Category Archives: Books

Grind Like a Grandmaster: How to Keep Pressing until Your Opponent Cracks

From the publisher:

“It is amazing how much play you can create in a seemingly equal chess position – if you persevere. In this book, the greatest chess player of all time, Magnus Carlsen, and his friend, Grandmaster David Howell, explain how to win these kinds of chess games.

Carlsen and Howell show how you can keep a game alive, how you can keep posing problems to your opponent, how you can recognize the first small mistakes, and how you can grind your opponent down until he cracks.

New In Chess has converted this book from a popular Chessable video and MoveTrainer ® course with the help of Carlsen and Howell. The lively conversations of the two friends translate very well into a highly instructive chess manual. It is top-level chess, using grandmaster games as examples, but the insights are accessible to players of all levels.

Magnus Carlsen won the World Chess Championship in 2013 and gave up his title in 2023. He is regarded as the greatest player of all time and holds the #1 spot in the world ranking. He has read dozens of books published by New In Chess, but this is the first book with Carlsen as an author. Carlsen (1990) lives in Oslo, Norway.

David Howell is an elite chess Grandmaster with a 2700+ peak rating and an individual gold medal winner at the Olympiad. He is a well-known and popular commentator on live chess streams. Howell (1990) is two weeks older than Carlsen, was born in Eastbourne, United Kingdom, and lives in Oslo, Norway.”

David Howell, London Chess Classic, 2013, courtesy of John Upham Photography

David Howell, London Chess Classic, 2013, courtesy of John Upham Photography. For more about David Howell see here

 

This book is essentially a transcript of a Chessable course which you can find here. If you prefer book learning, or you just like the idea of having something written by Magnus Carlsen on your bookshelf you’ll be interested in this title.

David has written a two page preface:

A quick swashbuckling attack full of sacrifices may appeal to some, but a long endgame grind can lead to the same result. Arguably, while one approach is more spectacular and may ensure that games end quicker, the other approach comes with less risk attached.

Magnus provides a shorter preface:

Nothing quite compares to the thrill of pressing a minute advantage and converting it into victory. The excitement of outmanoeuvring and outlasting your opponent. The realisation that – although your first punch may not have landed – there is no need to despair. Try, try and try again. You will very often succeed.

Which are you? A hacker or a grinder? A sprinter or a marathon runner? To become a strong player, of course, you have to master both styles of play, but many will have a preference for either hacking or grinding.

Grinders require qualities such as patience and stamina as well as an outstanding knowledge of both technical and practical endings. If you’d like to become a better grinder, or even if you’d like to be better at defending against grinders, this course is for you.

It’s standard practice these days to have two commentators working together in live broadcasts, sharing ideas, asking each other questions. It’s something that usually works very well, making the broadcast more interactive, more friendly, more accessible, and, for me at least, it’s also effective in book form.

There could be no one better to demonstrate by example how to become a grinder than Magnus Carlsen, not only the highest rated human player of all time, but also a leading exponent of grinding. David Howell, also a strong grandmaster who enjoys grinding, as well as being an excellent commentator, is Magnus’s ideal partner. They are also good friends, and this is something that comes across well, adding to the enjoyment of the book.

Having said that, the contents themselves seem rather slight. Apart from the introductory material to each of the eight chapters you only get twelve games, seven played by Magnus and six played by David. If you’re good at maths you might have noticed that 7+6 is 13: one of the games is between the two authors, played in the final round of the 2002 World Under 12 Championship. It resulted, since you asked, in a draw.

This is one of Magnus’s lesser known games. He admits that it was an ‘awful game’ but still managed to grind down his lower rated opponent. Click on any move for a pop-up window.

The book is beautifully produced, although I guess the, er, colourful cover might not be to everyone’s taste. If this sort of thing bothers you, you might also think that, while a wide sans serif font is best for screens, a narrower serif font might be preferable for books.

The quality of the annotations, if you like the conversational style, is, of course, of the highest quality. At one level the games are more suited to players of, say, 2000+ strength, but some of the more general insights into the nature of grinding will be of interest and value to all players.

If you like the idea of grinding and you’d rather study the material from a book than from an interactive course or videos (or perhaps you’d like the book as well as the interactive course) it can be highly recommended.

Daniel King interviews David Howell about the book here, and if you can’t afford an hour to watch this, Daniel also provides a summary here.

You can read some sample pages from the book, which will enable you to decide whether or not it’s  for you, here.

Richard James, Twickenham 14th May 2024

Richard James
. Richard James

Book Details:

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: New in Chess; 1st edition (31 Aug. 2023)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:9083328465
  • ISBN-13:978-9083328461
  • Product Dimensions: 17.6 x 2 x 24.2 cm

Official web site of New in Chess.

Grind Like a Grandmaster: How to Keep Pressing until Your Opponent Cracks, David Howell and Magnus Carlsen, New in Chess; 1st edition (31 Aug. 2023), 978-9083328461
Grind Like a Grandmaster: How to Keep Pressing until Your Opponent Cracks, David Howell and Magnus Carlsen, New in Chess; 1st edition (31 Aug. 2023), 978-9083328461
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Re-Engineering The Chess Classics: A Silicon Reappraisal of Thirty-Five Classic Games

From the publisher:

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

From the back cover:

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

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

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

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

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

GM Matthew Sadler
GM Matthew Sadler

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

FM Steve Giddins
FM Steve Giddins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Richard James, Twickenham 2nd May 2024

Richard James
. Richard James

Book Details:

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

Official web site of New in Chess.

Re-Engineering The Chess Classics: A Silicon Reappraisal of Thirty-Five Classic Games, FM Steve Giddins, New in Chess (31 May 2023), ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9083311265.
Re-Engineering The Chess Classics: A Silicon Reappraisal of Thirty-Five Classic Games, FM Steve Giddins, New in Chess (31 May 2023), ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9083311265.
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The Modernized Trojan Knight 1.Nc3: A Complete Repertoire for White

From the Publisher, Thinkers Publishing:

The idea of the move 1. Nc3 is to confuse the second player, as White plays a supposedly unambitious move to mislead Black. This is why we found the name “Trojan Horse” very appropriate for the move 1. Nc3, just as the gift from Ulysses to the Trojans appeared to be a tricky and poisoned gift. The appropriate term for chess will, therefore, be the Trojan Knight to refer to the Trojan Horse.

1. Nc3 became popular among professional players, and many grandmasters have added it to their repertoire or played it occasionally in official games: Nakamura, Morozevich, Rapport, Bauer, Vallejo Pons… However, it is especially in rapid games that it has reached the world elite, and the very best players in the world have tried it: Carlsen, Mamedyarov, Andreikin and Firouzja for example. I truly hope that seeing the very best players in the world playing it will convince even the most sceptical critics.

About the Author:

The author Bruno Dieu is a FIDE Master and became French Correspondence Chess Champion in 2000. He has a rich experience in chess, having participated in various chess tournaments, both over the board and in correspondence. It’s fascinating that he has competed with notable experts and writers on the 1 Nc3, such as Dick Van Geet, Anker Aasum, and Harald Keilhack. The mention of a book being a token of his experience suggests that he has documented his insights and knowledge about this opening.

