Gary’s Chess Blog
International Master (IM) and
Chess Supplies owner Gary Lane
reviews the latest release books
The Best I Saw in Chess by Stuart Rachels published by New In Chess, 416 pages. Reviewed August 2020 (Review #33)
A US Champion celebrates a collection of his best games and explains why he mysteriously walked away from the chessboard aged just 23. This is a really absorbing read because Rachels played games against the elite but with hindsight can be reflective and honest about the people he met. In 1993 he left the game but older and wiser he can be more revealing allowing the reader to have access to the gossip and whispers about famous players that are normally never published. At the tender age of 14 he did a chess tour of the UK which was certainly an eye opener for the teenager. At Brighton 1983, a drunk Nigel Short stumbled into him which didn’t hurt but made him feel uncomfortable. He adds that his roommate David Norwood, who was 15 tried to encourage him to join him at the bar but he declined. It should be added that he later became friends with Nigel so things worked out. I remember catching a train with Rachels from Ramsgate to Liverpool Street station. When we arrived, he was rather excited and wanted to do some local sight-seeing which seemed odd as the area at the time was a bit run down. I soon realised that I had a superior knowledge of the origins of The Beatles. A long time after the event I did ask who was supposed to be looking after him but in that era, parents relied on other players from the USA in the event of an emergency, which would surely not be recommended nowadays. He spent some time at the World quarter finals in London and has pen portraits of the famous players he met. An effort is made throughout the book to make it accessible for club players by using the games as a way of demonstrating ways to improve so chapter titles such as Double Check and If only I were Tal give an indication of what to expect. I particularly like his revealing anecdotes which are rather brutal such as his experiences with GM Roman Dzindzichashvili who “…was not known for his ethics.” We hear a tale about the GM asking a friend for $200 to be wired due to a broken leg in Minneapolis but the money going to another city. A trend of Dzindz was to ask ‘investors’ for money in advance and if he won prize money at the event, they received extra money in return. He had a lot of investors and apparently seldom won. When Rachels was aged 15, Dzindz asked his parents if Stuart was prepared to throw a game in the last round and as his dad was the Chair of the US Federation’s Ethics Committee you can guess the answer. In 1991-93 he is back in the UK and attended Oxford University on a Marshall Scholarship to study philosophy, which allowed him to play in the famous varsity match against Cambridge. After his victory in 1992 Ray Keene asked him to annotate the game for his spectator column. He wrote one particular long, awkward sentence “….I was surprised to read that exact sentence in his column! Who would’ve suspected that the 44-year-old Brit cribbed that sentence off a 22 year-old American?“ It is packed with similar stories throughout making it a delight to read. The games are entertaining and the annotations always informative. I highly recommend this title.
An inside account of the chess world aided by a collection of instructive games.
Mastering Positional Sacrifices by Merijn van Delft, published by New In Chess, 320 pages. Reviewed August 2020 (Review #32)
The question of when to sacrifice material is never easy but here is a practical guide. The intended audience is above beginner and I would say any club player would benefit from the author’s passion for the subject. I like the fact that the complete games come with prose that explains the opening which is so often overlooked by experienced players. However, most people don’t have an inside knowledge of dozens of different lines so a few words of explanation is a good thing and makes it seem more instructive. The themes that are covered involves things like exchange sacrifices where the aim to not to win material but dominate certain squares, boost an attack and other positional ideas. An obvious pawn sacrifice that most people can understand is the King’s Gambit where a pawn is given up for centre pawns and rapid development. This is a good excuse to explore the idea in various openings such as the Benko Gambit and Marshall Gambit where are explored in the book under the chapter heading Typical pawn sacrifices. As usual van Delft expertly expands on the subject to make it sound extremely interesting and as a potential way to improve your rating overnight. The only time when I think he is pushing it too far is when he is discussing computers. An AlphaZero games from 2018 features a baffling rook move which makes no sense to me or the author as he writes “Computer chess can be really strange. The rook returns to the square it just came from, without any particular reason.” If it needs such an explanation then the game is flawed as a ditched example and should be ditched in favour of something else. I really like the book because it offers insight with excellent examples and enough explanation to enable the reader to improve.
This will have a major impact on your positional progress.
