Tag Archives: Biographies

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

Chess Buccaneer: The Life and Games of Manuel Bosboom

Chess Buccaneer: The Life and Games of Manuel Bosboom, Merijn van Delft & Peter Boel, New in Chess, 31st December 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9056919818
Chess Buccaneer: The Life and Games of Manuel Bosboom, Merijn van Delft & Peter Boel, New in Chess, 31st December 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9056919818

From the publisher:

“There aren’t many chess players who can say they’ve both beaten Garry Kasparov in an official blitz game and crushed Peter Leko in a classical game in 26 moves. And who regularly win blitz tournaments high on marihuana. But then Manuel Bosboom is not an ordinary chess player.

The Dutch International Master never made it to the top in chess, but over the course of his swashbuckling career he has produced an astonishing amount of brilliantly creative games. When Manuel Bosboom enters the room, a smile appears on every chess players face. Not only is he an exuberantly colourful player, he also leads an unconventional existence. His enthusiasm for the game and zest for life are highly contagious.

This book offers a captivating collection of games and it also describes the adventurous life of the Wizard from Zaanstad, who grew up and still lives in a picturesque shed next to a 17th century windmill on the famous Zaanse Schans. You will be treated to many a stunning chess move, a wealth of hilarious but also touching stories and a vivid impression of the Dutch chess scene in the late 20th and early 21st century.

Merijn van Delft is an International Master from the Netherlands. He has been a chess trainer for more than two decades and created instructional material both online and offline.

Peter Boel is a FIDE Master and a sports journalist who works as an editor with New In Chess. He is the author of two collections of short stories (in Dutch).”

 

My last review introduced you to a Chess Crusader. Now we have a Chess Buccaneer.

The Dutch IM Manuel Bosboom has been a cult figure in his native country for several decades, renowned for his bohemian lifestyle, adventurous and creative play, erratic results and brilliance at blitz. He came to the notice of a wider public recently when some of his games were featured in David Smerdon’s wonderful book The Complete Chess Swindler. Now we have a whole volume devoted to his life and games, written by two of his friends, Peter Boel, who was responsible for the biography, and Merijn van Delft, who provided the annotations.

Bosboom himself provides a foreword.

Meanwhile, I developed an affection for players like Alexander Alekhine, Mikhail Tal and Leonid Stein. My games became wilder, often leaving the opponent wondering: was this move a blunder or a sacrifice?! I didn’t mind! From my many blitz games I learned that you just had to keep going, regardless of the situation. A diehard attitude, quick board view and deft movements earned me a reputation in  blitz.

He concludes:

Follow your Heart and use your Mind. Play without Dogma!

You’re promised some entertaining games, then, and that’s exactly what you’ll get.

From the authors’ preface:

If Manuel Bosboom didn’t exist, he would have to be invented. His unique, fascinating personality is bound to enrapture every true chess fan.

The book features 66 amazing games, as well as a number of other striking fragments that have been gathered and annotated by Peter in the chapters ‘Swindles’ and ‘Curiouser’. And of course we couldn’t leave out a collection of 36 combinations that the reader can try his hand at solving, with three different levels of difficulty. 

We mixed this explosive material into a heady cocktail that we hope will get you pleasantly tipsy, and no hangover!

Chess is an adventure with many beautiful vistas. The great appeal of Manuel Bosboom is that he shows us that you can do things differently – in chess as well as in life. This is a marvellous gift for which we will never be able to thank him enough.

Chapter 1 takes us to the 1999 Wijk aan Zee blitz tournament, and demonstrates the game in which Bosboom beat none other than Garry Kasparov.

We then take a chronological journey through our subject’s life. Bosboom, born in 1963, comes from a Jewish socialist working-class family – the name was originally Nussbaum – and his father, Adriaan, is a talented, but commercially unsuccessful, painter.

Chapters 2 and 3 take him through his childhood and career up to 1990. At this time he favoured openings such as the King’s Gambit, so you’ll see a lot of romantic chess in these games, with brilliantly creative attacking play alongside mutual blunders.

Bosboom is famous for his early attacks with his g- and h-pawns, which sometimes result in sparkling miniatures such as this game. (Click on any move and a pop-up board will magically appear.)

Chapter 4, Manuel versus Computer, must be one of the shortest chapters ever to appear in a chess book. Just a four-move game. You’ll discover the reason later in the book.

Chapter 5 takes Bosboom through the 1990s, when he was perhaps, at the peak of his strength. He was now producing positional as well as tactical masterpieces.

I particularly enjoyed this game against Sofia Polgar.

Chapter 6 again interrupts the narration, this time for a short collection of swindles. Then Chapter 7 takes Bosboom from 2001 through to 2006.

We don’t just get Manuel Bosboom’s wins: there are draws and losses as well, such as this extraordinary game, played in the Dutch League. Bosboom was, as  he often is, broke at the time so couldn’t afford the bus to the tournament venue, only just managing to arrive before the default time.

Chapter 8 is the obligatory (for this publisher, it seems) Combinations chapter, and then Chapter 9 takes us up to the present day.

Finally, Chapter 10 is entitled ‘Curiouser’.

Here are some episodes from Manuel’s chess life that may be even curiouser than what you have seen so far. Since ‘correctness’ is not a very prevalent characteristic in this chapter, the comments have been done in a slightly more ‘enthusiastic’ style than elsewhere in this book!

This is from Bosboom – Dvoirys (Leeuwarden 1997).

(Dvoirys) seemed to know nothing but chess in his life and would only mumble an unintelligible reply every time you asked him something.

The game concluded: 35. Rf5! Rf7 36. Be4! Rgg7 37. Rxe5

Dvoirys sat aghast, staring at the ruins of his position. Then he started fumbling with a big chocolate bar he had put beside the board, and suddenly squeezed it to pieces. These then fell out of his hands and onto the floor, and Bosboom watched in amazement how Dvoirys knelt down and started crawling around to collect all the pieces of chocolate.

It seems almost de rigueur these days that every chess book should include Hilarious Anecdotes, and this book, as you might expect, is no exception. They’re more likely to involve alcohol or marijuana (or marihuana, as preferred by the back cover) than chocolate, though.

For someone like me, who leads a very sober and boring life, and plays very sober and boring chess, it comes as quite a shock to meet someone like Manuel Bosboom who is, in both respects, my polar opposite. He is, I suppose very much a product of the Dutch counter-culture in that respect.

It’s again fascinating, from the UK perspective, to learn about the difference between Dutch and British chess culture. Here chess is seen very much as a game played either by small children in primary schools or by old men in draughty church halls, but in the Netherlands it seems very different. It’s also interesting to learn that Bosboom makes much of his meagre income from winning cash prizes in blitz tournaments: something almost unknown here, although it’s good to see that some enterprising organisers are now running blitz events with substantial cash prizes.

This book is well structured, well written (the English is not always entirely idiomatic, but no matter) and well produced. Merijn van Delft is rapidly earning a reputation as one of the best chess writers around and his annotations here are excellent, pitched at just the right level to be accessible to all readers.

The world needs eccentrics, and the chess world benefits enormously from the presence of the likes of Manuel Bosboom. Playing through his games – his fiascos as well as his successes – will, if you follow his example, add creativity and excitement to your chess. Whether it will also improve your rating is, I suppose, another matter entirely.

I really enjoyed this book in every respect. Bosboom’s life and games are both enormously entertaining and often wildly funny. The authors have done a fine and important job in bringing his colourful personality and chess moves to our attention.

This book, then, is very highly recommended for players of all strengths. Even if you’ve never heard of Manuel Bosboom, do yourself a favour and give it a try.

 

Richard James, Twickenham 6 January 2022

Richard James
. Richard James

Book Details:

  • Softcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: New In Chess (25 Oct 2021)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:9056919814
  • ISBN-13:978-9056919818
  • Product Dimensions: ‎17.02 x 23.11 cm

Official web site of New in Chess

Chess Buccaneer: The Life and Games of Manuel Bosboom, Merijn van Delft & Peter Boel, New in Chess, 31st December 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9056919818
Chess Buccaneer: The Life and Games of Manuel Bosboom, Merijn van Delft & Peter Boel, New in Chess, 31st December 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9056919818

I Was a Victim of Bobby Fischer

I Was a Victim of Bobby Fischer, Mark Taimanov, Quality Chess, 29th November 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1784831608
I Was a Victim of Bobby Fischer, Mark Taimanov, Quality Chess, 29th November 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1784831608

From the publisher:

“In 1971 Robert James Fischer defeated Mark Taimanov by the sensational score of 6-0 in Vancouver, but the match games were far more competitive and tension-filled than the final score would suggest.

Twenty years later Taimanov put pen to paper, reflecting on the experience. Exactly 50 years after the match, this is the first English translation of Taimanov’s original Russian text. Taimanov provides a richly detailed, honest and emotional account of the drama on and off the board. Despite the catastrophic match score, his love for the game of chess is evident throughout.

Taimanov also discusses his early acquaintance with Fischer from 1960, including detailed annotations of both of their pre-1971 games, as well as the personal consequences of the match result. With fascinating additional archive material and analytical contributions from some of the brightest young stars of the American chess scene today, I was a Victim of Bobby Fischer is the ultimate insight into one of the most famous matches in chess history.”

End of blurb…

Isaac Boleslavsky plays Mark Taimanov in round one of the 24th USSR Championship on January 21st 1957. Peace broke out after fifteen moves of a Nimzo-Indian Defence
Isaac Boleslavsky plays Mark Taimanov in round one of the 24th USSR Championship on January 21st 1957. Peace broke out after fifteen moves of a Nimzo-Indian Defence

Quality Chess live up to their name by being one of the few publishers who offer a hardback as well as softback version of all of their titles.

The production values are superb. You could save a few pence and opt for the paperback version but we would definitely treat ourselves with a Christmas / New Year present and savour the hardback. In addition, high quality paper is used and the printing is clear. The weight of this paper gives the book an even better feel to it as the pages are turned.

The book can easily be laid flat next to the board and does not require weights to prevent it from “self-closing”. Each diagram is clear and the instructional text is typeset in two column format, which, we find, enables the reader to readily maintain their place. Figurine algebraic notation is used and the diagrams are placed adjacent to the relevant text.

A small (and insignificant) quibble: the diagrams (except for Chapter 19, Interesting Positions) do not have a “to move” indicator (but they do have coordinates).

Before we take our first look at this book Quality Chess have provided a pdf excerpt.

