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Unbeatable!: The Art of Defense

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

From the publishers’ blurb:

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

 

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

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

Chapter 1 doubles as the Introduction.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

25… Rd4!?

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

26. Ne2

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

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

26… Bc8 27. Nxd4 cxd4 28. Bf2?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is a striking example, from Moscow 1971.

In this position Korchnoi played:

16… Kh8!!

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

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

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

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

13… O-O-O!!

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

14. Qa4

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

14… Ne5

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

15. Kg2 Qe6

16. Qa7?!

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

16… Qf5!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Richard James, Twickenham 25th May 2022

Richard James
. Richard James

Book Details :

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

Official web site of Thinkers Publishing

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

110 Instructive Chess Annotations

From the back cover:

Senior International Master Mike Read competed 115 times for the England and Great Britain teams at correspondence chess, including playing on board one for England in the 13th Olympiad.

In this, his fourth book, he aims to instruct his readers by dissecting 110 games played by local players at all levels of chess. In doing so, he isolates typical mistakes and explains the methods of taking advantage of them.

Philidor wrote that pawns are the soul of chess. In one sense, yes, but in another sense  the soul of chess is the mass of club and tournament players, without whom the chess world wouldn’t function.  Yes, it might be inspirational to look at games played by top grandmasters, but it’s always been my view that club standard players will learn more from games played at their level than from GM games.

Mike Read shares my opinion. Here’s how he starts his introduction.

One of the surest ways for a club player to improve his playing ability is to study annotated games featuring players of similar strength to themselves. The mistakes, and the instructive methods of taking advantage of them, will be familiar to them from similar happenings in their own games. Meanwhile the notes to such moves will educate the aspiring player in both how to avoid typical errors, and also how to take advantage of them when it is his opponent who is unfortunate enough to err.

Mike was a strong junior in the 1970s who graduated to correspondence chess which he played with great success up to the year 2000, playing on top board for England and obtaining the title of Senior International Master. You don’t get to that level without being an excellent analyst.

He continues:

It is reasonable for the reader to enquire as to why my correspondence chess career ended at a time when I was still being reasonably successful. The truth is that, during the 1990s, I suffered three nervous breakdowns. I managed to continue to keep on competing during the first two of these and, in fact, had my most successful chess years during the second of them, even though I was barely capable of coping with even the simplest aspects of day to day life. However my third breakdown, which occurred in the period 1999 to 2000 was too much for me to deal with and I was forced to abruptly retire from the game that I love at the beginning of the new millennium.

I was in an absolutely desperate situation at this time, but chess was to prove to be a major factor in my eventual recovery. A number of local players, recognising the severity of the predicament that I was in, made a great effort to assist me and get me out of the house where I had been languishing alone for several months. I do not feel I would ever have recovered, had it not been for the support of the Norfolk chess community.

And again:

Contained within these pages are 110 games, played by Norfolk players of all strengths from superstars of local chess such as John Emms, Owen Hindle and Robert Bellin down to some of the county’s lower graded (but still very talented as you will see!) enthusiasts. All of the games I have included feature top quality opportunities for the aspiring player to learn a lot, and all also feature some very fine chess!

The book is published through Amazon: Mike Read is selling it as cost price as he has no interest in collecting royalties from its sales.

The games are presented, unusually, in ECO code order, so you get all the Sicilian Defence games, for example, together. The annotations, which were produced without computer assistance, are excellent, scoring highly for both clarity and accuracy as well as instructive value. Many readers will, like me, appreciate the human touch. If you look at the sample pages on Amazon you’ll get some idea of their flavour.

Most of them are tactical, often involving spectacular sacrifices, which will delight anyone (and that probably means all of us) who enjoys combinative play.

This was the first game Mike analysed. He witnessed it taking place and decided to annotate it to thank his friend Grant Turner, who had helped and supported him during his breakdown. (If you click on any move you’ll be able to play through the games in this review on a pop-up board.)

Another of Mike’s friends, Brian Cunningham, was responsible for the production of this book. In this game he demonstrates that the Stonewall Attack can be a potent weapon at lower club level.

At the other end of the spectrum, here’s a game played by Norfolk born GM John Emms.

I know many readers enjoy collections of games played at amateur level, finding them both more entertaining and more instructive than higher level encounters. If you’re one of these you’ll be entranced by this book.

There are also many readers who like to support authors who prefer to self-publish their books. An admirable sentiment, I think, and if you fall into this category, again you certainly won’t be disappointed.

The word that first comes to my mind when considering this book is ‘generous’. Mike Read generously offers this book at cost price. The size is generous, his tributes to his friends who saved his life after his third breakdown, scattered within the introductions to these games, are also generous. The annotations are also generous in every respect. Mike is generous in his comments about the winners’ play, and also, very often, about the losers’ play as well. You might think that a more critical approach might have made the annotations even more instructive, but this would have been out of place given that they were originally written for a local chess magazine.

Anyone rated between, say, 1000 and 2000 will certainly learn a lot from this book, but stronger players will also benefit. And anyone who just enjoys playing through entertaining games will, like me, fall in love with this book. Don’t be put off by the title, which makes it sound rather dull and didactic (didactic, perhaps, but certainly never dull), or the lack of an illustration on the front cover. It’s what’s inside the book that really matters.

At another level, the book is also a wonderful tribute to all Mike Read’s friends within the Norfolk chess community (a few of whom, sadly, are no longer with us), who helped him when he was going through a very difficult time. Many will find Mike’s story inspirational, and that, again, is a powerful reason why you should buy this book.

It’s my view, and I’m sure Mike, even though he was a chess champion himself, would agree, that, ultimately, chess is less about prodigies, champions and grandmasters, but about forging friendships and building communities of like-minded people who enjoy the excitement, beauty and cerebral challenge of chess.

