Review of Grind Like a Grandmaster

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Grind Like a Grandmaster by Magnus Carlsen and David Howell New in Chess 208pp

You’re in the final round of the tournament. A win will put you in first place. A draw…well…why even bother? “If you’re not first, you’re last.” Wise words from a wise man, Ricky Bobby.

The problem is that your position is pretty level. Maybe you’re a tiny bit better, but it’s hard to say, and you are in a position where you now need to prove that over the board. This is where having a skill demonstrated time after time by players such as Magnus Carlsen, Boris Gelfand, Anatoly Karpov, and more, would come in handy. That skill is grinding out a win from a level endgame.

How does one develop that skill? Keep reading.

Fun. Quirky. Kitchy. Useful. These are not typically words that I would use to describe a chess book, but here we are.

One of the latest offerings in the Chessable-courses-come-to-life-as-books line, this book has much going for it.

First, let’s take the positives. It’s a hardcover. I, for one, love hardcover chess books and am sad that so few are published this way. Also, the printing and layout are immaculate from a design standpoint. This makes the book very easy to read.

Having mentioned some positives, I want to point out something that may be highly relevant to many readers of this blog. This is not an in-depth book that analyzes everything to death to teach the reader how to play more precisely in the endgame. Instead, it’s more of a guidepost designed to give the reader a feel for when an endgame grind may be called for.

This isn’t to say that there is no analysis in the book; there is. It’s just that the main idea here is to take the reader down the path of what it takes to become an endgame grinder.

Take this position, which is from Tari – Carlsen Stavanger 2021 after Black’s 32nd move.

David: What was his body language like around this time? Did he realize that maybe you were starting to bully him a little bit?

Magnus: I think here he was definitely getting nervous. He was starting to use more time as well. And 32…h5 also poses him problems. Do you want to play 33.g3, or is it hanging on account of 33…Nxg3 and 34…Qxe3? Do you want to play h4, or is this pawn too loose at the moment? He’ll need to spend more time protecting it. Essentially, that’s probably what he should have done.


Magnus: But he decides to wait.

David: I’ve noticed that this is a habit of yours. You always push h5 and a5 when you can. Is that just an endgame trick of the trade?

Magnus: It’s one of the things I learned from Boris Gelfand, actually. Improve your pieces as much as you can, including pawns, before going for forced lines. Especially if your opponent has no counterplay. Here it’s important to note that after my next move, 33…Nd6, White can never improve by pushing the pawn to d5, as it simply allows me to further centralize my queen on e5.

This example is extremely illustrative of most of the book. There is *some* analysis, but the gist of the content is to give someone a feel for the ideas which can be used in almost any game rather than a concrete path that worked in one specific game.

The book is divided into eight chapters. They are:

  1. Chapter 1 – Legendary endgame grinders
  2. Chapter 2 – Origin stories
  3. Chapter 3 – Accumlating small advantages
  4. Chapter 4 – Outgrinding fellow grinders
  5. Chapter 5 – Turning draws into wins
  6. Chapter 6 – Defensive grinding: saving the half point
  7. Chapter 7 – Tiring out your opponent
  8. Chapter 8 – Transformation of advantage types

Included in those chapters are 12 complete games, along with several fragments given along the way.

Now let’s take an example with a bit more analysis. The game is Carlsen – Nepomniachtchi from the sixth game of their 2021 World Championship match in Dubai. The position is after Black’s 29th move.

David: He could also have opted for 29…Bb2, forcing the minor piece exchange: 30.Rc5 Qd6 31.Rxb2 Qxd3 32.Rbc2 Qxa3 33.Rxb5

analysis diagram

Magnus: I knew my rooks would be forced into passivity here, so it should be fine. Play would continue with 33…Qd3 34.Rbc5 a3 35.Rc1 a2 36.Ra1 a2 37.Rc1

analysis diagram

and we exchange pawns (b4 for a2), leaving Black in a dreaded endgame. I’m sure those who have followed elite chess for a long time will remember the game Leko vs Kramnik (Brissago WCh m 2004/1), where Kramnik won the endgame with rooks against the queen and three pawns on both sides. The current position is even better for me. It’s probably still a draw with best play, but Black really has to worry about White’s rooks reaching the seventh rank.

That’s about the most in-depth the analysis gets in this one. It’s not non-existent, but it’s pretty light.

My personal thoughts on this book is that it’s well worth the read as long as the reader isn’t looking for more. There are many excellent books on practical and theoretical endgames. This is not one of them. If you are looking for instruction, this book is not for you. If you are looking for inspiration that can be combined with the instruction from other books, then you will likely enjoy this.

Til Next Time,

Chris Wainscott