FM Bruno Dieu
FM Bruno Dieu

This absorbing and well-thought tome is a delight and covers a wealth of material after White’s opening salvo with 1.Nc3.

First encounters

As a junior, the reviewer knew this opening as the Dunst opening. I first met the Dunst on 18 January 1975 in a simul in London against the late and great Tony Miles, a year before he became the first UK-born, over-the-board chess GM.  The game transposed into the Four Knights opening  and I was inevitably steadily outplayed by Miles, who won a pawn with a neat back rank combination in a major piece middlegame. Unexpectedly, Miles faltered in a winning rook and pawn endgame at move 47, wasting a vital tempo, allowing an excited junior to escape with a draw. My next encounter with the Dunst was a few months later against another strong Birmingham player. This time, booked up, I played the so called refutation with 1…d5 reaching this position:

Ball-Webb10.Nh4
Ball-Webb After10.Nh4

The inexperienced junior, as Black, came up with the positional howler 10…f5? but managed to draw again when my opponent blundered by opting to exchange into an optically good, but drawn king and pawn endgame. This line is covered in the book, 10…f6 is certainly a better move, although the author prefers 10.Nd2 for White.

A callow player as Black may regard the Trojan Knight as just another unusual opening move which aims to avoid main line theory. On the contrary, as the author points out, 1.Nc3 is a cunning move full of transpositional possibilities whereby the second player can end up in an unfamiliar opening.

I have faced the Trojan Knight on 15 occasions replying 1…e5 in my first game, 1…d5 in my second outing and 1…c5 in subsequent encounters.

The reviewer has opted for the Trojan Knight as White in a total of 15 games; the transposition statistics are of interest:

  • Sicilian (4 games)
  • French (2 games)
  • Caro-Kann (1 game)
  • Vienna (1 game)
  • Czech Pirc  (1 game)
  • Irregular queen’s pawn (1 game)
  • 1…b6 1 (game)
  • Trojan Knight main line 1…d5 2.e4 d4 (1 game)
  • Trojan Knight main line 1…e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 (3 games)

This small sample  shows the variety of branches available.

The book is logically divided into 6 parts:

PART I – 1…e5

PART II – 1…d5 2.e4 d4

PART III – 1…d5 2.e4 dxe4

PART IV – 1…d5 – Caro-Kann, French & Alekhine Style

PART V – 1…c5 – Sicilian Style

PART VI – Other First Moves

PART I – 1…e5

This is the natural response which was the move played by the reviewer on first meeting 1.Nc3.

After the following natural moves 1.Nc3 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.Nxd4 this position is reached:

1...e5 Main Line
1…e 5 Main Line

This position obviously has affinities with the Scotch Game and of course can transpose if both players acquiesce. Black can can get into difficulties very quickly here with a sloppy move. A few examples given are:

4…Qf6? (played in some lines of the Scotch) 5. Ndb5! winning as c7 collapses.

4… Qh4? 5.Ndb5! (winning)

4…g6? (looks natural to fianchetto, akin to Larsen’s fianchetto variation of the Philidor Defence) 5.Nd5! a6 (5…Bg7 6. Nb5  Be5 7.f4 wins) 6.Bg5! (6.Bf4 is also excellent) 6…f6 7.Bf4 d6 8.e4 Bg7 9.h4 with a clear advantage

4…d5?! (looks natural) 5.Bf4! a6 (5…Bb4 6.Nxc6 Bxc3+ 7.bxc3 bxc6 8.Qd4! with a big plus) 6. e4 with a definite edge

4…Bb4!? is interesting, White can gain an edge with the Scotch like move 5.Nxc6! bxc6 (5…dxc6 is obviously weaker) 6. Qd4! winning the bishop pair or forcing the horrid 6…Bf8?!

Black should interject the capture on c3 in the last line, after 4…Bb4!? 5.Nxc6 Bxc3+ 6. bxc3 bxc6 7.Qd4! Nf6 8.Bg5

PositionAfter8.Qd4
PositionAfter8.Qd4

White has a small edge. A typical continuation could be 8…h6 9.Bxf6 Qxf6 10.Qxf6 gxf6 11. g3 Rb8 12.Bg2 Ke7 13.Kd2 Ba6

Larsen-Christiansen Denmark 2000
Larsen-Christiansen Denmark 2000

Now 14.Rhb1! with a slight edge to White in a complex endgame.

4…Bc5 is the best move along with 4…Nf6.

4...Bc5
4…Bc5

The author offers three decent alternatives for white:

  • 5.Be3
  • 5.Nxc6
  • 5.Nf5

5.Nb3 Bb6 6.e4 transposes a Scotch Game main line.

After 5.Nf5 Qf6, the author offers two interesting alternatives 6.g4 and 6.e4. He claims that 6.g4 is very strong, but the author’s analysis has a significant hole.  After 6.g4 Bb4 7.Bd2 Nge7 8.e4:

8.e4
8.e4

The author offers the anaemic 8…Nxf5 for Black, after 9.gxf5 Qh4 10.Qf3 Black is in real trouble. The reviewer smelt a rat here as Nxf5 looks too compliant: a quick check with Stockfish reveals 8…d5! equalising. This is a rare significant oversight by the author. Clearly the reviewer has not checked 450+ pages of dense variations but intuition has to be used to choose the positions to use the engine.

6.e4! is better as the author points out leading to Scotch positions where White has a space advantage and although the position is only fractionally better for White, it is easier to play for the first player.

4…Nf6 seems to be the most natural developing move. 5.Bg5! keeps the game in lesser known channels and is better than 5.e4.

5.Bg5
5.Bg5

Black has to be careful here, not to slip into an inferior position.

The passive 5…Be7 allows 6.Nf5! and White has a definite advantage.

The natural 5…d5? allows 6.Bxf6! and White has a distinct edge.

The natural 5…Bc5! is ok setting up veiled threats against f2. 6.e3! Nxd4 (6…0-0 7.Nd5! and white is a little better) 7.exd4 Be7 Now 8.Qd2 is an improvement on the author’s 8.Qf3 leading to a small advantage to White.

The pin 5…Bb4 is certainly playable, 6.Nxc6 leads to a small White edge.

PART II – 1…d5 2.e4 d4

If there is a problem with 1.Nc3, it is definitely this variation which is critical as Black gains space and time.  One of the crucial lines is 1.Nc3 d5 2.e4 d4 3. Nce2 (3.Nb1 Nf6!)  3…e5 4.Ng3 (4.f4 Nc6! 5.Nf3 Bg4!) Be6! 5.Nf3 (5.c3 Nc6!) 5…f6!

Best 5...f6
Best 5…f6

This line is the reason that the reviewer gave up on 1.Nc3.
White can try 6.Bb5+ c6 7.Be2!? (7.Ba4 Na6! 8.Bb3 Bxb3! 9.axb3 d3! 10.0-0 Nb4 11.cxd3 Nxb4 12.Ne1 Nh6 and Black has an edge.) 7…g6 (keeping the knight out of f5) 8.0-0 Qd7 9.b4!? Nh6 (9…Bxb4 10.c3! dxc3 11.d4 is better for White as Black’s development is lacking.) and Black is slightly better.