In the Zone by Cyrus Lakdawala, published by New In Chess, 400 pages. Reviewed August 2020 (Review #31)
Great chess players who have dominated prestigious tournaments are “in the zone” when achieving their success. The prolific American author has the clever idea of looking at thirteen players who have excelled at events starting with Morphy and ending with Magnus Carlsen at Grenke Classic 2019. This is a good excuse to look once again at Fischer’s stunning victory at the 1963/64 US Championship with 11/11 and every game is examined to find a link why Fischer dominated. It is worth reminding readers that Lakdawala has his own style when writing which his numerous followers love but others hate. For instance: when discussing the fear factor of elite players he adds “Do you remember the old Star Trek episode of the malevolent entity which snuck aboard the USS Enterprise and which physically sustained its nourishment from fear in crew members?” Well, this sort of thing crops up quite a lot and the banter style can be illuminating or irritating depending on your point of view. There are obvious chapters to make sure greats such as Tal and Kasparov are included but there is also space for Pillsbury’s success at Hastings 1895. The chapter headline for Alekhine’s domination at Bled 1931 is Thunderbolts and Lightning, Very, Very Frightening. Although, not explained I would give you a gold star if you guessed along with me it was a joke associated with the Queen song Bohemian Rhapsody. There is an attempt in every chapter to explain why the player was at the peak of his powers and if there are numerous games then a few are selected to emphasise his prowess.
A book that makes you think.
Sultan Khan by Daniel King, published by New In Chess, 384 pages in paperback and hardback. Reviewed July 2020 (Review #30)
Sultan Khan arrives in England from India in 1929 becomes British Champion , beats Capablanca and disappears from the chess scene in 1933. This tale sounds more like a movie with a likeable character triumphant over all the odds. A foreword by Viswanathan Anand is a seal of approval and he compares himself to a certain degree with Sultan Khan being an Asian pioneer. A keen student of chess history would know about the book ‘Mir Sultan Khan’ by R.N.Coles published in 1966 which seems to have been ever present on book stalls. In a recent ChessBase interview King told Sagar Shah “In 2013, I was contacted by a theatre director who was interested in the story and asked me to do a little research for him.“ This inspired him to start finding out more about the chess career of someone who grew up on Indian chess and only absorbed Western chess rules a few years before his trip to Europe which explained his poor openings. Then again, interest in the great man has always been around with snippets in a variety of history books detailing his success, a Channel 4 documentary in 1990 included various people who had known him such as one of his sons and fellow people on his trip to Europe such as Miss Fatima. More recently, in 2003 a Russian book Kometa Sultan-Khana by A. Matsukevich was produced and the Internet means it is easier to source material from old newspapers and magazines. Therefore, the biggest surprise is that King’s work is the first in English for some time to update the amazing story and instantly become a chess bestseller. I suspect the reluctance of other writers to take on the task is that chess historians tend to frown on active players taking on such projects because the arduous task of researching primary sources, normally does not justify the money paid to write the book. King did his stint at the British Library looking for new information or simply seeking out contemporary reports on tournaments. My own experience of being asked to write about a famous player is typical in that his widow was more than pleased to give me exclusive photos and inside information. However, the rest of the family disputed facts and it was not long before they wanted a share of the royalties, so the book was abandoned. Daniel had a similar problem with his project whether to contact the relatives or remain independent. He chose the latter but the chess boom in India has pushed his publication on to the front page of newspapers who were eager to remind their readers of such a successful Asian pioneer. This attracted the attention of Khan’s granddaughter Dr Atiyab Sultan who obtained her PhD at Cambridge University and is an officer of the Pakistan Administrative Service. She pointed out he was not stateless as he was a member of the British Empire from 1903-47 and then a Pakistani citizen from 47 until his death in 66. She goes on to complain about a number of items particularly his status. King has argued his case in New In Chess(4) magazine but of course the publicity has increased sales. The controversy will rage on but nothing can dispute that this is a magnificent book, which is a fine tribute to someone who seemingly emerged from nowhere to win the British Championships three times, take on the world’s best players and seemingly disappear from the chess world. The games are annotated in a high-class manner as you would expect from the English grandmaster and there is always a lot of prose to give a background to the event. King does quote the television documentary to repeat Miss Fatima’s comments that he was homesick and wanted to get back to his family. Khan contrary to some reports did carry on with chess and played a 1935 match against Khadilkar winning 9 games and drawing one. After that he seemed to play friendly games and returned to normal life, although he did a simultaneous display in 1955, no tournaments were entered. There are plenty of photos to remind us of another era.
A remarkable chess career captured in the style of a gripping novel.
