Book review: What it takes to become a Grandmaster – Andrew Soltis

Publisher: Batsford Chess Author: GM Andrew Soltis 318 pages ★★★★½

soltis_what_takes_grandmasterGM Andrew Soltis returns with a sequel to his popular book “What it takes to become a Chess Master”. Whereas “Chess Master” talked about the new skills you need to move from club player to master level, “Grandmaster” points out the things only GMs do.

Right at the beginning Soltis warns that reading this book alone will not make you a GM. Instead he refers to a Kasparov quote to outline the book’s goal:

“70% of the moves could be found by any competent player,” was Garry’s view of the play between Carlsen and Anand in their first World Championship match. “25% could be played by any GM but 5% could only be played by World Championship level players”.

This book aims to show the kind of moves that form the 25% that “could be played by any GM”. Soltis includes 50 plans, formations and ideas that GMs have used to win games which might well appear counter-intuitive to start with.

Topics include:

  • Mystery Moves: Rook Pawns – the hidden advantages of pushing your a or h-pawn in the middlegame.
  • Delayed castling – Mikhail Botvinnik’s advice on getting more out of your opening than just King safety.
  • Hidden 3rd move: Why there is often a sting in the tail of 2 move combinations.
  • Endgame anchors – how to save an endgame an exchange down.
  • Piece nullification – the art of making your opponent’s pieces useless.
  • Impossible moves – the thought-process that finds moves normally reserved for chess engines.

Each section includes the author’s clear explanation of the idea and real world examples taken from games between top players, mainly from the modern era but including Capablanca, Fischer, Karpov and Kasparov among many others.

There are plenty of diagrams, normally 3-4 per 2 pages and the book is full of great quotes and anecdotes from/about famous players about each idea. One tells how the 14 year old Kasparov had adjourned a position down an exchange for a doubled pawn (2R3P v RB4P). Garry wanted to discuss the position in detail with Botvinnik but the Patriarch cut him off with a question, “Garry, just tell me one thing. Is your Bishop protected by a pawn?”
“No,” came the reply.
“Then you’re lost” was the brutally honest evaluation; and so it proved,

Some care is needed to make sure the ideas aren’t taken as universal solutions. Often they are exceptions, but powerful exceptions to be aware of. For instance, when talking about “uber-luft”, giving the King room to escape back-rank issues by advancing a pawn 2 squares instead of 1, Soltis admits that “in the vast majority of cases, one square will be better. But in that minority of positions, the benefit of two squares will be considerable”.

What I really like about this book is the ability to read it in almost any order, dipping in, picking up a new idea before skipping to another one that catches my attention. It’s pretty easy to follow the games without having to get a board out and it’s lightweight too so you can really reduce your exercise to a minimum!

While “What it takes…” probably won’t make you a GM on it’s own, it is sure to teach you a load of new concepts and understand chess at a deeper level. There are Quiz questions and answers to test your ability with too, a very important part of consolidating knowledge and making real progress.

All in all, a great book and highly recommended to anyone who enjoys learning new chess ideas.

Buy the book from the publisher here.

Book Review: Bronstein: Move by Move

Publisher: Everyman Chess Author: FM Steve Giddins 288 pages ★★★★☆

Bronstein move by move

The great thing about game collections – as opposed to opening/endgame books – is you get to see the game as a complete entity, including how the phases transition to one another. Not only do you learn something about each stage of the game, the ideas are often more memorable as you see the story of the game develop.

The subject of FM Steve Giddin’s book is the legendary David Bronstein, who famously drew a match against Botvinnik for the World Championship 12-12 in 1951, allowing the Patriarch to retain his title. Tragically for Bronstein, he allowed a 1 point lead to slip with just 2 games of the match remaining.

Equally, Bronstein is remembered for his excellent books Zurich 1953, 200 Open Games and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice as well as his creative play. It’s the latter that makes him a worthy subject for a book such as this.

The Move by Move format anticipates the reader’s questions as the game plays out, with the author’s answers elucidating the situation. FM Steve Giddins does a good job here, picking up on all the niggling confusions likely to trouble the reader and dissipating them well.

In this example, from Bronstein – Levenfish 1949, our hero has exchanged off a seemingly weak Black d5 pawn.

BronsteinLevenfishQuestion: I don’t understand what White has achieved over the last few moves. Hasn’t he just exchanged off Black’s weak d5 pawn for him?

Answer: Yes, but he has also opened more lines and cleared more space for his pieces. The d5 pawn was never in real danger of dropping off, but it was depriving the white pieces of some squares and lines that would have been useful. Now, for example, the a2-g8 diagonal is open, so Black must worry about the white bishop getting round the back to g8.

There are only a few pages of background and biography but that’s not the book’s aim. The 30 games are rich in ideas and varied in style, making them excellent material for the improving player and players rated under 2000 will pick up a lot from Bronstein: Move by Move.

