Vaidyanathan Ravikumar (“Ravi” to his friends) was born in Paramakudi, Ramanathapuram, Tamil Nadu, India on Saturday, December 26th, 1959. On this day Nelson Rockefeller announced that he would not seek the Republican Party nomination for 1960.
Ravi credits his father N. Vaidyanathan for help with his early chess development.
In 1978 Ravi won the Asian Junior Championships in Tehran and was awarded the International Master title as a consequence. Ravi was India’s second International Master : Manuel Aaron was the first in 1961.
His earliest recorded game in Megabase 2020 was from the 3rd of September 1978 and was from the World Under-20 Championships in Graz, Austria. The event was won by Sergei Dolamatov and Ravi finished =25th on 6.5/13. The following year (Norway, 1979) Ravi improved to =12th with 7.5/13 and the title was won by Yasser Seirawan. James Plaskett was =3rd.
By now ( 1979) Ravi had graduated from The University of Madras with a degree in commerce and relocated to England seeking more playing opportunities. He played in his first Lloyd’s Bank Open in 1979.
Ravi made his first appearance for India in an Olympiad at Valetta, Malta 1980. In 1981 he was runner-up to Bjarke Sahl in the 6th North Sea Cup followed by a creditable equal 10th in the 68th British Championships at Morecambe won by Paul Littlewood. In round eight he played this attractive game against Daniel King. Notes by PC Griffiths :
In 1982 Ravi scored a creditable =3rd at the 1982 British Championships (Mile’s year) in Torquay including wins over Basman, Muir and Plaskett :
1983 included an excellent win over James Tarjan at the Lloyds Bank Open but Danny King got revenge for his 1981 defeat!
Ravi’s second Olympiad appearance for India came at Thessaloniki, Greece in 1984. This year provided Ravi’s highest FIDE rating of 2415 in January.
Ravi continued to be active as a player until 2000 when he started a career in coaching. He was the National Coach of the Emirates for eight years and has accompanied the ECF junior chess team to World Youth Chess Championships in 2014, held in Al Ain, UAE.
According to Spectrum Chess Calculation : “He is an experienced chess coach and provides chess coaching in 10 schools in Hertfordshire”
His first book was Karpov’s Best Games, Chess Check, 1984.
Following that Ravi wrote a biographical work on Ulf Andersson :
and most recently
There were also works on Anatoly Karpov and Jan Timman as well as works on the Caro-Kann Defence.
Chess Improvement: It’s all in the mindset : Barry Hymer and Peter Wells
From the publisher :
“Written by Barry Hymer and Peter Wells, Chess Improvement: It’s all in the mindset is an engaging and instructive guide that sets out how the application of growth mindset principles can accelerate chess improvement.
With Tim Kett and insights from Michael Adams, David Howell, Harriet Hunt, Gawain Jones, Luke McShane, Matthew Sadler and Nigel Short.
Foreword by Henrik Carlsen, father of world champion Magnus Carlsen.
Twenty-first-century knowledge about skills development and expertise requires us to keep such mystical notions as fixed ‘talent’ in perspective, and to emphasise instead the dynamic and malleable nature of these concepts.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in chess, where many gifted players fall prey to plausible but self-defeating beliefs and practices – and thereby fail to achieve the levels their ‘natural’ abilities predicted. Happily, however, the reverse can be true too; through learned dispositions such as grit, risk-taking, strategic thinking and a capacity for sheer hard work, players of apparently modest abilities can achieve impressive results.
Blending theory, practice and the distinct but complementary skills of two authors – one an academic (and amateur chess player) and the other a highly regarded England Chess Olympiad coach (and grandmaster) – Chess Improvement is an invaluable resource for any aspirational chess player or coach/parent of a chess player.
Barry and Peter draw on interviews conducted with members of England’s medal-winning elite squad of players and provide a template for chess improvement rooted in the practical wisdom of experienced chess players and coaches.