I hope that this short review gives the reader a glimpse into the complexities of this opening. My only small criticism of the book is that the author sometimes puts the best moves in an editorial side line but I realise this is to keep the featured game as the main line.

In summary, this is an excellent book.

FM Richard Webb, Basingstoke, Hampshire, 28th April 2024

FM Richard Webb
FM Richard Webb

Book Details :

  • Hardcover : 475 pages
  • Publisher:Thinkers Publishing; 1st edition (1 Mar. 2024)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9464787546
  • ISBN-13:  978-9464787542
  • Product Dimensions: 16.61 x 3.4 x 23.6 cm

Official web site of Thinkers Publishing

The Modernized Trojan Knight 1.Nc3: A Complete Repertoire for White, Bruno Dieu, Thinkers Publishing, 1st March 2024, ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 9464787546
The Modernized Trojan Knight 1.Nc3: A Complete Repertoire for White, Bruno Dieu, Thinkers Publishing, 1st March 2024, ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 9464787546
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The Caro-Kann the Easy Way

From the Batsford web site:

“An informative guide to understanding and implementing the fundamentals of the Caro-Kann, the easy way.

The Caro-Kann defence, named after the German chess players Horatio Caro and Marcus Kann, is notorious for its simple solidity and is a popular chess opening that players of all levels benefit from having in their arsenal. It is a firm favourite of grand masters past and present, including Karpov, Petrosian, Capablanca and Anand.

This is the fifth book from International Master Thomas Engqvist, and it avoids overcomplicated details and endless computer variations, focusing instead on key variations of the Caro-Kann that can be committed to memory. Examining classic games to demonstrate key moves in action, Engqvist brings the defence to life and provides you with the knowledge you need to put strategy into practice.”

International Master Thomas Engqvist has travelled the world teaching and coaching chess to a very high level for decades – and with this book, he can be your coach too.”

About the Author (from the publisher’s website):

“Thomas Engqvist is an International Master from Sweden. He has over 30 years’ experience as a chess coach and teacher. He has worked with players at world championship level in both junior and correspondence chess. He is the author of 300 Most Important Chess Positions and 300 Most Important Tactical Chess Positions, both published by Batsford.”

IM Thomas Engqvist (SWE)
IM Thomas Engqvist (SWE)

Previously we have reviewed 300 Most Important Chess Exercises and Chess Lessons from a Champion Coach making this November 2023 title the first of the authors opening books examined in this place. We were keen to take a look especially as our reviewer has a fondness for c6 & d5 structures.

Material is divided into an Introduction and eight chapters covering all of White’s possible options.

The author kicks-off with a contemporary look at four historically instructive games putting anyone new to the CK at ease straight away. “The Easy Way” is a repertoire book from Black’s perspective rather than an encyclopaedic academic tome about the entire CK defence. Each chapter also contains model games examined in detail of which there are 43 in total.

Thomas commences his “theoretical” material with the Classical Variation from White selecting Capablanca’s 4…Bf5 for Black as the first significant repertoire suggestion.

Engqvist makes zero assumptions about the reader’s knowledge of the CK apart from wanting to learn the defence from scratch. Explanations are clear without getting bogged down in reams of variations making the text easy to follow.

For each of his suggestions there is discussion of statistics in term of what move options get played, their order of significance, order of success and what standards of players employ them. These details are quite a novel approach and long way from the lists of variations of older publications TE goes on to write:

There are five variations the second player should know about, even though strictly speaking some of them are not so good and you will probably never encounter them, at least not in a serious game.

This perspective gives one confidence that plausible opponent choices are considered rather than the rather boring modern approach  (of some other authors) to only consider “top engine choices”.  This helps to reinforce our suggestion (to students) to study the so-called side-lines first and then progress to the main dish afterwards.

For example, 5.Bd3!?

is considered but experienced CK players might turn their nose up at even reading about this. The student new to the CK will meet this try many times online and Over-the-Board (OTB). Not only that but 5.Bd3!? was suggested by no less than Siegbert Tarrasch (the “Jolly Doctor”).

Another feature that endears one to the authors approach is his liberal sprinkling of significant and interesting quotations from yesteryear. For example, after

TE quotes renowned theoretician Max Euwe as follows:

Many masters of the opinion that the 6 h4 move merely denotes a weakening and would be better left out

There are a number of novel suggestions throughout the text and many spring from the authors long time experience with the Caro-Kann.

In summary, The Caro-Kann the Easy Way is an excellent primer for any second player starting out or refreshing their knowledge of this venerable and reliable defence to the King’s pawn.

Highly recommended!

John Upham, Cove, Hampshire 25th April 2024

Book Details :

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Batsford; 1st edition (9 Nov. 2023)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:184994816X
  • ISBN-13:978-1849948166
  • Product Dimensions: 15.29 x 2.54 x 23.37 cm

Official web site of Batsford Chess

The Caro-Kann the Easy Way, Thomas Engqvist, Batsford Chess, Batsford; 1st edition (9 Nov. 2023), ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1849948166
The Caro-Kann the Easy Way, Thomas Engqvist, Batsford Chess, Batsford; 1st edition (9 Nov. 2023), ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1849948166
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The Essential Sosonko: Collected Portraits and Tales of a Bygone Chess Era

From the publisher:

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

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

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

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

GM Gennadi Borisovich Sosonko
GM Gennadi Borisovich Sosonko

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

Gennadi Borisovich Sosonko
Gennadi Borisovich Sosonko

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Richard James, Twickenham 12th April 2024

Richard James
. Richard James

Book Details:

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

Official web site of New in Chess.

The Essential Sosonko: Collected Portraits and Tales of a Bygone Chess Era, Genna Sosonko, New in Chess, June 17th 2023, ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 9083311287
The Essential Sosonko: Collected Portraits and Tales of a Bygone Chess Era, Genna Sosonko, New in Chess, June 17th 2023, ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 9083311287
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Dragon Masters – The Life and Times of The Fiercest Opening in Chess Volume 1

From the Publisher, Thinkers Publishing:

DragonMasters volume 1 charts the history of the most exciting and dangerous opening known to chess – the Dragon Variation of the Sicilian Defense.

Unlike almost all other books on the Dragon, the focus is not purely on theoretical development. Instead, the author has combined the most historically important games, the famous players who chose to fight either side (sometimes both sides!) of the opening, and the most unexpected and interesting stories featuring the Dragon. World Champions, contenders of the crown, code-breakers, revolutionaries in every sense of the world – all feature in this remarkable and entirely unique look into the history of an opening variation. as the ancient may say: Here be Dragons!

About the Author:

Andrew Burnett is a Scottish FM who represented his country on several occasions. He is the author of cult classic Streetfighting Chess and his love of the Dragon opening stretches back to his teenage years when he was looking to escape 1.e4 e5! He is currently working on the second volume of DragonMasters.

This book is volume 1 of a labour of love devoted to the history, praxis, and famous players who have unleashed the fury of the Dragon Variation or fought to quench the fire of the wyvern.

