Review of the King’s Indian According to Petrosian

The King’s Indian According to Tigran Petrosian by IM Igor Yanvarjov 2019 Russell Enterprises, Inc. 424 pp

When looking at a book such as this one it’s important to understand that there are two main reasons that an author writes a book.

The first is to earn money. Many books are written by authors who are writing about an assigned topic in order to earn a payday because they are working professionals who need to pay the rent the same as the rest of us.

The second type of book is one that’s a labor of love. Any monies generated are almost secondary in nature. Rather the book represents the author’s absolute unwavering love for the topic at hand. This book is of that second type.

Why the title of the book may read as though it’s a opening manual, it is very much not. Yes, the book is themed around Petrosian’s games in the King’s Indian, and reading this book in depth will help enhance the reader’s understanding of the KID, but the real point of this book is to show the nuanced handling of positions that the ninth world champion is so known for.

Having said that, this book will be of some use in learning the opening for players who prefer to take a “deep dive” approach and look at historical games in order to build a proper foundation for an opening.

It’s important to remember that Petrosian passed away 35 years ago, and so every line in this book should be taken with a grain of salt and checked very thoroughly by players just coming to the KID.

The book is divided into three parts with each part being split into several chapters. They are:

Part 1 Tabiyas

Chapter 1 Classical Variation

Chapter 2 The Samisch System

Chapter 3 The Fianchetto Variation

Chapter 4 The Benoni

Chapter 5 Other Systems

Part 2 Elements of Success

Chapter 6 Portrait of a Chess Player

Chapter 7 Lessons from Petrosian

Chapter 8 The Problem of the Exchange

Chapter 9 “Furman’s Bishop”

Chapter 10 “Pawns are the soul of chess”

Chapter 11 Playing by Analogy

Chapter 12 Maneuvering Battle

Part III Experiments

Chapter 13 Realist or Romantic?

Chapter 14 The King’s Indian with Colors – and Flanks – Reversed

Readers who paid careful attention to the above table of contents will have picked up on the fact that with chapters such as Chapter 4 The Benoni this work isn’t strictly a King’s Indian treatise as much as it is the King’s Indian and related positions.

“What about the games themselves?” readers are hopefully asking by this point. The games are all annotated to varying degrees. Some have only light notes, whereas others have very detailed analytical variations. It is in this area that I believe that Yanvarjov does an excellent job.

Many of the games contain quoted historical analysis or comments, whether by Tigran himself or his contemporaries. In addition the author goes into great analytical detail where it makes sense.

I also thought that IM Yanvarjov did an excellent job of mixing in both prose and variations to describe the action taking place within the positions. In some cases a verbal description is given which should be helpful to players of club level in particular.

Take this position for instance, from the second game between Bisguier and Petrosian in the 1954 USA-USSR Radio Match. Here the American GM has just played 18.Nd5

“Bisguier forces the issue but achieves little. The calm 18.Rd2, with the goal of increasing the pressure in the center by doubling rooks, is more unpleasant for Black.”

This is a simple enough explanation for readers of any level to understand, and reams of variationally inclined analysis doesn’t get the point across in as clear as manner.

Here’s an excellent example where some analysis combines with a clear verbal explanation to one again convey a clear image. This is the position after move 31 in the game Borisenko-Petrosian in the 21st USSR Championship.

Here White plays 32.Kh2. Writes Yanvarjov:

“To this point, White had played very consistently, but now Borisenko’s constant companion in his tournament games, time trouble, came into play. Instead of the irresolute king move, by playing b2-b4!, White could have posed challenging problems for his opponent. However, the most principled continuation was probably not 32.b4, but 32.Bd2 and only then b2-b4. For example, 32.Bd2 Kh7 33.b4 Nd7 34.b5 Nb8 35.Qe3 Qf8 36.f4, etc.”

My assessment of this book is that it’s a book written as a labor of love designed to showcase the player who appears to have made the biggest impression on Yanvarjov, while also being very useful as a games collection.

Again, I should stress that those who want to use this book as an opening manual will have a lot of additional work to do, but for those who are looking at this as a games collection you will see a lot of practical use from this book.

Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of this one today.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

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Review of Attack and Counterattack in Chess by Fred Reinfeld

Attack & Counterattack in Chess by Fred Reinfeld – 2019 Algebraic Edition by Russell Chess Enterprises, Inc. 88pp $12.95

With this volume REI continues their translation of many of the classic works of Reinfeld into algebraic notation for a new generation of readers.

While Reinfeld is often dismissed these days, it’s important to note that he is referred to by FM Alex Dunne as “The Man Who Taught America Chess” and not without good reason.

Yes, he wrote over 100 volumes on chess, and many of them are rightfully considered to be potboilers. Yet at his best he was very, very good. Even today Reinfeld often serves as one of the earliest authors introduced to young players just coming in to the game. Note for example that Chess in a Nutshell was Ray Robson’s first chess book per his dad.

