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How to Study Chess on Your Own

How to Study Chess on Your Own, Davorin Kuljasevic, New in Chess, June 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9056919313
How to Study Chess on Your Own, Davorin Kuljasevic, New in Chess, June 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9056919313

From the publisher:

“Every chess player wants to improve, but many, if not most, lack the tools or the discipline to study in a structured and effective way. With so much material on offer, the eternal question is: “”How can I study chess without wasting my time and energy?””

Davorin Kuljasevic provides the full and ultimate answer, as he presents a structured study approach that has long-term improvement value. He explains how to study and what to study, offers specific advice for the various stages of the game and points out how to integrate all elements in an actionable study plan. How do you optimize your learning process? How do you develop good study habits and get rid of useless ones? What study resources are appropriate for players of different levels? Many self-improvement guides are essentially little more than a collection of exercises.

Davorin Kuljasevic reflects on learning techniques and priorities in a fundamental way. And although this is not an exercise book, it is full of instructive examples looked at from unusual angles. To provide a solid self-study framework, Kuljasevic categorizes lots of important aspects of chess study in a guide that is rich in illustrative tables, figures and bullet points. Anyone, from casual player to chess professional, will take away a multitude of original learning methods and valuable practical improvement ideas.”

“Davorin Kuljasevic is an International Grandmaster born in Croatia. He graduated from Texas Tech University and played in USCL 2007 and 2008 for Dallas Destiny, the team that became US champion in both these years. He is an experienced coach and a winner of many tournaments.”

GM Davorin Kuljasevic
GM Davorin Kuljasevic

‘Study’ is the operative word here.

When I was learning chess in the 1960s and playing fairly seriously in the 1970s, chess wasn’t something you studied unless you were a top grandmaster. I’d play in club matches and tournaments. I’d read books and magazines because I enjoyed reading them, and, if I learnt something as well then so much the better. It wasn’t anything resembling serious study as you might study a subject at university. In those days, of course, you didn’t have a lot of opportunity to do much else.

In those days we couldn’t have imagined having a multi-million game database and a computer program capable of playing far better than any human on our desk, or being able to play a game at any time against opponents from anywhere in the world.

It’s not surprising, then, that ambitious players at any level are, if they have the time, keen to raise their rating by studying chess seriously.

We also know a lot more than we did, even 20 or 30 years ago, about the teaching and learning processes: lessons that can be applied to chess just as they can to other domains.

In the past, chess books told you what you should learn. Now, we’re seeing books, like this one, that teach you HOW you should learn. There’s a big difference.

Let’s start, controversially, at the end.

Chapter 9: Get organized – create a study plan

The author advises us to create a weekly timetable. Table 9.1 is based on the assumption that you’re at school in the morning, when you can spend 3 hours every afternoon and 2 hours every evening studying chess.

In my part of the world, if you’re an older teen you’re probably going to be at school in the afternoon as well as the morning, and have three hours of homework to do when you get home. Not to mention family commitments, other interests, hanging out with friends, eating, sleeping… I wonder how many chess players actually have time to study 4-5 hours a day, or even 1-2 hours a day, on a regular basis. On the other hand, 12-year-old Abhi Mishra, who has just become the youngest ever Grandmaster, spends at least 12 hours a day studying chess.

Returning to the Preface, the author anticipates your question: who will benefit the most from this book? “In my view, it would be self-motivated players of any level and age who are serious and disciplined about their chess study and have enough time to put the methods from the book into practice.”

If you fall into this category, read on. Even if you don’t: if you only have an hour or two a week to study, rather than 4-5 hours a day, you might still learn a lot.

What we have is 9 chapters looking at different aspects of studying chess, each concluding with a helpful list of bullet points. It’s not just a book of technical advise on how to study, though.  There’s a lot of chess in there as well, mostly taken from games you probably won’t have seen before. The first eight chapters have, as is the case with many books from this publisher, some exercises for you to solve, based on the most interesting positions from the chapter. The tactics and middle-game chapters also have questions for you to answer: do they tally with the author’s solutions given in Chapter 10?

In Chapter 1, the author asks “Do you study with the right mindset?”. Now, he doesn’t mean mindset in this sense, although that will come in useful. Instead, he suggests that mastering chess requires both time and intelligent study. There’s no substitute for study time. He quotes the example of English GM Jonathan Hawkins, only an average club player at 18, but through hard work, much of which involved with studying endings, became a GM by the age of 31.

A proper chess study mindset means, in Alekhine’s words, ‘a higher goal than a one-moment satisfaction’. Four typical mistakes are: lack of objectivity, shallow study approach, short-run outlook and playing too much. Kuljasevic talks about the correct balance between playing and studying. He quotes Botvinnik as saying that chess cannot be taught, only learned, which he interprets as meaning that everyone learns in a different way, and that it’s you, rather than your coach, who will make yourself a stronger player.

Kuljasevic was shocked to read a well known GM’s coaching advert: “I have produced numerous top-level players”. “Excuse me, but chess players are not ‘produced’! Every chess player’s learning process is their unique experience that cannot be replicated on someone else.”

These days there are many study methods available, and Chapter 2 provides a guide to fifteen you might consider, and giving them all scores out of 5 for practical relevance, study intensity and long-term learning potential. The three methods which score a maximum of three fives are Deep Analysis, Simulation (pretending to play a real game by guessing the next move) and Sparring (playing a pre-arranged game or match with a training partner for a specific reason).

As an example of what is meant by Deep Analysis, this is Aronian – Anand (Zurich 2014) with Black to play. Anand played 58… Ke7 here, but Re1+ would have been a more stubborn defence. Kuljasevic wanted to prove that White can always win positions of this type, and here spends seven pages doing just that.

Of course such an approach won’t suit everyone, but this chapter will help all readers determine the most useful methods for them. The point is not so much the relevance or otherwise of this particular ending, but the process itself used to analyse it.

Chapter 3 is about identifying your study priorities. At this point the author divides his readership into five categories:

  1. Intermediate player (1500-1800 Elo)
  2. Advanced player (1800-2100 Elo)
  3. Improving youngster (1900-2200 Elo)
  4. Master-level player (2100-2400 Elo)
  5. Strong titled player (2400+ Elo)

He suggests that, in general, you should spend 10% of your time on openings, 25% on tactics 25% on endgames, 20% on middlegames and 20% on general improvement. What proportion of your study time do you spend on openings? I thought so!

He then makes suggestions about how readers in each category might prioritise their studies.

If you’re an intermediate player you should concentrate on improving your tactical and endgame skills, while choosing a simple opening repertoire. Once you reach 1800 strength you can start working on more strategically complex openings. Club standard players should spend a large proportion of their time studying endings (Jonathan Hawkins would agree, as would Keith Arkell) and players of all levels would benefit from solving endgame studies on a regular basis.

Chapter 4 is about choosing the right resources for your study plan. Here we have a list of online resources: chess websites, the categories for which they are suitable, and, in each cases, the specific study opportunities they offer. Then we look at the best websites for each of the study methods from Chapter 2. An extensive list of recommended books for each of the five categories of player from Chapter 3 follows, arranged by subject matter. The books include classics by authors such as Alekhine, Spielmann and Chernev as well as more recent books. GM Grivas is quoted: “Reading the autobiographical games collections of great past players is like taking lessons with some of the greatest players in history”.  Unlike Kuljasevic, I’m not convinced that Chernev’s Logical Chess, excellent though it is for novices, is suitable for anyone much over 1800, though. There’s also some very useful advice on the best way to use ChessBase and other database software.

Chapters 5 to 8 each focus on one specific aspect of chess: openings, tactics, endings and middlegames.

Chapter 5 tells you how to study your openings deeply. The author starts with a warning: “I have met many people, and I’m sure you have, too, who have fallen into the trap of spending too much time studying openings. If they were to study other aspects of the game as zealously as openings, I am sure that they would be more complete, creative, and, most likely, stronger chess players. Young players and their coaches should especially keep this in mind.” He quotes, with approval, Portisch’s opinion: “Your only task in the opening is to reach a playable middle game”, and advises simplicity and economy when deciding on your openings. The study material in this chapter, then, is more suited for master level players and above.

This, for example, is an example of a ‘static tabiya’: you may well recognise it as coming from the Breyer Variation of the Ruy Lopez.

“This is one of the most well-known opening tabiyas, not only in the Ruy Lopez, but in chess in general. Over 1000 tournament games have been played from this position, from the club to the super-GM level. There is something appealing about this static type of structure for both sides as it contains a lot of potential for creative strategic play. I would like to present my brief analysis of a fairly rare idea: 17. Be3!?”

17. Bg5 is usually played here, meeting 17… h6 with Be3, happy to spend a move weakening the black king’s defences. Be3 has a different attacking plan in mind: Nf3-h2-g4-h6+ and possibly also Qf3. This is discussed over 3½ pages: I think you have to be a very stong player with a lot of study time available to go into this sort of detail, though.

Chapter 6 advises you to ‘Dynamize’ your tactical training. We’re all used to solving puzzles where we play combinations to win material or checkmate the enemy king. We could do more than that, though, by studying dynamic positions, complicated, double-edged tactical positions and positional sacrifices. We can also improve our tactical imagination by solving endgame studies and problems.

At the end of this chapter we get the chance to take a tactics test: “20 exercises consisting of tactical puzzles, positions for analysis, endgame studies, and problems for the development of dynamics and imagination”.

It’s Black’s move in this tactical puzzle. Your challenge is to solve it blindfold.

This is taken from Xie Jun – Galliamova (Women’s World Championship 1999). Black played 30… Qc7 here and eventually lost. She should have preferred 30… Qc8! (Nd2+ also wins) 31. Rc1 Qg4!, an attractive geometric motif winning either rook or queen.

Here, by contrast, is an endgame study, composed by FK Amelung in 1907. It’s White to play and win. Again, you’re challenged to solve it without moving the pieces.

The solution is 1. Rd8+ Ke1 2. Re8+ Kd2 3. Nc3! c1Q+ 4. Nb1+ Kd1 5. Rd8+ Ke1 6. Rf8! and wins.

There’s a lot more to tactics training than sac, sac, mate!

Studying endings can seem rather dull, so it’s good to know that Chapter 7 tells you how to make your endgame study more enjoyable.  Kuljasevic advises that, instead of reading books from beginning to end you look at practical examples, including your own games, and, (yes, again) endgame studies. He agrees with Capablanca that “Study of chess should commence with the third and final phase of a chess game, the endgame”.

