Tag Archives: 2022

The Silicon Road To Chess Improvement: Chess Engine Training Methods, Opening Strategies & Middlegame Techniques

The Silicon Road To Chess Improvement: Chess Engine Training Methods, Opening Strategies & Middlegame Techniques, Matthew Sadler, New in Chess, 31st December 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9056919832
The Silicon Road To Chess Improvement: Chess Engine Training Methods, Opening Strategies & Middlegame Techniques, Matthew Sadler, New in Chess, 31st December 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9056919832

Here is the publishers blurb from the rear cover :

“Every chess player, from club level up, can improve their game by using engines. That is the message of Matthew Sadler’s thought-provoking new book, based on many years of experience with the world’s best chess software.

You may not be able to replicate their dazzling-deep calculations, but there is so much more your engine can do for you than just checking variations! Matthew Sadler, co-author of the ground-breaking bestseller Game Changer, presents some unique methods to improve by using your engine. He explains how in your opening preparation, instead of sifting through masses of computer analysis you should play training games against your engine. He also shows how to train your early middlegame play, the conversion of advantages, your positional play, and your defensive skills. And, of course: how to analyse your own games.

These generic training methods Sadler supplements with concrete techniques. He explains how the top engines tackle crucial middlegame themes such as entrenched pieces, whole board play, ‘attacking rhythm’, exchanging pieces, the march of the Rook’s pawn, queen versus pieces, and many others. He also opens your eyes to typical strategies that the engines found and fine-tuned in popular openings such as the King’s Indian, the Grünfeld, the Slav, the French and the Sicilian. Sadler illustrates his lessons with a collection of fantastic games, explained with his trademark enthusiasm. For the first time, the superhuman powers of the chess engine have been decoded to the benefit of all players, in a rich and highly instructive book.”

About the author :

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

GM Matthew Sadler
GM Matthew Sadler

 

This is the latest book by acclaimed author and 2 time British Champion Matthew Sadler. His previous book Game Changer: AlphaZero’s Groundbreaking Chess Strategies and the Promise of AI (co-authored with Natasha Reagan) won both the 2019 ECF Book of the Year and FIDE Book of the Year.  Following the publication of Game Changer the authors gave many talks around the country about Alpha Zero. They were frequently asked the same two questions “what could be learnt from AlphaZero’s games and were they too advanced for us mere mortals?”  This book sets out to show that there is a considerable amount that can be learnt from these computer engine games as well as discovering many new ideas that can be extracted and applied in one’s own games. The author also sets out to demonstrate that every chess player from Club level upwards can improve with the help of chess engines as the engines can do much more than just calculate variations.  Chess engines can be used to enhance opening preparation and to improve your skills in the middlegame. This book can be thought of as a sequel to Game Changer but it can also be read independently as it showcases the games played by all the top computer engines rather than focusing on the radical changes brought about by AlphaZero.

The book is split into two parts. The first part provides an overview of todays top chess engines and the associated training methods recommended by the author. This covers the methods that the author has employed as a professional player as well as some new and innovative ways to using chess engines. Part 2 contains the meat of the book, 18 chapters & 484 pages analysing a wide range of opening and middlegame themes. To assist the reader, there is also some supporting Supplementary Material available to download. This includes a PGN file containing all the games included in the book together with instructions on how to set up and configure the chess engines. Having downloaded everything I  found the instructions easy to follow and anyone with a moderate level of IT skills should to be able to do the same. The author has also recently created a YouTube channel: SiliconRoadChess which contains over 250 videos showing how to use chess engines and showcasing the best engine games. As well as covering topics such as Engine Openings (92 Videos) and Great Engine Games (74 videos) there are many other interesting videos to watch from TCEC events and analysis of some of the games from the recent Carlsen Nepomniachtchi match.  As well as the videos there is also a PGN database  available providing additional material for the channel. Currently there are over 2.21 K subscribers to Silicon Road but I am sure that this number will increase. After watching a few of these videos it is clear that Matthew’s has a passion and enthusiasm for engine chess and I shall be watching many more of these in the weeks to come.

The first two chapters in part 1 are an introduction into the world of computer chess and the Top Chess Engine Competition (TCEC) which is the source for most of the games in this book, the remainder were generated by the author himself. We are introduced to the top engines (our heroes) together with a description of their playing styles, strengths, weaknesses and associated technical notes.

In chapter 3 the author lays out the methods that he has used himself to study with chess engines during his career along with a couple of new and innovative approaches. These are as follows:

  • Playing Rapid Games – Good for opening and early middlegame play.
  • Playing against Leela Zero restricted to a one-node search. – Good for openings, positional play and conversion of winning positions.
  • Playing out positions with a rapid time control. – Good for conversion of advantages and developing defensive skills
  • Playing ‘correspondence chess’ against your engine. – Good for developing analytical skills and conversion of advantages.
  • Running engine matches from key opening positions. – Good for developing a feel for openings and related middlegames.
  • Letting your engines analyse an opening position for X hours (deep analysis). – Good for analysing a single position in great depth.
  • Periodic checking of your analysis against a live engine – Develops a real-time insight into a position

Like most players I have used computer engines in the past for analysing my own games and as a sparring partner, mainly using Fritz on only the lower handicap levels. Up until now I have not used the methods described above apart from the first and the last one. So I decided to try out a couple of other methods for myself. I began with method 5, playing engine matches from key positions and get an overview of specific openings. I won’t go into too much detail here as it would give away how the author has used this method but I tried out the approach on two types of openings. Firstly I used it on some lesser known gambits. The rationale being that firstly I have never played these openings and that they are difficult to learn. Not only are there are a many variations to memorise but also there are a lot of critical positions to evaluate. Secondly I chose selection of positional openings to see how the engines would get on. I used a number of different engines (Stockfish 15, Deep Fritz 13, Fat Fritz & Leela v22) running on an i5 Laptop and a time control of M20 + 5 second increments. The matches were set up to play 6 games in each opening. (I did run a number of matches with Blitz time controls but the results were not as good)  Running these matches with Cloud Engines or longer time controls would of course produce better quality games. I chose the following three gambits:

  • The Henning-Schara Gambit (1 d4 d5, 2 c4 e6, 3 Nc3 c5. 4 cd cd )
  • The Marshall Gambit in the Semi Slav (1 d4 d5, 2 c4 c6 3 Nc3 e6 4 e4)
  • The Portsmouth Gambit (1e4 c5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 b4)

And for the ‘positional’ openings I used:

  • The Ruy Lopez Exchange Variation and the Berlin Defence
  • Queens Gambit Accepted and Exchange variations.
  • Italian Game with c3 & d3

The Ruy Lopez Berlin Defence (aka Berlin Wall) has proved to be a very efficient drawing weapon since it was made ‘popular’ by Vladimir Kramnik back in 2000. It is also an opening that engines consider as best play with both colours.  (For a more detailed explanation see: Engine Openings Understanding the Ruy Lopez Berlin  which also includes the author demonstrating how to take on Leela Zero in the 1-node mode described above.) Once all the engine matches were completed I was pleasantly surprised to find out how much I learnt by just by playing through the engine games. This approach will not make you an instant expert and would only be a prelude to more detailed study but it will be something that I will definitely use in the future. I will also use this approach in conjunction with method 6 to examine some of the critical positions in more detail. I have not included the results of the matches are they are not important as I was not trying to determine which engine was the strongest but only interested in the games that the engines produced.

To give you some idea of the quality of the games here is an example game from the Portsmouth Gambit match played between Stockfish 15 and Leela 0 v22.

Stockfish 15 – Lc0 v0.22.0 cpu [B30] Rapid 20.0min+5.0sec

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.b4 Nxb4 4.c3 Nc6 5.d4 cxd4 6.cxd4 e6 7.Nc3 Bb4 8.Bd2 d5 9.e5 Nge7 10.Bd3 Qa5 11.Rc1 Bd7 12.0-0 h6 13.Nb5 0-0

14.Bxh6 gxh6 15.a3 Bxa3 16.Ra1 f5 17.Rxa3 Qb6 18.Rb3 Na5 19.Rb1 Bxb5 20.Rxb5 Qc7 21.Qd2 Nec6 22.Qxh6 Rae8 23.g4 Qg7 24.Qxg7+ Kxg7 25.gxf5 exf5 26.Rd1 a6 27.Rxd5 Rd8 28.Rxd8 Rxd8 29.Bxf5 Nc4 30.Ng5 Nxd4 31.Rxd4 Rxd4 32.Ne6+ Kh6 33.Nxd4 Na5 34.f4 1-0

A fascinating combination beginning with the bishop sacrifice on h6 immediately followed by pawn sacrifice on a3 then finally 21 Qd2 with a double attack on h6 & a5. There is a whole chapter in the book devoted to the concept of whole board play and this game is an excellent demonstration of this theme.

I also tried out method 2, playing some games against Leela Zero in 1-Node mode. This approach restricts Leela Zero to a single node (looking one move ahead) instead of the usual millions of nodes per move.  Leela Zero is so good that its first choice move is usually good enough for  high level of play. Also, when playing in 1-node mode the engine moves are made instantly. The only weakness that I found with this approach was that is that the engine does not see any tactics. However this is a blessing in disguise as it replicates ‘human’ play as the engine plays a series of good moves followed by the occasional blunder. Having played a number of games against Leela Zero in this mode I can see the benefits of using this approach.  I was really impressed with the quality of play considering the engine is only looking one move ahead. You can try playing against Fritz in one of the ‘handicap’ modes and get similar results but the Leela Zero engine and Nibbler GUI are both available as free open source alternatives.

Part 2 is devoted to the author’s research into chess engine games. This covers the identification of the recurring middlegame themes and highlighting the exceptional games that contain these ideas. Sixteen different themes are covered. The games in this section have been analysed very deeply and the author explains his approach which is as follows:

  • An initial analysis of each game without any engine assistance.
  • Checking the analysis with live engine help
  • Identifying interesting points in the game to be investigated further (typically between 10 -15)
  • Run an engine match on all the positions of interest (anything from 40 -120 games)
  • Pick out the key games and add to the original analysis
  • Iterate until all above questions have been resolved
  • Distil and summarise all the above information into the game annotations

Also at the beginning of Part 2 there is a chapter covering the typical opening scenarios covered in the book from the following openings: Kings Indian Defence, Grunfeld, Slav & Semi Slav, English and the French Defence.