On the Origin of Good Moves by Willy Hendricks published by New In Chess, 432 pages. Reviewed July 2020, (Review #29)
What can historic masters teach us about modern chess? Hendricks understands that a good way to improve is to look at the games of former champions but argues we should be selective in which lessons the promising player should absorb. If you did not get the joke of the book title being similar to the famous text Origin of the Species, there is a chimp on the cover and later a photo of the author Charles Darwin with the chapter headline Revolution or evolution. It is here that the theme is expanded “There are some resemblances between Darwinian evolution and improvement in chess. In particular, the important role of competition springs to mind.” The front cover boasts the subtitle “A skeptic’s Guide to Getting Better at Chess” which must have been approved by the British editor and typesetter Ian Kingston. Then again, the use of the American spelling of sceptic is not really consistent with the rest of the book and is slightly odd but not the end of the world. It is certainly a quirky book with the first chapter featuring games by Greco from about 400 years ago. The author does pull off the neat trick of making it relevant to players of today by for example demonstrating an opening trick that has stood the test of time. Therefore, it should not be a surprise that the chapter on Philidor features the opening in his name and how it has evolved. This is expertly done with a game between Spassky-Jussupow but I was a touch disappointed to see him write that he had copied the game from the book “…Winning Chess Manoeuvres by Sarhan Guliev, which has as a main theme the way in which strong players ‘borrow’ their ideas from the past.” Well, he ticks a box for honesty and follows it up with a game by Aronian where it is argued that a delayed Philidor set-up is employed. The idea of great names such as Morphy, Lasker, and Steinitz influencing the modern game is an interesting discussion that keeps the reader curious for the next chapter. There are exercises at the beginning of each chapter and has a user friendly approach which will help your middlegame. A sprinkling of photos helps us to picture some the old but famous names.
An accomplished way to improve.
Beyond Material by Davorin Kuljasevic published by New In Chess, 336 pages.Reviewed June 2020 (Review #28)
The art of sacrificing material is explored in depth. This promising idea is given a twist by examining entertaining games where the attacker is not bothered about recouping material but simply maintains the compensation. The Croatian grandmaster demonstrates that material balance is not so important when you factor in things like tempo, initiative, a threat and an attack. There are also a variety of test exercises to see if you can come up with a decent sacrifice that will ensure an advantage not based on material but other factors such as mobility, harmony, outposts and favourable structures. It sounds like hard work but Kuljasevic has a knack of presenting absorbing material whether it be a king hunt or another example of Carlsen or Kasparov’s impressive play.
It will inspire you when sacrificing and make you think clearer.
Keep It Simple 1 d4 by Christof Sielecki published by New In Chess, 432 pages. Reviewed May 2020 (Review #27)
An opening repertoire is a simple but effective way of improving your winning chances. It might seem easier to use your computer to find the best moves and improve your openings. However, it takes lots of time and if you are older there are lots of distractions, while if younger it is a difficult life balance to shorten the hours spent on perfecting the art of winning Fortnite. The best repertoires are the ones where you can play the basics without too much thought and the author does the right thing by suggesting a solid set-up as White by putting forward the key moves 1 d4 2 Nf3 3 g3 4 Bg2 5 0-0 and then usually 6 c4. There is no intention to overwhelm the keen player with endless computer analysis but with over 400 pages he is happy to go into some detail. There is plenty of prose to describe the plans and ambitions for White. This should come as no surprise to those who follow Sielecki on his popular social media pages while his YouTube channel ChessExplained has over 30,000 followers. His thing is to play 5 minute games and give an insight behind the moves rather than make fun, banter comments and he normally wins with seconds left on the clock. I have to make clear that you are not going to enjoy wild attacking games and win with sacrifices that come so naturally in some lines of the Blackmar-Diemer Gambit. This book is dedicated to those who want a slight edge and a no risk middlegame. The Catalan is promoted which of course makes sense if you are aiming for an early kingside fianchetto. The games are well explained and the author has a knack of spreading encouragement with wise words.
An opening repertoire that will make a positive difference to your rating
Emanuel Lasker- A Reader by Taylor Kingston published by Russell Enterprises, 400 pages. Reviewed May 2020 (Review #26)
A chance to see the collected writings of a former World Champion. The aim is to spread the word about Lasker by going through old articles and books to give annotated games by him and other ideas about chess. This seems a worthy cause now that Emanuel (1868-1941) is back in fashion as recent books such as Why Lasker Matters by American grandmaster Andrew Soltis. This might explain why he gives the forward and interestingly compares the great man to Magnus Carlsen. He states “The emphasis on calculation – on finding the flaws in moves based on intuition or principle- is the Lasker quality that all elite players rely on today.” The good news is that the moves have been changed to algerbraic notation so they are easy to follow and although some comments sound rather quaint there are enough memorable lines that will prove to be a boost for any improving player. It does a good job revealing Lasker to a new audience.
An entertaining way to see inside the mind of a World Champion.
The Complete Chess Swindler
by David Smerdon published by New In Chess, 368 pages.
Reviewed on 4 April 2020 (Review #25)
So you don’t want to lose a game of chess? If you are about to resign the Australian author is urging you to pause and start to think of a way to salvage the situation allowing you to successful swindle your opponent. There have been a variety of books on such a theme in the past and an obvious one is England’s Ali Mortazavi who in the 90s had The Fine Art of Swindling published by Cadogan. The old book made much of using game examples where a lost position is revived by a cunning combination and this theme is replicated in Smerdon’s work.
