Review of Zlotnik’s Middlegame Manual

Listen, since you here, I could really use your help. If you’ve seen this more than once that means that you’re hopefully getting something useful out of this blog. I pay all of the costs for hosting, and put a lot of effort into creating the content. Please consider becoming a Patreon supporter. 

If you can spare it, please click here and become a supporter. Even $1 a month can help me continue this project.

Zlotnik’s Middlegame Manual by Boris Zlotnik 2020 New in Chess 400pp

When I was first learning to play chess seriously (1987ish) and when I came back to chess after a nearly 20 year layoff (2011) the subject of pawn structure was a tough nut to crack.

Sure, we had Pawn Structure Chess by Soltis, and the quirky Pawn Power in Chess by Kmoch, but other than those two and a few scattered bits here and there, the subject of pawn structure was largely uncovered.

Lately, that has started to change. With amazing books covering the various structures and their plans, it’s a whole new world.

New in Chess has delivered yet another entry into the fray with this offering by Boris Zlotnik. That was a name I wasn’t familiar with, but I quickly accepted IM Zlotnik’s bona fides when I read the forward by Fabiano Caruana and learned that Zlotnik served as his trainer for three years from 2004-2007. During that time frame Fabi went from around 2200 to 2500.

This book breaks down material into digestible chunks, which include typical middlegame structures, along with typical methods of play.

To see the table of contents simply click the links below.



The topics covered are both typical (i.e. what you need to know) and wide-ranging. For club players like myself who are looking to take the next step towards improvement these are very necessary lessons and techniques to learn.

So let’s talk about who this book is for. Well, that’s always a pretty arbitrary thing, really, but it’s something of a “necessary evil” when talking about chess books. The book claims to be for a “wide range of post beginners and club players” but that’s a bit lacking in my mind.

Mostly I would say that is due to the way in which this book is written. The formula is one which has become tried and true – deeply annotated games in the theme being presented. So in the IQP chapter you have a bunch of annotated games featuring IQP’s and the typical plans involved for both sides of those positions.

When I said “deeply” above, I do indeed mean deeply. And not just “database dump” annotations. The analysis is very well done and quite instructive. But there is something that I feel is missing. Namely, prose annotations.

In one of his Perpetual Chess Podcast appearances, IM Cyrus Lakdawala said that he feels that the verbal analysis is the most important part of the analytical work done on books these days. To paraphrase the reasoning he gave, it’s because as engines grow stronger the variational analysis will change over time, but the verbal explanations remain correct.

To see this in action, take a look at any online forum and watch how club players sometimes talk about how terrible older books are because engines now offer different lines than the ones given by the authors. I’ve seen such players bash writers such as Alekhine and Euwe because the latest Stockfish now offers different moves. The problem is that there will continue to be a stronger engine tomorrow that will refute the engine of today for the foreseeable future.

What the complainants often fail to understand here is that if the move that Grandmaster X gives is +1.8, but the latest Stockfish gives a different move that is +1.95 the reason for both moves may still be the same. e.g. restricting certain pieces or pawns or taking control of an outpost, etc.

So why the long digression above? Well, because this book, while heavy on variations, is light on prose. Too light in my opinion. For that reason alone I think that the “wide range” of players is perhaps less than the author would like. This isn’t to say that someone around the rating range of say 1200-1400 wouldn’t get anything from this book, after all, it’s well annotated, but perhaps their understanding of structures wouldn’t be as well served as it would be with more verbal explanations.

After all of that you may think that I don’t like this book. Nothing could be further from the truth. I found the book to be very instructional and well worth the read.

In fact, the chapter on the Carlsbad Structure was incredible. Prior to reading this book, if you would have said “Carlsbad Structure” to me I would have immediately responded “Minority Attack” but this book shows not only that, but also plans focusing on e3-e4, attacking on the kingside with both players castled on that side, attacking on the kingside in opposite sided castled positions, and play with both sides castled long.