They also include practical illustrative descriptions from the games and chess careers of both developing and leading players, and pull together themes and suggestions in a way which encourages readers to create their own trajectories for chess improvement.”
If you visit the Chess Palace at the end of my garden you’ll find quite a few chess books and magazines. But if you visit my office and look at the shelves above my desk you’ll find a lot of books on education, child development, psychology, parenting, conditions such as autism and ADHD. There are not many books which would fit equally well in both my office and the Chess Palace, but this is one. Perhaps I need a second copy.
The authors are a well matched team. Barry Hymer is a distinguished academic specialising in educational psychology, and also a strong amateur chess player. Peter Wells is an experienced grandmaster and élite level coach with an interest in psychology. Tim Kett, another strong player and experienced chess coach, also made a significant contribution to the book.
England’s six strongest players, Mickey Adams, Nigel Short, Gawain Jones, David Howell, Luke McShane and Matthew Sadler, along with one of our top woman players, Harriet Hunt, were interviewed for the book. I wonder if Jovanka Houska was also invited. Henrik Carlsen, Magnus’s father, agreed to provide the preface.
The main message of the book, which draws heavily on the work of Carol Dweck and other researchers, is that having a growth rather than a fixed mindset is a major factor in chess improvement. If you see yourself as someone who can grow as a player you will do so, but defining yourself by your current rating will leave you stuck.
Chapter 1 introduces the concept of mindset theory and how it applies to chess. The authors then provide us with their chess mindset biographies: Hymer tells of his unfulfilled early promise while Wells is brutally honest about what he sees as underachievement and psychological failings.
The remaining chapters start with Hymer giving the theoretical and research background, followed by Wells looking at the same subject from a practical point of view. Finally, there are some very helpful guidelines for parents and coaches, for which Kett was partly responsible.
Chapter 2 concerns Motivation. Hymer explains the difference between extrinsic (prizes, rewards) and intrinsic (from the game itself) motivation, explaining that intrinsic motivation is, by and large, more likely to lead to improvement. I’d add here that many competitions for young children are very big on extrinsic motivation, from fluffy mascots to outsize trophies.
Wells then provides us with the views of his interviewees, all of whom, as you would expect, just enjoy playing chess. Several of them related that they really enjoyed reading chess books when they were younger, and some also enjoyed the beauty of endgame studies. His points are illustrated by examples from play.
I was particularly interested to see a game with which I was very familiar: played by Luke McShane in the 1992 World U10 Championship. I knew his opponent as Aronov: I hadn’t realised until now that this was Aronian, who was at that time using the Russian version of his surname.
Wells was impressed by the sophistication of McShane’s play after a poor opening and suggested that he had already studied Nimzowitsch. After White’s 7th move he speculated that ‘Luke was just making it up’.
I have a story about this game which can now be told for the first time. Before the tournament Luke’s father sent me copies of his recent scoresheets and I provided some feedback. Luke had played this poor variation before and, as I was playing the Schliemann myself at the time and had won several games on the black side of this line, I was able to identify the problem. I suggested to his father that he needed something different against the Schliemann in case it came up in the tournament, but my advice was ignored.
It was all the more amusing, then, to turn to Chapter 7 and read: “Sometimes, as with Richard James, the very thoughtful and experienced influence behind Richmond Junior Chess Club’s involvement in Luke’s early career, the advice was directed to his father, reinforcing Rod McShane’s already impressively sound instincts as to how to help his son.”
Chapter 3 is about Challenge and Feedback. Should you challenge yourself by playing in stronger tournaments where you might not score many points but you’ll learn from playing stronger opponents? Or should you play in weaker tournaments where you hope to win most of your games and perhaps receive a reward, financial or otherwise, for doing so? What is the best way for chess teachers to give feedback to their students?