Chapter 8 is all about strategy: how to systemize your middlegame knowledge. This is the hardest aspect of chess to study. The author looks at studying the pawn structures that might arise from your opening repertoire in a systematic way, and then goes on to discuss piece exchanges: understanding when exchanges might be favourable or unfavourable rather than just seeing them as a way to simplify towards an ending.

The chapter concludes with a short quiz on this subject. Here’s the first question: would you advise White to trade rooks, to give Black the option of trading, or to move his rook away?

This was Mamedyarov – Carlsen Baku 2008

White correctly moved his rook away, playing 25. Rf1, and later won after a Carlsen blunder. The coming kingside attack will be much stronger with the rook on the board, and Black can do nothing on the c-file.

Chapter 9, as we’ve seen, looks at how you might devise your own study plan – on the assumption that you have several hours a day to study, and Chapter 10 provides solutions to the quiz questions.

So, what to make of all this? I found it an extremely impressive book on an increasingly important aspect of chess: ‘how to learn’ as opposed to ‘what to learn’. Davorin Kuljasevic has clearly put an enormous amount of thought and hard work into writing it. If you’re within the target market – you want to improve your chess and have a lot of time available for that purpose – I’d give this book a very strong recommendation.

Even if you only have a few hours (or even less) a week, rather than a few hours a day to set aside for chess study, you’re sure to find much invaluable advice about how to make the most of your time.

There’s a lot of great – and highly instructive – chess in the book as well, so you might enjoy it for that alone. Much of it, though, I felt, was aimed more at the higher end of the rating scale. It would also be good to read a book on how to study chess written more for average players with limited study time.

Kuljasevic’s previous book (there’s an excellent review here) was shortlisted for FIDE’s 2020 Book of the Year, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this book was similarly honoured. He’s clearly an exceptional writer as well as an exceptional coach.

Richard James, Twickenham 22nd July 2021

Richard James
. Richard James

Book Details :

  • Softcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: New in Chess (1 May 2021)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:9056919318
  • ISBN-13:978-9056919313
  • Product Dimensions: ‎ 17.27 x 2.54 x 23.62 cm

Official web site of New in Chess

How to Study Chess on Your Own, Davorin Kuljasevic, New in Chess, June 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9056919313
How to Study Chess on Your Own, Davorin Kuljasevic, New in Chess, June 2021, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9056919313

The Tactics Bible – Magnum Opus

The Tactics Bible - Magnum Opus, Efstratios Grivas, Thinker's Publishing, 1st March 2019, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9492510433
The Tactics Bible – Magnum Opus, Efstratios Grivas, Thinker’s Publishing, 1st March 2019, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9492510433

From the publisher:

“Grandmaster Grivas presents the reader an unique and massive amount of amazing puzzles including their historical background. All the most famous and rare tactical themes are covered, promising the read of the year!”

GM Efstratios Grivas
GM Efstratios Grivas

“Efstratios Grivas (30.03.1966) is a highly experienced chess trainer and chess author. He has been awarded by the International Chess Federation (FIDE) the titles of International Chess Grandmaster, FIDE Senior Trainer, International Chess Arbiter and International Chess Organiser.

His main successes over the board are the Silver Medal Olympiad 1998 (3rd Board), the Gold Medal European Team Championship 1989 (3rd Board) and the 4th Position World Junior Championship U.20 1985. He has also won 5 Balkan Medals (2 Gold – 1 Silver – 2 Bronze) and he was 3 times Winner of the International ‘Acropolis’ Tournament. He has also in his credit the 28 times first position in Greek Individual & Team Championships and he has won various international tournaments as well.

He was also been awarded five FIDE Meals in the Annual FIDE Awards (Winner of the FIDE Boleslavsky Medal 2009 & 2015 (best author) – Winner of the FIDE Euwe Medal 2011 & 2012 (best junior trainer) – Winner of the FIDE Razuvaev Medal 2014 (Trainers’ education) and has been a professional Lecturer at FIDE Seminars for Training & Certifying Trainers.

He has written 95 Books in Arabic, English, Greek, Italian, Spanish & Turkish. Since 2009 he is the Secretary of the FIDE Trainers’ Commission and since 2012 the Director of the FIDE Grivas Chess International Academy (Athens).”

This is second book of the author’s I have reviewed. Previously I reviewed “Your Jungle Guide to Rook Endings

This large tactical tome is action packed full of great tactics and some exciting, instructive games. It is an ideal companion for trainers and players who seek to develop their recognition of dozens of mating patterns. All these mating motifs are shown in constructed cut down  diagrams followed by many different examples from real games with the checkmating ideas demonstrated with  both colours and rotated to aid practising recognising them in different forms thus helping to form a kind of brain muscle memory for these crucial motifs.

The tactics are taken from a mixture of old classics and modern games.

I expect that most older players can remember going through many tactics/ puzzle books on their road to learning the game and this book is another excellent addition to this genre.

The book is divided into five parts:

  • Part 1 A Tactical World
  • Part 2 Tactical Play
  • Part 3 Basic Mates
  • Part 4 Combinative Mates (Queen & Rook)
  • Part 5 Combinative Mates (Bishop, Knight and Pawn)

Part 1 A Tactical World is a thoughtful introduction into the world of tactics with thoughts on Tactical Education and a brief history of  the  development of chess schools of thought.

Four very famous and brilliant games are then presented with objective modern analysis which points out not only the exciting attacking opportunities but also the defensive possibilities. The author is mindful of the fact that tactical patterns help defensive prowess as well as attacking acumen.

The four games are a mixture of old and new:

  • The Immortal Game Adolf Anderssen v Lionel Kieseritzky London 1851 (Offhand game)
  • The EverGreen Game Adolf Anderssen v Jean Dufresne Berlin 1852 (Offhand game)
  • The Rainbow Game Gregory Serper v Ioannis Nikolaisis St Petersburg 1993
  • The Chess Game Garry Kasparov v Veselin Topalov Wijk aan Zee 1999

I can remember playing through the two Adolf Anderssen games as a novice and being really impressed by the beautiful combinations and of the course the queen sacrifices. They are a must for any book on tactics.

The two modern games are also superb and are obviously of a much higher defensive standard than the games played in the 1850s.

Garry Kasparov’s win over Veselin Topalov is regarded by many people as his finest game.

The reviewer will not showcase these well known games here as experienced  players will be well aware of them and new players should buy the book for a treat. However, I will whet your appetite by showing one position from the Rainbow Game:

Serper-Nikolaidis St Petersburg 1993
Serper-Nikolaidis St Petersburg 1993 Move 30

White has sacrificed two pieces for a long term attack and two dangerous passed pawns. Black has just played 29…Qe8. How does white continue the attack?

Part 2 Tactical Play

This chapter examines various aspects of attacking play by presenting examples from real play:

  • Attack Via The Edged Files
  • Blocking the F6-Square
  • Fierce Queen
  • King In The Box
  • The King Hunt
  • The Novotny Interference
  • Defence & Counter-Attack

The section Attack Via The Edged Files discusses the opening of lines around the opponent’s king, typically the rook file and tactics associated therein.

Palo-Nielsen Skanderborg 2003 Move 33
Palo-Nielsen Skanderborg 2003 Move 33

Here is a nice tactic that could easily be missed in practice.

33…Ra3+! 34.Kxa3 Qa7+ 0-1 35.Kb3 Qa4#

The Blocking The F6 section has some entertaining attacking finishes. Here is a vintage Kasparov finish against his old rival Karpov:

Kasparov-Karpov Valencia rapid match (2) Move 22
Kasparov-Karpov Valencia rapid match (2) Move 22

22.Nf6+! Opening up the king (22…Kh8 23.Rh5! mates quickly) 22…gxf6 23.Qxh6 f5 24.Qg5+ Kh8 25.Qf6+ Kg8 26.Rxf5 Ne4

Kasparov-Karpov Valencia rapid match (2) Move 27
Kasparov-Karpov Valencia rapid match (2) Move 27

27.Qh4! Re8 28.Rh5 f5 (29.Rh8+ Kf7 30.Qh7+ Kf6 31.Qh6+ Ke5 32.Rd1 and mates soon) 1-0

In the Fierce Queen section, there is an amusing modern mirror of Marshall’s famous 23…Qg3 against Levitsky at Breslau 1912:

Athens 2018
Athens 2018

White played 1.Qg6!! Qxg6 (1…fxg6 2. Ne7+ Kh8 3.Rxf8#; 1…hxg6 2.Ne7#; 1…h6 2.Nf6+ Kh8 3.Qh7#) 2.Ne7+ Kh8 3.Nxg6+ Kg8 4.Ne7+ Kh8 5.Rxh7+ Kxh7 6.Rh3+ Rh4 7.Rxh4#

The king in the box section includes a brilliant study by Kasparian which is worth revisiting:

Kasparian Study Yerevan 1935
Kasparian Study Yerevan 1935

1,Ne8! Kg6 2.h5+! Rxh5 3.f5+! Rx5 4.g4! Re5 5.Bf5+! Rxf5 6.Ng7!

Kasparian Study Yerevan 1936 End
Kasparian Study Yerevan 1936 End

The King Hunt section reminds me of one of my favourite books as a junior player: The King Hunt by W.H. Cozens. Some of the games from that book are included here. I shall show one example here from Lodewijk Prins v Lawrence Day Lugano 1968:

Prins-Day Lugano 1968 Move 23
Prins-Day Lugano 1968 Move 23

White played the greedy 23.Ne1?? The punishment was a humiliating long, lonely walk to the scaffold for the white king. (23. Kf2 gxf3 24. Bxf3 is about equal) Rh1+ 24.Kf2 g3+! 25.Kxg3 Rxe1! 26.Qxe1 Qxg2+ 27.Kf4 g5+ 28.Ke5 Qe4+ 29.Kf6 (29.Kd6 Rc8 30. b4 Rc6#) Qf5+ 30.Kg7 Qg6+ 31.Kh8 0-0-0# 0-1

A Novotny interference is when the attacking side sacrifices a piece on a square where it can be taken by two different opponent’s pieces – whichever piece captures interferes with the other. Here is a Novotony example that  was new to me:

Carlos Torre Repetto-Frank Parker New York 1924 Move 30
Carlos Torre Repetto-Frank Parker New York 1924 Move 30

White resigned here as he could not see any defence to 30…Rc1+ 31.Ke2 and 31…d1Q+ winning easily. What did he miss?

