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Bobby Fischer for Beginners

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Bobby Fischer for Beginners: The Most Famous Chess Player Explained

By Renzo Verwer

New In Chess, 2010

ISBN: 9789056913151

Bobby Fischer for Beginners

As a first port of call for those wishing to learn about Bobby Fischer‘s life and chess career, this book does a fairly good, though by no means perfect job.

Its great advantage is that it takes in the whole of Fischer‘s life, up until his death on 17 January 2008, while quite a few other books end just after the 1972 match with Spassky.

After considering Fischer‘s various contributions to chess (including the invention of the Fischer chess clock and the proposal of Chess 960 or Fischer Random Chess as a way to renew and reinvigorate the game) and outlining what is currently known about his life, 10 of the eleventh world champion’s games are given with light annotations. Most of these games are significant, but at least one (game 5, a 12 move loss from a simultaneous exhibition in 1964) has only curiosity value. It is included only because it is Fischer’s shortest recorded loss.

Some attempt has been made to set out Fischer’s contributions to opening theory (for example, on pages 26, 48 and 62) but this is woefully incomplete. His rejuvenation of the Exchange Variation of the Ruy Lopez at the Havana Olympiad in 1966 is not mentioned – to give but one small omission. Actually, come to think of it, Botterill’s chapter in the collection of Fischer’s games published by Batsford is probably still the best word on this subject; and it was written about 45 years ago.

There’s a reasonably complete set of tournament and match results and the highlighted statistics, such as they are, seem fairly accurate. However, the author seems unaware that Fischer compiled a second top-ten list of great players in 1970 and that this second list included, for example, Botvinnik (who was not in the 1964 list, which is set out in this book on page 119) but excluded the great Alekhine (who was in the 1964 list).

In general, the less you know about Bobby Fischer and in particular his contributions to chess, the happier you will be with this book. This may strike some as a rather back-handed compliment. What I mean is that if you are not ‘a beginner’ when it comes to Fischer, to use Renzo Verwer’s term, then you’ll have an unwelcome awareness of the author’s omissions and of how his sometimes bald statements need to be qualified. If you are ‘a beginner’ or know very little about Bobby Fischer, then Verwer’s book will serve as an adequate introduction to its subject.

The publishers description of the book can be read here.

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Written by P.P.O. Kane

January 3, 2018 at 12:35 pm

Find the Right Plan with Anatoly Karpov

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Find the Right Plan with Anatoly Karpov

By Anatoly Karpov and Anatoly Matsukevich

Translated by Sarah Hurst

Batsford, 2010

ISBN: 9781906388683

Find the Right Plan with Anatoly Karpov

In this well-structured book, the authors address two related questions: ‘How should you evaluate a position?’ and ‘How should you form and implement a plan?’

The first chapter surveys the development of thinking on chess strategy and planning up until the contribution of Steinitz, yet no further. Quite an abrupt end, because although Steinitz’s games and writings were clearly an important juncture, they were hardly the terminus.

Chapter two then gives seven ‘reference points’ crucial to evaluating any chess position, these factors being things like pawn structure and open lines, the centre and space, etc. As illustration, the authors apply these ‘reference points’ to about 10 positions, with the two most recent taken from the Kramnik-Leko world championship match in 2004. This makes for some instructive examples of strategic thinking in action.

Later chapters examine each ‘reference point’ in turn and in more detail, with the seventh and last chapter, ‘The most important law of chess’, being by far the most substantial (111 pages!) and the best. The law in question is an imperative: Restrict the mobility of your opponent’s pieces! There are 72 studies for solving in this chapter, all based around the notions of domination and restriction: a demanding but rewarding training programme.

Though lacking the depth of Dvoretsky’s various works, or indeed John Watson’s Secrets of Chess Strategy, this book does achieve pretty much what it says on the cover: it will show you how to evaluate a position correctly and help you to decide on the right plan to follow. It is an enjoyable and instructive read, if sometimes a little superficial.

Amazon’s description of the book can be read here.

Eminent Victorian Chess Players

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Eminent Victorian Chess Players: Ten Biographies

By Tim Harding

McFarland, 2012

ISBN: 9780786465682

Eminent Victorian Chess Players: Ten Biographies

Here is a book that transports you back to the nineteenth century, to a time when London was the centre of the chess world.

The ten biographical essays, each one diligently researched and vividly written, take a considered look at four giants of the game – Staunton, Steinitz, Blackburne and Zukertort – as well as exploring the lives of some lesser known but still colourful figures. Looking at the likes, for example, of Bird, Evans and Gunsberg.