Let’s also not forget that Reinfeld was immensely strong as a player. The first rating list issued by US Chess in 1950 saw Reinfeld listed with a rating of 2593, good for sixth in the nation behind only Reuben Fine, Sammy Reshevsky, Alexander Kevitz, Arthur Dake, and Albert Simonson.

Attack & Counterattack in Chess is as much a pamphlet as it is anything, which does explain the lower price, but it’s an excellent early book for those starting out. One reason for this is that the annotations are primarly verbal explanations with minimal variations. This allows for concepts to be communicated quite clearly to those players who may not yet be able to understand positions based on the variations that lie within.

This book is presented in two parts. Part One from White’s point of view, with Part Two coming from Black’s.

The Chapters in Part One are

  • How to Control the Center
  • How to Exploit Superior Mobility
  • How to Exploit Black’s Premature Opening Up of the Position
  • How to Exploit Black’s Premature Counterattack
  • How to Exploit Black’s Weakening Pawn Moves
  • How to Exploit Black’s Errors of Judgement
  • How to Exploit Irregular Defenses

The Chapter in Part Two are

  • How to Seize the Initiative
  • How to Play against Gambits
  • How to  Defend Against a Powerful Attack
  • How to Seize the Attack
  • How to Exploit Unusual Openings

Here’s an example of the kind of prosaic annotations readers will be treated to:

White has just played 16.b4!!

“With his last move White has established a lasting bind on the position. By preventing …c5 for good, he has stamped Black’s c-pawn as a backward pawn on an open file. In all the intricate maneuvering that follows, White keeps his eye on this pawn and finally piles up enough force to capture it.”

A few moves later this position is reached after 21…Nd5

“Now that White has pinpointed the weakness, he goes on to the next phase: piling up on the weakness. First comes a very fine knight maneuver aimed at transferring his knight from c3 to a5. At this latter post the White knight will bear down on the weak c-pawn.”

Here’s another excellent example.

“Black’s position looks uncomfortably cramped, but he has his compensations. By attacking White’s e-pawn, he limits White’s freedom of action. Also, Black is well posted to prevent the aggressive advance of e4-e5.

But Black has other ideas. His main idea is to free himself sometime later by …d5. First he must play …c6 to make that move possible. Second, he must play …d5 at a time when the powerful reply e4-e5 is not feasible. The later course of the game will show how Black carries out his idea.”

These types of annotations are invaluable to those who are post beginners.

My only real complaint is that the names of the players and tournament information is omitted from the games themselves. So each game is simply a list of the moves along with the opening.

This is particularly a pity in a work such as this where that could have been easily corrected in this day and age. I especially wish this was done as many of the younger players today aren’t aware of the of the all time greats who’s games appear in this book, such as Gligoric, Tarrasch, etc.

Nevertheless, this book is worth acquiring by anyone who is either just starting out in chess, coaches someone who fits that description, or who wants to relive a volume they might have lovingly perused in their salad days.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

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

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Review of 1001 Chess Exercises for Club Players

1001 Chess Exercises for Club Players by FM Frank Erwich, New in Chess 2019 192pp

As many of you know, I enjoy tactics books. Solving books in general are what I enjoy the most. I am firmly from the school that books based on solving  are the closest a book can get to practical play and that’s why they are the most valuable.

Unfortunately for the past year or so I’ve been so busy that I’ve rarely had time to work deeply from books like this, and the results have shown in my games.

Lately it seems like many books of varying topics have been focused on club players. This makes a lot of sense to me as the largest potential audience for books is club players. So the idea of this book – a book revolving around solving and directed towards club players – was one I wholeheartedly embraced.

As I started glancing through the book I was struck by a couple of things.

First, I noticed that many of the diagrams have hints printed below them in the form of listing the themes. For instance, you will see “chasing” or “blocking” or “interference” below the diagrams.

For some of you those themes may sound familiar. That’s because they’re based on the Steps Method pioneered by Dutch trainers Cor van Wijgerden and Rob Brunia.

As I read the introduction it quickly became evident that was the intention of FM Erwich. It’s clear that he considers himself a product of the Steps Method, and that he wants to further their efforts.

The book consists of 12 chapters. They are:

  1. Elimination of the Defence
  2. Double Attack
  3. Discovered Attack
  4. Skewer
  5. Pin
  6. Trapping a Piece
  7. Promotion
  8. Draw
  9. Mate
  10. Defending
  11. Mix
  12. Solutions

The exercises are laid out in each chapter to become increasingly more difficult as the chapter progresses. While this is to a large degree subjective, the idea is that exercises towards the end of a chapter are noticeably harder than those near the beginning.

Here is an exercise at the beginning of the Pins chapter:

The hint here is “luring+pin”

Here is one at the end:

The hint here is simply “mix.”

In both cases the solutions are at the bottom.

For books of this nature I always recommend writing down your answers as you solve. This will force you to be both honest and accurate in your review of the puzzles as you can’t pretend that “Oh yeah, I saw that.” If you didn’t write it down, then you can’t fool yourself into believing that you’ve succeeded.

Once you have solved a series of problems you can turn to the back of the book to review. There you will find a lot of additional information such as which game a puzzle was from or alternative tries that you may be curious about.

