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How to Swindle in Chess

How to Swindle in Chess, Andrew Soltis, Batsford, 2020
How to Swindle in Chess, Andrew Soltis, Batsford, 2020

“International Grandmaster Andrew Soltis is chess correspondent for the New York Post and a very popular chess writer. He is the author of many books including What it Takes to Become a Chess Master, Studying Chess Made Easy and David vs Goliath Chess.”

GM Andrew Soltis
GM Andrew Soltis

From the Batsford web site :

“A book by (a) stalwart chess writer on an aspect of chess that is quite common, but little is written about, swindling in chess. In chess, a swindle is a ruse by which a player in a losing position tricks his opponent, and thereby achieves a win or draw instead of the expected loss. Renown(ed) chess writers Horowitz and Reinfeld observe that swindles, “though ignored in virtually all chess books”, “play an enormously important role in over-the-board chess, and decide the fate of countless games”. Andrew Soltis, American chess journalist, says swindles are not accidental or a matter of luck. Swindling is a skill. But there has been almost nothing written about how to do it, how to make yourself lucky in chess. Swindling means setting traps that exploit an opponent’s over-confidence. It means choosing the move that has the greatest chance of winning, rather than the move that has the least chance of losing. Soltis’ new proposal will explain to players of all levels how to do just that with plenty of examples to explain along the way.”

“… there has been almost nothing written about… ” swindles. True until recently (although books by Shamkovich/Schiller and LeMoir come to mind), but perhaps it’s unfortunate that this book was published at about the same time as David Smerdon’s outstanding book on the same subject.

Soltis’ view of what constitutes a swindle seems rather narrower than Smerdon’s. Most of the examples here are longer extracts from games where the player with an advantage in a complex position failed to win.

The first three chapters define swindles and explain the difference between swindles and traps.

Chapter Four tells you how to Make Yourself Lucky.

According to Soltis you should:

(a) Identify your best tactical resources,

(b) Give your opponent choices, and,

(c) Confuse him.

There’s quite a lot of British interest in this book, and here is Rowson – Emms (Gibraltar 2004).

If you’re clearly winning, but the position is chaotic and you perhaps don’t have too much time left to calculate it’s natural to make safe, sensible moves rather than looking for the quickest win.

This policy doesn’t always work, though.

This looks grim for Rowson: he’s two pawns down and all his opponent’s forces are in ideal attacking positions, with the immediate threat of Rxb2+.

“In mutual time pressure, White found an inspired bid to confuse, 34. Nb5~.

“It is confusing because all of Black’s main options seem to win. In fact, they all do. ‘But visually there is a lot to process’, White said after the game.”

Soltis then analyses the four captures on b5 and continues:

“No human can analyze all that in time pressure. Black made the common-sense decision 34… Rxb2+ 35. Rxb2 axb5.”

The game continued 36. Qf4~ Nc3+ 37. Ka1 when we rejoin Soltis:

“Again 37… Rf8 would have won. So would 37… Qa7. But common sense says Black should not be making his pieces passive when the tactics are reaching a peak.

“They are actually pretty active after 37… Qa7 38. Rh2 Ra8! because he mates first after 39. Qh6 Nb3+! 40. Rxb3 Qxa2+!

“Black made the intuitive decision to keep his pieces more flexible with 37… Rb7.

“White still needed a miracle. He might have tried 38. Qg5, with the idea of Qd8+. But 38… Rd7 is more than adequate.

“He changed the subject of the conversation with 38. Qe3~. That gave Black something new to think about, the threat to his knight.

“(It set a delicious trap 38…. Nc6 39. Rfc2! b4 40. Rxc3! and wins.)”

Now Soltis points out that 38… Qc5 would have won (as, according to Stockfish 12 would Rc8). Instead, Emms played 38… e5??, when Soltis mentions 39. Bc4! as leading to a position with equal chances, and Stockfish 12 adds 39. Rh2 as also being equal. After 39. Qg5!, Qa5 would have won, but 39… Ra7 turned out to be a blunder. White won after 40. Qd8+ Kg7 41. Qf6+ Kd8 42. Bc4! d5 43. Rh2! and Black resigned.

You’ll notice the symbol ~, which Soltis uses to annotate a move which, although not objectively best, is the most practical.

Chapter Five looks at swindles from the perspective of the victim (swindlee) and asks why players fall for swindles. For instance ‘The swindlee believes only two results are possible’ and ‘The swindlee wants to win quickly’. You might think differently: ‘The swindlee is in time trouble’, ‘The swindlee miscalculates’ or ‘The swindlee loses concentration’.