I’d urge all readers of this review to do themselves a favour, and do Mike a favour as well, by buying a copy.  I really enjoyed this book, and I’m sure you will too. The Amazon link is here.

From https://mikereadsim.weebly.com/photos.html

 

 Richard James, Twickenham 11th May 2022

Richard James
. Richard James

Book Details:

  • ASIN ‏ : ‎ B09M791556
  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Independently published (25 Nov. 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 551 pages
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 979-8466415964
  • Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 12.85 x 3.18 x 19.84 cm

Official web site of Amazon Publishing

110 Instructive Chess Annotations, SIM Mike Read, Independently published (25 Jan. 2020), ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1708364748
110 Instructive Chess Annotations, SIM Mike Read, Independently published (25 Jan. 2020), ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1708364748

Modern Chess– From Steinitz to the 21st Century

Modern Chess– From Steinitz to the 21st Century, Craig Pritchett, Thinker's Publishing, 15th February 2022, ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 9464201436
Modern Chess– From Steinitz to the 21st Century, Craig Pritchett, Thinker’s Publishing, 15th February 2022, ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 9464201436

From the publishers’ blurb:

“The revolutionary Wilhelm Steinitz (1836-1900) considered himself to be in the vanguard of an emerging, late-19th century ‘Modern’ school, which embraced a new, essentially scientific vitality in its methods of research, analysis, evaluation, planning, experiment and even belligerent fight. Steinitz, who dominated the chess world in the shadow of a more directly attacking, openly tactical and combinative, so-called ‘romantic’ age, established a much firmer positional basis to chess. A pivotal change! This book follows that story, both before and beyond Steinitz’s early ‘modern’ era, focusing closely on the subtly varied ways in which the world’s greatest players in the last two centuries have thought about and played the game, moving it forward. The author reflects on all sixteen ‘classical’ world champions and others, notably: C-L. M. de la Bourdonnais, Adolf Anderssen, Paul Morphy, Siegbert Tarrasch, Aron Nimzowitsch, Richard Réti, Judit Polgar and the contemporary Artificial Intelligence phenomenon, AlphaZero. Be inspired by this exploration of the ‘modern’ game’s roots and trajectory!”

IM Craig William Pritchett, Courtesy of John Upham Photography
IM Craig William Pritchett, Courtesy of John Upham Photography

Craig Pritchett (b 1949) is a former national champion and international master (1976), who represented Scotland in nine Chess Olympiads (1966-1990), including four times on top board (1974-1980). Gold medal winner on top board for Scotland at the European Seniors (60+) Team Championship in 2011, he continues to compete regularly at Senior and Open events. Chess Correspondent for the Scottish newspaper The Herald (1972-2006) and East Lothian Life (since 2005), he has taught and written widely on chess, specialising latterly on the historical development of chess thought and the fascinatingly wide differences in players’ chess styles. A University of Glasgow graduate in Modern History and Politics and a Chartered Public Finance Accountant, he also worked for many years in UK central government audit. President of his local Dunbar Chess Club, he has also long been associated with three major chess clubs: Edinburgh West, Barbican 4NCL and SK Berlin-Zehlendorf.”

From the author’s introduction:

This book takes the reader on a journey from early 19th century developments in the game up to the present-day. 

And:

Today’s top players still borrow from the best games and ideas of past generations. Do join them!

I wrote this book primarily to explore, confirm and convey my own understanding of this grand sweep of chess history. 

What we’re offered here, then is a brief history of top level chess from 1834 to the present day, looking at both the development of chess ideas and the world championship itself. As you’d expect, the text is illustrated with games, annotated in a refreshingly straightforward fashion, and there are also a few photographs of the book’s heroes. An ambitious project, following in the footsteps of many other authors from Réti onwards. Not the first book of this type I’ve reviewed here either: but I wasn’t particularly impressed with this offering from two years ago.

We start then with Bourdonnais and McDonnell from 1834. Pritchett is impressed with their ‘calculating powers and creative imaginations’, and you will be too.

Most readers will have seen the extraordinary 62nd game before. I decided to ask Stockfish 14 to have a look. The notoriously hard to please engine was also impressed, but had one issue.

Here, Bourdonnais played 25… Qe3+, when 26. Rf2 would have held, according to both Pritchett and Stockfish. Pritchett also mentions that 25… Ba6 27. Qxa6 favours White: Stockfish 14 thinks Black’s winning after 27… e4!. A remarkable position which you might want to look at yourself. Perhaps Craig was using an older engine.

The theme of tactical brilliance continues with Anderssen, and, inevitably, we see the Immortal and Evergreen Games. Of course most readers will have seen them many times before, but there will always be those new to chess history who will relish witnessing them for the first time.

We then move onto Morphy and Steinitz, which is where the story becomes more complex and therefore more interesting. Pritchett is good at outlining Steinitz’s professionalism, opening research and patience at accumulating small advantages.

Pritchett describes this game as an early ‘hypermodern’ masterpiece, created decades before the term itself even existed, of a most insightful and visionary kind. (Click on any move of any game in this review for a pop-up board. I’ve used Stockfish 14 to annotate the games: readers might like to compare them with the author’s annotations in the book.)

This takes us into what, for me, is the strongest part of the book, covering the last few decades of the 19th and the first few decades of the 20th century. It’s excellent that Pritchett includes sections on Tarrasch and the Hypermoderns along with Lasker and the other world champions. Readers of Ray Keene’s masterpiece Aron Nimzowitsch: A Reappraisal will be aware that he wrote insightfully about the feud between these two players who had very different views about how chess should be played.

Almost half a century on, Keene’s contemporary Pritchett, takes a rather different approach, seeking to find a synthesis between the two. He quite rightly praises Tarrasch’s books Dreihundert Schachpartien and Die Moderne Schachpartie, although accepting that he could at times be over-dogmatic.