I also very much loved the chapter covering whether or not to exchange the fianchettoed bishop. This chapter discussed not only the KID, but also the Dragon and Accelerated Dragon.

I also believe that for anyone who  is working on improving their positional play, the chapter on Symmetrical Pawn Structures in this book should be required reading. After all, those positions rely on the accumulation of small advantages, which is one of the hallmark’s of positional play.

Lastly I’d like to talk about something that is becoming more of a feature in chess books than it ever used to be, and rightfully so, and that’s the inclusion of exercises. Including exercises is a great way to turn what would otherwise be a passive learning experience into an active one.

This book gives 162 exercises and solutions. Some of the exercises just give you the side to move, and others ask you to evaluate a certain move or give the ideas for one side. Overall the exercises were both challenging and balanced.

Overall, I would recommend this book to anyone rated from around 1200 and up, but with the caveat that the stronger the player, the more understanding about the subject matter you will gain. For those below maybe 1500 this will serve as a well-annotated collection of games and some detailed exercises.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

Slight Retooling of the Training Program

Listen, since you here, I could really use your help. If you’ve seen this more than once that means that you’re hopefully getting something useful out of this blog. I pay all of the costs for hosting, and put a lot of effort into creating the content. Please consider becoming a Patreon supporter. 

If you can spare it, please click here and become a supporter. Even $1 a month can help me continue this project.

So I’m trying to retool my training in a way that will be relatively small, but will hopefully have big results.

Up to this point I’ve been the classic example of “a little of this, a little of that” style training. Meaning that in the course of the same block of let’s say two hours on any given day I might play through a game or two from a games collection, then go through a few lines in an opening book, then solve some tactics before reading a little bit of an endgame book. Basically the ADD version of chess training.

So the change is this…

Starting as of a few days ago I’m going to focus on ONE area of improvement at a time, with some slight allowances for other things.

So now a day of training will look more like this:

I tend to start every day when I wake up with some Chessable. I spend maybe 30 minutes there, mostly working on some tactics courses there. I also pop in for a few minutes here and there. For example, if I arrive at work 15 minutes early I might sit in my car solving puzzles for 10 minutes before heading in. This should be all of the training I need for simple tactics.

The change comes in the form of what I’ll be doing for the bulk of my time. I now plan on focusing on one thing at a time, for at least a month. Want to work on the endgame? Then it needs to be for at least a month. Want to work on calculation? Then it needs to be for at least a month. Want to learn a new opening? Then it needs to be for at least a month.

I’ll still flip between materials a bit here and there, but within the same subject. So, for instance, if I work on calculation I may flip between a book on endgame studies, and a book like GM RAM or Perfect Your Chess, but I will stay with the subject.

What are some things that YOU have done? What impact did they have on your chess? I’d love to hear some stories.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

One Small Step Khanin-Trjapishko 1-0

If you like this blog, please consider becoming a Patreon supporter. Any money I raise will go towards lessons and stronger tournaments.

If you can spare it, please click here and become a supporter. Even $1 a month can help me achieve my dream.

You ever play a game where you’re kind of cruising along through the opening and suddenly you realize that something has gone very wrong?

Historically that’s me on many lines on the White side of the French.

Here’s a position from a game in the 2018 Russian Junior Championship where a semi-sideline of the Caro has been played by White. It’s Black to move, and Black plays…


It seems like Black is putting the knight on d7 to try to exchange some pieces, which makes sense, but then after 16.Bf4

Black needs to admit his mistake and just go back to f6. But of course it’s hard to grasp that during a game.

Personally I think I would have played 15…Nxe4 16.Qxe4 Bf6

Instead, Black just gets steamrolled by White.

Here’s the game.

Til  Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

Amazing Calculation Karjakin-Navarra Shamkir 2018

If you like this blog, please consider becoming a Patreon supporter. Any money I raise will go towards lessons and stronger tournaments.