Over the years there have been numerous books with Taimanov somewhere in the title but almost all are concerned with his famous variation of the Sicilian Defence:

We are aware of two English language books covering Taimanov’s career.  One is Taimanov’s Selected Games published in 1995 by Everyman Chess covering 60(!) games selected and annotated by MT.  The second is Smyslov, Bronstein, Geller, Taimanov and Averbakh: A Chess Multibiography (McFarland, 2021) with 220 Games by Andrew Soltis reviewed here.

This Quality Chess title helps to address this surprising shortfall.

The title is perhaps the first worthy discussion point and we learn the interesting reason for it. Is it clear from the outset just how in regard MT held Fischer when he wrote this manuscript in 1993.

You might think that the events of 1971 had left a bitter taste with MT, and degree of resentment,  especially when we read in Chapter 5 of his post match treatment by the Soviet authorities. The latter even restricted his career in music which was gratuitously cruel. There is no evidence of that here, in fact, quite the opposite. Taimanov stipulated in his will that should the book be published then “I Was a Victim of Bobby Fischer” must be its title.

Let us not forget that Taimanov jointly holds (and will always) a record with Efim Geller of twenty-three appearences in the Soviet Championships apart from his many other achievements on the chess board.

Taimanov played Fischer a total of eight times and their first meeting was on June 4th, 1960 in the good air of Buenos Aires.

This game was a monumental battle (drawn after eighty-seven moves) when Fischer was a mere seventeen and MT was a more plausible thirty-four.

Here is the game devoid of any notes simply because you really should treat yourself to the fourteen(!) pages of glorious annotations including 20 diagrams. What a struggle!

Much of the book is taken up with discussion of Fischer’s development and eventually his downfall (but nether MT nor Spike Milligan played any part) and this is particularly apposite on the eve of the Reykjavik match 50th anniversary.

Chapters 6-12 cover each game of the 1971 match (ten games were planned) in Vancouver. Each game is very much worthy of close study and a model of sporting attitude from the loser. It is painful to see how well Taimanov plays compared with the game results. At no point did he “do a Nepo” and collapse into a heap. His emotions and reactions to the match are rather revealing.

Chapter 13(!) discusses the causes of Fischer’s eventual reclusion comparing RJFs fate with players of the past with an update in Chapter 14 on more recent events.

You might predict “That must be the end of the book”. Well, not at all. Part IV contains the substantial Appendices which include additional deeply annotated games of Taimanov and of Fischer, a biography of MT and a fascinating interview of MT from 2016.

Almost last and by no means least we have Chapter 19 which presents a number of key positions from the previously discussed games and the reader is asked a pertinent question about each.

Here is an example (#10):

 

Lutikov – Taimanov, 37th USSR Championships, Moscow

After White’s rook lift on move 25:

“We will look at three positions from this complicated game, all of them very interesting. In the first, Black has a difficult strategic decision to make”

Chapter 20 (titled “Thoughts and Solutions”) takes the Chapter 19 positions and analyses them in detail courtesy of a team of strong players (Shankland, Liang, Xiong and Aagaard) providing their individual opinions of each position. This is really rather innovative and most welcome. Note that these “thoughts”  are not usurped by reams of unwelcome engine analysis.

In summary, this is a significant book quite unlike any other we have read. Beautifully produced it brings you into the mind of a great chessplayer and person who gave his all and was treated appallingly.

We commend to you this book without doubt: you will not be disappointed. One of our favourites of 2021.

John Upham, Cove, Hampshire, 23rd December, 2021

John Upham
John Upham

Book Details:

  • Paperback : 248 pages
  • Publisher: Quality Chess UK LLP (29 Nov. 2021)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:1784831603
  • ISBN-13:978-1784831608
  • Product Dimensions: 17.2 x 1.22 x 24.18 cm

Official web site of Quality Chess

I Was a Victim of Bobby Fischer, Mark Taimanov, Quality Chess, 29th November 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1784831608
I Was a Victim of Bobby Fischer, Mark Taimanov, Quality Chess, 29th November 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1784831608

Chess Crusader: confessions of an amateur chess-player

The Chess Crusader. Carl Portman, The Conrad Press, 22nd July 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1913567866
The Chess Crusader. Carl Portman, The Conrad Press, 22nd July 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1913567866

From the publisher’s blurb:

“Funny and brutal. A big-hearted book, I enjoyed it.’ Stuart Conquest, Grandmaster

‘Carl is gifted as both a natural entertainer and storyteller. Although this memoir is primarily about chess, the tales in it are filled with a frank and refreshing honesty that will literally have your heart racing with adventure.’ Jovanka Houska, International Master

Chess Crusader is an absolutely fascinating memoir, and most emphatically not only a book for chess players.

It reveals how chess is a metaphor for life, and how skills honed at the chess board can be applied in many real-life situations. This compelling chronicle takes you from Birmingham to Moscow, and plunges you into the life of an author with a remarkable original mind, while also highlighting the hazards of stealing a half-cooked sausage from a deranged German.

It’s a lively, enthralling account of a colourful life dominated by the black and white squares of the chessboard, and their relation to the wider issues of a troubled childhood and the challenges of work, women, love and loss. It’s a tale of adversity, but also of achievement and new friendships and experiences.”

After 30 years working with the Ministry of Defence, Carl Portman took early retirement to concentrate on freelance photography, chess coaching, natural history travel, writing and lecturing. He is a keen arachnologist, owns a large collection of live tarantulas and scorpions, and has bred some of the rarest arachnids in the world. Married to his childhood friend Susan, they also have three border collie dogs. Born in Birmingham, (a proud Brummie) he now lives in Oxfordshire.

Carl Portman, Chess in Prisons, Engish Chess Federation, The beneficial impact of chess on prisoners, London Chess Conference 2015, Day One, Courtesy of John Upham Photography
Carl Portman, Chess in Prisons, English Chess Federation, The beneficial impact of chess on prisoners, London Chess Conference 2015, Day One, Courtesy of John Upham Photography

Before going further you might wish to Look Inside.

 

Carl Portman’s work promoting chess in prisons (if you haven’t read his previous book Chess Behind Bars you should certainly do so) makes him one of the most inspirational figures in British chess.

Now he offers us an autobiography in which his life in chess features prominently. Carl was born on a Birmingham council estate in 1964 and, when he was still very young, his father left home, never to return. When he was 12, his mother, an alcoholic, remarried. Her new husband was a psychopath who was physically, verbally and emotionally abusive to both Carl and his mother.

Carl didn’t come from a chess-playing background, and was introduced to chess by John Lenton, a teacher at his secondary school. He soon became obsessed with the game, as he tells us, eventually becoming school champion.

Chess would therefore be my mental opiate; the living embodiment of disappearing down the rabbit hole. I played it in class, on the bus, in exams, in the toilets, in the playground, the chess club and in my room at home. 

It would be the one thing I could turn to when the horrors of home life [were] raging around me. What a gift this was, from nowhere. Chess would never let me down.

Carl takes us through his eventful life, from his abusive stepfather through two marriages, from his schooldays into his working life, most notably 30 years working in logistics for the Ministry  of Defence, including several years in Germany. One of the highlighs of his chess career was captaining his country in the NATO team championships in 2017 and 2018. We learn about his other interests: football (he’s a passionate Aston Villa supporter), heavy metal music and nature. There are many hilarious anecdotes to entertain you. He also tells about his serious health problems and how he learnt to live with them.

One thing Carl enjoys is meeting his heroes: he relates stories of travelling to France to play in a simul against Karpov, and arranging tuition from Mickey Adams and Jovanka Houska, as well as playing chess against the astronomer Patrick Moore.

In his last chapter he sums up as follows:

In this book, I have openly shared my experiences about the wonder of finding chess in my formative years and how it has shaped and influenced my life. The people I have met and the places I have visited have been wonderfully life-enriching, and the mental nourishment that the game provides is so powerful that I cannot quantify it.

Carl’s determination to remain upbeat and optimistic, whatever life throws at him, can only be an example to us all.

If you want some chess, there’s a short games selection at the back. Carl is particularly proud of this game from the 2017 NATO championships. He had the worst of things for most of the game, but his opponent mistakenly transposed into a losing pawn ending. ‘Never give up’ is his motto both in chess and in life.

It may not be great literature but the book’s a great read which will be enjoyed by most chess players. As no knowledge of the game is necessary for most of it, it could also be an ideal last-minute Christmas present for that special non-player in your life who, you think, ought to learn more about the delights of your favourite game. Be warned, though, that it’s not really suitable for younger children, nor for your Great Aunt Edna who doesn’t like books with naughty words. Carl is never afraid to speak his mind, even if he makes enemies in the process, and if you’re, like me, a politically correct, woke liberal, you’ll find words and opinions which might make you uneasy. If they make you think as well it might not be a bad idea.

Personally, I could have done without pages 231 to 254, which describe various types of annoying chess player, a negative chapter, most of which we’ve all read many times before, in what is otherwise a positive book. Omitting that chapter would, for me, have made it an even stronger book than it is already.

Books of this nature should be supported, though, so, if you think you’ll enjoy it, do give it a try.

I also see this book as part of a trilogy comprising the other two books I’ve reviewed recently, all deeply and at times brutally personal and confessional books by English chess players who, just as I did, developed a chess obsession in their teens. David LeMoir is a master standard player born, like me, in 1950. Carl Portman is, like me, a fairly strong club player, born in 1964. Daniel Gormally is a grandmaster born in 1976. Three players very different players, with very different personalities and lives, born half a generation apart from each other, whose stories, when put together, tell you a lot about chess in England over the past half century. I, of course, have my story as well: a very different story again, but I haven’t as yet had the courage to tell it. Maybe one day.

I would also suggest that Carl has, over the years, both put more into chess and got more out of chess than many much higher rated players. Yet, with today’s obsession with prodigies and champions, young people, like Carl, and also, to an extent, like me, from non-academic, non-chess backgrounds are no longer attracted to the game. Promoting chess at secondary school level may not be an efficient way of finding grandmasters, but Carl is living proof that it can offer transformation, redemption and salvation. I’ll be writing much more about this over the next few months.

 Richard James, Twickenham 20th December 2021

Richard James
. Richard James

Book Details :

  • Softcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: The Conrad Press (22 July 2021)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:1913567869
  • ISBN-13:978-1913567866
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 2.5 x 19.8 cm

Official web site of The Conrad Press

The Chess Crusader. Carl Portman, The Conrad Press, 22nd July 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1913567866
The Chess Crusader. Carl Portman, The Conrad Press, 22nd July 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1913567866

Remembering GM Dr. Jonathan Penrose OBE (07-x-1933 30-xi-2021)

IM Dr. Jonathan Penrose OBE in the garden of Brian Reilly
IM Dr. Jonathan Penrose OBE in the garden of Brian Reilly

BCN remembers GM Dr. Jonathan Penrose OBE who passed away on Tuesday, November 30th, 2021.

