The Chess.Business Blog

Reviews by IM Gary Lane

Fabiano Caruana: His Amazing Story and His Most Instructive Games
by Alexander Kalinin

208 paged published by New In Chess
Reviewed on 15 October 2018

The American star follows in the path of other chess elites who make front page news by having a best games collection published. Now if you want to wait for the player himself to make the effort, you might have to wait for them to retire from chess (Kasparov) or as Ivanchuk once said in a press conference that he will write it when he wants to reveal all his secrets. That was in 2005 and we are still waiting. Therefore, it is standard practice that someone else will write up the best games books and make it more authentic by using Caruana’s own notes from magazine articles. After a very brief background review of his life, an extract from an interview from 2012 is given. Although, his life story is fascinating and has been explored in numerous interviews it is largely ignored by the author who seems to feel more comfortable concentrating on the chess.

In general, I think Kalinin has done an excellent job in choosing entertaining games and his insights are like a masterclass.

The first example is from 2002 and I assume the opening is all well known because no notes are given to explain what is going on. I reckon the average club player needs to know more about such things but it is a theme in the book. The good stuff is reserved for the exciting middlegames or endgame technique and the notes are of the highest quality. There are plenty of photos including the various front covers of New in Chess magazines. Ironically, a photo by Lennart Ootes from Stavenger 2018 is a sharp reminder to the reader that the rest of the book is already out of date as mysteriously there are no games from 2017!

The latest game is from 2016 which is bizarre for something published in anticipation of the World Chess Championship. I assume it is because the book was originally published in Russian and has been translated by Britain’s Steve Giddens.

Still, if you want to know more about the American star then this is a good start. The games are expertly selected and the positive notes will help everyone to play a little bit like Fabiano.

The Full English Opening: Mastering the fundamentals by Carsten Hansen

464 paged published by New In Chess
Reviewed on 15 October 2018

Everything you wanted to know about the English but were afraid to ask. The advertising for this heavy tome has been terrific with reports saying that it covers all you need to know about the English Opening in just one book. I did assume that it would look inside like Modern Chess Openings or Nunn’s Chess Openings with numerous lines of analysis but with few words in order to pack in every possible variation. The reality is a little different with the author aiming it an audience of club players who want to play the English but with enough detailed analysis that is can be a handy reference book.

The policy is to examine annotated games, with prose to suggest middlegame plans but with plenty of detailed analysis in the opening to give the player with the white pieces confidence to play it with style. By the way, I always struggle with the concept of adding a bibliography in an opening chess book because in my experience, authors tend to lie about what they read. Therefore, you can see dozens of titles that have apparently been used in the background of an opening but have never been actually read by the writer or a mention of a single title before the author replicates a dozen leading books on the subject. The Danish author Hansen seems to agree with me of the futility of this requirement because he mentions eight books and seven of them have his name on the cover!

The English Opening with the help of Carsten Hansen is a potential winner for all club players.

Endgame Virtuoso Magnus Carlsen by Tibor Karolyi

272 paged published by New In Chess
Reviewed on 15 October 2018

Magnus is renowned for his ability to grind out endgame victories but is it all technique or just determination? After looking through ninety thought provoking endgames the conclusion is a bit of both, while fatigue by the defending players helps increase the element of luck as blunders occur when tiredness sets in. Tibor Karolyi looks at games starting from the endgame or just before a critical moment and tries to explain what is going on. He also stuffs enough endgame analysis into the notes to keep the connoisseur happy.

Anyone who has met Tibor knows he is passionate about the game and the success of a similarly titled book about Anatoly Karpov has already demonstrated his prowess to explain to a wider audience how star players conduct themselves in the endgame. There are occasions when he gets carried away but his long analysis is because he wants to prove the truth in certain positions.

There is a great deal to admire and like in Endgame Viruoso.

The Amazing Albin Counter-Gambit by Lawrence Trent

(PC-DVD) produced by Chessbase
Reviewed on 2 July 2018

A new generation of players would rather consume their opening knowledge via their computer rather than read a book. This is the target audience for Englishman Lawrence Trent’s latest project in promoting the club favourite the Albin Counter Gambit (1 d4 d5 2 c4 e5) to a wider audience.

I have noticed over the years that the style of presenting on Chessbase DVDs varies considerably. Some are poorly researched or fail because the famous player is using his second or third language, while trying to find the right English words to get his message across but not quite making it sound right. There is a good reason why a couple of UK stars Andrew Martin and Nigel Davies have done so many DVDs because they are informative and sound encouraging.