If you’ve never studied the games of the 1893 Tarrasch – Chigorin match do yourself a favour and have a look. One of the greatest matches in chess history, in my opinion.

Pritchett offers us the 4th game, although his annotations fail to point out Chigorin’s missed wins at moves 29 and 32.

Moving on from Tarrasch, via Lasker, to Nimzowitsch, Pritchett is just as complimentary about My System and Chess Praxis as he is about Tarrasch’s books, telling us that together they offer a wealth of insightful exposition of the new paths that the game was beginning to take in a post-classical era.

The contrasting champions Capablanca and Alekhine then follow, as stylistically different as Tarrasch and Nimzowitsch were in terms of their ideas and both interpreting their teachings in different ways.

Euwe only merits a very short chapter, and, as you might expect, the Pearl of Zandvoort, the Dutch champion’s most famous game, is demonstrated.

Botvinnik then takes us beyond the Second World War and into the latter half of the 20th century, at which point the tone of the book seems to undergo a gradual change.

As FIDE took over the organising the World Championship (with a break between 1993 and 2006) Pritchett’s narrative becomes more a list of world championship matches than a study of the development of ideas. We meet Smyslov, Tal, Petrosian and Spassky, four players with very different styles. Then, of course, Fischer, Karpov, Kasparov, Kramnik, Anand and Carlsen.

The book ends with chapters on Judit Polgar, understandable in these days where representation is considered so important, and Alpha Zero, whose games add a totally new dimension to the development of chess ideas.

Pritchett quotes this Petrosian game, along with a 1966 interview from Sovetsky Sport, in which Petrosian, when asked what he valued most in chess, replied with the word Logic. I like only those games where I have played in accordance with the demands of the position … logical “correct” play. Botvinnik and Smyslov might both have agreed, but Tal? Probably not.

A different approach might have been to consider the period from 1948 onwards through looking at openings rather than players. You could discuss, for instance, the increasing popularity and development of dynamic openings such as the Sicilian and King’s Indian Defences in the post-war years, followed by the effects brought about by computer usage from, say, 1990 onwards. You’d be looking at the world champions, but also players such as Bronstein and Larsen who also, like Tarrasch and Nimzowitsch in their day, had an impact on the development of chess.

It strikes me that the history of the world championship and the development of chess ideas are two very different, but obviously interconnected subjects. From my perspective as a student of chess history, this book rather falls between two stools. The first half is written more from the latter perspective and the second half more from the former perspective. Inevitably so, perhaps, given the difficulty of telling a long and complex story within the confines of a relatively slim book.

If you’re knowledgeable about chess history, you’ll be familiar with the stories and have seen most of the games before. But if you’re new to the subject, this book, which will appeal to players of all strengths, would be a good place to start. It’s accessible, well researched and written, with well annotated games and well produced, although with a few typos and errors which might have been picked up at proof stage. Not all the analysis stands up to the scrutiny of Stockfish 14 but for most readers that won’t matter. Recommended for those unfamiliar with the subject matter, but perhaps superfluous for those who will have seen most of it before.

Richard James, Twickenham 31st March 2022

Richard James
. Richard James

Book Details :

  • Softcover: 328 pages
  • Publisher: Thinkers Publishing; 1st edition (15 Feb. 2022)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:9464201436
  • ISBN-13: 978-9464201437
  • Product Dimensions: 17.02 x 2.29 x 23.37 cm

Official web site of Thinkers Publishing

Modern Chess– From Steinitz to the 21st Century, Craig Pritchett, Thinker's Publishing, 15th February 2022, ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 9464201436
Modern Chess– From Steinitz to the 21st Century, Craig Pritchett, Thinker’s Publishing, 15th February 2022, ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 9464201436

The Life and Games of Vasily Smyslov Volume I: The Early Years 1921-1948

The Life and Games of Vasily Smyslov Volume I: The Early Years 1921-1948, Andrey Terekhov, Russell Enterprises, 1 Dec. 2020, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1949859249
The Life and Games of Vasily Smyslov Volume I: The Early Years 1921-1948, Andrey Terekhov, Russell Enterprises, 1 Dec. 2020, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1949859249

From the publishers blurb:

“Vasily Smyslov, the seventh world champion, had a long and illustrious chess career. He played close to 3,000 tournament games over seven decades, from the time of Lasker and Capablanca to the days of Anand and Carlsen. From 1948 to 1958, Smyslov participated in four world championships, becoming world champion in 1957.

Smyslov continued playing at the highest level for many years and made a stunning comeback in the early 1980s, making it to the finals of the candidates’ cycle. Only the indomitable energy of 20-year-old Garry Kasparov stopped Smyslov from qualifying for another world championship match at the ripe old age of 63!

In this first volume of a multi-volume set, Russian FIDE master Andrey Terekhov traces the development of young Vasily from his formative years and becoming the youngest grandmaster in the Soviet Union to finishing second in the world championship match tournament. With access to rare Soviet-era archival material and invaluable family archives, the author complements his account of Smyslov’s growth into an elite player with dozens of fascinating photographs, many never seen before, as well as 49 deeply annotated games. German grandmaster Karsten Müller’s special look at Smyslov’s endgames rounds out this fascinating first volume.”

 

I’ve always considered  Vasily Smyslov (1921-2010) one of the more underrated world champions. I enjoy the combination of logic and harmony in his games along with his endgame expertise, so I was looking forward to reading this book.

Terekhov suggests in his introduction that Smyslov is arguably the least known of all world chess champions.

Perhaps the primary reason for Smyslov’s relative obscurity was his character. Smyslov was a reserved and deeply private man who did not strive for the spotlight.

And again…

Another factor was Smyslov’s playing style, which was classical and logical, but not necessarily flashy. To make a comparison, both Smyslov and Tal were world champions for only one year, but Tal won millions of fans for his dashing style and remains an iconic figure to this day, whereas Smyslov’s popularity largely waned after the period when he held the championship.