In the 1971 New Years Honours List Jonathan was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) The citation read “For services to Chess.”

In 1993 following representations by Bob Wade and Leonard Barden FIDE granted the title of Grandmaster to Jonathan. Here is a detailed discussion of that process. Note that this was not an Honorary title (as received by Jacques Mieses and Harry Golombek).

From British Chess (Pergamon Press, 1983) by Botterill, Levy, Rice and Richardson : (article by George Botterill)

“Penrose is one of the outstanding figures of British chess. Yet many who meet him may not realize this just because he is one of the quietest and most modest of men. Throughout the late 1950s and the whole of the 1960s he stood head and shoulders above any of his contemporaries.

See caption below
See caption below
Press agency caption for photograph above
Press agency caption for photograph above

His extraordinary dominance is revealed by the fact that he won the British championship no less than ten times (1958-63 and 1966-69, inclusive), a record that nobody is likely to equal in the future.

At his best his play was lucid, positionally correct, energetic and tactically acute. None the less, there is a ‘Penrose problem’: was he a ‘Good Thing’ for British chess? The trouble was that whilst this highly talented player effectively crushed any opposition at home, he showed little initiative in flying the flag abroad. There is a wide-spread and justifiable conviction that only lack of ambition in the sphere of international chess can explain why he did not secure the GM title during his active over-the-board playing career.

See caption below
See caption below
Press agency caption for above photograph
Press agency caption for above photograph

It would be unjust, however, to blame Penrose for any of this. The truth is simply that he was not a professional chessplayer, and indeed he flourished in
a period in which chess playing was not a viable profession in Britain. But even if the material awards available had been greater Penrose would almost certainly have chosen to remain an amateur. For he was cast in that special intellectual and ethical tradition of great British amateurs like H. E. Atkins, Sir George Thomas and Hugh Alexander before him.

Travel Chess 2nd January 1951: British chess champions Jonathan Penrose and Leonard Barden ponder over a portable travel game in a restaurant. (Photo by Walter Bellamy/Express/Getty Images)
Travel Chess
2nd January 1951: British chess champions Jonathan Penrose and Leonard Barden ponder over a portable travel game in a restaurant. (Photo by Walter Bellamy/Express/Getty Images)

His family background indicates early academic inclinations in a cultural atmosphere in which chess was merely a game something at which one excelled through sheer ability, but not to be ranked alongside truly serious work. It is noteworthy that Penrose, unique in this respect amongst British chess masters, has never written at any length about the game. He has had other matters to concentrate on when away from the board, being a lecturer in psychology. (His father, Professor L. S. Penrose, was a distinguished geneticist.)

IM Dr. Jonathan Penrose OBE
IM Dr. Jonathan Penrose OBE

Being of slight physique and the mildest and most amiable of characters, it is probably also true that Penrose lacked the toughness and ‘killer instinct’ required to reach the very top. Nervous tension finally struck him down in a dramatic way when he collapsed during play in the Siegen Olympiad of 1970. We can take that date as the end of the Penrose era.

Jonathan Penrose Chess Grandmaster Jonathan Penrose pictured during a chess match, circa 1960. (Photo by Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Jonathan Penrose
Chess Grandmaster Jonathan Penrose pictured during a chess match, circa 1960. (Photo by Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images))

Since, then though he has not by any means entirely given up, his involvement in the nerve-wracking competitions of over-the-board play has been greatly reduced. instead he has turned to correspondence chess, which is perhaps the ideal medium for his clear strategy and deep and subtle analysis. So Penrose’s career it not over. He has moved to another, less stressful province of the kingdom of chess.

IM Dr. Jonathan Penrose OBE
IM Dr. Jonathan Penrose OBE

For the first game, however, we shall turn the clock right back to 1950 and the see the Penrose in the role of youthful giant killer.

From The Encyclopedia of Chess (BT Batsford, 1977) by Harry Golombek :

“British international master and ten times British Champion, Penrose was born in Colchester and came from a chess-playing family.

Lionel Sharples Penrose, FRS (11 June 1898 – 12 May 1972)
Lionel Sharples Penrose, FRS (11 June 1898 – 12 May 1972)

His father and mother (Margaret)  both played chess and his father, Professor Lionel Sharples Penrose, in addition to being a geneticist of world-wide fame, was a strong chess-player and a good endgame composer. Jonathan’s older brother Oliver, was also a fine player.

Oliver Penrose FRS FRSE (born 6 June 1929) is a British theoretical physicist
Oliver Penrose FRS FRSE (born 6 June 1929) is a British theoretical physicist

Roger Penrose won the Nobel prize for physics in 2020.

Roger Penrose. Nobel Laureate
Roger Penrose. Nobel Laureate

Shirley Hodgson (née Penrose) is a high flying geneticist.

Prof. Shirley Hodgson
Prof. Shirley Hodgson

Jonathan learnt chess at the age of four, won the British Boys championship at thirteen and by the time he was fifteen was playing in the British Championship in Felixstowe in 1949.

Press agency caption for photograph above
Press agency caption for photograph above
Press agency caption for photograph above
Press agency caption for photograph above

A little reluctant to participate in international tournaments abroad, he did best in the British Championship which he won a record number of times, once more than HE Atkins. He won the title consecutively from 1958 to 1963 and again from 1966 to 1969.

Boy Chess Champion. New York Times photo shows 14 year old J. Penrose 14 year old by chess champion of Britain, in play at the British Chess Championships at Bishopsgate Institute today. He has had great success in the tournament so far, beating men far above his age and experience. 2nd September 1948. Photograph by Reginald Webster
Boy Chess Champion. New York Times photo shows 14 year old J. Penrose 14 year old by chess champion of Britain, in play at the British Chess Championships at Bishopsgate Institute today. He has had great success in the tournament so far, beating men far above his age and experience. 2nd September 1948. Photograph by Reginald Webster
Press agency caption for photograph above
Press agency caption for photograph above

He also played with great effect in nine Olympiads. Playing on a high board for practically all the time, he showed himself the equal of the best grandmasters and indeed, at the Leipzig Olympiad he distinguished himself by beating Mikhail Tal, thereby becoming the first British player to defeat a reigning World Champion since Blackburne beat Lasker in 1899.

ARB Thomas and Jonathan Penrose at the Hastings Congress of 1950/1951
ARB Thomas and Jonathan Penrose at the Hastings Congress of 1950/1951

Jonathan Penrose vs Mikhail Tal, Leipzig Olympiad, 1960, 1-0, Modern Benoni
Jonathan Penrose vs Mikhail Tal, Leipzig Olympiad, 1960, 1-0, Modern Benoni

A deep strategist who could also hold his own tactically, he suffered from the defect of insufficient physical stamina and it was this that was to bring about a decline in his play and in his results. He collapsed during a game at the Ilford Chess Congress, and a year later, at the Siegen Olympiad of 1970, he had a more serious collapse that necessitated his withdrawal from the event after the preliminary groups had been played. The doctors found nothing vitally wrong with him that his physique could not sustain.

He continued to play but his results suffered from a lack of self-confidence and at the Nice Olympiad of 1974 he had a wretched result on board 3, winning only 1 game and losing 6 out of 15.

Darga V Penrose 29th December 1955: Klaus Darga of Germany in play against Britain's Jonathan Penrose during the International Chess Congress at Hastings. (Photo by Folb/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)
Darga V Penrose
29th December 1955: Klaus Darga of Germany in play against Britain’s Jonathan Penrose during the International Chess Congress at Hastings. (Photo by Folb/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

Possibly too his profession (a lecturer in psychology) was also absorbing him more and more and too part less and less in international and national chess.

Jonathan Penrose
Jonathan Penrose

Yet, he had already done enough to show that he was the equal of the greatest British players in his command and understanding of the game and he ranks alongside Staunton, Blackburne, Atkins and CHO’D Alexander as a chess figure of world class.”

Here is his Wikipedia entry

From The Oxford Companion to Chess by Hooper & Whyld :

“The leading English player during the 1960s, International Master (1961), International Correspondence Chess Master (1980), lecturer in psychology. Early in his chess career Penrose decided to remain an amateur and as a consequence played in few international tournaments. He won the British Championship from 1958 to 1963 and from 1966 to 1969, ten times in all (a record); and he played in nine Olympiads from 1952 to 1974, notably scoring + 10=5 on first board at Lugano 1968, a result bettered only by the world champion Petrosyan.

IM Dr. Jonathan Penrose OBE
IM Dr. Jonathan Penrose OBE

In the early 1970s Penrose further restricted his chess because the stress of competitive play adversely affected his health.”

The second edition (1996) adds this :

“He turned to correspondence play, was the highest rated postal player in the world 1987-9, and led the British team to victory in the 9th Correspondence Olympiad.”

Here is a discussion about Jonathan on the English Chess Forum

From The Encyclopedia of Chess (Robert Hale, 1970 & 1976) by Anne Sunnucks :

“International Master (1961) and British Champion in 1958 1959, 1960, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1966, 1967, 1968 and 1969.

Jonathan Penrose was born in Colchester on 7th October 1933, the son of Professor LS Penrose, the well-known geneticist, who was also a strong player and composer of endgame studies.

The whole Penrose family plays chess and Jonathan learned the game when he was 4. At the age of 12 he joined Hampstead Chess Club and the following year played for Essex for the first time, won his first big tournament, the British Boys’ Championship, and represented England against Ireland in a boy’s match, which was the forerunner of the Glorney Cup competition, which came into being the following year.

By the time he was 17 Penrose was recognised as one of the big hopes of British Chess. Playing in the Hastings Premier Tournament for the first time in `1950 – 1951, he beat the French Champion Nicholas Rossolimo and at Southsea in 1950 he beat two International Grandmasters, Effim Bogoljubov and Savielly Tartakower.

Penrose played for the British Chess Federation in a number of Chess Olympiads since 1952. In 1960, at Leipzig, came one of the best performances of his career, when he beat the reigning World Champion, Mikhail Tal. He became the first British player to beat a reigning World Champion since JH Blackburne beat Emmanuel Lasker in 1899, and the first player to defeat Tal since he won the World Championship earlier that year. Penrose’s score in this Olympiad was only half-a-point short of the score required to qualify for the International Grandmaster title.

IM Dr. Jonathan Penrose OBE
IM Dr. Jonathan Penrose OBE

His ninth victory in the British Championships in 1968 equalled the record held by HE Atkins, who has held the title more times than any other player.

Penrose is a lecturer in psychology at Enfield College of Technology and has never been in a position to devote a great deal of time to the game. He is married to a former contender in the British Girls Championship and British Ladies’s Championship, Margaret Wood, daughter of Frank Wood, Hon. Secretary of the Oxfordshire Chess Association.

