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The other main visual change is that the former sections printed in blue ink have been replaced by highlighted gray text.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

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