Up to now there have been few books, apart from those written by Smyslov himself, about his games, and they have limitations, partly because they were written in the pre-computer age and partly because they lacked biographical detail.

A few years ago, I decided to write a book that would fill in these blanks. Initially, it was conceived as a traditional best games collection, interspersed with a few biographical details. However, it quickly became apparent that Smyslov’s long chess career cannot be covered in a single volume. I amassed an extensive library of books, tournament bulletins and magazines which cover Smyslov’s chess career from the 1930s onwards. I also kept unearthing new material, including Smyslov’s manuscripts and letters.

What we have here, then, is the first volume of a hugely ambitious project, a combination of biography and best games collection, taking Smyslov’s career from his first competitive games in 1935 through to the 1948 World Championship Match-Tournament. A second volume will take the story up to 1957, when he became world champion, and further volumes will cover the remainder of his career, up to his last tournament games in the 21st century and the endgame studies he composed towards the end of his life.

What you don’t get is Smyslov’s complete games: you’ll need to look elsewhere if you want them.

The book comprises ten chapters, each covering a different part of Smyslov’s career. Each chapter in turn is divided into biography and games.

There are 49 complete games in this volume, all annotated in considerable depth. Terekhov has used an impressive range of sources: Smyslov’s own annotations, Soviet chess magazines and other contemporary sources, later commentators such as Kasparov, and skilfully combined these with computer analysis using today’s most powerful engines. Many annotators make the mistake of going overboard with reams of computer-generated variations, but Terekhov avoids this pitfall. While not everyone wants this sort of detail, the annotations in this book are some of the best I’ve read. A nice touch is that you also get brief biographical notes on his opponents.

The scope of the biographical sections, too, is impressive. There’s a lot of fascinating material from Soviet sources with which most readers will be unfamiliar. You’ll learn a lot from this, not just about Smyslov’s life, but also, in general, about how chess in the Soviet Union was promoted and organised in the 1930s and 1940s. You’ll expect full reports of the tournaments Smyslov played in, along with cross-tables. They’re all there, along with much more chess: many snapshots from games, some endgame  studies, all illustrated with a profusion of photographs, many of which will be new to most readers. There’s plenty there to keep every chess lover happy.

Let’s look at a couple of the snapshots.

Here’s a remarkable position from the game Panov – Smyslov 12th USSR Championship 1940 demonstrating his defensive skills.

Smyslov continued with the extraordinary 19… Nc6!!?.

This desperate move evokes the memories of Spassky’s famous Nb8-c6 in a strategically lost position against Averbakh (Leningrad 1956), but Smyslov came up with the idea 16 years earlier!

20. dxc6 bxc6 21. Ba4 Rcb8 22. Qxa3

At first glance, White is completely winning, as he is a bishop up and Black does not even have a single pawn to show for it. However, even the engine agrees that Black has some initiative in exchange for the piece, although far from full compensation. 

Smyslov eventually won this game after Panov blundered on move 41. If you buy the book you’ll see for yourself what happened.

In the 1941 USSR Absolute Championship, Smyslov found himself a pawn down in a minor piece ending against Lilienthal.

At some point, Smyslov took a brilliant, although practically risky decision to sacrifice both of his pieces for the remaining Black pawns. The game transposed to the following rare endgame, which was studied in great detail by the Russian composer Alexey Troitsky:

This position was evaluated by Troitsky as a draw and modern tablebases confirm this assessment. However, defending this position in practice is no fun, as a single bad move can lead to a forced mate. Smyslov managed to hold it and the game was agreed drawn on the 125th(!) move.

But there’s much more than chess in the biographical sections. The game was so popular in the Soviet Union that Smyslov received fanmail from young female admirers, some of which have survived. Here’s Klara, writing to her hero in 1941. Can you send me a photo of yourself, even if a tiny little one, but with your signature? If you cannot give it to me, please send it to me so I could take a look – I will return it. If you only knew how I want to see you, hear you talk – but alas – these are just dreams which cannot come to life for at least another year…

Most poignantly, we have a letter Smyslov wrote to the mother of his friend Bazya Dzagurov in 1942, asking for news of her son, who had been serving in the war. How are you doing? Do you have anyone left by your side? Is there any information about Bazya? I heard that you have not received letters from him for a long time, but I don’t know anything for certain. Please write to me about your life and let me know something about your son and my friend. Tragically, Dzaghurov had lost his life several months earlier.

Right at the end of the book there are a few bonuses. Chapter 11 introduces us to Smyslov’s wife Nadezhda Andreevna, Appendix A  covers the Smyslov System in the Grünfeld Defence, and Appendix B, contributed by GM Karsten Müller, tells us more about Smyslov’s Endgames.

Here are a couple of short game which you’ll find annotated in the book. Click on any move for a pop-up board.

Although Smyslov’s fame rests mainly on his positional and endgame skills, he could still play aggressively when the opportunity arose, and some of his earlier games featured here are quite complex.

In this game (Moscow Championship 1939) he scored a quick attacking victory against the now centenarian Averbakh.

Here’s a highly thematic game from the 1945 USSR Championship.

I’ve said before that we’re living in a golden age of chess literature. There are several reasons for this, two of which are relevant to this book. Firstly, we have much greater access to archive material than ever before, and, secondly, powerful modern engines ensure accurate analysis. This is an outstanding and important work which should be on the shelves of anyone with any interest at all in chess history. Excellent writing, painstaking research and exemplary annotations, along with first class production values (barring the inevitable one or two typos and errors): the book is an attractive and sturdy hardback which will look good in any library.

Congratulations are due to Andrey Terekhov, and also to Russell Enterprises. Very highly recommended. I can’t wait to read the next volume in the series.

