The English: Move by Move

 The English: Move by Move“ width=

Just because you may have been raised on 1.e4 (or 1.P-K4), it doesn’t mean that other openings must remain forever foreign to you.

Rather than offer a detailed repertoire based around 1.c4, Steve Giddins aims instead to explain the most important positional and strategic ideas underpinning the English Opening: the key one being to pressurize the central light squares, in particular d5. And in this respect he succeeds admirably.

Like other books in the Move by Move series, this one uses a Question and Answer format. The register of the prose is more conversational than usual, I’d say, in keeping with the author’s style.  Yet even so, it’s a concentrated conversation: the discussion is always pertinent and to the point. You learn a lot.

All the main variations are covered in a mere five chapters and, although not a necessary component of Giddins’ remit, there’s plenty of detailed and up-to-date theory, notably in chapter 3, whose topic is the Mikenas System (1.c4 Nf6 2.Nc3 e6 3.e4).  There are 26 illustrative games in total, with a fair few more in the notes.

At the end, in a final sixth chapter, Giddins gives some advice about constructing an English Opening repertoire.  Here, it is undoubtedly useful to be familiar with some 1.d4 lines, to use 1.c4 in part as a transpositional tool: purely English lines are not especially effective against e.g. a King’s Indian set-up.  Quite a dilemma apparently arises after 1.c4 e5 (or 1…Nf6): should White play 2.Nc3 or 2.g3?  Giddins explores this question in some (some might say unhealthy) detail, without coming to any definite conclusion.  OK, it’s not a moral dilemma along the lines discussed by Julian Nida-Rumelin at a recent Wittgenstein conference, but it is important if you intend to take up 1.c4.

Those for whom English is not their native tongue will find in Giddins’ book an accessible and indeed quite excellent introduction to the opening. It is an ESOL primer par excellence, and will set you on the road to fluency in no time at all.

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

Book Details

The English: Move by Move

By Steve Giddins

Everyman Chess, 2012

ISBN: 9781857446999

Profession: Chessplayer


Take a close interest in Tukmakov’s play and you’ll receive a liberal chess education in return.

The Ukrainian, former Soviet grandmaster was one of the players profiled in Andrew Soltis’s classic book Younger School of Soviet Chess (1977) and while he has never shone like Karpov, nor has he faded like Kuzmin. Strong and steadfast, and comparable in many respects to his fellow compatriot Beliavsky, he has played many fine games in his long career, including an exquisite gem of a game against Panno at Buenos Aires in 1970.

Although the 41 games in the second part of the book could have been better presented – the layout is rather cluttered, to put it mildly – both the games and the author’s annotations are terrific. He is always pertinent and on the ball, full of insights, ablaze with flashes of humour, forensic in his analysis of errors. As an annotator, Tukmakov possesses a hoard of virtues.

The first part of the book (just over 100 pages) is wholly prose and is a little bit of everything. It’s a biography, sometimes written in the third person, perhaps to lend it distance. Objectivity, or an approximation of it, seems to be Tukmakov’s aim: he’s describing a person he no longer is. He grew up in Odessa, the city of Isaac Babel, and pursued a career in the military. He gives an account of his chess career and a scattering of reflections on chess itself: how it was in the Soviet era, how it is now that it has been largely colonised by the computer. One can discern a definite ambivalence about the role of the computer in chess. There are plenty of impressions of players he has met (Tal, Fischer, Karpov, Kortschnoi…) and his appraisal of Karpov in particular, in terms of the 12th world champion’s chess style and character, has to be one of the most astute on record.

The book is a good read and contains some great games: an enthusiastic thumb- up.

You can read the publisher’s description of the book here.

Book Details

Profession: Chessplayer

By Vladimir Tukmakov

Russell Enterprises, 2012

ISBN: 9781936490288

My Best Games by Victor Korchnoi

My Best Games by Victor Korchnoi“ width=

This is a very fine book by perhaps the strongest player never to have become world champion.

In this book the late Victor Korchnoi (1931-2016) annotates 110 of his best games, half played with the white pieces, half with the black. Such has been Korchnoi’s strength and creativity, in a career spanning over half a century, that you could easily choose another hundred-odd games of similar quality. Be that as it may, among the opponents Korchnoi has bested here are Botvinnik, Smyslov, Tal, Petrosian, Spassky, Fischer, Karpov… and those are just the world champions. It has to be said that Kasparov is conspicuous by his absence, though Korchnoi has defeated him too in his time, of course.