Again from British Chess : “In updating this report we find striking evidence of Penrose’s prowess as a correspondence player. Playing on board 4 for Britain in the 8th Correspondence Chess Olympiad he was astonishingly severe on the opposition, letting slip just one draw in twelve games! Here is one of the eleven wins that must change the assessment of a sharp Sicilian Variation.”

 

Penrose was awarded the O.B.E. for his services to chess in 1971.”

Penrose was Southern Counties Champion for 1949-50.

In 1983 Jonathan became England’s fifth Correspondence Grandmaster (CGM) following Keith Richardson, Adrian Hollis, Peter Clarke and Simon Webb.

Sadly, there is no existent book on the life and games of Jonathan Penrose : a serious omission in chess literature.

Dr. Jonathan Penrose OBE
Dr. Jonathan Penrose OBE

Minor Pieces 19: Sydney Meymott

You saw this result in my recent article about the Coward family. There are some other names of interest in this Twickenham team.

On board 5 for Twickenham was Sydney Meymott. Many players, like Arthur and Randulph Coward, only play competitive chess for a few years before moving on to another stage in their lives. There are others for whom chess is a lifelong obsession: the Complete Chess Addicts (now that would make a great book title!), and Sydney was one of those, with a chess career lasting almost half a century.

He came from a distinguished family. His grandfather, John Gilbert Meymott was a prominent lawyer, and his father Charles Meymott a doctor whose other interests included cricket and chess.

Charles played two first class cricket matches for Surrey, but without success. Against the MCC in 1846 he was dismissed without scoring in the first innings and made 4 not out in the second innings. Against Kent the following year he failed to trouble the scorers in either innings. He also failed to take any wickets in either match.

In 1848 he submitted a ‘beautiful study’ to Bell’s Life, as you can see below.

 

Bell’s Life 3 September 1848

A few weeks later the solution was published, failing to provide any moves but just saying that White will win a pawn and the game.

But as you can demonstrate for yourself (or verify using tablebases) this is complete nonsense: the position is drawn with best play.

A celebrated cricketer who composed a beautiful study? I think not.

Earlier in 1848, he’d submitted a mate in 4 to the Illustrated London News, which was at least sound, if not very interesting. You can solve it yourself if you want: the solution is at the end of the article.

Problem 1:

#4 Illustrated London News 12 Feb 1848

In about 1859 Charles, his wife Sarah (née Keene, no relation, as far as I know, to Ray) and their three daughters (a son had died in infancy) emigrated to Australia, where his brother Frederick was a judge. The family must have been well regarded there. If you visit the suburb of Randwick today, not far from Coogee Beach, you’ll find a residential road there named Meymott Street, with Frederick Street running off it.

From there Charles submitted another mate in 4, slightly more sophisticated this time.

Problem 2:

#4 Illustrated London News 26 Nov 1859

The following year, Sarah gave birth to a son, who was given the name of his home city: Sydney.

Charles Meymott had started out in conventional medicine but at some point he had converted to homeopathy. You can find out a bit more here, although some of the links no longer work.

Charles died in 1867 at the age of 54, and his widow and children decided to return to England. I wonder if he’d been able to teach his young son how the pieces moved.

In 1871 Sarah and young Syd were living in Queen Street (now Queen’s Road) Twickenham: perhaps the girls only returned to England later.

By 1881 the oldest girl had married and moved to Scotland, but Sarah and her three youngest children were now at 4 Syon Row, Twickenham, right by the river.

The road is so well known that a rather expensive book has been written about it.

Photo copyright Richard James 2021

It was from there, then that, at some point in 1883 or 1884, the 23-year-old Sydney Meymott joined Twickenham Chess Club.

Here he is again, in a match played in October, now on Board 2 against Brixton. You’ll see George Ryan on top board, with Wallace Britten and the Coward brothers lower down. Young Edward Joseph Line (not Lyne), born in 1862, who had played for Isleworth against Twickenham earlier in the year, was on Board 3, although he was one of only two Twickenham players to lose.

Surrey Comet 11 October 1884

If you’re interested in this part of the world, you might want to check out my good friend Martin Smith’s new book Movers and Takers, a history of chess in Streatham and Brixton. A review will be appearing on British Chess News shortly.

Syd had decided on a career as a bank manager, and his training would have involved working at different branches gaining more experience before managing a larger branch himself. This was perhaps to be his last appearance for Twickenham, but we’ll follow the rest of his life in this article.

Just a couple of weeks later he wrote to the Morning Post:

Morning Post 27 October 1884

Disraeli Road is conveniently situated just round the corner from Putney Station, with its frequent trains to Waterloo. Impressive houses they are too: young Syd was doing well for himself.

The new chess club in Putney rapidly became very successful. Inevitably, they invited Blackburne to give a blindfold simul in February 1886: Meymott was the only player to draw.

In December the same year, Sydney issued a challenge to his old club, with Putney winning by 5 games to 3.

Here’s what happened in the return match in the new year.

Source: Surrey Comet 15 January 1887

He was soon on the move again, leaving the good chess players of Putney to their own devices. Without their leading light the club struggled on for a few years before apparently folding. This time, Syd’s work took him to Honiton, Devon, where again he started a chess club. By now he was writing regularly to the Morning Post, solving their problems and sometimes submitting problems of his own – which were not considered suitable for publication.

In this game he demonstrated his knowledge of Légal’s Mate. (In this and other games in this post, click on any move to obtain a pop-up board and play through the game.)

Source: Morning Post 17 Dec 1888

Here, he was able to show off his attacking skills in the Evans Gambit, giving rook odds to another semi-anonymous opponent.

Source: Western Morning Post 26 Feb 1891

By now it was time for Sydney to move on again, this time back to West London, to Ealing the Queen of the Suburbs, where he’d remain for the next 40 years. He’d eventually become the Manager of the Ealing Broadway branch of the London and South Western Bank.

This time he didn’t need to start up a chess club: there already was – and still is – one there, founded in 1885. As a bank manager, he was soon cajoled, as bank managers usually are, into taking on the role of Honorary Treasurer.

In this game from a local derby against Acton, Black’s handling of the French Defence wasn’t very impressive,  allowing Meymott to set up a Greek Gift sacrifice.

Source: London Evening Standard 25 Nov 1895

Meymott commented: … it may interest some of the younger readers and stimulate them to ‘book’ learning, the game being a forcible example of the utility of ever being alert to the well-known mating positions… Sixteen years later, the young Capablanca played the same sacrifice in the same position. Perhaps he’d read the Evening Standard. Learning and looking out for the well-known mating positions is still excellent advice today.

In May 1896 Sydney made the headlines in the local press for reasons unconnected with either chess or banking. He was one of those stuck for 16 hours on the Great Wheel at Earl’s Court, and was interviewed at length about his experiences by the Middlesex County Times (30 May 1896 if you want to check it out). Fortunately, a lady in his car managed to let down a reel of cotton, so that they were able to receive refreshments, in the shape of stale buns and whisky and soda, from the ground.

A match against Windsor in 1897, where he was described as a ‘bold dashing player’ saw him pitted against an illustrious opponent in Sir Walter Parratt, organist and Master of the Queen’s Musick, and a possible subject of a future Minor Piece.

Windsor and Eton Express 20 February 1897

Life at Ealing chess club continued with a diet of inter-club matches, internal tournaments and simultaneous displays, with Syd often successful in avoiding defeat against the visiting masters.

In 1899, approaching his forties, he married Annie Ellen Nash. They stayed together for the rest of his life, but had no children.

In this 1902 match against Richmond, Ealing scored an emphatic victory helped by the non-appearance of Richmond’s board 2. A future series of Minor Pieces will introduce you to some of the Richmond players from that period in the club’s history.

Middlesex & Surrey Express 09 April 1902

As he settled into comfortable middle age, life continued fairly uneventfully for Sydney and Annie. The 1911 census found them at 18 Uxbridge Road, Ealing, which seems to have been in the town centre, possibly above the bank.

Many clubs closed down during the First World War, but Ealing, with Sydney Meymott still balancing the books, kept going. Electoral rolls from the 1920s record Syd and Annie at 23 Woodville Road, Ealing, and very nice it looks too. A spacious detached house just for the two of them. In 1921, he was in trouble with the law, though, receiving a fine for not having his dog muzzled.

At some point in the 1920s, Sydney would have retired from his job as bank manager, giving him more time for chess, and time to resume submitting games for publication. In his sixties, when many players would be thinking about hanging up their pawns, Syd, always the chess addict, took up tournament chess.

Hastings 1922-23 was what might have been Meymott’s first tournament. Unfortunately he had to retire ill with 1½/6 in First Class B section.

In 1925 he visited Scarborough, playing in the Major A section. He won a few games but didn’t finish among the prizewinners.

In 1926, using his favourite French Defence, he managed to beat Fred Yates in a simul. The complications towards the end are intriguing: do take a look.

Source: Middlesex County Times 23 Jan 1926

That Easter Syd took part in one of the First Class sections of the West of England Championship at Weston-Super-Mare, finishing in midfield.

Later the same year, representing the Rest of Middlesex against Hampstead, he played this game against Ernest Montgomery Jellie. White’s 11th move looked tempting but turned out to be a losing mistake: Jellie’s knight was very shaky on d6 and his position soon wobbled.

Source: Middlesex County Times 16 Oct 1926

At this point it’s worth taking a slight detour to consider Meymott’s opponent. Ernest Montgomery Jellie and his wife Emily, who sadly died young, had three Jellie babies. Their daughter Dorothy married Sidney Stone, and one of their sons, Chris, inherited his grandfather’s love of chess.

I knew Chris very well back in the day, when he was involved with Pinner Junior Chess Club, where his son Andrew was one of their star players.  Chris was an enthusiast rather than a strong player himself,  but Andrew is both. He’s been a 2200 strength player for many years, representing Streatham in the London League as well as his local club, Watford.

You can read much more about the Jellie-Stone connection here (Martin Smith again).

After Christmas 1926, Sydney went down to Hastings where he took second prize in the Major C section with a score of 7/9. Well played, Syd!

On his return, he played this game. This seems to have been in a handicap tournament, where, instead of giving knight odds, the players agreed that Meymott would play blindfold.

Source: Acton Gazette 14 Jan 1927

At Hastings 1927-28 he scored 50% in the First Class B section. Easter 1928 saw him back at the West of England Championships, held that year in Cheltenham, where he galloped to victory in the Class IIB section, scoring 7½/9.