One chapter is devoted to a specific middlegame theme and each theme is discussed with a selection of annotated engine games followed by a deeply annotated illustrative game. The analysis of these illustrative games is incredibly deep and several run to over 20 pages!  Amongst the topics covered here are exchanging active pieces to leave the opponent with passive ones, the march of the rooks pawn (one of the major discoveries from Alpha Zeros games), Engine Sacrifices, Whole Board Play and the Kings Indian Opposite Wing Pawn Storm.  The final chapter discusses how best to apply the themes in your own games. The author also describes one of the most memorable moment in his chess career was when he first had an opportunity to play through hundreds of AlphaZero Stockfish games. Specifically the number of high quality games that were produced. He thought that this was more memorable than any of his OTB achievements (which included winning the British championship and representing England in the Olympiads).

This has been a fascinating book to review. Previously I had not paid a great deal of attention to computer chess in the past, either because I didn’t think it was relevant to OTB play or the games were far too difficult to understand. The author clearly has a very deep understanding of computer chess and has done a tremendous amount of research analysing engine games, identifying and classifying the recurring patterns contained therein, then showing how this knowledge can be applied taken to your own games. As well as reading the book I took the opportunity to watch many of the videos on the associated YouTube channel. The majority of which have been produced since the book was first published in 2021. No doubt many more videos produced in the future. Although this is a large book (560 pages) it is not ‘heavy’ book to read. Some of the topics in part 2 are very complex but the author explains them all in a clear and concise manner. The more that I find out about this subject the more interesting it becomes. So if you have ever wanted to find out more about the fascinating world of computer chess and how to use the engines to improve your own game then this is a good place to start. I highly recommend buying this book.

 

Tony Williams, Newport, Isle of Wight, 21st September 2022

Tony Williams
Tony Williams

Book Details :

  • Paperback : 560 pages
  • Publisher:New In chess (31 December 2021)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:9056919830
  • ISBN-13:978-9056919832
  • Product Dimensions: 17.17 x 2.11 x 23.67 cm

Official web site of Everyman Chess

The Silicon Road To Chess Improvement: Chess Engine Training Methods, Opening Strategies & Middlegame Techniques, Matthew Sadler, New in Chess, 31st December 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9056919832
The Silicon Road To Chess Improvement: Chess Engine Training Methods, Opening Strategies & Middlegame Techniques, Matthew Sadler, New in Chess, 31st December 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9056919832

United States Women’s Chess Champions, 1937–2020

United States Women’s Chess Champions, 1937–2020, Alexey W Root, McFarland and Company, Inc. (10 Jun. 2022), ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1476686936
United States Women’s Chess Champions, 1937–2020, Alexey W Root, McFarland and Company, Inc. (10 Jun. 2022), ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1476686936

From the publisher’s blurb:

“As late as 1950, many chess clubs in America excluded women. The Marshall Chess Club in New York City was an exception, organizing the U.S. Women’s Chess Championship beginning in the late 1930s. Since the 1980s, the average rating of the players has increased. The Saint Louis Chess Club has organized the championship since 2009, with record-setting prizes. Drawing on archives and original interviews with the living U.S. Women’s Chess Champions, this book examines their careers with biographies, photos, and 171 annotated games, most of which are from the 60 championships between 1937 and 2020.”

“Alexey W. Root, Ph.D., is a lecturer at the University of Texas at Dallas and a former United States Women’s Chess Champion. This is her eighth book.”

 

For many years chess was traditionally seen as a game for white males, and, in these days where representation is considered so important, there is much that needs to be written about other aspects of the game.

In particular, it’s important that the history of women’s chess is written, that stories are told, that games are published. So it’s a particular pleasure to welcome this new book by former US Women’s Champion Alexey Root, featuring every champion from 1937 to 2020.

We have 29 chapters in total, one for each champion, with winners of multiple titles granted more space. Some of the recent winners will be well known to many readers, but many of the earlier champions will have names only remembered by those who enjoy digging around in chess archives.

In each chapter you’ll learn about their lives both within and outside chess as well as seeing some of their games, all with light annotations. Each chapter also includes a photograph of its protagonist. The book has been thoroughly researched, and all living champions were asked to assist: advising on games and, on occasion, providing scoresheets and photographs.

Whereas the first British Championship took place back in 1904, with the British Ladies Championship incorporated in the congress, the first US Women’s Championship didn’t happen until 1937, hosted by the Marshall Chess Club. In fact, the first US Championship tournament only took place the previous year, the title having up to that point been decided by challenge matches.

The first champion was Adele Rivero Belcher, a new name to me, who also won in 1940, but the first few decades were dominated by two names, Gisela Kahn Gresser, who won nine titles between 1944 and 1969, and Mona May Karff, who won seven titles between 1938 and 1974. Other strong players who took part in that period included Mary Bain, winner in 1951, and Sonja Graf, Vera Menchik’s rival back in the 1930s, who took the title in 1964.

By today’s standards they weren’t amazingly strong players (Gresser was just below 2200 and Karff just below 2100 at their best in the 1950s), but as pioneers who achieved success in a male dominated field they deserve our respect and remembrance.

Here’s a game between Gresser and Karff. Click on any move for a pop-up window.

1959 champion Lisa Lane briefly caused a sensation in the chess world, appearing on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1961.

If you’ll excuse a digression into the history of Richmond & Twickenham Chess Club, I had a particular interest in this brief encounter.

Lane’s opponent, Henry Herbst (at least I presume it’s the same one) was a member of my club for several years in the middle to late 1970s, often playing on the adjacent board to me. From what I can piece together, he was born in Germany, moved to Canada, then to the USA, where he played this game, before moving to England and then back to Germany, where I believe he died a few years ago.

I was editing the club magazine at the time and Herbst submitted his game against Bobby Fischer for publication. When I checked it out in my book of Fischer’s collected games it was played by somebody with a different name, but with a similar rating and, as far as one can tell from two short games, a similar style of play.

Assuming he wouldn’t otherwise have claimed to have played a rather indifferent game, why was my friend Henry Herbst using two names? Both names appeared occasionally in other US tournaments at the time these games were played. I have my suspicions based on something I was told in confidence many years ago, but I couldn’t possibly repeat it here.

To return to the book, perhaps the leading figure in US Women’s chess between the mid 1970s and the mid 1980s was Diane Savereide, who took the title five times between 1975 and 1984.

She nominated this, against the author of this book (Rudolph was her maiden name) as her best game from the 1981 championship.

The overall standard of play gradually improved as the 20th century reached its end, but it wasn’t until the 1990s, with an influx of players from the former Soviet Union, that players with higher ratings started to compete on a regular basis.

This game won the brilliancy prize in 1997.

The dominant competitor in recent years has been Irina Krush, who took the title for the first time in 1998 and has won on seven further occasions between 2007 and 2020, leaving her only one behind Gisela Gresser: an impressive feat considering the strength of her opposition in recent years.

This game is from the 2015 championship.

Woven into the biographies and games are occasional stories of sexism and abuse, and, although they sometimes make uncomfortable reading, it’s entirely fitting that we can read them here. This is an issue the chess world has to deal with in order to make the game more attractive and inclusive.

I have a few minor gripes about the production. There are inconsistences, particularly in the presentation of the crosstables at the back of the book, which have been produced in the format in which they appeared in print. Perhaps it’s just a personal thing, but inconsistency really annoys me. I’d prefer them to be standardised in the same format. I also found the covers too flimsy, and, a point I’ve made before with softback books from this publisher, the presentation of the games, with very few diagrams, rather unattractive. I like to be able to follow games from the book without resorting to a board and pieces. I appreciate that the solutions I’d have preferred would not have been economically viable.

Nevertheless, this is a well-researched and thoughtfully compiled book which fills an important gap in the market. We need more books about women’s chess.

Whether you’re a female chess player, you teach female chess players, you have friends who are female chess players, or you have an interest in chess history and culture, this is a book you should read. Perhaps someone should also commission a book about the British Ladies/Women’s Chess Championship as well. That, too would be a very worthwhile project.

 

Richard James, Twickenham 13th September 2022

Richard James
Richard James

Book Details :

  • Format: Softback
  • Pages: 240
  • Bibliographic Info: photos, diagrams, games, bibliography, indexes
  • Copyright Date: 10th June 2022
  • ISBN-10: 1476686939
  • ISBN-13: 978-1476686936
  • Imprint: McFarland & Company Inc.

Official web site of McFarland

United States Women’s Chess Champions, 1937–2020, Alexey W Root, McFarland and Company, Inc. (10 Jun. 2022), ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1476686936
United States Women’s Chess Champions, 1937–2020, Alexey W Root, McFarland and Company, Inc. (10 Jun. 2022), ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1476686936

Chess for Schools (Crown House Publishing)

If you know me at all you’ll be aware that I’ve been involved with junior chess since 1972. If you’ve spoken to me on the subject you’ll also be aware that my views on why, how, where, when, to whom and by whom chess should be taught are very different from those propounded by most junior chess teachers and organisers in the UK.

In particular, I have doubts about the value of much of what currently happens in primary school chess, which has always appeared to me to provide short-term fun at the expense of genuine long-term benefit.

I was commissioned by education publishers Crown House to write a book for schoolteachers putting forward my suggestions as to how schools might take a different approach to chess.

My views in brief (and in general) about how junior chess in the UK should be run:

  1. Promote simple strategy games (minichess) in primary schools – this is discussed in my book
  2. Establish a network of local community based junior chess clubs with links to primary schools
  3. Establish a network of regional professionally run junior clubs for more ambitious children
  4. Promote chess in secondary schools, especially those in the public sector, and establish links with local chess clubs

The book has now been published: you can find out more on the publisher’s website here.

Here’s what GM Peter Wells has to say about the book:

When I began to read Chess for Schools, I was aware of two salient facts: that Richard James has tremendous experience teaching chess to children – in a classroom setting and as founder of the famously successful Richmond Junior Chess Club; and that he has been a consistent critic of much current chess teaching practice – particularly in primary schools, where he believes the teaching of chess is frequently pitched at an unrealistic level in relation to the cognitive development of the pupils. I was consequently well-prepared for a text that might ruffle some feathers.