In general, mindset theory suggests you should play up, but it doesn’t always work out. Nigel Short recalls playing in the Phillips & Drew Tournament in 1982 where he was rather out of his depth, scoring 3½/13. “Even at the time, concerns were widely expressed that Nigel had been launched into a level for which he was just not ready, but he is now adamant that there were simply no adults around to see the danger in advance. Nigel himself is in no doubt that this did tangible damage to his confidence and appetite to the game and thereby impeded his development for some time after – that was ‘not a learning experience, that was trauma’. ” Of course different players will respond differently. Luke, for example, has no such memories. But the general message here is to mix challenging and confidence boosting events.
On the subject of feedback, specific praise and constructive criticism are valued, but general praise can be less than useful. Harriet Hunt is interesting here on girls in chess. “She felt subjected to much gender-grounded feedback, some of it critical for sure, but also large amounts of condescension in the form of ‘praise and patting on the head’. … More generally, she shares my conviction that girls in chess tend to be held back by excessive adulation for relatively modest achievements in a way that can damage their motivation.”
I particularly liked two of the pieces of advice for parents and coaches at the end of this chapter: “Discourage children from counting their trophies.” and “When they finish a tournament game, don’t ask the result!”. You might have to think about both of them.
Chapter 4 looks at “the right kind of effort: making practice purposeful”. Most of us are familiar with Ericsson’s ‘10,000 hour rule’, but what do we mean by ‘deliberate practice’ and how does it apply to chess? In fact the interviewees, by and large, approached chess in a rather less structured way than might be expected. Wells then talks at length about various aspects of studying openings before moving onto tactics and endings.
The important subject of Failure is tackled in Chapter 5. All chess players lose games from time to time. All tournament players will experience bad tournaments. Different players will deal with this in different ways.
Hymer reached this position with black in Round 4 of the 2018 Blackpool Open. It’s an easy win: all he has to do is play fxg5 (or f5) to fix the king-side pawns, march his king round to the queen side and create a passed pawn. But instead he played the immediate and catastrophic Ke8, and after the reply f5 had to resign. “I withdrew from the tournament”, he admitted, “and headed home, seriously contemplating another three-decade separation from chess”.
Wells then addresses the issues of how to cope when something goes wrong in your game, how to respond to a loss in your next game, and how to reflect on your defeats before the next tournament.
Chapter 6 brings us on to Metacognition – thinking about thinking. Being aware of your thought processes, and, beyond that, being able to regulate them, is not only important in terms of chess improvement but is a vital life skill. After Barry Hymer’s theoretical background, Peter Wells considers the effect of metacognition on chess style, and whether it’s preferable to develop a ‘universal’ style or to focus on your specific strengths and preferences. Of particular interest here is a section devoted to the role of style in Matthew Sadler’s professional chess career.
Finally, Chapter 7 is about Cooperation. Hymer explains the latest research into the advantages of working together within small groups. Then Wells looks at the practical side of cooperation, emphasising the importance of parents, mentors and coaches for younger players, and then writing about the camaraderie and sportsmanship which exists at all levels of chess.
This is from the game Wells – Priehoda (Cappelle-la-Grande Open 1992) where White played the winning combination 25. Nb5+ Kc8 26. Rxc6+ Rxc6 27. Nxa7+ Kc7 28. Rxd7+ Kxd7 29. Nxc6 Ra8 30. a6 Kc7 31. Nb4 1-0
The loser responded not only with generous words but by submitting the combination to Chess Informant: a sporting gesture indeed.
By now we’ve reached the epilogue and, having learnt a lot of interesting and helpful information about mindset theory, it’s rather perturbing to read in a footnote: “(John) Hattie attributes having a growth rather than a fixed mindset to a modest effect size of 0.19 in recent presentations, and the Education Endowment Foundation has failed in their research to find a compelling reason to do mindset interventions in schools and classrooms.”.
So, have we all been wasting our time? Not at all, claims Hymer: schools tend to have ‘superficial or muddled understandings’. Yes, I can understand that. My impression is that some schools tend to jump on the latest education bandwagon without a lot of thought. A decade or so ago it was VAK (look it up!), then it was Mindsets: for some it’s Chess on the Curriculum.
