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:
u1500 1: The Fundamentals (orange cover), Build Up Your Chess, Boost Your Chess, Chess Evolution
u1800 2: Beyond the Basics (blue cover), Build Up Your Chess, Boost Your Chess, Chess Evolution
u2100 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
2 Beyond the Basics, Simple rook endings 2, White to play
3 Mastery, The passed pawn in the middlegame. Black to play
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.