Category Archives: Tactics

Thinker’s Chess Academy with Grandmaster Thomas Luther : First Steps in Tactics

Thinkers' Chess Academy with Grandmaster Thomas Luther - Volume 1 First Steps in Tactics
Thinkers’ Chess Academy with Grandmaster Thomas Luther – Volume 1 First Steps in Tactics

Grandmaster Thomas Luther, born in 1969, is the first player with a disability to have entered the FIDE Top 100 rating list. In 2001 he was ranked 80th in the world. He has won the German Championship three times and is well known as an experienced and successful coach. In 2014 his achievements were recognised by being granted the title of FIDE Senior Trainer. In his career to-date he has published several books and DVDs. This is his second book for Thinkers’ Publishing, after a co-production with Jugend Schach Verlag entitled “Chess Coaching for Kids – the U10 Project.”

GM Thomas Luther
GM Thomas Luther

As with every recent Thinkers Publishing publication high quality paper is used and the printing is clear. In fact, for this particular title we have been treated with pleasing glossy paper that gives the book a higher quality feel than usual.

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 which, unfortunately, is a standard omission of Thinkers Publishing books. Also missing is a bibliography. However, for a tactics books these items are less crucial, of course. A biography or autobiography would miss these things.

The main content is divided into sixteen chapters :

  1. Notation
  2. Exercises & Mazes
  3. Little Games
  4. Checkmate & Advantage
  5. The Winning Move!
  6. Rules & Behaviour
  7. Find Checkmate in Two Moves!
  8. Tactical Motifs
  9. Double Attack / Fork
  10. The Knight and his Forks
  11. The Skewer
  12. The Pin
  13. How to Handle a Pin
  14. The Overload Motif
  15. Discovered Attack
  16. History of Chess & Checkmate

We have reviewed several tactics books in the last few months and this one from Thomas Luther is really rather interesting. It would appear to have at least two clear target audiences : improving and ambitious juniors and also club players perhaps less than 1900 Elo.

The chapters on Exercises and Mazes and Little Games appeal to myself as a chess teacher and coach since these ideas are rarely presented by GMs. For example :

The rook has to give check to the black King.

He cannot move to a square where he be captured.

He cannot capture pawns, even if they are unprotected.

Make a guess how many moves are needed?

The “Little” Games (most western coaches would refer to these as “Mini” Games) is refreshing and entertaining :

In this position the pawns can overwhelm the bishop!

Following these interesting chapters we move on to more conventional themed tactics problems designed to build-up patterns that are recognizable. Each position has solution text that is aimed at junior and improving players reinforcing what (hopefully) has been learnt.

Chapter 6 (Rules & Behaviour) is somewhat unusual. Etiquette and basic playing advice is rarely discussed but again the focus is improving players. This sort of advice is regularly handed out by teachers and coaches but rarely found in print.

One of the more innovative features of the book are positions in which there is a win depending on who it is to move. Chapter 7 (Find Checkmate in Two Moves!) kicks off this notion and here is an example (there should be both a White and Black to move indicator) :

Before you ask, yes, most of these positions are concocted but that is irrelevant to the teaching aims of the examples.

One pleasing aspect of the bulk of the “normal” tactics chapters is that diagrams are large enough not to need a board and that, as a consequence, one can get a rhythm going almost akin to a “Puzzle Rush” ! Using a stopwatch also is not so silly.

Chapter 16 (History of Chess & Checkmate) will be of interest to perhaps more mature players and takes positions and puts them into a real life context about players current and past.

Not all books that are reviewed are going to be read cover to cover, but we did enjoy working through the examples. We’d say that an improving junior maybe 10+ in years will take to this book and get a lot from it. We are pleased that this book is free of silly cartoons which tend to put off serious juniors. When will publishers realise that cartoons do not enhance a chess book? The presentation is excellent and the material is fun to work on ! Highly recommended : chess parents take note.

John Upham, Cove, Hampshire, 28th May, 2020

John Upham
John Upham

Book Details :

  • Hardcover : 325 pages
  • Publisher:Thinkers Publishing; 1 edition (19 May 2020)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9492510723
  • ISBN-13: 978-9492510723
  • Product Dimensions: 16.8 x 1.5 x 23.1 cm

Official web site of Thinkers Publishing

Thinkers' Chess Academy with Grandmaster Thomas Luther - Volume 1 First Steps in Tactics
Thinkers’ Chess Academy with Grandmaster Thomas Luther – Volume 1 First Steps in Tactics

Practical Chess Puzzles

Practical Chess Puzzles
Practical Chess Puzzles

Here is the publishers blurb from the rear cover :

Chess puzzle books are undoubtedly popular – and with good reason. Solving chess puzzles helps to sharpen a player’s tactical and combinational skills. This ability is absolutely fundamental for chess development. You won’t get better at tennis until you can consistently hit the ball with accuracy and you won’t get better at chess until you improve your ability to calculate. It is that simple and there are no shortcuts.