I was already familiar with the concept and had read Carol Dweck’s book on the subject. I was also aware that the whole idea had been criticised in some quarters: here, for instance (with my apologies for a rather rude word), is respected education author and blogger David Didau’s take on mindset theory. There’s a lot more on both sides of the argument online if you care to look. You pay your money and you take your choice.
My view, as an interested and reasonably well informed layman, is that Mindset Theory has its uses in certain situations, but needs to be treated with discretion. Hymer seems to think that almost anyone could become a strong player given sufficient time and the right mindset. I don’t think I agree. Estimates for the heritability of IQ range from something like 50% to 80% so it seems reasonable to assume that chess ability (which is in itself a macro-skill comprising a lot of micro-skills) is also in part heritable. His views – and this may explain his promotion of Mindset Theory – are a lot closer to the nurture end of the nature-nurture spectrum than mine.
This leads into my other problem with the book. We hear a lot of grandmaster voices, all of whom have interesting and sometimes contradictory things to say. I found the contributions of Matthew Sadler and Luke McShane particularly valuable: it may not be a coincidence that they are perhaps the two strongest amateur chess players in the world. But I also wanted to hear the voices of lower rated players who are interested in chess improvement. Ben Johnson’s popular Perpetual Chess Podcast, for example, often features adult improvers. Hearing from ambitious teenagers might also have been valuable, and it would have been good to hear more than one female voice. I’m not sure how helpful this fixation with top grandmasters really is: one issue for me is that many of the games and positions Wells uses to make his points were rather too difficult to be personally useful to this 1900 strength player.
In spite of my reservations I’d still offer a strong recommendation for this book, which takes a fresh, even if sometimes controversial, approach to chess improvement. It’s well written, well structured and often very funny. On almost every page you’ll find nuggets of wisdom which will, at the very least, make you stop and think.
There are, of course, very many books on the market which will show you how to play good moves, but there are very few that consider what’s happening in both your mind and your brain when you play. An understanding of these issues will improve both your rating and your enjoyment of chess. The book will also be especially valuable – perhaps essential reading – for chess teachers and parents.
The publishers, Crown House, may be a new name to you. They specialise in books on education and self help, and, as their logo is a chess queen, it seems only right that they should branch out into our favourite game. This book is already high up in the Amazon best seller list for chess books, so perhaps it’s reaching an audience away from the usual chess community. There’s certainly scope for more books in the field of chess psychology and education: we at British Chess News hope this will be the first of many books from this publisher.
Romain Édouard (born 28 November 1990) is a French grandmaster and is Editor-in-Chief of Thinkers Publishing. Édouard has played for the French national team at the Olympiads of 2010, 2012, 2014 and 2018, won several major tournaments including equal first place in the 2015 World Open and Montreal Open 2015.
We previously reviewedChess Calculation Training : Volume 3 : Legendary Games by the same author and were impressed (although the content was aimed at more experienced and higher rated players.)
As with every recent Thinkers Publishing publication high quality paper is used and the printing is clear. We were hoping that the excellent glossy paper of previous titles would be used but never mind.
The book can easily be laid flat next to the board and does not require weights to prevent it from “self-closing” (a particular bugbear of ours !). Each diagram is clear and the instructional text is typeset in two column format, which, we find, enables the reader to maintain their place easily. Figurine algebraic notation is used throughout and the diagrams are placed adjacent to the relevant text and each diagram has a “to move” indicator.
There is no index. However, for a tactics books this is less crucial. However, some readers might wish to list tactics from particular players…
We have reviewed several tactics books in the last few months and this one from GM Romain Edouard competes in the busy improving juniors and club players market.
There is another market sometimes not considered as important which is the adult player who does not play OTB (who does right now?) or even online but does enjoy solving chess problems : this book will satisfy these readers.