Volume 1 covers the origin of the Dragon to 1973.

The front and back cover is an engaging, colourful picture.

This publication is not a theoretical treatise on the latest developments in the Sicilian Dragon, although it does give theoretical analyses in relation to historical variations and famous clashes with some references to modern variations and theory.

Many great players have had the Dragon in their regular repertoire, although the reviewer was surprised to find a game of Mikhail Tal’s on the black side, as I had the impression that Tal always preferred the white side.  Perhaps the result of the game in this book influenced Tal’s choice: he got crushed. The reviewer will show this amusing brevity later.

The author, Andrew Burnett has a sub-variation in the Modern Variation 12.Kb1 named after him viz:

  1. e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.Be3 Bg7 7.f3 0-0 8.Qd2 Nc6 9.Bc4 Bd7 10.0-0-0 Rc8 11.Bb3 Ne5 12. Kb1! Nc4 13.Bxc4 Rxc4 14.g4! b5 15.b3! b4!?
Burnett_Variation
Burnett Variation

The work is divided into fifteen chapters:

Chapter 1 – In the beginning
Chapter 2 – Bird’s Folly
Chapter 3 – The World’s Finest Discover The Dragon
Chapter 4 – DragonMasters and DragonAmateurs
Chapter 5 – Hypermodernism and beyond
Chapter 6 – Botvinnik’s Trilogy
Chapter 7 – The War Years
Chapter 8 – The Post-War Years
Chapter 9 – When Giants take sides
Chapter 10 – Revolution in the 60s?
Chapter 11 – The Yugoslav Attack
Chapter 12 – DragonMasters and DragonWriters
Chapter 13 – Candidates and Contenders
Chapter 14 – The English Connection
Chapter 15 – The Dragon is Dead! Long Live the Dragon?

In the preface, Andrew Burnett shows a famous Dragon game which inspired the author to take up the Dragon; it also happens to be one of my favourites viz. Plaskett – Watson from Brighton 1983:

  1. e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.Be3 Bg7 7.f3 0-0 8.Qd2 Nc6 9.g4 Be6 10.O-O-O Nxd4 11.Bxd4 Qa5 12. a3 Rfc8 13.h4 Rab8 14.h5 b5 15.h6  b4! 16. hxg7 bxa3 17. Qh6 axb2+ 18.Kd2 reaching this super sharp scenario:
Plaskett - Watson Brighton 1983
Plaskett – Watson Brighton 1983

This position had been included in some theoretical treatises of the time with the +- symbol as White’s threat of Bxf6 and Qxh7# looks unstoppable. Jonathon Mestel had looked further and spotted 18…Bxg4! which muddies the waters. (As an aside, Stockfish 16 gives 18…Bxg4! as a draw and 18…Nh5! as a draw. This just shows the richness of chess and amazing hidden resources.)

19.Bxf6 Bh5!  Simply blocking the h-file, giving Black time to continue with his attack. Jim Plaskett now goes wrong which is unsurprising as he must have been shocked by Black’s revelation.

20. Bd4? losing but only 20.Rxh5! equalises

Plaskett-Watson20.Rxh5
Plaskett-Watson 20.Rxh5!

Best play after 20.Rxh5! leads to an unexpected repetition draw viz:

20…gxh5 21. Bh3 exf6 22. Bxc8 (22.Bf5? Qxc3+ 23.Ke2 Qxc2!+ 24. Rd2 Qc4+ 25.Kf2 Qc5+ 26. Kg2 Qxf5 27. exf5 b1=Q winning for Black). 22…Rxc8 23.Qxf6 Qb4! 24.Rb1 a5 threatening a4-a3-a2 25.Kd3 (threatening Nd5) Qc4+ 26.Kd2 Qb4 27.Kd3 with a draw!

Plaskett-Watson Variation
Plaskett-Watson Variation

As is so often the case in these double edged lines, the game fizzles out to an exciting draw. Brilliant stuff.

The game continuation was a massacre 20…e5! 21.Rxh5 gxh5 22. Qg5 Qb4 23.Bd3 Qxd4 24. Nd5 Qf2+ 25. Be2 Rxc2+ 26.Kxc2 Qxe2+ 27.Kc3 Qxf3+ 28.Kc4 Qb3#

Plaskett-Watson End
Plaskett-Watson End

Chapter 1 introduces the first games featuring a Sicilian with a black, kingside fianchetto.

The reviewer was under the false impression that Louis Paulsen was the first to play a Sicilian with a kingside fianchetto. Although Paulsen did play some Dragons including beating Steinitz in London in 1862, it was Marmaduke Wyvill who played the first recorded “high-level Dragon” in 1851 at the celebrated London International tournament. We all remember Adolf Anderssen winning that tournament but do we recall whom he defeated in the final? It was Wyvill.

Some of these first Sicilian fianchetto games don’t resemble the modern Sicilian Dragon move orders and are full of basic strategic mistakes but do give insights into the development of the variation and the Sicilian defence in general. Game 3 of the book demonstrates Paulsen’s win over Steinitz with an hyper accelerated Dragon although he was lost out of the opening!

Louis Paulsen was one of the great pioneers of the Sicilian Defence, not just developing the variation named after him.

Chapter 2 concentrates on Henry Bird’s contribution to early Dragon Praxis.

He was the first player to play the modern Dragon move order:
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6

As the author points out, his score with the Dragon was 16 losses, 10 wins and 9 draws which is not brilliant, but taking into account he was playing against the world’s best, it is a respectable Dragon legacy.

Game 7 shows a titanic struggle with Joseph Blackburne. This is the position after the opening:

Blackburne-Bird
Blackburne-Bird

This could be a modern game with white playing a fairly inept Classical Variation, but making sensible developing moves leaving the main struggle to the middlegame. Bird played the somewhat dubious 14…Qh5?! (better is the natural 14…Nd7 which is clearly equal). Blackburne responded with the impatient move 15.Bxf6 (Simply 15.Qf2 or 15.Rd3 leaves white with a slightly more comfortable position) 15…Bxf5 16.Nd5 Qe5 is equal. The players fought out a exciting draw to move 77. Buy the book to the see the game.

Chapter 3 introduces some of the first games with top players riding the Dragon such as Emmanuel Lasker.

This chapter features some greats such as Tarrasch, Pillsbury and Emmanuel Lasker playing the Dragon at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. The game below shows a typical Dragon trap.

Brody – Pillsbury Paris 1900

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.d4 cxd4 5.Nxd4 d6 6.Be2  g6 7.Be3 Bg7 8.0-0 Bd7 9. h3 Qa5

Brody-Pillsbury
Brody-Pillsbury

White now played a natural looking move  that loses 10.Qd2?? Ne4! 11.Nc6 Qxc3! (Easy to overlook) 12.Qxc3 Nxc3 13. bxc3 Bxc6 (Black is completely winning, a pawn up with a much better pawn structure)

Brody-Pillsbury-11...Qxc3
Brody-Pillsbury-11…Qxc3

Chapter 4 shows some early games with masters v amateurs.

The first game in this chapter is famous tussle Lasker – Napier at Cambridge Springs 1904. This game is an extremely tactical queenless middlegame and is well worth a look.

