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The Caro-Kann Revisited : A Complete Repertoire for Black

The Caro-Kann Revisited : A Complete Repertoire for Black
The Caro-Kann Revisited : A Complete Repertoire for Black

From the rear cover we have :

“Francesco Rambaldi is an Italian Grandmaster who currently lives in St. Louis (USA) and plays for the Saint Louis University Chess Team. Shortly after graduating from high school, Francesco was awarded the Grandmaster title after winning the Wien International Open when he was 16 years old. Throughout his career, he found success at a national level both in youth championships, becoming Italian champion in the U10 (2009), U12 (2011) and U14 (2013) categories, and in open championships, becoming Italian Champion for Rapid and Blitz in 2016. Francesco also won numerous international opens including the previously mentioned Wien International Open (August 2015), the Bergamo International Open (July 2016), the Capo d’Orso International Chess Festival (June 2017) and the Panama Chess Rumble (November 2017).”

GM Francesco Rambaldi, photograph by David Lada
GM Francesco Rambaldi, photograph by David Lada

and also

“This book presents a comprehensive, ready-to-use, and high-quality repertoire for Black against 1.e4. With meticulous analysis and in-depth explanations, the author demonstrates how the Caro-Kann Defense can be used successfully by players of any level. He also draws on his experience and on his trove of novel ideas to present a new take on the Caro-Kann: one that emphasizes Black’s dynamic options while maintaining a solid and flexible setup.”

As with every recent Thinkers Publishing publication high quality paper is used and the printing is clear. We had got used to glossy paper in previous titles but this one reverts to matt. Bring back glossy!

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

A welcome addition is a bibliography which is normally absent from TP publications.

However, there is no index which, unfortunately, is a standard omission of Thinkers Publishing books. Some readers will be disappointed.

This first book from GM Francesco Rambaldi provides a more or less complete repertoire for Black versus 1.e4

In the BCN office we have examined books on the Caro-Kann that use various adjectives in their title :

First Steps, Move by Move, Dangerous Weapons, Main Line, Classical, Novelties, Dynamic, Understanding, Easy Guide, Grandmaster Secrets, Training, In Black & White, Krusher, Play the, Starting Out, Grandmaster Repertoire, Beating, New Ideas and finally Modernised. Revisited is a welcome addition!

Previously from Thinkers Publishing we had “The Modernized Caro-Kann” from GM Daniel Fernandez which focused on the Smyslov variation.

The main content is divided into seventeen chapters distributed amongst six parts as follows :

  1. Advance Caro-Kann
  2. Open Caro-Kann
  3. Two Knights Caro-Kann
  4. Panov Variation
  5. Exchange Caro-Kann
  6. Miscellaneous

Each chapter’s content is treated in familiar Thinker’s Publishing style : variations are analysed in detail move by move with game references liberally sprinkled into the text. The explanations and discussion are detailed presenting the ideas in the position.

We kick-off with a thorough discussion of the third most popular line for White : the Advance variation.

Every Caro-Kann player should know that 3.e5 deserves much respect and accurate play from Black to avoid a painful experience : we quite agree that this should be the first chapter therefore. Rambaldi recommends the trendy 3…c5 which scores slightly better than the conventional 3…Bf5. There are 157 pages on 3…c5 alone with most emphasis on the critical 4. dxc5 including the very topical 5.a3 :

which is treated in great depth with new ideas for Black in a line that White in increasingly turning to.

We then turn to the main “meat and potatoes” of this book : the Korchnoi Variation. We have seen this line referred to as the Tartakower Variation in “Understanding the Caro-Kann Defence” by Keene, Soltis, Mednis, Peters and Kaplan (Pitman, 1980). Rambaldi dedicates 70 pages including more explanation of the ideas than for the other parts.

as the main line after

5…exf6 has hitherto largely been ignored in the Caro-Kann literature in favour of the Bronstein-Larsen variation, 5…gxf6, the Capablanca / Classical Variation of 4…Bf5 and Smyslov’s Variation of 4…Nd7. One might have to employ the Tardis and visit (from 1989) Jeremy Silman’s “The Dynamic Caro-Kann” to find any appreciable treatment. JS dubs 5…exf6 the Original Caro-Kann for those who are keen on labels. Rambaldi calls this the Open Caro-Kann, presumably after 3…dxe4.

The popular Two Knights Variation is treated with the reliable 3…Bg4 line and the Panov via Bg4 and Be6 ideas depending on White’s tries. Even the (in)famous double rook endgame (that rarely gets an outing these days at the highest levels) is given a detailed treatment. All of White’s ideas are covered in detail with appropriate recommendations for Black.

The so-called Pseudo-Panov

and the Fantasy Variations

are covered in adequate depth providing almost complete coverage from Black’s perspective.

The coverage of the King’s Indian Attack is disappointingly thin, almost superficial. OK, so 2.d3 is rather uncommon but, nonetheless, a better treatment would have been welcome.