Richard James, Twickenham 3rd March 2022

Richard James
Richard James

Book Details :

  • Hardcover : 536 pages
  • Publisher: Russell Enterprises (1 December 2020)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:194985924X
  • ISBN-13:978-1949859249
  • Product Dimensions: 15.24 x 2.54 x 22.86 cm

Official web site of Russell Enterprises

The Life and Games of Vasily Smyslov Volume I: The Early Years 1921-1948, Andrey Terekhov, Russell Enterprises, 1 Dec. 2020, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1949859249
The Life and Games of Vasily Smyslov Volume I: The Early Years 1921-1948, Andrey Terekhov, Russell Enterprises, 1 Dec. 2020, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1949859249

Beat the Anti-Sicilians

Beat the Anti-Sicilians, Robert Ris, Thinker's Publishing, 11th Jan 2022, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9464201369
Beat the Anti-Sicilians, Robert Ris, Thinker’s Publishing, 11th Jan 2022, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9464201369

From the publisher:

“I have aimed to find a good balance of verbal explanations without ignoring the hardcore variations you have to know. In case you find some of the analyses a bit too long, don’t be discouraged! They have been included mainly to illustrate the thematic ideas and show in which direction the game develops once the theoretical paths have been left. That’s why I have actually decided to cover 37 games in their entirety, rather than cutting off my analysis with an evaluation. I believe that model games help you to better understand an opening, but certainly also the ensuing middle- and endgames.”

IM Robert Ris
IM Robert Ris

“Robert Ris (1988) is an International Master from Amsterdam. He has represented The Netherlands in various international youth events, but lately his playing activities are limited to league games.

Nowadays he is a full-time chess professional, focusing on teaching in primary schools, coaching talented youngsters and giving online lessons to students all around the world. He has recorded several well received DVDs for ChessBase.

Since 2015 he has been the organizer of the Dutch Rapid Championships. This is his fourth book for Thinkers Publishing, his first two on general chess improvement ‘Crucial Chess Skills for the Club Player‘, being widely appraised by the press and his audience.”

End of blurb.

In July 2021 we reviewed The Modern Sveshnikov by the same author and publisher. Robert sees his new book as a companion volume to the Sveshnikov volume. Indeed these two volumes taken together form a Black repertoire against 1.e4 using the Sicilian Sveshnikov.

This of course raised an issue with the book’s title. When we first received this book we were puzzled that only 2…Nc6 was considered (and why not 2…e6, 2…d6 etc.) which would be odd for a book suggesting it was for the second player dealing with the non-open Sicilian lines. The Preface clarified our confusion.

As with every recent Thinkers Publishing publication high quality paper is used and the printing is clear. With this title we return to the matt paper of previous titles. (You might have noticed from previous reviews that we encourage the use of the more satisfying glossy paper!)

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. The diagram captions have returned.

There is no full Index or Index of Variations (standard practise for Thinker’s Publishing) but, despite that, content navigation is relatively straightforward as the Table of Contents is clear enough.  However, we welcome an Index of Games.

Here are the main Parts:

  1. Rossolimo Variation
  2. Alapin Variation
  3. Anti-Sveshnikov Systems
  4. Odds and Ends

and here is an excerpt in pdf format.

A small  plea to the publishers: Please consider adding an Index of Variations! We say this because of highly detailed level of analysis.

So, the first thing to bear in mind is that Black wishes to play the Sveshnikov Variation and therefore will play 2..Nc6 if possible. Chapter 1 therefore starts with:

which is the most popular and critical black choice in the Rossolimo. Part I is then subdivided into four chapters:

  1. 4.Bxc6
  2. 4.0-0 Bg7 5.Re1
  3. 4.0-0 Bg7 5.-
  4. 4.c3

We note an error in the above entry in the Table of Contents which has 4…g6 instead of 4…Bg7 and the publishers acknowledge this error. 4.0-0 is the most popular alternative and then the capture and 4.c3 trails in third place.

The treatment of the material (for all Parts and Chapters) is by way of 36 (the Preface states 37) complete model games analysed in depth until around move 20 – 25 at which point the remainder of the moves are given without comment. This pattern is repeated throughout and is a successful one.

It might have been entertaining to pitch these chapters against the recent Rossolimo work by Ravi Haria but you will have to buy both books to amuse yourself in this way!

(from the aforementioned title:

Section 5 covers 3…g6 which is arguably the critical continuation. The author offers two different systems against this line: either capturing on c6 immediately or playing 4.0-0 and 5.c3.

so clearly both authors agree and identify 3…g6 4.bxc6 and 4.0-0 as the lines for student study.

Having examined the Rossolimo, which occupies the bulk of the content, we move onto the perhaps less critical but popular Alapin variation in Part II which, following,

is subdivided into three chapters viz:

  1. 4.Nf3 Nc6 5.d4
  2. 4.Nf3 Nc6 5.Bc4
  3. Other Systems

The “Other Systems” include a) d4 cxd4 5.Qxd4 and 5.Bc4 plus
b) 4.g3

Curiously the third most popular fourth move of 4.Bc4 (a favourite of Mamedyarov) is not given independent treatment but this omission is probably not too troublesome.

Part III, Anti-Sveshnikov Systems consists of four chapters:

  1. Various Anti-Sveshnikov
  2. Grand Prix Attack
  3. 2.Nc3 Nc6 and 3. Bb5
  4. Closed Sicilian

with Chapter 8, Various Anti-Sveshnikov breaking down into:

  1. a) 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d3
  2. b) 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3
  3. c) 2.Nc3 Nc6 3.Nge2

of which a), The King’s Indian Attack is more likely to be seen at club level.

Again, an interesting exercise would be to take some of content of this book and put it up against the suggestions of Gawain Jones in his Coffeehouse Repertoire 1.e4 Volume 1. An exercise for the student! We’ve always imagined a tournament based on books ‘playing’ each other could have some academic merit.