The big difference is that the latest tome has over 300 pages to illustrate ideas such as psychology, the ‘Trojan Horse’, ‘The decoy trap’, ‘the berserk attack’ ‘window-ledging’ and gamesmanship amongst many others. In my own experience, over the past decade I just get the impression that nobody resigns early anymore because people are so used to saving blitz games on the internet that they feel convinced that a piece down in a long game is not the end of the world. In reality, it is usually does dictate the result but with increasingly fast time-limits it is surely the threat or misery of endless increment moves that forces the current crop of errors. Smerdon is an excellent online player and has managed to save numerous normal games at tournaments but understands longer time limits requires a practical approach.
There are plenty of games with interesting notes where one player manages to escape a lost position. However, some of them just see the player on top playing badly rather than being lured into a trap. In the game Carlsen-Giri, Wijk aan Zee 2017, the World Champion missed a three move checkmate and Smerdon writes “I’m not sure if Giri had also missed this, or instead had seen it and decided it was still worth the gamble . If the latter, then his swindle deserves even more kudos.” In fact, there is no need to read Giri’s mind because such a famous game is instantly reported on and there are numerous chess articles explaining what happened with New In Chess magazine (2/2017) mentioning that Giri had missed the checkmate and then cheekily said at the press conference “This is the most embarrassing moment in the chess career of Magnus Carlsen.“ It is a small detail but it does not distract from an absorbing read that will provide inspiration for any player who wants to start the great escape when losing.
An enjoyable way to discover the secret of rescuing bad positions.
Mental Toughness in Chess
by Werner Schweitzer, published by New In Chess, 144 pages.
Reviewed on 4 April 2020 (Review #24)
The need to think straight and be alert is a neglected area and the Austrian author offers to become your mental coach. The theme is a good idea because I am sure all us have asked for background information on a player such as whether they drift into time-trouble or are regarded an attacking player. I think chess players might not think about improving their mental approach but we do it all the time without contemplating it seriously. A healthy mind equals a healthy mind has been the mantra of many top players and Schweitzer joins in by suggesting eating nuts during the game. There are 41 chapter headings but this nugget came from one called Proper Nutrition where he writes that ”…nuts have a strong impact on both your brain activity and your mood’.
Interestingly, no mention is made about bananas and any spectator at the British Championship last year in Torquay could not help but notice that the start of each round resembled a fruit stall. I have always liked these types of books whether it be the excellent Chess Psychology by Angus Dunnington or the superb practical guide on how to be clever at the board contained in Chess for Tigers by Simon Webb. There are times when the advice of Schweitzer sounds like the sort of thing you hear in the analysis room of a weekend tournament, sensible but not practical. It might be a good idea to improve your posture and control your breathing but it is another thing to achieve it. The author has a rating of around 2100 so understands the chess world but often the tips are similar to opinion from a previous chapter but I guess that is just one of those things and perhaps it is designed to reinforce good behaviour. The chapter on Learning from Magnus Carlsen is an example of this when one of the conclusions is “Be aware of your strengths, and arrange your game according to your strengths.”
A fun book with simple but amusing chess cartoons.
Attacking with g2-g4
by Dmitry Kryakvin, published by New In Chess, 288 pages.
Reviewed on 4 April 2020 (Review #23)
The secret to upsetting your opponent is to make an outrageous pawn advance g2-g4 when they least expect it. It does sound like a limited topic and after all g4 has been played in various openings over the years, so the concept is not exactly new. However, the Russian author picks out topical lines in the Dutch, the English, King’s Indian, Nimzo-Indian, Queen’s Gambit and the Slav to illustrate his point. As a collection of interesting games, the book excels and complete examples with comments are insightful.
The trend for picking attacking motifs associated with g4 means that there is usually an onslaught to admire which makes things more entertaining. It turns out that the author is a big fan of former World Champion Mikhail Botvinnik and in the introduction tries to link the idea of a bold pawn venture g2-g4 with some of his opening innovations. At first the connection seems tenuous but to give credit to Kryakvin he makes a convincing case. I am not sure if the actual title of the book is going to persuade any impulse buyers but surely the sequel will be Attacking with h2-h4, the AlphaZero way.The translation is done by England’s Steve Giddens.
An absorbing lesson on how to conduct a powerful attack in the opening with g2-g4.
Memorable Games of British Chess
by Neil Hickman, published by Amazon, 272 pages.
Reviewed on 4 April 2020 (Review #22)
The trend for self-publishing sees another impressive debut by a keen amateur player. There are quite a few players who wistfully think that in their retirement they can get around to writing that perfect chess book but realistically the audience tends to be friends and families. I think Wymondham chess club member Neil Hickman deserves a gold star for producing a decent and entertaining book that brings together ninety classic British games ranging from the year 1788 right up until 2016. A few more recent games might have been added but for a poignant need to get the book published as a friend who proved to be a great source of encouragement was gravely ill.