If you can spare it, please click here and become a supporter. Even $1 a month can help me achieve my dream.

Let’s say you are Black and you are faced with this decision. White has just played 31.Rxd5. Do you take the rook or not?

Sure, you have three pawns for the piece, but if you take the rook you’ll have no pieces and your opponent will have a bishop.  Still, who wants no pieces when our opponent has one? No way we take the rook, right?

Let’s say our two candidate moves are 31…Rxd5 or 31…Rc3 – what would you do?

Navarra took the rook.

At a depth of 40 Stockfish 12 gives this position -0.15

At a depth of 40 Stockfish 12 gives this position 0.42

When I really think about this decision I realize it’s not one to be taken lightly. After all, if you don’t take the rook then how do you stop this  Rh5 idea which forces …h6, then swing the rook back to a5 to force …a6 and now Black’s pawns are getting weak.

So what I would think of as an “automatic” decision of not taking the rook turns out to be anything but automatic in the hands of a strong player.

Here is the entire game.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

Slow Down! Don’t Rush.

If you like this blog, please consider becoming a Patreon supporter. Any money I raise will go towards lessons and stronger tournaments.

If you can spare it, please click here and become a supporter. Even $1 a month can help me achieve my dream.

If you’ve studied chess seriously for any length of time you may very have heard the phrase “Don’t rush.” Typically this applies to endgames, but really it should apply to just about any phase of the game.

Let’s take this position. It from some analysis of the game Tal – Roman 1961

This is from the the first book of the two-volume set The Complete Manual of Positional Chess by Sakaev and Landa. The authors give a line that shows how White wins after Black takes the knight with 13…axb5. But what if Black plays 13…Qxf3 – what then?

The book gives no analysis, and one of the things that I have been really pressing myself to do lately is to answer questions like this rather than just let them go. I have spent most of my chess book reading time just kind of shuffling pieces and not really thinking. I’ve been working to change that lately.

So let’s look at that position with 13…Qxf3 played:

Obviously White can’t simply recapture the queen as after 14.gxf3 Black simply wins a piece by taking the knight. I’ll leave it to you to work out why neither 15.Nxb5 nor 15.Bxb5+ work.

So that told me that surely 14.Nc7+ should be the move. I analyzed for a bit and came up with 14…Ke7 15.Bd6+ Kd8

The problem here of course if that after taking the queen the bishop on d6 falls. Something like 16.gxf3 Bxd6 17.Nxa8 Ke7

Hmm…just looks even. Surely the authors of this book didn’t miss such an obvious try as 13…Qxf3 did they?

I tried other moves and just couldn’t crack it. So finally I put it in an engine. Once I did so I once again heard “don’t rush” playing in my head.

The correct sequence is 14.Nc7+ Ke7, and now, instead of rushing with 15.Bd6+ simply recapture the queen now with 15.gxf3

The rook on a8 is hanging and if the rook moves then either of the two following lines happen. 15…Rb8 16.Bd6+ Kd8 17.Bxf8+ Kxc7 18.Bd6+ and the rook is lost.

15…Ra7 16.Bd6+ Kd7 17.Bxf8+ Kxc7 18.Bxg7 Rg8 19.Bxf6

While I wish I would have found the idea prior to using the engine, I am glad that I spent a few minutes checking. The work will pay off.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

Strategic Decision Making

If you like this blog, please consider becoming a Patreon supporter. Any money I raise will go towards lessons and stronger tournaments.

If you can spare it, please click here and become a supporter. Even $1 a month can help me achieve my dream.

I just received the new book on Petrosian from Ilan Rubin’s excellent Elk & Ruby publishing house.

The book is called Petrosian Year by Year and this is the first volume, covering the years 1942-1962. The authors are Tibor Karolyi and Tigran Gyozalyan.

The first game within the book is a simul game between Petrosian and Flohr. For some reason which is not given in the book (though the authors do also question this) Petrosian has the White pieces.

