GM Nikola Sedlak is a former Serbian Champion who has won both the EU Individual Open Championship and an Olympiad gold medal.
From the publisher:
“The Dutch Defense is one of Black’s most combative responses to 1.d4, and the Stonewall is the boldest version of this opening. Black immediately seizes space in the center and clamps down on the e4-square, laying the foundations for a complicated strategic battle. Many players believe the Stonewall to be a substandard opening, naively assuming that the e5-outpost and bad light-squared bishop must give White the advantage.
GM Nikola Sedlak disagrees, and in Playing the Stonewall Dutch he shares the insights that have helped him to rack up a healthy plus score from Black’s side. In addition to providing a complete repertoire in the main lines of the Stonewall, this book also offers useful guidance on dealing with Anti-Dutch variations and various move-order subtleties.”
End of blurb…
High quality paper is used and the printing is clear: excellent glossy paper has been used. The weight of this paper gives the book an even better feel to it!
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.
A small (but insignificant) quibble: the diagrams do not have a “to move” indicator (but they do have coordinates!). There is a full games index which is most welcome. This title is part of the Quality Chess Grandmaster Guide series.
The main content is divided into eleven chapters viz:
Avoiding the Fianchetto
Fianchetto with Bf4
7.Nbd2 & 7.Ne5
The Flexible Stonewall
The Aggressive Stonewall
1.c4 and 1.Nf3
Before we continue it is confession time…
Prior to reading this book I had little knowledge of the Stonewall Dutch from Black’s perspective although I did look at it briefly when studying the Triangle Variation and the Abrahams (Noteboom) Variation of the Semi-Slav. There are lines where Semi-Slav players have the option of transposing into a Stonewall Dutch and Gerald Abrahams did play this way on occasion. I am more familiar from White’s perspective but, nonetheless, to my chagrin, insufficiently so.
The Stonewall Dutch has not hitherto had many books published about it. Popularised by Botvinnik it has found most support by club players rather than by elite Grandmasters. The well known structure for Black is typically :
arrived at by numerous move orders.
and therefore comparison with this other book will be beneficial to the student.
The authors recommended move order of 1.d4 e6 clearly requires Black to be familiar with the French Defence (or the Franco-Sicilian as a matter of taste.) and is a very common mechanism among practitioners of the Classic / Stonewall Dutch. Lenningrad Dutch players have less flexibility at their disposal. 1…e6 has the virtue of avoiding some of White’s pesky so-called Anti-Dutch ideas such as 2. Bg5, 2.Nc3 and the Staunton Gambit (2.e4).
However, for completeness, the author provides ideas for Black to combat the above (and more) white tries after 1.d4 f5 in Chapter 9. In fact, the coverage of these move two tries is more comprehensive than most books on any line of the Dutch Defence.
Consulting Megabase 2020 we find that the author, Nikola Sedlak has recorded 2102 games which ranks him as one of the most active players. We find that against 1. d4 nowadays he plays both 1…f5 and 1…e6 with the latter being the modern move order choice. The Stonewall features in many of these games.
Apart from the move two alternatives I was curious to see the recommendations for dealing with the overly ubiquitous London System. Indeed, against the Stonewall and Classical Dutch is one of the rare occasions where I would consider playing
and 3.Bf4 is only eclipsed (as you’d expect) by 3.c4 or 3.g3 in popularity. There is extensive coverage in Chapter 9 of this club player favourite.
Before delving deeper it is worth knowing that Quality Chess have provided a pdf excerpt of the Preface and and the first twenty or so pages of Chapter 5 on 7.b3. This will give you an excellent feel for the style of presentation so please take a look!
The Introduction chapter is 13 pages of invaluable discussion of the overall strategy of the Stonewall structure interspersed with plans, strategic ideas, themes and motifs. Re-reading until you fully understand these ideas will be time well spent.
Each main content chapter comprises of a schematic of variations followed by a detailed introduction to the ideas and then a number of high quality model games many of which have the author playing the black pieces.
The analysis and recommendations are generous with explanations not spoilt by reams of tedious engine dumps. On average each page contains 3-4 diagrams giving the content a user friendly feel. It is clear that the author does his best to keep the reader engaged and “on-side”: this is not always easy for opening books which are generally harder work to stay with than say games collections or tactics primers.
As I mentioned earlier, my knowledge of the “main” lines (those where white plays g3) is superficial so I decided to conduct a “gedanken” experiment and use MegaBase 2020. Using the “most games” style of lookup I arrived at the following position to have been played the most up to 2020:
giving white a range of 7th move choices. Note that Black has opted for the more active …d6 development of the bishop as against the more conservative …e7. There is a considerable body of theory for both options.
By a considerably large margin the most popular move here is 7.b3:
and MegaBase 2020 has roughly 4,500 games between players of any strength and 1,000 games if you use the “Top Games” option. The author dedicates Chapter 5 and a full 40 pages to 7.b3. (The Pavlovic book also dedicates substantial space to this line.)
So having arrived here I asked Megabase 2020 to show me the most popular direction of travel from here :
7…Qe7; 8.Bb2, 0-0;9.Nbd2,b6;10.Ne5, Bb7;11.Rc1,a5; (various move orders are available as the saying goes) and then White is less clear about the next most popular move although 12.e3 is the standard recommendation.
Consulting the author we find ourselves in Chapter 5, variation B2), page 134 and the variation is considered over six pages in considerable depth. (Pavlovic also covers this position as you would expect.)
The first model game of this chapter to enjoy is this gem:
which is analysed in depth.
Unlike some reviewers I will not be revealing a list of spoilers of what the author recommends in positions x, y and z. Usually I like to point out important lines that have been missed out but I get the impression that coverage is comprehensive and devoid of such omissions.
The overall impression is of a superbly produced book suitable for someone considering adding the Stonewall Dutch to their repertoire as well as an excellent booster for someone who is experienced with it.
World Champion Chess for Juniors : Learn From the Greatest Players Ever : Joel Benjamin
From the book’s rear cover :
“Grandmaster Joel Benjamin introduces all seventeen World Chess Champions and shows what is important about their style of play and what you can learn from them. He describes both their historical significance and how they inspired his own development as a player. Benjamin presents the most instructive games of each champion. Magic names such as Kasparov, Capablanca, Alekhine, Botvinnik, Tal, and Karpov, they’re all there, up to current World Champion Magnus Carlsen. How do they open the game? How do they develop their pieces? How do they conduct an attack or defend when necessary? Benjamin explains, in words rather than in chess symbols, what is important for your own improvement. Of course the crystal-clear style of Bobby Fischer, the 11th World Champion, guarantees some very memorable lessons. Additionally, Benjamin has included Paul Morphy. The 19th century chess wizard from New Orleans never held an official title, but was clearly the best of the world during his short but dazzling career. Studying World Champion Chess for Juniors will prove an extremely rewarding experience for ambitious youngsters. Trainers and coaches will find it worthwhile to include the book in their curriculum. The author provides many suggestions for further study.”
“Joel Benjamin won the US Championship three times and has been a trainer for almost three decades. His book Liquidation on the Chess Board won the Best Book Award of the Chess Journalists of America (CJA), and his most recent book Better Thinking, Better Chess is a world-wide bestseller.”
Naturally enough, given that I’ve been teaching chess to children since 1972, I’m always interested in reading chess books with ‘juniors’ or ‘kids’ in the title.
Let’s see what we have here.
From the introduction:
If you are not a junior, please don’t toss this book aside; there is still a lot of cool analysis and history in here for you. But I have written this book, primarily, to reach out to younger players. At any point in history, we see a ‘generation gap’, where young people see the world in a very different way than their elders. If you are, let’s say, a teen or a tween, you probably process most chess material from a computer. You follow recent events, work on tactics puzzles, practice against an engine, or whatever works for you. This may match your lifestyle of playing Minecraft or (worse) Fortnite on your I-pad instead of reading books.
A few years ago, I was horrified to learn that two of my (young) fellow instructors at a chess camp could not name the World Champions in order (or even place them roughly in their time periods). For someone of my generation, that fundamental lack of knowledge was unthinkable. And while I accept that kids today learn things in different ways, I feel that they are still missing out on their ignorance of knowledge provided by books.
I’m in complete agreement with Joel Benjamin here. I believe that, for all sorts of reasons, learning about the great champions of the past should be part of everyone’s chess education. This issue has been raised in the introduction of several books I’ve reviewed recently: some authors agree, but others, sadly, don’t.
And from the back cover (presumably written by the publishers):
So you want to improve your chess? The best place to start is looking at how the great champs did it!
I’m not in agreement with this, though. I’ve spent the past 45 years or so failing to understand why round about 90% of chess teachers consider it a good idea to demonstrate master games, usually with sacrificial attacks, to inexperienced players.
