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.

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