He could have won with 30.Rd6!! Rxd6 (30…cxd6 32.f7 wins) 31.g8=Q+ Kd7 32.Qf7+ Kc6 33.Qe8+ Kb6 34.Qe3! pinning the dangerous rook followed by taking it and f7 winning.

The section on the counterattack is didactic and shows some good examples. Here is a game Fischer-Gligoric from Varna 1962.

Fischer-Gligoric Varna 1962 Move 27
Fischer-Gligoric Varna 1962 Move 27

White clearly has had an initiative with active pieces but his attack has been halted and white’s exposed king will become a factor. His knight is also not really contributing much.

27…h6! (Stockfish prefers 27…Bb4 but also likes the move played) 28.Re3 Bb4 29.gxh6 Qxc2 30.Rg1 Kh7

Fischer-Gligoric Varna 1962 Move 31
Fischer-Gligoric Varna 1962 Move 31

31.Qg3 (31.Rxg6 does not work because white’s king is too exposed: 31…Kxg6 32. Rg3+ Kh7 33. Rg7+ Rxg7 34.hxg7 Qc1+ 35. Kg2 Qd2+ 36.Kf1 Kg6! wins) Rg8 32.e5

Fischer-Gligoric Varna 1962 Move 32
Fischer-Gligoric Varna 1962 Move 32

Bxc3! (stopping the knight from getting to g5) 33.Rxc3 Qe4+ 34.Rg2 Rd8! (Very strong, the counterattack is rolling) 35.Re3 Rd1+ 36.Kh2 Qb1 37.Qg4 (37.Rg1 Qxa2+ 38. Kh3 Rxg1 39.Qxg1 a4) Rh1+ 38.Kg3

Fischer-Gligoric Varna 1962 Move 38
Fischer-Gligoric Varna 1962 Move 38

Qc1? (38…Rh5! is more murderous 39.Qe4 Qc1 40.Rf3 Rd7 activating the other rook kills white) 39.Re4? (39.Qd4 is better) Rd7! Bringing up the reserves 40.Qe2 Qg5+ (40…Qxh6 is even more accurate but the game line is good enough) 41.Qg4 Rd3+ 42.Kf2 Rd2+ 43.Kg3 Rxg2+ 44.Kxg2 Qc1 0-1

Part 3 Basic Mates

As the title suggests, it covers basic checkmates. The chapter is divided into two sections covering the fundamental endgame mates with the pieces and common checkmates occurring at the beginning of the game.

A more experienced reader may think this section is too basic but you would be wrong as the author covers some pretty complex stuff in the endgame such as two knights against a pawn.

Grivas has an excellent section on the Bishop & Knight mate which is not trivial by any means. GM Vladimir Epishin failed to win this ending! I will confess that I had never heard of Delétang’s triangles although I am aware of the techniques to confine the king using triangles. I take my hat off the author for explaining the bishop and knight mate so clearly.

This is a surprising stalemate trap not mentioned in endgame manuals:

BishopAndKnight Mate
Bishop & Knight Mate

1…Nb6+? 2.Kd8! Oops black can only save his bishop by inflicting stalemate on white! A quick win was to be had: 1…Na5 2.Kd8 Ba4 3.Kc8 Bd7+ 4.Kb8 Kc6 5.Ka7 Bc8 6.Kb8 Kd7 7.Ka8 Kc7 8.Ka7 Nc6+ 9.Ka8 Bb7#

Some basic mates at the beginning of the game are covered such as Fool’s Mate, Scholar’s Mate and similar ideas. Importantly, the author considers the defences to Scholar’s mate. Some GM games are included!

Here is an example from a Greco game which is an offshoot of a foolhardy variation of Owen’s Defence.
Greco – NN
Europe 1620

1.e4 b6 2.d4 Bb7 3.Bd3 f5?

Greco-NN Europe 1621 Move 4
Greco-NN Europe 1620 Move 4

4.exf5! Bxg2 5.Qh5+ g6 6.fxg6 Nf6

6…Bg7 is better, but there are two busts to this silly line:

Greco-NN Europe 1621 Move 7
Greco-NN Europe 1620 Move 7

7.gxh7+ Kf8 8.Qg6 or even better 7.Qf5! Nf6 8.Bh6!! Bxh6 9.gxh7 Bxh1 10.Qg6+ Kf8 11.Qxh6+ Kf7 12.Nh3! Qf8 13.Qg6+ Ke6 14.Nc3 d5 15.0-0-0 with a winning position

Greco-NN Europe 1621 Variation Move 15
Greco-NN Europe 1620 Variation Move 15

7.gxh7+! Nxh5 8.Bg6#

Greco-NN Europe 1620 End
Greco-NN Europe 1620 End

Part 4 Combinative Mates (Queen & Rook)

Although the author states in the introduction that knowing the names of the mates does not matter, I tend to disagree as a name gives some poetry. There are about 24 different types of mates in this chapter. The reviewer will show a few positions to give the reader a taste:

Here is a famous opening trap with Anastasia’s Mate:

Bukowska – Kopec
MK Cafe Cup Koszalin (7) 1997

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Nxe4 6.Re1 Nc5 7.Nxe5 Nxe5 8.Rxe5+ Be7 9.Nc3 Nxa4 10.Nd5 0-0 11.Nxe7+ Kh8

Bukowska-Kopev Koszalin 1997 Move 12
Bukowska-Kopec Koszalin 1997 Move 12

12.Qh5! d5 (12…g6 13.Qh4 is nasty) 13.Qxh7!+ 1-0 (13…Kxh7 14.Rxh5#

The Arabian mate is a common mating motif:

Miguel Illescas Cordoba-Nigel Short Linares 1995 Move 37
Miguel Illescas Cordoba-Nigel Short Linares 1995 Move 37

Black’s a pawn is unstoppable, but white has seen further.

37.Qxf7! a1=Q+ 38.Kh2 and black’s extra queen cannot prevent the inevitable mate on h7! 38…Qxf7 39.Rxf7 b6 40,Rh7#

The back row mate (aka corridor mate) is probably one of the commonest tactical themes in chess:

Miguel Illescas Cordoba-Nigel Short Linares 1995 Move 37
Capablanca-Thomas, Hastings, 1919, move 29

Capablanca muffed the coup de grâce by playing 29.Qa8?? and black resigned obviously believing the future world champion. Black could have saved the game with 29…Rxa2!

White could have won with 29.Rxe8 or even simpler 29.Qb5! Rxb8 (29…c6 30.Rxe8 Qxe8 31.Qb8 Rc1+ 32.Kf2) 30.Qxb8 Kg8 31.Qb3+ or 31.Qa7

Here is another beautiful example of a back rate coupled with a self block mate:

Nunn-Plaskett London 1986 Move 21
Nunn-Plaskett London 1986 Move 21

White played 21.Qf5! (with a double threat on the black queen and h7) 21…Re6 (21…Qxf5 22.Rxe8#;Qa4 23.b3! Rxe4  24,bxa4 Re1+ 25.Bf1 wins;21…Qd8 22.Re7!! capturing the rook allows 23.Qxh7+ Kf8 24.Qh8#) 22.d5! Nxd3 23.dxe6 fxe6 24.Qxe6+ Qxe6 25.Rxe6 (25…Nxb2 26.Re7 wins by harvesting the black pawns)  Kf7 26.Re2 1-0

No anthology of tactics would be complete without the Opera Mate:

Paul Morphy- Carl Isoard Paris 1858
Paul Morphy – Carl Isoard Paris 1858

Probably one of the most famous finishes 16.Qb8!+ Nxb8 17.Rd8#

This is an instructive example of Cozio’s Mate:

Cozio Mate Queen Ending
Cozio Mate Queen Ending

White looks to be in trouble here. However after 1.Qe7+ Qg5 (1…g5 2.Qe1+ Qg3+ 3.Qxg3#) 2.Qe4+ Qg4 3.Qe3!! black is in zugzwang and will be mated.

Here is an example of Marshall’s mate from a modern game:

Wesley So-Anish Giri Wijk aan Zee 2010 Move 36
Wesley So-Anish Giri Wijk aan Zee 2010 Move 36

White played 36.Ne2?? (36.Qxd1 Rf2 37.Qf1 Rxf1 38.Rxf1 wins as a rook and three pieces will overcome a queen and 3 pawns) overlooking 36…Rf1+ 37.Kxf1 Qf2#

Part 5 Combinative Mates (Bishop, Knight & Pawn)

There are about 11 different types of mates in this chapter. The reviewer will show a few positions to give the reader a taste:

Here is the original Boden’s Mate:

Schulder-Boden London 1853 Move 13
Schulder-Boden London 1853 Move 13

13…d5! 14.Bxd5 Qxc3+ 15.bxc3 Ba3#

Here is an example of the Pony Express mate from Joseph Blackburne:

NN-Blackburne GB 1871 Move 20
NN-Blackburne GB 1871 Move 20

White appears to have plenty of pieces round his king, but 20…Qg2+! 21.Rxg2 Nh3# is a pretty mate

Here is a example of the Suffocation Mate deep in the ending:

Ivanchuk-Shirov Bazna 2009 Move 84
Ivanchuk-Shirov Bazna 2009 Move 84

White has just played 84.h7! and black resigned. After 84…Kg7 85.h8Q+! Kxh8 86.Bh6 the black king is trapped in the corner. White mates with the moves 87.Bf8 followed by 88.Kg5, 89.Kh6 and 90.Bg7#

In summary, I recommend this book as an excellent training manual for practising pattern recognition of common mating patterns.

To make the book even better, I would have added a short section on common tactical motifs such as forks, skewers & pins.

FM Richard Webb
FM Richard Webb

FM Richard Webb, Basingstoke, Hampshire, 20th July 2021

Book Details :

  • Hardcover : 450 pages
  • Publisher:Thinkers Publishing; 1st edition (1 Mar. 2019)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 949251043X
  • ISBN-13: 978-9464201055
  • Product Dimensions: 17.02 x 23.5 cm

Official web site of Thinkers Publishing

The Tactics Bible - Magnum Opus, Efstratios Grivas, Thinker's Publishing, 1st March 2019, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9492510433
The Tactics Bible – Magnum Opus, Efstratios Grivas, Thinker’s Publishing, 1st March 2019, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9492510433

How to Become a Candidate Master: A Practical Guide to Take Your Chess to the Next Level

How to Become a Candidate Master: A Practical Guide to Take Your Chess to the Next Level: FM Alex Dunne

How to Become a Candidate Master: A Practical Guide to Take Your Chess to the Next Level, FM Alex Dunne, New in Chess, December 2020, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9056919214
How to Become a Candidate Master: A Practical Guide to Take Your Chess to the Next Level, FM Alex Dunne, New in Chess, December 2020, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9056919214

From the publisher:

Surprise yourself and reach higher! This book is based on real amateur games and shows you how an average club player can proceed through the ranks and reach Candidate Master level. Its a hard struggle, nothing comes for free and your path will be strewn with setbacks and disappointments. Just like in real life.