What does it mean to write a book for ‘juniors’, anyway? What do we mean by a junior? Perhaps we mean Alireza Firouzja (rated 2759 at age 17 as I write this)? Or do we mean Little Johnny who’s just mastered the knight move? There’s an enormous difference between writing for 7-year-olds, writing for 12-year-olds and writing for 17-year-olds. Benjamin mentions ‘teens and tweens’ in his introduction. How do you write for this age group? Do you try to appear ‘down with the kids’ by writing things like ‘Yay, bro! Morphy was a real sick dude!”? Maybe not, but you might, as he does, throw in a lot of ‘cools’ and a few ‘legits’, as well as a lot of exclamation marks at the end of sentences.
There’s also an enormous difference between writing for players rated, say 500, 1000, 1500 and 2000. The nature of this difference is something I’ve been thinking about for many years. I think the most helpful information I’ve found about teaching at different levels is from this article (apologies if you’ve seen it before), in particular the section entitled ‘experts learn differently’. I’d consider a novice (apprentice) to be someone with a rating of under 1000, an expert (guild member) to have a rating of 2000 plus, and everyone else (which includes the vast majority of adults who know the moves) to be journeymen/women.
Novices, then, learn best through explicit instruction and worked examples, while experts learn best through discovery and/or an investigative approach. If you’re writing for a readership between novices and experts, you’ll use a mixture of both methods. I’d also suggest that, given the relative inexperience and immaturity of younger children, you’d probably be well advised to add two or three hundred points onto your novice/expert split.
Top GM games these days are, of course, insanely complicated, and only an expert player could expect to learn anything from looking at, say, a Carlsen – Caruana game.
Let’s plunge into this book, then, and decide who would benefit most from reading it, in terms of both age and rating.
Before I go any further, I’d add that there are many reasons you might want to read a chess book: information, enjoyment, inspiration or instruction, for example, but this book, as you might expect from the 21st century Zeitgeist, nails its colours firmly to the flagpole labelled ‘instruction’. LEARN from the Greatest Players Ever.
Taking the reader on a journey through chess history, stopping off on the way to introduce us to each of the world champions in turn, it reminds me of two other books I’ve reviewed on these pages: this and this (also from New in Chess), neither of which impressed me, as a cynic with a pretty good knowledge of chess history, greatly.
We start off, not unreasonably, with Morphy (the greatest showman). In every chapter we get some brief biographical notes, a handful of annotated games and a couple of unannotated games. Here he is, crushing the Aristocratic Allies at the opera house, and sacrificing his queen against Louis Paulsen in New York. Yes, you’ve probably seen them hundreds of times before, but the target reader, a young player with little knowledge of chess history, might not have done. The notes at this point focus, understandably, on ideas rather than variations.
Next up is Steinitz (the scientist). We visit Hastings, of course, just in time to witness von Bardeleben disappearing from the tournament hall rather than resigning. We also see him daringly marching his king up the board in the opening and exploiting the advantage of the two bishops. He beats Chigorin in a game that starts 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 Nf6 4. d3 when Benjamin points out that “With the rise of the Berlin endgame this move has become very popular in the 21st century”. Which is very true, but assumes that the reader knows something about the Berlin endgame. (It’s mentioned in slightly more detail later in the book, but you should describe it the first time you mention it.) Later on, though we’re advised not to forget the en passant rule. So this appears to be a book for readers who understand all about the Berlin endgame but might not remember en passant.
We move into the 20th century: Lasker (the pragmatist) beating Capa in an Exchange Lopez ending, Capablanca (the endgame authority) himself winning a rook ending against Tartakower, Alekhine (the disciplined attacker) winning complex encounters against Bogoljubov and Réti, Euwe (the professional amateur) in turn winning the Pearl of Zandvoort against Alekhine.
As we approach the present day, the games get more complicated and not so easy to use for specific lessons. The great Soviet champions all had their distinctive styles, though. There’s Botvinnik (the master of training), Smyslov (the endgame artist), Tal (the magician), Petrosian (the master strategist) and Spassky (the natural).
Then, of course, Fischer (the master of clarity), Karpov (the master technician) and Kasparov (the master of complications) are introduced as we approach the 21st century.
Today, all the top grandmasters excel in all areas of the game, and, with the aid of computer preparation, their games are often mind-boggling in their complexity. Kramnik is awarded the epithet ‘the strategic tactician’, but this could apply to any 21st century great.
It’s time to look at a few examples of Benjamin’s annotations, so that you can decide whether it’s a suitable book for you, your children or your students.
Here, at Linares in 1997, Topalov, the master of the initiative, has sacrificed the exchange for … the initiative.
White, Gelfand, is considering his 23rd move.
An exchange to the good, White has some leeway in defense. He must appreciate the need to give back to the community here.
Topalov points out that 23. Qd2 Ne5 24. Rxe5 Qxe5 25. Nxb7? is too dangerous (after almost any rook move, actually) but White can hold the balance with 25. b4 a5 26. Qe2!. White can play more ambitiously with 23. b4 Ne5 24. Rxe5 Qxe5 25. Nb2, though Topalov would likely pitch a pawn for good play after 25… d3 26. Nxd3 Qd4+. Finally, even the radical (and inhuman, I think) 23. Nc3!? dxc3 24. Qxc3 looks playable, as suddenly some black minor pieces look misplaced and the white rooks are working well. Chess players need a good sense of danger, but here Gelfand’s Spidey-sense fails to tingle.
An excellent note, I think, but it would, inevitably given the complexity of the position, be instructive for older and more experienced players.
For the record, the game continued 23. Ne4? Ne5 24. Qg5 Re8! 25. Rd2? when Topalov missed 25… Ng4+! 26. Kg1 Qxg5 27. Nxg5 Re1#. but his choice of Qc4 was still good enough to win quickly.
For another example of the style of annotation in this book, in this position Anand, the lightning attacker, has unleashed a TN against Kasparov’s Sicilian in the 1995 World Championship match. What will the champ play on his 20th move?
Anand had expected 20… Qa5, which has been played in subsequent practice. However, Kasparov would have had a lot to calculate and evaluate there. When you hit your opponent with an unpleasant opening surprise, they may hesitate to risk the most challenging lines.
20… Qa5!? 21. Nxd6 Bxa4 22. Bb6 Rxd6 and now Anand considered two lines:
A) 23. Qxd6 Rxd6 24. Bxa5 Bxf4 (24… Bxc2? 25. e5+-) 25. Rxb7 Bxc2 26 Rd8 Rxd8 27. Bxd8 Bxe4! 28. Rb4 Bxf3 29. Rxf4 Bd5 30. Bxf6 gxf6 31. Rxf6 and the position should be drawn;
B) Anand preferred 23. Bxa5! Rxd3 24. cxd3 Bxd1 25. Bxd1. White doesn’t win any material but keeps the potential for long-term pressure.
Well, I hope you followed all that.
The main part of the book concludes with Carlsen, the master of everything and nothing.
Here’s a position from a game which, according to Benjamin, displays his accuracy and brilliance in attacking play.
He’s playing the white pieces against Li Chao (Doha 2015) and is about to make his 24th move.
Carlsen breaks down the defense with a beautiful interference tactic. By attacking the knight on b6, he enables the deadly push e5-e6.
White could easily go wrong here:
A) 24. gxf5 Nc4 25. Nxg6+ (25. e6?? a3 wins for Black) 25… Ke8 26. e6? a3! 27. exf7+ Kd7 28. f8N+! Ke8 29. bxa3 Rxa3+ 30. Kb1 Rda8 31. Na4! and White barely forces Black to take a perpetual. Instead 25. Ncd5!! wins for White. The idea is to kill the mate with Rc1xc4 and then proceed on the kingside;
B) Again the take-first mentality 24. Nxg8+? Ke8 loses ground. White can probably still win with 25 d5! but it’s a lot less clear.
Again, good analysis, although Benjamin’s notes do include rather a lot of ‘perhaps’ and ‘probably’, which you may or may not care for.
That’s not quite the end of the book. There’s some ‘fun stuff’ at the end, most usefully a 36 question tactics quiz: some easy and familiar but others more challenging.
This is a good book of its kind, although if you like the first half you might find the last few chapters too hard, and if, like me, you enjoyed Benjamin’s coverage of contemporary players, the first half will offer you nothing new.
But is it a book for juniors, though?
Little Johnny, aged 8, is doing well in his school chess club, playing at about 1000 strength. His parents, who know little about chess, would like to buy him a book so that he can learn more and perhaps play like Fischer, Kasparov or Carlsen. What could be better, they think, than learning from the world champions? Is this a suitable book for him? Definitely not: it’s much too hard in every respect. Instead, as a young novice, he requires a book with explicit instruction and worked examples.
Jenny is 12, has a rating of about 1500, and is starting to play in adult competitions. Perhaps this would be a good book for her. Well, it’s more suitable for her than for Johnny, but again it’s rather too hard: I think you’ll agree from the extracts you’ve seen that it’s really aimed at older and more experienced players. She’ll still need, for the most part, explicit instruction and worked examples, but pitched at a higher level than Johnny’s book.