I was not disappointed. There are undeniably passages in the book which will make uncomfortable reading for some chess teachers and parents. Yet far from the feeling that Richard James is gratuitously courting controversy, I came to regard his unwillingness to pull punches with many in his target audience as a mark of the book’s uncommon integrity. His views are the product not only of great experience but also of a persistent quest to improve the outcomes for his pupils, both those with lofty chess ambitions and those who will enjoy a variety of relationships with the game. He has read widely and thought deeply, and the result is a coherent, very readable and well-structured argument which he makes with obvious passion.

Here’s former Head Teacher Tim Bartlett, taking a teacher’s perspective:

This brilliant book is a three-layered cake. It is so well structured that you do not need to read it from end to end and you do not need ever to have touched a chess piece to find it worthwhile. The one key message for teachers is: if you can teach children, you can teach chess. That is, just as there comes a point when pupils will benefit from a specialist geographer, swimming instructor or mathematician, so it is with chess. The first layer sets the scene. It is easy to read, covers the history of chess and its place in education, what chess is – and, crucially, what it is not. The second layer is an impressively brief and comprehensive survey of the place of chess in the curriculum, and it’s not where you think it might be. This layer will make you think about curriculum development in broad terms as well as in relation to chess. It will make you think about the role of parents and parenting in children’s schooling. The book is properly, academically, referenced. The final layer is a manual of chess resources. The book stands alone as a good read without this section. My main revelation was just how many different games you can play with a chess set – it’s as if I had only ever learnt to play snap with a pack of cards.

If you’re sympathetic towards my views and would like to speak further, do feel free to get in touch. I’m always happy to discuss my ideas with anyone involved in any aspect of junior chess.

 

The Magnus Method: The Singular Skills of the World’s Strongest Chess Player Uncovered and Explained

The Magnus Method: The Singular Skills of the World's Strongest Chess Player Uncovered and Explained, Emmanuel Neiman, New In chess (9 Oct. 2021), ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9056919689
The Magnus Method: The Singular Skills of the World’s Strongest Chess Player Uncovered and Explained, Emmanuel Neiman, New In chess (9 Oct. 2021), ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9056919689

Here is the publishers blurb from the rear cover :

“What is it that makes Magnus Carlsen the strongest chess player in the world? Why do Carlsen’s opponents, the best players around, fail to see his moves coming? Moves that, when you replay his games, look natural and self-evident?

Emmanuel Neiman has been studying Carlsen’s games and style of play for many years. His findings will surprise, delight and educate every player, regardless of their level. He explains a key element in the World Champion’s play: instead of the absolute’ best move he often plays the move that is likely to give him the better chances. Carlsen’s singular ability to win positions that are equal or only very slightly favourable comes down to this: he doesn’t let his opponents get what they hope for while offering them the maximum amount of chances to go wrong. In areas such as pawn play, piece play, exchanges as a positional weapon and breaking the rules in endgames, Neiman shows that Magnus Carlsen has brought a new understanding to the game.

Neiman also looks at Carlsen’s key qualities that are not directly related to technique. Such as his unparalleled fighting spirit and his ability to objectively evaluate any kind of position and situation. Carlsen is extremely widely read and knows basically everything about chess. What’s more, as the most versatile player in the history of the game he is totally unpredictable. The Magnus Method presents a complete analysis of the skills that make the difference. With lots of surprising and instructive examples and quizzes. Examining Carlsen’s abilities together with Emmanuel Neiman is a delightful way to unlock you own potential.”

About the author :

Emmanuel Neiman is a FIDE Master who teaches chess in his home country France. He is the (co-) author of Invisible Chess Moves and Tune Your Chess Tactics Antenna, highly successful books on tactics and training.

The Chapters are as follows:

Explanation of symbols

Foreword

Introduction

Chapter 1) Style: from Karpov to Tal?

Chapter 2) The opening revolution

Chapter 3) Attack: inviting everyone to the party

Chapter 4) Defence: the preventive counter-attack

Chapter 5) Tactics: ‘les petites combinaisons’

Chapter 6) Exchanges: Carlsen’s main positional weapon

Chapter 7) Calculation: keeping a clear mind

Chapter 8) Planning: when knowledge brings vision

Chapter 9) Pawns: perfect technique and new tips

Chapter 10) Pieces: the art of going backwards

Chapter 11) Endings: breaking the principles

Chapter 12) How to win against Magnus Carlsen: the hidden defects?

Chapter 13) Games and solutions

Index of names

Bibliography

Emmanuel Neiman has produced a fascinating book in which he tries to answer the question; what makes Magnus Carlsen unique  and sets him apart from his peers? Magnus is currently the 5 time world champion and been the no.1 position in the FIDE World rankings since July 2011. In addition to this remarkable feat Magnus has also been the World Rapid Chess Champion (three times) and the World Blitz Champion (five times). This is even more remarkable when you consider that Magnus is still only 31. Since the book was published in 2021 Magnus has announced that he will not be defending his title and will effectively step down as world champion in 2023. As well as his achievements over the board Magnus co founded the company Play Magnus AS in 2013 and in Aug 2022 the company accepted an offer from Chess.com that will see the two companies merge.

A lot has been written about Magnus Carlsen over the years but one of the most interesting articles I  found was written by Jonathan Rowson in 2013 in which he described Magnus as a ‘nettlesome’ player.   “we needed the word ‘nettlesomeness’ to capture the quintessence of his strength, which lies in his capacity to induce errors by relentlessly playing moves that are not only good, but bothersome.”   (https://en.chessbase.com/post/carlsen-the-nettlesome-world-champion  Magnus is a very pragmatic player, who has the ability to play accurate moves that maximise the chances for inaccuracy by his opponents rather than always looking for the ‘best’ move. Magnus is  also an extremely  well-rounded chess player.  In terms of dynamic attacking play, Kasparov was probably better than him. In terms of positional play people will argue that Karpov and Kramnik at their best could give Magnus a run for his money. However, no player in chess history can play both tactical, strategic and technical positions as well as Magnus. He is also one of the toughest defenders out there. He does occasionally get bad positions but when he does, he digs in and defends like his life depends on it. His opponent has to play with razor-sharp precision to even think about winning. Finally, Gary Kasparov in an interview once described Magnus as a lethal combination of  both Fischer and Karpov https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Np1zODg5cqc.

In writing this book the author sets out to answer two questions; firstly, what does Magnus bring to the game and secondly what specific tools does he use?  When you play though his games they  can look deceptively simple. At some point his opponent (often one of the best players in the world) will blunder, often after  conducting  a long and difficult defence in a seemingly level endgame.

The introduction spans 21 pages and could have been a stand-alone chapter  covers two aspects of Carlen’s play, his technique and the characteristics of his play that are not directly related to technique. The technique covers how Magnus is able to win equal or slightly advantageous positions, even against the strongest players in the world. Carlsen will try and keep the position alive at all costs and avoid getting to a position where his opponent knows what to do. Carlsen will constantly look for ways to change the position in both the middlegame and the endgame. So that when his opponent has solved one problem he will be faced with a further set of  problems.

Moving onto Carlsen’s strong points the author examines the following attributes:

  • Evaluation – constantly trying to get an objective assessment of a position before making any decisions or making a plan.
  • Chess Knowledge – practically knows everything there is to know about the game.
  • Versatility – he can play virtually any opening and any type of game.
  • Fighting Spirit – sets out to win every game he plays.
  • Pragmatism and Perfectionism – Carlsen is a pragmatist rather than a purist.
  • Intelligence/psychology – Carlsen was a gifted child and owes very little to coaches or outside help.

Chapter 1 covers Magnus’s style of play and how that has changed over time. Starting out as a tactician then becoming a more technical player then evolving into the universal player that he is today. This has enabled Magus to be successful in all formats of the game.  Chapter 2 describes the changes that have taken place in opening preparation. Previously elite players would prepare long concrete lines and spend a considerable time researching opening novelties. Many openings were not played by the top players as they weren’t considered to be strong enough. Carlsens approach is radically different and he will literally will play anything and everything. This has minimised the importance of the opening and placed more emphisis on middlegame and endgame play.

Chapters 3 -10 These 10 chapters each cover a particular characteristic of Carlsen’s play and begin with a short introduction followed by a number of exercises for the reader to solve. The solutions are found in the final chapter of the book. (Games and Solutions) This consists of 248 annotated games or positions. The structure of  this book is different from other similar books where the reader is asked to solve a position and find the correct move for one side. Here the diagrams at the end of each chapter refer to specific games and specific diagrams within the game.  However I did have a problem with this approach as I feel that there were too many problems to solve  from specific games and in many cases several diagrams were included where there are only few moves between the diagrams. In several cases like this  I was able to work out the solution to a problem by referring to the next diagram and deducing how to get to the next position. Also,  it is not clear whether the reader is being asked to find a single move or to calculate a number of variations. I would have liked to have known in advance how difficult each problem is to solve. This does detract from the book but it making it a good book rather than an excellent one.

Clearly a lot of research has gone into producing this book and organising the material therein. Virtually all of the games in this book were played against the world’s elite players with the most recent games played in 2021. Some of these games are from online events  even including a couple of games from ‘Banter Blitz’ events. There are also a few of his junior games as well. The games are well annotated with a nice balance between explanations and analysis. This book can be read either as a collection of puzzles to solve or the reader can skip the puzzles and just enjoy playing through the games.

Overall the author succeeded in answering the two questions that he posed at the beginning of the book specifically what Magnus Carlsen brings to the game and what is his approach.  The book does not cover how Magnus was able to adapt his play and be so  successful in the online tournaments that were played throughout 2020 & 2021. I presume that this was because the book was written in early 2021 and perhaps this will be addressed in a future edition.

Addendum, the day after I finished completed this review I saw an article on the Chessbase website that Magnus Carlsen had just recorded a podcast with Lex Fridman (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0ZO28NtkwwQ ) This is a 2.5 hour conversation covering a wide range of chess (and non-chess) related topics. Lex has previously interviewed Gary Kasparov (see link above) and more recently Demis Hassabis ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gfr50f6ZBvo ) CEO and co-founder of DeepMind.