If you like well annotated game collections then I can recommend this book. A free pdf sample can be downloaded from the publisher’s website.

Test position: Can you find Bronstein’s (White) move versus Korchnoi in this position?

BronsteinKorchnoi

Book Review: The Caro-Kann (Opening Repertoire)

Jovanka Houska

Publisher: Everyman Chess Author: WGM Jovanka Houska 480 pages ★★★★½

The Caro-Kann by Jovanka Houska

The Caro-Kann is a funny opening – it looks completely unambitious (would you open 1.c3?) yet it was a favourite of World Champions Capablanca, Botvinnik, Petrosian and Karpov. Of course, these guys knew what they were doing. The Caro-Kann gives Black a completely sound position and alleviates some of the development issues of the French, namely the c8 Bishop.

So solid is the Caro-Kann, that White often compromises his (or her!) own position in an attempt to get at Black.Solid can often be confused with boring but Black is just being patient, preparing diligently before attacking the centre and gaining space.

If you choose the Caro-Kann against 1.e4 you will soon realise the wealth of different ways the opening can go – at an early stage too. After 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 White might play 3.Nc3 (Nd2), 3.exd4, 3.e5 or 3.f3 and all have their own unique characteristics. That’s not to mention all the second move deviations.

Thankfully, WGM (and IM) Jovanka Houska is here to help out. “Caro Kann (Opening Repertoire) is a 480 (large) page book designed to give Black an excellent answer to all White’s questions. Because this is a book from Black’s perspective, don’t expect all Black’s possibilities to be covered in detail. Houska recommends a move and gives her reasons. Often this includes a short discussion of why it is to be preferred to the alternatives.All White’s likely responses are covered in detail, of course, so you are well prepared.

Inexperienced Caro-Kann players might learn best by going through the most common variations (3.Nc3, the Panov-Botvinnik Attack (3.exd5 cxd5 4.c4) and the Advance (3.e5)) and playing through the main lines. Jovanka Houska points out all the key manoeuvres, pawn breaks and general strategies to be aware of.

For instance, in the opening paragraph of the chapter on the Fantasy variation, she has this to say:

With f2-f3, White bolsters the centre with pawns and gets ready to open the f-file for his rooks to attack a la King’s Gambit… It does, however, have a clear downside: the pawn on f3 hampers White’s development and the Achilles’ heel of White’s position is the f2-square and the weakened g1-a7 diagonal. As such, Black should adopt a dark-square strategy.

More experienced Caro-Kann players will want to delve deeper into the chapters and become experts in their lines. Happily, Houska’s book is both accessible and thorough, so  suitable for all levels of player.

You can download a free sample of the book on the Everyman Chess website.

Book Review: The Killer Dutch

Publisher: Everyman Chess Author: GM Simon Williams 468 pages ★ ★ ★ ★½

TKDutch-212x300

When choosing a new opening to learn, it makes sense to select one that suits your style of play. For aggressive risk-takers an opening described as “killer” might be a good fit and this would seem to be the case here.

The author is the English GM Simon Williams whose peak rating (to date) is 2550. He is well-known as a very strong attacking player who likes to play the Sicilian Dragon, a double-edged opening if ever there was one, and the Dutch, which he has played for his entire career.

He points out that the Dutch (1…f5) is a natural choice vs 1. d4 for those who like to meet 1. e4 with the Sicilian as the pawn structures mirror one another and they have some ideas in common. In addition to this, Williams points out the similarities between the Dutch and certain openings for White, including the Grand Prix Attack (1. e4 c5 2. Nc3 d6 3. f4) and Bird’s Opening (1. f4), the bonus being that understanding the Dutch will enable you to be play these lines better too.

I should mention that this book covers Simon William’s favourite Classical Dutch with pawns on f5-e6-d6 and Bishop on e7, as opposed to the Stonewall (pawns on f5-e6-d5-c6 and Bishop on d6) or Leningrad (Kside fianchetto).

There are 10 chapters dealing with different variations and these come after a chunky (55 page) introduction which outlines a few key ideas to keep your position sound. These include how to deal with the central pawn structure and where to place your pieces to attack White’s King.

So we are told to get in …e5 and are warned that allowing White to play e4 without us having ….e5 available will lead to an inferior position because White will be able to open the e-file and attack our weak e6 pawn.

We are also advised to leave the light-squared Bishop on c8 for a while as it is already reasonably placed for Black’s purposes, only moving it when it can come into the game with great effect perhaps on g4 or h3.

These are the first 2 of 8 rules that GM Williams outlines for the Dutch player, others including pawn breaks and heavy piece manoeuvres. These rules are given with the reasoning for each then an example of the rule’s use (or misuse) in a real GM game. (I wrote these rules down and kept them by my side whilst playing some friendly blitz games to get used to them).

The 10 variations are:

1. Ye Olde Faithful 7…a5Dutch1

Amongst its uses, ….a5 can help secure a Knight or Bishop on b4 and allow the quick transfer of the a8 Rook to the Kside via a6.