Jimmy is an ambitious 16-year-old with a rating of 2000 who would like to reach master strength while finding out more about the history of the game he loves. This could be an ideal book for him: as a player approaching expert standard with perhaps a decade’s experience of chess, he’d benefit from discovery and/or an investigative approach, for which he can use annotated grandmaster games. But would he be seen dead carrying a book with ‘juniors’ in the title under his arm? And, at least here in the UK, there are very few ambitious 16-year-olds around to read this book.
It’s nothing personal to do with the author or the publishers, but my view is that many people buy books which are much too hard to be useful, either for themselves or for their children or students. On the other hand, books which really would be helpful don’t sell. And you can’t blame publishers for bringing out books they think people will buy.
You could write a great book for Little Johnny, I think. A colourful hardback with short chapters about each champion. Photographs and perhaps also cartoons of each. A few simple one-move puzzles in each chapter taken from their games: perfect novice-level tuition. Some historical background as well. Maps to show the champions’ countries of birth, and, perhaps, where else they lived. The word for chess and the names of the pieces in their native languages. Cross-curricular benefits: children will learn about history, geography and languages as well as chess. Age-appropriate in terms of chess, vocabulary and grammar as well. All primary schools would welcome a few copies for their school library.
You could also write a good book for Jenny. You could introduce each champion again, and then look how the different champions interpreted openings like the Ruy Lopez and the Queen’s Gambit, how they played kingside attacks or IQP positions, how they navigated rook endings. Perhaps also, where available, some simple games played when they were Jenny’s age. She’ll learn, at a fairly basic level, about the history of chess ideas as well as the champions. You’d probably also want to include some puzzles where you have to look two or three moves ahead. This is how you teach students who are neither novices (like Little Johnny) or budding experts (like Jimmy). A mixture of harder ‘novice’ material and easier ‘expert’ material.
I think both Johnny’s and Jenny’s books should include female as well as male champions: Jenny, as well as Johnny, would like role models she can relate to. You might think it remiss of Benjamin (or New in Chess) not to have included any Women’s World Champions in this book.
It’s a good book, then, although, by it’s nature it’s not going to be earth-shatteringly original. But it’s not a book for juniors. If it was called simply World Championship Chess, or Learn Chess from the Champions I wouldn’t really have a problem with it.
I really ought to add that the games are well chosen and expertly annotated (if you don’t mind the slightly casual style), and the author, unlike others ploughing the same field, doesn’t stray beyond the limits of his historical knowledge.
It’s also, as to be expected from this publisher, excellently produced, with, unusually for these days, a refreshing lack of typos.
I mentioned earlier the reasons why you might want to read a chess book. You may well find this book informative, especially if your knowledge of chess history is lacking. It’s certainly an entertaining read: the author’s lively style of writing and annotation shines through. You’ll probably also find it inspirational to be able to play through the greatest games of the greatest players of all time. But is it also instructional? I’m not really convinced that this is the most efficient method of teaching anyone below 2000. It’s certainly not an efficient method of teaching this very experienced, 1900-2000 strength, player.
Recommended, then, if you want to know more about the world champions, but not really a book for juniors.
“Dariusz Swiercz was born in 1994 in Tarnowskie Gory, Poland. His grandfather taught him to play chess at the age of three. During his junior career he won numerous National Championships as well as several European and World Championship medals. His highest successes include the bronze medal in 2010 at the World U20 Championship (Chotowa, Poland), gold medal in 2011 at the World U20 Championship (Chennai, India) and another gold medal in 2012 at the World U18 Championship (Maribor, Slovenia). He is one of the youngest to receive the Grandmaster title at the age of 14 years and 7 months. In 2016 he won the third edition of the “Millionaire Chess” held in Las Vegas, USA. Since 2018 he has represented the United States. Dariusz currently resides in Saint Louis, Missouri.”
From the book’s rear cover we have :
“The Ruy Lopez is one of the most popular openings of all time. It is a frequent guest in the games of players around the world from novice to Grandmaster. As a result of the increased power of analysis engines the theory of the Ruy Lopez has greatly expanded. Lines that did not exist years ago have been fully developed, supported with extensive analysis, and incorporated into the repertories of top players. Despite this exponential growth in theory, I believe that when armed with sound knowledge it is possible to pose certain practical problems for Black. The purpose of this book is to provide you with detailed and clear explanations of the intricacies of the Ruy Lopez.”
In this series (this is Volume 1) the author takes an in-depth look via 513 pages of how to play the Ruy Lopez (Spanish Opening) from Whites perspective giving many lines that he believes will leave White with some advantage after the opening .
Part 1 looks at opening lines that are slightly unusual and “off-beat” such as the Bird’s defence;
the Schliemann defence;
the Cozio defence;
the Smyslov defence;
the Classical defence;
the Steinitz defence;
the Norwegian defence (ed. the Taimanov defence for those with long memories!);
and Averbakh variations;
Unlike many recent opening books, unusually Dariusz does not analyse complete games but does provide copious amounts of analysis as to how to play against many different tries by black.
Having played the Schliemann a great deal both OTB and online I was interested to see what his recommendation was:
and 4. d3 fe4; 5. de4 Nf6; 6. 00 was his choice here
with both 6…d6 and the main line 6…Bc5 discussed in detail.
Against 6…Bc5 it is recommended that White goes pawn grabbing with 7.Bxc6 bxc6; 8.Ne5 00 9 Nc3 d6 10 Na4 with analysis that goes as far as move 25 showing that White has a clear advantage.
The delayed Schliemann 3…a6; 4. Ba4 f5 is also discussed but this has, for many years, been regarded as suspect concluding that 5.d4! is considered the “refutation”.
Part 2 deals solely with Kramnik’s favourite (and Kasparov’s anti-favourite!) the Berlin Defence 3…Nf6 which has caused even some of the top players in the world to switch (albeit temporarily) further south from the Spanish Opening to the Italian Game, 3.Bc4.
Both 4.00 and 4.d3 are examined closely and in the castles line he prefers variations for White that keep the Queens on: after 4…Ne4; 5.Re1 Nd6; 6.Ne5 Be7; 7.Bf1 Nf5; 8.Nf3 d5
both 9.d4 00; 10.c3 and 9 Nc3 are considered as alternatives.
The depth of Berlin analysis runs to nearly 100 pages and is aimed at players who are willing to look at openings well over 20 moves deep.
4.d3 is also studied when both 4…d6 and 4…Bc5 are looked at with much analysis again going to over 20 moves and showing that usually white has an advantage and can continue putting pressure on black .
Part 3 features the Open 5…Ne4 line when after 6 d4 b5 7 Bb3 d5 now both 8 Ne5 and the more popular 8 de5 Be6 9 Nbd2 the move that Karpov employed in his games against Korchnoi is discussed:
I played this variation for at least 30 years and came to the conclusion that White is always a bit better.
Essentially this is the coverage of Volume 1. To learn about the Closed Ruy Lopez we will be looking at Volume 2 in a future review.
In summary, this book is for players who are not frightened of looking at an opening in considerable depth that is sure to happen in a significant number of their games. It is a handy tool for “correspondence” players and I will, no doubt, be consulting it for good use in my future games!
Colin Lyne, Farnborough, Hampshire, 9th April, 2021
Chess Duels 1921 – 1924 : 127 Games Annotated by Alexander Alekhine
From the publisher:
The publication is a continuation of the project to publish all the available games annotated by the Fourth world chess champion Alexander Alekhine. These are not only his own games but also games played by other players for which he contributed notes in various publications. Covered here are several international tournaments in Europe from 1921-1923, as well as exhibition games in Britain and North America from 1923 and early 1924. An additional chapter gives a few early game annotations which were not included in the first volume. 312 pp. Researched by Vlastimil Fiala, translated and edited by Ken Neat.
Vlastimil Fiala is a professor of Political Science and distinguished academic and the main driving force behind the publishing house, Moravian Chess based in Olomouc in the Czech Republic. Fiala’s second love is chess history which he treats as a science. His publication portfolio is impressive : the web site of Moravian Chess provides a listing.
Durham based Dr. Kenneth P. Neat (an expert on cosmic rays which he studied whilst at Moscow State University between 1968 and 1970) is one of the most experienced chess translators with a back-catalogue extending to almost fifty years. His earliest work was for BT Batsford and, by a pleasurable coincidence, was “Alexander Alekhine” by Alexander Kotov published in 1973. Ken translated many titles for Batsford and then became the in-house translator for Robert Maxwell and Pergamon Publishing with many works to his credit. Since then Ken has translated further titles for Moravian Chess.
This is the second book in a series (“Chess Duels”) to collect together all games annotated by Alekhine regardless of who the players were. The first book by this team covered the period 1893 – 1920 and this book continues by covering the years 1921 – 1924.
The book is produced as a hardback of almost exactly A5 dimensions. The binding appears to be well executed and the cover hard wearing. There is a generous quantity of diagrams per game using figurine algebraic notation throughout. The book requires no weights to keep it open and the pages are printed in a double column format. The book even has a charming aroma and feel when flicking through the pages!