Alex Dunne guides you in the more than 50 games that you will be playing and offers lots of practical, straightforward and effective advice. Slowly but surely, you will improve in all phases of the game: the opening, the middlegame and the endgame. Dunne explains when and how to activate your pieces and how to recognize and punish the errors your opponents are bound to make. At the end of the book, having absorbed these lessons, your experience, technique and confidence will have improved in such a way that your first win against a master will not come as a big surprise.

Alex Dunne is an American FIDE Master, ICCF Correspondence Chess Master and author of more than a dozen chess books. He lives in Sayre, Pennsylvania. This is a revised, improved and extended edition of the 1985 classic.

FM Alex Dunne
FM Alex Dunne

 

I’ve always thought that one of the best ways to improve your chess, especially if you don’t have the time or inclination for serious study, is to do two things:

  1. Look at the games of players rated 200-300 points higher than you. Work out what they do better than you, and what you need to do to reach their level. They’re not that much stronger than you so you can think to yourself “Yes, I could do that”.
  2. Look at the games of players of your own strength (best of all, your own games). Look at typical mistakes and work out how you could avoid those mistakes and take your chess up to the next level.

That’s exactly what this book aims to do. However, it was originally published in 1985. It was a best seller in its day, but does it really stand up to the test of time? Was it really worth updating and re-publishing?

Let’s get the title out of the way first. It’s rather misleading: FIDE considers Candidate Masters to be players rated 2200+, whereas this book uses the term to mean USCF Experts: players in the 2000-2199 range. The target market, according to the introduction, is USCF Grade A players: rated 1800-1999, although, as standards are higher now than 35 years ago, I’d put it lower than that.

As Dunne says in his introduction:

It is the design of this book to reveal the difference in play to the 1800 player to enable him to become a Candidate Master.

And again:

This book, then, differs from others in that the games contained within are mostly games between 1800+ players and Candidate Masters. These games were mainly selected from 1982 US tournaments with some more modern games included.

So what you get is 50 games, mostly between 1800-1999 rated players and 2000-2199 rated players, and mostly played in 1982. There are two later games, new to this edition, featuring stronger players.

It’s not the only book featuring amateur games. Reinfeld’s 1943 book Chess for Amateurs may have been the first. Older readers will also recall the Euwe and Meiden books, while, more recently, there have been books by the likes of Jeremy Silman and Dan Heisman. You might see Chernev’s Logical Chess Move by Move, although it features games by stronger players, as a book written with a similar purpose in mind.

The games are, as you’d expect, not of especially high quality. I’d also speculate that 1800 or 2000 rated players today are rather stronger than they were 40 years or so ago. Perhaps, because they’ll be more comprehensible to average club players, you’ll find them more instructive than those played by Magnus and his chums. You won’t encounter any brilliant sacrifices or spectacular attacks here, and not much in the way of complicated tactics either: just typical games that you or I might play in tournaments or league matches, where, in most cases, the stronger player displays greater knowledge or skill than his weaker opponent. You’ll even find one or two short draws here, though it’s debatable whether they add anything to the party.

You sit alongside the Candidate Master (or, more accurately, Expert), guessing, if you choose, his (or perhaps her: the players are not identified by name) moves, and are occasionally asked questions which are answered at the end of the chapter.

We’re assured that The analysis has been checked with modern computer engines for accuracy and that Also, a more modern view of some of the openings has been used, but there’s still a dated feel to many of the annotations. I’m not sure without checking how much has actually been changed since the original 1985 edition.

Here’s the first game.

Like many of the games here, it seems on the surface that the CM didn’t do anything especially difficult. The last move was pretty, but at that point everything reasonable would have won. At the same time, Mr 1907 didn’t make any very obvious mistakes. It was more a question of not understanding what was happening at the critical point in the game. I should add that I don’t play the Sicilian Najdorf with either colour: much too hard for me, as it was for poor Mr 1907.

I asked my shiny new Stockfish 14 to take a look.

Dunne asks us how important Black’s unusual 6th move (rather than the usual 6… e6) is. Stockfish tells me e6 is equal, but Qc7, amongst other moves, is slightly better for White. Dunne doesn’t say anything very helpful: I’d have thought the point was that White is always going to play Bb3 anyway, while Black may not want to play an early Qc7.

On move 9, Dunne rightly says that 9. O-O is slightly inferior because of tactics on the g1-a7 diagonal, but without mentioning any alternatives. It makes sense to me (and to my fishy friend) to play Be3 before castling. He gives a line starting 9… Nxd4 10. Qxd4 d5 11. Kh1?!, but the engine prefers White here after 11. Be3, thinking that Black would be better to play the immediate 9… d5, threatening to take on e4. It’s still only equal, though.

The critical part of the game is between moves 10 and 13. 10… Na5, to trade off the dangerous bishop, or 10… Be7, to castle the king into safety, are the two moves almost always chosen here, and both of them are absolutely fine and equal. On move 12 Black chose the wrong recapture: Bxc6, not leaving the queen exposed was better. The last chance to stay in the game was to play 13… Be7. The tactical point he may have missed is that 13… b4 14. a5 gives the white bishop access to a4.

Although Black played what looked like natural moves between moves 10 and 13, his position went from equal to totally lost. At one level he lost because he failed to develop his king-side and castle his king into safety. I suppose you could also say he chose a complicated opening variation without having enough understanding and played a few casual moves when more concrete decisions were required, but, without access to 21st century technology it’s understandable that Dunne didn’t mention this explicitly.

Dunne has some interesting views on opening choices: you might or might not agree. In game 16 Mr CM is congratulated on meeting 1. Nf3 with the relatively unusual 1… b6 to get his opponent out of the books, even though he unexpectedly loses the game. But in game 25 Mr 1816 is roundly castigated for choosing the Trompowsky. This is bad strategy on the 1800 player’s part. The weaker player with white has a better chance of gaining a good position by playing book lines.

In other words, weaker players should play book lines while stronger players should try to get weaker players out of the book by playing less usual variations. I can see why he thinks this way, but it might not suit everyone. It might not suit you.

I was interested in the double rook ending in this game.

Mr 1863, playing black, had rather the better of the opening and has now reached this double rook ending where he has the superior pawn formation.

Let’s pick up the story after White’s 29th move.

Dunne rightly and instructively points out that if the rooks were off the board Black would win the pawn ending. He therefore proposes that, instead of 29… g6, suggesting he doesn’t understand the ending, he continues with 29… Rxd1 30. Rxd1 a5! 31. c4 Ra8 32. Rc1 Ke6, when he will have made further progress towards the win. Stockfish has several problems with this: 32. c5, to prevent b5, is equal, 32… b5 would indeed give Black winning chances, and again after 32… Ke6, 33. c5 would be equal.

The game continued:

29… g6 30. Ke3 Ke6 31. h4 h5 32. Ra1 a6

This move passes without comment, but Stockfish prefers to give up the pawn and double rooks on the d-file: something like 32… Rd7 33. Rxa7 Red8, with adequate counterplay.

An instructive moment, I think, demonstrating the important principle that, in rook endings, the initiative is often worth a pawn. No mention in the annotations, though.

Moving on:

33. Ra5! f6? (Poor endgame play – Black allows his pawns to become weakened.) Yes, quite possibly. Dunne’s improvement, Re7, is probably better, but Black missed a tactical defence next move.

34. f5+ Kf7

Here Black could have equalised with 34… gxf5 35. Rxf5 Rd5!, so White should have maintained his advantage by playing 34. c4! to prevent this possibility.

By solid play White has overcome his inferiority of eight moves ago and now owns an advantage. Thus is the advantage frittered away because of the 1800 player’s lack of endgame technique (read: understanding).

White was actually equal (although his position may have been harder to play) 8 moves ago, and the point about Mr 1863’s lack of endgame technique is well made, but there are also analytical errors which can easily be picked up by modern computer engines.

There are other more minor issues as well. You might want to consider, for example, how White’s inaccurate 52nd move gave Black a defensive chance.

One reason for the difference between 1800 and 2100 players is indeed that Mr 2100 is more likely, in a general way, to understand what’s going on in the position, which is what this book is all about. Another reason, though, is that Mr 1800 is more likely to miss tactical points than Mr 2100. The annotations in this book focus more on positional rather than tactical ideas. You might think that, at this level, understanding ideas is more important than getting tactics right: if so, the analytical errors might not concern you too much.

You may well disagree but I found the annotations in general both frustrating and outdated. Frustrating because of Dunne’s tendency to ask questions without providing answers and criticise moves without suggesting improvements. Outdated because of the tactical oversights mentioned above, but also because readers are constantly exhorted to read My System and Basic Chess Endings, rather than more modern, and, at least in the case of My System, more relevant and approachable books. Occasional references to ChessBase have been added but, apart from that there’s little indication that the book is intended for 21st century readers rather than those in the pre-computer age.

The world’s a very different place now. I couldn’t have imagined, half a lifetime ago, that I’d be sitting here with a database of almost 8.5 million games and a free engine which plays far better than any human.  We know a lot more now about teaching and learning processes as well.

It’s a great idea for a book, and was pretty good in its day. There’s certainly a lot of excellent general advice and encouragement within the annotations. But, in my opinion, it’s well past its best-before date. I’m afraid it’s only a qualified recommendation then.

Having said that, players of average club standard, say 1400-1800 strength, will certainly learn a lot from it, and, if they like the style and concept (there’s a sample chapter on the publisher’s website), they won’t be too disappointed.

I’d love to see more books written for average players based on amateur games, but I’d prefer to see something with more recent games, more accurate tactical analysis and more interaction between author and reader.

New in Chess have an enviable reputation for publishing excellent books, not to mention an excellent magazine. I’m not convinced that re-publishing outdated books will do much to enhance that reputation.