 

 

 

Dutch22. The Most Popular Move 7…Qe8

Initiating the Queen manoeuvre to h5. Simon Williams says that, although this is the most popular 7th move choice for Black, he does not believe it to be the strongest option.

 

 

 

Dutch33. The Modern 7…Ne4

Freeing f6 for the Bishop and potentially grabbing space if White exchanges Knights. Simon Williams demonstrates a game where he beat Sokolov with this variation.

 

 

 

Dutch44. New, Fresh and Slightly Dubious

7…Nc6 when White can respond with d5 and Nd4

 

 

 

 

Dutch55. White Plays g3 and Bg2, Early Deviations

 

 

 

 

 

Dutch66. White Avoids Fianchettoing

This chapter includes a really good overview of both sides strategies if White decides upon a Colle or London System versus the Dutch.

 

 

 

Dutch77. Aggressive Set-ups and Early Gambits

Including the wild Korchnoi variation (pictured).

 

 

 

 

Dutch88. Early Deviations: 2 Nc3 and 2 Bg5

Important lines to know how to face if you open 1…f5 (as opposed to 1…e6 and 2…f5).

 

 

 

 


Dutch99. White Avoids d4 and Adopts an English Set-up.

 

 

 

 

 

Dutch1010. White Avoids c4 and d4

Including 2. d3 Nc6 (pictured) and the dangerous Lisitsyn Gambit (1. Nf3 f5 2. e4!?).

 

 

 

Every chapter is packed with annotated games (the book has 45 in total) to illustrate the ideas, with wins for both sides showing where the mistakes and opportunities lie. These annotations go up to the endgame where appropriate although many end in mating attacks! Also, at the end of each chapter is a test with a number of positions to assess and reinforce your understanding of the material. Many of the games are the author’s own from GM level play and there are also games featuring Korchnoi, Caruana, Carlsen, Karpov and Short to name a few.

This is definitely a book that can take you from never having played the opening before to a very sound understanding of it, ready to face anything your opponent has to throw at you. The opening itself is a recommended choice for those looking for excellent winning chances as Black versus 1. d4/1. c4/1.Nf3.

You can grab a copy from the publishers, Everyman Chess, and there is a free sample available on their site too.

 

 

Ivanchuk: Move by move

Publisher:  Everyman Chess      Author: Junior Tay       512 pages          ★★

IvanchukmbmThe title should give you a good idea of what to expect from this book; the chess genius Vassily Ivanchuk is the subject of the instructional move by move format which explains games as they unfold.

Ivanchuk is an excellent player to study as his games encompass all areas of chess. He plays nearly every opening and many different variations of each; he is a superb strategist and endgame player and has the tactical ability you’d expect from a 2800 player. Not only is he blessed with a fantastic talent but he also has a real love for chess. Garry Kasparov referred to Ivanchuk as a genius and was, it is reported, more afraid of Vassily than any other player.

Ivanchuk was twice ranked 2nd in the world (in 1991 and 2007) and won the Linares tournament in ’91 finishing ahead of Kasparov and Karpov. This is a player of the highest quality, many consider that it is only his nervous disposition that prevented him from becoming World Champion.

This book is wonderful. It features 40 very well annotated games (only 1 of which is in common with Kalinichenko’s Ivanchuk book) with question and answer sections at instructive/critical moments. These are interspersed with diagrams, averaging over one a page. It is a large book, over 500 pages,with quality binding and glossy cover.

The author, Junior Tay, is also a chess coach as well as master-level player (Candidate Master and ICCF Senior International Master) and this shows in his clear explanations. Many of the games feature a deep understanding of the characteristics of the position, formulation of a plan and clever move orders to execute the plan as effectively as possible. The reader will learn to look at positions and think about the game in new ways as (s)he goes through this book.

Some examples:

In this position, the author asks us to choose between 16…Na4 and 16…Ba4. It had already been explained that part of Black’s plan consisted of an eventual advance of the Qside pawns.

 

NikolicIvanchukIt seems that the Bishop is better placed where it is and the 16…Na4 gains time by attacking the c3 pawn as well as allowing the b-pawn to advance.

However, Ivanchuk plays 16…Ba4! “Forcing White’s Queen off the b1-h7 diagonal after which Black can retreat the Bishop again.” 17. Qb2 Bc6 “This guards b7 and restrains e3-e4 – a multi-purpose move indeed. Now Na4 is threatened after all, forking Queen and c3-pawn” 18. Qc2 “White decides his Queen is best placed here, keeping control of e4. So Ivanchuk has gained a free move, enabling him to organise his forces faster and more effectively.” 18…Na4. 

AlekIvanIn this position, Ivanchuk wants to push his b-pawn in a minority attack. White has just played Bg2 making “another ‘pass’ reasoning that Ivanchuk cannot play …b5-b4 anyway since the a4 pawn is hanging and, if necessary, Bxd5 will remove the key piece aiding the minority attack.”