This position has arisen after the Black’s 15th move, 15…Bd7 which the authors called a mistake.

So I took a look here, trying to figure out what is wrong with the move. I started by first evaluating the position. This was my evaluation process:

White should be better here. He has more space and the more active pieces. He does have a worse pawn structure though. Here, Tigran Vartanovich plays 16.Rhe1 which the authors call a mistake. So I set the book down to try to figure out why.

The problem is that I did what I almost always do in these positions – I thought tactically. I searched and searched but couldn’t figure out any sort of shot that White missed.

The answer shows a deficiency in my thinking process. The answer is as follows:

“This move keeps some advantage, but it’s not the best a it allows Black to castle. If 16.Bg5! Qf7 17.Rhe1+ Kf8 18.Nh4 White wins as the h8 rook will be out of play.”

This, by the way, is an example of the excellent type of verbal/variational analysis which the book looks to contain.

I need to really revamp my thought process. I am training, but I need to train harder. Once OTB is back I’m going to make a real run at 1900 as the first logical step on the rest of my journey.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

Review of Mastering Positional Sacrifices

If you like this blog, please consider becoming a Patreon supporter. Any money I raise will go towards lessons and stronger tournaments.

If you can spare it, please click here and become a supporter. Even $1 a month can help me achieve my dream.

Mastering Positional Sacrifices by Merijn van Delft New in Chess 2020 320pp

I wasn’t kidding in my last post when I said that I was doing a lot of reading both pre COVID contraction and post COVID recovery. 

One gem of a book that made it’s way to me is this work by the Dutch trainer and IM Merijn van Delft.

While I had never heard of van Delft, I didn’t let that stop me from being absolutely excited about the possibilities that lay within this volume. While books on positional chess have certainly become much more common over the years, books on positional sacrifices are still relatively scarce, yet this topic is incredibly rich and rewarding.

As the author notes in the introduction “As opposed to tactical sacrifices, positional sacrifices are of a more abstract, non-forcing nature.” When I read that my first thought was “Truer words were never spoken.”

Tactical sacrifices are easy to understand. They tend to mirror the “sac, sac, mate” formula that Fischer mentioned about facing Larsen in the Dragon. Calculation ability is really all it takes to become successful at making those types of sacrifices.

On the other hand, positional sacrifices are another animal entirely. Now the vague and mysterious (to non-titled players) word “compensation” comes in to play.

When speaking of positional sacrifices, the example that springs to the front of mind for myself, and probably many others, is this one:

Here Petrosian uncorks 25…Re6! The idea is to free the e7 square for the knight. If the exchange is accepted then the knight reroutes to d5 to complete the blockade. If the exchange is not accepted the same happens, but White also isn’t even up material for the fact. Sure enough, a few moves later this position was reached:

Of course this game makes it into this book since it’s probably the most famous example of an exchange sac that exists, although the way it makes it in is quite unique.

The book is broken down into four parts, Fundamental themes, Typical positional sacrifices, Testing the limits, and Training material. Each of these sections is further broken down into chapters covering items such as opening files, pawn structure, color complexes, pawn and exchange sacs which arise from particular openings, etc.

One nice thing about this book is that it’s new enough to include examples from Leela and AlphaZero. Another excellent feature is the inclusion of 48 positions used as exercises. 

The topic is fascinating, but what about the content? Well, let’s look…

Here’s an example from Viktor Korchnoi against Nijboer in 1993.

Here Viktor plays 18.Nxc5! 

“A fantastic positional piece sacrifice, breaking down Black’s carefully constructed blockade. White gets two mighty connected pawns that give him the upper hand!”

18…dxc5 19.Bxc5 Ng6

(diagram added by me for emphasis)

“Trying to tempt White with a positional sacrifice of his own.”


“White is not  interested and focuses on keeping the initiative and setting the pawn steamroller in motion.

20.Bxf8 Bxf8 would be a positional blunder, giving Black full control of the dark squares and, with it, control over the entire position. In the next chapter we will return to this theme.”