Another game covered is a loss by Lasker to a modern idea of an exchange sacrifice on c3 in a simultaneous display. This idea had been seen before but this version is so thematic, it must be shown:

Emmanuel Lasker – Donald MacKay Hampstead 1908

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 g6 4.d4 cxd4 5.Nxd4 Bg7 6.Be3 d6 7.Be2 Nf6 8.h3 0-0 9.0-0 Bd7 10.f4 a6 11.g4 Rc8 12.f5 Ne5 13.g5

Lasker-MacKay
Lasker-MacKay

13…Rxc3! (Winning as White’s position falls apart) 14. bxc3 Nxe4 15.Bd3 Nxc3 16.Qe1 Nxd3 17.Qd3 Nc5 18.f6!? (A desperate try)

Lasker-MacKay-18.f6
Lasker-MacKay-18.f6

18…exf6 19.gxf6 Ne4 (19…Bxf6 wins as well) and Black won on move 34.

Chapter 5 features the introduction of two major Dragon lines.

They are 10…Qc8 in the Classical Variation and the DragonDorf played by another great Sicilian pioneer Miguel Najdorf.

The first variation is shown with a famous game Reti -Tartakower

Dragon-Classical-Tartakower-Var
Dragon-Classical-Tartakower-Var

The game continued 11.h3 Ne8 ?! (A modern master would shudder at this move, the natural 11…Rd8 is better, Reti won a good positional game)

The game Reissner – Najdorf from Warsaw 1934 introduces the Dragadorf which Simon Williams reintroduced many decades later.

The game began 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.Be3 Bg7 7.f3 0-0 8.Qd2 a6? (Black cannot play this slowly after castling, if Black wishes to play this way, he must not castle early).

Dragadorf-Castle-Too-Early
Dragadorf Castling too early

Stockfish already gives White a big advantage. Najdorf did win this game as White did not play incisively enough. See the book to look at these two interesting games.

Chapter 6 features the famous Alekhine-Botvinnik melee from Nottingham 1936 resulting in an exciting short draw.

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.Be2 Bg7 7.Be3 Nc6 8.Nb3 0-0 9.f4 Be6 10.g4!? (The Rabinovich Attack)

Rabinovich-Attack
Rabinovich-Attack

10…d5!? (The modern preference is for 10…Rc8 when Black may already be better) 11.f5 Bc8 12.exd5 Nb4

Rabinovich-Attack-12.Nb4
Rabinovich-Attack-12…Nb4

A critical position 13.d6!? (13.Bf3! is much stronger leading to a significant White advantage) 13…Qxd6 (leading to a forced perpetual) 14. Bc5 Qf4! 15.Rf1 Qxh2 16.Bxb4 Nxg4 17.Bxg4 Qg3+ 18. Rf2 (Any winning attempt is suicidal) Qg1+ 19.Rf1 Qg3+ 20.Rf2 Qg1+ Draw agreed

Chapter 7 introduces the Levenfish Variation with Mikhail Tal falling victim.

Game 31 showcases the game that introduced the Levenfish Variation at the highest level: Levenfish – Rabinovich Leningrad 1939. The author’s commentary on this game is full of excellent analysis showing many of the traps in the Levenfish and some brilliant white victories. Two of the greatest attacking players have games in this variation  including  a crushing win by Nezhmetdinov and a crushing loss for Tal. First the Tal miniature:

Janis Klavins – Mikhail Tal Riga 1954

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.f4

Levenfish-Variation
Levenfish-Variation

6…Nc6! (6…Bg7!? is dangerous for Black, but just about playable with care, but 6…Nc6 equalises easily, so why play an inferior risky move?)

7.Nxc6 bxc6 8. e5 (This looks dangerous but is a paper tiger) Nd7! 9.exd6 exd6 10.Be3

Levenfish-Variation-10.Be3
Levenfish-Variation-10.Be3

10…Qe7?! (10…Be7 is slightly better for black already, the pawn on f4 weakens White’s position) 11.Qd4! Nf6?! (11…Bg7 is hardly better: 12.Qxg7 Qxe3+ 13.Be2 Rf8 14.Rf1 Nb6 15.Rd1 is better for white despite white’s king on e1 as Black is behind in development and has a weaker pawn structure with black squared weaknesses.) 12.0-0-0 Bg7

Levenfish-Variation-Start-of-Crushing-Attack
Levenfish-Variation-Start-of-Crushing-Attack

White has a significant lead in development which he exploits ruthlessly in the style of his opponent:

13.Qxd6! (sacrificing a piece with check) Qxe3+ 14.Kb1 Bd7? (14…Qb6! makes it harder for White but his attack is just too strong) 15.Bb5! (A classic clearance: 15…cxb5 16.Rhe1 wins the queen and although Black has a rook and two bishops for the queen and pawn, his lack of development is fatal) 15…Qb6 16.Rhe1+ Kd8 17.Bxc6 Rb8 (threatening mate but too late) 18. Qe7+ Kc7 19.Rxd7+ Kc8

Mate-in-4
Mate-in-4

20.Bb5 (20.Nb5! is quicker mating in four moves, Klavins chooses a prosaic win going into a trivially won endgame) Rb7 21.Rxb7 Qxb7 22.Qxb7+ 1-0

Now the Nezhmetdinov game:

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.f4 Bg7?! (Risky) 7.e5!  dxe5? (The only decent move here is the surprising 7…Nh5 with the idea 8.g4? Nxf4 9.Bxf4 dxe5 regaining the piece with interest, better for White is 8.Bb5+ Bd7 9.Qe2! with an edge as Black still has to solve the problem of the h5 knight, 9.e6!? looks good but 9…fxe6 10.Nxe6 Bxc3+ 11.bxc3 Qc8! is a mess but dynamically equal) 8.fxe5 (This is a very dangerous position for the unwary)

Levenfish Danger
Levenfish after 8.fxe5

8…Nd5? (8…Ng4?? 9.Bb5+ wins 9…Bd7 10.Qxg4 wins a piece or 9…Kf8 10.Ne6+ wins the queen. 8…Nfd7 is relatively best 9.e6! Ne5! 10.exf7+ gives a White a pleasant edge but Black can fight) 9.Bb5+ Kf8 10. 0-0 (Black is totally lost) Bxe5 (accelerating the inevitable defeat, and allowing an attractive finish, 10…Nc6 lasts longer) 11.Bh6+ Kg8 12. Nxd5 Qxd5 13.Nf5! Qc5+ 14.Be3 Qc7 15.Nh6+ 1-0

Levenfish-13.Nf5
Levenfish-13.Nf5!

Chapter 8 features a famous victory by a British player, William Winter over David Bronstein in the England – USSR radio match in 1946.