Q: How does Ivanchuk position himself for the b5-b4 break? What conditions are required?

 

A: Black wants a Rook on the c-file and the other on the d-file, because if he has to give up the a-pawn , he needs to hit the White b-,c- and d-pawns in return in order to play for the win.

29…Rd8! 30. Bf1 Once again making a ‘pass’. However, this allows Ivanchuk to realize his agenda. 30…b4! 31 Rxa4? bxc3 32 bxc3 Nxc3 33 Bxc3 Rxc3

 

AlekIvan2Black can now train his pieces on the weakened isolated d-pawn. The pawn is toast as Ivanchuk can hit it 3 times while Alekseev can only defend it twice.”

 

 

 

 

There are 7 chapters in the book, the first 6 feature games fitting a theme, namely:

1. Global Domination – grand strategy games where advantages are accumulated until Ivanchuk controls every area of the board or switches from one to another when his opponent is unable to defend adequately.

2. A Rook Awakening – this chapter features games with mysterious Rook moves such as doubling Rooks on a closed file because Ivanchuk knows they will be ideally placed many moves in the future.

3. Pragmatism and Precision in the Regicide Quest – Ivanchuk’s approach to the King Hunt. Rapid placement of attacking pieces, powerful threats and a willingness to convert a well-defended attack into another advantage.

4. Aggressive defence – counter-attacking games including wins against Carlsen and Kasparov.

5. Mutanis Mutandis – changing the character of games to his (Ivanchuk’s) advantage, often with exchange sacrifices.

6. Chucky the Closer – covering Ivanchuk’s fantastic endgame play with an aim for the ideal set-up for his pieces, patient manoeuvring and setting his opponents problems.

The final chapter is a set of 30 questions in which the reader is challenged to think like Ivanchuk to solve certain problems.

The book itself is well laid out, with large pages and diagrams and there are opening and player indexes at the back for quick reference.

There is a downloadable sample at the Everyman Chess website here.

The Chess Tactics Detection Workbook

Publisher:  Everyman Chess      330 pages          

 

Chess-Tactics-DetectionChess improvers often find themselves looking to absorb new knowledge about the game in an effort to get better results when they might benefit more from becoming more skilful, especially in terms of calculation. To achieve this, improvers should be training by completing exercises instead of only reading/playing over games, although that has its place of course.

This recent book from Everyman Chess aims to fill a gap in the field of tactics training by offering an innovative format. If you consider other books of tactical puzzles you might have seen, they will almost invariably be in the same format: they present a diagram of a position and ask you to find a winning/saving tactic. However, our games are not like that. No-one appears at the critical moment telling us that there is a winning move to be found. Consequently we do not know to spend as much time as possible in finding it.

“The Chess Tactics Detection Workbook” emulates this experience by presenting a game in algebraic notation which you then play through. After every pair of moves you examine the position and discover whether either side has missed a tactic or has made an error and allowed a tactic to be played against them. The tactics are rarely actually played so you’re looking for the missed opportunities and the mistakes that permitted them.

The games have been carefully selected in that they:

  • are taken from real games by players up to 1700 rating
  • have tactics for you to discover
  • incorporate various tactical themes

Once you have played through a game and written down your findings, you can check them against the answers at the end of the section. Here you will be awarded a number of points depending on how much you have found. Once all the exercises have been completed, you can total up your score to get an overall grade.

There are 3 sections. The first features games played between players rated 1100-1300, the second between players in the 1301-1500 Elo bracket and the last between players rated 1501-1700. Each contains 40 games so there are 120 games in total for you to work through.

The game notation is given from the first move up until such point as the rest of the moves aren’t required for the exercise. Of course, opening gambits such as 1. e4 e5 2. f4 are not considered tactical errors! Some games only give the first 15 moves for both sides, others go to move 40.

What is interesting is you don’t know in advance how much or little there is to find in the games. You have to be alert as you play through them. I found this when I played through game 20 – I found the error and the right move after which there were a couple of pawn moves played. The last of these was also an error, allowing a fairly obvious fork – however, I’d not looked for a tactic here, making the dangerous assumption that all the tactics had been found!

The solutions are clear and well written and diagrams are included at this point.

What I like about this format is that in some situations there seems to be potential for tactics but, upon analysis, there isn’t anything concrete. However, you must check – just as you would in a real game. On one exercise I spent most of my time checking variations that didn’t work. The book trains you to look for tactical possibilities at every step, something that standard puzzles don’t do.

As mentioned above, games are played by people in the 1100-1700 bracket and I would recommend this book for players in that range. You will be finding tactical possibilities that similar rated players are missing and this will give you an advantage when you face them in the future.

The book itself is a large paperback, reassuringly weighty, with strong binding and a glossy cover. A glossary of tactical themes (such as discovered check, overloaded piece, mate threat…) is included at the back of the book for reference.