Richard James, Twickenham 9th July 2021

Book Details:

  • Softback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: New in Chess (7 Dec. 2020)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:9056919210
  • ISBN-13:978-9056919214
  • Dimensions: ‎ 15.24 x 1.78 x 22.2 cm

Official web site of New in Chess

How to Become a Candidate Master: A Practical Guide to Take Your Chess to the Next Level, FM Alex Dunne, New in Chess, December 2020, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9056919214
How to Become a Candidate Master: A Practical Guide to Take Your Chess to the Next Level, FM Alex Dunne, New in Chess, December 2020, ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-9056919214

World Champion Chess for Juniors : Learn From the Greatest Players Ever

World Champion Chess for Juniors : Learn From the Greatest Players Ever : Joel Benjamin

World Champion Chess for Juniors: Learn From the Greatest Players Ever, Joel Benjamin, New in Chess, 2020, ISBN-10 : 9056919199
World Champion Chess for Juniors: Learn From the Greatest Players Ever, Joel Benjamin, New in Chess, 2020, ISBN-10 : 9056919199

From the book’s rear cover :

“Grandmaster Joel Benjamin introduces all seventeen World Chess Champions and shows what is important about their style of play and what you can learn from them. He describes both their historical significance and how they inspired his own development as a player. Benjamin presents the most instructive games of each champion. Magic names such as Kasparov, Capablanca, Alekhine, Botvinnik, Tal, and Karpov, they’re all there, up to current World Champion Magnus Carlsen. How do they open the game? How do they develop their pieces? How do they conduct an attack or defend when necessary? Benjamin explains, in words rather than in chess symbols, what is important for your own improvement. Of course the crystal-clear style of Bobby Fischer, the 11th World Champion, guarantees some very memorable lessons. Additionally, Benjamin has included Paul Morphy. The 19th century chess wizard from New Orleans never held an official title, but was clearly the best of the world during his short but dazzling career. Studying World Champion Chess for Juniors will prove an extremely rewarding experience for ambitious youngsters. Trainers and coaches will find it worthwhile to include the book in their curriculum. The author provides many suggestions for further study.”

Joel Benjamin during the Lloyds Bank Masters
Joel Benjamin during the Lloyds Bank Masters

“Joel Benjamin won the US Championship three times and has been a trainer for almost three decades. His book Liquidation on the Chess Board won the Best Book Award of the Chess Journalists of America (CJA), and his most recent book Better Thinking, Better Chess is a world-wide bestseller.”

 

Naturally enough, given that I’ve been teaching chess to children since 1972, I’m always interested in reading chess books with ‘juniors’ or ‘kids’ in the title.

Let’s see what we have here.

From the introduction:

If you are not a junior, please don’t toss this book aside; there is still a lot of cool analysis and history in here for you. But I have written this book, primarily, to reach out to younger players. At any point in history, we see a ‘generation gap’, where young people see the world in a very different way than their elders. If you are, let’s say, a teen or a tween, you probably process most chess material from a computer. You follow recent events, work on tactics puzzles, practice against an engine, or whatever works for you. This may match your lifestyle of playing Minecraft or (worse) Fortnite on your I-pad instead of reading books.

A few years ago, I was horrified to learn that two of my (young) fellow instructors at a chess camp could not name the World Champions in order (or even place them roughly in their time periods). For someone of my generation, that fundamental lack of knowledge was unthinkable. And while I accept that kids today learn things in different ways,  I feel that they are still missing out on their ignorance of knowledge provided by books.

I’m in complete agreement with Joel Benjamin here. I believe that, for all sorts of reasons, learning about the great champions of the past should be part of everyone’s chess education. This issue has been raised in the introduction of several books I’ve reviewed recently: some authors agree, but others, sadly, don’t.

And from the back cover (presumably written by the publishers):

So you want to improve your chess? The best place to start is looking at how the great champs did it!

I’m not in agreement with this, though. I’ve spent the past 45 years or so failing to understand why round about 90% of chess teachers consider it a good idea to demonstrate master games, usually with sacrificial attacks, to inexperienced players.

What does it mean to write a book for ‘juniors’, anyway? What do we mean by a junior? Perhaps we mean Alireza Firouzja (rated 2759 at age 17 as I write this)? Or do we mean Little Johnny who’s just mastered the knight move? There’s an enormous difference between writing for 7-year-olds, writing for 12-year-olds and writing for 17-year-olds. Benjamin mentions ‘teens and tweens’ in his introduction. How do you write for this age group? Do you try to appear ‘down with the kids’ by writing things like ‘Yay, bro! Morphy was a real sick dude!”? Maybe not, but you might, as he does, throw in a lot of ‘cools’ and a few ‘legits’, as well as a lot of exclamation marks at the end of sentences.

There’s also an enormous difference between writing for players rated, say 500, 1000, 1500 and 2000. The nature of this difference is something I’ve been thinking about for many years. I think the most helpful information I’ve found about teaching at different levels is from this article (apologies if you’ve seen it before), in particular the section entitled ‘experts learn differently’. I’d consider a novice (apprentice) to be someone with a rating of under 1000, an expert (guild member) to have a rating of 2000 plus, and everyone else (which includes the vast majority of adults who know the moves) to be journeymen/women.

Novices, then, learn best through explicit instruction and worked examples, while experts learn best through discovery and/or an investigative approach. If you’re writing for a readership between novices and experts, you’ll use a mixture of both methods. I’d also suggest that, given the relative inexperience and immaturity of younger children, you’d probably be well advised to add two or three hundred points onto your novice/expert split.

Top GM games these days are, of course, insanely complicated, and only an expert player could expect to learn anything from looking at, say, a Carlsen – Caruana game.

Let’s plunge into this book, then, and decide who would benefit most from reading it, in terms of both age and rating.

Before I go any further, I’d add that there are many reasons you might want to read a chess book: information, enjoyment, inspiration or instruction, for example, but this book, as you might expect from the 21st century Zeitgeist, nails its colours firmly to the flagpole labelled ‘instruction’. LEARN from the Greatest Players Ever.

Taking the reader on a journey through chess history, stopping off on the way to introduce us to each of the world champions in turn, it reminds me of two other books I’ve reviewed on these pages: this and this (also from New in Chess), neither of which impressed me, as a cynic with a pretty good knowledge of chess history, greatly.

We start off, not unreasonably, with Morphy (the greatest showman). In every chapter we get some brief biographical notes, a handful of annotated games and a couple of unannotated games. Here he is, crushing the Aristocratic Allies at the opera house, and sacrificing his queen against Louis Paulsen in New York. Yes, you’ve probably seen them hundreds of times before, but the target reader, a young player with little knowledge of chess history, might not have done. The notes at this point focus, understandably, on ideas rather than variations.

Next up is Steinitz (the scientist). We visit Hastings, of course, just in time to witness von Bardeleben disappearing from the tournament hall rather than resigning. We also see him daringly marching his king up the board in the opening and exploiting the advantage of the two bishops. He beats Chigorin in a game that starts 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 Nf6 4. d3 when Benjamin points out that “With the rise of the Berlin endgame this move has become very popular in the 21st century”. Which is very true, but assumes that the reader knows something about the Berlin endgame. (It’s mentioned in slightly more detail later in the book, but you should describe it the first time you mention it.) Later on, though we’re advised not to forget the en passant rule. So this appears to be a book for readers who understand all about the Berlin endgame but might not remember en passant.

We move into the 20th century: Lasker (the pragmatist) beating Capa in an Exchange Lopez ending, Capablanca (the endgame authority) himself winning a rook ending against Tartakower, Alekhine (the disciplined attacker) winning complex encounters against Bogoljubov and Réti, Euwe (the professional amateur) in turn winning the Pearl of Zandvoort against Alekhine.

As we approach the present day, the games get more complicated and not so easy to use for specific lessons. The great Soviet champions all had their distinctive styles, though. There’s Botvinnik (the master of training), Smyslov (the endgame artist), Tal (the magician), Petrosian (the master strategist) and Spassky (the natural).

Then, of course, Fischer (the master of clarity), Karpov (the master technician) and Kasparov (the master of complications) are introduced as we approach the 21st century.

Today, all the top grandmasters excel in all areas of the game, and, with the aid of computer preparation, their games are often mind-boggling in their complexity. Kramnik is awarded the epithet ‘the strategic tactician’, but this could apply to any 21st century great.

It’s time to look at a few examples of Benjamin’s annotations, so that you can decide whether it’s a suitable book for you, your children or your students.

Here, at Linares in 1997, Topalov, the master of the initiative, has sacrificed the exchange for … the initiative.

White, Gelfand, is considering his 23rd move.

An exchange to the good, White has some leeway in defense. He must appreciate the need to give back to the community here.

Topalov points out that 23. Qd2 Ne5 24. Rxe5 Qxe5 25. Nxb7? is too dangerous (after almost any rook move, actually) but White can hold the balance with 25. b4 a5 26. Qe2!. White can play more ambitiously with 23. b4 Ne5 24. Rxe5 Qxe5 25. Nb2, though Topalov would likely pitch a pawn for good play after 25… d3 26. Nxd3 Qd4+. Finally, even the radical (and inhuman, I think) 23. Nc3!? dxc3 24. Qxc3 looks playable, as suddenly some black minor pieces look misplaced and the white rooks are working well. Chess players need a good sense of danger, but here Gelfand’s Spidey-sense fails to tingle.

An excellent note, I think, but it would, inevitably given the complexity of the position, be instructive for older and more experienced players.

For the record, the game continued 23. Ne4? Ne5 24. Qg5 Re8! 25. Rd2? when Topalov missed 25… Ng4+! 26. Kg1 Qxg5 27. Nxg5 Re1#. but his choice of Qc4 was still good enough to win quickly.

For another example of the style of annotation in this book, in this position Anand, the lightning attacker, has unleashed a TN against Kasparov’s Sicilian in the 1995 World Championship match. What will the champ play on his 20th move?

20… Bxb5

Anand had expected 20… Qa5, which has been played in subsequent practice. However, Kasparov would have had a lot to calculate and evaluate there. When you hit your opponent with an unpleasant opening surprise, they may hesitate to risk the most challenging lines.

20… Qa5!? 21. Nxd6 Bxa4 22. Bb6 Rxd6 and now Anand considered two lines:

A) 23. Qxd6 Rxd6 24. Bxa5 Bxf4 (24… Bxc2? 25. e5+-) 25. Rxb7 Bxc2 26 Rd8 Rxd8 27. Bxd8 Bxe4! 28. Rb4 Bxf3 29. Rxf4 Bd5 30. Bxf6 gxf6 31. Rxf6 and the position should be drawn;

B) Anand preferred 23. Bxa5! Rxd3 24. cxd3 Bxd1 25. Bxd1. White doesn’t win any material but keeps the potential for long-term pressure.