Further chapters again take other approaches, although there seems to be some overlap between them: ‘False Narrative and Bluffing’, ‘Panic Worthy’, ‘The Swindling Process’, ‘Swindler Versus Swindlee’. ‘Royal Swindles’ looks at swindles involving kings: perpetual check, stalemate and king marches. Finally, ‘The Very Lucky’ features three great swindlers, Judit Polgar, Lasker and Carlsen.

Here’s another all British example: Norwood – Plaskett from the 1990 British Championship held in Eastbourne.

Black’s a pawn up at the moment but, as Soltis explains:

“White threatens 26. Bb7, trapping the queen (26… Qa3 27. Ra1).

“Black can give up the Exchange, 25… Rc7 26. Be5 Qc8 27. Bxc7 Qxc7. But even with his extra pawn he would be significantly worse.

“An experienced defender – not just a swindler – would try to distract White by offering a choice. After 25… e5 Black would be alive after 26. Bxe5 Qe6.

“But if White makes the right decision, 26. Bb7! Qe6 27. Bxc8 Rxc8, he again has good winning chances. (Remember this position.)

“After 28. Qe2 a6 29. Ra5, for example, it would be harder for Black to draw than for White to win.

“Black felt his situation was dire and went for 25… Nd5~. It was partially based on 26. cxd5?? Qxb5 and 26. Bxd5? exd5 27. Rxd5 Be7 with near-equality.

“He was mainly betting that he would find counterchances if White replied 26. Rxc5! Rxc5 27. cxd5.”

Soltis then spends some time analysing that position and concluding that White would have been winning.

Returning to his narrative:

“But there was one other option for White and it occurred on the board: 26. Ra1? overlooked Black’s threat, 26… Qxb5! 27. cxb5 Nxc3 (28. Qxc3?? Bxf2+).

“The position is slightly better for White. Black can anchor his bishop on d4 with …e5. He may also be able to use tactics to liquidate the queenside pawns, bringing the position closer to a draw, e.g. 28. Bc6 Bd4 29. Ra5 a6!? 30. Rxa6 Nxb5.

“But the jarring effect of a swindle took effect and play went 28. Ra6? Bb6 29. Qb3 Ne2+ 30. Kh2? Bxf2 31. Qf3? Bxg3+ 32. Kh1 Rc1+ and Black eventually won.

“So was Black’s decision to choose 25… Nd5 over 25… e5 correct?

“The experienced swindler would say ‘Yes’ because White had three ways to go wrong (26. cxd5??, 26. Bxd5? and 26. Ra1?)

“The experienced defender would say ‘No!’ because 26. Rxc5! would have given White better winning chances than after 25… e5.”

This extract exemplifies some of the slight problems I have with the annotations. Some of it, inevitably I suppose, doesn’t quite stand up to Stockfish 12, which thinks that 25… Rc7 was a better drawing chance than either Nd5 or e5, and in that variation, Qc3 was better than Bxc7. It also considers the position in the 28. Bc6 line in the game to be completely level. Perhaps, from a GM perspective, White is slightly better, but I’m not a GM so I really have no idea.

Soltis also writes as if it’s plausible that a strong player will fall for an obvious trap. Is it really likely that a strong tactician like Norwood would have considered 26. cxd5??, or would have played 26. Bxe5 rather than 26. Bb7 after 25… e5?

At the same time I felt that he sometimes reads too much into what the players might have been thinking about and how far ahead they saw. Were Norwood’s subsequent mistakes caused by ‘the jarring effect of a swindle’, by time trouble, perhaps by a combination of the two, maybe by something else entirely? You’d have to ask him to find out.

As is to be expected from Soltis, this is a workmanlike book with, as you will have seen from these examples a lot of exciting chess, as well as some helpful advice on how to play – and how to avoid -swindles. I certainly enjoyed reading it, but I’m not convinced I learnt anything new. The general appearance of the book is rather old-fashioned, and there are a few – admittedly insignificant – notation errors.

If you’re looking for a book on swindles I’d strongly advise you go for Smerdon first: it really is an excellent – and highly entertaining – read. If that book whets your appetite for more swindles, you won’t be disappointed with Soltis. Recommended for players of all levels, but not a first choice.