A free sample of the book can be downloaded from the Everyman Chess website here.

The Classical French – Move by Move

Publisher: Everyman Chess             £19.99/$29.95         464 pages           ½

MM-The-Classical-FrenchPrior to reading “The Classical French – move by move” my experience with opening books was less than pleasant. The books were a series of moves to be memorised and assumed that the reader understood the reason behind them, not ideal for someone wishing to learn a new opening. I am glad to say this is certainly not the case here.

The popular “Move by move” series from Everyman Chess teaches by giving clear explanations of the ideas and possibilities for each side as the games progress. The author (prolific writer International Master Cyrus Lakdawala) anticipates the reader’s questions about the positions and these questions are highlighted with a shaded background so they may be considered before continuing to read the answer. These can be related to the understanding of the position, a decision on the best strategic plan or an alert to a tactical possibility.

A quick example of each:

 

CFMM_MacIvanchukMovesGame 14. Macieja – Ivanchuk, Moscow 2001.

Position after 7…Be7.

“Ivanchuk holds back on …Qb6. To my mind this may be Black’s sneakiest and best move order in the chapter.

Question: But won’t the game simply transpose when Black plays …Qb6 later on?

Answer: It would but this is under the assumption that Black will play the move, which he may or may not.

Question: What would be the point on holding back on …Qb6?

Answer: If we briefly review the Anand-Shirov game from earlier in the chapter, Shirov retreated his queen from b6 to c7. In this case, Ivanchuk may be trying to reach the same position a full move up.

Question: Why does Black sometimes move the queen back to c7 in this line?

Answer: Two reasons:

  1. Black may opt to develop the c8-bishop with …b6 and …Ba6 (this plan was suggested in the notes to the Anand-Shirov game). In order to do so, the queen must be removed from b6.
  2. If you recall, Shirov retreated his queen to c7 to set up a piece sac on e5. Imagine what Shirov could have done if he was handed a full tempo in that game.

 

Exercise: Combination Alert! Ivanchuk found a beautiful combination here. Take your time on this one. For now the solution appears shrouded in an obscuring mist. Where is it?”

 

CFMM_MacIvanchuk(Black to play. Solution at the bottom of the post.)

 

 

 

 

 

Exercise (planning): Grandmaster So composed an effective plan to systematically strengthen his game and display the unsoundness of Kamsky’s previous intent. What would you play here as Black?”

 

CFMM_KamskySoGame 20: Gata Kamsky – Wesley So, 2009. 

Answer: Principle: Counter in the centre when attacked on the wing. 29…Qe7! Intending …Nc6, followed by …d4, after which Black takes over the initiative. 30 Rf2 Nc6 “Be very aware that I call the shots!” the knight reminds those around him. 31 Qd2 d4 Now Black’s idea reverberates with power, akin to a pipe organ’s sound overwhelming the cathedral. 32 Re4 dxc3 33 Qxc3 Rf8 34 g4!? The g-pawn ceased to be amenable to reason and pushes forward with a risky scheme. White is busted so he tries desperately to fix the f6-pawn as a stationary target and have his bishop re-enter the game, at a cost to his own king’s safety. 34…Rd6 35 Bg2 Ne5 36 g5 This undermining attempt doesn’t bother Black. 36…Rxe6 Ah, the relief. So exorcises a great evil from his position. 37 gxf6 Rfxf6 38 Rxf6 Qxf6 Black is up two pawns without a trace of compensation for White.”

The book is comprised of 57 superbly annotated games which cover the various possibilities of the Classical French (1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Nf6). The Winawer variation (3…Bb4) is more popular currently although, as the author points out, not at the very highest level. His reasoning behind this is that the Winawer gives up the dark-squared Bishop and is therefore strategically not so strong, having weakened the dark squares for Black.

There are 8 chapters in the book, covering:
ClassicalSteinitzThe Classical Steinitz  Main Line (1 e4 e6 2 d4 d5 3 Nc3 Nf6 4 e5 Nfd7 5 f4 c5 6 Nf3 Nc6 7 Be3 cxd4 8 Nxd4 Bc5)

 

 

 

 

 

ShirovAnandThe Shirov-Anand line (1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. e5 Nfd7 5. Nce2 c5 6. c3 Nc6 7. f4) So-called because Anand employed it in the final game of his match against Shirov for the FIDE World Championship 2000. Anand won the game and the match.

 

 

 

PoPaThe Poisoned Pawn Variation (1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. e5 Nfd7 5. f4 c5 6. Nf3 Nc6 7. Be3 cxd4 8. Nxd4 Qb6) 

 

 

 

 

 

OldSch-150x150The Old School Classical Line (1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. e5 Nfd7 5. Nf3)

 

 

 

 

 

BurnThe Burn Variation (1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. Bg5 dxe4 5. Nxe4 Be7 6. Bxf6 gxf6).