Tony Williams, Newport, Isle of Wight, 30th August 2022

Tony Williams
Tony Williams

Book Details :

  • Paperback : 320 pages
  • Publisher:New In chess (9 Oct. 2021)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:9056919687
  • ISBN-13:978-9056919689
  • Product Dimensions: 17.17 x 2.11 x 23.67 cm

Official web site of Everyman Chess

The Magnus Method: The Singular Skills of the World's Strongest Chess Player Uncovered and Explained, Emmanuel Neiman, New In chess (9 Oct. 2021), ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9056919689
The Magnus Method: The Singular Skills of the World’s Strongest Chess Player Uncovered and Explained, Emmanuel Neiman, New In chess (9 Oct. 2021), ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9056919689

Blind Faith

Blind Faith, Chris Ross, Steel City Press, 23rd May 2022, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1913047313
Blind Faith, Chris Ross, Steel City Press, 23rd May 2022, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1913047313

From the publisher:

“Chris Ross has come a long way from the back streets of Middlesbrough to a senior administrative role at Sheffield Hallam University, helping the education of those with a wide range of disabilities. A former teacher, Chris’s natural ability to educate has developed many of his colleagues in UK chess clubs – and not least, fellow members of the Braille Chess Association.

Join Britain’s strongest ever blind player and 2015 IBCA Olympiad silver-medallist Chris Ross on a journey through 80 of his most memorable games. Many years ago Chris elected to follow Botvinnik’s advice by writing deep analysis to his games: initially to better understand his own style, but later because his highly detailed annotations are also highly instructive for weaker players.

This collection charts his journey from turbulent days as a strong club player in 2006 to a more polished and rounded style by 2020. From smooth, positional wins, to bumpy, sharp encounters, we watch and learn with Chris as he develops into a 2250-strength player. The reader will pick up many handy tips to improve their own game: opening repertoire, middlegame and endgames strategies, and – crucially – appreciating how to plan.”

Chris Ross, Braille Chess Association, What chess did for me, courtesy John Upham Photography
Chris Ross, Braille Chess Association, What chess did for me, courtesy John Upham Photography

 

I’ve long thought that, while looking at top level games can be inspirational, you can learn much more either from studying games played at your level and looking at typical mistakes, or from studying games played by someone rated about 200-300 points above you and learning to do what they do.

Chris Ross is about 200-300 points stronger than me, so, at least in rating terms, I might be seen as the ideal reader for this book.

If I look at a Magnus Carlsen game I’d think “Wow! I could never conceive how I could play like that!”, but, looking at a Chris Ross game I might think “Yes! I could learn to play like that by studying his book!”.

I’ve always seen myself, by temperament rather than ability, as a positional rather than a tactical player, but when I played someone of about Chris’s strength I’d often find my opponent would latch onto a, to me, imperceptible weakness, win a pawn and grind me down in the ending. If I ever played Chris, I’m sure the same thing would happen.

Chris is a positional player as well, but, unlike me, he really knows what he’s doing.

Having been coached for many years by GM Neil McDonald has clearly helped.

Here’s Neil in the Foreword:

Many years ago Chris Ross made the excellent decision to follow Botvinnik’s advice by writing deep analysis to his games, and then sending it to his colleagues and friends in the chess world. Many players including myself regularly receive emails with his deep and interesting comments to his games. 

and

You can see the outcome of decades of exhaustive and objective analysis in this book. Although Chris has never been a full-time chess player, having pursued a successful career in academia, his approach has always been professional. He has developed an impressive opening repertoire, as well as worked on his endgames and middlegame planning. I hope the reader enjoys this fine collection, and is inspired to follow Chris’s example in studying their own games.

Chris provides the reader with 80 games played between 2006 and 2020, mostly, but not exclusively, games he won.

In his introduction he explains his method of annotating games.

I do not display lengthy variations of computer analysis. Indeed I deliberately avoid many annotated games that possess such streams of text. I find it baffling and unhelpful. So, I do not adopt that style in my own writings. My analysis is instead based on my way of thinking, how I am attempting to obtain something and the such like. Naturally, that may inevitably mean that the annotated game may have flaws in it, due to computer analysis finding a better way to play. This does not interest me either. My intention is to show how I’ve focussed myself mentally and how, through that elaborate dance of non-visualisation and figuring out a way to play the game of chess, I’ve gradually but inevitably improved. 

A very unusual approach to annotation, then, and something very different from anything I’ve seen in any other recent book. Another, perhaps, unique, feature of Chris’s annotations is that he provides the opening references at the end of each game rather than incorporating them at the appropriate points. You might think this is an excellent idea, not interrupting the flow of the text, or you might find it rather frustrating. I guess you could argue either way.

One of the things that immediately struck me when reading this book was that, on several occasions, he’d present a diagram of a position which looked to me about equal and claim that one player had a winning advantage. Well, perhaps. We’ll see.

Here’s a particularly interesting example which will give you a flavour of the style of Chris’s annotations, and, perhaps its weaknesses as well as its strengths.

This is from Peter Mercs – Chris Ross (4NCL 2014), with Black about to play his 15th move.

Some extracts from Chris’s annotations:

Ultimately, Black is positionally winning, despite the aggressive potential of the white attack. To fully appreciate the position in its entirety, the actual manoeuvrability of all the forces have to be considered and their fluidity. What is White immediately threatening, and is Black able to react immediately, or slowly against such a threat? 

A position deep with potential, but rich in understanding. Consider carefully and read on!

15… Nb8!

A remarkable retreat, which resolves all of Black’s difficulties and puts into place all his positional objectives. In doing so, Black also defends against all of White’s intentions. After this incredibly calm, slow move, White has no real play at all.

Now we have another five paragraphs of explanations and a few variations before:

16. g4

With very little left for White in the position, he pins all of his hopes on a last minute king-side hack, which is doomed to fail from the outset, due to the superiority of the black pieces.

Now, another paragraph and a half of comments.

16… d5

A flank attack is suitably countered by a central attack. Due to the superior positioning of the black forces, the tactics work themselves out.

17. g5 dxe4

After 17… Nxe4 18. Bxe4 dxe4 White can play around the blockading pawn on e4 with his kingside attack still rampaging. The text-move is the calm, simple way to eliminate all the tactics and reduce the white king to an exposed status.

18. gxf6

When we get this annotation:

Only the computer could come out with the variation 18. Bxb5 axb5 19. gxf6 Bxf6 20. Nc5 with seeming equality. No human would play 18. Bxb5 though!

I’m not entirely convinced that no human would play Bxb5. It looks like a fairly natural desperado try to me.

This extract raises all sorts of interesting questions about the nature and purpose of annotations. Chris claims that Black has a winning positional advantage: well, arguably he does, but sometimes tactics get in the way. Objectively, I suppose, the diagrammed position is level, but Black’s positional trumps, as long as he’s aware of what they are, give him excellent practical chances. Chris explains in the introduction that there may be analysis errors, but that’s not the point of the annotations or the book. The important thing is that he’s explaining the strategic ideas of the game and how he decided on his moves.

Different annotators take different approaches, and that is one thing which, in these days of approaching engine perfection, makes our game so fascinating. Should annotators search for the objective truth in any position, justifying their verdict with extensive computer analysis, or should they consider the human angle? Whose position is easier to play? Could you realistically expect players at their level, or at the readers’ level, to find the best moves?

There are some annotators, usually leading GMs, who take the former approach, but Chris, a strong amateur, prefers the latter approach. There’s plenty of room for both. As long as you’re happy to buy into the overall concept, you might find this book a refreshing change.

Chris is very proud of this game, which won a Best Game prize, where he beat an opponent rated almost 200 points above him. (Click on any move for a pop-up window.)

However, Chris comments on move 22 that Black could have tried Qxe2, ‘but this is pretty miserable for him and the white pieces will still swarm all over the black camp’. Stockfish just shrugs its shoulders and tells me it’s completely equal.

I was also impressed by this short game, where he’s merciless against his opponent’s dubious third move.

For some of us, playing a simple but beautiful positional game like this is at least as satisfying as a flashy queen sacrifice. There may not be a lot of tactics in most of the games, but without exception they’re anything but dull: Chris has chosen games of strategic complexity and interest to present to his readers. Contrary to what some people think, positional chess is not synonymous with boring chess. Chris also demonstrates in some of these games that he excels at playing tactical chess when the opportunity arises,

But once he’s reached a winning position, simplicity is the keyword to Chris’s approach. There are several examples in the book where he rejects a quick tactical win which requires calculation, preferring instead a simple positional route which will guarantee victory more slowly. Keep it simple, don’t rush, avoid unnecessary risks and tactics. There are important lessons here for many more impulsive players.

On a personal level, as a lover of words rather than variations, I enjoyed the book very much, although I realise that the annotations may not be to everyone’s taste. You have to accept that not everything will stand up to computer analysis, and that this isn’t really the point of the book. If you work at it, though, it will be well worth your while. I think anyone from, say 1600 to 2200 strength will find a lot of invaluable insight into positional chess within these pages. Perhaps it might even encourage you to start annotating your own games. The book will also appeal to those readers, and I know there are quite  a few around, who enjoy collections of games played by amateurs.

As many of the games are against strong English amateurs well known on the chess circuit, you’ll probably find games played by some of your friends included. Chris has moved round the country a lot over the years and played in a lot of different leagues.

Chris plays both 1. e4 and 1. d4 with White, choosing strategically rich variations such as Bb5 lines against the Sicilian, slow d3 lines in the Spanish and the QGD Exchange, and, with Black favours the Sicilian Taimanov/Kan complex and the King’s Indian. If these openings appeal, you’ll find a lot of useful study material in his games.

The book is impressively and refreshingly free from typos, although, if I were to be picky I might suggest that some editing for excessive verbosity and clumsy grammar might have been useful. You might also think, I suppose, that a more ‘chessy’ title would be preferable to the name of a short-lived 1969 supergroup.

But, for many reasons, this is an inspirational book. You may well, quite rightly, be inspired by how Chris has overcome his disability to become a formidably strong player. You might also be inspired to take his approach to chess improvement: to hire a GM coach, to annotate your games deeply (preferably without too much engine assistance) and send them to your friends and colleagues asking for their suggestions. You might be inspired to improve your positional play and strategic understanding, using Chris’s annotations as a starting point, or to take up the Sicilian Taimanov or another of his favourite openings.