The British Championships in July 1928 took him further west, to Tenby, where he played in the First Class A section, sharing third prize with the aforementioned Ernest Montgomery Jellie on 6½/9, but again beating him in their individual game.

Source: Britbase ( https://www.saund.co.uk/britbase/pgn/192807bcf-viewer.html)

He was back at Hastings 1929-30, where he scored a respectable 5/9 in the First Class B section.

In September 1931 he did what many chess players of that period did: he retired to Hastings, after four decades living and playing chess in Ealing. He was soon playing for his local club.

In a match against Brighton in 1932 his opponent was Kenneth Gunnell, who would much later become, briefly, a rather controversial member of both Richmond and Twickenham Chess Clubs.

That would be one of his last games. On 7 February 1933 Sydney Meymott died at the Warrior House Hotel, St Leonards on Sea.

Writing about Ernest Montgomery Jellie, Martin Smith summed him up beautifully:

But who is he, and why should we be interested? There two reasons that come to mind.

One is that he turns out to be an exemplary specimen of an ordinary decent chesser, the sort often overlooked in histories of the game. He and other enthusiasts like him, then and now, are the body-chessic upon which the chess bug spawns and beneficently multiplies. Stir E.M. Jellie together with the rest and you get the thriving chess culture that we all know: the one that germinates the few blessed enough to rise to the top.

Replace E.M. Jellie with Sydney Meymott, and the same sentiments apply. A good player, but not a great player. For almost half a century a stalwart of club, county, and, later, congress chess. A club treasurer for many years, but in his younger days also a founder and secretary of two clubs.

In these days of chess professionalism, even at primary school level, of obsession with grandmasters, prodigies and champions, we’re at risk of losing the likes of Jellie and Meymott. We should be developing chess culture in order to develop champions, not the other way round. And that celebration of chess culture is one of the reasons why I’m writing these Minor Pieces. My friends at Ealing Chess Club today should certainly raise a glass to Sydney Meymott.

Solutions:

1.

1. Bxg5+ Kg6 2. Bf6+ Kh5 3. Ng3+ Kh6 4. Bg7#

2.

1. Nxd5 gxf3 (1… Rxb5 2. e3+ Kc4 3. Nb6#) (1… Bc3+ 2. Nxc3 Bd5 3. e3+ Kc4 4. Bxd5#) (1… Bxb5 2. e3+ Kc4 3. Nxb6#) 2. e3+ Ke4 (2… Kc4 3. Ndc7+ (3. Nc3+ Bd5 4. Bxd5#) 3… Bd5 4. Bxd5#) 3. c3 Rxb5 (3… Bxd5 4. Bxd5#) 4. Nf6#

 

Genna Remembers

Genna Remembers, Genna Sosonko, Thinkers Publishing, 5th July 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9464201192
Genna Remembers, Genna Sosonko, Thinkers Publishing, 5th July 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9464201192

From the author’s lengthy introduction:

Half a century ago I left a country, the red color of which dominated a large portion of the world map. One way or another, the fate of almost every single person described in this book is forever linked with that now none-existent empire. Many of them ended up beyond its borders too. Cultures and traditions, and certainly not least of all a Soviet mentality, couldn’t have just left them without a trace. Having been transplanted into a different environment, they had to play the role of themselves apart from certain corrections with regard to the tastes and customs of a new society. Nevertheless, every one of them, both those who left the Soviet Union, and those who stayed behind, were forever linked by one common united phenomenon: they all belonged to the Soviet school of chess.

This school of chess was born in the 20’s, but only began to count its true years starting in 1945, when the representatives of the Soviet Union dominated an American squad in a team match. Led by Mikhail Botvinnik, Soviet Grandmasters conquered and ruled the world, save for a short Fischer period, over the course of that same half century. In chess as well as ballet, or music, the word “Soviet” was actually a synonym for the highest quality interpretation of the discipline.

The Soviet Union provided unheard of conditions for their players, which were the sort of which their colleagues in the West dare not even dream. Grandmasters and even Masters received a regular salary just for their professional qualifications, thereby raising the prestige of a chess player to what were unbelievable heights.

It was a time when any finish in an international tournament, aside from first, was almost considered a failure when it came to Soviet players, and upon their return to Moscow they had to write an official explanation to the Chess Federation or the Sports Committee.

The isolation of the country, separated from the rest of the world by an Iron Curtain, was another reason why, talent and energy often manifested themselves in relatively neutral fields.

Still if with music, cinematography, philosophy, or history, the Soviet people were raised on a strict diet, that contained multiple restrictions, this did not apply to chess. Grandmasters, and Masters, all varied in terms of their upbringing, education, and mentality and were judged solely on their talent and mastery at the end of the day. Maybe that’s why the Soviet school of chess was full of such improbable variety not only in terms of the style of play of its representatives, but also their different personality types.

Built was a gigantic chess pyramid, at the base of which were school championships, which were closely followed by district ones. Later city championships, regions, republics, and finally-the ultimate cherry on top-the national event itself. The Championships of the Soviet Union were in no way inferior to the strongest international tournaments, and collections of the games played there came out as separate publications in the West.

That huge brotherhood of chess contained its very own hierarchy within. Among the millions, and multitudes of parishioners-fans of the game-there were the priests-candidate masters. Highly respected were the cardinals-masters. As for Grandmasters though well…they were true Gods. Every person in the USSR knew their names, and those names sounded with just as much adoration, and admiration as those of the nation’s other darlings-the country’s best hockey players. In those days the coming of the American genius only served to strengthen the interest and attention of society towards chess, never mind the fact that by that point it had already been fully saturated by it.

The presence of tons of spectators at a chess tournament in Moscow as shown in the series “The Queen’s Gambit” is in no way an exaggeration. That there truly was the golden age of chess.

Under the constant eye, and control of the government, chess in the USSR was closely interwoven with politics, much like everything else in that vanished country. Concurrently, the closed, and isolated society in which it was born only served to enable its development, creating its very own type of culture-the giant world of Soviet chess.

I was never indifferent to the past. Today, when there is that much more of it then the future, this feeling has become all the sharper. The faster the twentieth century sprints away from us, and the thicker the grass of forgetting grows, soon enough, and under the verified power of the most powerful engines that world of chess will be gone as well.

It was an intriguing, and colorful world, and I saw it as my duty to not let it disappear into that empty abyss. Genna Sosonko – May 2021

Gennadi Borisovich Sosonko
Gennadi Borisovich Sosonko

“Gennadi Sosonko was born in Troitsk in the Chelyabinsk region and learned to play chess at the age of ten in Leningrad, to which his family returned after the war. He trained in the Pioneers’ Palace, where he was mentored by Vladimir Zak, Vladimir Kirillov, Vasily Byvshev and Alexander Cherepov. Later he was taught by Semyon Furman in the Chigorin Chess Club. Genna emigrated from the USSR in 1972 and settled in the Netherlands. Genna became an international master in 1974 and a grandmaster in1976. He played for the Netherlands from 1974; in eleven Olympiads he had the superb overall score of +28 -4 =64. In the 1990s and 2000s, he was the Dutch team captain. Genna Sosonko is a two-time Dutch champion (1973 and 1978), a two-time winner of the tournament at Wijk aan Zee (1978 and 1981), winner of tournaments in Barcelona and Lugano in 1976, Nijmegen in 1978 and Polanica-Zdrój in 1993, and a prizewinner in Tilburg, New York, Bad Lauterberg, São Paulo, London and Reykjavik. From 1975 to 1982 he was one of the top twenty players in the world, achieving his highest rating of 2595 in January 1981. He has made a significant contribution to opening theory, especially to his favourite Catalan. In 2004 he stopped competing to focus on journalism and literature. He is the author of wonderful memoirs which were published in several languages. In recent years he has often worked as a commentator on tournaments featuring the world’s leading grandmasters, describing their battles in English, Dutch and Russian.”

 

Anyone with an interest in chess culture will be aware that Genna Sosonko has published a number of collections of essays on a variety of chess topics over the years.

More recently, he’s written three books of memoirs concerning Smyslov, Bronstein and Korchnoi, which received mixed reviews here and elsewhere. Now, published for the first time by Thinkers Publishing, Sosonko returns with another essay collection.

A look at the topics covered will give you a pretty good idea as to whether or not this book is for you.

The first five chapters are broadly historical. Chapter 1 is about the history of pre-arranged draws. Chapter 2 takes as its starting point a recent discovery from the KGB archives: a 1950 review by Vasily Panov of a Keres book on open games.

P. Keres couldn’t handle this task. What’s worse is that he used the platform offered for the purposes of unbridled glorification of foreign theoreticians, up to and including Nazi hirelings and those greatest of traitors of the Soviet people, the theoretical efforts of which don’t present any value whatsoever.

And so on, for two pages. Sosonko puts this into historical perspective and tells us a lot more about Panov.

Chapter 3 concerns, in general, the difficulties Soviet players faced in travelling abroad. Chapter 4 is about Sosonko’s experiences seconding Korchnoi in his 1971 Candidates match against Petrosian. In Chapter 5 he recalls buying a collection of Korchnoi’s possessions at an auction because he particularly wanted an unused plane ticket from 1976: unused because Viktor decided to remain in the West rather than return from the Netherlands to the Soviet Union.

The rest of the book is mostly devoted to pen pictures of a variety of players, mostly well known to Sosonko.

Chapter 6 is about Igor Ivanov (1947-2005), a Soviet émigré who defected to Canada and then moved to the United States. Ivanov was an exceptionally talented player whose life was blighted by his addiction to alcohol. There are some great stories here. In 1985 he won the Canadian Closed and Open Championship at the same time. They were taking place in different rooms in the same venue and he’d make a move in one tournament, then run to the other room to make another move. Sosonko clearly liked Ivanov and treats his problems with sympathy here, although you might find his tendency to psychoanalyse his subjects (something he does in all his books) rather annoying.

Sosonko also demonstrates a few of Ivanov’s games, such as this.

Another Soviet émigré, Leonid Shamkovich (1923-2005), is featured in Chapter 7. This is a rather shorter chapter: perhaps Sosonko knew him less well than Ivanov, and we don’t get to see any of his games.

Chapter 8 is very different indeed: Everyone’s Favourite Uncle, Arnfried Pagel. Unlike Sosonko’s other subjects, he wasn’t a strong player, but his story is rather remarkable and one that I was unaware of, so I was very interested to find out more.

Pagel was a German born concrete magnate and rather weak amateur chess player who moved to the Netherlands where he sponsored a very strong chess team, the King’s Club, in the early 1980s, recruiting a lot of grandmasters, many of whom were Soviet émigrés, to play for him. After a few years the Dutch Tax and Customs Administration became suspicious of his financial dealings: Pagel ended up bankrupt and in prison. He later spent seven years in prison in England after one of his shipments there was found to contain drugs.