 

 

 

 

 

McCutchand 3 chapters on the intricate McCutcheon variation. The Main Line (1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. Bg5 Bb4 5. e5 h6 6. Bd2 Bxc3 7. bxc3 Ne4 8. Qg4), Lines with 6. Be3 and 6. Bc1 and a chapter on deviations.

 

 

 

I have to say that IM Lakdawala’s instruction is excellent – you can tell he is an experienced chess coach. The ideas, alternative moves and mistakes in the games are explained very clearly and the reader will not just be learning an opening, he/she will be improving his/her understanding of chess as a whole too.

The author is known for his poetic language and this book has plenty of it too as can be read in the text for the Kamsky – So game above. Another example, describing Black’s light-squared Bishop becoming a strong presence on d5, goes “Who dares call this upstanding member of society ‘bad’ now? White’s stalemated Knight now realizes the glib Bishop is not to be trusted. Up until now, the Knight monopolized the conversation. Now it’s the Bishop’s turn to speak as the stranded Knight’s shortcomings are now quite apparent to all.” Clearly, this could have been written more succinctly but it is the author’s style and I found it amusing on more than one occasion and it didn’t bother me at all. There may, however, be some readers who find this not to their taste.

When I first got the book, I looked for one of my favourite lines (playing as White) 1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. Bg5 Be7 5. e5 Nfd7 6. h4!? the Alekhine-Chatard Attack but found that it was not featured. The reason for this is simply that Lakdawala prefers the move 4…dxe4  and so recommends this for Black. The book, then, does not cover every possible line in the French Defence but gives you a very strong repertoire and teaches it to a high level.

Saying that, there is still a lot  of material here. This is a heavy paperback with 464 large pages of quality information. The text is set out nicely with bold for the main moves, well-sized diagrams and shaded boxes for the questions and exercises. It is easy to study from and the layout and large amount of verbal explanation (as opposed to chess variations) mean that some parts of it can be read quite easily without a board.

“The Classical French: Move by move” is a great book. It will teach the reader a quality opening, not just as a series of memorised moves but with great understanding of the positions, the pieces and the plans. The annotated games are complete so the transitions from opening to middlegame to endgame can be experienced with all their attacks, defences and tactical combinations. This is, in my opinion, how an opening book should be. It will improve your understanding of chess as well as provide you with a repertoire.

Get your copy of “The Classical French: Move by move” from Everyman Chess. A sample of the book can be downloaded from the Everyman Chess site too.

Solution to Ivanchuk tactic: “Deflection/Overload.  21…Rf1+!! 22. Kxf1 [a) After 22 Nxf1 Bxe5 picks up the Queen. b) 22 Ke2 Bb5+ forces mate in 2] 22…Qd3+! 23 Kf2 Bxe5 Black is up material and continues to attack. White can resign here.”)

 

The Most Instructive Games of Chess Ever Played – Chernev

Publisher: Batsford             £15.99/$23.95         312 pages           

 

InstructiveGames1First published in 1965, Irving Chernev’s book has become a classic in the field of annotated games. Now Batsford bring us an algebraic edition to make the book more accessible to further generations.

The author, born Russian but a nationalised American, presents 62 games played by the greats of the game from Steinitz to Fischer, each with an instructive theme. These include demonstrations of how to play with the Bishop pair (Game 20: Rosenthal – Steinitz, 1873), weak colour complexes (Game 38: Bernstein – Mieses, 1904 amongst others) and creating and supporting a passed pawn (Game 9: Fischer – Berliner, 1960). This is a real treasure trove of positional and endgame play in particular.

Let me start with Chernev’s style of instruction. His annotations favour explanations with words rather than multiple variations, although short lines are used to explain tactical points.

In the following position from the famous Capablanca – Tartakower, 1924 game, Chernev writes:

 

CapaTart“Now comes a brilliant continuation which Capablanca must have planned many moves before. In a simplified ending, where Pawns are worth their weight in gold, he gives away two Pawns! Moreover, he lets Black capture them with check!

35. Kg3!

The King is heading for f6, a square from where he can assist the Rook in mating threats, and also help the passed Pawn take those last three steps.”

This is the sort of plan which might not occur to someone who hasn’t seen it before but will stay with them forever when they have. One of my competitive OTB games last year was won using this very idea, letting some Pawns go in order to advance my King and shepherd a Pawn home.

Some of the game commentaries may seem obvious but I feel they are useful, for instance, in the following diagram, Chernev writes:

TarrThob“29. Ke3! This move accomplishes a great deal.

  1. The King protects the pawn, freeing the Rook for active duty.
  2. The King is brought closer to the center.
  3. Black’s Rook, blockader of the Pawn, is forced to retreat.
  4. The passed pawn will be able to advance.”

 

All obvious enough but by stating the benefits of the move, the reader is aware of its logic and what he should be doing to achieve his aims. This awareness can be used in more long-term planning in his own games.