Noteworthy is the absence of patronising cartoons which can put off the more serious juniors and adults. For very young players these are fine but for probably 10 year olds plus these (IMHO) are not welcome.
The main content is divided into eight chapters :
Check & Mate
Check, Check & Mate
A Few Checks & Mate
Trap Your Opponents King
Hit the Defender
A Nasty Double Threat
An Unexpected Blow
A Few More Problems
Having scanned the index I was immediately drawn to Chapter 5 to look for unusual methods for the attacker!
However, Chapter 1 is (usually) the best place to start and consists of 48 carefully selected (i.e. a unique solution) mates in two, the first move always being a check.
Here is a nice example :
Nezhmetdinov, R – Kotkov, Y
The solutions are grouped together at the end of each chapter avoiding the annoyance of stumbling into the solution when it appears on the same page.
You won’t need it but the solution to #8 is given as :
25. Re8+! Qxe8
25…Bxe8 26.Qg8# 26.Qxf6#
(for the history fans amongst us the above game was played at the 17th RSFSR Championship, Krasnodar, 1957.)
Chapter 2 contains 52 mates in three with all three attacker moves being check.
Chapter 3 ramps up the challenge with 40 examples of increasing number of checks to a maximum of 7. Here is a rather satisfying example from the 1987 New York Open. The attacker’s chess career was tragically cut short at the age of 22. He played this mating attack when eleven years old :
Waitzkin, J – Frumkin, E
Mate in 7
The solution (should you need it) is at the foot of this review.
You might be thinking “if all the moves are check then the task is made easier”. Of course but this is a training book and the logical approach of Edouard provides for increasing the confidence of the student incrementally.
Chapter 4 (Trap Your Opponent’s King) serves up 32 positions in which the first move is quite often not a check but winning, nonetheless. Finding winning “quiet moves” is a skill level that is quite often beyond the less experienced or lower rated player and deserves serious study.
I particularly liked this example :
Ulibin,M – Mesman,E
Chapter 5 (Hit the Defender) contains 40 of perhaps the most pleasing (to me at least) combinations. Each features some kind of deflection or distraction such as this rather jolly example from 1964 :
Wiler – Hell
A hard example !
I was curious as to the source of this game and determined (with the valuable assistance of Leonard Barden) that the game was :
Following on from this Chapter 6 contains 16 examples of “A Nasty Double Threat” in which the attacker makes a move that threatens a simultaneous forced mate and the win of material.
Difficult to chose but #5 appealed in a satisfying way :
Jansen,I = Asenova,V
The penultimate chapter promises 32 tales of the unexpected with “An Unexpected Blow” : nothing to do with The Italian Job.
Essentially, this group of positions feature some kind of sacrifice that explodes the defender’s position. Some great examples and this one is from Wijk aan Zee, 1991 that GM Ben Finegold would surely enjoy !
Khalifman, A – Seirawan, Y
Finally, Chapter 8 (A Few More Problems) contains 16 positions that could not be categorised in the previous 7 chapters.
I’ve selected the final one for your entertainment :
Abasov, N – Kantor, G
Find the killer move for White!
I hope you enjoyed those!
So, in summary we have 48+52+40+32+40+16+32+16=276 positions including both classics and contemporary with a whole range of themes suitable for improving and advanced juniors and club players. The presentation is excellent and the solutions clear. I found one typographical error (hxg4 instead of fxg4) and one position incorrectly attributed.
As a coach I am looking to unleashing these on my students. I’ve recommended this book to their parents without hesitation and am looking forward to Level 2 and beyond.
Chess parents take note !
John Upham, Cove, Hampshire, 8th October, 2020
Book Details :
Hardcover : 152 pages
Publisher:Thinkers Publishing; 1 edition (19 May 2020)
Thomas Edward Rendle was born on Monday, September 29th 1986. “Stuck with You” by Huey Lewis and the News was the UK’s number one single.
Tom was born in Hastings, East Sussex and his mother’s maiden name is Jefferies. Tom resides in Hastings.