There are games by the pioneers of elite British chess such as Keene, Harston, Miles, Penrose and Stean. I particularly liked to be reminded of the 1947 encounter Crown-Kotov which is often mentioned by Leonard Barden in his columns. The reason being that the 18 year old Gordon Crown was considered a shooting star in the chess scene after coming third in the British Championships. The achievement of smashing Alexander Kotov who came second in the USSR championships was a sign of a bright future but Crown died prematurely extinguishing a great British hope. The notes to the games are often aided by borrowing the original player’s own comments from a variety of books and magazines. This makes it more satisfying and Hickman rightly avoids proving endless analysis from Fritz 17 in a vain effort to find the truth in the position. Instead, snippets of calculation are sandwiched between quotes and a background story concerning the British player and the significance of the encounter.
A really fun, instructive and entertaining book to enjoy when you need a bit of chess inspiration.
by Mark Dvoretsky, published by Russell Enterprises, paperback, 208 pages.
Reviewed on 2 February 2020 (Review #21)
The famous chess trainer sadly died in 2016 but his legacy continues with a new book. He left behind a couple of unpublished manuscripts and this one has been polished up and a foreword has been added by his former pupil, grandmaster Artur Yusupov. The theme is to provide numerous diagrams discussing a positional idea or more obviously a tactic. Once you have tried to look for an answer, one can look up a solution.
The difference compared to the average puzzle books is that the author gives not only the right moves, but adds a narrative explain what is going on in the position and a few other variations to give a complete picture of the position. An assessment on what aspects of the game that are covered is revealed in the chapter headings such as ‘candidate moves’, ‘calculating variations’ and ‘realizing an advantage’.
Dvorestsky apparently wanted to bring together the best examples he had collected over the years to remind the reader of an idea by using an entertaining game and he achieves the aim. This means that it is the ideal way to reinforce standard strategies and tactics by reading with pleasure for a short time whenever you need inspiration.
A puzzle rush for experienced players who want to improve.
Kaufman’s New Repertoire for Black and White
by Larry Kaufman, published by New In Chess, paperback, 464 pages.
Reviewed on 2 February 2020 (Review #20)
A new edition that offers the club player an opening repertoire against just about everything. A curious thing is in the introduction where Kaufman spends some time reminding the reader of his very respectable credentials. I can only assume someone from the younger generation doesn’t know their history because having to heavily promote your career in your own book is unusual. He is the oldest active GM in the USA at age 72 and was part of the team that created MacHack, a computer that had a chess rating in 1967.
The latter might explain why he goes on and on about which chess programmes he has used to evaluate positions but a line such as “if Komodo MCTS strongly prefers a move that is only slightly below Lc0, or if Lc0 seems to be blind to some feature of the position or to a perpetual check…”is informative but rather dull. This is understandable as he wishes to demonstrate the effort involved but such talk tends to date and anybody who picks up a book that boasts that Fritz 7 has been used will know what I mean.
His recommendation for White is 1 e4 and he tries to offers two variations for readers apparently in case of one of them does not stand the test of time or future computer analysis. It is always a tricky thing to present a decent repertoire but the author insists that every effort has been made to choose lines that do not date rapidly and are easy to learn for masters or amateurs. I rather like his side-line against the Sicilian Najdorf 1 e4 c5 2 Nc3 d6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Qxd4 Nc6 5 Qd2 intending b3, Bb2 and queenside castling. He points out it has a decent pedigree with even Magnus Carlsen adopting it for a victory in 2018. His main openings for 1 e4 e5 are the Italian or the Spanish with 6 d3 which have similar pawn structures and are once again sound choices. If you have the Black pieces he suggests meeting 1 d4 with the Grünfeld Defence while against the English the answer to 1 c4 is 1…g6 hoping to transpose to the main defence. After 1 e4 he suggests 1…e5 and takes on the Spanish with the Marshall Attack which is a lot of fun but can be complicated.
The choice of opening for the club player is difficult to get right but Kaufman does an outstanding job.
An opening repertoire that will make a positive difference to your rating.
The Chess Scene
by Alan Ruffle, self-published by Amazon, paperback, 168 pages
Reviewed on 2 February 2020 (Review #19)
There are times that every chess player dreams of writing their own book and club player Alan Ruffle has shown the way forward by making it become reality. It is obviously easier for master players to secure a publishing contract but there is no reason why everyone can contemplate passing on their wisdom now that Amazon can publish on demand.