In summary, we have roughly 400 pages of quality analysis with in-depth explanations and new ideas for Black. There is a fresh (and not before time) treatment of the Korchnoi Variation and excellent coverage of the Advance, Two Knights, Panov and Exchange Variations. Of course, these are the lines you will face day-to-day.

Rambaldi recommends the unusual 4…Nf6!? move order in the Exchange Variation :

rather than the more common 4…Nc6 (and 5…Qc7) with the idea to develop the c8 bishop more quickly : interesting!

Rambaldi is a welcome new writer with a friendly style. He is not afraid to disagree with previous authors and present his own ideas.

We would recommend this book as a stand-alone treatment of the Caro-Kann. If you have played 4…Bf5 and / or 4…Nd7 and want to freshen up repertoire then why not consider 4…Nf6 ? It is less drawish and more ambitious if you need to play for the full point with Black.

John Upham, Cove, Hampshire, 5th June, 2020

John Upham
John Upham

Book Details :

  • Hardcover : 406 pages
  • Publisher:Thinkers Publishing; 1 edition (14 July 2020)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9492510766
  • ISBN-13: 978-9492510761
  • Product Dimensions: 17 x 23.5 cm

Official web site of Thinkers Publishing

The Caro-Kann Revisited A : A Complete Repertoire for Black
The Caro-Kann Revisited A : A Complete Repertoire for Black

On the Origin of Good Moves: A Skeptic’s Guide at Getting Better at Chess

On the Origin of Good Moves
On the Origin of Good Moves

On the Origin of Good Moves: A Skeptic’s Guide at Getting Better at Chess : Willy Hendriks

IM Willy Hendriks, Photo by Zhaoqin Peng
IM Willy Hendriks, Photo by Zhaoqin Peng

“Willy Hendriks (1966) is an International Master who has been working as a chess trainer for over 25 years. His acclaimed bestseller ‘Move First, Think Later’ won the English Chess Federation Book of the Year Award.”

From the rear cover :

“The way a beginner develops into a strong chess player closely resembles the progress of the game of chess itself. This popular idea is the reason why many renowned chess instructors such as former World Champions Garry Kasparov and Max Euwe, emphasize the importance of studying the history of chess.

Willy Hendriks agrees that there is much to be learned from the pioneers of our game. He challenges, however, the conventional view on what the stages in the advancement of chess actually have been. Among the various articles of faith that Hendriks questions is Wilhelm Steinitz’s reputation as the discoverer of the laws of positional chess.

In The Origin of Good Moves Hendriks undertakes a groundbreaking investigative journey into the history of chess. He explains what actually happened, creates fresh perspectives, finds new heroes, and reveals the real driving force behind improvement in chess: evolution.

This thought-provoking book is full of beautiful and instructive ‘new’ material from the old days. With plenty of exercises, the reader is invited to put themselves in the shoes of the old masters. Never before has the study of the history of chess been so entertaining and rewarding.”

 

What we have here is a hugely ambitious work covering the development of chess ideas over a period of almost 300 years, from roughly 1600 to 1900, from Greco to Tarrasch. Willy Hendriks considers the evolution of both tactical and positional concepts, as well as covering, to a lesser extent, opening theory.

A number of authors over the years, from Réti onwards, have attempted something similar but Hendriks takes the genre to a new level. His view is that previous authors, using a small sample of Famous Games, have presented a crude and misleading view of ‘the history of improvement in chess’. Chess, he believes, has evolved in very much the same way as species evolve.

Hendriks’ previous book, Move First, Think Later, (MFTL) proved controversial. It attracted the attention of the ECF Book of the Year panel, but there were others who considered it highly dangerous. A confrontational title and controversial, extremist views on how chess should be taught. My own views, are, as they are on most subjects, somewhere in the middle, but I still found it an entertaining read. You’ll find a typically well considered review by John Watson here.

Just as in MFTL, each of the 36 chapters is preceded by some exercises which readers might like to attempt before reading on.

Here’s one from Chapter 1:

Finding the answer won’t be difficult for any experienced player, but it was Greco who was the first to play, or at any rate publish, a Bxh7+ sacrifice. Ideas like this, and there are many, positional as well as tactical, throughout the book, gradually become better and better known until they become part of every serious player’s armoury, which is how standards improve. We’re all standing on the shoulders of giants, but it takes genius to be the first.

When we think of Greco we probably think of brilliant miniatures against opponents who either misplayed the opening or made tactical oversights, but Hendriks maintains there’s a lot more to him than that. “If you play over all the games by Greco you cannot but be amazed by the enormous strength of this player and by the importance and variety of his ideas.” In the first chapter we look at some of his tactical ideas, but in Chapter 2, where he is billed as the Nimzowitsch of the 17th century, we discover that Greco was also aware of some relatively sophisticated positional ideas.

The next few chapters continue Hendriks’ revisionist view of chess history. Philidor in Chapters 3 and 4, La Bourdonnais and McDonnell in Chapter 5, Staunton and Saint Amant in Chapter 6. Generally speaking, the book is free from mistakes, but here the magazine Le Palamède is sometimes awarded the wrong definite article. On p85 it’s both right and wrong within four lines.