For each game we are given the original source of the annotations plus the details of the players, the event type and name and a basic modern description of the opening and its Rabar Index / ECO code.
The content of the book is divided into four parts, one for each year. Each Part is then further subdivided, for example:
Part One : Games Played in Europe I (1921)
Games played in Germany
The Hague 1921
Two Knights Opening
Part Two : Games Played in Europe II (1922)
Bad Pistyan 1922
Other Games 1922
Part Three : Games Played in Europe III (1923)
Margate and Portsmouth
Other Games 1923
Part Four : Games Played in Canada and USA (November 1923 – February 1924)
Supplement to First Volume, Early Games (1861 – 1920)
Index of Sources
Index of Alekhine’s Opponents
Index of other Players
Index of Openings
So, the layout of material is clear and logical with a strong academic approach. One gets an impression of rigour and attention to detail. One detail missing that could have easily have been included was the exact date (where known) for each of the games. We found it interesting to compare the notes for games from a variety of sources and annotators and the date would have made these comparisons easier.
As stated, we have 127 complete games all with annotations from Alekhine himself. Of these 22 do not feature Alekhine but they are all top players of the period such such Rubinstein, Tarrasch, Yates, Thomas, Mieses etc.
One of the games that caught our eye was this lively encounter between Alekhine and Yates from Hastings in 1922:
The items titled “Two Knights Opening” and “Staunton Gambit” are theoretical articles written by Alekhine from the tournament book.
Of course, most (if not all) of the Alekhine games feature in previous games collections (nobody should be surprised by this). We compared the translation of the original annotations and the “feel” of the annotation has been retained. For example, from the well-known brilliancy prize winning game Tarrasch – Alekhine, Bad Pistyan, 1922, round one we have this translation by Julius du Mont and M. E. Goldstein (“My Best Games of Chess 1908 – 1923“, Alexander Alekhine, George Bell and Sons Ltd., London, 1927) of the note to after 1. d4 Nf6;2.Nf3 e6;3.c4 c5;
With the intention of investigating, on the next move, the gambit discovered by the Moscow amateur, Blumenfeld. Since then it has been shown that this Gambit is not favourable for Black if White should decline it
and our review book has
With the intention of introducing into international practise an interesting gambit, suggested by V.M. Blumenfeld. However it has now been shown that this continuation is more advantageous to White, if he does not accept the pawn sacrifice.
You might be worried that his book has been ruined with pages of modern analysis dumps from BabelFish XX (substitute the current, trendy engine of your choice). Have no fear : this book is choc full of pearls of wisdom from one of the greatest players to annotate games. No doubt there will be unfortunate souls who lives are brightened when “their engine” is able pick holes in analysis from a legend. Perhaps this is not the right book for them.
However…any serious student of chess will be delighted with this work and be able to relive these games through Alekhine’s eyes with much pleasure. The games annotated by Alekhine but not played by him are probably the icing on the cake.
We strongly recommend this and look forward to the next in the series.
John Upham, Cove, Hampshire, 7th April, 2021
Book Details :
Hardback : 312 pages
Publisher: Publishing House Moravian Chess; 1st edition (1 Jan. 2020)
Chess Rivals of the 19th Century : With 300 Annotated Games : Tony Cullen
From the publisher’s blurb :
“Many historical chess books focus on individual 19th century masters and tournaments yet little is written covering the full scope of competitive chess through the era. This volume provides a comprehensive overview, with 300 annotated games analyzed by past masters and checked by powerful engines.
Players such as Max Lange and Cochrane, known to the chess public only by the name given to a fierce attack or gambit, are brought to life. Fifty masters are each given their own chapter, with brief biographies, results and anecdotes and an endgame section for most chapters.
Tony Cullen played chess for the strong London Central YMCA Chess Club and organized tours playing team matches against strong opposition in various European cities. He lives in London.”
I guess I should start with a declaration of interest. Tony Cullen’s son was, fairly briefly, a member of Richmond Junior Chess Club about 30 years ago, so I got to know him quite well at that time. We also faced each other over the board in an inter-club match in 2009.
From the introduction:
This book aims to give the reader an overview of competitive chess throughout the 19th century. The battle for supremacy amongst the elite 19th century chess masters is a theme running throughout the book, but the second-rank masters also produced great chess at times, even against the top players, and so their games and their contributions to chess in general are given more attention in these pages than is normally the case. The bulk of the book is naturally concentrated on the second half of the century, since there were no international tournaments before then and not too many players of the first rank either.
There is a chapter devoted to each of the 50 masters: brief biographies, best games, results and anecdotes sprinkled throughout. Many of the games are annotated by 19th century masters, but any significant errors in their analysis of critical positions have been corrected using powerful chess engines. All 300 games are annotated. Although several of the players featured continued their careers well into the 20th century, the selected games are restricted to those played in the 19th century in order to retain the flavor of the period.
Philidor, who, although mentioned in the first chapter, just missed out on this book, famously said that pawns were the soul of chess. In one sense, yes, but you might also think of the soul of chess as its history and heritage, its literature and personalities.
This book takes you on a journey through the world of 19th century chess, from the coffee houses and cafés of London, Paris and Berlin through to the great international tournaments of the 1890s, from McDonnell and la Bourdonnais through to Pillsbury and Lasker. From players born in the closing years of the 18th century, to those who, like Maroczy and Mieses, lived on into the second half of the twentieth century, overlapping with the lives of both your author and your reviewer. The players are introduced in roughly chronological order.
The biographical sections often start with an obituary, taken perhaps from the British Chess Magazine, or from another contemporary source. Contemporary pen pictures are also included, along with entertaining anecdotes which tell us more about their lives and personalities. The author has used both Chessmetrics and Edochess to detail their match and tournament performances.
The annotations are taken from a wide range of contemporary sources. As well as magazines and tournament books, Cullen has used some fairly obscure books such as Examples of Chess Master-Play 2nd and 3rd series by CT Blanshard, Chess Sparks by JH Ellis and Modern Chess Brilliancies by GHD Gossip.
These were the days of old, when knights were bold and openings such as the King’s Gambit and Evans Gambit, usually accepted as a matter of principle, ruled the day. Today, Stockfish will laugh in your face if you essay the Kings Gambit, and will have no trouble equalising against the Evans Gambit, but Morphy and Anderssen didn’t have computer assistance, defensive skills were not well honed, and opening theory, although it went surprisingly far in some lines of the Evans, for example, was nothing like it is today.
Cullen clearly enjoys games with dashing sacrificial attacks, so you’ll be entertained with a feast of exciting and brilliant, although not always either subtle or sound, chess if you read this book.
You’ll meet a few familiar, over-anthologised, friends, it’s true, but, by and large, the author has avoided the obvious and included games which will be unfamiliar to many readers.
Anyone with a knowledge of chess history will know a lot about the likes of Morphy, Steinitz and Lasker, but they may well be less familiar with some of the lesser lights of their period.
The Pleiades, for example, were a group of seven strong players active in Berlin in the 1830s and 1840s. They played an important part in the development of chess theory, but are mostly forgotten today. The one who is remembered is Bernard Horwitz, who would later move to London, competing in the great 1851 tournament.
Another of the Pleiades was Ludwig Erdmann Bledow, a professor of mathematics noted for his aggressive and brilliant play. In this game from 1839 he’s playing Paul Rudolf von Bilguer, a failed army officer who died shortly before his 25th birthday, but whose name is immortalised in the famous Bilguer’s Handbook, a precursor of the likes of MCO which, for the best part of a century, would provide instruction for generations of German speaking chess players.
Emil Schallopp is one of those names you see, if you read about 19th century chess, in the middle or lower reaches of tournament cross-tables, but he was still, in Cullen’s estimation, ‘an outstanding tactician who produced many beautiful games’. This was a brilliancy prize winning game from towards the end of his career. The notes in the book are taken from two sources: Gossip and The Chess-Monthly, with further authorial comments.
Another German player, Miksa (Max) Weiss, was possibly one of the strongest players you’ve never heard of. He had a short career at the top level in the 1880s, finishing 2nd= with Blackburne at Frankfurt in 1887 behind Mackenzie and 1st= with Chigorin at New York in 1889 before retiring to concentrate on a career in banking. He ‘preferred a positional approach to the game and never played gambits’ but, at the same time, was ‘a fine tactician who was not at all afraid of combinations’. His favourite opening was the Ruy Lopez, but he was equally adept on the other side of the board, as here against a strong American opponent. Cullen publishes the game with Steinitz’s notes from the tournament book.
The one feature which somewhat confused me was the ‘endings’ at the end of most chapters. Many of them are indeed endgames, and fascinating they are as well, but some of them are game finishes with plenty of pieces still on the board, while a few serve as a basis for anecdotes.
It is, as Cullen says, ‘unbelievable’ that Johann Berger, a renowned Austrian endgame theorist as well as being of Sonneborn-Berger tiebreak system fame, should have played the losing Ke4?? rather than the drawing Ke3 in this position. If you haven’t seen the idea before, play it out for yourself!