The games are very well chosen, they are excellent examples of the various themes. Here’s a look at Game 39: Steinitz – Sellman, 1885.

SteinitzSellmanChernev writes: “16. Be3! This move, seizing control of the black squares, marks the beginning of White’s positional attack.

White plans to win the game by taking possession of the most important squares in sight, eventually leaving his opponent without a single playable move.”

 

A few moves later…

 

SteinitzSellman2“23. Na5! The Knight has taken five moves to get to a5, a square at the edge of the board, but there is method to Steinitz’s madness. The Knight is bound for c6, to kill off the King’s Bishop.”

 

 

 

Then…

SteinitzSellman3“30. Bf2! This Bishop has been idle for quite a while, but it is now ready to go to work on the black squares. Its first threat is 31. Bh4, attacking the Rook which protects the Knight. This would win the exchange at least.”

 

 

 

and finally…

SteinitzSellman4“35. Bd6! Places Black in zugzwang. Let us look at the choice open to Black:

  1. The King may not move.
  2. The Bishop may move, only at the risk of instant capture.
  3. The Rook may move to b8, when 36. Rxd7 Kxd7 37. Bxb8 wins a piece for White.
  4. The Knight may move to b6 (not to f8, as 36. Re7 is mate) when 36. Re7+ Kf8 37. Nh7+ Kg8 38. Nf6+ Kf8 39. Rd7 is discovered check and mate.
  5. Capitulation – upon which Black decides.”

As a good portion of chess players buy books with the hope of improving their play, a game collection of “The Most Instructive Games of Chess Ever Played” sounds very promising. Does it live up to its billing? Absolutely. The clear-cut strategies together with Chernev’s elucidations will soon become part of the reader’s understanding.

There has been slight criticism of this book by some who say that Chernev over-simplifies the games, suggesting the win was all down to a general principle which one side ignored and the other used. This is fair comment and the reader should bear in mind that there is often a stronger defence to be found. However, the real value in this book, and game collections in general, is in the ideas.

By absorbing the themes in this book, the reader is accumulating plans and methods of executing them. Then, in his own games, he can calculate the best way to realise his aims.

There are some errors in the book, of two types. Firstly, an incorrect move in the notes of Game 5: Rubinstein – Duras, 1908, after White has played 34. b7:

RubiDur“With the threat of winning by 55 Rh8+followed by Queening the Pawn”.

The original book does not make a mistake here: “With the threat of winning by 35 R-R8ch followed by Queening the Pawn.”

Of course, it is obvious what is meant and this was the only example of this that jumped out at me.

 

The second type is some errors in the analysis, which were also in the original. In Game 3: Boleslavsky – Lisitsin, this position occurs:

 

BoleLisBlack plays 24…Qh6 and Chernev notes: “If 24…Qxg3 25 Rd2 leaves Black curiously helpless against the threat of Rg2 winning the Queen.”

However, on 25 Rd2? Black has …Bh6! 26 Rg2? Rc1+ 27 Qxc1 Qxg2.

The reason Black can’t play 24…Qxg3 is the simple 25 Rh3 winning the Queen.

Whether the analysis errors should have been corrected is open to debate. I have seen some comments (with regard to other books) saying that such corrections have detracted from the lesson being given, although I don’t think that would apply in this instance.

I have had an old copy of this book for many years and have always enjoyed the games and Irving Chernev’s writing. The book is invaluable for the ideas contained within and should be a part of every player’s library. In terms of player strength it is suitable for, I would say everybody up to 1700 strength will gain hugely from these examples and I would be surprised if stronger players didn’t also find plenty that they had not seen before.

Even a chess improver with severe time constraints can play through a game from this book a day and learn a great deal in a couple of months. If you haven’t got this book already, take this opportunity to get a real classic in algebraic format.

Buy from http://www.batsford.com/blog/the-most-instructive-games-of-chess-ever-played/

Book Review: Yusupov’s Chess Course

Artur Yusupov’s series of 9 chess course books won the FIDE Trainer Awards’ Boleslavsky Award in 2009 ahead of Kasparov, Dvoretsky and Grivas for the most instructive books of the year and rightly so. Everyone is aware of the fantastic reputation of Dvoretsky’s books but they are generally for the more advanced player. With his chess course, Yusupov sets out to give world-class instruction to the 98% of players below master level.

As a player, Yusupov was strong, very strong. He was world #3 behind Kasparov and Karpov during the late 80s and early 90s and reached the semi-finals of the Candidates 3 times. He became a FIDE Senior Trainer in 2005 and is a highly respected coach as well as working as a second for Anand during some of his World Championship matches.

There are 3 books for 3 levels of play:

ys1u1500 1: The Fundamentals (orange cover), Build Up Your Chess, Boost Your Chess, Chess Evolution

ys2u1800 2: Beyond the Basics (blue cover), Build Up Your Chess, Boost Your Chess, Chess Evolution

Yusupov3u2100 3: Mastery (green cover), Build Up Your Chess, Boost Your Chess, Chess Evolution

 

 

The rating guide given is for the level the player is currently at, with the idea that training with the book series (3 for each rating level) will develop the player beyond that rating strength and be ready for the next stage. So, while a player rated 1780 might think that the u1800 series won’t develop them much, it will! It is exactly for that strength of player.

