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

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