Perhaps not a perfect book, and perhaps not to everyone’s taste, but if you’re happy with the style of annotations it’s highly recommended for readers looking for a very different approach to chess. You can find some sample pages, including a couple of complete games, on the publisher’s website here.

Richard James, Twickenham 24th August 2022

Richard James
. Richard James

Book Details:

  • Softcover: 421 pages
  • Publisher: Steel City Press (23 May 2022)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:1913047318
  • ISBN-13: 978-1913047313
  • Product Dimensions: 250mm by 176mm

Official web site of Steel City Press

Blind Faith, Chris Ross, Steel City Press, 23rd May 2022, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1913047313
Blind Faith, Chris Ross, Steel City Press, 23rd May 2022, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1913047313

From Ukraine with Love for Chess

From Ukraine with Love for Chess, Ruslan Ponomariov, New in Chess, 30 Jun. 2022, SBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9493257573
From Ukraine with Love for Chess, Ruslan Ponomariov, New in Chess, 30 Jun. 2022, SBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9493257573

From the publisher:

“The Ukrainian chess community is helping Ukraine in the war against Russia. The chess genius Vasyl Ivanchuk is giving online simuls to raise funds. European champion and Olympic gold medal winner Natalia Zhukova is working as a politician in Odessa. And FIDE World Champion Ruslan Ponomariov coordinated this wonderful collection of chess games from Ukrainian players, published by New In Chess. All games were nominated and annotated by the players themselves. The proceeds of this book will support Ukrainian charities. The book also covers the three legendary Olympic victories by Ukraine, in 2004 and 2010 for the men’s team and 2006 for the women’s team. Oleg Romanishin remembers his training match against Mikhail Tal. And Jan Timman has a look at his favourite Ukrainian study composers. With contributions by Vasyl Ivanchuk, Ruslan Ponomariov, Anna and Mariya Muzychuk, Anton Korobov, Vladimir Tukmakov, Pavel Eljanov, Andrei Volokitin, and many, many others.”

Ruslan Ponomariov (1983) is a Ukrainian chess grandmaster. He was FIDE World Chess Champion from 2002 to 2004 and he won the Ukrainian Chess Championship in 2011 with a performance rating of 2853. Ponomariov was born in Horlivka in Ukraine. He was taught to play chess by his father at the age of 5.

 

What we have here is a chess book written and published to support Ukrainian chess players and Ukrainian charities in general.

GM Ruslan Ponomariov in the preface:

All funds from the sales will be used to help the Ukrainian people. By doing something good, I hope you can also enjoy and share a passion for chess with us.

And:

In your hands is the work of many authors and contributors. It was not a simple task, as it would be in normal circumstances. Some of them had fled from their homes without knowing what would happen on the next day. Some were hiding in a bomb shelter, trying to survive. But we managed to do it!

The publisher, Remmelt Otten, writes in the Acknowledgements:

This book started with an email by Steve Giddins, chess author, translator, and contributor to New in Chess. He wanted to share his desire to help the Ukrainian chess community in the terrible times after the invasion of Ukraine by Russia. If New in Chess was planning to publish anything by Ukrainian chess players, Steve offered to translate their writings for free.

We embraced his idea and decided to publish a book to support Ukrainian chess and Ukrainians in need. All proceeds (all revenue minus costs such as printing and distribution) will go to Ukrainian charities.

It’s the chess book equivalent of a charity compilation album, then. It’s extraordinary, given the circumstances in which it was conceived, that the book could have been compiled and published within less than four months. If you want to support a great cause there’s no need to hesitate.

But it’s also a remarkably good and well produced book, so not only will you make a contribution to charity if you buy a copy, you’ll also get some great chess as well. There are 42 well annotated games as well as a chapter on endgame studies. Some of the material has previously appeared in New in Chess, so if you’re a subscriber you might have seen it before, but there will still be much that is new to you, and you may well find it convenient to have the best in Ukrainian chess all in one place.

The first chapter introduces us to the pioneers of Ukrainian chess: Stein, Savon, Kuzmin, Tukmakov and Beliavsky.

Here’s the game chosen to illustrate Gennady Kuzmin. Click on any move for a pop-up window.

The second chapter will be, for many readers, the most interesting of the book. Oleg Romanishin talks about his secret training matches against Tal in 1975 and 1976.

Here’s a sample game.

Chapter 3 contains pen pictures of some of the older generation of current Ukrainian players, headed by Ivanchuk and Ponomariov.

Ukrainian Olympiad successes feature in Chapters 4-6: the 2004 open team, the 2006 women’s team and the 2010 open team.

In Chapter 7 we meet the younger Ukrainian players, born in 1985 or later, including Anna Ushenina and the Muzychuk sisters.

Here’s another game:

Finally, Chapter 8 is an article by Jan Timman featuring endgame studies by Ukrainian composers.

This pawn ending (White to play and draw) was composed by Mikhail Zinar (2nd Pr Moscow ty 1983)

You’ll see that, as well as supporting a great cause you’ll get a lot of great chess for your money. The content will appeal to all serious players, from 1500 or so upwards. It may not be the last word on Ukrainian chess or a book that will add a few hundred points to your rating, but it’s a well structured, highly entertaining and enjoyable read. Considering the timescale and circumstances the publishers have done an outstanding job and our thanks are due to everyone involved in the project, not just for the quality of their work but for their generosity in doing it for free. You can find further details and sample pages here.

Should you buy this book? Certainly. If the content appeals (as it should to almost everyone) you won’t be disappointed, and you’ll also be helping both Ukrainian chess players and the wider Ukrainian community in that war-torn country.

Richard James, Twickenham 4th August 2022

Richard James
. Richard James

Book Details:

  • Softcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: New In Chess (30 Jun 2022)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:9493257576
  • ISBN-13:978-9493257573
  • Product Dimensions: ‎16.51 x 1.57 x 24.33 cm

Official web site of New in Chess

From Ukraine with Love for Chess, Ruslan Ponomariov, New in Chess, 30 Jun. 2022, SBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9493257573
From Ukraine with Love for Chess, Ruslan Ponomariov, New in Chess, 30 Jun. 2022, SBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9493257573

Across the Battlefield: A Pawn’s Journey

Across the Battlefield: A Pawn's Journey, Jonathan Perry, Chess Tales, LLC (17 Oct. 2022), ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 979-8986059211
Across the Battlefield: A Pawn’s Journey, Jonathan Ferry, Chess Tales, LLC (17 Oct. 2022), ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 979-8986059211

From the author and illustrator:

In our first book, Across the Battlefield: A Pawn’s Journey, we imagine what it might feel like to be a pawn in the game of chess. The rules of the game make it possible so that a mere pawn can one day become a queen, the strongest piece on the board. But the barriers to get there must seem overwhelming! Can you identify with a pawn who dreams of becoming a queen? Across the Battlefield aims to inspire children to pursue their goals no matter how impossible they may seem, all while teaching them key strategies to winning in chess and in life.

And:

Chess comes alive like never before as readers experience the game through the eyes of Prunella, a nervous little pawn who believes she must become a queen for her life to matter. Join her journey as she discovers not only strategies and tactics for mastering chess, but also lessons about teamwork and how every piece, including pawns, has value.

About the Author:

Jon first learned to play chess in the 4th grade, and he has carried a passion for the game ever since. Like Prunella, he grew up believing that he had to become someone famous or extraordinary, like the President, for example, to be worthwhile. In some small way, the story of Prunella reflects Jon’s journey to finding happiness and peace within. He is raising three daughters with his wife Ann-Marie. When playing chess with his girls, they love to pretend what the pieces might be thinking and experiencing and he enjoys using those exploratory imaginings to teach lessons about life, leadership and becoming a whole person.

Caroline Zina is a children’s book illustrator with an imaginative and whimsical art style. She has illustrated bestsellers such as The Great Unknown Monster and Melody’s Magical Flying Machine. You can view more of her artwork and contact her at CarolineZina.com.

 

The idea of using chess as a morality or an allegory dates back to The Game and Playe of the Chesse, published by William Caxton 450 or so years ago.

A number of authors, including your reviewer, have, over the years, used the concept of a story to introduce chess to children. It’s a very attractive idea as well: most children enjoy stories and the game offers a lot of possibilities for teachers and parents to use chess related stories both to introduce children to chess for the first time and to help children who already play.

Just as in any battle, the participants have to show courage, have to work together as a team, and sometimes have to make sacrifices to help bring their team victory. Stories based on chess can be used to teach children all sorts of positive qualities, and even to improve their mental health. (Indeed, this topic is covered in my forthcoming book Chess for Schools.)

Here, we follow Prunella, the black b-pawn, who is helped by Norry the knight and the rest of her team as she travels across the board.

It’s a lovely story, beautifully written and enchantingly illustrated, that will appeal to many children – especially, but not only, girls – aged from about 6 or 7 upwards. It might spark an interest in chess, or encourage them to play more chess. By talking to their parents and teachers about Prunella and the other characters in the story, children will learn to understand and regulate their emotions, deal with fear and apprehension and help make their dreams come true.

Having said that, I’m not certain the actual chess content is suitable for most young beginners. The view of many chess teachers, including myself, is that most children will gain more long-term benefit from starting by playing simpler games before moving onto ‘big chess’.  Here, we’re thrown straight into a fairly sophisticated Queen’s Gambit, with the story on the left-hand page and some general advice, mostly of a positional nature (which might be unhelpful or confusing to newcomers), on the right-hand page. It’s also not possible to follow through the complete game: we can play through the opening, but then jump quite a few moves ahead to see how the game concludes, without any clues to reconstruct the bit in the middle.

To summarise, then: great story with great illustrations: many children will, understandably, fall in love with the book, and, perhaps, be hooked on chess for life as a result. I’m not convinced about the value of the pedagogic material,  which is, for me, too general and too advanced for the young beginners who would be attracted by the story, but I suppose that’s not really the point. If you’re a chess teacher or parent and you know children who would like this story, especially, perhaps, children who have issues with low self-esteem and anxiety, then don’t hesitate.