This is a highly entertaining chapter, and one with some salutary lessons concerning chess sponsorship. You might consider the book worth buying for this alone.

Chapter 9 is the longest – and saddest – chapter of the book. It tells the story of Yakut IM Sergey Nikolaev, who was born in 1961, and was murdered in 2007 by a gang of teenage neo-Nazi thugs because of his Asian appearance. This is a fine tribute to a much-loved man with a complex personality, at the same time both reclusive and searching for recognition. It’s also a savage indictment of racism and bigotry in today’s Russia. Again, you may well think this chapter is worth the price of the book.

And yet, as so often in Sosonko’s works, it would have been enlivened by a few games so that we could see how he played chess as well as learning about him as a person.

Here’s one example of his play.

Chapters 10 and 11 are short chapters about GMs Yuri Razuvaev (1945-2012) and Viktor Kupreichik (1949-2017). We do get to see a few of the latter’s games, such as this.

Chapter 12 is a brief look at Mark Taimanov, which brings us on to the last three chapters, which give the impression they might have been added to sell the book. Their subjects: Karpov, Kasparov and Carlsen.

There’s a lot to admire here. Sosonko, as always, writes beautifully and knows how to manipulate his readers’ emotions. He’s at his best when writing about lesser-known players, and, for me, the highlights are the chapters on Pagel and Nikolaev. The book is well illustrated with many, often poignant, photographs which add to the book enormously. If you’ve read and enjoyed this author’s previous collections of essays you’ll want to add this to your bookshelves.

At the same time, I’d have liked some more games. It seems rather arbitrary that only two of the chapters include examples of their subjects’ play. Apart from adding value to the book, they’d help to flesh out the personalities of the players involved.

A casual reader might, understandably, see it as a rather random collection of articles with no very obvious coherent theme. To appreciate it fully you need to put it within the context of Sosonko’s other writings.

If you’re only looking for books which will improve your rating, this isn’t the book for you, but if you have a genuine interest in chess culture you might want to give it a try, and then move on to the author’s previous essay collections.

There’s a very strange mistake at the start of the book. The games, few as they are, use figurine notation and the publishers decided to print a table of piece letters and their equivalent figurine. However, the letters, rather than the figurines, appear in both columns. There are also a few typos but, by and large, the production values are good.

Not for everyone, then, but if the content appeals, you’ll enjoy this book.

Richard James, Twickenham 12th November 2021

Richard James
. Richard James

Book Details :

  • Softcover: 260 pages
  • Publisher: Thinkers Publishing; 1st edition (5 July 2021)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:9464201193
  • ISBN-13: 978-9464201192
  • Product Dimensions: 16.99 x 2.21 x 23.6 cm

Official web site of Thinkers Publishing

Genna Remembers, Genna Sosonko, Thinkers Publishing, 5th July 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9464201192
Genna Remembers, Genna Sosonko, Thinkers Publishing, 5th July 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9464201192

Smyslov, Bronstein, Geller, Taimanov and Averbakh: A Chess Multibiography with 220 Games

Smyslov, Bronstein, Geller, Taimanov and Averbakh: A Chess Multibiography with 220 Games, Andrew Soltis, McFarland Books, February 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1476677934
Smyslov, Bronstein, Geller, Taimanov and Averbakh: A Chess Multibiography with 220 Games, Andrew Soltis, McFarland Books, February 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1476677934

From the publisher’s blurb :

“A crucial decision spared chess Grandmaster David Bronstein almost certain death at the hands of the Nazis—one fateful move cost him the world championship.

Russian champion Mark Taimanov was a touted as a hero of the Soviet state until his loss to Bobby Fischer all but ruined his life.

Yefim Geller’s dream of becoming world champion was crushed by a bad move against Fischer, his hated rival.

Yuri Averbakh had no explanation how he became the world’s oldest grandmaster, other than the quixotic nature of fate.

Vasily Smyslov, the only one of the five to become world champion, would reign for just one year—fortune, he said, gave him pneumonia at the worst possible time. This book explores how fate played a capricious role in the lives of five of the greatest players in chess history.”

GM Andrew Soltis
GM Andrew Soltis

“Grandmaster Andy Soltis, eight times champion of the Marshall Chess Club, New York Post editor and Chess Life columnist, is the author of dozens of chess books. He lives in New York City. He is the author of many books, including Pawn Structure Chess, 365 Chess Master Lessons and What it Takes to Become a Chess Master”

 

From the author’s preface:

In this book I explored the interlocking careers of five men with a focus on the prime years when they might have become champion. Only one succeeded. But they represented an extraordinary class. All five men were ranked among the world’s top 11 players when Vasily Smyslov became champion. All five players were ranked in the world’s top 20 players for the next decade.

This book is a companion to my Tal, Petrosian, Spassky and Korchnoi and, like it, it pays tribute to the remarkable personal lives of great players during a remarkable era. They were not only competing with one another for the highest reward chess can offer. They were trying to survive in a brutal Soviet system. They lived through the Great Terror – which directly touched the lives of David Bronstein, Yuri Averbakh, Vasily Smyslov and Mark Taimanov – and World War II, which deeply affected them all.

Here, then, we have a group biography of five leading Soviet grandmasters, all born between 1921 and 1926. As Soltis explains, this was both a good time and place, and a bad time and place to be born. They grew up within a strong chess culture, where their talents were, albeit with deprivations during World War II and many restrictions in the brutal Soviet regime, allowed to flourish.

Smyslov became world champion, and Bronstein came very close. The other three were all world championship candidates, and, had things worked out slightly differently, Taimanov and Geller might have come closer to the title than they did.

Perhaps Smyslov, whose father was a strong player, would always have discovered chess, although, had his life turned out differently, he could have had a career as an opera singer. Taimanov, as is well known, did in fact have a parallel career as a pianist, performing with his first wife, Lyubov Bruk.

In another life, Bronstein would have been a mathematician and Averbakh a scientist. Geller was, in several ways, the outlier of the group. Unlike the others, he was a late developer, so only joins the story after several years and chapters have passed. Unlike the others, also, he seems to have had, apart from sports, no interests outside chess, even though he worked as an aircraft engineer and studied political economy at university.

As you’d expect, there’s a lot of high quality and instructive chess within these pages. Here are a few, fairly random, examples.

Taimanov and Bronstein adjourned this position, with White to move, in a 1946 Soviet Championship Semi-Final. Bronstein and Averbakh were staying at the same hotel, and set up the position on a board.

Soltis takes up the story.

Taimanov was so sure of victory that he told Bronstein he had sealed 1. Ra7+ and showed him how he would win after 1… Kh6 2. Rb7!. That looked convincing: 2… Ng3 3. Rb3 Nh5 (3… Nf5 4. Kf6) 4. Rh3! and then 4… Kg7 5. f5 Kf7 6. f6! wins. “But what if I retreat the king to f8?” Bronstein asked Averbakh. 

The next day was free from play so they analyzed 1… Kf8 during it. They realized that if White traded pawns too quickly the result would be a position know  to be drawable since an ancient game Neumann – Steinitz, Baden-Baden 1870. White did not seem to have a forcing win after 1… Kf8. But 2. Rd7! was a good waiting move. Then 2… Ke8 3. Rh7 Kf8 4. f5 would lose. So would 2… Ng7 3. Kf6 Nh5+ 4. Kg5! or 2… Ng3 3. Kf6.

This was discouraging. Bronstein and Averbakh looked at 2… Kg8 and unfortunately found 3. Ke6! Nf4+ 4. Kf6!. The clever king triangulation wins after 4… Nh5+ 5. Kxg6 Nf4+ 6. Kg5 Ne6+ 7. Kf6! Nf4 8. Rd4 Nh5+ 9. Kg6. Or 8… Ne2 9. Rg4+ Kf8 10 .Ra4 Kg8 11. Kg6 Kf8 12. Rc4 Ng3 13. Rc3 and so on. They kept analyzing  and found that 3… Kf8 was no better than 3… Nxf4+ because of 4. Rf7+! Ke8 5. Rf6! or 4… Kg8 5. Ke7.

It was all so elegant and, simultaneously, depressing. “David didn’t know what to do, to be happy or sad,” Averbakh remembered. “Of course, it’s painful to know you have a forced loss. But what an interesting path to victory!” And, besides, they were both proud to have solved such a mysterious endgame.”

When the game was resumed, Taimanov played 1. Ra7+ Kf8! 2. f5? gxf5 and drew along the lines of the Neumann – Steinitz game. 

As a result of this experience, Averbakh decided that he could combine his interests in science and chess by conducting research into technical endings such as this – and he would later become known as perhaps the world’s leading authority on endgames.

The games are expertly chosen, for their excellence, excitement, historical or sporting significance, and annotated in Soltis’s signature narrative style.

Some of them will be familiar to readers with a prior knowledge of games of the period, but others will be unfamiliar to most.

Look, for instance, at a couple of games from a secret training tournament held in the Georgian town of Gagra in 1953.

This is the game between Geller and Smyslov. Geller had outplayed the future world champion in the opening and early middle game, but his last move was an oversight. The last moves had been 25. Bb2-e5? Qc7-b6 26. Nf3xg5?.

Here’s Soltis:

This would have won after 25… Qa5? because of Qh5; e.g., 25… Qa5? 26. Nxg5! Nxd5 27. Qh5! and mates. In the diagram Geller must have expected to win after, for example, 26… Bxg5 27. Qh5! Bh6 28. Rg3!. Or 27… Re7 28. Be4! g6 29. Bxg6 Rxg2 30. Bf7+ Kf8 31. Bg7+!. 26… Nxd5! 27. cxd5  But he had overlooked 27. Qh5 Qb1+ 28. Kg2 Qg6!. No recovery is possible.

I have a couple of small issues with this. I find the back-referencing – something Soltis often does – slightly confusing. I’d have preferred the variation given in the first sentence here as a note to Black’s 25th move. He also fails to mention that Geller would still have been better in the game after 26. Rb2!, when a nice variation is 26… h6 27. Nh4! gxh4 28. Qh5!, with a winning attack.

Smyslov went on to win a few moves later.

Here, from the same tournament, is a position from the exciting game between Taimanov and Averbakh, with Black to make his 38th move.

Now 38… b1Q would make a draw likely, after 39. Rxb1 Rxa4 (40. Rh1?? Ra2+ and 39. Qxb1 c2!). 38… f5?? 39. d7! c2 40. d8Q+! (The final shift would have been 40. dxc8Q+? Rxc8 41. Qxf5 c1Q and Black wins. 40… Qxd8 41. Qxd8+ Kg7 42. Qg5+ Black resigns

(Taimanov, in his notes to this game, claimed White was winning the diagrammed position, failing to mention the draw after b1Q or to query 38… f5.)