20…Qf6 21.c5

(diagram once again added by me for emphasis)

Of course the idea here, once revealed, is easy for players of all levels to understand and appreciate.

The book is filled with many such examples covering all manner of topics, including the endgame.

Here we have a position from Bronstein – Olafsson Portoroz 1958

It’s hard to imagine how White is planning to make progress here until you see Bronstein uncork 36.Rxe5!

“Even with limited material on the board, such a positional exchange sacrifice can be highly effective.”

36…dxe5+ 37.Kxe5 Re8+ 38.Kf6!

(diagram added by me for emphasis)

“This is the highly instructive point: the king can be a very powerful piece in the endgame.”


“It will take Black a few moves to actually take a pawn.”

39.Kxf7 Rb3 40.Nxg6 Rxb4 41.Ne5+ Kc8 42.d6

“Probably, Bronstein had basically calculated everything until the end, when he sacrificed the exchange.”



Once more, the remarkable role of the king. The passed pawn cannot be stopped.”

43…Rd2 44.Ng6 Kb8

“On 44…Re2+, 45.Ne7+ wins.”

(diagram added by me for emphasis)


“Accuracy until the very end. 45.d7 Kc7 would completely spoil the win, and 45.Ne7 f4 would complicate the win.”

45…Rd1 46.Ne7 1-0

So who is this book for? Well, that’s a bit trickier of a question than with most books I feel. While I think that pretty much anyone can play through and enjoy the examples, I do feel that the better grasp a player has a positional concepts such as weak color complexes, outposts, blockades, etc. the more useful they will find this book.

After all, it’s not very useful to completely control the light squares if you have no idea what that means or how to apply it.

Overall, I very much enjoyed this book and want to see more like it!

Til Next Time, 

Chris Wainscott

Review of Dvoretsky’s Endgame Manual 5th Edition

If you like this blog, please consider becoming a Patreon supporter. Any money I raise will go towards lessons and stronger tournaments.

If you can spare it, please click here and become a supporter. Even $1 a month can help me achieve my dream.

First let me apologize for the extremely long delay in publishing anything. While I was on a semi-sabbatical from writing, I contracted COVID which then caused me to spend almost a month getting back in the right frame of mind. 

During my illness I couldn’t even read, but leading up to that, and coming out of it I have read a lot. So expect some additional upcoming reviews in the very near future!

Dvoretsky’s Endgame Manual 5th Edition Russell Enterprises 2020 440pp

Historically when an existing work has a new edition out, that hasn’t been a sign that you need to rush out to buy it. After all, the updates are normally just to a few things and due to the fact that engines are now stronger. 

However, in the Age of Leela, there are many good reasons to do so. After all, it’s one thing to say “I’ll just download the new Stockfish and do the work myself.” Neural Networks, however, are another thing entirely.

Not to mention the слон (elephant) in the room, which in this case was the untimely passing of Mark Dvoretsky in September of 2016. This means, of course, that while *some* of the revisions were overseen by the famed Russian trainer himself, the bulk of them were handled by others. In this case noted endgame experts, German GM Karsten Muller and Alex Fishbein from the USA.

Perhaps to mark the fact that there are others working on this manual, the color of the cover was changed. It now seems almost like a cross between the blue color for DEM that we’ve grown accustomed to, and the green of Dvoretsky’s Analytical Manual. I personally don’t find the color to be visually appealing, but you know what they say about judging books thusly.

So let’s open ‘er up.

Two new forwards are in this book. One by the aforementioned GM Muller, discussing many of the details as to how this volume was assembled, and one by 14th World Champion Vladimir Kramnik discussing the importance of the project since it’s inception with the first edition.

The other main visual change is that the former sections printed in blue ink have been replaced by highlighted gray text.