The idea is to give a few pointers to new and improving chess players but naturally the author cannot resist with a bit of a background story. Therefore, we hear about his parents and how he discovered the charm and passion of the game. There is some insight into how to improve and lots of common sense advice. The various illustrative games played by Ruffle indicate the pain and peril of the typical encounter and the occasional win to make it all worthwhile. As an ECF arbiter and coach he can draw upon his experiences in the field to give a few ideas on how best to teach people and occasionally shares the different viewpoint of the arbiter.
I think the book is a clear indication of the possibilities of self-publishing via Amazon. The diagrams could be slightly improved but otherwise I think most people could not spot the difference between this and a major chess publisher.
An entertaining view of the world of English club chess and coaching.
300 Most Important Chess Positions
by Thomas Engqvist, published by Batsford, 302 pages
Reviewed on 18 July 2019 (Review #18)
A fun way of improving your chess level. The simple idea is to take 300 positions and then add some commentary highlighting an important aspect of play. It does work surprisingly well as you wonder at the positional ideas that can transform a game. These have to be spectacular so a knight retreating to its original square in order to relocate is a classic but the Swedish author continues to impress with fine examples.
There are chapter headings for such issues as The Minority Attack’’ and the “Kingside Attack’’ but endgames are also well covered. If I had to quibble on anything is that the examples tend to be rather dated but then again Alekhine and Fischer can still teach a new generation how to intensify the pressure.
An entertaining way to quickly improve your rating.
1001 Chess Exercises for Club Players
by Frank Erwich, published by New in Chess, 192 pages
Reviewed on 22 June 2019 (Review #17)
The twist is that the chess puzzles are sandwiched between helpful chapters that aim to improve your understanding of tactics. Nowadays, people online are indulging in ‘puzzle rush’’ where you aim to complete numerous chess problems as quickly as possible. It can be great to see Nakamura on video churning out winning combinations while lesser know players seem to try and memorize all the puzzles to record a record time. A more sedate form of this game is to take your time to absorb the 999 puzzles on offer from the Dutch author who provides sensible chapter headings such as Elimination of the Defence, ‘Skewer‘, and Trapping a piece’.
The idea is that an introduction is provided for each chapter by the use of illustrative games to discuss the theme and provide some insight as to what to look out for in an effort to improve your own game. I did notice that in this section a point was made to provide the elo ratings of the players. This tends to be generated by Chessbase but does seem rather pointless as does it matter that we now know that Nigel Short was rated 2666 in 2016 or that Caruana was 2799 at St Louis in 2017 but 2782 at Paris in 2017? I think it looks daft, dates the book and should be edited out. The idea of engaging in chess puzzles to make you sharper is hardly a new idea but I like the approach Erwich adopts and this tome will help pleasantly to past the time of day while commuting to work or on the beach while enjoying a holiday.
A modern puzzle rush for a new generation of book lovers.
The 100 Endgames You Must Know WORKBOOK
by Jesus De La Villa, published by New in Chess, 288 pages
Reviewed on 22 June 2019 (Review #16)
A sequel to a best-selling endings book that is bound to appeal to a wide audience. The marketing might of New In Chess meant that the 100 Endgames You Must Know was a huge success with it being constantly reprinted. One could argue that something like Practical Chess Endings is more complete but the catchy title of 100 helped the modern title to soar to the top of the book charts.
This follow up title looks at further practical examples with a bright, breezy style that is appealing and instructive. The chapter headings such as ‘Queen vs pawn’, ‘Rook vs pawn’ and ‘Pawn endings’ are geared for club players who are likely to encounter such obvious examples in their own games. After explanation of various themes there are practical exercises to test your knowledge. After going through all 300 of them a studious student is bound to improve.
The right way to enhance your endgame technique.
Devoted to Chess: The Creative Heritage of Yuri Razuvaev
by Boris Postovsky, published by New in Chess, 314 pages
Reviewed on 4 May 2019 (Review #15)
A celebration of the Russian grandmaster by looking at his creative games, interviewing an eminent list of pupils he trained and various other bits and pieces.
The one thing that really strikes home is how well-liked Yuri Razuvaev was by famous names that he had helped guide to success such as Gelfand, Karpov and Kramnik. Boris Spassky recalled recommending him to coach aspiring French players upon meeting a generous sponsor and the interesting anecdotes work well due to the numerous black & white photos. The large games collection is a useful reminder that Razuvaev introduced a number of key opening ideas that were copied by a mass of players, so that the original games were largely forgotten. Here with notes by numerous elite commentators and by Razuvaev himself the star quality is obvious and the opponents impressive.
The author Postovsky also selects extracts of Razuvarv’s work to convey how much insight he could explain to even the casual reader with the help of instructive examples and persuasive prose. There is also some analysis of the benefits of solving composed problems to facilitate calculation rather than leave everything to the computer. A poignant collection of memories from Razuvaev’s contemporaries wraps up the final chapters and makes you miss this special person who clearly had a profound influence on his fellow players.
