of chess books on the planet. They can trace their chess ancestry back to Staunton’s friend and publisher Henry Bohn, whose business was later taken over by George Bell & Sons, who were in turn taken over by Batsford. But that’s a story for another time. Batsford are still publishing chess books, although, compared to their glitzier rivals, they have a rather old-fashioned appearance. Soltis is the author of many of their more recent books, but they also have the rights to a number of classic titles, most notably Fischer’s My Sixty Memorable Games.
The first thing you’ll notice about Soltis’s new collection of Magnus Carlsen’s games is the title: Magnus Carlsen: 60 Memorable Games. Cheeky, or what? It wasn’t difficult to get the publishers’ approval, and the original author was sadly not around to object, although I suspect his ghost is ranting and raging even now.
A misjudgement, I think: a different number of games and a different adjective would have been fine. But they say you can’t judge a book by its cover, so let’s look inside.
The format is very similar to Bobby’s book. Sixty chapters with one game to a chapter, each having a catchy title and a brief introduction putting it in context. One difference is that all the games are wins for our hero. You wouldn’t say they were necessarily his greatest games, though. They include blitz and blindfold games, and, for example, the game where he famously hung a piece in the opening against Gawain Jones. In fact you get more than 60 games for your money: there are several others in Soltis’s introduction, and more buried within the annotations.
At the start of the book Soltis asks “What made Magnus?”. The first answer is revealing: playability. The ability to judge how easy positions are to play. This is a point which is hammered home throughout the book. Carlsen excels at assessing positions, but his assessments are based on which player will find it easier to play good moves, which is often very different from computer assessment. Then there’s his versatility: he can play any type of position equally well and might play almost any opening against you. As we all know, he has an exceptional memory. He also has a very strong mindset: he is able to recover quickly from defeats and fight back from mistakes in his games. Readers of Chess Improvement: It’s all in the Mindset will know how important this is. He has exceptional stamina, which is why he will play on and on waiting for a mistake in positions which most of us would give up as drawn. He is also highly intuitive.
This is not the only anthology of Carlsen’s games on the market. Whether or not it’s the one for you will depend on how you react to Soltis’s style of annotation, which is very much based on verbal explanations. Variations are given where necessary, but what you don’t get, and many potential readers will be relieved by this, is pages of long computer-generated analysis.
This is a position from one of the earlier games in the book, Brynell – Carlsen (Gausdal 2005), with White to play his 32nd move.
If I were Black here I’d look at the equal material and bishops of opposite colours and consider offering a draw followed by heading off to the bar for a pint.
“Why doesn’t White have the superior winning chances? After all, he has the famous ‘queenside pawn majority’.
“Yes, but there are two factors that matter much more. One is the difference in bishops.
“White’s bishop has no offensive power. While queens are on the board it can only defend.
“Black’s bishop, on the other hand, ties White’s queen to the defense of f2.
“That’s not enough to give Black an edge. But it’s enough to keep the game going.”
32. Qf3 f5!
“This is the second factor that favors Black. Carlsen has a kingside pawn majority.
“They cannot create a useful passed pawn, as a queenside majority might.
“But they can become a powerful offensive weapon if …e5-e4 and …f4-f3+ drives the white queen from the defense of f2.
“A secondary plan is … g5-g4 and … h5-h4-h3+.
“Note that if White offers a trade of queens, even by 33. Qf4 Qxf4 34. gxf4, Black could refuse, 33… Qb2!, for example.”
What do you think? I, as a 1900 strength player, found the explanation very instructive, but I’d imagine someone of, say, 2200 strength would find it obvious and over-simplistic.
Here’s another example, this time an opening. Carlsen – Wojtaszek (Gashimov Memorial 2018).
Carlsen’s just played his 9th move in an unusual variation of the Sicilian.
“Here’s an admittedly over-simplified way of evaluating the position:
“First, just look at the top half of the diagram.
“The Black pieces and pawns are on the same squares they could be on in other balanced Sicilian positions, such as in the Richter-Rauzer or Scheveningen variations.
“Now look at the bottom half of the diagram. White’s pieces and pawns are uncommon but coordinated. The worst thing you could say is that he has no obvious plan except a kingside attack, begun by pushing his g-pawn.
“Now let’s consider specifics. After 9… Be7 White must avoid 10. g4? because 10… Nxg4! 11. fxg4? Bg5! loses his queen.
“Instead, 10. Kb1 0-0 11. g4 and then 11… Nd7, perhaps followed by … Nc5 and … b4 would have the double-edged nature of a typical Sicilian.”
Instead, Wojtaszek played 9… h5, when, because Carlsen’s knight was on g1 rather than d4, he was able to meet by Nh3 followed by Ng5, winning in short order when Black chose to keep his king in the centre.
“Over-simplified”? That word again. But top level games these days are so complicated that it’s hard to annotate them for club standard players.
I found the annotations of more tactical positions slightly confusing on occasion, but, given the nature of the games, that’s entirely understandable. By and large, Soltis does a good job in attempting to explain his selected games in terms that are readily understandable and instructive to club standard players. He’s a highly experienced journalist who really knows how to write: something that can’t be said of all chess authors.
You might have noticed that, although published in England, US spellings are favored (sic). I spotted a few notation and diagram errors: slightly annoying but there will always be one or two that slip through the net.
Games collections are rightly popular, and every chess library needs at least one volume of Carlsen’s best games. This isn’t the last word, not least because Magnus has many more years ahead of him, and there are other books on the market which I don’t have to hand for direct comparisons. It’s always a good idea to consider alternatives before making your move.
I enjoyed it: the games were well chosen and all full of interest. I found the annotations were pitched at the right level for me. While higher rated players find prefer more detailed notes, if you’re between about 1500 and 2000 strength I’m sure you’ll enjoy it too.
Here, in full, but without annotations, are the games referred to above.
Richard James, Twickenham 14th January 2021
Book Details :
- Paperback : 384 pages
- Publisher:Batsford Ltd; 1st edition (12 Nov. 2020)
- Product Dimensions: 15.24 x 2.79 x 23.37 cm
Official web site of Batsford