Finally, we find ourselves in Part IV, Odds and Ends which covers exotic 2nd move (after 1.e4 c5) alternatives for White namely:

  1. 2.g3
  2. 2.b3
  3. 2.b4
  4. 2.a3
  5. 2.Be2

with a model game each. One could be picky and ask about 2.Ne2, 2.d3 but these are fairly transpositional.

However, for a repertoire book arguably there is at least one glaring omission and that is 2.d4, The Morra Gambit.  We looked in the Alapin section for potential transpositions but without luck.

This book is a welcome addition to the author’s companion volume and provides a fine repertoire based around the Sveshnikov. As a bonus players of the Accelerated Dragon and Kalashnikov variants will also find material of benefit.  More than that players of any flavour of Sicilian will find useful material in Part IV.

Enjoy!

John Upham, Cove, Hampshire, 26th January, 2022

John Upham
John Upham

Book Details :

  • Hardcover : 248 pages
  • Publisher: Thinkers Publishing; 1st edition (11 Jan. 2022)
  • Language:English
  • ISBN-10:9464201363
  • ISBN-13:978-9464201369
  • Product Dimensions: 17.15 x 2 x 23.5 cm

Official web site of Thinkers Publishing

Beat the Anti-Sicilians, Robert Ris, Thinker's Publishing, 11th Jan 2022, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9464201369
Beat the Anti-Sicilians, Robert Ris, Thinker’s Publishing, 11th Jan 2022, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9464201369

Your Jungle Guide to 1.d4!: Aggressive Enterprise – QGA and Minors

Your Jungle Guide to 1.d4! - Volume 1A: Aggressive Enterprise - QGA and Minors, Vassilios Kotronias and Mikhail Ivanov, Thinkers Publishing, 21 Dec. 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9464201239
Your Jungle Guide to 1.d4! – Volume 1A: Aggressive Enterprise – QGA and Minors, Vassilios Kotronias and Mikhail Ivanov, Thinkers Publishing, 21 Dec. 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9464201239

From the publisher:

“Grandmasters Kotronias and Ivanov are renowned as leading theoreticians and chess trainers. They offer a unique and world-class repertoire based on 1.d4! They advocate an ambitious approach for White, with the aim to fight for an advantage in any position. This is their first joint effort; they tackle the ever-popular Queen’s Gambit Accepted and their sidelines in Volume 1A and 1B.

We at Thinkers believe their job could not have been done any better.”

 Flickr Vasilios Kotronias | Photo by Niki Riga | Gibraltar International Chess Festival | Flickr

Flickr
Vasilios Kotronias | Photo by Niki Riga | Gibraltar International Chess Festival | Flickr

“Vassilios Kotronias was born in 1964 and is the first Greek Grandmaster. He is a former top-50 player and has represented both Greece and Cyprus in many chess Olympiads, mostly on the 1st board. He has also authored several chess books, his most notable work being a 5-Volume work on the King’s Indian Defense.

He has been extraordinarily successful in individual competitions overall, winning prestigious events such as Gibraltar, Hastings, Capelle la Grande (in a tie) and numerous other closed and open tournaments. He did qualify several times for FIDE’s knock-out World Cup tournament and participated often in European Individual Championships, as well as club events. He won trophies with prestigious chess clubs in the leagues of Greece, Serbia, Italy, Sweden, Hungary etc.

As a trainer he has coached the Greek National team and strong world class players like Alexei Shirov, Veselin Topalov and Nigel Short. ”

Mikhail Ivanov, was born in 1969, Bryansk, Russia.

He earned his Grandmaster title in 1993 and won countless chess events in the European chess circuits. We remember him being among the winners of one the largest opens in Europe (the Neckar Open, now better known as the Grenke Chess Open), 2002 with L.Aronian and winning this event in 1998. He played for several different European clubs in the Bundesliga, Austria, Iceland, Finland, France, Belgium, Luxemburg, Czech Republic, etc. During the European Club Championship in Ohrid (2009), he took 3rd place on the 2nd board. He mainly focused now on coaching and writing.”

End of blurb.

As with every recent Thinkers Publishing publication high quality paper is used and the printing is clear. With this title we return to the excellent glossy paper of previous titles.

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.

There is no Index or Index of Variations (standard practise for Thinker’s Publishing) but, despite that, content navigation is relatively straightforward as the Table of Contents is clear enough.

Here are the main chapters:

  1. Chigorin
  2. Albin Gambit
  3. Baltic Ultimate
  4. Mamedyarov System
  5. Queen’s Gambit Accepted 3.e4 c5
  6. Queen’s Gambit Accepted 3.e4 b5

and here is an excerpt in pdf format.

The first thing to notice is that this is a repertoire book from the perspective of the first player and that it is designated Volume 1A. Volume 1B will treat the remainder of the QGA repertoire for White and later to be published volumes 2-5 will cover the other lines for White. Eventually there will be six volumes (1A, 1B, 2, 3, 4 and 5) in total.

So, clearly this is part of an ambitious project going into immense detail suited to the active tournament player and the project is to provide an active repertoire for White based around 1. d4 and 2. c4 where possible. Reviewing the repertoire based around one out of six volumes is, of course, not possible.

Interestingly Kotronias is usually a 1.e4 player and declares that he was motivated to

dive into new waters

for this project whereas Ivanov is almost the opposite with 616 games starting 1.d4, 447 with 1.Nf3 and 78 with 1.c4 which makes for an unusual collaboration.

Chapter 1 kicks-off with the Chigorin Defence with 3.Nf3! being recommended:

which fits in nicely also with someone who plays a 2.Nf3 or even 1.Nf3 move order. 3.Nf3 is the most popular move in Megabase 2022 with 4704 games just edging out 3. Nc3 and 3. cxd5.

Of course 3…Bg4 IS the main line but for the sake of completeness we would have included 3…e5 (as played by Morozevich) with at least a mention as it is very much in the spirit of the Chigorin.