In Chapter 7 we visit London in 1851 and look at some of the chess played in the first international tournament of modern times. The next two chapters then spin off to take a couple of detours.

Chapter 8 features a positional idea: the pawn formation labelled by Hans Kmoch (whose book Pawn Power in Chess Hendriks seems to admire, although it would have been helpful if the publishers had used the English title) the Wyvill Formation – doubled c-pawns such as White might acquire in the Nimzo-Indian. The English player Elijah Williams, a man ahead of his time, demonstrated how to fight against this in his games against the eponymous Marmaduke Wyvill and Howard Staunton.

In this rather modern  looking position Williams played Ba3 against Staunton (Hendriks points out that Na4 and Qf2 were also strong), winning the c5 pawn and, eventually, the game.

We then look at some much more recent examples of games featuring this formation.

Chapter 9 returns to London and riffs off in a tactical direction.

This is a position from another Elijah Williams game. Here, he was Black against Johann Löwenthal. White, to move, decided Black might be threatening Bxh3, so played Bf4 to prevent the sacrifice, later losing after a blunder. Staunton, writing in the tournament book, considered it a mistaken precaution. Hendriks demonstrates that the sacrifice would have been sound, and spends the rest of the chapter looking at precursors and more recent examples of the same tactical idea.

Chapter 10 is a brief visit to India in the company of John Cochrane, where opening theory developed very differently – an interesting topic in its own right.

We then move on to Paul Morphy, the hero of the next few chapters. Chapter 13, Anderssen versus Morphy, will raise a few eyebrows. We all know what to think, don’t we? Both men were tactical geniuses but Morphy was also a positional genius, while Anderssen, a representative of the romantic school of chess, was just a high class hacker. Hendriks, acknowledging Mihail Marin, who first made the point some years ago, explains that the opposite was closer to the truth. We all know Anderssen’s brilliant Immortal and Evergreen Games, but they were casual encounters where he could afford to take risks. In tournament games he sometimes experimented with more modern openings and ideas while Morphy stuck resolutely to 1. e4 e5. The difference between them was not that Morphy was a better positional player but that he was more accurate and efficient.

As we continue through the 19th century we meet Steinitz and reach what, in some ways, is the heart of the book. Because Morphy gave up serious chess before Steinitz achieved prominence, it’s easy to forget that the latter was a year older.

Very many writers over the years, from Lasker onwards, have portrayed Steinitz as the father of modern positional chess. Hendriks begs to differ. Steinitz never wrote down his principles: it was Lasker who did this, attaching Steinitz’s name to them.  Hendriks demonstrates that most of his ideas were generally known before his time. His only genuinely new idea was to do with using the king as a strong piece in the opening, and that didn’t stand the test of time. Chapter 25 deals with this.

The first exercise at the start of the chapter poses an intriguing question. “Your opponent in the coming World Championship match is prepared to play this position as Black at least four times against you. Do you accept?”

Well, you certainly should as, after Nb6, White is clearly much better, even though Steinitz stubbornly insisted that Black was fine.

Here is the infamous Steinitz Gambit after White’s 5th move. Steinitz played it a lot but, although White does quite well with it over the board, it really is as bad as it looks.

As we approach the end of the 19th century, it’s time for Hendriks to start drawing conclusions. Comparisons are often made between today’s players and those from the past. If Magnus Carlsen were to travel back in time, how would he fare against Lasker, Morphy or Philidor? Here’s Hendriks, in Chapter 28: “If I might venture a wild guess regarding the average strength of say the top five or top ten players throughout the (19th) century I would say it gradually went from about 2000 around the thirties to 2400 near the end of the century.”

This sounds about right to me, but even near the end of the century, top players were making horrendous blunders which would shame a 1400 player, let alone a 2400 player.

A famous example: Chigorin-Steinitz from the 23rd game of their 1892 World Championship match.

Rxb7, for example, wins for White, but Chigorin’s choice of Bb4 proved rather unsuccessful.

Chapters 31 and 32, in which Hendriks links his discoveries to his teaching methods outlined in MFTL, might prove controversial to some.  In Chapter 31 he explains why he believes that creating plans is overrated, and in Chapter 32 he tells you that, contrary to the recommendations of other teachers, you should spend a lot of time studying openings. Of course you might not agree, but it’s often worthwhile listening to those who have well thought out views which differ from yours.

Finally, we reach Chapter 36. Here’s how Hendriks concludes:

“The human history of chess, with all its theoretical struggles and its remarkable personalities, is a fascinating one. However, the general theories that supposedly unify and systematize all those pieces are in my opinion more the result than the cause of the progress made, and as a guide to finding the best moves they are of only limited use.

“As in nature, variety and complexity in chess aren’t the result of some sort of plan from above. It works the other way around, on all levels, even the individual one. As soon as you start looking at a position, all those basic bits of knowledge you gathered before start working. They come up with plans and moves to be played. You can almost sit by and wonder. And watch the good moves replicate.”