Soltis, as so often, has an anecdote at hand to add colour and context.

The secrecy surrounding these training tournaments was deeply felt. Alexey Suetin recalled how one of the Gagra players showed him a remarkable game but “outright refused to give the names of the players” or the tournament results. “Such was the Stalist regime,” he said. Even when he wrote this, in 1993, Suetin refused to say who showed him the game. It was too dangerous.

In 1957 Bronstein was invited to a major tournament in Dallas, with the highest prize fund of any US tournament since New York 1927, but, according to Soltis, the State Department refused him a visa, apparently in retaliation for Soviet treatment of U.S. citizens seeking to travel in the USSR.

Instead, he had to make to with a weaker tournament in East Germany, where he reached this position with white against Bilek.

Soltis, again:

Bronstein has a deliciously subtle threat: 34. a4 would force the b6-rook to make a choice. Then 34… Rc6 would allow 35. Bf4 and Rb1-b8+. And 34… Rb3 would weaken f6 so that 35. Bh6! threatens 36. Qh7+ (35… Kf8 36. Qxf6+). 33… Kf8 34. g3 Re2 35. Bc1 Qe7 36. Kg2! There is no defence to 37. Rh1, 38. Rh7 and Bh6. The game could also end with 36… Re1 37. Rxe1 Qxe1 38. Ba3+. 36… Rc6 37. Rh1 Rxc3 38. Bf4 Ra3 39. Rc1! Black resigns.

(Bronstein has other threats in the diagrammed position: g3, Kg2 and Rh1 as happened later in the game, and also Bc1-a3. It takes older engines some time to realise White has anything more than a slight advantage, but Stockfish 14 immediately tells you almost any reasonable move is crushing.)

The narrative stops rather suddenly at the end of 1973, at which point our protagonists were in middle age and starting an inexorable decline. Unexpectedly, though, Smyslov would make another challenge for the world championship in his sixties. The remainder of their lives is chronicled relatively briefly.

What we have here is, as anyone familiar with this publisher will expect, a handsome hardback which will look good on any bookshelf. It covers an important and endlessly fascinating period of chess history, and is full of interesting (for all sorts of reasons) games, well researched and sourced history, entertaining and enlightening anecdotes and evocative photographs.

At the end of the book we have some useful appendices and other material. First, a chronology taking us through almost a century from Smyslov’s birth in 1921 through to Averbakh (still alive as I write this at the age of 99) playing a 4-year-old in 2017. Then, the rankings (from Chessmetrics) of the players between January 1939 and January 1979. We have chapter notes and a bibliography: everything is fully sourced, using Russian and English language periodicals and a wide range of books. There are frequent contradictions between sources, and the players also contradicted themselves from time to time: all this is explained in the text. Finally indexes of opponents and openings, and a general index.

It would have been ideal if the games had been presented more spaciously and with a lot more diagrams to enable readers to follow them from the page. It would also have been preferable to print the photographs on glossy rather than matt paper. Of course, given the nature of the book, such luxuries are inevitably out of the question. It would, however, have benefitted from another run through to pick up typos, of which there are more than should be expected in a scholarly work of this nature. I suspect, for example, that Keres told Taimanov he was playing like Liszt rather than List.

Nevertheless, this is an outstanding book which can be highly recommended to anyone interested in this period of chess history. If you’ve read Soltis’s earlier book on Tal, Petrosian, Spassky and Korchnoi you’ll need no hesitation to add this title as well. Likewise, once you’ve read this book, you’ll want to read the earlier work if you haven’t already done so.

In my opinion, Andrew Soltis is a very much underrated author. It’s understandable that we all tend to be suspicious of the quality of books produced by prolific authors, and in many cases these suspicions are justified. In the case of Soltis, though, even his more popular works are well written and, for their target audience, worth reading. His more serious and scholarly works such as this one are uniformly excellent. Soltis, with many years journalistic experience, knows how to write, and, most importantly, knows how to tell a story. Whether annotating a game or writing about chess history, he keeps his readers on the edge of their seats, eager to turn the page and find out what happens next. This book, like everything he writes, is extremely readable as well as rigorously sourced.

It’s not the last word on the subject. There is without doubt a wealth of interesting information lurking within currently sealed Soviet archives. Although this book might not be flawless, it will more than suffice for the moment. There’s nobody better qualified than Andrew Soltis to write on this subject.

This book doesn’t come cheap, but, if you can afford it, it will be money well spent. I see it has just made the shortlist for the English Chess Federation book of the year, and rightly so as well.

 

Richard James, Twickenham 2 September 2021

Richard James
Richard James

Book Details :

  • Format: Hardback
  • Pages: 380
  • Bibliographic Info: photos, diagrams, games, bibliography, indexes
  • Copyright Date: 28th February 2021
  • pISBN: 978-1-4766-7793-4
  • eISBN: 978-1-4766-4053-2
  • Imprint: McFarland & Company Inc.

Official web site of McFarland

Smyslov, Bronstein, Geller, Taimanov and Averbakh: A Chess Multibiography with 220 Games, Andrew Soltis, McFarland Books, February 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1476677934
Smyslov, Bronstein, Geller, Taimanov and Averbakh: A Chess Multibiography with 220 Games, Andrew Soltis, McFarland Books, February 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1476677934

Chess Board Options

Chess Board Options, Larry Kaufman, New in Chess, 15th July 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9056919337
Chess Board Options, Larry Kaufman, New in Chess, 15th July 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9056919337

From the publisher:

“Larry Kaufman can safely be called an exceptional chess grandmaster

Larry Kaufman started out as a prodigy, however not in chess but as a whizz kid in science and math. He excels at shogi (Japanese chess) and Go, and is also a world-famous computer programmer and a highly successful option trader. Remarkably, as a chess player he only peaked at the weirdly late age of fifty.

Yet his victories in the chess arena are considerable. Over a career span of nearly sixty years Kaufman won the state championships of Massachusetts, Maryland, Florida, Virginia, D.C. and Pennsylvania. He was an American Open Champion and won the U.S. Senior Championship as well as the World Senior Championship.

‘Never a great chess player’ himself (his words), he met or played chess greats such as Bobby Fischer, Bent Larsen, Walter Browne, Boris Spassky, Viktor Kortchnoi and many others. He worked as a second to legendary grandmaster Roman Dzindzichashvili, and coached three talented youngsters to become International Master, one of them his son Raymond.

This engrossing memoir is rife with stories and anecdotes about dozens of famous and not-so-famous chess players. In one of the most remarkable chapters Larry Kaufman reveals that the American woman chess player that inspired Walter Tevis to create the Beth Harmon character of Netflix’s The Queen’s Gambit fame, is his former girlfriend. You will learn about neural networks, material values and how being a chess master helps when trading options. And find lots of memorable but little-known annotated games.

Larry Kaufman is an American Grandmaster. He has been involved in computer chess since 1967, when he worked on ‘MacHack’, the first computer that competed in tournaments with human players. More recently he has been working on the programs Rybka and Komodo.

Praise for the best-selling opening manual Kaufman’s New Repertoire for Black and White:

“Kaufman’s book is a pleasure to read.” — Miguel Ararat, Florida Chess Magazine

“Kaufman does an outstanding job.” — IM Gary Lane, Chess Moves Magazine”

GM Larry Kaufmann
GM Larry Kaufman

The memoirs of a relatively obscure grandmaster might not be at the top of your wish list, I guess.

The title might be considered slightly odd as well, referring in part to his career as an options trader, with perhaps also some reflections on options for the further development of chess.

Nevertheless, Larry Kaufman has some interesting stories to tell, and much to say about the future of our favourite game. You’ll also find, appropriately enough, 64 games, some played by the author, some by players he knew, and some by computers against grandmasters, all with brief but pertinent annotations. I’d urge you to stop and take a look inside rather than just pass it by.

The introduction provides some background biographical information concerning his 60 year chess career.

Here’s an early game: the book provides annotations as far as move 20.

In Part 1, Kaufman introduces us to some of the 20th century champions he has known, with plenty of anecdotes and a few games along the way. We meet Fischer, Spassky and Kasparov, Korchnoi, Larsen, Gligoric and others. For me, though, the most interesting chapters here are about the lesser known players. We go all the way back to Harold Phillips (1874-1967), a family friend, who had played Steinitz in simuls back in 1894. I guess this must make Kaufman one of the youngest players to have a shared opponent with Steinitz. In 1961 or 1962 there was a kindly old man who ‘gave generous and valuable free chess lessons to the kids’. This was the notorious Norman Whitaker: of course they knew nothing of his background at the time.

Then there was Steve Brandwein (1942-2015), a new name to me. ‘Although he retired from tournament play at only 22 years of age, … he … was a very strong player … and probably taught me more about the finer points of chess than any other individual.’ Kaufman compares him to Bernie Sanders, and describes him as ‘perhaps the best-liked chess master I’ve ever known’, who could, if he’d wanted have become a grandmaster, or perhaps, had he been prepared to compromise, a US President.

Even more interesting (although readers of New in Chess might have read about this before), is Diana Lanni, who, according to Kaufman, may have been the major inspiration behind the character of Beth Harmon in The Queens Gambit. He also sees himself as the closest match to Harry Beltik, and Walter Browne as Benny Watts.

Part 2 looks at Larry Kaufman’s life outside chess: his time as an options trader and his interest in Shogi, Go and other games.

In Part 3, he shows us some of his most memorable games and talks about his chess students, including his son Ray.

This was his first win against a grandmaster, and helped him towards his first IM norm.

This game helped propel him to a shared first place and the grandmaster title in the 2008 World Seniors.

Part 4 is about computer chess. Kaufman has been involved in this since 1967, when, as a student at MIT, he had a part-time job working on MacHack. Today, he’s part of the Komodo team. After a brief résumé of his career in computer chess, we see some recent games between engines and grandmasters. These days, the engines give the GMs considerable odds.

Particularly interesting here is a 2020 16-game match (15’+10″) between Komodo and GM Alex Lenderman. In every game, Komodo played White without a knight. In half the games, Lenderman played without a pawn, in four games he had all his pieces but without castling rights, and four games were played using Fischerrandom rules, but with kings and rooks on their usual squares. On the first day, using its standard version, Komodo lost three games, with just one draw. It then switched to the Monte Carlo Tree Search version, which seeks the best practical chances rather than the objectively best moves. In the remaining twelve games, all of which are published here, Komodo scored three wins, seven draws and only two losses.