The most interesting point in this line is what should White play here:

boiling down to the eternal motif of

Which rook?

and the authors spend considerable effort looking at these two (plus the curious 10.Bg2!?) options. In the main the early analysis is verbose and rich with explanation. To find out if 10.Rg1 or 10.Rb1 receives the ultimate seal of approval you will need to purchase the book. The analysis at say move 10 onwards is highly detailed but also with helpful explanation.

So, if you are new to the Chigorin (or not) with White the depth is excellent.

Chapter 2 visits that club player favourite, the Albin Counter-Gambit:

and we get to the tabiya of

where all of Black’s sensible options are discussed in depth.

The Baltic (or Grau) Defence is the next subject of discussion and this time the authors put the proverbial cat amongst the pigeons with the off-the-wall suggestion of 3.Qb3!?

which certainly wastes no time in hitting the Baltic’s Achilles heel, the b7 pawn. 3.Qb3!? scores 61.4% over 243 games and is preferred by Sokolov and Novikov. The authors follow 3.Qb3!? with the more main stream 3.cxd5! as the main repertoire recommendation.

It is not often we encounter a new opening name and the Mamedyarov System meant nothing to us before we looked it up. This would appear to be their new name for what chess.com classifies as the Austrian Defence:

which Shakhriyar Mamedyarov has essayed 51 times scoring a noteworthy 63.7% with the Black pieces, The authors utilise 18 pages on this unusual choice so that White players will not be caught unawares.

The remaining chapters cover 1. d4 d5; 2.c4 dxc4; 3.e4 with either 3…c5 or 3..b5 from pages 126 – 319 which is a stunning amount of analysis and detail.

Noteworthy is that Duda used one of the authors TNs in his 2022 game with Sergei Karjakin at Wijk aan Zee to good effect:

 

and the full game was:

 

Seeing as this is merely part 1 of a projected 6 parts we have a feeling this could easily be described as an epic series of tomes. It remains to be seen what is included and what, if any, lines are omitted. The level of coverage is unusually flexible in that it caters for players new to lines and then provides a huge level of detail.

We very much look forward to receiving the rest of the series.

A small  plea to the publishers: Please consider adding an Index of Variations! We say this because of highly detailed level of analysis. A minor observation is the enthusiastic sprinkling of !s after moves: clearly this is a matter of taste.

John Upham, Cove, Hampshire, 22nd January, 2022

John Upham
John Upham

Book Details :

  • Hardcover : 430 pages
  • Publisher: Thinkers Publishing; 1st edition (21 Dec. 2021)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9464201231
  • ISBN-13: 978-9464201239
  • Product Dimensions: 17.15 x 2 x 23.5 cm

Official web site of Thinkers Publishing

Your Jungle Guide to 1.d4! - Volume 1A: Aggressive Enterprise - QGA and Minors, Vassilios Kotronias and Mikhail Ivanov, Thinkers Publishing, 21 Dec. 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9464201239
Your Jungle Guide to 1.d4! – Volume 1A: Aggressive Enterprise – QGA and Minors, Vassilios Kotronias and Mikhail Ivanov, Thinkers Publishing, 21 Dec. 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9464201239

Mastering Chess Logic

Mastering Chess Logic, Joshua Sheng, Guannan Song, Everyman Chess, 10th September 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1781946237
Mastering Chess Logic, Joshua Sheng, Guannan Song, Everyman Chess, 10th September 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1781946237

Here is the publishers blurb from the rear cover :

“What exactly makes the greatest players of all time, such as Magnus Carlsen, Bobby Fischer, and Garry Kasparov stand out from the rest? The basic aspects of chess (calculation, study of opening theory, and technical endgame ability) are of course of great importance. However, the more mysterious part of chess ability lies within the thought process.”

In particular: * How does one evaluate certain moves to be better than others? * How does one improve their feel of the game? This book will tackle this woefully underexplored aspect of chess: the logic behind the game. It will explain how chess works at a fundamental level. Topics include:

  • What to think about when evaluating a position.
  • How to formulate and execute plans.
  • How to generate and make use of the initiative.

The reader also has plenty of opportunities to test their decision-making by attempting 270 practical exercises. These are mostly designed to develop understanding, as the justification of the moves is more important than the actual correct answer.”

and about the authors :

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

Joshua Sheng Joshua Sheng is an International Master with one Grandmaster norm from Santa Monica, California. He tied for first in the 2016 North American Junior Chess Championships and placed third in the 2019 U.S. Junior Chess Championships. He graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, in 2021. Joshua has been a serious chess coach for many years, and this is his first book.

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

The book consists of six chapters viz:

  1. Building Blocks
  2. Know What You Have
  3. Mise en Place
  4. The Big Game
  5. Beginning and End
  6. Solutions

A video review has appeared on YouTube.

Before going further you may Look Inside via Amazon.

 

The authors might not be very well known to you, so perhaps we should find out more.

The publishers tell us that ‘Joshua has been a serious chess coach for many years’ and that ‘Guannan is an experienced chess coach’.  But according to FIDE Joshua was born in 2000 and Guannan in 1998. They haven’t been alive many years, let alone been serious chess coaches for many years. Some of us have been teaching chess (although in my case not very seriously) since 1972. Not only before they were born,  but perhaps even before their parents were born.

Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and take a look inside.

From the authors’ introduction:

This book will be arranged primarily into sections where games will be analysed and your authors will talk. The talking and exposition will predominantly be done in the first person to ease communication. The beliefs and opinions held will generally be shared by both authors, although the primary voice will be Joshua’s. At the end of each of the first four chapters, there will be 30 practical exercises intending to reinforce your  understanding of the relevant topics. Chapter 5 will consist of another 150 exercises representing a more comprehensive synthesis of the explored material and are designed to test your overall knowledge and understanding. For the most part, we have intentionally avoided mentioning the end result or the game continuation after the point of interest from those exercises, as doing so might distract the reader from the primary point of them – developing your understanding. What matters is the decision-making process at the critical position shown in each puzzle.