Many puzzle books take a far too simplistic approach and offer endless positions where the solution is nearly always along the lines of: queen takes something check, king takes queen, check, check and a pretty mate. Aesthetically pleasing perhaps but of minimal use for actual improvement as the patterns are so familiar. Practical Chess Puzzles avoids this pitfall. The positions chosen are far more like those that actually appear on the board during the vast majority of games. Furthermore, at all stages, the puzzles are ranked, enabling the student to gauge progress and identify and correct weaknesses.

  • 600 puzzles featuring instructive, typically “game-like” positions
  • A ranking system to assess progress.

and about the authors :

Guannan Song is a FIDE Master with one International Master norm from Canada. He won the 2010 Canadian Youth Chess Championship and scored bronze at the 2015 North American Junior Chess Championships. He also played for Team Canada at the 2010 World Youth Chess Championship and the 2014 World Youth U16 Chess Olympiad. He represents Western University on board 1 of its Championship team and led his team to 2nd place at the 2019 Canadian University Chess Championship.

Dachey Lin is a FIDE Master from the United States, having achieved the title in 2016. He is a seven-time All American Team member and participated in three World Youth Chess Championship events, tying for ninth place in 2009. Though he is not as active as some of the other chess players, he enjoys following and helping other chess players and watching them grow and succeed.

Edward Song is an International Master from the United States. He won the 2014 US Cadet Championship, the 2017 Supernationals (tie), and the 2017 Denker Tournament of High School Champions (tie). He is also a four-time All American Team member and played two World Youth Chess Championships, achieving top ten both times. He is looking forward to making further progress towards grandmaster.

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

The book consists of five chapters :

  1. Model Games : six games
  2. Combinations : 250 positions
  3. Evaluation : 100 positions
  4. Tests : 250 positions
  5. Solutions

The first aspect that leaps out is that material is largely based on real games from the last ten years. Secondly, those games have largely not found themselves into databases such as MegaBase 2020. Thirdly, many of the games are from North American tournaments and a good number featured are from the authors own practise.

The model games are entirely practical : real games played by strong but not super strong players with flaws and blunders that human beings make. They set the scene for the main course.

The Combinations chapters provides 250 unthemed positions which range from simple tactics of all types to deep combinations of tactics. The variety is excellent and, much like the Carsten Hansen book we reviewed earlier the positions are real and “messy”. Therefore very much for the tournament player rather than sanitised positions for teaching children and beginners.

Here is an example (#25) from M. Kernighan-J.Lipoka, Winnipeg, 2010.

Potentially the most interesting is the Evaluation section. The student is asked to study and pick apart the positions inorder to assess the correct outcome. Part of that assessment includes finding the best continuation. The solutions to these exercises focus on the latter it has to be said : We would like to have seen more of the assessment angle !

Here is an example (#343) from A.Jayakumar-G.Garcia, Philadelphia, 2012 :

Finally (the solutions do not count !), combining all of the previous elements, is the Tests section. If you were only to work on one section (but why would you do that ?) then this would be the most rewarding.

Here is an example (#435) from R.Ulrich-A.Wang, St Louis, 2017

In summary, the content lives up to the title and any tournament player from say 1200 Elo to perhaps 2200 will derive much benefit from working through the content. It is good to find a whole tranche of new material and ideas from real games played by mostly amateur players.

A small gripe (but not important) with the production is : Some (so why not this one) Everyman books have an extra folding part to the front and rear covers. These we find protect the book from damage and also can be used as an emergency book mark !

John Upham, Cove, Hampshire, 28th April, 2020

John Upham
John Upham

Book Details :

  • Paperback : 288 pages
  • Publisher: Everyman Chess (1 Jan. 2020)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1781945616
  • ISBN-13: 978-1781945612
  • Product Dimensions: 17.3 x 1.7 x 23.8 cm

Official web site of Everyman Chess

Practical Chess Puzzles
Practical Chess Puzzles

Chess Opening Workbook for Kids

Chess Opening Workbook for Kids : Graham Burgess

Chess Opening Workbook for Kids
Chess Opening Workbook for Kids

FIDE Master Graham Burgess needs no introduction to readers of English language chess books ! Minnesota, USA based, Graham has authored more than twenty five books and edited at least 250 and is editorial director of Gambit Publications Ltd. In 1994 Graham set a world record for marathon blitz playing and has been champion of the Danish region of Funen !