Well, I hope you followed all that.

The main part of the book concludes with Carlsen, the master of everything and nothing.

Here’s a position from a game which, according to Benjamin, displays his accuracy and brilliance in attacking play.

He’s playing the white pieces against Li Chao (Doha 2015) and is about to make his 24th move.

24. d5!!

Carlsen breaks down the defense with a beautiful interference tactic. By attacking the knight on b6, he enables the deadly push e5-e6.

White could easily go wrong here:

A) 24. gxf5 Nc4 25. Nxg6+ (25. e6?? a3 wins for Black) 25… Ke8 26. e6? a3! 27. exf7+ Kd7 28. f8N+! Ke8 29. bxa3 Rxa3+ 30. Kb1 Rda8 31. Na4! and White barely forces Black to take a perpetual. Instead 25. Ncd5!! wins for White. The idea is to kill the mate with Rc1xc4 and then proceed on the kingside;

B) Again the take-first mentality 24. Nxg8+? Ke8 loses ground. White can probably still win with 25 d5! but it’s a lot less clear.

Again, good analysis, although Benjamin’s notes do include rather a lot of ‘perhaps’ and ‘probably’, which you may or may not care for.

That’s not quite the end of the book. There’s some ‘fun stuff’ at the end, most usefully a 36 question tactics quiz: some easy and familiar  but others more challenging.

This is a good book of its kind, although if you like the first half you might find the last few chapters too hard, and if, like me, you enjoyed Benjamin’s coverage of contemporary players, the first half will offer you nothing new.

But is it a book for juniors, though?

Little Johnny, aged 8, is doing well in his school chess club, playing at about 1000 strength. His parents, who know little about chess, would like to buy him a book so that he can learn more and perhaps play like Fischer, Kasparov or Carlsen. What could be better, they think, than learning from the world champions? Is this a suitable book for him? Definitely not: it’s much too hard in every respect. Instead, as a young novice, he requires a book with explicit instruction and worked examples.

Jenny is 12, has a rating of about 1500, and is starting to play in adult competitions. Perhaps this would be a good book for her. Well, it’s more suitable for her than for Johnny, but again it’s rather too hard: I think you’ll agree from the extracts you’ve seen that it’s really aimed at older and more experienced players. She’ll still need, for the most part, explicit instruction and worked examples, but pitched at a higher level than Johnny’s book.

Jimmy is an ambitious 16-year-old with a rating of 2000 who would like to reach master strength while finding out more about the history of the game he loves. This could be an ideal book for him: as a player approaching expert standard with perhaps a decade’s experience of chess, he’d benefit from discovery and/or an investigative approach, for which he can use annotated grandmaster games. But would he be seen dead carrying a book with ‘juniors’ in the title under his arm? And, at least here in the UK, there are very few ambitious 16-year-olds around to read this book.

It’s nothing personal to do with the author or the publishers, but my view is that many people buy books which are much too hard to be useful, either for themselves or for their children or students. On the other hand, books which really would be helpful don’t sell. And you can’t blame publishers for bringing out books they think people will buy.

You could write a great book for Little Johnny, I think. A colourful hardback with short chapters about each champion. Photographs and perhaps also cartoons of each. A few simple one-move puzzles in each chapter taken from their games: perfect novice-level tuition. Some historical background as well. Maps to show the champions’ countries of birth, and, perhaps, where else they lived. The word for chess and the names of the pieces in their native languages. Cross-curricular benefits: children will learn about history, geography and languages as well as chess. Age-appropriate in terms of chess, vocabulary and grammar as well. All primary schools would welcome a few copies for their school library.

You could also write a good book for Jenny. You could introduce each champion again, and then look how the different champions interpreted openings like the Ruy Lopez and the Queen’s Gambit, how they played kingside attacks or IQP positions, how they navigated rook endings. Perhaps also, where available, some simple games played when they were Jenny’s age. She’ll learn, at a fairly basic level, about the history of chess ideas as well as the champions. You’d probably also want to include some puzzles where you have to look two or three moves ahead. This is how you teach students who are neither novices (like Little Johnny) or budding experts (like Jimmy). A mixture of harder ‘novice’ material and easier ‘expert’ material.

I think both Johnny’s and Jenny’s books should include female as well as male champions: Jenny, as well as Johnny, would like role models she can relate to. You might think it remiss of Benjamin (or New in Chess) not to have included any Women’s World Champions in this book.

It’s a good book, then, although, by it’s nature it’s not going to be earth-shatteringly original. But it’s not a book for juniors. If it was called simply World Championship Chess, or Learn Chess from the Champions I wouldn’t really have a problem with it.

I really ought to add that the games are well chosen and expertly annotated (if you don’t mind the slightly casual style), and the author, unlike others ploughing the same field, doesn’t stray beyond the limits of his historical knowledge.

It’s also, as to be expected from this publisher, excellently produced, with, unusually for these days, a refreshing lack of typos.

I mentioned earlier the reasons why you might want to read a chess book. You may well find this book informative, especially if your knowledge of chess history is lacking. It’s certainly an entertaining read: the author’s lively style of writing and annotation shines through. You’ll probably also find it inspirational to be able to play through the greatest games of the greatest players of all time. But is it also instructional? I’m not really convinced that this is the most efficient method of teaching anyone below 2000. It’s certainly not an efficient method of teaching this very experienced, 1900-2000 strength, player.

Recommended, then, if you want to know more about the world champions, but not really a book for juniors.

Richard James, Twickenham 12th April 2021

Richard James
. Richard James

Book Details :

  • Paperback : 256 pages
  • Publisher: New in Chess (7th August, 2020)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:9056919199
  • ISBN-13:978-9056919191
  • Product Dimensions: 16.51 x 1.78 x 22.86 cm

Official web site of New in Chess

World Champion Chess for Juniors: Learn From the Greatest Players Ever, Joel Benjamin, New in Chess, 2020, ISBN-10 : 9056919199
World Champion Chess for Juniors: Learn From the Greatest Players Ever, Joel Benjamin, New in Chess, 2020, ISBN-10 : 9056919199

Universal Chess Training

Universal Chess Training, Wojciech Moranda, Thinker's Publishing, 2020
Universal Chess Training, Wojciech Moranda, Thinker’s Publishing, 2020

From the book’s rear cover :

“Are you struggling with your chess development? While dedicating hours and hours on improving your craft, your rating simply does not want to move upwards? Spending loads of money on chess books and DVDs, but feeling no real improvement at all? No worries – the book that you are holding in your hands might represent a game changer! Years of coaching experience as well as independent research has allowed the author to identify the key skills that will enhance the progress of just about any player rated between 1600 and 2500. Becoming a strong chess thinker is namely not only reserved exclusively for elite players, but actually constitutes the cornerstone of chess training, being no less important than memorizing opening theory, acquiring middlegame knowledge or practicing endgames. By studying this book, you will:- learn how to universally deal with any position you might encounter in your games, even if you happen to see it for the first time in your life, – have the opportunity to solve 90 unique, hand-picked puzzles, extensively annotated and peculiarly organised for the Readers’ optimal learning effect, – gain access to more than 300 pages of original grandmaster thoughts and advice, leaving you awestruck and hungry for more afterwards!”

GM Wojciech Moranda, Photo courtesy of GM Moranda
GM Wojciech Moranda, Photo courtesy of GM Moranda

“Wojciech Moranda (1988), Grandmaster since 2009, rated FIDE >2600 in standard/rapid/blitz. Poland’s TOP 7 player (February 2020) and FIDE TOP 100 in Rapid (2018). Member of top teams from the German (Schachfreunde Berlin), Belgian (Cercle d’Échecs Fontainois) and Swedish (Visby Schackklubb) league. Captain of the third best Polish team (Wieża Pęgów) as well as the PRO Chess League team, The New York Marshalls. Professional chess coach, running his own chess school ‘Grandmaster Academy’ seated in Wroclaw (Poland), while training students worldwide, from California to Sydney. His other notable coaching experiences include i.a. working with the National Youth Chess Academy of the Polish Chess Federation (since 2012) and the Polish National Female Chess Team (2013). In his work as a trainer, Wojciech puts special emphasis on improving his students’ thought-process and flawless opening preparation.”

Time was when you knew what to expect from a puzzle book. With a few notable exceptions they tended to be ‘sac sac mate’ type of position.

21st century puzzle books are very different, and, at least for stronger players, quite rightly so as well. These days you can run a blundercheck on a bunch of games to identify the turning point, and then, with a careful selection of positions, produce a puzzle book in which anything might happen. A book of positions in which very strong players, even leading grandmasters, failed to find the correct plan. A book which exemplifies the wonderful complexity of contemporary chess, covering all aspects of the game: strategy as well as tactics.

What we have here is very much a 21st century book written for strong and ambitious players. Indeed it seems in many ways very similar to this book from the same publisher: aimed at a similarly wide range of players and divided into three sections of increasing difficulty. One wonders if the authors of both books received a similar brief from Thinkers Publishing.

Let’s see what Moranda has to say for himself.

He identifies that his students have strategic problems in five areas:

  1. Anticipation & prophylaxis
  2. Attack & defense
  3. Coordination
  4. Statics & dynamics
  5. Weakness

Together, he considers these to be the basis of ‘Universal Chess Training’, “because knowing them will most certainly help you play a good move whether the position seems familiar or not”.

His book offers:

  1. Original content (he’s dismissive of books which repeat examples from the past, and also of books which haven’t been computer checked)
  2. Three levels of difficulty (the first part is for players of 1600-1900 strengh, the second part for 1900-2200 strength and the third part, presumably for 2200+ strength, where the questions demand ‘the highest level of abstract thinking’)
  3. Mixed exercises with no hints (so you have no idea what’s going to come next)
  4. Focus on what remained behind the scenes (so, instead of analysing the rest of the game he provides a possible conclusion  given best play, which, he believes, provides more solid training material than the flawed continuation in the game)

There are 90 questions in total, 30 in each section. As a 1900 strength player the first two sections should be appropriate for me.

The first position in the book comes from Winterberg – Lubbe (Magdeburg 2019). You have to choose a continuation for White here.