What we have here is a book aimed mainly, I would say, at players between about 1500 and 2000 strength, although many of the puzzles demonstrate much stronger players making poor decisions.

It’s relatively easy, I suppose, to write books about openings, tactics or endings, but strategy, being a rather nebulous topic, is much harder to write about.

Other recent books, for example those by Erik Kislik, have discussed logic in chess, but these have, for the most part, been aimed at higher rated players.

There have been other books looking at strategy at this level – an excellent and much quoted example is Michael Stean’s book Simple Chess. The authors have also used Jeremy Silman’s rightly popular How to Reassess your Chess and make frequent references to imbalances in their explanatory material. These days we’re very much into interactive learning, so we expect quizzes to be incorporated so that we can test our understanding of the book’s content.

This book, then, looks like it fills a gap in the market as an interactive instructional book on logic and strategy for club standard players.

The first chapter, Building Blocks, introduces the reader to some basic concepts: material (including compensation), piece activity, piece improvement, pawn structure and space. In each case a few simple examples are provided, which are aimed more at 1500 than 2000 rated players.

Then, we move onto some quiz questions to test your understanding. All the puzzle positions in this book have been taken from games played between 2019 and 2021, so it’s very unlikely that you’ll have seen many – or any – of them before.

Here’s the first question, with Black to play (Arabidze – Jojua, Tblisi 2019). What would you recommend?

The answer (in part):

20… Bh6!

Black finds a great opportunity to force a trade of dark-squared bishops, getting rid of his weak blunted piece on g7 and its strong counterpart on e3. A lax move like 20… Ke7? would lose the opportunity to trade bishops after 21. Bf2. 

Of course you also have to see that Bxc4 fails tactically. There’s an assumption throughout the book that you have a reasonable level of tactical ability.

Chapter 2, Know What You Have, looks at positional evaluations. The authors use the acronym MAPS (Material, Activity, Pawn structure and king Safety) to lead you to your desired destination. This is taught by means of four games. We have Botvinnik – Capablanca (Netherlands 1938), which, if you’ve read a lot of chess books, you’ll have seen many times before, followed by Geller – Euwe (Zurich 1953), which again you may well have seen on many previous occasions. The chapter concludes with two recent games played by Joshua Sheng.

In Q35 (Grinberg – Ipatov, chess.com 2021) it’s again Black’s move.

In this instance Black got it wrong.

17… Be5?

Black protects his d6-pawn but gives away his two-bishop advantage. 17… Re6! was a greatly superior way to continue. A subsequent …Qe8 would place insurmountable pressure on e4. After 18. Rbd1 Qe8 19. Qb3 b5 20. Bxd6 c4 Black retains the bishop pair, recovers the pawn on the next move, and maintains pressure on White’s position.

Chapter 3, Mise En Scene, talks about identifying candidate moves, using a combination of calculation and evaluation. So they’re been reading Kotov as well as Silman, then? This time we have five example games: three from Sheng, plus Fischer – Spassky 1972 Game 6 (like Botvinnik – Capablanca, one of the most anthologised games of all time) and Tal – Rantanen from 1979.

In Chapter 4, The Big Game, we look at the initiative. The games are Kasparov – Andersson from 1981, Hydra – Ponomariov from 2005, and another three from Sheng.

Here’s one of them. (Click on any move for a pop-up window.)

Chapter 5 offers the reader 150 puzzles based on the lessons from earlier in the book.

Here’s another question: Q243 (Wall – Greet, Dublin 2019). It’s Black’s move again.

This is yet another question to do with trading bishops. Here, Richmond top board IM Gavin Wall chose to trade off his bad bishop, but this time he was mistaken.

19. Bc1?

At a glance, White holds a space advantage and control over the c-file. However, with this move, White starts to remove important defenders from his d4-pawn, giving Black a way back into the game. Though it looks like White is trading away a bad bishop for Black’s good bishop, the white bishop on b2 is actually a strong defensive piece. Better was 19. Bd3!, preparing h3-g4 or Nc3-Bxf5-Nxd5.

There’s a lot to admire about this book. There are very few books of this nature on the market providing interactive strategic instruction for club level players. As a 1900-2000 player myself I thought it was pitched at the right level for me, and would be accessible, if challenging, for ambitious and hard-working players from, say, 1500 upwards. The positions have been expertly chosen and the solutions are well explained giving just the right level of detail.

Having said that, introducing Chapters 2-4 through a seemingly fairly random selection of games (a combination of old chestnuts which many readers will have seen before and games by one of the authors) is not the only way to approach this topic. A different approach would have been to provide more specific advice and demonstrate some worked examples with more detailed explanations of thought processes before moving onto the quiz questions.

Again, another approach to questioning which would make the book more suitable for 1500 strength players (but perhaps less suitable for 2000 strength players) would have been to ask leading questions or provide multiple choices rather than just asking you for the next move.

The authors write engagingly and annotate well: I look forward to reading more from them in the future. If the concept appeals, and you think from the examples that it’s written at the right level for you, this book can be warmly recommended. As usual from Everyman, the publishing standards are exemplary.

 

Richard James, Twickenham 18th January 2022

Richard James
Richard James

Book Details :

  • Paperback : 256 pages
  • Publisher: Everyman Chess (10 Sept. 2021)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 178194623X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1781946237
  • Product Dimensions: 17.15 x 1.5 x 24.18 cm

Official web site of Everyman Chess

Mastering Chess Logic, Joshua Sheng, Guannan Song, Everyman Chess, 10th September 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1781946237
Mastering Chess Logic, Joshua Sheng, Guannan Song, Everyman Chess, 10th September 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1781946237