FM Graham Burgess
FM Graham Burgess

Readers may remember “101 Chess Opening Surprises” published in 1998, also by Gambit Publications, was well received and added to GKBs reputation for originality, accuracy and encyclopedic knowledge of openings.

Chess Opening Traps for Kids is the ninth in a series of “for Kids” books and is robustly (!) hardbound in a convenient size such that weights are not need to keep it propped open (unlike some A5 paperbacks) meaning studying with this book is more convenient than with many books. The layout and printing is clear (as you would expect with Gambit) with numerous diagrams. In essence, players under 18 (for whom this book is intended) will find it easy to dip in out of and it can be used without a board (although BCN would always recommend following each game on a “proper” board).

As you would expect with Gambit, the notation is English short form algebraic using figurines for pieces. Each diagram has coordinates and a “whose move it is indicator” (thank-you Gambit !); welcome for the intended junior readership.

This book follows on from the highly regarded (2018) Chess Opening Traps for Kids from the same author and reviewed here

The author divides the material into 11 chapters titled as follows :

  1. Warm-Ups
  2. Mate
  3. Double Attack
  4. Trapped Pieces
  5. General Tactics
  6. Hunting the King
  7. Development and the Centre
  8. Castling
  9. Does Bxh7+ Work?
  10. Advanced Exercises
  11. Tests

This is not a book about openings per se. It focuses more on tactics and traps and tactical ideas that happen very early in many games. It is not organised on a per opening variation basis and neither is there an index of openings. If that is what you want then this is not the right book for you.

However, this is much, much more than a book about openings…

Chapters 2 – 9 each kick-off with an introduction to the chapter’s theme followed by (in some cases) 60 example test positions where the theme can be exploited by an accurate move sequence : the student is invited to work-out this sequence. The chapter ends with detailed solutions to each test position.

Chapter 10 are exercises using any of the themes in the previous chapters but randomised and without any clue as to what the theme is. In general these are more challenging and serve as a test of what should have been learnt so far !

Chapter 11 contains 40 test positions some according to theme and rest without a clue. Following the solutions the student is invited to assess their strength at these exercises using a simple score table.

Here is an example from Chapter 3, Double Attack :

Example #5


White has just played 6c4?? Why was that a blunder ?

See the foot of this review for the solution should you need to.

For further insight you may use the “Look Inside” feature from Amazon here. Of course there are many worthy book retailers to be your supplier !

In summary, this is an excellent book with much original material presented in a clear and friendly way and therefore to be recommended. It is an ideal follow-up to Chess Opening Traps for Kids and we would advise studying Chess Opening Traps for Kids first and then move on to this workbook.

One negative comment we would make concerns the cover. “Never judge a book by its cover” we are told and you might look at this book cover and think it was suitable for say primary aged children. I would say not but I would suggest it suitable from secondary aged children. I would say strong juniors from 12 upwards would read this book and enjoy it.

We would like to see an index of openings from which the theme examples were obtained.

The title and cover might, perhaps, put off the adult club player market. However, the content is totally suitable for adult club players upto say 180 ECF or 2000 Elo.

John Upham, Cove, Hampshire, March 30th 2020

John Upham
John Upham

Book Details :

  • Hardcover : 128 pages
  • Publisher: Gambit Publications Ltd. (15th November 2019)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1911465376
  • ISBN-13: 978-1911465379
  • Product Dimensions: 17.8 x 1.3 x 22.9 cm

Official web site of Gambit Publications Ltd.

Chess Opening Workbook for Kids
Chess Opening Workbook for Kids

Solution to Example#5
The problem is similar to the Cambridge Springs Trap : 6…dxc4! wins a piece. After 7 Bxc4 Qa5+ the queen check picks up the loose bishop. This has even cropped up at super grandmaster level. The other key point is that White can’t unload his bishop with 7 Bxf6 because 7…cxd3 leaves two white pieces attacked.

Chess Tests

Chess Tests
Chess Tests

Chess Tests : Mark Dvoretsky

From the rear cover :

“Mark Dvoretsky (1947-2016) is considered one of the greatest chess instructors in the modern era. He left behind a great legacy of many books and publications. At the time of his passing, there were two unpublished manuscripts he had finished (and one other co-authored with study composer Oleg Pervakov).”