So who benefits from this book? I’d say in this case the target audience is exactly as described in the book. Club players. Yes, many of the exercises would also be well served for many players who are 2000+. but there are books that are more targeted to those players than this one is.

Using this book for players in the 1000-2000 range should show results. Using this book as the material for the “seven circles” method would turn anyone who seriously works on that into a much stronger tactician than they are now.

If you’ve been looking for a tactics book, or are looking for a new one, then this book is for you.

Buy the book at a very affordable price here.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

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Solution to Exercise One:

Solution to Exercise Two:

Review of Game Changer

Game Changer: AlphaZero’s Groundbreaking Chess Strategies and the Promise of AI by Matthew Sadler & Natasha Regan 2019 New in Chess 416pp

In December of 2017 DeepMind released a paper showing that their self-learning AI, AlphaZero, had defeated the powerful and popular engine Stockfish in a 100 game match by what seemed to be an inconceivable score of 28 wins, 72 draws, and no losses.

However, a deeper look showed that the terms of the match were deeply flawed. The playing field was nowhere near level, and so as many people in the chess world went all agog at the results, I was in the small group of non-believers. Yes, it was impressive *how* AlphaZero played, making speculative sacrifices, etc. but as my friend Hikaru Nakamura said in an interview “I don’t necessarily put a lot of credibility in the results simply because my understanding is that AlphaZero is basically using the Google supercomputer and Stockfish doesn’t run on that hardware; Stockfish was basically running on what would be my laptop. If you wanna have a match that’s comparable you have to have Stockfish running on a supercomputer as well.”

And as far as I was concerned that was that.

Then, a few weeks ago I was listening to Ben Johnson’s excellent podcast Perpetual Chess. The authors of this book were on and one of the things that they mentioned early on was that the DeepMind staff was also receptive to the criticism and as a result they had set up a second match.

As Wikipedia notes about the second match “In the final results, Stockfish ran under the same conditions as in the TCEC superfinal: 44 CPU cores, Syzygy endgame tablebases, and a 32GB hash size. Instead of a fixed time control of one move per minute, both engines were given 3 hours plus 15 seconds per move to finish the game. The version of Stockfish used was version 8. AlphaZero won with a score of 155 wins to 6 losses, with the rest drawn. DeepMind also played a series of games using the TCEC opening positions. AlphaZero won 95 out of the 100 mini-matches from these positions.”

Suddenly I found my interest in AlphaZero piqued. Perhaps there was more to this after all.

Then, like a beam of light shot straight into my soul I come home one day to find the book Game Changer in my mailbox.

The content is laid out in eighteen chapters in five parts.

Part I AlphaZero’s history

Chapter 1 A quick tour of computer chess competition

Chapter 2 ZeroZeroZero

Chapter 3 Demis Hassabis, DeepMind and AI

Part II Inside the box

Chapter 4 How AlphaZero thinks

Chapter 5 AlphaZero’s style – meeting in the middle

Part III Themes in AlphaZero’s play

Chapter 6 Introduction to our selected AlphaZero themes

Chapter 7 Piece mobility: outpost

Chapter 8 Piece mobility: activity

Chapter 9 Attacking the king: the march of the rook’s pawn

Chapter 10 Attacking the king: colour complexes

Chapter 11 Attacking the king: sacrifices for time, space and damage

Chapter 12 Attacking the king: opposite-side castling

Chapter 13 Attacking the king: defense

Part IV AlphaZero’s opening choices

Chapter 14 AlphaZero’s opening repertoire

Chapter 15 The King’s Indian Samisch

Chapter 16 The Carlsbad

Part V Conclusion

Chapter 17 Epilogue

Chapter 18 Technical note

After playing through the games of AlphaZero I really can’t rave about the games enough.

In addition to the book, the authors have created a YouTube channel where they only include games not otherwise included in the book.

The truth about the games of AlphaZero is that they are amazing works of art in so many cases.

Rather than listening to me ramble on, look at this game from the YouTube channel.

Then listen to the authors on Perpetual Chess:

Then go buy this book.  You won’t regret it.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

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.

Review of Man vs Machine by Karsten Muller & Jonathan Schaeffer

Man vs Machine: Challenging Human Supremacy at Chess by GM Karsten Muller and Professor Jonathan Schaeffer 2018 Russell Enterprises 480pp

One of the latest offerings by REI is this volume covering the history of man versus “machine” in the world of chess.  I put machine in quotes there since the earliest incarnations of this competition featured automatons such as The Turk that actually operated via humans hidden inside of them.

While I expect that German GM Karsten Muller is probably familiar to a number of readers here, I am less certain that you will have heard of Professor Jonathan Schaeffer.  Professor Schaeffer has spent the last 35 years researching the world of AI through the competitions between humans and machines.

He was the author of the 2007 paper “Checkers is Solved” (note for readers, while 8×8 checkers is now known to be a draw, I do not believe that 10×10 has been solved at this point – so ask for a 10×10 board for Christmas this year!)

The mission of this book is to cover the entire history of the struggle for chessic superiority between people and mechanical devices.

The material is laid out in an interesting way, using an Elo for the machines.  The book is split into three parts (Openin, Middlegame, and Endgame) comprised of nine chapters.

They are:

Opening

1. 0000 (1770-1956)

2. 1600 (1957-1969)

Middlegame

3. 2000 (1970-1978)

4. 2200 (1979-1983)

5. 2500 (1984-1989)

6. 2650 (1990-1996)

7. 2750 (1996-1997)

Endgame

8. 2850 (1998-2003)

9. 3000+ (2004-present)

During each of the chapters there are games played by the computers in question during those era’s, but then after the chapters there is a reference section which contains games from many of the famous matches over the years.

Featured among them are Fischer – MacHack 1977, some of David Levy’s matches (Levy, an IM, famously put up a bet in 1968 that he would pay  £1,250 to anyone who could design a computer program to defeat him by 1978), Bent Larsen – Deep Blue 1993, and several others featuring Kasparov, Kramnik, Hubner, and more.

As for the book itself, it should be pointed out right out of the gate that this is not a book who’s main purpose is to help the reader improve in any way.  Yes, since there are chess games which have been analyzed, playing through them can have a beneficial effect if done right, but let’s be clear that this is a book about the history of the royal game more than anything else.

While the majority of those reading this review may barely ever have known a time in which computers weren’t considered superior to humans, for some of us this revolution remains indelibly scared in our brains.

When I first started playing tournaments in the late 80’s you could quite easily purchase a computer with a playing strength of 2200+, on up to about 2350 tops.  Less than a decade later Deep Blue defeated Kasparov 3.5-2.5 in their return match and that was the end of human superiority in this field.

At the time it seemed like the world had changed for the worse, but as time went by it became obvious that much good could come from this development.  Computers taught us more about openings, defense, and endings that many of us imagined they could.  Soon the term “computer move” crept into the lexicon of chess players everywhere.

From the earliest efforts of IBM to develop a chess-playing program, to the pioneering work of Richard Greenblatt (developer of MacHack, which Fischer played in an exhibition match in 1977 – five years after his last serious game, and 15 more until his next serious ones) the early days of computer chess unfold before your eyes complete with games which will show you the styles of those early machines.  Early on, computers were notoriously awful in closed positions and in positional play, and you can see that as you play through games by programs such as MacHack and the Soviet program Kaissa.

From there you’ll see the gradual development of endgame tablebases with Belle, the incredible work that World Correspondence Champion (and OTB IM) Hans Berliner did with HiTech to get the machine from a rating of around 2100 to 2300+, and the ever closer creep of the silicon beasts to GM strength.

In 1988 it became obvious that humans were losing ground as Deep Thought (the precursor to Deep Blue) began racking up wins against titled players.  Included in this book is the first win by a computer against a GM in a tournament game when Deep Thought defeated legendary Danish GM Bent Larson in the Software Toolworks tournament.

Of course we all know how the story ended.  These days computers have to give fantastic odds against humans in order for the humans to even make it competitive.

The main chapters of the book end on the Kramnik – Deep Fritz 10 match of 2006, pointing out that if anything was proven by humans in these matches, it’s that it takes a machine with a 3000 Elo to defeat a human world champion.

All in all I highly recommend this book as it is both informative and entertaining.  If you are under the age of 20 you’ll be fascinated to see the era in which machines were so beatable by strong humans.  If you’re my age (45) or older you’ll be delighted to rediscover some of the computers you forgot existed, such as ChipTest, WChess, Cray Blitz, and more.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

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.

Review of Chess Pattern Recognition for Beginners by Van de Oudeweetering

Chess Pattern Recognition for Beginners by Arthur Van de Oudeweetering published by New in Chess 2018 240pp

If you followed my last blog on the late Sevan Muradian’s Chess IQ site then you know that I was a big fan of Dutch IM Arthur Van de Oudeweetering’s first two books, Improve Your Chess Pattern Recognition and Train Your Chess Pattern Recognition.  I’d link to those reviews, but sadly with the passing of Sevan and the subsequent shuttering of the Chess IQ site they have been lose to time.

Now comes the renowned Dutch Trainer’s third book in the series, Chess Pattern Recognition for Beginners.  When it first arrived in the mail I thought “Well, OK.” since “for beginners” was right there in the title.  Since I do some coaching, I do have some use for beginner level materials, but it’s rather limited.  However, when I actually opened the book and began to glance through it I realized that “for beginners” was somewhat misleading.

Perhaps it’s the pedantry of no one who’s been playing for any length of time, especially in tournaments, wanting to associate the word beginner with themselves, but this book is clearly not just for beginners, which for the sake of argument let’s say the word would typically indicate those with sub 1000 Elo’s.

Yes, there are the normal beginner level chapters covering things like rooks on the seventh, or getting the king to safety, or the Greek Bishop Sacrifice, but those chapters contain excellent examples which should be of a high level of value for players all the way up to my level (peak rating 1896) or at least close to it.

As I became more engrossed in glancing through the pages I quickly found myself heading downstairs to my basement chess laboratory to sit down at a table with a board and set.

The book is comprised of four parts containing a total of 25 chapters.  They are:

Part I – Typical pawns and pieces

Chapter 1 The lingering king

Chapter 2 Queen in trouble

Chapter 3 Rook(s) on the seventh rank

Chapter 4 Botvinnik’s fearsome bishop

Chapter 5 Kasparov’s favorite

Chapter 6 Fischer’s knight

Chapter 7 Opposites are not equal

Chapter 8 Cousins from a distance

Chapter 9 IDP: Isolated Doubled Pawn

Chapter 10 A central striker

Chapter 11 Central supremacy

Exercises Part I

Part II When pawns meet

Chapter 12 Reaching for the hook

Chapter 13 When Harry meets g6

Chapter 14 Deceptive symmetry after the IQP

Chapter 15 Breaking free

Chapter 16 Flank attack!

Part III When to exchange and when not to

Chapter 17 King of all exchanges

Chapter 18 Along the open file

Chapter 19 What remains: toward and good knight versus a bad bishop

Chapter 20 The ace of space

Part IV Sacrifices – the classics

Chapter 21 Bishop takes h7

Chapter 22 The Soviet sac

Chapter 23 The silent knight sac

Chapter 24 From Morphy to Magnus

Chapter 25 Capa’s bishop sac

Exercises Parts II, III, and IV

As you can see by the titles of the chapters alone, the material is not exactly that of the beginner level.

One of my favorite chapters in the book is Chapter 22, which is on the “Soviet sac.”  I’ve never heard that used as a term before, so I’m assuming it might have been created for this book, but the concept is one I am certainly familiar with.

The Soviet sac is the sacking of the exchange on c3 in the Sicilian.  This is a common concept.  Take this well known position which is in the book.  This is Boleslavsky-Geller from Zurich 1953.

Here Geller uncorks 15…Rxc3 16.bxc3 Qa5 17.Qe3 Qa3 18.h5 b4

From here Geller won a nice game, which is covered in it’s entirety in this book.

The exercises are also quite valuable.  Take for example this one from Part I.  The game is Stripunsky-Shimanov 2018

The question asked of readers is “How would you judge the position after 25…Nd4+ 26.Bxd4 Bxd4?”

Take your time and try to answer that question.  The solution is at the bottom of the page.

All in all this book is valuable far beyond the expectation given in the title.  I think it would have been better had the word “beginners” been replaced with “club players.”

I recommend this book as well as the earlier works by IM Van de Oudeweetering.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

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.

The solution to Stripunsky-Shimanov is:

“Black is clearly better: he has the attack with opposite-coloured bishop, with White’s king in the middle (not able to run away via g1). White’s bishop is almost a mere pawn, while Black’s is a superb Botvinnik bishop (see Chapter 4).”

Review of The Full English Opening by FM Carsten Hansen

The Full English Opening by FM Carsten Hansen, New in Chess, 2018 464pp

First I’ll start with a confession.  I don’t normally like to review opening books.

Oh, don’t get me wrong, like everyone else I read opening books, or at least tend to use them as a reference, but that doesn’t translate into enjoying reviewing them.

The main reason that I don’t typically like reviewing them is that I’m not a strong enough player to have a deep base of opening knowledge that shows me instinctively when something is missing.

I’ve read reviews on Amazon and the sites of other reviewers where the reviewer, typically someone around 2300+ will point out that some obscure but useful line is missing from the book or has been misevaluated, and therefore, even though the rest of the content may be valuable, the book itself loses value due to the fact that something that I would never have known about was overlooked.

So when I review an opening book I generally do so with the philosophy of caveat emptor.  Also, I don’t dig deeply into the lines.  Instead my goal is to give the book an overview and inform a reader who either already plays the opening or has been thinking about adopting it as to whether or not I feel it would be worth their time and money to purchase the book.

However, from time to time a book comes along where it doesn’t matter if there is a line or two missing because the author points out that their main goal is to teach the underlying themes, and that the reader will then be able to use that as a starting point to dig as deeply as they may care to.

This book is exactly such as work.  In the foreword FM Hansen tells us that the book is not meant to be a theoretical work, nor is it designed to be a one size fits all repertoire.

Instead the idea behind this book it to teach the reader the underlying concepts which form the backbone of the English.

Having said that, it should be noted that this doesn’t mean that the book is free from theory.  It is not.  In fact, there is quite a bit of theoretical knowledge contained within the volume, and as long as the reader understands that this is a foundation rather than a move in ready house they will be well served.

My own journey with the English began when I realized a few years ago that if I was truly to push towards my goals as a player then I needed to move away from playing 1.e4 exclusively.  I needed to branch out and explore other structures and get a feel for many more types of positions.

During this journey I naturally found myself playing the English for a time.  I learned that my preconceived notions of the English as “slow” or “boring” were simply incorrect.  The English is actually much deeper and more intricate than I had imagined it could be.

Although I have moved on from the English as my main choice with White, it was with great delight that I opened this book to read it since I do still use it from time to time.

To illustrate my earlier point of just how broad the English is, the book runs 464 pages, and as mentioned previously this is not a deeply theoretical work.  This should give the reader of this review an idea of the depth of this work.

The book is broken down into three parts.  Part I comprised the 1.c4 e5 lines, Part II the symmetrical lines with 1.c4 c5, and Part III the Indian, Slav, and Dutch lines.

Each of those sections is then broken down into several chapters, which are laid out according to the variation being looked at.

Included are a number of reversed Sicilians, fianchetto KID lines, Hedgehog, and others.

Also, unlike other works on this opening in the past, this is not a dogmatic 1.c4 2.g3 set of systems.  In fact, the author includes a chapter at the end of Part I which outlines why 2.g3 makes sense (and why it doesn’t always…)

It should be noted that while there are deep variations when needed, the author also gives a lot of prosaic explanations which communicate the ideas.  Speaking for myself I find that to be a very useful way of conveying information.  While I like to see analytical proof of claims that authors make, often if they don’t clearly spell out what they are tying to prove I don’t get as much value from a book as I otherwise would have.

I know that last point varies greatly amongst different playing strengths, and a person who’s 2400 won’t need the same plain language explanations as someone who is 1400 might.  However, I don’t think that a 2400 will feel that a book that contains text as well as variations is a problem, whereas a 1400 would very likely feel that a book that contains variations with no text is a big problem.

Another feature that I really enjoyed about this book is that in many cases multiple options are given for the White player.  Rather than falling into the trap where only one option is given, FM Hansen ensures that readers will have a variety to choose from depending on their personal preferences.

Not to be overlooked are the included exercises designed to help the reader to gain an understanding of the underlying themes  There are more than 60 of these given, and in solving them the reader is almost guaranteed to deepen their knowledge of the English.

I spent much more time going through this book than I normally would.  The deeper I dug the more clear it became that the information contained within was greatly assisting me in understanding not only the English, but pawn structures which appear in  other openings as well.

I recommend this book not only to anyone who plays or is considering playing the English, but also to anyone who wants to better learn closed and semi-closed pawn structures.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

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Review of Endgame Virtuoso Magnus Carlsen by Tibor Karolyi

Endgame Virtuoso Magnus Carlsen by Tibor Karolyi; New in Chess 2018 272pp

Hungarian IM Tibor Karolyi has proven himself to be one of the better chess authors out there today.  Not only is he prolific, producing several volumes a year, but he is also instructive and thorough.  There is nothing in his books that screams “potboiler” – unlike so many other prolific authors through the history of chess.

But when I saw the title of his new book I thought “Wait, what’s going on here?”  After all, Magnus is still in his prime.  Isn’t it a little early to be comparing him to someone like Karpov?  (A few years back Karolyi wrote Endgame Virtuoso Anatoly Karpov.)

However, my “fears” were quickly allayed when IM Karolyi made reference to that fact in the Introduction.

While it’s true that the Magnus of today will likely be eclipsed by the Magnus of whenever he decides to stop playing it’s also true that while it may be a bit early to consider him the greatest of all time, it’s certainly an undeniable fact that Magnus is the greatest active player in the world right now.

Anyone who closely follows modern chess understands that the higher up the food chain you go the more important endgame knowledge becomes.  After all, while at the club level it’s common to see a game decided when one player or the other hangs a piece, at the Super GM level that just doesn’t happen too often.  Therefore endgame play is often the decider.

This endgame book does not set out to teach the reader anything about theoretical endgames, which of course are the foundation of endgame knowledge.  However, it serves one very important purpose which in my opinion is a close second to theoretical knowledge when it comes to becoming a strong endgame player.  It shows the concepts of schematic thinking.

Schematic thinking is the skill of being able to conceptualize a position and understand that “If piece X were on Y square this would be a win/draw for me.”  While during the middle game precise calculation often rules the day, in the endgame a lot of precise calculation is preceded by schematic thinking.

The book is broken down into five chapters.  They are

  1. The junior years
  2. The young superstar rises to the top
  3. The world-class player
  4. World number one
  5. The World Champion

The chapters are broken out by year, and a couple of neat features of the book are that starting in 2000 at the end of the year Carlsen’s main results are listed and starting in 2001 his strength is given in the form of rating and world ranking.

As for the positions themselves, the majority of the notes are verbal in nature.

Let’s take a look at a position from Chapter Two.  The analysis is an example of what is contained in the book.

“19.Rac1

Occupying the c-file is natural and strong.

19…Ra7

Vescovi’s approach of not doing anything with his pawn structure is wrong.  He should have played 19…f6! 20.exf6+ Kd6 when Black would be only slightly worse.

20.b4 Bb7?!

Developing the bishop to b7 does not go well with the rook on a7.  After 20…Nb8 21.Nc5 Bd7 White’s advantage would be smaller than in the game.”

The remainder of the game takes another page or so.  I just wanted to give an example of what the reader can expect.

This isn’t to say that the analysis isn’t in depth at times.  When it needs to be, it is.  There are times when the better part of an entire column is dedicated to the dense analysis of a single position.  However, the main focus of this book is to walk the reader through the thought process of the decision making, rather than simply dense, comparative analysis.

In fact, one of the issues I have taken with many books in the past is when they overly rely on dense analysis with no verbal explanation of the different lines.  That tends to be too difficult for many (most?) club players to follow.  With some verbal explanation combined with analysis I think that most players, down to even 1200-1300 can follow along well enough and get use out of the book.  So kudos to IM Karolyi for focusing on this aspect.

As for the quality of the book itself…I think that New in Chess did a wonderful job.  The spine is soft and so the book lays flat rather easily which is very important for ease of reading.  As that is not always the case for books released by NiC I certainly hope that this is the start of a new trend!

I think that this book would be useful to just about any chess player.  If you are serious about improving, then this book is an excellent way to better your endgame skills.  If you are simply a fan of Magnus Carlsen or of well played chess, then this book is also for you!

I highly recommend this book to anyone and everyone.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

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.

Review of The Grandmaster

The Grandmaster by Brin-Jonathan Butler – Simon & Schuster pp210 On Sale Date 11/06/2018

*Please note that an earlier version of this review contained some information on factual inaccuracies which I have since learned have been corrected.  Therefore I have slightly altered the review, though the main thrust remains unchanged.

This book is the story of the match and contains no games or analysis.

Every few years it seems that there is an effort by the mainstream to engage in some sort of crossover with chess.

Often it’s in the form of a movie, such as Pawn Sacrifice, The Queen of Katwe, The Luzhin Defense, and many others.

Occasionally it is a TV show such as Endgame which makes the effort, and from time to time this happens in the form of a book, such as Searching for Bobby Fischer, or this latest effort from Simon and Schuster, The Grandmaster: Magnus Carlsen and the Match that Made Chess Great Again.

In the opening pages of the book we learn that the author was tasked by Simon & Schuster to write a book about the upcoming (at that time) match between World Champion Magnus Carlsen and the challenger Sergey Karjakin.

His editor wanted the book to contain the answers to three questions.

  1. Why is Magnus Carlsen not more of a household name?
  2. What is the secret to his greatness?
  3. How can he continue to do it?

The publishing house wasn’t looking to have a chess writer take the lead on this since they were looking for a more mainstream approach to the story.  However, what the editor at Simon & Schuster didn’t know at the time was that the author was an enthusiastic casual player.

From the standpoint of the reader this last fact is important, at least in my mind, because it saves us from the often awkward attempts at describing chess that non-players tend to make.

Anyone who has ever read an article in their local paper where a journalist is trying to describe what happened at a tournament or exhibition knows what I mean.

That said, as both an amateur historian of the game, as well as an avid tournament player and journalist I find myself going through a mental checklist during the consumption of mainstream content where I constantly remind myself not to judge the author’s lack of chess knowledge too harshly.

After all, these crossover pieces are meant not just for the hard core initiate of the royal game, but for the “chessless” as well.

So if a director or an author doesn’t have the most nuanced approach to rendering their tale, I try to let that go as much as I can because I find that the overall mission of making chess exciting and accessible to those who don’t understand it at even a lower tier club player level can be a herculean task.

I found the title of the book to be clunky.  It’s nothing more than a forced attempt at word play with the “Made Chess Great Again” subtitle.  The match of course started just a few days after the election of Donald Trump.  Since the book isn’t finalized I’ll hold out the sliver of hope that the name will be changed prior to the first run of publication!

By this point you may be thinking that I don’t seem to like the book very much.  However, the main reason that I wanted to get those items out of the way quickly is to ensure that the rest of the review can focus on the book itself, which I actually thought was quite good.

One thing that I noticed early on in my reading is that the author seems to be a practiced interviewer.  He’s a long time sports journalist, so possessing this skill makes a lot of sense.  As a result there are a number of excellent exchanges that take place with various chess personalities through the course of the match.

At the end of the first chapter the author is attending the gala that opened the match, and he’s having a conversation with Robert Hess.  During the conversation he asks Hess if Magnus is the best player of all time and the answer that comes back is priceless as Hess points out that while according to ratings Magnus is the best, the fact is that his [Hess’s] high school physics teacher certainly knew more about physics than Isaac Newton ever did, but that doesn’t mean they were more talented than Newton.

Later on when he’s speaking with Judit Polgar she compares high level chess to bungee jumping, drawing a parallel between the thrill combined with the stress.

What I love about these conversations, and many just like them, is that the author, not possessing a perfect understanding of competitive chess himself, seems to seek out metaphorical comparisons with which to assist the casual reader.  While at the same time, I, the farthest thing from a casual reader, thoroughly enjoyed the new approach.  This was so much different from the normal repetitive questions that have become so common when reading chess content produced by chess-specific authors.  I found this to be a much needed breath of fresh air.

I also found Mr. Butler to have several quite interesting turns of phrase.  Granted, I wasn’t reading the final version of the book.  What I read and am reviewing are uncorrected proofs, so there are some occasionally clunky language issues which should be corrected in final editing, but that didn’t take away in the slightest from Mr. Butler’s ability to turn a phrase.