We learn quite a lot about these men (they are all men, as it happens), and not only about their contribution to chess. As a case in point, consider the good Captain Evans, inventor of the celebrated gambit in the Italian Game, who also came up with the coloured lights system for ships travelling at night. His was a historic contribution to nautical safety which earned him many international plaudits, although, as Harding readily acknowledges, there is much of his life that remains unknown to this day. The Victorians showed great tact and circumspection with respect to any hint of scandal or unconventional social arrangement, an admirable characteristic which (alas!) too often leaves the historian at a loss, dependent on supposition and educated guesswork.

Nonetheless one does get here a very real sense of the uneasy tension between the British players, Staunton and later Blackburne and the latter’s ‘supporters’, various lesser lights who wrote chess columns, and the immigrant players who had newly arrived from Europe. Many of the new arrivals were Jewish, as well as being, more often than not, superior in skill to the home-grown talents, and one cannot deny that there was an anti-Semitic flavour to much of the journalism, as in Duffy’s disgraceful persecution of the great Steinitz (see pages 182-183 of the book). Major sources of tension were professionalism (British sportsmanship versus Continental mercenaries), position and (of course) money – always in short supply.

There are plenty of annotated games, as well as photos and ink drawings of the players, and each essay ends with an assessment of its subject’s contribution to chess. Harding has written an excellent book, and an important one too.

The publisher’s description of the book can be read here.

Written by P.P.O. Kane

January 3, 2018 at 11:30 am

Techniken des Positionsspiels im Schach

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Techniken des Positionsspiels im Schach

By Valeri Bronznik and Anatoli Terekhin

Schachverlag Kania, 2007

ISBN: 9783931192303

Techniken des Positionsspiels im Schach

One of the best books on positional play you’re ever likely to read.

There are 10 chapters covering a diverse range of topics, including domination, the open file, the bad bishop and (an unusual topic) play with the king. A final eleventh chapter has 40 exercises, followed by very full and detailed solutions.

What’s special about the book is that it goes into the nitty-gritty of positional play, focusing on 45 techniques (you might also call them stratagems or devices) which have been deployed successfully in past games. To illustrate by way of example: the chapter on the king looks at situations where one side castles by hand or voluntarily gives up the right to castle, because it is in their best interests to do so. (The classic game Matulovic-Fischer, Vinkovci 1968 would have fitted in here well, though the authors choose other examples.) Also, it looks at those situations where the king departs from a castled position, either for defensive purposes (the opposing forces are about to smash in the door and so the king does a runner) or as a preparation for attack (both players have castled on the kingside and one player marches their king out of harm’s way, before undertaking action on that side).

Topics covered in other sections include the principle of two weaknesses; restriction of the minor pieces; positional pawn sacrifices; prophylaxis; diverse exchanging (liquidation) operations; Reti’s battery of Qa1 and Bb2, as introduced in his game against Yates at New York 1924; the question of the wrong (or right rook). And, yes, Fischer’s famous game against Robert Byrne from the 1963 USA Championship is discussed in this latter section.

Techniken des Positionsspiels im Schach is a richly rewarding book that looks in depth at certain specific aspects of positional play, and I wholly recommend it.

Lessons with a Grandmaster 2

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Lessons with a Grandmaster 2

By Boris Gulko and Dr. Joel R. Sneed

Everyman Chess, 2012

ISBN: 9781857446975

Lessons with a Grandmaster 2

This book is as good as it gets.

Well-annotated, high quality games provide the richest source of educational material in chess, a fund of instruction and insight. When they are set in a question and answer format as here, with Joel Sneed, psychology professor and keen amateur, asking the questions and Boris Gulko, an acutely insightful, artistic grandmaster answering them, then the instructional value (not to mention the sheer entertainment) is enhanced tenfold.

Picturesque pyrotechnics can be seen in many games, notably in the draws with Shirov and Vaganian and the two titanic encounters (resulting in a draw and a win for Gulko) with Bronstein. There are also two wonderful miniatures where Renet and Lputian (strong grandmasters both) succumb quickly, the games clocking in at just 19 and 20 moves apiece.

This second volume (there are three in the series so far) places the emphasis squarely on dynamic chess. The topics covered are all about attack: sharp play and risk-taking (e.g. in the form of a speculative sacrifice), the importance of the initiative, how to acquire combinational vision and accuracy in calculation.