I’ve said before that we’re fortunate to be living in a golden age for chess literature, and On the Origin of Good Moves goes right in somewhere very near the top of my favourite chess books of all time. I found it well researched, endlessly fascinating, always thought provoking, often digressive, sometimes provocative and sometimes extremely funny. (Humour in chess books seems to be something of a Dutch speciality: think of Donner and Tim Krabbé.) It’s well produced, and enlivened by copious illustrations, some of only tangential relevance (soldiers in the Franco-Prussian War, a police telephone box, Charles Darwin). If you have any interest at all in the development of chess ideas this will be an essential purchase. If you want to improve your rating you’ll find a lot of inspiring suggestions, although you might not agree with all of them, a lot of great chess, much of which will probably be unfamiliar to you, and a lot of beautiful moves. You’ll find quite a lot of rather bad chess as well, but it all adds to the fun.

Five stars and a top recommendation from me. I do hope you enjoy it as much as I did. It’s certainly a book I’ll return to over and over again.

You can read some sample pages here.

Richard James, Twickenham 3rd June 2020

Richard James
. Richard James

Book Details :

  • Paperback : 432 pages
  • Publisher: New in Chess (10 April 2020)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9056918796
  • ISBN-13: 978-9056918798
  • Product Dimensions: 17 x 23.1 cm

Official web site of New in Chess

On the Origin of Good Moves
On the Origin of Good Moves

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

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

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

GM Thomas Luther
GM Thomas Luther

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

The book can easily be laid flat next to the board and does not require weights to prevent it from “self-closing” (a particular bugbear of ours !). Each diagram is clear and the instructional text is typeset in two column format, which, we find, enables the reader to maintain their place easily. Figurine algebraic notation is used throughout and the diagrams are placed adjacent to the relevant text and each diagram has a “to move” indicator.

There is no index which, unfortunately, is a standard omission of Thinkers Publishing books. Also missing is a bibliography. However, for a tactics books these items are less crucial, of course. A biography or autobiography would miss these things.

The main content is divided into sixteen chapters :

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

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

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

The rook has to give check to the black King.

He cannot move to a square where he be captured.

He cannot capture pawns, even if they are unprotected.

Make a guess how many moves are needed?

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

In this position the pawns can overwhelm the bishop!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John Upham
John Upham

Book Details :

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

Official web site of Thinkers Publishing

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

Sultan Khan : The Indian Servant Who Became Chess Champion of the British Empire

Sultan Khan: The Indian Servant Who Became Chess Champion of the British Empire
Sultan Khan: The Indian Servant Who Became Chess Champion of the British Empire

Sultan Khan : The Indian Servant Who Became Chess Champion of the British Empire : Daniel King

GM Daniel King
GM Daniel King

“Daniel King (1963) is an English grandmaster, coach, journalist and broadcaster. He has written 16 chess books on topics ranging from opening preparation to the self-tutoring How Good is your Chess? and Test Your Chess.”

From the rear cover :

“Sultan Khan arrived in London in 1929. A humble servant from a village in the Punjab, he created a sensation by becoming the British Empire champion. Sultan Khan competed in Europe with the leading chess players of the era. His unorthodox style often stunned his opponents, as Daniel King explains in his examination of the key tournaments in Khan’s career. King has uncovered a wealth of new facts about Khan, as well as dozens of previously unknown games. Now for the first time the full story can be told of how Khan was received in Europe, of his successes in the chess world and his return to obscurity after his departure for India in 1933.”

Daniel King, well known as a writer and broadcaster, here turns his hand to chess history, and one of the most fascinating stories our game has produced.

It would be remiss of me not to mention at the start that Sultan Khan’s family, whom the author chose not to consult,  are very unhappy about the book. You can read a review by Dr Atiyab Sultan, Sultan Khan’s granddaughter, here.

Dr Sultan and her father also write about Sultan Khan here.

I’ll leave that with you: you can decide for yourself whether or not it will deter you from buying the book. I have my views but prefer to concentrate on the chess.

Malik Mir Sultan Khan
Malik Mir Sultan Khan

What we have is a collection of Sultan Khan’s most interesting games (in some cases only the opening or conclusion) with excellent annotations. It’s not a ‘Best Games’ collection: there are plenty of draws and losses. As you would expect from such an experienced commentator, King knows exactly what, and how much, to tell you. You’ll get clear and concise verbal explanations, with variations only when necessary: an approach entirely suited to Khan’s style of play.

Sultan Khan’s openings were sometimes very poor, even by the standards of the day, on occasion running into trouble by neglecting the essentials of development and king safety, and not always learning from his mistakes. You won’t find a lot of brilliant tactics and sacrifices in his games, either. But he excelled at manoeuvring, and was an outstanding endgame player, winning many points through sheer determination. It was these skills that enabled him to beat Capablanca, draw with Alekhine, and reach, according to Jeff Sonas, the world’s top ten.

Here’s his most famous game, which is treated to six pages of annotations in the book.