Tom attended Bede’s School, Sussex and then St. Leonard’s College.
Tom studied physics at The University of Warwick and has two brothers, Tim and James and a sister Theresa.
Tom became a FIDE Master in 2004. In 2006 he became an International Master and achieved a peak rating (according to Felice) in July 2007 of 2416 at the age of 21. Tom has one Grandmaster norm.
Tom has played for 4NCL Grantham Sharks, Hammersmith (in the London League), Drunken Knights (in the London League), West London and Sandhurst (in the Surrey Border and Berkshire Leagues).
His first ECF grade to appear on the grading web site was 82A in July 1994 (however it could be earlier than that) at the age of 7 :
Tom played in the World U12 Championship won by Teimour Radjabov and his first major success was scoring 7.5/10 in the 2001 Smith and Williamson Young Masters. He became Hampshire Champion in 2001 with 5/6 and won the 2004 Rosny Sous Bois tournament with 7/9 and a TPR of 2568. He was runner-up in the Paignton Open of 2005 followed by runner-up in the Coulsdon Christmas tournament of 2005.
With the white pieces Tom is almost exclusively an e4 player but he has flirted with Bird’s Opening many times. Having shared accommodation with Gawain Jones there are signs of influence in the choice of the Grand Prix Attack.
As the second player Tom plays both the Winawer and the Classical French and is a noted expert on the Classical Dutch and Dutch in general.
From Wikipedia :
“Thomas Edward Rendle (born 29 September 1986) is a British FIDE International Master chess player and coach. Rendle became an International Master in June 2006 and is part way towards becoming a Grandmaster, with one GM Norm.
He gained an interest in chess at an early age, and soon entered chess tournaments, gaining success in his age categories (such as becoming Mini Squad Under 7s Champion, England Under 11 Champion). He was put on top board for the England under 11 team and won the Sussex Under 18 Championships, whilst still under 12.”
In 1998 Rendle played Garry Kasparov in the BT Wireplay Challenge 1998. In 2005 he was a coach for England’s team at the 1st FIDE World Schools Championship in Halkidiki, Greece and in 2006 he coached with the England Team at the European Youth Chess Championships in Montenegro.
Rendle currently works as a chess coach, both online and face-to-face. He is a regular coach of England Juniors.”
“Vladimir Tukmakov, born in Odessa 1946, was one of the strongest Ukranian grandmasters. He was the winner of several strong tournaments, including the Ukranian Championship in 1970, and he came second in three Soviet championships in 1970,72 and 83. After his successful period as active player, he became a coach, trainer and author.”
Perhaps, especially if you’re in the UK where evening league chess is still relatively popular, you’ve found yourself captaining a team.
It’s not too demanding as long as you have a pool of reliable and communicative players to choose from.
Maybe you’ve wondered what it would be like to captain a team in the Chess Olympiad: a really strong team such as Ukraine, Azerbaijan or the Netherlands. Or perhaps a star-studded team like SOCAR in the European Club Championship.
It’s a very different experience from captaining Ambridge C in Division 5 of the Borsetshire League, where all you have to do is get the right number of players to the right place at the right time and report the result, these days probably through the league website.
If you’re captaining a top international team, you’re probably dealing with large egos as well as large Elos. You have to decide on your board order, who to rest in each round, how to get everyone working well together and playing in the interests of the team. You really need to excel at interpersonal as well as chess skills.
This, then, is the subject of the first half of Vladimir Tukmakov’s new book. You’ll read about the triumphs, disasters, and, sadly, tragedies behind the teams he captained.
There’s a lot of chess as well: 37 games or extracts with fairly light annotations, which, by and large, seem to stand up well to modern engine analysis.
Here, for example, is what happens when two of the most imaginative players in 21st century chess meet. The opening, and indeed the whole game, seems to come from another planet.