Perhaps this is me being overly critical, but I find that the completely filled box is much much easier to read. I do, however, seriously applaud the move away from the blue because it was certainly true that depending on which print run your copy was from, sometimes the blue would be so faint you couldn’t read it.

This addition comes with many new diagrams added, as well as some that have been omitted. For pedants like myself this is a nice feature. I don’t know why my mind works this way, but it does. I like knowing what has changed!

The content is, of course, pure gold. After hearing John Hartmann mention that he’s “woodshedding” all of the gray positions I decided to set for myself a similar goal, but I’m only focusing on the rook endgames. There are more than fifty of these, so my work is cut out for me!

One thing I have always loved about the various version of DEM is the level of detail that is covered, even on examples the reader may already be somewhat familiar with.

Take, for example, the game Gligoric – Smyslov from the Chigorin Memorial in 1947. This is often cited as an example of a how a rook can defend against rook + f&h pawns. In fact, Smyslov himself covered this ending in his book Endgame Virtuoso.

However, in DEM the level of detail show is much greater, both in analytical detail, as well as verbal explanations. So while the first instinct by many might be to think “Meh, I’ve seen this before.” the truth is that you may very well not have seen it at the level of detail you are about to.

One of my favorite chapters, in this and in preceding editions, in the one on General Endgame Ideas. While the chapters on specific material relationships, especially the parts highlighted in gray, focus on concise precision, the chapter on general ideas is more a dive into what Shereshevsky would call “schematic thinking.”

In this chapter many concepts are discussed which may be applicable to numerous situations. Here’s a quick example of what is referred to as “widening the beachhead.” This position was composed by Artur Yusupov.

The idea is that there are two main plans for White to proceed. One would involve the idea of playing f4-g5 in order to create a passer, while the other would be to “widen the beachhead” by playing a well-timed g5 which will then allow the White king more room to maneuver.

Of course there is a precise explanation that is given for this precise position, but the concept itself is one that will be applicable to many positions, pawn endgame and otherwise.

So if you own a previous edition of this book do you need the new one? if you are in any way serious about improving I would say yes since it’s been several years since the 4th edition was released, and with the advances in tablebases and pure engine and neural network power it just makes sense to stay reasonably up to date.

Let’s discuss one last thing before we go…the talk about the relationship between one’s rating and the usefulness of this book.

I have often heard it said that “Unless you are rating 2XXX you shouldn’t even bother with this book. You should focus on ____ instead.” I don’t buy that. Not for a minute. There probably is a level at which this book is not for someone, but that level is likely a mid-three digit rating.

There’s no way to pretend that a 1500 will get as much from this book as a 2500. But the idea that the 1500 who is willing and able to work diligently will absolutely learn from this book. I know that because I was one of those 1500’s. While my endgame play still needs to improve vastly from where it is in order for me to make a real run at my life goal of 2200, the truth is that I learned many concepts from this book.

The Lucena, Vancura, and Philidor positions in rook endings – all of which I have used in my own games are things I learned from earlier editions of DEM. I once drew an expert in a rapid game with knight against pawn on the 7th because I had recently read that portion of this book.

So yes, if you are serious about chess in any way, this book is for you.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

Review of Hein Donner by Alexander Munninghoff

If you like this blog, please consider becoming a Patreon supporter. Any money I raise will go towards lessons and stronger tournaments.

If you can spare it, please click here and become a supporter. Even $1 a month can help me achieve my dream.

Hein Donner: The Biography Alexander Munninghoff New in Chess 2020 272pp

A few weeks ago I checked my mail and was quite delighted to find a copy of Alexander Munninghoff’s biography on legendary Dutch,  um, chess personality (?!) Jan Hein Donner.

I say chess personality because in many ways it’s hard to categorize the man. He was a GM, and as such in some ways was the successor to the former Dutch  world champion Max Euwe. (I qualify that with “in some ways” because for a time Lodewijk Prins was included in that discussion.) However, he wasn’t nearly as strong a GM as his predecessor Euwe, nor his successor Timman. Mostly, though, Donner was a journalist.