There’s the odd walkover here (e.g. game 20, a 19 move win against Karpov) but virtually all of these games are fierce struggles, decent scraps. For Korchnoi, it seems as though the value of a victory is greater if the opponent kicks back, gets in his tuppence worth of aggression and resistance. He also has a relaxed attitude towards errors – and from both sides – an acceptance that inaccuracies will inevitably occur; they are all part of the game. Indeed, in an actual game, with limited time for thinking, the difficult-to-refute error may actually turn out to be stronger than the strictly correct move; it sets a vexing problem and if the opponent consumes time in trying to solve it, but can’t… well, so much the better! A small lesson one can learn from Korchnoi.

Few of these games are perfect in the sense of being free of mistakes on the victor’s side. But all are fiercely competitive, creative, profound and individual, the player’s own. Korchnoi writes here that ‘Chess is my life and these games are fragments of this life’; and you can well believe him. His annotations have integrity, insight and veracity, while remaining for the most part conversational in tone. The notes include his thoughts on many general chess topics, as well as the concrete situations arising in the specific games themselves. One recurring theme: he’ll often confess to an uncertainty concerning the essential soundness of his position, a feeling of doubt that many players, and not just world-class grandmasters, will be familiar with.

You can read the publisher’s description of the book here.

Book Details

My Best Games: Updated and revised anniversary edition

By Victor Korchnoi

Translated and edited by Ken Neat

Edition Olms, 2011

ISBN: 9783283010195

The Modern Philidor Defence

The Modern Philidor Defence

Barsky’s book is an excellent study of the Hanham Variation of the Philidor Defence in its modern guise.

When it is reached, in other words, via the Pirc move order: 1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 (the author considers other moves as well, such as 3.Bd3 and 3.f3) e5. Although the opening is sound and easy to learn, it gives rise to a fair range of complicated and interesting positions.

There is the queenless middlegame that occurs after 4.dxe5 dxe5 5.Qxd8+ Kxd8; both players are still able to set problems for their opponent here. There are the various double-edged options for White, such as Shirov’s bayonet thrust (4.Nf3 Nbd7 5.g4!?) and the lines involving a bishop sacrifice on f7 and the king’s knight landing on e6 (two ways in which this can happen are 5.Bc4 Be7 6.Bxf7+ Kxf7 7.Ng5+ and 6.Ng5 0-0 7.Bxf7+ Rxf7 8.Ne6). Black can equalise here, rest assured, but only if he defends (and in time counterattacks) accurately. Finally, there is the complex and strategically rich middlegame that arises in the mainline of the opening (that is, after 5.Bc4 Be7 6.0-0 0-0 7.Re1 or 7.Qe2, etc.). The best player, assuming preparations are equal, is certain to come out on top.

Alekhine used to play the Hanham Philidor in his early days and some grandmasters who essay the opening now are Ivanchuk, Morozevich and in particular Bologan: 6 of the 50 illustrative games in this book see Bologan taking the black pieces.

To end, it might be helpful to compare The Modern Philidor Defence to The Black Lion, a book which I will review shortly on this site. Naturally, there is some overlap of material between the two books and in many key lines (involving Bxf7+, say) similar conclusions are reached. The Black Lion gives Black the further option of 3…Nbd7, so avoiding the exchange of queens after 3…e5 4.dxe5 dxe5 5.Qxd8+ Kxd8; however, Black need not fear this simplifying line. But The Black Lion focuses on Marco’s antiquated and, to my mind, not very sensible plan of …Nd7-f8-g6–f4, whereas The Modern Philidor Defence presents mainlines that are more positionally based, sounder and (in my view) more mature. On a bare body count, the Hanham lines in Barsky’s book have more grandmaster adherents. And the ubiquitous ‘branding’ of The Black Lion (it is the Philidor!), an irritating feature of the book, is wholly absent from The Modern Philidor Defence.

Barsky’s fine study ably allows you to add the Hanham Philidor to your repertoire of defences against 1.e4.

You can read a pdf sample from the book here.

Book Details

The Modern Philidor Defence

By Vladimir Barsky

Chess Stars, 2010

ISBN: 9789548782777

Chess Training Pocket Book

Chess Training Pocket Book: 300 Most Important Positions and Ideas, Third Edition

This book contains 300 positions of the ‘White (or Black) to play and win (or draw)’ variety: you have to decide on the best move, work out the most accurate continuation.

The positions are arranged in quartets: four diagrams to a page, with the respective solutions on the page facing. Most positions are taken from actual play but a few are composed studies or are standard, theoretical endgames. As well, there are a fair number of tricky endgames, though it has to be said that tactical middlegame positions predominate. They vary in difficulty.

Alburt’s introduction sets out some training tips and methods. He also discusses some
skills (intuition, calculation, etc.) that the positions are intended to develop. And, certainly, solving these kinds of positions represents an effective form of active learning. The positions provide concrete examples of tactical motifs that frequently arise in practice. Studying them will help you to recognize and seize such opportunities when they come up in your own games.

It is a nice size and all, this book, and very portable. During the interval at a play and concert, sitting through the adverts and trailers before the start of a film, travelling on  both train and tram: I’ve studied this book on these occasions and a fair few others.

Some of Alburt’s solutions could be embellished upon or might possibly require correction. For example, in position 230 I don’t think 1…Qxf2+ 2.Qxf2 d2 (as suggested by Alburt) is actually very good; after 3.Rf1 Re1 4.Bd4 White extricates himself from the pin. Placing this and a few other minor blemishes aside, however, and what you have is an enjoyable collection of mainly tactical puzzles that serves as a useful training tool as well.

You can read a description of Chess Training Pocket Book: 300 Most Important Positions and Ideas, Third Edition by Lev Alburt at the Amazon website here.

Book Details

Chess Training Pocket Book: 300 Most Important Positions and Ideas, Third Edition

By Lev Alburt

W.W. Norton & Company, 2010

ISBN: 9781889323220

The Complete Hedgehog, Volume 1

The Complete Hedgehog, Volume 1

In this book, the first of two volumes, Sergey Shipov examines the Hedgehog when it is used as a defence against the English Opening.

On 1.c4 Nf6 2.Nc3 c5 3.g3 e6 4.Nf3 b6 5.Bg2 Bb7 6.0-0 Be7, he mainly looks at 7.d4 cxd4 8.Qxd4 (8.Nxd4 gives Black a comfortable position and easy equality after 8…Bxg2) and 7.Re1 (with the plan of playing e4 and only then d4 and of meeting …cxd4 with Nxd4: the pawn on e4 making it impossible for Black to now exchange bishops); and he touches very briefly on 7.b3. His coverage can fairly be described as exhaustive, for over 250 pages are devoted to 7.d4 (which is Part 1 of the book) and just a little less than that number is allocated to 7.Re1 (Part 2).

It is clear that Shipov is an advocate, or perhaps more accurately still a zealot, when it comes to the Hedgehog; but he gives White a fair shout. His analyses and evaluations have integrity and approach objectivity. As he writes, ‘I love the Hedgehog dearly, but the truth means more to me.’ The story is told through a slue of deeply annotated games, where he looks at the genesis and history of each variation and not just its current theoretical status. This approach aids strategic understanding and it adds as well an intellectual excitement to the work, as though one were alongside these pioneers (Uhlmann, Andersson, Ljubojevic and others) as they grappled with the problems of playing the opening as White and/or Black.

Shipov demands much of his readers. He doesn’t simplify matters unnecessarily, and in fact he seems sometimes to delight in making things even more problematical than they need to be. You’d like to urge, on occasion: Give it a rest, Sergey lad, don’t think too deeply! But he gives a lot to the reader. His writing has wit and candour, and he clearly has a deep understanding of the opening and an enthusiasm for it. Along the way, Shipov acquaints us with the philosophy behind the Hedgehog, an inkling of which can be garnered from Sergey Makarichev’s musings on the origin of the opening, as quoted on page 39 of Revolution in the ‘70s by Garry Kasparov:

There is also another version of how the legendary system [the Hedgehog] was born. Long, long ago, back in the 1960s, one of the future grandmasters – perhaps the young Ljubomir Ljubojevic – was so captivated by the play of Inter Milan under the management of Helenio Hererra, that he firmly decided: ‘When I grow up, I will think up something similar in chess. My pieces, just like the Italian footballers, will completely concede space, but at the same time, when standing in defence, they will be constantly pressing, and when my opponent hesitates, even for an instant, they will punish him with a deadly counterattack.’

Shipov makes the point that, to play the Hedgehog well, you need to play purposefully and accurately, paying close attention to the smallest detail. You need always to be aware of your opponent’s possibilities as well as your own. Of course, you need to do this anyway in chess, but with the Hedgehog these qualities are accentuated because there is such constricted space in which to operate and manoeuvre. He concludes that the opening breeds good habits and makes you a better chess player and, no doubt, a nobler person.

As a final comment, let me praise the terrific translation by James Marfia; he has done much to make this such a lively and vibrant book and to give Sergey Shipov an English, albeit an American English, voice. It is impossible to recommend the book too highly.