 Richard James, Twickenham 18th July 2022

Richard James
. Richard James

Book Details:

  • ASIN ‏ : ‎ B0B6DJBTY9
  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Chess Tales, LLC (17 Oct. 2022)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 50 pages
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 979-8986059211
  • Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 17.78 x 0.64 x 25.4 cm

Official web site of Chess Tales

Across the Battlefield: A Pawn's Journey, Jonathan Perry, Chess Tales, LLC (17 Oct. 2022), ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 979-8986059211
Across the Battlefield: A Pawn’s Journey, Jonathan Perry, Chess Tales, LLC (17 Oct. 2022), ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 979-8986059211

Tata Steel Chess Tournament 2021

Tata Steel Chess Tournament 2021, Daniel Fernandez, Thinker's Publishing, 14 Feb. 2022, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9464201420
Tata Steel Chess Tournament 2021, Daniel Fernandez, Thinker’s Publishing, 14 Feb. 2022, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9464201420

From the publishers’ blurb:

“That such a fine achievement should be immortalized, is beyond dispute. But who will pick up the gauntlet? We live in a volatile world where the Internet is dominant and when a tournament is over, the next one is already at the door. No time for reflection and historical awareness? Yet there was someone who had followed the tournament with great interest. The English grandmaster Daniel Fernandez, who also publishes for ChessPublishing came up with the idea of thoroughly examining all the games from this tournament. He did not take any chances in doing so. In addition to the various sources he found on the Internet, he of course used the strongest engines available at the moment. He also had engines in the cloud patiently calculate various positions. Together with his source research and his own insights, he has created a unique compilation of chess-technical material that is unprecedented.

In doing so, Fernandez has painted a fantastic picture of the opening variants that were on the board in this tournament. He has done a thorough research of the ins and outs of the various variants and placed them in a broader perspective. And it must be said that the organization was kind to him by providing an interesting field of players who gave it their all every round. This resulted in many nice confrontations with extremely interesting opening theory! That Fernandez did not get away with the middle game and the many fascinating endgames was clear from a first estimate of the amount of material when it had to be converted to the format of this book. Initially, we ended up with almost 900 pages! That is far too much and therefore drastic cuts had to be made. Hundreds of (analysis) diagrams have been dropped, small side notes are no longer in the book and sometimes – pain in the heart – the trees of variations had to be cut back. That only happened, by the way, when the ingenious structure became so extensive that it would be hard to follow for “mere mortals”. It is being considered whether this can be made available digitally at a later date, and the moment that it is, we will of course put Fernandez’s entire analytical work on offer! IM Herman Grooten, December 2021 ”

 

GM Daniel Fernandez (born 1995) is an English grandmaster with a slightly unusual approach to chess: at once mischievous and hardworking, and equally comfortable in tactical positions or dry endgames. His style fits the Modern perfectly and he has played it with success for almost a decade. He is a past holder of the British under-18 and under-21 titles, and the winner (or joint winner) of many open tournaments, such as Paracin 2017, Pula 2018, Ghent 2019 and the New Zealand Open 2020. Daniel also writes and commentates frequently, and is a columnist of the 1.e4 section on ChessPublishing.com. This is his third book for Thinkers Publishing, the Modernized Caro-Kann and Modern Defense were his first two and world wide acclaimed as the best you can get.

GM Daniel Fernandez, 2019 British Championships, Torquay. Courtesy of John Upham Photography
GM Daniel Fernandez, 2019 British Championships, Torquay. Courtesy of John Upham Photography

Chess book collectors will look back with fondness on the days when competitions between leading players were often commemorated by tournament books. Hastings 1895. New York 1924. The 1953  Candidates’ Tournament. Everyone with a passion for chess literature will have books such as these on their shelves. From time to time they’ll open them again, not just to admire the games but to relive the excitement of the event. Like me, they’ll regret that this tradition seems to have gone out of fashion.

Is this book a worthy addition to an almost forgotten genre of chess literature?

With 750 pages, trimmed down from an original almost 900, one can only admire Daniel Fernandez’s industry in compiling the book, in producing several pages of detailed analysis, often focused on modern opening theory, for almost every one of the 91, invariably hard-fought games produced by some of today’s leading Grandmasters.

The author has made an unexpected and seemingly unexplained decision in ordering the games by the player of the white pieces. So we start with all the White games of Alexander Donchenko, who eventually brought up the rear, through to those of Jorden van Foreest, the rather unexpected tournament winner.

I guess this makes sense if the main reason you’re reading the book is to study you heroes’ opening repertoires, but  from my perspective as a humble club player it seems rather eccentric. Why not group the games by the player of the black pieces instead? Or, better still, why not group them by opening so that we can see all the Sicilian Defence, for example, games together? If, like me, you’re not especially interested in opening theory, you’d probably prefer a more conventional format, especially given that the book also includes the round summaries taken from a Dutch chess news website. So we get a Round 1 report, Donchenko’s white games, a Round 2 report, MVL’s white games and so on, which creates, at least for me, a rather disjoined effect.

The opening analysis is, for many games, extremely detailed. Take, for example, Esipenko’s win over Carlsen in round 8. We get five pages of notes about the latest trends in the Sicilian Najdorf, which I’m sure is deeply fascinating to anyone playing that opening with either colour at master level, but of only passing interest to someone like me who finds the opening far too difficult for comfort.

Esipenko sacrificed a pawn in the opening, reaching this position where he gained a winning advantage: 18. Ncxb5+ axb5 19. Nxc6 Qxc6 20. Qc3: a familiar enough sacrifice but with an unusual follow-up. The queen fork regains the piece and the World Champion eventually succumbed.

50 or more years ago, when I was young and innocent enough to look at opening theory, the Sicilian Najdorf was all the rage. It’s still popular now, although most of it looks very different from the days when we eagerly awaited the news of Bobby’s latest games. One line that’s still popular, and hasn’t changed all that much, is the Poisoned Pawn variation. To the best of my knowledge it’s still, in general, standing up well for Black, but it’s very easy to go wrong and lose quickly, as MVL found out against Caruana.

Black plumped for the wrong pawn capture on d5, and now White continued 14. e6!! A crushing breakthrough. After 14 moves Black is essentially lost against good play!, according to Fernandez, who provides some beautiful variations against various Black tries here.

As you’d expect, the tournament produced its fair share of fascinating endings. I found this position, from Wojtaszek – Anton Guijarro, particularly instructive.

Here Black played 58… Rg1!. Fernandez comments: Black shows alertness and does not allow the half-point to slip away. There are only a few dangers for Black in this position, and foremost among them would be allowing the enemy king into f6. Hence 58… Ra2?? loses, because Black now has to go very passive to prevent the infiltration.

He then goes on to give a lot of analysis demonstrating how White can always, at worst, reach the Lucena position.

The analysis of the remaining moves (59. Rb7 f6 60. e6 and so on) is also informative as to how this very typical position should be played.

At one level this is a magnificent, monumental book. You get 91 top level games, all deeply annotated, all hard fought, with profound opening play, often exciting middlegames and sometimes intricate endings. Fernandez has put in an enormous amount of work to ensure that readers are informed about the latest opening theory in lines currently popular at top GM level (although I guess it’s all 18 months out of date now!), and that all the analysis has been thoroughly checked for accuracy using the most powerful engines. The production values are high, with many excellent photographs and lots of interesting background material. I spotted a few typos, but not enough to spoil the book.

And yet, writing as a fairly strong club player, it’s sadly not a book for me. It’s just much too heavy, in more ways than one. Picking it up made my arms hurt and reading it made my brain hurt.

Give me a 250-300 page tournament book rather than 750 pages, and I’d be happy. I’d want the games in round order, annotated in a user-friendly (but not patronising) way, with opening theory and computer-generated variations only included where necessary, with helpful tips on how I could learn and improve my game and perhaps some reader interaction such as quiz questions. Indexes of openings and endings would also be welcome.

If you’re an ambitious 2200+ player, this book will, I’m sure, be ideal for you. If, like me, you’re an unambitious under 2000 player, you may well think it’s too much of a good thing.

I sometimes get the impression that there are a number of grandmasters who write books for themselves and their friends rather than considering the nature of their target market. For me this book, praiseworthy and outstanding though it undoubtedly is, falls into that category.

I’d advise you to make up your own mind whether this is a book for you. If you click here you’ll be able to download a teaser.

Richard James, Twickenham 28th June 2022

Richard James
. Richard James

Book Details :

  • Softcover: 750 pages
  • Publisher: Thinkers Publishing; 1st edition (14 Feb. 2022)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:‎ 9464201428
  • ISBN-13:978-9464201420
  • Product Dimensions: 17.02 x 4.57 x 23.62 cm

Official web site of Thinkers Publishing

Tata Steel Chess Tournament 2021, Daniel Fernandez, Thinker's Publishing, 14 Feb. 2022, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9464201420
Tata Steel Chess Tournament 2021, Daniel Fernandez, Thinker’s Publishing, 14 Feb. 2022, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9464201420

Attacking Strategies for Club Players: How to Create a Deadly Attack on the Enemy King

Attacking Strategies for Club Players How to Create a Deadly Attack on the Enemy King, Michael Prusikin, New in Chess, 31-12-2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9056919740
Attacking Strategies for Club Players
How to Create a Deadly Attack on the Enemy King, Michael Prusikin, New in Chess, 31-12-2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9056919740

From the publisher:

“Attacking your opponent’s king is not just a shortcut to victory, it’s also one of the most enjoyable and gratifying experiences in chess. If you want to win more games you should become a better attacker. Studying typical attacking motifs and ideas easily brings dividends while you are having a good time. Michael Prusikin presents the prerequisites and the rules for a King attack in a lucid and attractive manner. In 15 thematic chapters he teaches you how to assess the nature of the position, identify the appropriate offensive patterns, find the preliminary moves and conduct your attack in a clear and effective way. Battering rams, obstructive sacrifices, pawn storms, striking at the castled position, sacrificing a knight on f5, Prusikin demonstrates the most important patterns of attack with lots of clear and well chosen examples. Next, Prusikin tests your newly acquired insights and your attacking intuition with exercises covering all the themes and motifs. You will find that studying Attacking Strategies for Club Players is both entertaining and rewarding.