Here’s a Komodo win. Kaufman’s brief annotations don’t mention a significant improvement for Komodo pointed out by Stockfish 14.

Part 5 comprises short essays on various topics such as: ratings, openings and piece values, along with suggestions for the reform of competitive chess and thoughts about the future.

Kaufman is perhaps best known, at least in the USA, for a 1999 Chess Life article about the values of the pieces. As someone involved in teaching beginners, this is of considerable interest to me. I’d really like to stop my pupils trading BN for RP on f7 and thinking they have an advantage because points are equal and they’ve exposed the enemy king. He suggests that, while the traditional values (1, 3, 3+, 5) are reasonable for positions without queens, in the presence of queens we should teach 1, 4, 4+, 6, 11. That will resolve my problem: the trade on f7 will now win 7 points but lose 8+ points.

I found this book a riveting read, especially parts 4 and 5, but then it covers a number of topics which are of particular interest to me. If the topics appeal to you too, or if you have a general love of chess culture, I’d give it a very strong recommendation. Fascinating, well written, and, as usual with New in Chess, well produced.

 

Richard James, Twickenham 19th August 2021

Richard James
. Richard James

Book Details :

  • Softcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: New In Chess (27 May 2021)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:9056919334
  • ISBN-13:978-9056919337
  • Product Dimensions: ‎17.02 x 23.11 cm

Official web site of New in Chess

Chess Board Options, Larry Kaufman, New in Chess, 15th July 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9056919337
Chess Board Options, Larry Kaufman, New in Chess, 15th July 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9056919337

The Unstoppable American: Bobby Fischer’s Road to Reykjavik

The Unstoppable American : Bobby Fischer’s Road to Reykjavik, Jan Timman, New in Chess, 17th May 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9056919788
The Unstoppable American : Bobby Fischer’s Road to Reykjavik, Jan Timman, New in Chess, 17th May 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9056919788

From the publisher:

“Initially things looked gloomy for Bobby Fischer. Because he had refused to participate in the 1969 US Championship, he had missed his chance to qualify for the 1970 Interzonal Tournament in Palma de Mallorca. Only when another American, Pal Benko, withdrew in his favour, and after the officials were willing to bend the rules, could Bobby enter the contest and begin his phenomenal run that would end with the Match of the Century in Reykjavik against World Champion Boris Spassky.

Fischer started out by sweeping the field at the 23-round Palma Interzonal to qualify for the next stage of the cycle. In the Candidates Matches he first faced Mark Taimanov, in Vancouver. Fischer trounced the Soviet ace, effectively ending Taimanov’s career. Then, a few months later in Denver, he was up against Bent Larsen, the Great Dane. Fischer annihilated him, too. The surreal score in those two matches, twice 6-0, flabbergasted chess fans all over the world. In the ensuing Candidates Final in Buenos Aires, Fischer also made short shrift of former World Champion Tigran Petrosian, beating the hyper-solid “Armenian Tiger” 6½-2½.

Altogether, Fischer had scored an incredible 36 points from 43 games against many of the world’s best players, including a streak of 19 consecutive wins. Bobby Fischer had become not just a national hero in the US, but a household name with pop-star status all over the world. Jan Timman chronicles the full story of Fischer’s sensational run and takes a fresh look at the games. The annotations are in the author’s trademark lucid style, that happy mix of colourful background information and sharp, crystal-clear explanations.”

GM Jan Timman
GM Jan Timman

Where does history start? I’ve always thought history is what happened before you were born. For those of us, like Jan Timman and myself, who learnt our chess in the 1960s, perhaps chess history is what happened before World War 2. The events of the late forties were full of names familiar to us from tournaments of our time.

This book covers Bobby Fischer’s career in the years 1970 and 1971. More like current affairs than history for our generation. We all remember it well: we were around at the time and some of us will be familiar with many of the games. But, for younger readers, Fischer’s games from half a century ago will be ancient history. If we turn the clock back another five decades we reach 1921 and the Lasker – Capablanca World Championship match. Now that really does feel like ancient history, even to me.

Fifty years on, it seems like a good time to revisit the games with the aid of today’s powerful engines and greater knowledge. Jan Timman is ideally qualified to do just that.

Readers of Timman’s other recent books will know what to expect: clear annotations based on explanations rather than variations, along with entertaining anecdotes and background colour to put the games into context.

We have all 43 games (44 if you include a win by default) from the 1970 Interzonal and 1971 candidates matches, along with a selection of 19 games from earlier in 1970.

After withdrawing from the 1967 Interzonal, Fischer played in two relatively minor tournaments the following year, and, in 1969, played only one serious game, in a New York league match. The chess world was uncertain whether or not he’d ever play again, let alone fulfil what appeared to be his destiny and become world champion. Exciting, but also worrying times.

After an 18 month absence, Bobby agreed to take part in the 1970 match between the USSR and the Rest of the World, even ceding top board to Larsen. Chapter 1 takes us from this event, via Rovinj/Zagreb, the Herceg Novi blitz and Buenos Aires, to the Siegen Olympiad.

In round 7 of Rovinj-Zagreb, Fischer was black against one of the tournament’s lesser lights, the Romanian master Ghitescu.

Timman informs us: It has never been brought up before, but Fischer was demonstrably lost in this game, after having taken too much risk.

Here’s the critical position with Ghitescu to play his 23rd move. Where would you move your rook?

The exchange sacrifice 23. Rf4! would have been very strong. Black cannot accept the sacrifice, because he would have been strategically losing. Also after 23… Rg8 24. Re4 Rae8 25. Rf1, White is winning.

I may be wrong but I would have thought Rf4 would be automatic for master strength players today. Wouldn’t it also have been automatic for, say, Petrosian, back in 1970?

Instead, the game continued 23. Rd3 Rad8 24. Ng3 (24. b3 would have maintained the advantage) 24… Ba6, when Fischer took control of the game, eventually bringing home the full point. If he’d lost that game, perhaps chess history would have been very different.

Here’s the complete game.

The strategic insights Timman brings to positions like this are, for me, what makes this book so instructive. Here’s another example: Gligoric – Fischer from Siegen, with Gligoric to make his 39th move.

It’s not dissimilar to the previous example, and indeed both positions arose from King’s Indian Defences. Here, a white knight is fighting against a dark-squared bishop outside the pawn chain.

White could have obtained a winning position with 39. Nb1!. The strategic plan is simple: White is going to bring his knight to c4 and install his king on g4. Black has nothing to offer in exchange; his doubled c-pawn will be blocked, and his pieces are barely able to display any activity.

Again, the complete game:

Chapter 2 covers the 1970 Interzonal at Palma, Mallorca. You won’t find very many brilliant miniatures in this book, but Fischer’s win against Rubinetti is an exception.

Chapters 3-5 offer Fischer’s 6-0 shutouts against Taimanov and Larsen, and the final match against former champion Tigran Petrosian.

This position interested me. Any well-read player from my generation will recognise this as coming from the 7th Fischer – Petrosian game, where Bobby played 22. Nxd7+, a move garlanded with various numbers of exclamation marks by many commentators both at the time and later.

Here’s what Timman has to say.

The praise with which this move has been showered is unbelievable. Byrne commented: ‘This exchange, which wins the game, was completely overlooked by the press room group of grandmaster analysis. Najdorf, in fact, criticized it(!), suggesting the incomparably weaker 22. a4.’

Kasparov, too, was full of praise. ‘A brilliant decision, masterfully transforming one advantage into another (…) Petrosian was obviously hoping for the “obvious” 22. a4 Bc6 23. Rc1 Nd7 24. Nxd7+ Bxd7 with possibilities of a defence.

In Chess Informant 12, Petrosian himself and Suetin give two ‘!’s to the text move.

True, not all commentators were so pronounced in their praise. Spassky and Polugaevsky limited themselves to the conclusion that White exchanged one advantage for another and didn’t give an ‘!’ to the move.

However, the general drift was that Fischer had done something highly instructive, adding a new facet to strategic thinking in chess. I was very impressed at the time, but I also had doubts. There were no computers yet, and young players looked to the great players on the world stage as their examples. So, Fischer must have understood it better than I did.

Yet, I am almost certain that in this position, or a similar one, I would have opted for Najdorf’s move. And almost half a century after the event, it turned out that the Argentinian had simply been right!

Timman goes on to demonstrate that, indeed, 22. a4 is clearly winning, whereas Fischer’s 22. Nxd7+ Rxd7 23. Rc1 would have given Petrosian defensive chances if he’d chosen 23… d4 rather than the passive Rd6.

See for yourself:

What comes across from this book is the remorseless power and logic of Fischer’s play in this period, as well as his determination to play for a win in every game. Short draws were never on his agenda.

In the past, there was a tendency to annotate by result or reputation, and this seems to have been what happened here. These days, we can all switch on Stockfish and annotate by computer, while neglecting the human, the practical element.

Timman’s annotations, both here and in his previous books, strike me as getting the balance just about right. Call me old-fashioned, but I’d rather have verbal explanations than long engine-generated variations.

Older readers will enjoy reliving memories of the golden days of the Fischer era, while younger readers will learn a lot of chess history. Players of all levels will benefit from the annotations, which, because of their lucidity, are accessible to anyone from, say, 1500 upwards.

The many anecdotes add much to the book, although serious historians might feel frustrated that they’re not always sourced. There are also several pages of photographs: while their quality, as they’re printed on matt paper, isn’t perfect, they’re still more than welcome.

There are a few typos and mistakes regarding match scores and tournament crosstables which more careful proofing might have picked up, and the English, in one or two places (you may have noticed this from the extracts I quoted), might have been more idiomatic. Slightly annoying, perhaps,  but this won’t really impede your enjoyment of the book.

In spite of these slight reservations, this is an excellent book which is warmly recommended for players of all strengths. Next year will see the 50th anniversary of Fischer – Spassky. Might we hope that Timman will cover this match in a future volume?

One last thought: I wrote at the beginning of this review about how people of different ages have different perspectives of history. If Capablanca and Alekhine had been granted long lives, they would have lived to see these games. What would they have made of them? What would they have made of Bobby Fischer?

Richard James, Twickenham 10th August 2021

Richard James
. Richard James

Book Details :

  • Softcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: New In chess (17 May 2021)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:9056919784
  • ISBN-13:978-9056919788
  • Product Dimensions: ‎ 17.27 x 2.54 x 23.62 cm

Official web site of New in Chess

The Unstoppable American : Bobby Fischer’s Road to Reykjavik, Jan Timman, New in Chess, 17th May 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9056919788
The Unstoppable American : Bobby Fischer’s Road to Reykjavik, Jan Timman, New in Chess, 17th May 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9056919788