IM Mark Izrailovich Dvoretsky
IM Mark Izrailovich Dvoretsky

And from the Foreword by Artur Yusupov :

“Chess Tests offers chess players material of very high quality for working on various themes, from training combinative vision to techniques of realizing advantages. I recommend using those materials for in-depth work in the directions mentioned in the book. If you follow this advice, then this volume will become a valuable addition to your chess studies and will help you reinforce skills and knowledge you have already obtained. “And here is probably the most important point. Dvoretsky wanted to write a book that would not only teach some intricacies of chess, but would also be simply a pleasure to read for aficionados of the game, so he tried to amass the ‘tastiest’ of examples here. I hope that this last book by him is going to achieve this, presenting its readers with many chess discoveries and joy of communication with the great coach and author.”

IM Mark Izrailovich Dvoretsky holding forth with Jonathan Speelman, Jonathan Manley., Mihai Suba and Bernard Cafferty. Photograph : Mark Huba
IM Mark Izrailovich Dvoretsky holding forth with Jonathan Speelman, Jonathan Manley., Mihai Suba and Bernard Cafferty. Photograph : Mark Huba

This book (also available as an eBook) is divided into seven chapters as follows :

  1. Training Combinational Vision, 32 tests
  2. Candidate Moves, 38 tests
  3. Calculating Variations, 18 tests
  4. Attack and Defense, 28 tests
  5. Positional Play, 52 tests
  6. Realizing an Advantage, 24 tests
  7. Endgame Tests, 35 tests

and each of these is further sub-divided. Above we have indicated a number of tests for each chapter. Each of these tests comprises a position diagram with a whose move it is indicator.

Unusually, the tests sections comprise the first 62 pages and pages 63 – 206 are the solutions. So, this book is a little unusual for a standard “tactics” book in that the bulk of the text is in form of solutions and explanations.

So, this is much, much more than a routine tactics book. As you might expect from Dvoretsky the bonuses come from the solutions. It is clear that Dvoretsky had gone to great lengths to collect the test positions, and, as we found (in the BCN office), they were an absolute delight to work on. To whet your appetite here is a pleasing example from “Tasty Tactics #2 :

And here is the solution that you may wish to cover up for now :

6. Stern-Sanakoev, corr wch 1994-99

51…Ra5-a1!!

A fine queen deflection that prepares a mating attack.

52.Qb1xa1 Qd6xh2+1 53.Rh3xh2 Nf5-g3+ 54.Kh1-g1 Bc7-b6+ 55.Re1-e3 Bb6xe3#

52.Qe4 does not help..

The same combination leads to a won endgame : 52…Qxh2+ 53.Rxh2 Ng3+ 54. Kg1 Bb6+ 55.Qd4 Bxd4+ 56.cd Rxe1+ 57.Kf2 Nf1 (57…Re3!?;57…Rh1!?), but a quicker way to finish the game is 52…Qf4! (there is a threat of both 53…Qxe4 and 53…Qf1+) 53.Qe8+ Kg7 54.Rxa1 Qxh2+! 55.Rxh2 Ng3+ 56.Kg1 Bb6+.

and here is a beautiful example from Tasty Tactics #4 :

but we won’t give the solution here : you will either have to solve this yourself or buy the book or both !

The general standard of these tests is high : even the tests labelled as “not very difficult” are challenging to say the least. Particularly instructive was the “Realizing an Advantage” section which includes subsections labelled “Technique”.  Here is an example :

and here is a particularly tricky example :

In summary, this is a wonderful book and a great testament to the legend that is Mark Dvoretsky. We cannot recommend this book highly enough and claim that is it one of the best chess books of 2019. Please get it and enjoy it !

John Upham, Cove, Hampshire 24th February 2020

John Upham
John Upham

Book Details :

  • Softcover : 208 pages
  • Publisher:  Russell Enterprises (15 Nov. 2019)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1949859061
  • ISBN-13: 978-1949859065
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 0.6 x 22.9 cm

Official web site of Russell Enterprises

Chess Tests
Chess Tests

Chess Tactics Workbook for Kids

Chess Tactics Workbook for Kids : John Nunn

Chess Tactics Workbook for Kids
Chess Tactics Workbook for Kids

John Nunn has written around thirty books on chess and many of these are some of the finest chess books published in any language : Secrets of Pawnless Endings (1994, Batsford) easily is a candidate for the all time list. John is a director of Gambit Publications Ltd. together with Murray Chandler and Graham Burgess.

GM John Nunn
GM John Nunn

Chess Tactics Workbook for Kids is the sixth (a seventh and eighth are scheduled for January 2020 publication) in a highly successful series of “for Kids” books. Indeed, we recently reviewed Chess Opening Traps for Kids. The Workbook theme is likely to be extended other “for Kids” style books from Gambit Publications.