A welcome tribute to an influential grandmaster. I think that ambitious players can learn so much from his forward-thinking approach to the game.
Chess Behind Bars by Carl Portman
314 pages published by Quality Chess
Reviewed on 21 March 2019 (Review #14)
The game of chess can help motivate and intrigue anyone so why not play it in prison? Carl Portman decided to encourage chess amongst inmates with generally positive results and his experiences are used here to act a guide to other people. The seemingly obligatory forward by a celebrity chess master is performed by Nigel Short but the big difference here is that he has an interest in the project. He recounts how he became a friend via letters of a chess fan who was convicted of murder and even visited him in Wormwood Scrubs.
The journey for Carl starts with his first visit to a prison with its naturally intimidating atmosphere and the basic need to plan the lesson so no one gets bored. He starts with a simultaneous display and the photo from the event is a classic because of course all the opponents have their faces pixelated to avoid recognition.
Portman is persuasive on the effect of chess on those incarcerated as the tabloid view of plush cells, TVs and telephones is far from the truth.
The formation of a chess club can give them a positive experience and allow time to socialise. An interview with award winning author and ex-con John Healy sets the tone that chess can lead to redemption by giving the mind something to concentrate on when the immediate future is rather bleak. This is backed up by a chapter on ‘Testimony from Inmates’ which features lots of grateful letters. There is also chat about chess in women’s prison and this is supported by an analysis of top players and role models. There are cartoons sprinkled around which sensibly lightens the tone. After eighty absorbing pages there should be a whole host of potential volunteers ready to help rehabilitate inmates but the assumption is that not all readers will be chess players.
The rest of the book is basically a manual on how to play the game with the usual tips on writing the moves down, classic examples and puzzles. The idea being that if you have been convinced by the proposal to spread the word you might soon be a chess teacher.
An excellent, thought provoking guide on the value of chess in prisons.
Game Changer by Mattew Sadler and Natasha Regan
416 pages published by New in Chess
Reviewed on 21 March 2019 (Review #13)
A celebration of the chess computer AlphaZero with exclusive games and insight as to why we think differently about chess. Just in case you missed the worldwide headlines, a computer devised by a company called DeepMind, learned how to play chess in a few hours and reached a level that easily beat the top chess programme Stockfish.
The theme on television and the internet was the same that if Artificial Intelligence could master chess so quickly then what else could it achieve? This is why the publicity was massive and Demis Hassabis the co-founder of the company notes in the Introduction “…use this technology to help find solutions to some of society’s biggest challenge and unanswered questions”. If you are in any doubt as to where the company aims to make money with this achievement then Kasaprov is quoted on the back cover ‘Hidebound disciplines like education and medicine will also be shaken’. Indeed, it has had the desired effect because The British government’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has enlisted Demis to advise its “new Government Office for Artificial Intelligence”.
I say good luck to him because to have a former player in such an important position must be positive. However, chess people are cynical and many pointed out that the wins against Stockfish were not independently monitored and could just be free advertising. After all, any medical claim is subject to verification from an official organisation and then published in an academic journal so others can consider the results. I think one of the reasons why such distrust exists is that people rushed to look up Hassabis games but could find none. Now, I remember him being a very talented youngster, good at table football and then he was suddenly gone from the chess scene. However, he did slightly change his surname for personal reasons, which is why it does not instantly pop up on Chessbase.
The motivation for taking Game Changer seriously is because the English authors are good at pointing out how the computer approaches certain positions in a different way. This becomes abundantly clear when the World Champion was quoted recently “I was thinking at several points during the game (in Round 11 of the 2019 Tata Steel Chess Tournament): how would AlphaZero have approached this?”. It would be boring to list all the computer games so the games are divided into chapters to demonstrate a certain theme such as “Attacking the King and Piece mobility: outposts”. A human element is added by including a famous game by a top player complete with a photo and then showing how AlphaZero plays in a similar style.
An extensive interview with Demis takes up Chapter 3 to remind everyone what a talented and driven businessman he has become since buying his first computer with winnings from an under ten tournament.
Of course, the best bits are the games. Naturally, many are interesting but what makes them special are the annotations that explain what is going on and how the style of play is that little bit different.
Game Changer provides an insight to a new era of chess.
Closing Gambit DVD by Alan Byron
1 hour 25 minutes. Works for all regions.
Reviewed on 22 February 2019 (Review #12)
A documentary that looks back at the classic Karpov-Korchnoi World Championship match help in the Philippines during 1978. The English writer and director Alan Bryon is well placed to understand what was going on as he used to be a leading teenager player and still competes at a high level such as the Gibraltar Masters tournament. As the story unveils those unfamiliar with what happened will be gripped by manoeuvres on and off the board, as the shining child of the Soviet Union , Karpov defended his title. The big difference was that Kortchnoi had fled the Soviet Union a few years ago before and was considered a traitor by the Russian authorities, so this was a big deal. In that era, Kortchnoi’s name was not mentioned in the media while if he competed in tournaments no Soviet player would take part.