Michael Prusikin is an International Grandmaster and a FIDE Senior Trainer from Germany. In 2009 he was the co-winner of the German Championship. Several times he has been voted German Chess Trainer of the Year. He writes the tactics column in the German magazine SCHACH.”

 

In his foreword to this book, GM Alexander Khalifman explains that the subject of attack on the enemy king has been the subject of many recent books, many of which suffer from a combination of defects: lack of originality, exaggerated sensationalism, complication and subjectivity. I wouldn’t disagree in principle, but who doesn’t love any book featuring ferocious attacks, brilliant combinations and beautiful sacrifices? Khalifman believes this book is different because it explains how to set up an attack.

Here’s what Prusikin has to say in his introduction:

… the theme of this book is not basic attacking motifs. I assume you are already familiar with these or I would recommend that, if so inclined, you read the classic The Art of Attack by Vladimir Vukovic or its modern counterpart Essential Chess Sacrifices by David LeMoir. In this book we shall address the strategic requirements for a successful attack on the king and some lesser-known attacking motifs, though no less relevant in practice. I hope this will be both interesting and useful for players with an Elo rating between 1500 and 2300.

Chapter 1 is just two pages long. We learn the prerequisites for successfully attacking the king: lead in development/uncastled opposing king, space advantage in the vicinity of the opposing king, few defensive pieces near the opposing king, and weakened pawn protection. Then we have some tips for carrying out a successful attack: use all your pieces, open lines, don’t be afraid to sacrifice and don’t waste time.

Chapters 2 to 16 each feature a different attacking idea, with some brief instructions and some examples from play.

Chapter 2: King in the centre.

Here’s an extract from a game which particularly impressed Prusikin, between a 17-year-old Egyptian and a higher-rated 16-year-old Iranian (Fawzy – Maghsoodloo Abu Dhabi 2017).

16. Nb5!!

An astonishing sacrifice, the idea of which doesn’t reveal itself until you have seen White’s 19th move.

16… axb5 17. axb5 Qb7 18. Rxa8+ Qxa8

And now what? Why has White actually given up the piece?

19. f5!!

The next hammer blow, a left-right combination in boxing parlance.

19… Nxe5

A) 19… gxf5 20. Qh5 +-

B) 19… exf5 20. e6! +-

C) 19… Bxe5 20. fxe6 fxe6 21. Nf7+-

20. fxe6 f6 21. Bxe5 fxe5 22. Rf7 Bf8 23. Nxh7

23. Qf1 Bc5+ 24. Kh1 Ne7 25. b6 Qc6 26. Qf6! Rg8 27. Rxe7+ Bxe7 28. Qf7+ Kd8 29. Qxg8+ Qe8 30. Nf7++– was the alternative solution.

23… Bc5+ 24. Kh1 Ne7

Fawzy would have had to demonstrate similar, perhaps even more beautiful motifs after the defensive move 24… Be7 25. b6! Kd8 (25… Nh6 26. Nf6+ Bxf6 27. b7 Qb8 28. Qxd5 Nxf7 29. Qd7+ Kf8 30. Qxf7#) 26. Qf1 Nh6 27. Qb5 Qb7 28. Rf1!! (Wonderful geometry: the rook swings to the a-file!) 28…Rxh7 29.Ra1 Bf8 30.Ra7 Nf5 31.Rxb7 Rxb7 32.Qxd5+ Nd6 33.Qc5 and White wins.

25. Qf1!!

Threatens 26. Rf8+ but at the same time ‘eyes up’ b5 – the queen in all her glory!

25… Nf5 26. b6!! Qc6 27. b7 Ba7 28. Qxf5+!

Not the only way to win, but certainly the most spectacular and at the same time the most convincing solution!#

28… gxf5 29. Nf6+ Kd8 30. e7+

Black resigned

What a game! The modern-day ‘Immortal’!

(A few comments on this extract: 1) I’ve omitted a couple of diagrams from the book 2) Prusikin doesn’t mention that Black could have held the position by playing 17… Rxa1, which he might have found had he foreseen 19. f5! and 3) if you have MegaBase you’ll find the same annotations (in German) there.)

Chapter 3: Obstructive sacrifice: a sacrifice to impede your opponent’s development: for instance White playing a pawn to e6.

Chapter 4: Attacking the king without the queen: attacks in queenless middlegames or even in endings.

Chapter 5: Pawn storm with opposite-side castling.

Chapter 6: Pawn storm with same-side castling.

Chapter 7: Using the h-pawn against a fianchetto.

I was very struck by this miniature: Gomez Sanchez – Otero Acosta (Santa Clara 2017). I’ll pick up the game with Black about to play his 9th move in this very typical Réti Opening.

8… h5!

The first game of this chapter, Steinitz – Mongredien, was probably the first time that the fianchetto, rather unusual at the time, had been attacked in such a daring way. Here too, the Steinitz attack seems to pose considerable problems for the Réti set-up.

9. d3

(There’s a long note here, concluding that 9. cxd5 is probably White’s best move here, which I’ll omit from this review.)

9… h4 10. Nxh4?

The beginning of the end. Once again, the only feasible defence was to open the centre: 10. cxd5! exd5 11. e4, although even here White would have had some difficult practical problems to solve, for example: 11… hxg3 12. hxg3 d4!? 13. Ne2 Qa5! with the idea of switching to h5. Black gets a dangerous attack.

10… Rxh4! 11. gxh4 Nh5 12. Qe1?

The final mistake. 12. f4 Nxf4 13. Qe1 would still have offered resistance, although Black would have had a clear advantage.

12… Bf3!!

Blocks the f-pawn; 12… Qh4? 13. f4.

13. Bc1 Qxh4 14. h3 Nf4 15. Bxf3 Qxh3 0-1

I suppose Prusikin might have mentioned that the idea behind Black’s 12th move is well known from, for example, a famous Fischer – Benko game.

Chapter 8: Using the g-pawn to destroy your opponent’s king protection.

Chapter 9: The nail in the coffin: a pawn on f6 or h6 in front of an opposing castled king.

Chapter 10: Doubled g-pawns, which can be used as an attacking weapon, or, on the other hand, can weaken the king’s defence.

Chapter 11: Using pieces to attack the castled position.

Chapter 12: The Grand Prix Attack: attacking a king behind a fianchettoed bishop with f4-f5, Qe1-h4, Bh6 etc.

Chapter 13: The knight on f5: sacrificing a knight on this square where it can be captured by a pawn on g6.

Chapter 14: Long bishop on b2: how a fianchettoed queen’s bishop can help your kingside attack.

This example is taken from Zsuzsa Polgar – Chiburdanidze (Calva Ol W 2004)

Here we join the game at its culmination: the dark-squared battery is already set up, the g-pawn has chased away the knight on f6 and with her last move … g7-g6 Black has carelessly weakened the long dark diagonal. In spite of all this, achieving the said culmination is anything but easy.

14. Nxe5!! Nxe2!

Was the Georgian former World Champion relying on this counter-attack?

A) 14… Qe7 15. Be4!! dxe5 16. 16. Bxb7 Nxe2! 17. Kxe2 Qxb7 18. Qxe5 f6 19. Qe6+ Qf7 20. Qxf7+ Rxf7 21. Bxf6+-

B) 14… dxe5 15. Qxe5 f6 16. Qxf4 gxf5 17. gxf6+ +-

15. Nxf7!!

If the first knight move was obvious, now comes the real ‘hammer blow’!

After 15. Kxe2? dxe5 16. Bc2 (16. Qxe5?? Re8) 16… Nc6 the advantage would have switched to Black.

15… Nxc3 16. Nh6+ Kg7 17. Bxc3+ Rf6 18. Bxf6+ Qxf6 19. gxf6+ Kxh6 20. Be6+-

Black could have resigned here but struggled on until move 39.

Chapter 15: Interference: specifically here playing a minor piece to the opponent’s back rank to block out an opposing rook.

Chapter 16: Breakthrough on the strong point: sacrificing on a square which appears to be very well defended.

At the end we have the seemingly obligatory quiz: 50 puzzles for you to solve. While some involve finishing off your attack, others require you to find a plan to put your attack in motion. You’re not told which is which.

You’ll see from the extracts above that, at one level, this is a lovely book crammed full of dashing attacks on the enemy king and beautiful sacrificial play. The expertly annotated examples are conveniently grouped by theme and with some helpful snippets of advice on how to identify when an attack of this nature would be appropriate, and how to carry it out.

As such it will, as the author suggests, appeal to anyone from, say, 1500 to 2300 strength. The themes won’t be new to stronger and more experienced players but they’ll still benefit from seeing them in action. While the author points out that the explanations at the start of each chapter are short to allow more space for games, they sometimes seemed rather perfunctory to me.

I’m also not sure that the book is entirely free from the flaws Khalifman has noted in other volumes of this nature. Yes, it’s a bit different from other books in the way it’s organised, and, while many of the games, including quite a few from Prusikin’s own games, were new to me, there were also some frequently anthologised chestnuts.

I’m also not convinced that the book is free from exaggerated sensationalism. The annotations, and sometimes the exclamation marks, perhaps tend towards the hyperbolic. As Khalifman rightly points out, ‘you don’t learn anything abut physics or chemistry by watching a fireworks display’, but the examples do tend to be firework displays rather than the more mundane attacks that are more likely to occur in your games.

It’s a large and complex subject, and, to do it full justice based on 21st century chess knowledge, you really need 400 or 500 pages rather than the 192 pages we have here.

The book was originally published in German and has been competently translated by Royce Parker, so the language problems sometimes apparent in books from this publisher don’t arise here. The production standards are high, and there’s a refreshing lack of typos.

It’s an entertaining and instructive book which will be enjoyed by a wide range of readers, but is it an essential purchase? Probably not.