I particularly like Andrew’s enthusiasm for any chess subject if he says the Scandinavian is a safe and easy opening to play then within minutes I am convinced. While Nigel tends to come across as rather more serious, like a university professor trying to explain a complex subject in an easy and thoughtful way. Lawrence is clearly relaxed when chatting in front of the camera thanks to his efforts commentating at major tournaments and especially on the Internet channel His friendly demeanour makes him seem more a mate trying to give you a helping hand at chess club and it works well on screen.

Basically, after you have put the DVD in your computer there are five hours of video to explain the opening and a chessboard automatically pops (even if you do not have chessbase) which allows the viewer to see the moves and the presenter at the same time.

The modern way to mastering a chess opening.

How Ulf Beats Black: Ulf Andersson’s Bulletproof Strategic Repertoire for White by Cyrus Lakdawala

288 paged published by New In Chess
Reviewed on 20 April 2018

There was a time in the 1980s when asked which grandmaster was the most boring player then Sweden’s Ulf Andersson would win the accolade every time. His dour, positional approach was ignored while a youthful Kasparov inspired tactical clashes.

Nowadays, Kasparov is famous for his Twitter outbursts while Andersson is revered by a new generation of players who like to play for a small advantage to avoid extensive computer analysis of their opening choice.

It would be straight forward for the American author to look at lots of games by Andersson and just update the opening knowledge. Instead in chapter one, he gives eight games by the Swedish champion against the King’s Indian and five games by himself. I think it is good to see the author embracing his subject but just because you play cautiously does not always mean that you are playing exactly like Andersson. As usual, there are plenty of anecdotes and quirky comments in the notes. For instance “At our local San Diego G/45 Saturday Gambito tournaments, your writer struts about like a general surveying the battlefield.” While Ulf will either smile or contact his lawyer when reading “

A drug dealer (Andersson!) flourishes when those who buy his product continually increase their dependency.” I think these quips can be annoying to some but his large volume of work indicates that many people like the style. If so, then there is a lot of good stuff to enjoy by exploring the ideas and openings of the Swedish legend.
I would have like to see more correspondence games by the Swede because his slow but steady approach works well in that area as well. Even so, there is plenty to amuse and inspire club players.

There might be a little disappointment that the bibliography curiously mentions only two publications, after all who can forget the infamous title Ulf Anderssen’s Decsive Games by Vaidyanathan Ravikumar?

How Ulf Beats Black will allow you to safely negotiate the opening and reach a safe middlegame with a hint of an initiative.

The Art of the Tarrasch Defence by Alexy Bezgodov.

318 pages published by New In Chess
Reviewed on February 2018

The saga of having to defend against the queen’s pawn is a constant challenge, when even club players are socially scandalised if they do not know the first eleven moves of theory. The benefit of the Tarrasch Defence is that it is not the latest fashion and frankly most players are not exactly sure what the line is as Siegbert Tarrasch has lent his name to various variations.

Basically, after 1 d4 Black replies 1…d5, 2…e6 and then 3…c5 it is all perfectly straightforward, although nowadays the lines featuring the isolated …d5 pawn are a matter of taste. The former Russian champion points out that piece mobility is the thing to aim for and helpfully gives a number of model examples to help the reader. In the 1980s Kasparov was occasionally a fan so his games are understandably highlighted but also revealing are his victories with White against the opening which are not so encouraging, especially as the suggested improvements are brief.

The author is convincing in his arguments that the opening is perfectly acceptable and does a good job of explaining the various ways that transpositions can occur ranging from the Reti, English and even the Caro-Kann. The beauty of the Tarrasch is that the general plan is easy to master and with a bit of dedication a studious player can learn at least eleven moves of theory fairly quickly as Bezgodov offers a number of shortcuts to success.

A more than useful insight into an opening that is easy to learn but difficult to beat.

Dismantling the Sicilian by Jesus De La Villa & Max Illingworth.

368 pages published by New In Chess
Reviewed on December 2017

A repertoire book for White that tells us how to take on the Sicilian is a short cut route to victory. This is the idea that led to the enormous success of John Nunn’s book Beating the Sicilian in the 1980s which saw three different editions and helped an army of club players to success. It had the knack of suggesting neglected lines, finding improvements and make general comments on how to play the middlegame.

This recipe worked then but nowadays when everyone has a computer and an opinion on social media, authors tend to go for the soft option and choose the main lines. This policy adopted by Jesus De La Villa in the 2009 version of the book worked reasonably well but there is always a danger that the latest game played in Paris will cast doubt on a main line, just after move 26. The average player has neither the time, energy or the talent to remember huge swathes of theory but this theme is extended in the latest edition.