King offers a lot more than just the games, though. The descriptions of the events in which Sultan Khan participated are enlivened by contemporary reports from newspapers and magazines which portray a vivid picture of the chess world 90 years ago, and of how Khan was perceived within the chess community. Then as now, newspapers would sometimes send non-playing journalists to write a ‘let’s laugh at the weird chess players’ article. Here, for example, is a Daily Herald reporter visiting Hastings for the 1930-31 congress. “DRAWING THE LONG BROW AT HASTINGS”, chortled the headline. “Moving (sometimes) scenes at chess congress.” Yes, very droll.

Although Sultan Khan was a very popular member of the British chess community, much respected for his quiet and modest demeanour, remarks which would today be considered racist sometimes appeared in the press. The London Evening News on Hastings 1932-33: “Sultan Khan, the British Champion, of course, did well; but he is not English by birth, which makes a difference.”

Malik Mir Sultan Khan (right)
Malik Mir Sultan Khan (right)

King also sketches in the political background behind Sultan Khan’s time in England: the discussions concerning the future of the Indian subcontinent which would eventually lead to independence and the partition in 1947. Writing as someone with embarrassingly little knowledge of the subject, I thought these sections of the book were written with sensitivity and impartiality, but, as the partition is still highly emotive today, I quite understand why others might take a different view.

My main problem with the book is the lack of indexing. There’s an index of names, but I’d also expect indexes of games and openings: something I’d consider essential for a book of this nature. While it was interesting to read something of the history of Western chess in India, a section on John Cochrane would have been useful. I noticed a couple of errors in tournament crosstables (pp 22 and 309), and on p322, EM Jackson mysteriously becomes EM Mackenzie (his middle name).

What you don’t get is a definitive and complete biography and games collection such as McFarland might publish, but Daniel King knows his audience well, and, from the chess perspective, does a thoroughly professional job. If you don’t feel strongly about Sultan Khan’s family’s criticisms, then this book is highly recommended, telling a story full of chess, human and historical interest.

You can see some sample pages on the publisher’s website.

Some more links for anyone interested in finding out more about Sultan Khan:

An article by chess.com blogger simaginfan (Neil Blackburn)

Edward Winter’s feature article about Sultan Khan

A short documentary from 1990 about Sultan Khan and Miss Fatima

Richard James, Twickenham 22nd May 2020

Richard James
. Richard James

Book Details :

  • Paperback : 372 pages
  • Publisher: New In chess (1 Mar. 2020)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9056918745
  • ISBN-13: 978-9056918743
  • Product Dimensions: 17 x 23.1 cm

Official web site of New in Chess

Sultan Khan: The Indian Servant Who Became Chess Champion of the British Empire
Sultan Khan: The Indian Servant Who Became Chess Champion of the British Empire

Evil-Doer : Half a Century with Viktor Korchnoi

Evil-Doer : Half a Century with Viktor Korchnoi
Evil-Doer : Half a Century with Viktor Korchnoi

Evil-Doer : Half a Century with Viktor Korchnoi : Genna Sosonko

Gennadi Borisovich Sosonko
Gennadi Borisovich Sosonko

Genna Sosonko emigrated from the USSR to the Netherlands in 1972.  For the past 20 years or so he’s made a career out of writing essays and books about chess in the Soviet Union, and interviewing many of the leading players from that period.

It was Saturday 17 January 1976. The height of the English Chess Explosion.  Richmond Junior Chess Club had opened its doors for the first time just a few months earlier.

As was customary at the time, the visiting Soviet GMs who had been competing at Hastings played simuls against prizewinners from the London Junior Championships, which in those days attracted most of the country’s top young players. And so it was that I was there at a London school to witness two of the all-time greats, Bronstein and Korchnoi, taking on the cream of England’s up and coming chess talents.

The contrast was noticeable.  Bronstein played fast, took some risks and finished quickly (+17 =9 -4). Korchnoi played slowly, taking every game seriously, and using 7 hours to complete his 30 games (+20 =9 -1), losing only to a certain N Short. He said at the time something to the effect that he wanted his young opponents to understand what it was like to play against a strong grandmaster.

This story sums up the difference between two men who had much in common but a very different attitude towards chess.

Bronstein was born in Ukraine, the son of a Jewish family. Korchnoi’s Polish Catholic father and Jewish mother had moved from Ukraine to Leningrad a few years before he was born. Both men were obsessed with chess while neither had great social and communication skills. Both, of course, came within a whisker of becoming world champion.

I’ve recently reviewed Sosonko’s memoirs of Smyslov and Bronstein: the book in front of me now is without doubt the most successful of the trilogy. Korchnoi and Sosonko had been close friends for half a century, although at one point not on speaking terms for some time.

Korchnoi could at times be rude, argumentative and bad-tempered, but that was part of the man, and his friends, such as Sosonko, accepted and perhaps even respected him for it. On reading an article in which Nigel Short, his young conqueror all those years ago in the London Juniors simul, described  him as a ‘cantankerous old git’, he confessed that, although his English was pretty good, he was only familiar with one of the three words. Growing up as he did during the Siege of Leningrad, suffering his parents’ divorce and the death of his father, poverty, hunger and ill-health, you might think, along with Sosonko, that his difficult personality was understandable. You might also ask yourself whether it was, at least in part, something he was born with.