It’s from the match between Ukraine and Georgia from the 2010 Chess Olympiad (Khanty-Mansiysk)
Tukmakov comments here: “Formally, White has a big material advantage, but the remaining Black pieces are tremendously active. In addition, don’t forget that even though the white king is standing on its original square, White has lost the right to castle.”.
Tukmakov awards ‘?!’ to Black’s 13th and 17th moves: Stockfish 11 is happy with 13… Nd7 but agrees that Black should have preferred 17… Nd5.
It’s the second half, though, which gives the book its title. Coaching a world class grandmaster who plays even better than you do is very different from giving an occasional lesson to the top board from your local primary school.
Here, Tukmakov relates his experiences of one-off collaborations with Geller, Tseshkovsky, Korchnoi (Wijk aan Zee & Brussels 1991) and Karpov (match with Anand, 1998). More recently, he’s acted as coach to Anish Giri (2014-2016) and Wesley So (2016-2017).
In this section of the book you’ll find another 46 games or extracts, so you get a lot of interesting chess for your money.
In complete contrast to the previous game, here you can see an example of impressively deep opening preparation.
Shirov had reached the position after 21… Bh4+ before, but had met Kd2 rather than Kf1. Tukmakov claims that 25. Qh5 was a novelty: in fact it had been played twice before, with Black replying Ne5 and, although standing worse, scoring 1½/2.
An excellent book, then, fascinating and, at times, brutally honest. Tukmakov offers a different insight into top level chess from two perspectives: a captain and a coach.
If your main aim is improving your chess you might not consider it an essential purchase, but if the subject matter appeals, don’t hesitate. You won’t be disappointed.
Richard James, Twickenham, 29th February 2020
Book Details :
Paperback : 352 pages
Publisher: Thinkers Publishing; 01 edition (2 April 2019)
“Grandmaster Paul van der Sterren (1956 ), was one of the strongest chess players of the Netherlands. He became twice national champion and represented his country eight times during the Chess Olympiads. In 2001 he retired from being an active player and focused on writing books drawn from his rich chess experience. This is his first English chess book written for Thinkers Publishing.”
Many chess players are strikingly ignorant of their game’s heritage, so there’s always a place for a new book offering readers a quick spin through chess history.
There are, broadly speaking, several ways this could be approached: a selection of Famous Games for those who haven’t seen them before, a history of the world championship itself, or an essay on the development of chess style and opening theory over the centuries.
Van der Sterren’s book seems to combine all three approaches. How does it fare?
As I have a particular interest in pre-20th century chess history I decided to dive in at the beginning.
We start, not unreasonably, with Philidor. After some biographical information we might be looking forward to seeing how he played.
Alas, not. The author makes the extraordinary claim that “It is true that some fragments of his games have made it into today’s databases, but their authenticity is doubtful and it is likely that these are mostly fictitious games invented by him for the purpose of teaching or demonstrating a particular point he wanted to make.”.
Really? Is van der Sterren confusing Philidor with Greco, perhaps? While it’s true that the games in his books, and there were only a few, were fictitious, my database has one piece of analysis from 1749 along with 60 complete and 5 partial games against named and known opponents from between 1780 and 1795, all but the first played in London. They were collected by Philidor’s friend George Atwood and many of them were published by George Walker in 1835. There is no doubt at all of their authenticity.
We then move onto the match(es) between La Bourdonnais and McDonnell in 1834. A complete game would have been good but all we get is the Famous Position where the Frenchman forced resignation with three pawns on the seventh rank, without any explanation as to how the position arose.
Then comes the first international tournament: London 1851. We meet Staunton and Anderssen, and, guess what, we see the finales of the Evergreen and Immortal Games. Again, if you really want to publish them because your readers might not have seen them before, why not give the complete games?
According to van der Sterren, “Now Black has to play the defensive move 20… Na6.”. Historians disagree about whether or not Kieseritzky resigned before playing this move (he claimed he did), or whether he played the move and Anderssen announced mate, but why not mention the much better, but still insufficient, defence 20… Ba6?