Like many I mostly know Donner from the amazing collection of his essays The King which were pieces written by Hein over the years. Thus, it was with great anticipation that I sat down to learn about the man himself.

Before embarking on the main journey of this review, I would like to state for the record that this biography is indeed about the man himself much more than it is about any one facet of his chess career. If you are looking for a volume on how a chess player developed his skills to the point that he was ready to earn the grandmaster title and win major events, then you will not find that which you are seeking. If you would like to know the inner workings of the day to day life of a professional chess journalist then again you may leave feeling a bit empty. However, if you want to know about Hein Donner, the man who happened to be a GM and chess journalist then you will not be disappointed.

Born in 1927 to a well-off family, Donner spent much of his youth annoying his father to no end by challenging his authority. This changed abruptly during the early part of WWII when Donner saw his father hauled off to prison by the occupying Nazi’s on more than one occasion. The final time this happened, Father Donner was in prison for well over a year.

It was during this period of his life that young Hein discovered what would become his life long obsession…chess. Like most budding chess players, the first battles fought were mainly with friends. While not much is known about how Donner was improving early on, one thing that is known is that the first book read by him was a book of Euwe’s called Uncle Jan Teaches His Nephew to Play Chess.

After the war Hein did attend university, but it seems clear that by this time he was so fully in the grip of the chess bug that there was little chance he would make a career out of anything else.

Here Munninghoff does a good job of capturing the dance between a budding Western chess professional and society as a whole. The emphasis on Western is quite important since during this time in history most chess professionals were from the USSR, where there was ample state support. There was nowhere near enough financial remuneration from someone to hope to make an honest living from the game.

Donner had the good fortune to be from a well-off family where such considerations were not needed. Thus, he was able to ignore the financial implications of choosing chess as a career.

It would be wrong to be completely dismissive of Hein as a player. Not only did he win Hoogovens (now Tata Steel) three times, he also won the Dutch Championship three times, along with playing on 11 Olympiad Teams. Munninghoff captures the essence of the player, along with the inner battle that many chess player fight to accept the limits of their own abilities.

This is done in a manner that also doesn’t fail to point out that while, yes, Donner won Hoogovens, it was at a point in time when it was not nearly so strong a tournament as we think of now.

The author also hints at the complexity  of Donner’s home life. Donner the husband. Donner the father. Donner the absent husband. Donner the absent father. Not much appears to be known about this aspect of Hein’s life, but what little there is, Munninghoff captures.

The latter part of Donner’s life was marred by ill health, eventually leading him to be moved into a nursing home. His health continued to fade until November 27th, 1988, when the staff found him dead in his bed. Munninghoff succeeds in taking the reader along for the journey of Donner’s descent from declining health to untimely death.

While reading about this portion of Donner’s life I could almost feel the walls psychologically closing around Donner. As his health worsened, his world shrunk until at the end the aftereffects of  declining health stole his ability to walk and needing to re-learn to speak. I’ve read elsewhere that towards the very end Hein could type with only one finger, and in reading Munninghoff’s pages on this period it was not difficult for me to imagine Hein fighting back the darkness with his lone finger slowly, methodically, pecking out the next word; and the next; and the next. Until finally even that lone remaining finger deserted him.

As this book is the translation of a volume that was published in Dutch in 1994 the author was able include additional material which was not in the original version of the book.

Among those inclusions is a 2008 interview between New in Chess editor Dirk Jan ten Geuzendam and Hein’s friend Harry Mulisch. This interview spans the time frame from the beginning of their friendship in 1957 and takes us through the end of Donner’s life and beyond.

Lastly, the games included in the “Games and Annotations” section of the book have been computer checked and a couple of additional games were added. While I wasn’t all that interested in Hein the player, I of course enjoyed to playing through his win over Fischer from the Varna 1962 Olympiad.