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.Be3 Bg7 7.f3 Nc6 8.Qd2 0-0 9.Nb3!? (Not the most challenging line) 9…Be6 10.Nd5 Bxe6 (Stockfish also likes 10…Rc8 with both moves giving Black a slight edge, but removing the pesky knight now is understandable) 11.exd5 Ne5

Bronstein-Winter-11...Ne5
Bronstein-Winter-11…Ne5

12. Be2? (12.0-0-0 is better but Black is at least equal) Qc7 13.0-0 (13…a5! is also good but the move played is an obvious thematic Sicilian move) Nc4 14.Bxc4 Qxc4 15. Rad1?! (The wrong rook, White needs the queen’s rook on the queenside for defence, showing how badly the game is going)  15…Rfc8! 16.Rf2 Nd7 (16…a5! increases Black’s advantage to decisive proportions) 17.Bg5!? (Trying to mix things up, but 17.c3 is better, then Black has 17…a5 with a typical Sicilian initiative and advantage) 17..Bxb2 18.Bxe7 Nb6? (Bronstein’s gamble with Bg5 has paid off as Black goes wrong, much better is 18…Bc3! 19.Qd3 Qb4 maintains a big Black advantage) 19.Bxd6 Rd8

Bronstein-Winter-20.Na5
Bronstein-Winter-20.Na5

20. Na5?? (A horrible move losing the game, 20.Qb4 or 20.Qf4 holds the balance) 20…Qa6! 21.Qf4 Rxd6 22.c4 Bg7 23.Rfd2 Bh6 24. Rd3 Rad8 25.a4 Bf6 26.Qb5 Qxb5 27.axb5 R6d7 0-1

Chapter 9 introduces some giants into the mix with players such as the great Soviet theoretician Efim Geller who played the Dragon with both colours, and the great Bobby Fischer who was a veritable St George. Fischer famously lost against Cesar Munoz, a Ecuadorean National Master: this game is definitely worth a look.

This chapter also includes the famous Fischer – Larsen clash from Portoroz 1958.  The game is in a line that has become topical recently:

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.Be3 Bg7 7.f3 0-0 8.Qd2 Nc6 9.Bc4 Nxd4 10.Bxd4 Be6 11.Bb3 Qa5 12.0-0-0 b5 13.Kb1 b4 14.Nd5 14…Bxd5

Fischer-Larsen-Portoroz
Fischer-Larsen Portoroz 1958

15.Bxd5 (Not best, better is15.exd5! Qb5 16.Rhe1 a5 17.Qe2! Tal, M-Larsen, B Zürich 1959)

Tal-Larsen-Zurich-1959
Tal-Larsen 17.Qe2 Zurich-1959

This position used to be thought to be slightly better for White with the bishop pair and pressure along the e-file. Modern engines dispute this and reckon Black is more or less equal viz:

17… Qxe2 18.Rxe2 a4 19.Bc4 Rfc8 20.b3 (20Bb5?! Ra5=) Rc7= 21.Bb5 axb3 22.cxb3 Ra5 23.Bc4 Rb7 = (Stockfish gives White a tiny advantage)

Now back to the main game.

15…Rac8?! (Much better is 15…Nxd5 16.Bxg7 Nc3!!+ 17.Bxc3 bxc3 18.Qxc3 Qxc3 19.bxc3 Rfc8 20.Rd3 Rc5 =, or 17.bxc3 Rab8! 18.cxb4 Qxb4+ 19.Qxb4 Rxb4+ 20.Bb2 Rfb8=)

16.Bb3! and Fischer won a great game.

Chapter 10 introduces the famous Soltis Variation.

It may not be widely known, but in 1963  Heikki Westerinen introduced the Dragon Soltis Variation to the world, 8 years before Andrew Soltis popularised the variation named after him. This is the stem position:

Soltis-Variation
Soltis-Variation

Westerinen played this line against Bent Larsen, who was one of the protagonists who played the Dragon with both colours. He lost the game, but his opening and early middlegame were fine as he achieved a winning position by move 20: he was outplayed later by a world class player. Buy the book to see analysis of this ground breaking game.

Chapter 11 introduces  Geller on the Black side and Anatoly Karpov as a chief Dragon slayer. His game against Gik in the Moscow University championship in 1968 is one of Karpov’s best games.

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.Be3 Bg7 7.f3 0-0 8.Bc4 Nc6 9.Qd2 Qa5 10.0-0-0 Bd7 11.h4 Ne5 12.Bb3 Rfc8 13.h5 Nxh5 14.Bh6 Bxh6 15.Qxh6 Rxc3 16.bxc3

Karpov-Gik-Moscow-1968
Karpov-Gik-Moscow-1968

In this position below Gik made a fatal mistake: 16…Qxc3 no doubt expecting 17.Kb1, so 17.Ne2 came as a rude awakening gaining a crucial tempo, both 16…Nf6 and 16…Rc8 equalise comfortably.

The book analyses this theoretical scuffle in detail.

Chapter 12 is devoted mainly to famous Dragon writers: David Levy and Andrew Soltis.

David Levy, the Scottish IM famously wrote two editions of the Batsford books The Sicilian Dragon. Here Levy faces the former World Champion, Boris Spassky who is in devastating form:

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.Be3 Bg7 7.f3 Nc6 8.Qd2 0-0 9.Bc4 Bd7 10.0-0-0 Qb8?! (A trendy line at the time, which is almost certainly unsound, Stockfish does not rate it.)

Spassky-Levy
Spassky-Levy

11.h4! a5? (This is a horrible move, it loses quickly, Stockfish recommends 11..Ne5 12.Bb3 h5 trying to slow down the attack in Soltis style, but Black’s misplaced queen renders this fruitless) 12.Bh6!? (Not the very best, the simple 12.h5 is even stronger winning quickly) 12…Nxe4? (Black pushes his luck with a flawed combination, better was 12…Nxd4 13.h5! Be6 14.Bxg7 Kxg7 14.Qxd4 with a big plus for White) 13. Nxe4 Bxd4 14.h5! (With a huge winning attack)

Spassky-Levy-14.h5
Spassky-Levy-14.h5

14…d5 (Desperation, trying to get the queen into the defence) 15.Bxd5 Qxe5 16.Bxf8! (Simple and effective) 16…Qxd5 17.Qh6! Nb4 18.Rxd4! (Removing the last defender) Qxd4 19.Bxe7 1-0

An opening experiment crushed by an attacking great!

Chapter 13 is mainly devoted to two fascinating clashes between Efim Geller and Viktor Korchnoi in their Candidates match in 1971 in Moscow. It also reintroduces Anatoly Karpov who is undoubtedly one of the greatest Dragon slayers, shown in action in a famous tussle with Juergen Dueball at Skopje in 1972.  It was Karpov’s endgame skill that won him that game.

The first Geller – Korchnoi shows the good old exchange sacrifice on c3 in all its glory.

Geller-Korchnoi-Moscow-1971
Geller-Korchnoi-Moscow-1971

White played the poor 12.Bh6?! provoking Black. 12…Bxh6! 13.Qxh6 Rxc3! 14.bxc3  a5! (14…Qc7 is fine as well)

Black is equal here and has a position that is easier and more fun to play. The game was eventually drawn, but Black achieved a winning game but threw it away in mutual time trouble.

Chapter 14 introduces one of the great Dragon specialists, the late and great Tony Miles.

Here is a exciting scrap with another future GM, Michael Stean.