Richard James, Twickenham 26th January 2021

Richard James
Richard James

Book Details :

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Batsford Ltd; 1st edition (5th March 2020)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:1849945632
  • ISBN-13:978-1849945639
  • Product Dimensions: 15.24 x 2.03 x 23.11 cm

Official web site of Batsford

How to Swindle in Chess, Andrew Soltis, Batsford, 2020
How to Swindle in Chess, Andrew Soltis, Batsford, 2020

Magnus Carlsen : 60 Memorable Games

Magnus Carlsen : 60 Memorable Games, Andrew Soltis, Batsford, 2020
Magnus Carlsen : 60 Memorable Games, Andrew Soltis, Batsford, 2020

“International Grandmaster Andrew Soltis is chess correspondent for the New York Post and a very popular chess writer. He is the author of many books including What it Takes to Become a Chess Master, Studying Chess Made Easy and David vs Goliath Chess.”

GM Andrew Soltis
GM Andrew Soltis

From the Batsford web site :

“Following on from the long success of one of the most important chess books ever written, Bobby Fischer: My 60 Memorable Games, renowned chess writer Andrew Soltis delivers a book on today’s blockbuster chess player Magnus Carlsen.

Magnus Carlsen has been the world’s number one player for more than a decade, has won more super-tournaments than anyone ever and is still in his prime. He is the only player to repeatedly win the world championships in classical, speed and blitz chess formats. This book details his remarkable rise and how he acquired the crucial skills of 21st-century grandmaster chess

He will defend his world championship title this autumn and if he wins, it will set a record of five championship match victories. This book take you through how he wins by analysing 60 of the games that made him who he is, describing the intricacies behind his and his opponent’s strategies, the tactical justification of moves and the psychological battle in each one.

This book is essential for chess enthusiasts, competitors and professionals of all skill sets.”

 

Andrew Soltis has been a prolific author of chess books over the course of several decades. I first encountered him when I read – and thoroughly enjoyed The Younger School of Soviet Chess, published by Bell, the predecessors of Batsford, back in 1976. I particularly relished his unique, story-telling style of annotation, which has been a feature of many of his books.

His titles have ranged widely, from opening monographs to serious historical works, often concerning chess in the old Soviet Union. Yet he’s never received the publicity accorded to other, more colourful and controversial, writers, nor, perhaps, the respect he deserves.

Perhaps this is because he’s never been published by today’s leading chess book publishers. His historical works are published by McFarland, while he’s written a steady stream of books for average club player under the Batsford imprint.

Ah yes, Batsford. Back in the day they were the most celebrated publisher of chess books on the planet. They can trace their chess ancestry back to Staunton’s friend and publisher Henry Bohn, whose business was later taken over by George Bell & Sons, who were in turn taken over by Batsford. But that’s a story for another time. Batsford are still publishing chess books, although, compared to their glitzier rivals, they have a rather old-fashioned appearance. Soltis is the author of many of their more recent books, but they also have the rights to a number of classic titles, most notably Fischer’s My Sixty Memorable Games.

The first thing you’ll notice about Soltis’s new collection of Magnus Carlsen’s games is the title: Magnus Carlsen: 60 Memorable Games. Cheeky, or what? It wasn’t difficult to get the publishers’ approval, and the original author was sadly not around to object, although I suspect his ghost is ranting and raging even now.

A misjudgement, I think: a different number of games and a different adjective would have been fine. But they say you can’t judge a book by its cover, so let’s look inside.

The format is very similar to Bobby’s book. Sixty chapters with one game to a chapter, each having a catchy title and a brief introduction putting it in context. One difference is that all the games are wins for our hero. You wouldn’t say they were necessarily his greatest games, though. They include blitz and blindfold games, and, for example, the game where he famously hung a piece in the opening against Gawain Jones. In fact you get more than 60 games for your money: there are several others in Soltis’s introduction, and more buried within the annotations.

At the start of the book Soltis asks “What made Magnus?”. The first answer is revealing: playability. The ability to judge how easy positions are to play. This is a point which is hammered home throughout the book. Carlsen excels at assessing positions, but his assessments are based on which player will find it easier to play good moves, which is often very different from computer assessment. Then there’s his versatility: he can play any type of position equally well and might play almost any opening against you. As we all know, he has an exceptional memory. He also has a very strong mindset: he is able to recover quickly from defeats and fight back from mistakes in his games. Readers of Chess Improvement: It’s all in the Mindset will know how important this is. He has exceptional stamina, which is why he will play on and on waiting for a mistake in positions which most of us would give up as drawn. He is also highly intuitive.