We’ve all read mainstream journalists take on Kirsan and his story of alien abduction.  Often that is used to marginalize chess players as a whole, but  Mr. Butler clearly states that it is Kirsan himself who may have some issues rather than the chess community at large.

That brings me to an extremely important point that I want to touch on in this review.  Yes, the author mentions that chess players have been known from time to time to descend into madness.  Fischer coming unhinged is mentioned, along with others such as Paul Morphy, Carlos Torre and Akiba Rubinstein.  However, he doesn’t overly emphasize this for the shock value factor.

I have lost track of the times that a content creator from outside the chess world has sensationalized Fischer’s mental illness or Kirsan’s claim of alien abduction and made that the central focus of whatever they were trying to do.  In this case those things are mentioned, and then fold into the background of the story where the belong.

Keep in mind that in his “The Mozart of Chess” profile on 60 Minutes Magnus was asked if he ever feared losing his mind the way Fischer did and he very honestly answered that while he didn’t think it was likely to happen to him, he did keep that thought in the back of his mind.

While the main focus of the book is to recap the 2016 match, Mr. Butler also includes a number of other interesting chess information, including discussing various other chess personalities, as well as his own family history with the game.

So with all of this said I can’t help but enthusiastically recommend this book.

Again, from the point of view of a chess person it’s important to our community when the mainstream makes an effort to put out chess content that we not judge them too harshly for their lack of specialized knowledge.

So does the author manage to answer the three questions?  He does!  Read the book to discover how!

Finally, I will close with this…when I first saw that this book was going to be published I saw an awful lot of comments from the chess world along the lines of “Ugh…why?  That match was so boring.”  In fact, I myself said on the Chess Book Collectors Facebook group that if not for the Queen sac in the final tiebreak that this match would have been confined to the dustbin of history.

But when I sat down to read this book I went back and I looked at those games again.  Yes, there were some relatively quick and bloodless draws.  But most of the draws were fights, including some where one side or the other was dancing on the razer’s edge of defeat.

I would urge anyone who is going to read this book to do the same.  Revisit the games with the fresh eyes of someone two years removed from this time in history and see how hard fought those games were.

I hope you all buy this book and support the efforts of publishers who want to make chess more accessible to the general public!

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

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.

Review of One Rook Saves the Day

Ever since hearing Andrzej Krzywda on Perpetual Chess I have been making much more of an effort to include solving studies a part of my training routine.

I have long been a firm believer in solving, but most of what I have solved is tactical puzzles, and generally I’ve gravitated towards the simpler ones at that.

However, for pure calculation training I have been told by numerous people that it’s hard to top the effectiveness of endgame studies.

Elk a Ruby,  a quite welcome recent addition to publishing chess books in English has published a collection of thematic study collections call “One ____ Saves the Day” where the ____ can be Queen, Rook, Bishop, Knight, etc.

The studies were compiled by Sergei Tkachenko, who was a member of the Ukrainian team which won the 5th World Chess Composition Tournament in 1997.

What’s particularly nice about these studies is the (relative) ease of solving them.

This is not to imply that they are simple to solve…certainly they are not!  However, compared to the level of most endgame study collections such as Kasparyan, they are much more manageable for those at the club player level.

The concept is that at the end of the solution, White will be left with just one of the titular pieces.  So in this case, a rook.

The book is comprised of 100 studies, and almost all solutions run six moves or less, which again speaks to the fact that most are solvable with varying degrees of difficulty at the club level.  Contrast this with studies I’ve been shown by various GM’s with solutions running 12-15 moves, almost none of which I could solve on my best day.

Let’s take a look at the first position, where it’s White to play and draw.

Take a few minutes to calculate if you like, and then let’s look at the solution…

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The main point to take home from this puzzle/solution, whether you took the time to solve this one or not,  is that this is certainly a puzzle that most club level players should be able to solve given the right amount of effort.

I’d like to speak a bit more to that point actually.  When it comes to certain elements of the game, such as tactics puzzles, it seems to be well understood by authors and publishers alike that material should be broken out by level.  This is why it’s relatively easy to find tactics books for players of all levels.

Want something basic?  There are hundreds of books to choose from?  Want something intermediate?  Hundreds more.  Advanced?  Still a few dozen of those as well!

Unfortunately I’ve had a much harder time finding books on studies broken out like this over the years.  Which is why this series of books comes as such a wonderful addition to the cannon of chess literature.

I sincerely hope that Sergei will continue to collect studies at this level, even if Ilan Rubin has to pester him until he does!  If there are already more collections out there waiting to be translated, then by all means, let’s keep them coming!

I should also point out that I read this book on the Forward Chess app, which is a great way to get practice on the go using your phone.  Forward Chess has a nice pop up feature where you can expand the board for easier viewing.  In addition, you can review the studies in quiz mode so that the solution isn’t visible until you want it to be.

I highly recommend the two volumes I have read in this series, which are this one and One Bishop Saves the Day.  While I have not read the others, I can certainly say that if they are anywhere near as good as these two then they are well worth reading.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

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.