This book is particularly strong on German and Austrian players: good news for me as I knew little about many of them. On the other hand, there were plenty of English players who might have been included: Buckle, Wyvill, Williams, Boden, Owen and others off the top of my head. I’m not sure whether or not this was a deliberate policy. Anyway, there’s certainly plenty of material for a second volume, perhaps taking us up to the outbreak of the First World War in 1914. I, for one, would certainly welcome this.
Although it makes extensive use of contemporary secondary sources, this may not be a book for the serious chess historian. Many of the recent excellent biographies of Cullen’s subjects are missing from the bibliography. I’m also not sure what to make of this: ‘Steinitz and Anderssen went into their London match of 1866 unaware that they were effectively playing for the vacant world championship title.’ and ‘However, there is a consensus among chess historians that Steinitz’s lengthy reign as world champion really began with his match victory against Anderssen in 1866.’ Is there? Yes, he was certainly considered the strongest active player in the world from 1866, but was he, or anyone else, really thought of as World Champion before 1886? Wikipedia thinks not: There is some debate over whether to date Steinitz’ reign as world champion from his win over Anderssen in 1866, or from his win over Zukertort in 1886. The 1886 match was clearly agreed to be for the world championship, but there is no indication that Steinitz was regarded as the defending champion. There is also no known evidence of Steinitz being called world champion after defeating Anderssen in 1866.
I’m not the first reviewer to say that this book is clearly a labour of love. Tony Cullen has a passion for 19th century chess history and literature, and for the romantic style of chess popular in those days, and this passion is evident in every page. The annotations, whether from contemporary sources or written by the author, are pitched at the right level for a book of this nature, only giving the most important lines rather than long, engine-generated variations. Playing through the games won’t help your openings very much. Nor will it teach you a lot about modern middle-game strategy. On the other hand, it might just take your tactical play to a new level. It will also increase your knowledge and enjoyment of chess, which may then lead to better results.
The production is, as one would expect from McFarland, of a high standard. As this is more a popular work than an academic history book it comes in paperback rather than hardback. The layout is, inevitably, I suppose, given the amount of information contained, somewhat cluttered, with diagrams not always appearing adjacent to the correct position, and sometimes not even on the same page. I also noticed a few typos, notwithstanding the proofreading efforts of the late Steve Berry, to whom, along with the author’s wife and son, the book is dedicated.
I really enjoyed this book, and, whatever your rating, if you love, or would like to find out more about, chess history, I’m sure you will too. If we make the mistake of only thinking about chess in terms of its extrinsic benefits, or in terms of the likes of Carlsen and Caruana, we’re missing out on its true soul. Every time we play a game, whether it’s in a match or tournament, an online blitz game, or a friendly game in the pub, we’re part of the same continuum. Here, for instance, is Mieses, continuing to play as a refugee from Nazi Germany into my lifetime, and sharing at least one opponent (Leonard Barden) with me. We can follow him back into the 19th century, and then follow chess back to Philidor, Greco, Ruy Lopez and beyond. This is the golden braid that binds us all together, whether woodpushers or grandmasters, and, at a deeper level, what chess is all about.
Win with the Caro-Kann : Sverre Johnsen and Torbjørn Ringdal Hansen
Sverre Johnsen is a chess analyst, researcher, organizer, trainer and writer from Norway. He is co-author of Win with the London System and Win with the Stonewall Dutch, two of the best-selling openings books of recent years.
Grandmaster Torbjørn Ringdal Hansen is from Norway. He is one of the founders of the chess retail business Sjakkhuset and works full-time as a chess trainer. He was the first coach of Magnus Carlsen (in 1999) and has worked with three other players who went on to become grandmasters.
Our current review book from Gambit is fully self-contained and forms the basis of a complete repertoire for black against 1.e4 after
offering the Korchnoi Variation for those needing to win with black (whilst risking a potentially difficult endgame) plus in Chapter Two the reliable Capablanca Variation:
whose endgame prospects are more attractive.
These two alternatives form the beating heart of this repertoire with brand new ideas and analysis to give white players problems to solve and spend time on the clock.
Prior to these chapters is an excellent Introduction which sets out the layout of the book, the philosophy of the repertoire, many strategic ideas and other useful words of wisdom and encouragement.
Each and every chapter is broken down into a series of Lessons (there are thirty Lessons in total) covering each variation in detail.
Consulting MegaBase it is clear that Torbjørn Ringdal Hansen favours the Caro-Kann and plays the Korchnoi Variation when permitted and as a past trainer of Magnus Carlsen he definitely knows what he is talking about!
Following on from the optional lines after
we have six lessons on how to face the Advance Variation. 3.e5 can cause more headaches for the Caro-Kann player than 3.Nc3 and the authors provide a repertoire based around the increasingly popular Arkell/Khenkin Variation:
Another six lessons then cover both the Exchange Variation and the Panov Attack:
and probably it is fair to say that the latter is the most common way of taking on the CK at club level.
Chapter 5 covers more or less everything else including the Fantasy Variation (which the authors call the Maróczy Variation)
followed by the Two Knights, the Pseudo-Panov (they call this the Steiner Variation, the King’s Indian Attack and the Hillbilly Attack plus some very rare beasts.
Curiously the Blackmar-Diemer Gambit
is not found in this chapter but in Chapter 1 as a fourth move alternative. All lines (including transpositions) are easily located via the Index of Variations.
It would be wrong to reveal all of the various innovations analysed in this book but to give a flavour I will mention that the twist the authors give to the Capablanca Variation is to to defer 7…Nd7 in favour of Dreev’s 7…e6!?
and the idea is for black to play a quick …c5 followed by …Nc6 at the right moment .
Each lesson comprises at least one model game plus what the authors term “Theory Magnifiers”. Essentially these are points in the model game where there are significant alternatives for white that require detailed study.
Liberally sprinkled throughout the text are multiple “fourth wall” type Question and Answer exchanges which worked so well for Matthew Sadler in his Slav and Semi-Slav books for Chess Press and Everyman Chess.
Cleverly, the authors have organised the material so that preparation of the material is in the most logical sequence eliminating the need for the student to create a preparation plan for themselves.
As a long time player of the Caro-Kann I can say that the repertoire presented here is thorough and instructive based on modern games. There are things I might disagree with but I’ve never known that not to be the case!
I suppose I am obliged to comment on the “Win with the” title. I’m not a huge fan of this style but a title is all that is it. If you can put this to one side and overcome it and focus on the content you will reap the rewards of not letting prejudice getting in the way.
So, in summary, this is an excellent repertoire trainer for black against 1.e4, which, after all, is the most important move of whites to prepare for.
“International Grandmaster Andrew Soltis is chess correspondent for the New York Post and a very popular chess writer. He is the author of many books including What it Takes to Become a Chess Master, Studying Chess Made Easy and David vs Goliath Chess.”
From the Batsford web site :
“Nearly 30 years since his last chess game, Bobby Fischer’s fame continues to grow. Appearing in Hollywood movies, documentaries and best-selling books, his life and career are as fascinating as they ever were and his games continue to generate discussion. Indeed, with each new generation of computer, stunning discoveries are made about moves that have been debated by grandmasters for decades.
International Grandmaster Andrew Soltis played Fischer and also reported, as a journalist, on the American’s legendary career. He is the author of many books, including Pawn Structure Chess, 365 Chess Master Lessons and What it Takes to Become a Chess Master.”
No chess library is complete without a copy of Bobby Fischer’s My 60 Memorable Games. If you’re interested in Fischer, and you certainly should be, you’ll also want a games collection looking at the whole of his career through 21st century eyes.
There are several to choose from and, I guess, you’d find a comparative review useful, but I’m not in a position to do that. All I can do at the moment is comment on the book in front of me.
This is a new edition of a book first published in 2003. I don’t have the original to hand to make a comparison. Seven games have been added, making a total of 107: mostly Fischer wins but a few draws are also included.
Here’s Soltis, from his Author’s Note:
Thirty years later (in 2002), I looked at Fischer’s games for the first time since they were played. What struck me is that they fell into two categories. Some were, in fact, overrated. But many more were underrated – if known at all. And his originality, so striking at the time, had been lost with time. It seemed to me Fischer deserved an entirely new look.
Soltis identifies several recurring themes in Fischer’s games. By emphasizing these themes in his annotations he provides instructive lessons for his readers.
“To get squares you gotta give squares”, as Fischer himself said.
Ugly moves aren’t bad.
Material matters. Soltis adds here that Fischer was a materialist: most of his great sacrificial games were played before he was 21.
Technique has many faces. Fischer was equally good at both obtaining and realizing an advantage – two different skills – often by converting one type of advantage to another.
Soltis concludes his note as follows:
Since the first edition of this book, Fischer’s games have been re-analyzed by many others, including Garry Kasparov, with the help of computers. Everyone finds something new – hidden resources, nuances and errors in earlier annotations. This is almost certain to go on with each new generation of stronger analytic engines. I have made extensive revisions since I tackled these games in 2003. But I suspect Fischer’s moves, like his life, will remain a source of fascination – if not mystery – well into this century.
One of the big plusses of this book is that the author was there at the time: he knew Fischer and all his contemporaries. Each game is preceded by a brief introduction putting it in context, often with the inclusion of a timely anecdote revealing an aspect of Fischer’s complex and contradictory personality.
If you’re familiar with Soltis’s style of annotation you’ll know what to expect: detailed annotations, using words to tell a story and only including variations where necessary: no reams of unexplained computer-generated analysis here.
Have a look at how Soltis deals with a game you might not have seen before: the lightweight encounter Fischer – Naranja, played in the Philippines in 1967. (MegaBase thinks this is from a simul, whereas Soltis describes it as one of a series of clocked games.) Note that these are just the more pertinent of his annotations.
1. e4 c5 2. Nc3 Nc6 3. Nge2 e5
The principled reply, as the Russians would say. It was unfairly criticized at the time for surrendering d5.
4. Nd5 Nf6 5. Nec3 Be7 6. Bc4 O-O 7. d3 h6?
Black wanted to avoid 8. Nxe7+ and 9. Bg5 but this puts his king on the endangered species list. Today’s grandmasters get close to equality with 7… Nxd5 8. Bxd5 d6 and a trade of bishops after Bg5.
8. f4! d6?
Black must exchange on f4.
This strategically decides the game. White stops …Be6 and sets the stage for a decisive advance of the g-pawn.
It was too late for 9… Nxd5 10. Nxd5 Bg5 because 11. Qh5! Bxc1 12. Rxc1 threatens 13. f6 with a quick mate. … But Black should at least eliminate the bishop with 9… Na5.
A striking move which prepares g4-g5, with or without Nxe7+ and Qh5. The key variation is 10… Nxd5 11. Bxd5! Bxh4+ and now 12. g3! Bxg3+ 13. Kf1, à la King’s Gambit, gives an overwhelming attack.
10… Bb7 11. a3!
Another exact move, preserving the bishop against 11… Na5 and stopping … Nb4. The significance of this is shown by 11. Nxf6+ Bxf6 12. Qh5? when Black has 12… Nb4! with good chances, e.g. 13. Bb3 d5 14. g4 c4!.
11… Rc8 12. Nxf6+! Bxf6 13. Qh5
Black had to do something about 14. g4 and 15. g5, and this enables him to shoot back with 14. g4 d5.
Another terrific move, threatening Bxf6. Of course, 14… hxg5 15. hxg5 is taboo because of mate on the h-file.
14… d5 15. Bxf6 dxc4 16. Qg4 g6 17. dxc4!
There must have been a huge temptation to try to finish the game off in style – particularly after White saw 17. Qg5 hxg5?? 18. hxg5 and Rh8#…. But again … Nxf5 bursts the bubble: 17. Qg5? Nxf5! and now 18. Bxd8 hxg5 19. Bxg5 Nd4 is a roughly equal ending, or 18. exf5 hxg5 19. hxg5 Qxf6.
This acknowledges defeat but 17… Kh7 would have breathed life into 18. Qg5!!:
(a) 18… Re8 19. h5! hxg5 20. hxg6+ and Rh8#
(b) 18… Rc6 19. h5! (the fastest) Nxf5 20. hxg6+ Kg8 21. Nd5! and
Nice tactics, to be sure, but Fischer was winning from move 9, and, so Stockfish 13 tells me, had many other ways to bring home the point. Was it really one of his greatest games, then? Or is this not the point of the book?
The third, tenth and thirteenth games from the 1972 Fischer – Spassky match are included, but not, to my surprise, the sixth, one of my favourite Fischer games. Most of the old favourites, though, are included, but all except his most devoted fans will find a few unfamiliar games.
As you would expect, this is a solid book which serves its purpose well. If you want the best of Bobby on your bookshelves you’re unlikely to be disappointed, but you might perhaps prefer to consider his games from a 2020 rather than an updated 2000 perspective. You’ll probably want to look around and decide which of several on the market best suits your requirements.
My main problem is a lack of references: although sources are sometimes given, all too often we read that ‘Botvinnik wrote’ or ‘Boleslavsky said’ without being told where. There are several blank pages at the end of the book which might usefully have been filled by a bibliography.
Nevertheless, I enjoyed the book, which gave me a new insight into Fischer’s games, along with some valuable background information.
Richard James, Twickenham 8th March 2021
Book Details :
Paperback: 312 pages
Publisher: Batsford Ltd; 2nd revised edition (5th March 2020)
A Modern Guide to Checkmating Patterns : Vladimir Barsky
From the book’s rear cover :
“Giving mate is the ultimate goal of every chess player. Finding that all-decisive combination is immensely satisfying. But how are you supposed to spot a checkmate when you are sitting at the board with the clock ticking?
In this guide International Master Vladimir Barsky teaches the method created by his mentor Viktor Khenkin (1923-2010). It’s based on an ingenious classification of the most frequently occurring mating schemes. A wide range of chess players will find it an extremely useful tool to recognize mating patterns and calculate the often narrow path to the kill.
All the 1,000 examples (850 of them in exercise format) that Barsky presents are from games played in 21st century. He has carefully selected the most instructive combinations and lucidly explains the typical techniques to corner your opponent’s king. More often than you would expect, positions that look innocent at first sight, turn out to contain a mating pattern. This is not just another book full of chess puzzles.
It’s a brilliantly organized course that has proven to be effective. Finding mate isn’t rocket science, but you need to know what to look for. Vladimir Barsky teaches you exactly that.”
“Vladimir Barsky (1969) is an International Master, an experienced chess coach and a well-known journalist and author. He lives in Moscow.”
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the difference between instructing novices and experts.
You might find this chart (source) helpful. It’s from an education blog but there’s some chess there as well!
Let’s assume that a novice has a rating below 1000 and an expert has a rating of 2000 or over. There’s also a rather large area in between the two, which would include most competitive players, for whom you’d use a combination of the two approaches.
A novice, then, learns best through explicit instruction and worked examples. Just as you probably learnt maths at school. You learn something specific, hold your teacher’s hand while she demonstrates how to do it, then go away and try it out for yourself. You will then receive feedback on how well you have done and transfer your new found knowledge and skills from short-term to long-term memory.
Learning skills such as playing a new opening or winning a rook ending with an extra pawn, will require personalised feedback, but tactics can be taught through books or apps: you solve a puzzle on a specific theme and find out whether or not you have the correct answer.
Tactics books and, these days, apps, are rightly popular. You might, in general, think of books where each chapter concerns a specific subject to be ‘novice’ books while books with random examples where you don’t know what you’re going to get next (just as in a game) to be ‘expert’ books. But within each of these categories there are easier and harder books. Players rated between 1000 and 2000 will probably benefit most from a mixture of harder ‘novice’ books and easier ‘expert’ books.
A basic knowledge of checkmate patterns is essential for every serious player, and all chess libraries should contain at least one book on the subject. Even though most games at higher levels end in resignation, and, at lower levels, in very simple checkmates, a knowledge of these patterns plays a part in every kingside attack. You might not force mate, but your opponent may have to give up material to avoid it.
Let’s see what the author has to say in his foreword.
“The remarkable trainer and Soviet Master of Sport, Viktor Lvovich Khenkin (1923-2010), proposed systematizing mating schemes or ‘pictures’ by reference to the piece or pawn which brought the mate to its conclusion. It turned out that there were not so many of these schemes – about a hundred basic ones – and about 20 or 30 which occur in the great majority of mating combinations. These can be remembered even by an inexperienced player: ‘it’s not rocket science’, as the popular saying runs.
Khenkin was a mentor and colleague of the author and a number of other celebrated chess writers and journalists.
“This book A Modern Guide to Checkmating Patterns is divided into ten chapters: first, we present schemes and examples with explanations, and then positions for independent solving. These number 851.”
Excellent pedagogic principles. We have a total of 1000 positions, all taken from 21st century games, most of which will probably be new to you, so you won’t see the same tired old examples repeated by many authors. The chapters, in turn, feature, the rook, the queen, the minor pieces and pawns, two rooks, rook and bishop, rook and knight, queen and bishop, queen and knight, queen and rook, and, finally, three pieces. In each chapter you work through some examples with the author holding your hand before being let loose to solve some puzzles on your own. As you know what you’re looking for, most of these will not be too difficult for experienced players. Most of the positions are not forced mates, but positions in which mate threats will lead to material gain.
Here, from the game Barsky – Logunov (Moscow 2004) in Chapter 1, is the author himself in action:
White’s position looks critical since the bishop cannot retreat because of mate on d1, whilst exchanging on f4 leads to the loss of the c4-pawn. But there is an unexpected tactical blow…
37. R5xb6! a5
Mate results from 37… axb6 38. Ra8+.
Black’s misfortunes continue – again he cannot take the rook because of 39. Ra8+.