Come to think of it, why not mention that both the Immortal and Evergreen games were casual encounters in which Anderssen could afford to take risks?
Moving on, inevitably, to Morphy, by this point I started to play a game with myself, guessing what I’d find in each chapter. Opera House game? Tick! Queen sac v Paulsen? Surprisingly not.
On to Steinitz. Bardeleben at Hastings? Tick! Van der Sterren talks about Steinitz’s advocacy of positional chess, and then aims to justify the inclusion of this tactical game atypical of his late style by incorporating some callout boxes labelled ‘Misunderstandings’ in a rather ugly childish font: something not repeated elsewhere in the book.
Lasker? Exchange Lopez ending v Capa? Tick! Then, on p49, in a moment of carelessness, we meet ‘Dawid Janowksi’,
On the same page we see a Famous Pawn Ending between Lasker and Tarrasch:
We’re told that “By looking at the position in a concrete way instead of relying on general considerations, it is possible to find a concrete path to salvation for Black.”. It’s White, not Black, who finds a concrete path to salvation by playing, after 40. h4 Kg4, 41. Kg6 rather than the losing Kf6. Although the annotations throughout the book are mostly verbal we do get a variation which demonstrates why Kf6 loses.
Capablanca? Qb2 v Bernstein? Tick! Rook ending v Tartakower? Tick! But not full games.
Alekhine? v Réti in 1925? Tick! Bogo in 1922? Tick! Again, only the closing stages so we don’t get to see how he reached those positions.
To be fair, the book improves as it approaches the 21st century, and we start meeting players the author knew or knows well.
Here, for instance, is a position from a game I must have seen at the time, but had forgotten about.
This is Anand-Karpov Las Palmas 1996. Here, Vishy played Bxh7+!.
“Anand must have felt there is bigger game to be hunted than just a pawn. Still, to forego a perfectly reasonable option with an extra pawn and a draw in the bag, in favour of a piece sacrifice with unpredictable consequences, is not a decision many players would have made. It is a sign of self-confidence, great powers of calculation and bravery; in other words the hallmark of the most pure, sparkling talent.”
This is typical of van der Sterren’s style of annotation: words rather than variations and a tendency towards hero-worship.
Anand himself is, typically, more modest: “Here, I spent a few seconds checking 21. Rxd5 which leaves White with an extra pawn, but as I mentioned earlier I couldn’t be bothered. I saw Bxh7+ and didn’t waste any more time on Rxd5. I then spent some time analysing Bxh7+, and didn’t see a defence for Black. I then realized that I was too excited to analyse and decided to get it over with. He had hardly any time left already and I was sure that he wouldn’t find a defence.”
Does the book succeed? Although I don’t like being negative in my reviews, I’m afraid not. It suffers from trying to do too much in too short a space, and from a lack of historical knowledge and awareness. If you know anything at all about the history of our beautiful games you’ll have seen almost everything before, and you’ll be frustrated by the broad brushstrokes.
Back in 1987, Mike Fox and I were criticised by some reviewers for including a chapter of Greatest Games in The Complete Chess Addict, but they failed to understand that our target market was social players who wouldn’t have seen them before. By the same token, there may still be a market for a collection of Famous Games, Famous Combinations and Famous Endgame Studies. There are several other histories of the world championship, and treatises on the development of chess style and opening theory, but books that are up to date and whose authors have something new to say are always welcome. This book doesn’t really do any of these things very well, and there is very little original content or thought. If you try to be everything to everyone you end up being nothing to nobody.
However, the book is, for the most part, nicely produced, with a lot of attractive photographs. For someone just starting out in competitive chess who would like to know more about the game’s history, this could be just what they want to pique their interest and encourage them to study this fascinating aspect of chess in more detail.
Richard James, Twickenham, 18th February 2020
Book Details :
Paperback : 264 pages
Publisher: Thinkers Publishing; 1 edition (20 May 2019)
We focus on the British Chess Scene Past & Present !
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