This is not the only anthology of Carlsen’s games on the market. Whether or not it’s the one for you will depend on how you react to Soltis’s style of annotation, which is very much based on verbal explanations. Variations are given where necessary, but what you don’t get, and many potential readers will be relieved by this, is pages of long computer-generated analysis.

This is a position from one of the earlier games in the book, Brynell – Carlsen (Gausdal 2005), with White to play his 32nd move.

If I were Black here I’d look at the equal material and bishops of opposite colours and consider offering a draw followed by heading off to the bar for a pint.

Here’s Soltis:

“Why doesn’t White have the superior winning chances? After all, he has the famous ‘queenside pawn majority’.

“Yes, but there are two factors that matter much more. One is the difference in bishops.

“White’s bishop has no offensive power. While queens are on the board it can only defend.

“Black’s bishop, on the other hand, ties White’s queen to the defense of f2.

“That’s not enough to give Black an edge. But it’s enough to keep the game going.”

32. Qf3 f5!

“This is the second factor that favors Black. Carlsen has a kingside pawn majority.

“They cannot create a useful passed pawn, as a queenside majority might.

“But they can become a powerful offensive weapon if …e5-e4 and …f4-f3+ drives the white queen from the defense of f2.

“A secondary plan is … g5-g4 and … h5-h4-h3+.

“Note that if White offers a trade of queens, even by 33. Qf4 Qxf4 34. gxf4, Black could refuse, 33… Qb2!, for example.”

What do you think? I, as a 1900 strength player, found the explanation very instructive, but I’d imagine someone of, say, 2200 strength would find it obvious and over-simplistic.

Here’s another example, this time an opening.  Carlsen – Wojtaszek (Gashimov Memorial 2018).

Carlsen’s just played his 9th move in an unusual variation of the Sicilian.

“Here’s an admittedly over-simplified way of evaluating the position:

“First, just look at the top half of the diagram.

“The Black pieces and pawns are on the same squares they could be on in other balanced Sicilian positions, such as in the Richter-Rauzer or Scheveningen variations.

“Now look at the bottom half of the diagram. White’s pieces and pawns are uncommon but coordinated. The worst thing you could say is that he has no obvious plan except a kingside attack, begun by pushing his g-pawn.

“Now let’s consider specifics. After 9… Be7 White must avoid 10. g4? because 10… Nxg4! 11. fxg4? Bg5! loses his queen.

“Instead, 10. Kb1 0-0 11. g4 and then 11… Nd7, perhaps followed by … Nc5 and … b4 would have the double-edged nature of a typical Sicilian.”

Instead, Wojtaszek played 9… h5, when, because Carlsen’s knight was on g1 rather than d4, he was able to meet by Nh3 followed by Ng5, winning in short order when Black chose to keep his king in the centre.

“Over-simplified”? That word again. But top level games these days are so complicated that it’s hard to annotate them for club standard players.

I found the annotations of more tactical positions slightly confusing on occasion, but, given the nature of the games, that’s entirely understandable. By and large, Soltis does a good job in attempting to explain his selected games in terms that are readily understandable and instructive to club standard players. He’s a highly experienced journalist who really knows how to write: something that can’t be said of all chess authors.

You might have noticed that, although published in England, US spellings are favored (sic). I spotted a few notation and diagram errors: slightly annoying but there will always be one or two that slip through the net.

Games collections are rightly popular, and every chess library needs at least one volume of Carlsen’s best games. This isn’t the last word, not least because Magnus has many more years ahead of him, and there are other books on the market which I don’t have to hand for direct comparisons. It’s always a good idea to consider alternatives before making your move.

I enjoyed it: the games were well chosen and all full of interest. I found the annotations were pitched at the right level for me. While higher rated players find prefer more detailed notes, if you’re between about 1500 and 2000 strength I’m sure you’ll enjoy it too.

 

Here, in full, but without annotations, are the games referred to above.

 

Richard James, Twickenham 14th January 2021

Richard James
Richard James

Book Details :

  • Paperback : 384 pages
  • Publisher:Batsford Ltd; 1st edition (12 Nov. 2020)
  • Language:English
  • ISBN-10:1849946507
  • ISBN-13:978-1849946506
  • Product Dimensions: 15.24 x 2.79 x 23.37 cm

Official web site of Batsford

Magnus Carlsen : 60 Memorable Games, Andrew Soltis, Batsford, 2020
Magnus Carlsen : 60 Memorable Games, Andrew Soltis, Batsford, 2020