Richard James, Twickenham 9th June 2022

Richard James
. Richard James

Book Details:

  • Softcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: New In Chess (31 Dec 2021)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:9056919741
  • ISBN-13:978-9056919740
  • Product Dimensions: ‎17.02 x 23.11 cm

Official web site of New in Chess

Attacking Strategies for Club Players How to Create a Deadly Attack on the Enemy King, Michael Prusikin, New in Chess, 31-12-2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9056919740
Attacking Strategies for Club Players
How to Create a Deadly Attack on the Enemy King, Michael Prusikin, New in Chess, 31-12-2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9056919740

Unbeatable!: The Art of Defense

Unbeatable!: The Art of Defense, Jan Werle, Thinkers Publishing, 11th January 2022, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9464201413
Unbeatable!: The Art of Defense, Jan Werle, Thinkers Publishing, 11th January 2022, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9464201413

From the publishers’ blurb:

“GM Jan Werle is a professional chess trainer, coach and author. In 2008 he became EU Champion in Liverpool and reached his peak rating of 2607. Afterwards he finished his law studies, obtaining Master’s degrees in Civil and Commercial Law, and embarked on a career as a lawyer. However his main passion, chess prevailed, and led to a comeback. He gives chess lessons to pupils worldwide, individually and in groups. He enjoys teaching and helping his students and watching them improve. He combines teaching with playing in tournaments, keeping up his own level. Jan likes to meet new people and see new places and has been travelling to tournaments across the globe since an early age. He has played in all age categories in the World and European Championships finishing 3rd in the U-16 Championship in 2000 and 2nd in the U-18 in 2001. In 2004 he beat FIDE World Champion Rustam Kasimdzhanov and has won several strong international opens such as the Essent Open in Hogeveen in 2007, the Oslo Open and 8th place in the Gibraltar Masters in 2020, the strongest open in the world, with a score of 7/10 and a tournament performance of 2743. ”

 

Defence is a difficult subject to write about. What do we mean by defence, anyway? We have to defend if we have the worse position, but we also have to defend if our opponent is creating threats. If our opponent has made an unsound sacrifice for an attack, we might have to defend when in a winning position.

For these reasons there have been relatively few books written about this important aspect of chess, so it’s good to be able to welcome this new volume. Let’s take a look inside.

Chapter 1 doubles as the Introduction.

In this book I try to shed light on how to put up tenacious resistance, as well as why most defenders aren’t able to do so. There are so many books written about the attack and the initiative, not to mention opening books. But isn’t the hardest discipline in chess the defense of a weak position?

Technically speaking, one of the reasons why defense is such a difficult discipline, is that the attacker has several good moves at his disposal to choose from, whereas the defender is bound to pick one single move which enables him to ‘survive’. 

Werle also discusses chess psychology, and, in general, sports psychology, subjects of particular interest to him, and with which he has personal experience.

There is an increasing understanding of the role psychology plays in chess, and, when your opponent is putting you under pressure, this is especially important. As you’ll see, this is discussed at length here.

Chapter 2 is again relatively short, looking at two forms of ‘inaccurate defence’: being too passive (and gradually getting crushed) and being too active in positions where you need to sit tight. It’s no coincidence that Werle’s examples of undue passivity come from older games: we know a lot more now about the virtues of active defence and the need to create counterplay, even at the cost of material.

Chapters 3, 4 and 5 constitute the heart of the book, each providing an in-depth look at defence in very different ways.

Chapter 3 offers The rise of defense in chess history, taking us all the way from Greco to Carlsen, with many instructive examples along the way.  The author is particularly interesting when writing about Steinitz and Lasker, both of whom had much to say on the subject as well as demonstrating defensive skills in many of their games.

He then moves onto Botvinnik and Smyslov, both also giants of defensive play. I was taken by this example from a fairly well known Botvinnik (black v Liublinsky Moscow 1943/44) game.

Here, Botvinnik played what has now become a stock exchange sacrifice.

25… Rd4!?

Botvinnik gives this move an exclamation mark, citing the advantages of the repaired pawn chain and the passed pawn, as the closed nature of the position deprives the white Rooks of any activity. However, in the ensuing lines there occur many concrete ‘computerish’ breaks which gives the Rooks a (perhaps better than) level playing field compared to the minor pieces.

26. Ne2

Lyubinsky (sic) prefers to take the Rook with his Knight and to retain his Bishop. A questionable decision, since the Knight would have been well placed on the blockading square d3, according to Botvinnik.

After 26… Bc8 27. Bxd4 cxd4 28. Nc1! he would have kept a large advantage, but for the same reason after keeping the Bishop instead of the Knight on the board. In essence, White has to open the files on the queenside.

26… Bc8 27. Nxd4 cxd4 28. Bf2?

When Botvinnik mentions that his opponent is saddled with a dark squared Bishop (instead of the Knight) and thus completely without counterplay, Botvinnik missed several potential interesting and dynamic ideas to open the queenside files, assuming White was just obliged to await further developments.

White could have refuted this notion by, for example, 28. Bd2! with the idea of b3-b4. 28… c5 29. Rab1 f5 30. a3 Be6 31. Rb2! Now there is no way to stop the b3-b4 pawn break, when the files and ranks are opened, and the Rooks become ‘monsters’. 31… f4 32. b4! axb4 33. axxb4 cxb4 24. Rdb1 when White has a winning advantage.

Chapter 4, Emotions in Chess, looks at defence through the lens of sports psychology. Comparisons are made with other sports, notably tennis, with players such as McEnroe, Agassi and Federer discussed. We learn about debilitating emotions: anxiety, anger, relief and pride, how emotions might be triggered and how to cope with them.

Examples demonstrate how our emotions might affect how we play: particularly being too cautious or not sufficiently decisive.

Then Werle explains how we can control emotions by relaxation or a variety of cognitive techniques.

Any serious competitive player will find this chapter, concerning an increasingly important aspect of chess, very helpful.

Chapter 5 takes us back to the chessboard, looking at Defensive Strategies. Sometimes we can use prophylaxis: preventing our opponents from carrying out their plans. Sometimes we just have to wait to see how our opponents are going to improve their position. On other occasions, though, we need to be proactive, looking for counter-attacking moves which will turn the tide.

Back in Chapter 3, Werle discussed Korchnoi’s massive plus score with the black pieces against Tal to demonstrate what can happen when a brilliant attacker comes up against a brilliant defender. There are several examples scattered throughout the book.

Here is a striking example, from Moscow 1971.

In this position Korchnoi played:

16… Kh8!!

Fantastic prophylaxis against h4-h5! Black can take now on e5 as the discovered check on h7 is out of the question. Not good was 16… Rfd8?, as after 17. h5 Nf8 18. h6 g6 19. Qxc4 Black would have been left with weakened black squares around the King and an isolated c-pawn.

Werle goes on to demonstrate the remainder of the game, which Korchnoi won on move 40.

(Checking this with Stockfish 15, though, the engine claims that 16… Rfd8 17. h5 Nf8 18. h6 Ng6 19. hxg7 Bc6 is fine for Black.)

Alekhine was a pioneer of risk-taking in defence, as Werle demonstrates in this example (Lasker – Alekhine Moscow 1914).

13… O-O-O!!

This unexpected, brutal move must have come as a shock to Lasker. White might have expected something like 13… Ne5 instead. White keeps an advantage with 14. Qc3 protecting f3. Black faces real issues completing his development. Or 13… Qe6 for the sake of bringing the Bishop out. 14. Re1! Bxc5 Who tricks who? 15. Qxd7+! Apparently, White tricks Black. Either way, there follows a Knight fork on f6 or c5.

14. Qa4

As storm clouds gather above Black’s position, Alekhine finds a creative solution for the problem of his king’s position. He could have played 14… Kb8 here to defend the pawn on a7, but then the game wouldn’t last for long after White plays simple developing moves: Bf4, Rd1-d3-b3/a3.

14… Ne5

This move is not approved by the commentators, but nonetheless it achieves its intended effect in the game. The point is that Alekhine places his knight as actively as possible, directed towards the enemy’s king.

15. Kg2 Qe6

16. Qa7?!

And here is the mistake: White is seduced into taking the pawn. Annotators, starting with the players’ contemporary Siegbert Tarrasch, indicated that a much safer move was 16. Bf4 initiating a strong positional idea. 16… Kb7 17. Bxe5 – after taking the strong knight on e5 White will develop a quick attack against black’s King with Re1 (threatening Nd6+) – Re3-Rb3, meanwhile Black has issues developing his bishop on f8.

16… Qf5!!

The ‘standard’ 16… Qg6+ fails without a fight after 17. Bg5! White will prevent the King’s escape via d7 on the next move. 17… f6 18. Rad1 And there is not much to do against the mating threat on a8.

 With this beautiful queen move, Alekhine is not only threatening to take on f3, but also at the same time vacating the escape route c8-d7-e6 for his King!

The game resulted in a draw by perpetual check a few moves later.

This extract (I’ve omitted another three diagrams) gives you some idea of the flavour of the annotations here.

Chapter 6 offers what is these days the almost obligatory quiz to test your defensive skills, with 22 questions where the defender has to make a critical decision.

All in all, this is an excellent book which will interest all serious competitive players. If you have an interest in sports psychology you may well consider it an essential read. The book is exceptionally well researched and the examples are well chosen, although, as they’re mostly taken from grandmaster practice you might consider them more suitable for stronger players. The book itself looks good. It’s illustrated with many photographs, some of only tangential relevance, and important sentences and quotes are highlighted in callout boxes.

My one problem – and this might not annoy you as it does me – is that, as with so many chess books, the proofreading is well below the standard I’d expect from books on other subjects. You can perhaps tell from some of the extracts above that the text isn’t always fluent and sometimes the meaning isn’t entirely clear at first reading. But beyond that there are many other minor issues: inconsistent spellings (Tal is Mikhail and Mihail on the same page), inconsistent use of capitalisation of names of chess pieces, even in the same sentence, and so on. I appreciate (in part from being on the other end at the moment) that this process takes time and costs money: perhaps omitting it is a necessary sacrifice to make books like this economically viable.

If you don’t find this an insurmountable problem, I’d recommend this book as a brave and original take on a complex and difficult aspect of chess.

Richard James, Twickenham 25th May 2022

Richard James
. Richard James

Book Details :

  • Softcover: 340 pages
  • Publisher: Thinkers Publishing; 1st edition (11 Jan. 2022)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:946420141X
  • ISBN-13:978-9464201413
  • Product Dimensions: 16.76 x 2.03 x 23.37 cm

Official web site of Thinkers Publishing

Unbeatable!: The Art of Defense, Jan Werle, Thinkers Publishing, 11th January 2022, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9464201413
Unbeatable!: The Art of Defense, Jan Werle, Thinkers Publishing, 11th January 2022, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9464201413