38… Ka3 39. Rb3+
He could also win with 39. R4b5+ Ka4 40. Ra8 with mate in a few moves.
39… Ka4 40. Rxf3 Rxd6 41. Rxf4 1-0
My next example is from Chapter 7 (queen and bishop mates). It’s Black’s move in Kamsky – Svidler (Khanty-Mansiysk 2011).
White has an extra rook but it is Black to play. He could take either of the two attacked white pieces, but in that case, White gets a valuable tempo to beat off the attack, e.g. 26… Rxb8 27. Be3 or 26… Qxh6 27. Nc6,and the knight cannot be driven away, because the square e6 is attacked by the white bishop.
A very beautiful idea by the St Petersburg GM. Now after 27. Qxe2 Qg3 mate is inevitable. But why not the immediate 26… Qg3? In this case the knight retreat (27. Nc6) allows the key diagonal to be blocked.
27. Qc3 Rxf2 28. Nc6 Rxf1+
White resigned (29. Kxf1 Qf2#)
Finally, a beautiful finish from West London Chess Club’s Mark Lyell (Lyell – Bradac Zdar nad Sazavou 2010)
With three successive sacrifices, White underlines the vulnerability of the enemy king, trapped in the centre:
17. Rxe5! dxe5 18. Bxa5! Qxa5
Otherwise he is mated on d8.
The final blow. Black resigned: after any reasonable reply, he is mated by 20. Nc7.
All serious chess players should have at least one book concerning checkmating patterns in their library. This book is an excellent example of the genre. The author knows exactly what he’s doing and why he’s doing it: something that can’t be said for the majority of instructional chess books. Furthermore, most of the examples will be unfamiliar to most readers.
My impression was that the puzzles were, by and large, easier than the worked examples: perhaps this was deliberate.
This is ‘novice’ rather than ‘expert’ tuition in that it trains specific skills and provides hints to help you solve the puzzles, but at the same time it’s not a book for beginners: there’s an assumption that you are already reasonably proficient at calculating and spotting checkmates. If you’re rated anywhere between about 1250 and 2000 and want to improve your attacking skills you’ll find this book invaluable. In addition, it provides useful coaching materials for anyone teaching students at this level. Stronger players might also want to use it as a refresher course.
You can also, if you choose, just sit back and enjoy 1000 21st century examples of brilliant and beautiful sacrificial chess.
Highly recommended, then, for all chess players who enjoy attacking the enemy king.
According to the author : “I am a 21-year-old FIDE Master from Ukraine with two IM norms and a peak rating of 2382 currently residing in Saint Louis, USA. During my youth chess career, I won more than ten medals in Ukrainian Youth Championships, having become Ukrainian champion – both individually, in rapid U-20 in 2018 and as a team member during the Ukrainian Team Championship in 2016. I represented the Ukrainian National Team at the U-18 European Team Championship in 2016 where Ukraine earned a bronze medal; I also won an individual board bronze medal.
I have participated in European and World Junior Championships, representing Ukraine. Presently, my focus is teaching, and I have already acquired great experience working to improve my student’s chess skills. I currently share my knowledge and understanding of the game by writing books, articles for the Yearbook and other sources while creating opening and video courses. I have a bachelor’s degree in Translation, and I am currently pursuing my master’s in Finance at Webster University where I am attending on a chess scholarship. Webster is also acknowledged for having the one of best collegiate chess teams in the United States.”
From the book’s rear cover we have :
“One of the important issues players face – both relatively inexperienced ones at the beginning of their career as well as seasoned ones as they realize their chess craves change – is choosing an opening repertoire. As a player and a coach, I have seen many approaches to this question, both remarkable and mistaken. Some players believe that the opening is something to ignore, that everything is decided in the middlegame. Others think that studying opening traps is what wins games. Some tend to follow their favourite world-class player’s recommendations, while others like to sidestep well-known opening theory early on, preferring unpopular side-lines. To me, opening choice is about all those decisions. I think that many openings are good; there are some dubious ones, but they can also yield formidable results overall or in specific situations if chosen and handled carefully.
I firmly believe that your opening repertoire should mostly be based on your playing style and other personal traits, such as memory and work ethic. It is important to evaluate yourself as well as your strengths and weaknesses properly in order to be able to build the right repertoire that would not only suit you well, but also improve your overall chess. The little detail, though, is in the word “mostly”. Namely, I firmly believe that there are a few classical, rock-solid openings with an impeccable reputation, such as 1.e4 e5 as a response to 1.e4 or the Queen’s Gambit and Nimzo as an answer to 1.d4 that players of all styles and standards should try, no matter what their style is. This will enable players to learn, appreciate and practice some of the key chess values, such as the importance of space, lack of weaknesses, bad pieces, and comfortable development and so on – you name it. I, myself, started out as a keen Sicilian player.
Just like all youngsters, I cheerfully enjoyed complications, tactical massacres and everything else that the Sicilian is all about. However, as I was developing as a player, my style was changing also. Eventually, I realized I was much more successful with positional play, so it was time to change the outfit – and 1.e4 e5 suited me well. I have used this move as a response to 1.e4 nearly exclusively in recent years, both versus weaker and stronger opposition, with fantastic results. If only other openings would grant me such results as well! I have not only studied these variations myself but have also shown them to numerous private students. To be frank, we have almost always concentrated on White’s most dangerous possibilities, such as the Ruy Lopez, Italian and Scotch. Occasionally, we have also analysed the side-lines – either as a part of preparation for specific opponents or to make sure my students become more universal players and gain more all-round knowledge.
Eventually, I realized that the knowledge I gained from 1.e4 e5 can and should be shared with more players, and this is how my book came to life. Of course, the readers will differ, so there is a no “one-size-fits-all” solution. But, I have carefully and diligently tried to achieve the same goal I used when working with my students: to keep my recommendations both theoretically sound as well as practical and accessible.
I expect not only titled players but club players and the less experienced readers to equally benefit from this book. So, sometimes you will find razor-sharp novelties, but in many cases, we will rely on positional understanding, typical structures and standard ideas. I believe the opening is not all about memorization, so I have taken a different approach from many authors by keeping the balance between recommending objectively good variations as well as making sure an adequate amount of work will suffice to get you started.
You won’t need to spend years studying the material, fearing there is still much more to learn. 1.e4 e5! is not just an opening. It is repertoire that represents our game as a whole. It is something players of all styles will enjoy due to the countless possibilities 1…e5 provides. Hopefully, learning 1…e5 will also make you a better player. And, finally, I hope the book you are now holding in your hands will not only give you joy but illustrate a passion for chess with the variations presented in this work.”
Having spent almost all of my chess life (both OTB and postally) playing 1…e5 I was very much looking to examining the author’s detailed recommendations.
For many years during the eras of both Bobby Fischer and Gary Kasparov the Sicilian Defence was easily the most popular reply to 1.e4 but now with players like Magnus Carlsen and Levon Aronian often adopting open (1…e5) defences preference have greatly changed.
The author starts by looking at odd openings such as Nakamura’s “Whimsy” 2.Qh5 (perhaps this should be called the school chess club opening?): Not surprisingly he gives a line that shows Black can readily get the upper hand.
He then goes on to look at the Centre Game 2 d4 ed4 3 Qd4 !? this is an odd opening that will catch many Black players by surprise.
I always feel uncomfortable when I face this on the Internet . Yuriy gives some good analysis showing that Black can quickly turn the tables on White.
The following chapters examine the Scotch Game and the King’s Gambit. These openings appear straightforward for Black to equalise against. I was surprised to find that in the King’s Gambit after 2.f4 ef4 3.Nf3 Ne7 was recommended!
It turns out that this idea has been played by the French GM Etienne Bacrot, the idea being to play a quick d5.
The author often offers some unusual lines which seem designed to surprise the opponent . He provides analysis of a game up to move 18 concluding that Black is better and shows how to continue the middle game plan from there.
The Vienna Game is also looked at in some depth . After 2 Nc3 Nf6 both 3.Bc4 and 3.f4 are seen . Against the former he recommends 3…Ne4!?
and against the latter 3…d5 4.fe5 Ne4 5.Nf3 Be7 a solid choice which I have played myself.
After recommending 3…d5 versus the Ponziani Opening
the author looks at the Scotch Game (which is very popular at club level) and recommends 4…Bc5 :
Peter Leko selected this line against Magnus Carlsen a few years ago and despite losing the game it was not because of this opening choice which was quite sound. From here 5.Nc6: and 5.Nb3 are both analysed along with the “traditional move” 5.Be3 .
The author now suggests two alternatives for Black: 5…Bd4 which is an unusual line that could well be a good choice against a higher graded player as after 6.Bd4 Nd4 7.Qd4 Qf6 White will have to work hard to win.
Yuriy then looks at the main line with 5…Qf6 but after 6.c3 he suggests the unusual 6…Qg6 :
Once again this suggestion is move which will set White players thinking early in the game whilst remaining a sound choice.