The Australian Max Illingworth has done a tremendous job of rewriting almost the entire book but does follow the main lines at all time. The more you read about his meticulous planning, the more you wonder why he did not write his own book rather than sharing the credit? The detail and latest games are first rate and Max’s solution to the problem of learning so many variations is to offer a number of key illustrative games. I also like the fact that he does take time out to look at the occasional weird move that is bound to be played at the local weekend tournament by opponents who don’t know all the right moves.

The Najdorf is the big beast in the Sicilian world and the suggestions of 6 h3 or 6 Be2 to confront it are the trendy solutions. This does mean having to absorb a lot of variations and keep up to date with the latest elite games. I remember the 6 h3 move from Fischer’s 60 Memorable Games but nowadays the old time American player Weaver Adams gets all the credit and the line is called the Adams Attack.

I think any serious player will improve their rating with this  book.

The variations might be tough to remember but they really will be a great guide on how to confront the Sicilian. If you want to beat the Sicilian, this is the best place to start.

Gyula Breyer: The Chess Revolutionary by Jimmy Adams

888 pages published by New in Chess
Reviewed on September 2017

I predict a trend for commuters who do not wish to chat to their fellow travellers and that is to whisper “Breyer”, which will result in an understanding nod leaving you to focus on over eight hundred fact filled pages. It is also handy at Christmas to avoid small talk with long lost relatives.

Gyula Breyer (1893-1921) was a Hungarian champion and elite player but his legacy has been largely overlooked.

England’s Jimmy Adams decided to set the record straight with this insightful biography using resources from Hungary that have been obtained or translated by Iván Bottlik and Peter Szabó. This explains why an English speaking audience are treated to over 200 interesting games that have many different commentators. These include some of the best players in the world, Lasker, Alekhine, Tarrasch, Rubinstein, Schlechter  and Reti  with sometimes two or more annotating the same game, which sometimes makes the commentaries almost a debate.

The narrative presents Beyer as a brilliant player who infuses the openings of his time with modern ways to handle the position that inspire legends such as Reti and in particular Alekhine who was a big fan. Breyer was also a connoisseur of problems and managed to present one with a solution that is over 100 moves.

An important addition is the attraction of over 70 photos to shine a light on lesser known masters and a few group pictures to add life to old tournaments.

Now I am not a chess historian but I can see that an immense amount of work has gone into producing the work. I did spot an article on blindfold chess which escaped the attention of the outstanding Blindfold Chess book by Eliot Hurst and Simon Knott, which must be a good sign. Breyer comes across in his writing as a colourful character with a quick wit. He might be famous for the Breyer Defence in the Ruy Lopez but it is argued his many opening contributions should be more widely admired especially in the Budapest Defence.

The obituaries of someone who died young are painful to read because the chess world missed out on the full potential of an amazing individual. Adam’s triumph is that he makes you care about Breyer.

This book will educate, entertain and absorb any chess player who cares about the past.

Chess for Hawks by Cyrus Lakdawala

288 pages published by New In Chess
Reviewed on August 2017

The American author provokes strong reactions amongst his readers and like Marmite it seems you either love it or hate it. His brash, chatty approach is the sort of thing you will see on YouTube videos of banter blitz. For instance, introducing a classic Capablanca game he writes

“I remember surreptitiously going over this game during eighth grade Science class and then unpleasantly being busted by the teacher, who threatened to keep me after school with a detention.”

Now, this not exactly the prose you would associate with a well established writer like John Nunn but the modern player does seems to like these quirky anecdotes as Lakdawala, is a prolific author, although admittedly this is his first book for New In Chess.

The idea of this latest offering is that the majority of club players are like doves, cautious and have a positional sense at the board. In contrast, Hawks are the sort who love the games of swashbuckling players such as Kasparov and Tal, who enjoy attacking and taking risks. In his first chapter “Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz?” he proceeds to improve the attacking style of all players by using some classic games such as Morphy versus Duke of Brunswick and Count Isouard, where he points out how a player can create an initiative.

There are plenty of instructive games which will help the diligent reader. Lakawala includes plenty of his own games to illustrate various points which can be a good idea as these games are relatively unknown. The majority of these games are local rapid play encounters but help him to reveal how to thwart Hawks and the right way to imitate them.

An Englishman does appear when Nick Pert takes on Nakamura from 2005. Our hero narrowly fails to win against the Red Bull guzzling American and Lakdawala comments on Pert’s blunder with the line “This move is like the pharmaceutical ad which ends with ‘Side effects may include..”.

This style of writing is an acquired taste but amongst the waffle are some interesting insights and sensible chess lessons. A book that will help you to move up to the next level.