Viktor Lvovich Korchnoi
Viktor Lvovich Korchnoi

“I have problems communicating with other people”, he once said. “Therefore, I do what I like the most. Most of all I like chess, and, to be honest, I don’t know what else I could do.” (No, I don’t know  when or where he said it, but that’s Sosonko for you. No sources, just lots of ‘he saids’, allegations and speculations.)

Korchnoi admitted and accepted his differences, while Bronstein, to use the current vogue word, masked his differences.

Bronstein peaked early, while Korchnoi peaked remarkably late. Bronstein seemed to play for fun, driven by fantasy and imagination, while Korchnoi was a dour and dogged defender who took every game seriously. But it was Bronstein who gradually fell out of love with chess, his obsession turning from the game itself to the perceived injustices he suffered. Korchnoi, in contrast, like Edith Piaf, regretted nothing and remained passionately devoted to chess right to the end of his life.

A long and eventful life it was, too. From wartime hardships to chess stardom, political asylum in the West, world championship matches against Karpov, and his final decades spent quietly (as if Korchnoi could ever be quiet) in Switzerland, it’s all here. Readers of Sosonko’s other books will know what to expect. There’s no chess in it at all, so, unless you’re inspired by Korchnoi’s determination, it won’t do anything to improve your rating. Nor is it an academic history: just memoir and anecdotes. I’m not convinced by the title: ‘evil-doer’ was how he was referred to  by some Soviet players after his defection. It’s a title I might use about Hitler or Stalin, but Korchnoi, whatever his faults, didn’t do evil. But if you want 300+ pages about the man, written by a friend and admirer for half a century, you’ll enjoy reading this book.

Richard James, Twickenham 15th May 2020

Richard James
Richard James

Book Details :

  • Softcover : 314 pages
  • Publisher:  Limited Liability Company Elk and Ruby Publishing House (17 May 2018)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 5950043383
  • ISBN-13: 978-5950043383
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.8 x 19.8 cm

Official web site of Elk and Ruby

Evil-Doer : Half a Century with Viktor Korchnoi
Evil-Doer : Half a Century with Viktor Korchnoi

The Rise and Fall of David Bronstein

The Rise and Fall of David Bronstein
The Rise and Fall of David Bronstein

The Rise and Fall of David Bronstein : Genna Sosonko

Gennadi Borisovich Sosonko
Gennadi Borisovich Sosonko

 

Genna Sosonko emigrated from the USSR to the Netherlands in 1972.  For the past 20 years or so he’s made a career out of writing essays and books about chess in the Soviet Union, and interviewing many of the leading players from that period.

 

This is the position at the adjournment (remember them?) of the 23rd game of the 1951 World Championship match between Mikhail Botvinnik (White in this game) and David Bronstein, the subject of this memoir by Genna Sosonko. A position that would haunt Bronstein for the rest of his life. He was a point up with just two games to play but if the match was drawn Botvinnik would retain his title. Bronstein had been at least equal at various times during the game, but, in this complex ending, had erred a couple of moves earlier, and, if Botvinnik had sealed Bb1 (Bc2 also does the trick) he’d have had a winning advantage.

But when the envelope was opened the next day, 42. Bd6 appeared. The game continued 42… Nc6 43. Bb1, when Na7, planning b5, would have drawn, leaving Bronstein only requiring a draw with White in the 24th game to become the 7th World Champion. Instead, though, he played Kf6, and Botvinnik eventually won, although Stockfish suggests that Black might still have drawn.

I’d always assumed that Bronstein, as befits his play, was a witty and charming man, but Sosonko paints a very different picture. An annoying eccentric who would never stop talking about his obsessions, notably Botvinnik and the above game, but who frequently contradicted himself as to whether or not he really wanted to become World Champion, and as to how much pressure he was put under by the Soviet authorities, both in that match and later.  A man with a never ending stream of ideas about chess, some brilliant, but others crazy. (Perhaps this is not an uncommon trait amongst chess players – I can think of several friends who are very similar.) A man who, as he aged, became sad and embittered, regretting and resenting his chess career and wishing he’d done something else with his life.

At times I thought Sosonko was turning into Bronstein himself, as he regaled me with more and more anecdotes from other players telling similar stories about Bronstein’s oddities, and more and more conversations with him in his final years, all saying very much the same thing.  “Shut up, Genna! You’ve made your point. Can’t we look at some chess instead?”

No, it seems we can’t. You won’t find any chess at all in this book. Even when a game is discussed, as in the above example, we don’t get to see the moves. Yes, most readers can do what I did and look them up, but having to do that is both frustrating and unnecessary.

An air of sadness pervades much of the book. While I agree that it’s important to know something of the personalities behind the moves, Bronstein, like, for example, Alekhine and Fischer, is best remembered by his games.

And yet – there’s a lot of interest here. A lot of material, admittedly anecdotal, about chess in the Soviet Union, and, in particular, about Bronstein’s éminence grise Boris Vainshtein. Sosonko calls him the Prince of Darkness, and I was very much reminded of Dominic Cummings, himself a chess player in his youth, who plays a similar role in the life of another Boris. Descriptions of Bronstein’s chess philosophy often made me stop and think anew about the nature and purpose of chess, and about my own chess philosophy.

With a firmer editorial hand this could have been an excellent book. Cut back on the repetitive anecdotes and the descriptions of his final years. Add the positions and moves when a game is being discussed. Perhaps expand the section on Bronstein’s chess philosophy. Nevertheless, for anyone interested in post war chess Sosonko’s book is still an essential read.

I’ll close, if I may, with a couple of personal thoughts. Even though he studied geography, not psychology, Sosonko likes to psychoanalyze his subjects, tending towards theories based on nurture rather than nature. These days most of us take a different view. A child presenting with his oddities today would probably receive various diagnoses and labels. For better or for worse? You tell me.

Finally, here’s Sosonko explaining why Bronstein, at the end of his life, was popular with children.

“People rejected by the adult world are often children’s best friends. They are not quite normal to other adults, but are full of charm for children: fully-grown charming eccentrics who never become proper adults.” Guilty as charged.

 

Richard James, Twickenham 10th May 2020

Richard James
Richard James

Book Details :

  • Softcover : 272 pages
  • Publisher: Limited Liability Company Elk and Ruby Publishing House (10 Aug. 2017)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 5950043316
  • ISBN-13: 978-5950043314
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.6 x 19.8 cm

Official web site of Elk and Ruby

The Rise and Fall of David Bronstein
The Rise and Fall of David Bronstein

The Richter-Rauzer Reborn : The Kozul Variation

The Richter - Rauzer Reborn : The Kozul Variation
The Richter – Rauzer Reborn : The Kozul Variation

From the books rear cover :

“The Richter-Rauzer is one of the most complex and rich battlegrounds in the Open Sicilian. This book is the distillation of the authors’ decades-long experience in this variation, offering a practical approach based on understanding and knowledge of typical ideas. Do you wish to explore something double-edged and sharp, this book will leave you confident and fully armed to play for a win. For this second revised edition, Grandmasters Kozul and Jankovic teamed up to present you a way to even throw your most experienced opponent off balance!”

“Zdenko Kozul is a Croatian Grandmaster and the winner of the 2006 European Individual Championship. He has represented his country at Olympiads, European and World Championships for almost twenty five years. His peak FIDE-rating he achieved in 2004, being 2640. Zdenko combines now successfully playing individual an team competitions with working as a trainer for the Croatian Chess Federation.”

“Alojzije Jankovic is a Grandmaster and FIDE trainer from Croatia. In 2010 he shared first place in the Croatian National Championships and played for the Croatian team et the Olympiad. He won several international tournaments and completed his degree at the faculty of Economics and Business at the University of Zagreb Croatia.”

At 400 pages The Richter-Rauzer Reborn (second edition) is, indeed, a weighty, almost massive tome ! The first edition was published in September 2014 at a mere 315 pages.

If you are curious (as we were) about the naming of this variation then there is an interesting article (albeit from 2015) on chess.com.

Here are sample pages from the publisher

For those unfamiliar with Sicilian Defence naming schemes, the Richter-Rauzer is one of the sharper open sicilians which starts here :

in which …d6 and …Nc6 are interchangeable to get here.

The Kozul Variation continues from the above position to reach :

MegaBase 2020 lists around 9,000 games with 8…Bd7 with 8…h6 as the runner-up alternative. If we turn on the “Top Games” option we find almost 4,000 games so clearly a popular line at the top level.

Fairly obviously this is a highly theoretical variation (which is not unusual for the open sicilians) with many transpositional possibilities mixed in with sharp and hairy lines : buyer beware !

As with every recent Thinkers Publishing publication high quality paper is used and the printing is clear. The book can easily be laid flat next to the board and does not require weights to prevent it from “self-closing” (a particular bugbear of ours !). Each diagram is clear and the instructional text is typeset in two column format, which, we find, enables the reader to maintain their place easily. Figurine algebraic notation is used throughout and the diagrams are placed adjacent to the relevant text and each diagram has a “to move” indicator.

There is no index which, unfortunately, is a standard omission of Thinkers Publishing books. Also missing is a bibliography.

The main content is divided into ten chapters :

  1. 9.f3
  2. 10th move sidelines
  3. 10.Nxc6
  4. 11th move sidelines
  5. 12.Nce2
  6. 12.Nf5
  7. 12.Nf3
  8. 13.f5
  9. 13.Qe1 & 15.–
  10. 13.Qe1 & 15.Bd3

In each of these chapters there is an immense amount of detailed analysis to work through and therefore we have 400 pages of material on a position starting at move nine ! An incredible tour de force of an opening book that will take some beating for depth and detail. Probably invaluable to the devotees of the open sicilian and certainly not for feint hearted. Almost certainly this audience for this book will consist of 2000+ Elo rated players who have the motivation to investigate the fine detail and ideas of this hyper sharp line.

Clearly we have not checked the analysis (and why we would we do that anyway?) but if you play open sicilian with either colour and you want to everything there is to know about the Richter-Rauzer then this book is for you.

John Upham, Cove, Hampshire, 8th May, 2020

John Upham
John Upham

Book Details :

  • Hardcover : 400 pages
  • Publisher: Thinkers Publishing; 2 edition (17 Dec. 2019)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9492510626
  • ISBN-13: 978-9492510624
  • Product Dimensions: 17 x 1.5 x 23.4 cm

Official web site of Thinkers Publishing

The Richter - Rauzer Reborn : The Kozul Variation
The Richter – Rauzer Reborn : The Kozul Variation

The Modernised Stonewall Defence

The Modernised Stonewall Defence
The Modernised Stonewall Defence

Grandmaster Milos Pavlovic was born in Belgrade in 1964 and was Yugoslav Champion in 2002. He is a well known theoretician specialising in opening theory and has written many chess books and magazine articles.

GM Milos Pavlovic
GM Milos Pavlovic

This is his fifth title in the “Modernized” series from Thinkers Publishing with a fourth on the Scotch Game having being published on November 17th. We first reviewed a title in this series with The Modernized Caro-Kann from GM Daniel Fernandez and then we reviewed The Modernised Colle-Zuckertort from Pavlovic.

As with every recent Thinkers Publishing publication high quality paper is used and the printing is clear. The book can easily be laid flat next to the board and does not require weights to prevent it from “self-closing” (a particular bugbear of ours !). Each diagram is clear and the instructional text is typeset in two column format, which, we find, enables the reader to maintain their place easily. Figurine algebraic notation is used throughout and the diagrams are placed adjacent to the relevant text and each diagram has a “to move” indicator.

There is no index which, unfortunately, is a standard omission of Thinkers Publishing books. Also missing is a bibliography.

The main content is divided into eleven chapters organised into four parts :

  • Part I -Systems with g3 and Nh3
    • Chapter 1 – 5.Nh3
  • Part II – Systems with g3 and Nf3 (Classicial approach with …Be7
    • Chapter 2 – 7.Nc3
    • Chapter 3 – 7.b3
    • Chapter 4 – The Surprising 6…Ne4!?
  • Part III – Systems with g3 and Nf3 (Modern approach with Bd6
    • Chapter 5 7.Qc2
    • Chapter 6 7.b3
    • Chapter 7 7.Nbd2
  • Part IV – Other White setups
    • Chapter 8 – White plays d4, c4 and Nc3
    • Chapter 9 – White plays d4, Nf3 and e3
    • Chapter 10 – London System
    • Chapyter 11 – Irregular 3rd moves

The Stonewall Dutch has not hitherto had many books published about it. Popularised by Botvinnik it has found most support by club players rather than by elite Grandmasters. The well known structure for Black is typically :

arrived at by numerous move orders. In his Introduction the author emphasises the strategical nature of games played in this structure and its legendary reliability : perhaps viewed as a system to avoid losing rather than playing for a win. He goes on to layout the material covered.

The “Modernized” refers to an emphasis in which there is a more active set-up for Black :

rather than the older development on e7 :

As you can infer from the chapter titles the bulk of the book covers lines for White in which the f1 bishop is fianchettoed.

The approach of each chapter is to examine a variation move by move citing example games in sidenotes and the analysis is reinforced by an engine.

This is not a complete repertoire book on how to play the Dutch in general. The student will need to study and learn all of White’s popular second move alternatives such as

and

and, of course

to name but a few. However, there is a stand-alone chapter on

no doubt because of the London System’s huge popularity at club level in the last few years.

This book is ideal perhaps for someone who plays the Classical Dutch (or even the Lenningrad Dutch) who wishes to add the Stonewall to their repertoire. The treatment of the main lines in the Bd6 and Be7 Stonewalls is detailed and up-to-date as of 2020.

If you have never played the Dutch before (as Black) then this book forms the basis of your study with perhaps another Dutch book which covers the pesky second move alternatives. A common trick by Stonewall and Classical Dutch players (to circumvent some of these ideas) is to play 1…e6 rather than 1…f5 but, you will need to be happy playing the Black side of a French Defence after 2.e4.

Playing the Stonewall Dutch will add to your understanding of positional chess and strategy and, of course, Black has won many games with this weapon using a King side attack especially with the g pawn !

We like this book and so will you.

John Upham, Cove, Hampshire, 7th May, 2020

John Upham
John Upham

Book Details :

  • Hardcover : 198 pages
  • Publisher:  Thinkers Publishing; 01 edition (19 May 2020)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9492510731
  • ISBN-13: 978-9492510730
  • Product Dimensions: 17 x 23.5 cm

Official web site of Thinkers Publishing

The Modernised Stonewall Defence
The Modernised Stonewall Defence