All in all I highly recommend this book. I found it interesting to read a book written by an author who seemed determined to uncover the man who happened to be a chess player rather than the approach many take which is to uncover the chess player who happened to be a man.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

Review of the On the Origin of Good Moves by Willy Hendriks

If you like this blog, please consider becoming a Patreon supporter. Any money I raise will go towards lessons and stronger tournaments.

If you can spare it, please click here and become a supporter. Even $1 a month can help me achieve my dream.

On The Origin of Good Moves by Willy Hendriks, New in Chess 2020 432 pp

Eight years ago IM Willy Hendriks released his semi-controversial book Move First, Think Later which won the ECF 2012 Book of the Year Award.  Now the long awaited follow up has arrived!

In his new work, On The Origin of Good Moves the author is once again challenging some long-held conventional wisdom.

The premise of the book is that the evolution of an individual chess player follows the evolution of the game itself. To this end we are taken on a journey through chess history, starting with Greco and ending more or less with Steinitz.

Of course there are snippets of more modern games sprinkled in here and there, including many of the author’s own, but the focus of the book is to get us from the start of recorded chess history (Greco) to the start of modern chess history (Steinitz.)

The book records the evolution of the game, from it’s earliest recorded roots, to the rise of coffeehouse chess, then on to serious matches, and finally to the origin of true chess professionals.

Each chapter is precluded by a set of exercises consisting of positions found within the chapter. With so much research showing active learning being far superior to passive learning I always find this to be a useful feature and enjoy how prevalent it is becoming in modern chess literature.

In terms of usefulness for immediate chess improvement, I think that the exercises are most of what this book offers, but I don’t see that as a negative mark. Mainly this is due to the fact that there is an acknowledged mission to familiarize the reader with chess history with the end goal of them becoming stronger through the use of these building blocks.

To put it another way, this book doesn’t set out to make you a better player by exposing you to a carefully cultivated set of exercises designed to hone a particular skill, but rather the goal seems to be to expose the reader to particular ways of thinking that evolved over the course of chess history. Essentially it’s a different approach to the proverb about teaching someone to fish versus giving them a fish.

Along this journey there are some quite interesting challenges to widely held viewpoints. For example, in Chapter 5: The Start of Serious Competition the matches between La Bourdonnais and McDonnell are discussed. The author starts out by acknowledging that there are some spectacular fragments from some of the games which are quite well known, but then quotes Harry Golombek talking about how he had analyzed all of the games with the intent of writing about them, only to be “appalled by the low quality of the play in general.”

This position is the well-known final position from the 16th game of the fourth match is the conclusion of a spectacular sacrificial idea by Black:

This position, however, is not covered in the book. Instead, Hendrik’s chooses positions such as this one:

If asked to describe White’s position here, modern players of even extremely weak strength would likely say that it looks like White has suffered a disaster in the opening and is in extreme trouble due to the lack of king safety.

Yet the standards of play were such back in that day that McDonnell repeated this opening in his next White game!

Another maxim which Hendriks challenges is the notion that Steinitz is the person who worked out the concepts of positional chess. In Chapter 19 he discusses Cecil Purdy’s theory called “The Great Steinitz Hoax.” The concept is that the theories of positional play which are generally attributed to Steinitz were in fact worked out by Lasker. That chapter, while short, is interestingly compelling.

Probably my favorite chapter of this book is Chapter 32: Study Openings. In this chapter the author states that he knows of no better way to improve at chess than to study openings. He points out that what are thought of as classic books, from Greco to Philidor to Staunton to Steinitz are essentially opening works.

Here Hendriks simply challenges the classic wisdom that openings should be studied rarely, if at all, by improving players. In fact, he calls the study of openings “one of the main motors of improvement” and backs his claim up with compelling examples.

All in all I recommend this book. Not as a textbook, but as a historical tome. The subject matter is fascinating, and IM Hendrik’s continued insistence on turning standard logic on it’s ear makes for compelling reading.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott