Review of Attacking Strategies for Club Players

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Attacking Strategies for Club Players by Michael Prusikin 2021 New in Chess 192pp

It seems these days that there is no shortage of treatises on attacking, including ones directed specifically at club players. Therefore, I always have some trepidation when picking up a new one to read. Often it seems that the themes and material overlap. With the themes, that’s mostly to be expected, but with the materials it can often be a sign of laziness.

For instance, we’re often treated to Fischer – Benko 1963 with 19.Rf6, or we see the “Marshall Swindle” of Levitsky – Marshall 1912 with 23…Qg3, concluding the alleged “Gold Coin Game.”

Thus, it was refreshing when I opened this book, flipped through it, and saw that there were new themes and that the games were mostly games I had never seen.

The book is broken up into 18 chapters. They are as follows:

  1. Prerequisites and rules for attacking the king
  2. King in the centre
  3. Obstruction sacrifices
  4. Attacking the king without the queen
  5. Pawn storm with opposite-side castling
  6. Pawn storm with same-side castling
  7. The Steinitz ‘battering ram’ – using the h pawn against a finachetto
  8. The Alekhine ‘battering ram’ – using the g pawn to destroy your opponent’s king protection
  9. The nail in the coffin
  10. Doubled g-pawns
  11. Using pieces to attack the castled position
  12. The Grand Prix Attack
  13. The Chigorin ‘outrider’ – the knight on f5
  14. Long bishop on b2
  15. Interference
  16. Breakthrough on the strong point
  17. Test your attacking skills
  18. Solutions

As you would expect, many of these chapters cover themes that we’re all familiar with, such as a king stuck in the center or pawn storms, or sacrificial breakthroughs. However, when was the last time you saw an explanation of doubled g-pawns being used for attack?

By doubled g pawns the author is referring to positions with pawns on f2/g2/g3 or f7/g7/g6. Examples of when those positions can be a weakness are given, including this example from the game Oll – Chernin 1993

Here white plays 27.Qg4 Rfd8

Now White wins with 28.Nxe6 Rxd3 29.Nxc5 Rxc5 30.e6 and White goes on to convert.

As you can see from this example, these aren’t all straightforward wins, but rather positions where one side is simply better. My first instinct was some mild disappointment, but after some reflection I decided that tactics books are really the place for the straightforward wins to reside. It’s OK for attacking manuals to focus on the process of creating the attacking chances.

That doesn’t mean that none of the games feature brutal breakthroughs and firework finishes. Take Spassky – Geller 1968, for instance. Here we see the position after 22…Rc8

Here Spassky decisively crashes through with 23.Rxf6! exf6 24.Qh7+ Kf8 25.Nxf7!! Rxc2 26.Bh6! Rxc1+ 27.Nxc1 Kxf7 28.Qxg7+ Ke8 29.g5! f5 30.Qxg6+ Kd7 31.Qf7+ Kc6 32.exf5+

(diagram mine for emphasis)

All in all I found this book to be a pleasant surprise. Most of the examples I had not seen prior, and I enjoyed the new twists on attacking themes.

I will say that I did find the first chapter of the book, “Prerequisites and rules for attacking the king” to be a bit overly dogmatic and pedantic. The author tries to give some specific rules, along with some tips, but they feel a little forced.

The rules:

  1. Lead in development/uncastled opposing king
  2. Space advantage on the side of the board where the opposing king is located
  3. Few defensive pieces around our opponent’s king
  4. Lack of/weakened pawn protection for the king

The tips:

  1. Everyone must be invited to the party
  2. Open lines
  3. Have the courage to sacrifice
  4. Time is key

While some of those points are clearly applicable and prudent, it felt too much to me like an effort at forcing a list, ala those types of “Five Simple Rules for ___” articles about almost any subject.

Having said that, I did get a lot of enjoyment out of the book overall. It felt like a nice solution for either someone looking to improve their own game through a better understanding of attacking play, and also is something that can be enjoyed by those simply seeking to play over enjoyable games for pleasure.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

On The Topic of Learning Openings

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Something I’ve talked about over the years is my attempts at balancing my need to learn openings against not spending too much time working on them.

In fact, over the years I’ve tended to err on the side of too little time spent on the openings, but I am gradually trying to rectify that. I am set (mostly) on my Black repertoire currently, but I am certainly not planning on trying to focus on blind memorization.

I know that in order to truly learn openings I need to understand the “whys” of the moves instead of just memorizing them. That brings me to this interesting place. Here are two positions in a sideline of one of the main lines of the Slav. These positions are from the 6.Nh4 sideline of the main line after 1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 dxc4 5.a4 Bf5

Here we have two lines we’ll look at. The first is 6.Nh4 Bc8 7.e3 e5 8.Bxc4 exd4 9.exd4 Be7 10.0-0 0-0 11.h3 Na6 12.Re1 and now the knight moves to c7 12…Nc7

The other line we’ll look at is 11.Nf3 Na6 12.Re1 Nb4

The part I need to figure out is why does the knight head to c7 in the first line, but b4 in the second? The b4 square seems to be a solid outpost in either line. Also, the idea with IQP’s is typically to blockade them, and the Black knight is influencing the d5 square regardless of whether it’s on c7 or b4.

I know that I’ll never truly understand openings until I can learn why the different choices here.

Does anyone have any ideas?

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

PS. These two lines come from Boris Avrukh’s amazing book The Classical Slav, which while a bit old for serious players is an amazing resource for club players wanting to learn the opening. You can pick it up for a decent price here.

Review of Magnus Carlsen: A Life in Pictures

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Magnus Carlsen: A Life in Pictures New in Chess 2021 162pp

Until the past few years, as I became more acquainted with the photography of David Llada, Lennart Ootes, Alina L’Ami, and others, I never really appreciated the concept of chess photos as art. Of course, David Llada’s excellent book The Thinkers, published by Quality Chess in 2018, got me on board with the artistry of chess and chess players.

With this newfound love of chess photos as art, I was excited to receive this book which covers one subject: five-time world champion Magnus Carlsen.

Presented in chronological order, the book takes the reader (viewer) from Magnus’s pre chess childhood through the beginning of the pandemic.

Some of the photos are fairly well known, such as young Magnus lying on the grass holding a king, or 2013 Magnus with his arms raised in triumph after getting thrown in the swimming pool after dethroning Vishy. Most of the material was new to me though, and it was a pleasure working my way through the pages.

The book doesn’t just focus on Magnus the Chess Player, which I found to be a breath of fresh air. Instead, focus is given to all aspects of Magnus’s life. Magnus as part of an interconnected family. Magnus the sportsman. Magnus the sports fan. Magnus the celebrity.

In fact, an entire chapter is devoted to Magnus as a celebrity. From his G Star Raw modeling career, to his games against Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, to his ceremonial opening kickoff on the pitch for Real Madrid, focus is given to the side of Magnus that has drawn some more mainstream attention to the chess world.

The layout of the book is mostly just visual, but there are some chapter introductions as well as captions. Overall, the material is beautifully presented.

My one quibble with this book is relatively minor. I would prefer that the book be larger. It’s the size of a regular book instead of coffee table book size. I would much prefer the larger size, which is more common when displaying something as art.

All in all, I recommend the book to any fans of Magnus, or lovers of chess or photography.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

I Want to Support Jobava, But I Can’t

First let me say that I really appreciate the fact that a player of Baadur Jobava’s caliber is streaming. More to the point, it’s not just him streaming blitz and puzzle rush constantly. Those things are entertaining, but the market is pretty saturated.

This morning I saw that Jobava was streaming himself analyzing some Kasparov games. I popped on and was curious as to how many subs he has. Just as one of his subscribers was saying to a mod that they needed some commands, I happened to type the command !subs, which drew no response as clearly no command has been set up for that.

The sub said “see” and I said “yep!” to which I was immediately timed out for 10 minutes. I sent a message to the mod letting them know that I just wanted to see the level of support since I was thinking about subscribing and the response was that I would be banned next time.

Top players streaming on Twitch? Awesome.

This? Nope. 

Bad modding kills Twitch channels.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

The Wisdom of Priyadharsan

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Over the past few years the journeys of many adults trying to improve at chess have started to gain a larger audience. So much so that the phrase “adult improver” is now widely accepted thanks to Ben Johnson’s Perpetual Chess Podcast.

In my own years of working to improve as an adult I have heard every take on improvement from “of course Player X can become a GM after starting chess at age 45 as long as they work hard enough” to “anyone working to improve as an adult will be lucky to gain 50 Elo.” My own beliefs fall somewhere in the middle.

Peak to trough in my return to chess I have gained 400 points. Now I need to regain the ones I’ve lost and go 304 beyond that.

An interesting point of view came to my attention the other day in the form of a Twitter thread by my friend GM Priyadharshan Kannappan.

In it he makes some very interesting observations which I had to admit apply to me. Here’s the thread:

My first thought was, of course, to be internally dismissive. After all, what could a GM possibly know about the struggle to improve? Of course that was just a shallow initial thought. When I stepped back and really took the time to think about it this was my reply.

This was based on the sudden realization that every time I have discussed chess with stronger players, be it a GM/IM/FM that while I was trying to make some superficial point they were trying to really dig in to the position.

I reflected back to a conversation I once had with Tom Polgar where I said that when I analyze with stronger players I am capable of making interesting and sometime useful suggestions, but that I struggle to evaluate those ideas correctly over the board.

Now it makes perfect sense to me that a large part of the reason is that when analyzing with strong players I do become  more fully immersed in a position. Players at my level often try one or two ideas in a position when analyzing, yet I’ve sat in on analysis by titled players where they’ll look at 5-6 times that number. I am trying to make the idea I’ve become fixated on work, while they are trying to break down a position into its essence.

This is something I should really work on. Now I just need to figure out an effective way of doing so. I’ll start with analysis of my own games.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

Tactics Were Flowing: Dreuth-Wainscott 0-1

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My last game was a nice miniature. For the first time in a while I could feel a lot of things coming together. From the first move, when I took a minute to think instead of playing an automatic reply, to realizing my opponent blundered with d3, to the final move in the game.

I will continue working to try to keep this feeling growing.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

Review of Chess Board Options by Larry Kaufman

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Chess Board Options by Larry Kaufman, New in Chess 2021 224pp

Larry Kaufman is an interesting character in the world of chess. He’s known as someone who has long worn several hats. Player, Computer Guru, Opening Theoretician, and on top of that, a high level shogi player. In addition to his work in chess, Kaufman spent years on a career in the world of finance.

As a result of this varied life, this book takes on the task of covering these phases of his career without seeming overly disjointed. 

Kaufman manages this for the most part, using the technique of splitting the book into sections which cover his many roles. The book is split into five parts:

  1. 20th century champions I have known
  2. My non-chess career: options, shogi, and other games
  3. My chess career and my students
  4. Computer chess
  5. Various chess-related topics

One random and fun thing about this book is that both it, and the prior book I reviewed, Timman’s The Unstoppable American, contain the game Browne – Fischer from Zagreb 1970. 

Getting on to the book itself, let’s start with what I perceive and the main defect here. The final section, “various chess-related topics” struck me as mostly filler. It’s not that the chapters aren’t interesting at times, as some of them most certainly are. Rather the issue is that these are pieces that are more appropriate as stand-alone articles in magazines or blogs. They did not fit harmoniously into this book.

Topics in this part include things like Kaufman’s take on chess ratings, Armageddon games, games played at odds, etc.

As for the rest of the book, I found it to be quite interesting. 

In the first part of the book Kaufman covers champions that he knew. These range from local to national to world champions. The pen portraits delivered by Kaufman were enlightening and thoughtful. Sure, he covers famous champions he knew like Fischer, Korchnoi, Gligoric, etc., but he also has a chapter on Steve Brandwein.

Like many in the chess world, Kaufman found work in the world of finance. Specifically running an options trading company. The nice thing about the chapters on topics like this is that they’re long enough to go into relevant detail while also being short enough as to not bog the reader down. The overall effect serves to keep the narrative flowing.

As for the chess, the book contain 64 games. Naturally many involve computers. The annotations are well done, though at times I feel they’re a bit too “Informant like” in nature. I suppose that for a computer guy that makes sense, but I would have preferred a bit more prose.

In the chapter on Kaufman’s three students who became IM’s I learned that his son, Raymond, is one of them. I didn’t know that the Kaufman’s are one of the rare parent/child titled player combinations. I can’t think of another others off the top of my head, though I feel that there is at least one more. So if you know of any, please say so in the comments.

All in all, this book is a solid effort and worthy of reading. It should be pointed out that this is very much not a book on chess improvement. Yes, it contains annotations by a title player, so there are some lessons to be learned, but this book is not designed in and of itself to help you become a stronger player.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

 

How Active Reading is Making a Difference

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Earlier I sent out this tweet:

As soon as I went downstairs to the laboratory and picked up the book I found a great example of what I was talking about.

Take this position from the game Atalik – Hickl 2003

Here White has just played 23.a5, which sacs a pawn. This move is given in the opening section to the game in which the first 28 moves are given without comment in order to get to the position the author finds relevant to the topic being covered (knights on blockading squares). So I make the move. Then I ask “Why would he play that? What’s the point?”

I don’t see the answer right away, so old habit kicks in and I immediately just start making the next few moves to get to the point of the book. Then I stop. I think.  I realize that this is exactly the bad habit I am working to overcome.

So I go back to the position above, and I really ask myself why would White make that move? After all, Suat was rated 2599 at the time of this game, so there is clearly a very clear reason for this move.

I spent a few minutes really thinking about this position. The obvious idea has to be that White can take control of the b file, but how? After all, after 23…cxb4 24.Rxb4 bxa5 White can’t just double rooks as his rook is under attack.

After White moves the rook to safety, Black just moves one of his rooks to the b file, and White has nothing. The it hit me. White can leave the rook en prise and play 25.Qb6, counterattacking the Black queen, giving him time to double on the file!

I rushed over to the computer to pull up the game and check with an engine, but to my delight I found that Suat has an annotated version of this game in the database! Enjoy!

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

Declined the Repetition Against a Stronger Player

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Last Thursday, while playing my weekly tournament game at the Southwest Chess Club this position was reached after my opponent played 12…d5

I already had the genesis of the idea to play Bg5, but now realize that I can do so and force a repetition. 

Then, as I look just a little deeper, I see that if we play 13.Bg5 Qe5 14.Bf4 that if the queen goes back to f6 I actually have another idea rather than just repeat. I start trying to calculate it, but realize that my opponent can simply sidestep all this and take the draw by shuffling between e5 and d4. 

Therefore, I decide to go ahead and play the first move to make the rest easier to calculate if my opponent does, in fact, go from f6-e5-f6. Which he does, giving us this position:

Now I can settle in and calculate. If I can’t find something concrete, I can just bail out with the repetition.

So what did I play here? Scroll down for the rest of the game after taking a few minutes to come up with a solution.

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Well, for some reason my pgn board isn’t working so well right now, so here is the answer:

 

I played 15.e5

Now if the queen goes to f5 16.g4 traps it. So after 15…Qh4 16.Rd1 there are no good squares left for the queen. 

I won quickly after my opponent blundered with 16…Nf5

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott

Review of the Unstoppable American by Jan Timman

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The Unstoppable American – Bobby Fischer’s Road to Reykjavic by Jan Timman 2021 New in Chess 256pp

Much has been written on the “Match of the Century” between Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky, which took place in Reykjavic, Iceland in 1972. However, much less has been detailed about how Fischer got there in the first place. At least not in English. With the 50 year anniversary coming up next year it stands to reason that this gap in chess lore stands to be filled nicely.

One entry into that cannon is this new offering by former top player turned current top writer, Jan Timman. As someone who very much watched a large part of his career unfold over the board, it’s been a great pleasure to watch this second career unfold over the page.

This effort does not disappoint. It covers the time in Fischer’s career from his return to play at the 1970 USSR vs The World event through his Candidates Final in 1971. Interestingly both his match in the first event and in the latter were against former World Champion, Tigran Petrosian.

One things that struck me immediately as I started to go through the games was the way that Timman was using a lot of prosaic analysis of positions rather than just variations. I’ve touched on this before, but I find it to be very important since overly relying on engine heavy analysis tends to mean that the book will appear “useless” and/or “refuted” when the next version of Stockfish is released. After all, that version will see that on move 27 of Game X there is an improvement of .01 for White on ply 47 of some variation, and now the move that was given as best in the previous version is no more. This leads a lot of people to discount entirely the analytical work that has come before.

This means that verbal explanations will drive the point home better since they will very likely still apply even with small variances to the deeper parts of the analysis over time due to stronger engines. Having said that, Timman does include variations as well in order to properly demonstrate the ideas he is conveying.

As an example of this type of analysis, let’s take this position from Game Two of the 1970 match against Petrosian.

Here Petrosian seals 41.Rd1

After resumption, this position is reached after White’s 43rd move.

Fischer goes on to play 43…Nf6 and Timman goes on to state:

“It looks as if Fischer hadn’t paid much attention to the sealed move in his analysis of the adjourned position; otherwise he would have surely opted for 43…Nc7! here.

analysis diagram

Just like after the text move, the d5-square is inaccessible for the white bishop, but it is even more important that White cannot place his rook behind the black a-pawn. White’s situation is hopeless; for example, 44.Rd3 a4 45.Ra3 Rc4 46.Ra1 Nb5 47.Bb7 Nb4, and the a=pawn will decide.”

What stands out to me about that type of writing is that it will be useful forever more. Even if some tiny improvements are found which change the engine choices to other moves, the educational idea of why 43…Nc7! would have been a better move will remain.

The book itself is broken out into five chapter. They are

      1. The Road to Palma
      2. Palma de Mallorca
      3. The Match Against Mark Taimanov
      4. The Match Against Bent Larsen
      5. The Match Against Tigran Petrosian

While the final four chapters need little explanation as they cover the Interzonal at Palma, along with the three Candidates Matches, the first chapter could use a bit of an introduction. Covered in it are the event mentioned prior of the USSR vs The World Match, along with some descriptions (though no games) of the famous Herceg Novi blitz event where Fischer finished 4.5 points clear of the field. From there games are given from tournaments in Rovinj/Zagreb, Yugoslavia and Buenos Aires, Argentina, which both were held in 1970. Finally, from Argentina, Fischer rushed to Siegen, Germany to play in the Olympiad.

After all of the top level chess activity it was clear that Fischer was still the strongest player in the world. Looking at the games, it seems as though he was almost predetermined to become world champion. It’s easy to forget in hindsight that a special exemption had to be granted by FIDE to even allow him to participate in the Interzonal as he had not qualified through the usual means of playing in a Zonal tournament.

Throughout the descriptions of the various events Timman does a good job of detailing some of the roadblocks that Fischer continually set for himself, such as last minute demands for more money or better conditions, without going too far down the rabbit hole. As a reader I very much appreciated this since many authors in the past have allowed these issues to almost obscure the games themselves. There are no attempts to either psychoanalyze the reasons, nor to defend Fischer for his antics. The incidents are simply presented as fact and then moved past.

It should also be noted that Timman does an excellent job of conveying a lot of information about the events themselves. There are some great descriptions of the venues, players, conditions, and overall culture of the tournaments and matches.

All in all this book was a real treat. I very much enjoyed it and think that it’s accessible to just about anyone who knows the rules and loves the game. There is no rating minimum to get something from this book. While it’s not instructional in nature, it’s very informative, and there are definitely some lessons to be learned, per the analytical example given above.

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

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott