Review of Dvoretsky’s Endgame Manual 5th Edition

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The other main visual change is that the former sections printed in blue ink have been replaced by highlighted gray text.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

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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

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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

Review of New in Chess Yearbook 133

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Ask club players today if they subscribe to any opening periodicals or purchase opening books and you’ll often get a response from some of them that goes something like this “Why would I do that? I can just look stuff up in my database.”

Yes, this is undoubtedly true. Anyone can absolutely look up all of the games played in any line they like and get results. For titled players this may be enough. What about the rest of us though? How can we tell if the games we’re reviewing in a line are the critical last word in that line right now? The truth is, we can’t.

Sure, sure…you can run an engine to and accept it’s word full stop, but again, if you don’t understand what you’re looking at, the engine won’t help you. No less a luminary than Hikaru Nakamura said something to this effect after defeating Wesley So on the Black side of the King’s Indian in their 2015 Sinquefield Cup game. In his post game interview Naka said something along the lines of Wesley was probably too trusting of the computer eval coming out of the opening which gives White something like +1, but as Hikaru said, the computer simply doesn’t understand the position.

So again, how can WE know which games are critical to review when learning a new line or brushing up on new theory in one we already play?

Well, one way is to read the New in Chess Yearbook.

Each Yearbook comes packed with opening surveys in which strong, sometimes world class, players give their opinions on various openings. Some topical, some better used as surprises, and some that are just new takes on old ideas.

Included in Yearbook 133 are a “Trends & Opinions” section, which features vignettes of interesting games along with fascinating tidbits from within the chess world.

Next comes the heart of the book, which is the opening surveys section. Yearbook 133 sees 26 surveys including lines such as the 10.Qd3 Winawer (used a couple of weeks ago by great effect by Naka in his win over Nepo in the Magnus Carlsen Invitational), the topical 6.Nb3 Najdorf, the 5.d4 line in the Italian, the 6…dxc4 Open Catalan, several variations of the Exchange Grunfeld, and much more.

Finally the volume finishes with a section including book reviews by English GM Glenn Flear, along with solutions to the exercises presented throughout the book.

So is this worth the expense? A quick glance at my own bookshelf shows that I have 12 copies of the Yearbook which were not provided as review copies, so to me the answer is a qualified yes.

Why qualified? Well, the truth is that I generally buy them one by one and have never subscribed. The reason I don’t subscribe is that I tend to only pick up issues which have openings that are a serious part of my repertoire.

Some of the surveys included in the various Yearbooks are marked as “SOS” variations, which are the types of variations found in the Secrets of Opening Surprises series. This is to say that while they may be playable, they are neither common nor good.

An example from Yearbook 133 is the survey on 3.h4 in the KID/Grunfeld. 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.h4, etc. While I play the KID every chance I get, and consider it my favorite opening, this is not something I’m going to book up against as I don’t consider it something I’m likely to face often, if at all.

So normally when I purchase a copy of one of the Yearbook’s it’s because there are surveys which I consider to be highly useful.

These last few paragraphs may read like I’m not overly enthusiastic about the book, but that’s not the case. I just want readers of this review to know that caveat emptor is in full effect here.

So let’s talk about the material that makes up the bulk of this periodical and why I feel like this issues is particularly worthwhile.

First of all, the survey on the 10.Qd3 Winawer was something I found to be informative. I had switched from 3.Nc3 to 3.Nd2 against the French a while back because it seemed like my results were always terrible against it. This survey, written by Robert Ris, has given me food for thought about returning to 3.Nc3.

Based on some ideas given new life by Alpha Zero, this survey includes five annotated games in various lines and concludes with three exercises.

Another survey I very much enjoyed was the one written by Mickey Adams. This one is on the 5.d4 Italian, and contains nine annotated games, again followed by three exercises.

I also very much enjoyed Glenn Flear’s review of The King’s Indian According to Petrosian, which is a book that I myself read and loved. It was clear in reading his recap that GM Flear had dove deeply into this book and his enthusiasm came shining through.

So who should read the New in Chess Yearbooks? Honestly, these books are for everyone. They’ll have something for any reader at almost any level. Whether you choose to subscribe or to purchase them ala carte is completely up to you, but whichever direction you go you will find something that you enjoy.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

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

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

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

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.

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).”