Here’s how Moranda assesses the position:

“A brief review of the position reveals that a major backlash is coming in White’s direction. Black just needs to remove the queen from e6 and make way for the e7-pawn to go all the way to e5. As a result, White will not only be forced to concede space, but also have to spend time re-routing his minor pieces from their overly exposed outposts on d4 and h4.  But this would by no means be the end of the story for White. With Black expanding his pieces would improve in quality, and it would only be a matter of time before they would shift their attention towards possible weaknesses present in White’s camp. Such a weakness is represented by the c5-pawn, which would be rather difficult to defend should the white bishop be compelled to step aside. At the same time, if White becomes too absorbed with maintaining control over the queenside, Black could very effectively switch to an attack against the white king due to his space advantage by means of …Nf7-g5. That is a grim prospect for sure but maybe there is an antidote to this looming chaos?”

I won’t tell you the answer: you’ll have to buy the book to find out.

Now look at the first question in Chapter 2:

It’s again White’s move in L van Foreest – Navara (Skopje 2018).

What do you think?

Moranda’s explanation again:

“At first sight it is hard to believe that this crazy position arose out of a Giuoco Piano which is a rather timid, manoeuvring opening. White has just embarked on a risky venture sending a knight deep into the heart of the opponent’s position. Black has responded with an offer to exchange queens, a perfectly viable solution from the perspective of limiting White’s chances of playing for an attack afterwards. The decision White should take is far from obvious as there are, at this point in time, five different discovered checks at his disposal. All of them look dangerous, but simultaneously none of them looks lethal enough. White would also love to include the remaining pieces into play, but he does not seem to have the time to do this. Notably, the proximity of the black queen to his own monarch constitutes an element White cannot easily ignore before furthering his attack. Thus I ask you dear reader, what should White do?”

A lot of words, a lot of explanations. The style is informal, often colloquial and sometimes amusing. “Do you ever have chess nightmares? You know, dreams of yourself taking part in a tournament and losing every single game or, even worse, finding yourself playing a game with the London System as White?” “At first glance this move is uglier than a Fiat Multipla.” You might like this sort of thing, or you might consider it out of place in a serious instructional book. Your choice. In general, though, I found the explanations excellent.

From a personal point of view, the 30 questions in the first chapter were pitched at just the right level for me: instructive and helpful. The second chapter, as well as the third, though, were much too deep. While I enjoyed reading the solutions and explanations I thought they were too hard for me to learn from. There’s a lot more than simply understanding the strategic ideas: you also have to calculate accurately to justify them: it was the calculation as much as the strategy that was too much for me. The book demonstrates clearly that tactics and strategy are inextricably entwined, and that, in today’s chess, positional sacrifices are an increasingly important weapon which ambitious players need to understand.

I’d have liked to have seen the openings of the games in question, and could have done with shorter explanations rather than the three or four pages of partly computer-generated analysis provided for each position, but, if you’re more serious about studying chess books than I am you may well disagree.

I read chess books mainly for enjoyment, and it’s 40 years or more since I had any real ambitions about improving my chess, so, although I’m the right strength, I’m not really part of the target market for this book.

Moranda is clearly an outstanding teacher at this level, and seems to come highly recommended online. The positions are well chosen and the ideas clearly explained: it’s obvious a lot of work and passion has gone into creating this book. The author is also an openings expert, seemingly favouring lines leading to positions which are both tactically and strategically rich: you’ve seen that he’s pretty scathing about the Giuoco Piano and the London System. If you prefer simpler methods of starting the game you will be less likely to reach the sort of positions featured here. While I consider the claim that it’s for anyone 1600+ to be a trifle optimistic, if you’re a strong and ambitious player (say 2000+, although anyone 1800+ will benefit from at least the first chapter) and you’re prepared to work hard, this book will undoubtedly improve your understanding of grandmaster chess strategy.

Richard James, Twickenham 2nd February 2021

Richard James
. Richard James

Book Details :

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Thinkers Publishing; 1st edition (19 Nov. 2020)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:9492510901
  • ISBN-13:978-9492510907
  • Product Dimensions: 17.78 x 2.54 x 24.13 cm

Official web site of Thinkers Publishing

Universal Chess Training, Wojciech Moranda, Thinker's Publishing, 2020
Universal Chess Training, Wojciech Moranda, Thinker’s Publishing, 2020

Coaching the Chess Stars

Coaching the Chess Stars
Coaching the Chess Stars

“Vladimir Tukmakov, born in Odessa 1946, was one of the strongest Ukranian grandmasters. He was the winner of several strong tournaments, including the Ukranian Championship in 1970, and he came second in three Soviet championships in 1970,72 and 83. After his successful period as active player, he became a coach, trainer and author.”

Vladimir Tukmakov
Vladimir Tukmakov

Perhaps, especially if you’re in the UK where evening league chess is still relatively popular, you’ve found yourself captaining a team.

It’s not too demanding as long as you have a pool of reliable and communicative players to choose from.

Maybe you’ve wondered what it would be like to captain a team in the Chess Olympiad: a really strong team such as Ukraine, Azerbaijan or the Netherlands. Or perhaps a star-studded team like SOCAR in the European Club Championship.

It’s a very different experience from captaining Ambridge C in Division 5 of the Borsetshire League, where all you have to do is get the right number of players to the right place at the right time and report the result, these days probably through the league website.

If you’re captaining a top international team, you’re probably dealing with large egos as well as large Elos. You have to decide on your board order, who to rest in each round, how to get everyone working well together and playing in the interests of the team. You really need to excel at interpersonal as well as chess skills.

This, then, is the subject of the first half of Vladimir Tukmakov’s new book. You’ll read about the triumphs, disasters, and, sadly, tragedies behind the teams he captained.

There’s a lot of chess as well: 37 games or extracts with fairly light annotations, which, by and large, seem to stand up well to modern engine analysis.

Here, for example, is what happens when two of the most imaginative players in 21st century chess meet. The opening, and indeed the whole game, seems to come from another planet.

It’s from the match between Ukraine and Georgia from the 2010 Chess Olympiad (Khanty-Mansiysk)

Vassily Ivanchuk (2754) – Baadur Jobava (2710)

1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. f3 Qb6 4. a3 e5 5. exd5 Nf6 6. dxe5 Bc5 7. exf6 Bf2+ 8. Ke2 O-O 9. Qd2 Re8+ 10. Kd1 Re1+ 11. Qxe1 Bxe1 12. Kxe1 Bf5

Tukmakov comments here: “Formally, White has a big material advantage, but the remaining Black pieces are tremendously active. In addition, don’t forget that even though the white king is standing on its original square, White has lost the right to castle.”.

13. Be2 Nd7 14. dxc6 bxc6 15. Bd1 Re8+ 16. Ne2 Nxf6 17. Nbc3 Bc8 18. a4 a5 19. Rf1 Ba6 20. Rf2 h5 21. Ra3 h4 22. g3 h3 23. g4 Rd8 24. Nf4 Nd7 25. Rb3 Qd4 26. Nfe2 Re8 27. Ne4 Qxa4 28. Bd2 Qa1 29. Bc3 Ne5 30. Ra3 Qb1 31. Nd2 Qc1 32. Rxa5 Ng6 33. Rxa6 Nf4
34. Ra8! 1-0

Tukmakov awards ‘?!’ to Black’s 13th and 17th moves: Stockfish 11 is happy with 13… Nd7 but agrees that Black should have preferred 17… Nd5.

It’s the second half, though, which gives the book its title. Coaching a world class grandmaster who plays even better than you do is very different from giving an occasional lesson to the top board from your local primary school.

Here, Tukmakov relates his experiences of one-off collaborations with Geller, Tseshkovsky, Korchnoi (Wijk aan Zee & Brussels 1991) and Karpov (match with Anand, 1998). More recently, he’s acted as coach to Anish Giri (2014-2016) and Wesley So (2016-2017).

In this section of the book you’ll find another 46 games or extracts, so you get a lot of interesting chess for your money.

In complete contrast to the previous game, here you can see an example of impressively deep opening preparation.

Anish Giri (2768) – Alexei Shirov (2691) Hoogeveen (6) 2014

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 e5 6. Ndb5 d6 7. Bg5 a6 8. Na3 b5 9. Nd5 Be7 10. Bxf6 Bxf6 11. c3 Bg5 12. Nc2 O-O 13. a4 bxa4 14. Rxa4 a5 15. Bc4 Rb8 16. b3 Kh8 17. Nce3 g6 18. h4 Bxh4 19. g3 Bg5 20. f4 exf4 21. gxf4 Bh4+ 22. Kf1 f5 23. Ra2 fxe4 24. Rah2 g5 25. Qh5 Rb7 26. Ke2 Be6 27. Qh6 Bg8 28. Rg2 Rbf7 29. Rxh4 gxh4 30. Nf5 h3 31. Nh4 Qxh4 32. Rxg8+ Rxg8 33. Qxh4

“Only here did our home analysis end. A triumph for modern methods of preparation!”

33… Rg2+ 34. Kf1 Rh2 35. Ne3 Rg7 36. Qf6 Rh1+ 37. Kf2 Rh2+ 38. Ke1 Rh1+ 39. Kd2 Rh2+ 40. Kc1 Ne7 41. Nf5 Rhg2 42. Nxg7 Rxg7 43. Qf8+ Ng8 44. Bxg8 Rxg8 45. Qf6+ Rg7 46. Qh4 1-0

Shirov had reached the position after 21… Bh4+ before, but had met Kd2 rather than Kf1. Tukmakov claims that 25. Qh5 was a novelty: in fact it had been played twice before, with Black replying Ne5 and, although standing worse, scoring 1½/2.

An excellent book, then, fascinating and, at times, brutally honest. Tukmakov offers a different insight into top level chess from two perspectives: a captain and a coach.

If your main aim is improving your chess you might not consider it an essential purchase, but if the subject matter appeals, don’t hesitate. You won’t be disappointed.

Richard James, Twickenham, 29th February 2020

Richard James
Richard James

Book Details :

  • Paperback : 352 pages
  • Publisher: Thinkers Publishing; 01 edition (2 April 2019)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9492510502
  • ISBN-13:  978-9492510501
  • Product Dimensions: 17 x 1.5 x 23.4 cm

Official web site of Thinkers Publishing

Coaching the Chess Stars
Coaching the Chess Stars

Chess Tests

Chess Tests
Chess Tests

Chess Tests : Mark Dvoretsky

From the rear cover :

“Mark Dvoretsky (1947-2016) is considered one of the greatest chess instructors in the modern era. He left behind a great legacy of many books and publications. At the time of his passing, there were two unpublished manuscripts he had finished (and one other co-authored with study composer Oleg Pervakov).”