Develop your chess intuition and trust it, don’t rely solely on brute calculation – that’s the main message Gulko seems to be seeking to get across. Computers can crunch chess moves to their engine’s content, and may one day ‘see everything’, but human beings cannot and shouldn’t be asked to. Our cognitive strengths lie elsewhere, in intuition and judgement, and in using our sense of pattern, proportion and beauty. That’s what works for us. This must, however, be allied wherever possible with accurate calculation.

A study of these 30 games of exceptional depth and beauty cannot fail to improve your chess.

The publisher’s description of the book can be read here.

Written by P.P.O. Kane

December 20, 2017 at 2:25 pm

Zurich 1953

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Zurich 1953

By Miguel Najdorf

Russell Enterprises, 2012

ISBN: 9781936490431

Zurich 1953

Najdorf’s book stands right up there alongside Bronstein’s classic book of the same tournament, that is the best thing I can say to convey its regal quality.

Just like Bronstein, Najdorf played at Zurich 1953. He finished in sixth place, sandwiched between seven Soviet players: five below and two above. It was Reshevsky in third place who spearheaded the Western challenge, though, ending two points behind the winner (and eventual world champion) Smyslov.

The crucial point about Zurich 1953 is that it was an elite tournament before such events became relatively common: 15 leading players participated, none of them weak or decidedly inferior to each other, over a period of about two months. Many of the 210 games that were played are now considered classics, and all except for a very few have moments of great interest. The spectacular queen sacrifice in Averbakh-Kotov; the powerful positional play of Reshevsky-Bronstein, a King’s Indian classic; and the concerted kingside attack that did for Taimanov and won Najdorf the Brilliancy Prize (another King’s Indian, incidentally). Those would be my top three but there many other beautiful games here too.

As for Najdorf’s annotations, they are as instructive and insightful as Bronstein’s, though more convivial and conversational.

Zurich 1953 is a wonderful book and is highly recommended.

The publisher’s description of the book can be read here.

Written by P.P.O. Kane

December 20, 2017 at 2:24 pm

Zaubern wie Schachweltmeister Michail Tal

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Zaubern wie Schachweltmeister Michail Tal

By Karsten Müller and Raymund Stolze

Edition Olms, 2010

ISBN: 9783283010072

Zaubern wie Schachweltmeister Michail Tal

Tal, a unique figure in the history of chess, presents an interesting contrast to the current World Champion.

If Magnus Carlsen is the ‘hero of the computer era’ (see the review of Fighting Chess with Magnus Carlsen elsewhere at this site), then Tal was the absolute antithesis, especially in his early career. His speculative sacrifices, many of which were later found to be objectively dubious, would hardly stand scrutiny by a modern-day computer. Yet they won him the world championship because he was more courageous and could see farther and deeper than his contemporaries. For Tal, chess was a medium to test his own and others’ vision. His was a psychological approach, and a computer would, of course, be impervious to it.

There are two aspects to this wonderful book, an ebullient celebration of the magician from Riga. The first consists of individual contributions from Tal’s widow Engelina and from several players – among them Spassky, Uhlmann and Kramnik – who knew Tal as a friend and/or opponent. Of these, my picks would be the wide-ranging interview with Yusupov and a fine piece of analysis by Hubner. Yusupov perceptively remarks that Tal’s style maximised his strengths. As a player he was an amalgam of artist and psychologist, risk-taker and competitor, and his strengths lay primarily in his imagination, his combinational vision and a rare ability to calculate deeply and accurately. He used these strengths to challenge and unsettle his opponents, creating situations where they felt under constant threat. Only a handful of players – Yusupov singles out three: Spassky, Petrosian and Korchnoi – were able to resist this approach. Hubner, as a tribute to Tal’s genius, analyses the game he played against Keller at Zurich 1959. It takes all of 44 pages. The German grandmaster doesn’t do superficial or sloppy.

The second aspect of the book is that it serves as an advanced textbook on tactics, the gen here being 100 challenging exercises with detailed solutions. Some 10 exercises are concerned with speculative (unclear and sometimes not entirely correct) sacrifices, while 28 exercises are about ‘Defending or Warding off Magic’ – that is, finding the defensive or counter-attacking possibility that Tal’s opponent had missed. So it’s not your typical set of tactical puzzles.

For another personal view of Tal, I’d recommend above all Sosonko’s memoir ‘My Misha’; it is one of the pieces collected in his Russian Silhouettes and is wonderful. However, admirers of Tal’s magical chess will feast on this splendid book. Note that you’ll likely need a good grasp of German to get the most out of it.

The publisher’s description of the book can be read here.