The books cover all areas of chess: positional elements, how to play certain openings, how to play endgames, how to calculate, how to attack and so on.

You get between 250-300 pages per book, so around 800 pages of material to work through with each level! Plenty to keep you going.

Yusupov insists that all examples are played through on a physical chess board, perhaps because this practise helps in absorbing the chess moves as it is linked with a physical and visual movement. Since I have gone back to using a chessboard instead of a computer for analysing and training, I am retaining far more of the study material as well as being able to concentrate easier and for longer, probably a benefit of not staring at a monitor.

Each chapter tackles a different topic with practical examples given to demonstrate the ideas in the positions. The text guides you through the play so that you understand the moves and also get a feel for the position, developing ‘chess intelligence’. At the end of each chapter is a graded test with positions or varying difficulty (and an appropriate number of points for solving them). If you do not meet the pass mark for the chapter, you are advised to re-do it. In the chapters on openings, the test is less strict and more of a comparison of answers to see how much you have understood.

Any chess book that aims to be instructional should contain tests, in my opinion. How else does the reader know they have learned anything? Exercises develop chess skill which is what chess knowledge aims at becoming.

To give a taste of the content, here are the chapter titles for the Boost Your Chess (middle) book from each level:

1 The Fundamentals: The Windmill, Pawn weaknesses, Back rank combinations, Exploiting weaknesses, The 7th rank, Fortresses, The Pawn Wedge, Opening Traps, The use of traps, Stalemate combinations, The semi-open file, Mate with bishop & knight, Combinations involving files, Outposts, Combinations involving diagonals, Elementary endgames, Combinations with knights, The principles behind mobilization, Perpetual check, Mate in two moves, Combinations with the major pieces, Combinations with knights 2, Zugzwang

2 Beyond The Basics: Attacking the King, The open file, ‘Minor’ tactics, Opening repertoire for White – the French Defence, Simple rook endings, Fighting against the pawn centre, Trapping pieces, Calculating short variations, Weak points, Line blocking, Opening repertoire for Black against 1. d4, Simple rook endings 2, Blocking combinations, The bishop pair, Typical mistakes in calculating variations, Removing the defence, Good and bad bishops, Closed openings, Line clearing, Endgame technique, Blockade, Dragging the King out, Reti/English Opening, Typical mistakes in the endgame

3 Mastery: Attacking the King in the centre, Realizing an advantage, Counterplay, Knight endings, The English Opening, Hanging pawns on c3-d4, Counter-attack, Rook against pawn, The technique of calculating variations, The Reti opening, The passed pawn in the middlegame, Prophylactic thinking, Bishop against Knight, Defence, Candidate moves, Combinational vision, The King’s Indian Defence, Queenside pawn majority, Central pawn majority, Pawn storms, The initiative, The Gruenfeld Defence, The elimination method, Knight against Bishop

The exercises are challenging, most of the time there is no obviously winning move, and the positions force you to think. Of course, this is absolutely necessary if you wish to improve at chess. Here are some example tests:

1 The Fundamentals, Stalemate combinations, White to play

yus1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2 Beyond the Basics, Simple rook endings 2, White to play

yus2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3 Mastery, The passed pawn in the middlegame. Black to play

yus3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These books layout a structured course which will challenge and educate the student and develop his/her skills, with a good balance of explanation and practice. They provide exactly what most chess improvers require, with a good grounding in all areas of the game. The chapters move from one topic to another to provide variety and keep interest high, which is very important as, with most learning, focus is required to absorb the lessons.

Highly recommended.

Chess Book: 365 Killer Checkmates

KCM_CS2

Click here to get “365 Killer Checkmates” from Amazon!

Welcome to 365 Killer Checkmates – a training ground for your skill in finishing off your opponent. Each one of the positions given is taken from a real game so you can be sure that being able to find these checkmates will serve you well in your own games.
We have 365 positions so you can train daily for a year although it is always tempting to do many more in one go! No problem – there are so many puzzles here that you can return to them again and again.
From the spectacular Queen sacrifice to the seemingly innocuous King move, the opponent will be snared in an inescapable mating net time and again with some of the greatest artists ever to sit at a chessboard showing how it’s done.
From Paul Morphy to Petrosian, Fischer to Kasparov and Anand to Carlsen, the top players have always known how to checkmate in style and I hope you will have great fun in finding the powerful moves too.
Enjoy!

Available in paperback and Kindle versions (you do not need a Kindle device as free readers are available for PCs, Macs and smartphones.)

Sample checkmate position, White to play.

365KCM_790

Click here to get “365 Killer Checkmates” from Amazon!