IM Mark Izrailovich Dvoretsky
IM Mark Izrailovich Dvoretsky

And from the Foreword by Artur Yusupov :

“Chess Tests offers chess players material of very high quality for working on various themes, from training combinative vision to techniques of realizing advantages. I recommend using those materials for in-depth work in the directions mentioned in the book. If you follow this advice, then this volume will become a valuable addition to your chess studies and will help you reinforce skills and knowledge you have already obtained. “And here is probably the most important point. Dvoretsky wanted to write a book that would not only teach some intricacies of chess, but would also be simply a pleasure to read for aficionados of the game, so he tried to amass the ‘tastiest’ of examples here. I hope that this last book by him is going to achieve this, presenting its readers with many chess discoveries and joy of communication with the great coach and author.”

IM Mark Izrailovich Dvoretsky holding forth with Jonathan Speelman, Jonathan Manley., Mihai Suba and Bernard Cafferty. Photograph : Mark Huba
IM Mark Izrailovich Dvoretsky holding forth with Jonathan Speelman, Jonathan Manley., Mihai Suba and Bernard Cafferty. Photograph : Mark Huba

This book (also available as an eBook) is divided into seven chapters as follows :

  1. Training Combinational Vision, 32 tests
  2. Candidate Moves, 38 tests
  3. Calculating Variations, 18 tests
  4. Attack and Defense, 28 tests
  5. Positional Play, 52 tests
  6. Realizing an Advantage, 24 tests
  7. Endgame Tests, 35 tests

and each of these is further sub-divided. Above we have indicated a number of tests for each chapter. Each of these tests comprises a position diagram with a whose move it is indicator.

Unusually, the tests sections comprise the first 62 pages and pages 63 – 206 are the solutions. So, this book is a little unusual for a standard “tactics” book in that the bulk of the text is in form of solutions and explanations.

So, this is much, much more than a routine tactics book. As you might expect from Dvoretsky the bonuses come from the solutions. It is clear that Dvoretsky had gone to great lengths to collect the test positions, and, as we found (in the BCN office), they were an absolute delight to work on. To whet your appetite here is a pleasing example from “Tasty Tactics #2 :

And here is the solution that you may wish to cover up for now :

6. Stern-Sanakoev, corr wch 1994-99

51…Ra5-a1!!

A fine queen deflection that prepares a mating attack.

52.Qb1xa1 Qd6xh2+1 53.Rh3xh2 Nf5-g3+ 54.Kh1-g1 Bc7-b6+ 55.Re1-e3 Bb6xe3#

52.Qe4 does not help..

The same combination leads to a won endgame : 52…Qxh2+ 53.Rxh2 Ng3+ 54. Kg1 Bb6+ 55.Qd4 Bxd4+ 56.cd Rxe1+ 57.Kf2 Nf1 (57…Re3!?;57…Rh1!?), but a quicker way to finish the game is 52…Qf4! (there is a threat of both 53…Qxe4 and 53…Qf1+) 53.Qe8+ Kg7 54.Rxa1 Qxh2+! 55.Rxh2 Ng3+ 56.Kg1 Bb6+.

and here is a beautiful example from Tasty Tactics #4 :

but we won’t give the solution here : you will either have to solve this yourself or buy the book or both !

The general standard of these tests is high : even the tests labelled as “not very difficult” are challenging to say the least. Particularly instructive was the “Realizing an Advantage” section which includes subsections labelled “Technique”.  Here is an example :

and here is a particularly tricky example :

In summary, this is a wonderful book and a great testament to the legend that is Mark Dvoretsky. We cannot recommend this book highly enough and claim that is it one of the best chess books of 2019. Please get it and enjoy it !

John Upham, Cove, Hampshire 24th February 2020

John Upham
John Upham

Book Details :

  • Softcover : 208 pages
  • Publisher:  Russell Enterprises (15 Nov. 2019)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1949859061
  • ISBN-13: 978-1949859065
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 0.6 x 22.9 cm

Official web site of Russell Enterprises

Chess Tests
Chess Tests

Kings of the Chessboard

Kings of the Chessboard
Kings of the Chessboard

“Grandmaster Paul van der Sterren (1956 ), was one of the strongest chess players of the Netherlands. He became twice national champion and represented his country eight times during the Chess Olympiads. In 2001 he retired from being an active player and focused on writing books drawn from his rich chess experience. This is his first English chess book written for Thinkers Publishing.”

Paul van der Sterren
Paul van der Sterren

Many chess players are strikingly ignorant of their game’s heritage, so there’s always a place for a new book offering readers a quick spin through chess history.

There are, broadly speaking, several ways this could be approached: a selection of Famous Games for those who haven’t seen them before, a history of the world championship itself, or an essay on the development of chess style and opening theory over the centuries.

Van der Sterren’s book seems to combine all three approaches. How does it fare?

As I have a particular interest in pre-20th century chess history I decided to dive in at the beginning.

We start, not unreasonably, with Philidor. After some biographical information we might be looking forward to seeing how he played.

Alas, not. The author makes the extraordinary claim that “It is true that some fragments of his games have made it into today’s databases, but their authenticity is doubtful and it is likely that these are mostly fictitious games invented by him for the purpose of teaching or demonstrating a particular point he wanted to make.”.

Really? Is van der Sterren confusing Philidor with Greco, perhaps? While it’s true that the games in his books, and there were only a few, were fictitious, my database has one piece of analysis from 1749 along with 60 complete and 5 partial games against named and known opponents from between 1780 and 1795, all but the first played in London. They were collected by Philidor’s friend George Atwood and many of them were published by George Walker in 1835. There is no doubt at all of their authenticity.

We then move onto the match(es) between La Bourdonnais and McDonnell in 1834.  A complete game would have been good but all we get is the Famous Position where the Frenchman forced resignation with three pawns on the seventh rank, without any explanation as to how the position arose.

Then comes the first international tournament: London 1851. We meet Staunton and Anderssen, and, guess what, we see the finales of the Evergreen and Immortal Games. Again, if you really want to publish them because your readers might not have seen them before, why not give the complete games?

According to van der Sterren, “Now Black has to play the defensive move 20… Na6.”. Historians disagree about whether or not Kieseritzky resigned before playing this move (he claimed he did), or whether he played the move and Anderssen announced mate, but why not mention the much better, but still insufficient, defence 20… Ba6?

Come to think of it, why not mention that both the Immortal and Evergreen games were casual encounters in which Anderssen could afford to take risks?

Moving on, inevitably, to Morphy, by this point I started to play a game with myself, guessing what I’d find in each chapter.  Opera House game? Tick! Queen sac v Paulsen? Surprisingly not.

On to Steinitz. Bardeleben at Hastings? Tick! Van der Sterren talks about Steinitz’s advocacy of positional chess, and then aims to justify the inclusion of this tactical game atypical of his late style by incorporating some callout boxes labelled ‘Misunderstandings’ in a rather ugly childish font: something not repeated elsewhere in the book.

Lasker? Exchange Lopez ending v Capa? Tick! Then, on p49, in a moment of carelessness, we meet ‘Dawid Janowksi’,

On the same page we see a Famous Pawn Ending between Lasker and Tarrasch:

We’re told that “By looking at the position in a concrete way instead of relying on general considerations, it is possible to find a concrete path to salvation for Black.”. It’s White, not Black, who finds a concrete path to salvation by playing, after 40. h4 Kg4, 41. Kg6  rather than the losing Kf6. Although the annotations throughout the book are mostly verbal we do get a variation which demonstrates why Kf6 loses.

Capablanca? Qb2 v Bernstein? Tick! Rook ending v Tartakower? Tick! But not full games.

Alekhine? v Réti in 1925? Tick!  Bogo in 1922? Tick! Again, only the closing stages so we don’t get to see how he reached those positions.

To be fair, the book improves as it approaches the 21st century, and we start meeting players the author knew or knows well.

Here, for instance, is a position from a game I must have seen at the time, but had forgotten about.

This is Anand-Karpov Las Palmas 1996. Here, Vishy played Bxh7+!.

“Anand must have felt there is bigger game to be hunted than just a pawn. Still, to forego a perfectly reasonable option with an extra pawn and a draw in the bag, in favour of a piece sacrifice with unpredictable consequences, is not a decision many players would have made. It is a sign of self-confidence, great powers of calculation and bravery; in other words the hallmark of the most pure, sparkling talent.”

This is typical of van der Sterren’s style of annotation: words rather than variations and a tendency towards hero-worship.

Anand himself is, typically, more modest: “Here, I spent a few seconds checking 21. Rxd5 which leaves White with an extra pawn, but as I mentioned earlier I couldn’t be bothered. I saw Bxh7+ and didn’t waste any more time on Rxd5. I then spent some time analysing Bxh7+, and didn’t see a defence for Black. I then realized that I was too excited to analyse and decided to get it over with. He had hardly any time left already and I was sure that he wouldn’t find a defence.”

Does the book succeed? Although I don’t like being negative in my reviews, I’m afraid not. It suffers from trying to do too much in too short a space, and from a lack of historical knowledge and awareness. If you know anything at all about the history of our beautiful games you’ll have seen almost everything before, and you’ll be frustrated by the broad brushstrokes.

Back in 1987, Mike Fox and I were criticised by some reviewers for including a chapter of Greatest Games in The Complete Chess Addict, but they failed to understand that our target market was social players who wouldn’t have seen them before. By the same token, there may still be a market for a collection of Famous Games, Famous Combinations and Famous Endgame Studies. There are several other histories of the world championship, and treatises on the development of chess style and opening theory, but books that are up to date and whose authors have something new to say are always welcome. This book doesn’t really do any of these things very well, and there is very little original content or thought. If you try to be everything to everyone you end up being nothing to nobody.

However, the book is, for the most part, nicely produced, with a lot of attractive photographs. For someone just starting out in competitive chess who would like to know more about the game’s history, this could be just what they want to pique their interest and encourage them to study this fascinating aspect of chess in more detail.

Richard James, Twickenham, 18th February 2020

Richard James
Richard James

Book Details :

  • Paperback : 264 pages
  • Publisher: Thinkers Publishing; 1 edition (20 May 2019)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9492510537
  • ISBN-13:  978-9492510532
  • Product Dimensions: 17.1 x 1.9 x 23.5 cm

Official web site of Thinkers Publishing

Kings of the Chessboard
Kings of the Chessboard