A series of famous talking heads discuss the match and spliced together is original footage from the contest. This format is fairly standard and anyone who has watched the award winning documentary ‘Bobby Fischer Against the World’ will be content that the balance works well. The key to its success here is that they have managed to persuade Karpov to comment on what was going on. He makes some good points but hindsight is a wonderful thing, although his reasons to refuse to shake hands with Viktor just before game 8 sounds fine but you can’t help feeling that over time he might of crafted his reply rather than the obvious one that it was a ploy to put him off. Kortchnoi was deceased at the time of filming so he appears from old footage but a couple of his seconds/chess coaches are on hand to provide insight and they are Englishmen Raymond Keene and Michael Stean.
The latter is particularly entertaining and is rather self-deprecating such as when contemplating Karpov’s twenty strong entourage including former World Champion Tal, he says in comparison “We were a bunch of amateurs”. Kasparov builds up the Soviet versus the traitor line and along with other Russian players make the point that the government took this very seriously and every effort was made to crush Kortchnoi psychologically. It might sound absurd now but Anand is one that thinks it could make a huge difference in such a high stakes match. This is when a new generation will find out that Dr. Zukhar, a professor of psychology was employed by the Soviets to stare at Korchnoi from the front row, Korhchnoi’s chair was examined for radio waves, they argued what flag Viktor could use as he was Stateless and the list goes on.
Karpov also came under some pressure as Kortchnoi’s delegation questioned why he was eating a blueberry yogurt during the game as it might be an indication of a certain move or something. This made newspaper headlines back in the day and was ridiculed. However, Stean in the documentary reveals that in reality they thought some kind of stimulant might be in the food to boost energy. A Russian sportsman doped to perform at a higher level, surely that would never happen. The match reaches a climax with the scores locked at 5-5 and whoever wins next takes the title. Tal apparently said that if Korthnoi succeeds he would be a marked man and the assumption that he might be assassinated. This was not taken too seriously but although he lived in Switzerland and not Salisbury the idea of killing someone who sought political asylum from Russia is not so far fetched.
The narrator is Tara McGowran an actress who has shared film credits with a host of stars such as Anthony Hopkins and Hugh Grant and more recently performed as a deadly witch in the ‘12 Deaths of Christmas’. Once again, chess perfectionists should have no fear as her pronunciations of chess places and people are perfect, which is hardly surprising since she has been married to Michael Adams for over a decade.
The story is absorbing and frankly incredible at times and will appeal to even casual viewers who are not well versed in the game. For instance, I was recently on an Emirates flight and this DVD was in the documentary section next to a host of famous names.
A tremendous opportunity to look back at one of the world’s greatest sporting clashes.
Practical Chess Endings by Paul Keres
352 pages published by Batsford
Reviewed on 3 December 2018 (Review #11)
A modern classic is back in print with algebraic notation for another generation to enjoy.
The idea of the book is to cover every opening you might need to know at tournament level and it has numerous recommendations from masters. This particular version boasts of 500 extra diagrams, which does make it easy to read on the commute to work. The only thing of concern is that it has not been computer checked since the 1970s to make sure all the variations stand up to the test of time. However, it enjoys a good reputation so I don’t think are major problems although some continuations might have quicker solutions if you have access to modern software.
A good way to improve your ending.
The Chess Toolbox by Thomas Willemze
400 pages published by New In Chess
A middlegame guide for the club player who wants to be better. This is basically the theme of the book and there is lots to enjoy. The Dutch author seeks to instruct while entertaining and just about the manages to do the task. There are obvious themes such as piece coordination, concepts like structure and initiative, which are illustrated by interesting games or start from a diagram so we can see exactly what is going on.
There is no reliance on the latest elite game because he selects lesser known examples which make the point equally well and it makes a change not to see the obvious names every time.
If you manage to get out of the opening but then struggle to find a middlegame plan then there are plenty of pointers on how to cope.
If you are keen to improve this is the right place to start.
Fabiano Caruana: His Amazing Story and His Most Instructive Games by Alexander Kalinin
208 pages published by New In Chess
Reviewed on 15 October 2018 (Review #9)
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. A photo by Lennart Ootes from Stavenger 2018 is a sharp reminder to the reader that book has been updated to includes games from this year. It was originally published in Russian and has been translated by England’s Steve Giddens.
Still, if you want to know more about the American star then this is an excellent 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 (Review #8)
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 (Review #7)
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 (Review #6)
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 Chess24.com. 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 (Review #5)
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 (Review #4)
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 (Review #3)
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 (Review #2)
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 (Review #1)
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.