Michael Stean – Tony Miles Hastings 73/74

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.Be3 Bg7 7.f3 0-0 8.Bc4 Nc6 9.Qd2 Bd7 10.h4 h5 11.0-0-0 Rc8 12.Bb3 Ne5 13.Kb1 Nc4 14.Bxc4 Rxc4 15.Nde2 Qc7 !? (An attempt to avoid the main line theory, 15…b5 is the main line which equalises comfortably as played by Kasparov against Anand 16.Bh6 Qa5 =)

Stean-Miles-15.Qc7
Stean-Miles-15.Qc7

16.Bh6 Be6 17.Bxg7 Kxg7 18.Nf4 Qa5 (This position is equal, but Stean comes up with a faulty plan) 19.Nxe6+ (19.Nce2 is equal) fxe6 20.Rh3?! (20.Ne2 is still equal) Rfc8 21.Rg3?

Rxc3! (Now Black is better) 22.bxc3 Rc6 23.Rg5 e5! (Cutting the rook off)

Stean-Miles-23...e5
Stean-Miles-23…e5

Now Black is slightly better, somehow Miles contrived to lose this game.

Chapter 15 is devoted to one of the most famous gladiatorial contests in the Sicilian Dragon: Anatoly Karpov v Viktor Korchnoi Moscow 1974 game 2 of the Candidates final. The winner was to play Bobby Fischer.

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.Be3 Bg7 7.f3 Nc6 8.Qd2 0-0 9.Bc4 Bd7 10.h4 Rc8 11.Bb3 Ne5 12.0-0-0 Nc4 13.Bxc4 Rxc4 14.h5 Nxh5 15.g4 Nf6 16.Nde2 !?

Karpov-Korchnoi-16.Nde2
Karpov-Korchnoi-16.Nde2

At the time, the position before 16.Nde2 was a topical Dragon tabiya. Korchnoi played the natural reply which is already a mistake.

16…Qa5 (16…Re8 is much better and about equal) 17.Bh6 Bxh6 (17…Bh8 18.Bxf8 Kxf8 19.Qe3 is clearly better for White) 18.Qxh6 Rfc8 19.Rd3 R4c5? (The final mistake, 19…Be6 20. 20.g5 Nxh5 21. Nf4 Qe5 22.Nxh5 gxh5 23. Qxh5 Qg7 24.f4 with a clear advantage to White) 20.g5! (Winning) Rxg5 21.Rd5! Rxd5 22.Nxd5 Re8 23.Nef4 Bc6 24.e5!+- Bxd5 25.exf6 exf6 26.Qxh7+ Kf8 27.Qh8+ 1-0 (27… Ke7 28.Nxd5+ Qxd5 29.Re1+)

It is quite possible that the whole game was prepared analysis.

This game really knocked the Dragon for six, but the Dragoneers soon came up with an antidote 16…Re8.

In summary, this is a well thought out book and an enjoyable read with plenty of exciting, fighting chess. Although it is a history of the Dragon, that story is really a microcosm of the development of modern chess from 1850 onwards.

FM Richard Webb, Basingstoke, Hampshire, 1st April 2024

FM Richard Webb
FM Richard Webb

Book Details :

  • Hardcover : 385 pages
  • Publisher:Thinkers Publishing; 1st edition (5 Mar. 2024)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9464201959
  • ISBN-13:  978-9464201956
  • Product Dimensions: 17.78 x 3.18 x 24.77 cm

Official web site of Thinkers Publishing

Dragon Masters - The Life and Times of The Fiercest Opening in Chess Volume 1, Andrew Burnett, Thinkers Publishing, ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 9464201959
Dragon Masters – The Life and Times of The Fiercest Opening in Chess Volume 1, Andrew Burnett, Thinkers Publishing, ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 9464201959
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Chess Lessons from a Champion Coach

From the Batsford web site:

Lessons, motivation and coaching to make you a better chess player.

In an ideal world, any aspiring chess player, at almost any level, would get better with a coach. If that’s not possible, having chess champion coach Thomas Engqvist’s book at your side is the next best thing.

In his series of lessons, Engqvist guides you through not only the most important elements of chess to master but also the psychology, how to marry knowledge with imagination, and how to stay motivated.

Suitable for older children through to adults, the lessons are drawn from chess games through history, from the 16th century to Magnus Carlsen and latest Alpha Zero computer chess. (Reviewer’s note: it doesn’t actually include Alpha Zero, stopping at Carlsen.) It features a range of key players, including Steinitz, Lasker, Nimzowistch, Botvinnik (Soviet chess school), and Fischer. With clear and accessible annotations to give clarity, the games highlight the most important lessons to learn and, just as importantly, how to ‘practise’ chess.

International Master Thomas Engqvist has travelled the world teaching and coaching chess to a very high level for decades – and with this book, he can be your coach too.”

About the Author (updated from the publisher’s website):

“Thomas Engqvist is an International Master from Sweden. He has 45 years’ experience as a chess coach and teacher. He has worked with players at world championship level in both junior and correspondence chess. He is the author of 300 Most Important Chess Positions, 300 Most Important Tactical Chess Positions and 300 Most Important Chess Exercises, all published by Batsford.

IM Thomas Engqvist (SWE)
IM Thomas Engqvist (SWE)

From the back cover:

Chess Lessons from a Champion Coach gives you the opportunity to assimilate the most important chess principles and concepts by following a study plan based on key encounters by over 30 great players.

With lessons from more than 60 instructive games in chronologically arranged chapters, this is the perfect guide for players who want to gain a broad knowledge of chess history and its evolution, but don’t have time to spend hours in what can be unproductive reading.

Featured in each chapter is a highly influential grandmaster who has played his part in developing chess into what it is today. There can be no more enjoyable way to improve your own play than to absorb your personal coach’s explanatory commentaries to exemplary games of past and present chess heroes, including Magnus Carlsen. In this way centuries of accumulated understanding of chess can be learned in just a few weeks.

By adopting the same tactics and strategies as demonstrated by these champions, you can also keep track of your own chess development by comparing it with the overall historical development of chess – and climb the ladder to success.

Swedish International Master Thomas Engqvist has approximately 45 years experience as a chess coach, teacher, writer and player. He has successfully worked with players at world championship level in both junior and correspondence chess.

 

What we have here is a book covering the history of chess ideas in chronological fashion, starting with Ruy Lopez and finishing with Magnus Carlsen. It’s hardly an original idea: the first book of this type was Richard Réti’s Masters of the Chessboard, and there have been quite a few others since then: off the top of my head I’ve reviewed a couple of them here myself. The second Chess Heroes: Games book will take a similar approach (using some of the games from Move Two!), but pitched at a much lower level.

I’d say from the outset is that if you’re knowledgeable about the subject, and have read similar books before, you’re probably already familiar with many of the games displayed by Engqvist here.

But if you’re a club standard player with little knowledge of the history of your favourite game you should certainly read on.

Most of the subjects are represented by just one game, so we quickly whizz through the likes of Greco (‘the first tactical player’), Philidor (‘the first positional player’) and even Morphy until we reach Steinitz (‘the scientific player’), the first of four players to be considered in rather more detail.

According to Engqvist:

The basis of Steinitz’s teachings is to construct a plan which is in accordance with the requirements of the position. These requirements could be an advantage in development, a strong centre, open files etc. One should gather such advantages, one by one, as preparation for an attack. This is the so-called theory of accumulation.

This theory is demonstrated by the following game. As always, click on any move for a pop-up window.

Engqvist adds after the game:

This is why such classic games are much more instructive than modern games. Steinitz’s opponents didn’t realise or didn’t want to realise what he was doing, whereas today’s more knowledgeable players do know – because they have studied such “one-sided” but very instructive classic games.

You might disagree – but I don’t.

Lasker (‘pragmatism and psychology’), the star of the next chapter, also receives special treatment.

In this instructive game, where he defeats Rubinstein’s IQP, he uses the ‘pivot square’ d5 in a variety of ways.

It is indeed a game to be understood in depth and learned by heart, because the idea of a pivot being a source of energy can be used in an untold number of situations.

Engqvist quotes Nimzowitsch’s comments on this game with approval, and makes it very clear throughout the  book that Nimzo is one of his chess heroes.

Although he only gets one game (yes, it’s the Immortal Zugzwang game), the author has this to say:

Nimzowitsch is just as important as Steinitz, since his principles do complement those of his predecessor, However, to appreciate Nimzowitsch’s precepts in depth one needs to also properly understand Steinitz’s classical principles, otherwise the true meaning of Nimzowitsch’s theories will be lost.

and:

In my opinion (reading Nimzowitsch) is much more important than learning from computers, which are very bad teachers indeed, and sometimes incomprehensible. Nimzowitsch must be regarded as one of the greatest, if not the greatest ever, teachers…

Controversial, perhaps, and you might well think he’s overstating his case.

The other two subjects awarded more extensive treatment are, predictably, Capablanca (‘The Chess Machine’) and Alekhine (‘The Complete Chess Artist’).

From then on it’s just one game each, even for giants such as Botvinnik, Fischer, Karpov and Kasparov. right the way through to Carlsen.

Here’s the game used to illustrate Fischer (‘The Aggressive Classical Player’).

Engqvist:

This game is one of Fischer’s best and it is remarkable that he was only 16 years old when it was played. It proves that he was a genius. The good news is that Fischer’s style is possible to emulate,  because it it largely based on positional technique à la Capablanca,  which to a high degree can be learned.

It’s clear from this book, as well as from the author’s earlier volumes, that Thomas Engqvist is an exceptional writer, teacher and annotator. He has also made extensive use of a wide range of secondary sources (but, sadly, he fails the Yates test: he was Fred (Dewhirst), not Frederick Dewhurst). Each chapter is prefaced by a series of quotes by or about its subject, which in itself makes fascinating reading. Computer analysis has been used to correct analytical errors made by earlier authors, but this is done judiciously: he doesn’t go over the top in providing reams of engine generated variations. You might, I suppose, disagree with some of his views, especially on Nimzowitsch, but that’s part of the enjoyment you’ll get from the book. You might also think there’s some simplification and generalisation, but that’s inevitable in a book of this nature.

The production values are, of their type, excellent. The book, like others from this publisher, has a reassuringly old-fashioned look about it. While younger readers may well prefer something glossier and glitzier, it’s not likely to be a problem for those, like me, of the Batsford generation.

Many publishers these days prefer more interactivity, with puzzles at the start of each chapter, or, with annotated games, stopping every few moves to ask you a question. There’s none of that here, just solid, accurate and instructive comments. Different readers will prefer different styles of annotation. The one concession to interactivity is a couple of quizzes with questions like What was Ponziani’s opinion of the theories of Philidor and del Rio?, which I could really do without as they’re testing memory rather than understanding.

I had two other thoughts when reading this book. I often wonder whether chess authors are writing the book they wanted to write or the book the publishers thought would sell. Perhaps I’m mistaken, but my impression was that Engqvist really wanted to write something like The 60 Most Instructive Positional Games rather than a book with a historical perspective offering, for the most part, one game per star player.

I also wonder what exactly the market is for this book. Younger readers, if they want a book at all, might prefer something with a more modern feel, while older readers might have seen many of the games before.

But, if you’re, say, 1500-2000 strength, you’re serious about improving your chess and you’re happy with the style and contents, you won’t go wrong with this excellent book from one of the best authors and teachers around.

Richard James, Twickenham 14th February 2024

Richard James
Richard James

Book Details :

  • Paperback: 312 pages
  • Publisher: Batsford; 1st edition (13 April 2023)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:1849947511
  • ISBN-13:978-1849948043
  • Product Dimensions: 15.04 x 2.01 x 23.04 cm

Official web site of Batsford

Chess Lessons from a Champion Coach, Thomas Engqvist, Batsford, 13th April 2023, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1849948043
Chess Lessons from a Champion Coach, Thomas Engqvist, Batsford, 13th April 2023, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1849948043
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The Life and Games of Carlos Torre – 2nd revised and extended edition- Gabriel Velasco & Taylor Kingston

From the publishers’ blurb:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the Authors

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

Taylor Kingston
Taylor Kingston

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A few moves later, this position was reached.

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

Here’s the complete game.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Richard James, Twickenham 12th January 2024

Richard James
. Richard James

Book Details :

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

Official web site of Thinkers Publishing

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

Are you rated below 1500?

Do you have friends who are rated below 1500?

Are any members of your chess club rated below 1500?

Do you have any students rated  below 1500?

If so, you’ll really want to take a look at my Chess Heroes books: a unique series of volumes taking players from learning the basics through to club standard and beyond. There’s nothing else like these books on the market. They’re based on 50 years experience teaching chess, using my private RJCC database of almost 17000 games played at this level. Every word and every position is there for a reason.

No gimmicks. No short cuts. No idle promises. Just simple no-nonsense instruction providing all the knowledge and skills you need, along with hard work and seriousness of purpose, to succeed at chess.

This is the starter book (0-500 range) explaining what a game of chess is really about. If you just want to learn the basics, this is for you.

If you want to take the game further, these four books, designed to be read in parallel, are what you require.

Written for players of about 500-1000 strength, if you’ve understood everything here you’ll be able to go along to your local chess club and play some social games without being totally outclassed. You might even be able to play lower level competitive chess if you want.

By now you may be eager to learn more. If you’re around 1000-1500 level, these books will help you make further progress. The Puzzles book is exactly what it says on the cover, while the Games book uses the ‘How Good is Your Chess’ format where you play through the games guessing the next move. I’ll soon be starting work on the second books for publication towards the end of 2024.

You can order them from Amazon here. You’ll see that I also have free downloads available if you want to have a look  before you buy, or if, for instance, you want to print off some of the puzzle pages for your own or your students’ use.

I’d recommend you also read this blog post explaining some of the theory behind my teaching and writing.

Please do take a look, and if you like what you see, support me by purchases and 5* reviews!

 

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

From the publisher:

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

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

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

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

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

Viorel Bologan provides the Foreword.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wholeheartedly agree with these sentiments.

Kryakvin writes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Richard James, Twickenham 30th November 2023

Richard James
. Richard James

Book Details:

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

Official web site of New in Chess.

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