This workbook is a follow-up to the original (2003) and much liked Chess Tactics for Kids by Murray Chandler :

Chess Tactics for Kids
Chess Tactics for Kids

Chess Tactics Workbook for Kids is robustly (!) hardbound in a convenient size such that weights are not need to keep it propped open (unlike some A5 paperbacks) meaning studying with this book is more convenient than with many books. The layout and printing is clear (as you would expect with Gambit) with numerous diagrams at key moments in each, relatively short, game. In essence, players under 18 (for whom this book is intended) will find it easy to dip in out of and it can be used without a board (although BCN and most chess teachers and coaches would always recommend following each game on a “proper” board).

As you would expect with Gambit, the notation is English short form algebraic using figurines for pieces. A previous criticism (ibid) has been addressed in that each diagram has a symbolic “whose move it is” indicator. Each diagram does have coordinates which are very welcome for the younger junior reader.

The book is divided into 13 chapters as follows :

  1. Fork
  2. Pin
  3. Skewer
  4. Deflection and Decoy
  5. Discovered Attack
  6. Discovered and Double Check
  7. Removing the Guard
  8. In-Between Moves
  9. Trapped Piece
  10. Pawn Promotion
  11. Opening and Closing Lines
  12. Forcing a Draw
  13. Test Papers

Chapters 1 – 12 each contain a description of the type of tactic that is subject of the chapter followed by 20 – 40 exercises for the reader followed by a set of more challenging “Tougher Positions” and then, interestingly, by a set of “Does the Tactic Work ?” exercises. We appreciated the latter especially since this appears to be a novel feature. These are excellent blunder prevention tests since they help to slow typical impetuous juniors down who often move first and then engage their brain.

It was clear when working through the easier set of exercises that the author had thought carefully about their sequence since the reader should (we did for sure !) notice the level of difficulty increasing slowly but surely. The solutions are remote from the puzzles nicely avoiding the “accidentally seeing the solution” issue one gets with lesser books. The solutions themselves are clear and concise and instructional in their own right.

Here is a particularly satisfying example (we thought so anyway !) from the Skewer chapter (Tougher Positions #23) *solution at bottom of this review

We particularly enjoyed the chapters on “Trapped Piece” and “Forcing a Draw” as these are less usual to find in books of this kind.

Here is a pleasing (well, we liked it here in the BCN editorial office) example (#30) from the “Does the Tactic Work?” section of the skewers chapter :

@and the solution is at the foot of this review

We enjoyed working through the chapters and emerged with a feeling of attending a mental gymnasium : exhausted but refreshed.

Chapter 13 (“Test Papers”) puts all of your newly learnt skills to a full and proper test since there are no themes, hints or clues of what to do : just like a real game !

One negative comment we would make concerns the cover. “Never judge a book by its cover” we are told and you might look at this book cover and think it was suitable for say primary aged children. We would say not but we would suggest it suitable from secondary aged children. We would say strong juniors from 12 upwards would read this book and enjoy it.

As we previously mentioned in our review of Chess Opening Traps for Kids, The title and cover might, perhaps, put off the adult club player market. However, the content is totally suitable for adult club players upto say 150 ECF or 1800 Elo.

In summary, we recommend this book to any junior or adult who wishes to improve their tactical vision and results. It makes an excellent stocking filler for young players and the young at heart !

John Upham, Cove, Hampshire, November 11th 2019

John Upham
John Upham

Book Details :

  • Hardcover : 128 pages
  • Publisher: Gambit Publications Ltd (22 July 2019)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1911465317
  • ISBN-13: 978-1911465317
  • Product Dimensions: 17.8 x 1.3 x 22.9 cm

Official web site of Gambit Publications Ltd.

Chess Tactics Workbook for Kids
Chess Tactics Workbook for Kids

*solution to Skewer exercise #23 : “Normally this material would lead to a draw, but White can win with a brilliant tactical idea : 1.Bd6!! (the only defence to the threat of 2.Qd3# is to take the bishop) 1…Qxd6 2. Qd3+ Kc5 (2…Ke5 3.Qg3+ is a mirror image) 3.Qa3+ and the queen falls.”

@solution to Skewer exercise #30 : “It seems impossible to save the game because after both side promote White has a skewer, but there is a miraculous defence : 1…g2 2.c8=Q g1=Q 3.Qc5+ Ke2! and further checks don’t help White, while after 4.Qxg1 Black is stalemated.”