In The Four Knights Game after 4.Bb5 (the Spanish Four Knights) Yuriy gives Rubinstein’s aggressive 4…Nd4 which Kramnik used successfully to defeat Nigel Short.
A small, but not terrible omission, is the lack of coverage of the dangerous Halloween Gambit: something for the second edition!
We now move on to the Evans Gambit, and side-lines of the Guioco Piano are examined before giving detailed analysis of the quiet Italian . This opening 4 c3 Nf6 5 d3 is very popular at world class level and, currently Jan-Krzysztof Duda being the latest high profile player to adopt it .
The plan (which I adopt) of d6 and a6 is recommended when Black again achieves equal play .
Finally (and most fittingly) we come to the Ruy Lopez usually regarded as the ultimate test for 1…e5 players .
In the Exchange Lopez, Barendregt Variation after 5.00 Qf6 a line advocated by Michael Adams is suggested and you’ll need to buy the book to find out what it is!
In the main line Lopez the Open is the weapon of choice with the somewhat unusual 5…Ne4 6 d4 Be7 !? recommended.
This, perhaps is the one recommendation I might not agree with 100%.
Yuriy then goes onto examine some rather unusual lines in the Lopez giving comprehensive coverage.
In summary this book gives a lot of interesting and thought provoking lines that may surprise the player of the White pieces and push them into waters that they are not familiar with.
Black players may do well to try these ideas on-line first and if they work for them then use them in more “serious” games .
The author claims to have checked all of his ideas with an engine and therefore (hopefully) none are unsound !
Colin Lyne, Farnborough, Hampshire, 19th February, 2021
“Are you struggling with your chess development? While dedicating hours and hours on improving your craft, your rating simply does not want to move upwards? Spending loads of money on chess books and DVDs, but feeling no real improvement at all? No worries – the book that you are holding in your hands might represent a game changer! Years of coaching experience as well as independent research has allowed the author to identify the key skills that will enhance the progress of just about any player rated between 1600 and 2500. Becoming a strong chess thinker is namely not only reserved exclusively for elite players, but actually constitutes the cornerstone of chess training, being no less important than memorizing opening theory, acquiring middlegame knowledge or practicing endgames. By studying this book, you will:- learn how to universally deal with any position you might encounter in your games, even if you happen to see it for the first time in your life, – have the opportunity to solve 90 unique, hand-picked puzzles, extensively annotated and peculiarly organised for the Readers’ optimal learning effect, – gain access to more than 300 pages of original grandmaster thoughts and advice, leaving you awestruck and hungry for more afterwards!”
“Wojciech Moranda (1988), Grandmaster since 2009, rated FIDE >2600 in standard/rapid/blitz. Poland’s TOP 7 player (February 2020) and FIDE TOP 100 in Rapid (2018). Member of top teams from the German (Schachfreunde Berlin), Belgian (Cercle d’Échecs Fontainois) and Swedish (Visby Schackklubb) league. Captain of the third best Polish team (Wieża Pęgów) as well as the PRO Chess League team, The New York Marshalls. Professional chess coach, running his own chess school ‘Grandmaster Academy’ seated in Wroclaw (Poland), while training students worldwide, from California to Sydney. His other notable coaching experiences include i.a. working with the National Youth Chess Academy of the Polish Chess Federation (since 2012) and the Polish National Female Chess Team (2013). In his work as a trainer, Wojciech puts special emphasis on improving his students’ thought-process and flawless opening preparation.”
Time was when you knew what to expect from a puzzle book. With a few notable exceptions they tended to be ‘sac sac mate’ type of position.
21st century puzzle books are very different, and, at least for stronger players, quite rightly so as well. These days you can run a blundercheck on a bunch of games to identify the turning point, and then, with a careful selection of positions, produce a puzzle book in which anything might happen. A book of positions in which very strong players, even leading grandmasters, failed to find the correct plan. A book which exemplifies the wonderful complexity of contemporary chess, covering all aspects of the game: strategy as well as tactics.
What we have here is very much a 21st century book written for strong and ambitious players. Indeed it seems in many ways very similar to this book from the same publisher: aimed at a similarly wide range of players and divided into three sections of increasing difficulty. One wonders if the authors of both books received a similar brief from Thinkers Publishing.
Let’s see what Moranda has to say for himself.
He identifies that his students have strategic problems in five areas:
Anticipation & prophylaxis
Attack & defense
Statics & dynamics
Together, he considers these to be the basis of ‘Universal Chess Training’, “because knowing them will most certainly help you play a good move whether the position seems familiar or not”.
His book offers:
Original content (he’s dismissive of books which repeat examples from the past, and also of books which haven’t been computer checked)
Three levels of difficulty (the first part is for players of 1600-1900 strengh, the second part for 1900-2200 strength and the third part, presumably for 2200+ strength, where the questions demand ‘the highest level of abstract thinking’)
Mixed exercises with no hints (so you have no idea what’s going to come next)
Focus on what remained behind the scenes (so, instead of analysing the rest of the game he provides a possible conclusion given best play, which, he believes, provides more solid training material than the flawed continuation in the game)
There are 90 questions in total, 30 in each section. As a 1900 strength player the first two sections should be appropriate for me.
The first position in the book comes from Winterberg – Lubbe (Magdeburg 2019). You have to choose a continuation for White here.
Here’s how Moranda assesses the position:
“A brief review of the position reveals that a major backlash is coming in White’s direction. Black just needs to remove the queen from e6 and make way for the e7-pawn to go all the way to e5. As a result, White will not only be forced to concede space, but also have to spend time re-routing his minor pieces from their overly exposed outposts on d4 and h4. But this would by no means be the end of the story for White. With Black expanding his pieces would improve in quality, and it would only be a matter of time before they would shift their attention towards possible weaknesses present in White’s camp. Such a weakness is represented by the c5-pawn, which would be rather difficult to defend should the white bishop be compelled to step aside. At the same time, if White becomes too absorbed with maintaining control over the queenside, Black could very effectively switch to an attack against the white king due to his space advantage by means of …Nf7-g5. That is a grim prospect for sure but maybe there is an antidote to this looming chaos?”
I won’t tell you the answer: you’ll have to buy the book to find out.
Now look at the first question in Chapter 2:
It’s again White’s move in L van Foreest – Navara (Skopje 2018).
What do you think?
Moranda’s explanation again:
“At first sight it is hard to believe that this crazy position arose out of a Giuoco Piano which is a rather timid, manoeuvring opening. White has just embarked on a risky venture sending a knight deep into the heart of the opponent’s position. Black has responded with an offer to exchange queens, a perfectly viable solution from the perspective of limiting White’s chances of playing for an attack afterwards. The decision White should take is far from obvious as there are, at this point in time, five different discovered checks at his disposal. All of them look dangerous, but simultaneously none of them looks lethal enough. White would also love to include the remaining pieces into play, but he does not seem to have the time to do this. Notably, the proximity of the black queen to his own monarch constitutes an element White cannot easily ignore before furthering his attack. Thus I ask you dear reader, what should White do?”
A lot of words, a lot of explanations. The style is informal, often colloquial and sometimes amusing. “Do you ever have chess nightmares? You know, dreams of yourself taking part in a tournament and losing every single game or, even worse, finding yourself playing a game with the London System as White?” “At first glance this move is uglier than a Fiat Multipla.” You might like this sort of thing, or you might consider it out of place in a serious instructional book. Your choice. In general, though, I found the explanations excellent.
From a personal point of view, the 30 questions in the first chapter were pitched at just the right level for me: instructive and helpful. The second chapter, as well as the third, though, were much too deep. While I enjoyed reading the solutions and explanations I thought they were too hard for me to learn from. There’s a lot more than simply understanding the strategic ideas: you also have to calculate accurately to justify them: it was the calculation as much as the strategy that was too much for me. The book demonstrates clearly that tactics and strategy are inextricably entwined, and that, in today’s chess, positional sacrifices are an increasingly important weapon which ambitious players need to understand.
I’d have liked to have seen the openings of the games in question, and could have done with shorter explanations rather than the three or four pages of partly computer-generated analysis provided for each position, but, if you’re more serious about studying chess books than I am you may well disagree.
I read chess books mainly for enjoyment, and it’s 40 years or more since I had any real ambitions about improving my chess, so, although I’m the right strength, I’m not really part of the target market for this book.
Moranda is clearly an outstanding teacher at this level, and seems to come highly recommended online. The positions are well chosen and the ideas clearly explained: it’s obvious a lot of work and passion has gone into creating this book. The author is also an openings expert, seemingly favouring lines leading to positions which are both tactically and strategically rich: you’ve seen that he’s pretty scathing about the Giuoco Piano and the London System. If you prefer simpler methods of starting the game you will be less likely to reach the sort of positions featured here. While I consider the claim that it’s for anyone 1600+ to be a trifle optimistic, if you’re a strong and ambitious player (say 2000+, although anyone 1800+ will benefit from at least the first chapter) and you’re prepared to work hard, this book will undoubtedly improve your understanding of grandmaster chess strategy.
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