If the Hedgehog has a poster boy, it is the game Polugaevsky-Ftacnik, Lucerne 1982. It is the subject of a lecture by Mato Jelic which can be seen here.

Book Details

The Complete Hedgehog, Volume 1

By Sergey Shipov

Mongoose Press, 2009

ISBN: 9780979148217

Winning Chess

Winning Chess

Good to see it back!

This is a welcome reissue, in algebraic notation, of a book that will be familiar to many. For myself, I remember receiving it as a present one Christmas and steadily working through the positions over the holidays.

It is a primer on chess tactics, with successive chapters covering topics such as the pin, the knight fork, the skewer, discovered attack, double check and so on; and it is a worthwhile introduction to these topics still. There are plenty of diagrams to illustrate each theme and a short quiz at the end of most chapters. Twenty-odd chapters all told.

These are not complicated positions , so can serve as excellent material for introducing tactics to juniors and/or beginners. Pretty much all the positions hold up, however in No. 167A Black should really play 2…R8d4 and not 2…c5 as given. The latter move allows White to escape by 3.Qe4. Other than that, the presentation is clean and the explanations are clear.

A classic book.

Book Details

Winning Chess

By Irving Chernev and Fred Reinfeld

Batsford, 2013

ISBN: 9781849941105

You can read a description of Winning Chess by Irving Chernev and Fred Reinfeld at the publisher’s website here.

William Steinitz, Chess Champion

William Steinitz, Chess Champion: A Biography of the Bohemian Caesar

Imagine a time when the headline, ‘Great Discovery in Chess’, could appear in a daily newspaper, as in fact happened in the New York Sun for 2 June 1895.

And what was the nature of this ‘great discovery’? Wilhelm Steinitz had just announced that he had discovered a perfect defence to the Evan’s Gambit. It was a different age.

This is an enthralling biography of William (or Wilhelm) Steinitz, the first world chess champion and the father of modern chess. Steinitz was the player and theorist who laid the foundation for our current understanding of chess, and he was probably the game’s deepest thinker. His only other rival for this honour is Nimzowitsch, who reacted to Tarrasch’s simplified codification of Steinitz’s thought.

Many years of research have gone into the writing of this book, which is clearly a labour of love. Landsberger traces the trajectory of Steinitz’s life from his childhood in the Prague ghetto, about which relatively little is known, to his short time in Vienna as a young man and his later emigration to London, where he stayed for 20 years. It was in London that Steinitz came to prominence, most notably by defeating Adolf Anderssen in a match in 1866. From that point on, he was regarded as the
world’s best player until his defeat by Lasker in 1894. By that time, he had settled in America.

There were elements of tragedy to Steinitz’s life, and the author does not shy away from these. As is generally known, he had mental health problems in the last years of his life and he had difficulty in eking out a living as a chess player and journalist. In sum, though, his life was one of immense intellectual achievement; he revolutionized our understanding of chess.

Some excellent extras enhance the text. Andy Soltis provides deep annotations to 15 of Steinitz’s best games and two other games, played by correspondence between London and Vienna in 1872-1974, are annotated by Steinitz and Potter: they were significant as a test of Steinitz’s ideas. David Hooper’s perspicacious article on Steinitz’s theory of chess is reprinted from the British Chess Magazine, September 1984; and there are 46 black and white plates, which include photographs of the great man and his contemporaries, some facsimiles of his letters and an array of stamps issued in his honour.

The author includes many contemporary accounts and profiles of Steinitz, as well as excerpts from his letters and writings, and those with an interest in chess history will find this deeply-researched book engrossing.

Book Details

William Steinitz, Chess Champion: A Biography of the Bohemian Caesar

By Kurt Landsberger

McFarland & Company, 2006

ISBN: 9780786428465

You can read a description of William Steinitz, Chess Champion: A Biography of the Bohemian Caesar by Kurt Landsberger at the publisher’s website here.

Play 1.b3!

Play 1.b3!

Ilya Odessky’s book is an ode to the Nimzo-Larsen Attack, an opening that he calls ‘a Friend for Life’.

Mind you, the book is also something of a lament; a tone of playful pessimism pervades much of it. Odessky seems to regard an opening (or 1.b3 in particular) as akin to a football team you’ve followed all your life, or an unfaithful wife that you love and cannot divorce. You are honour-bound to give your support. You absorb the small hurts because, just occasionally, there are resplendent moments of joy.

This is not a typical opening book, as the chapter titles alone make clear. Just to give three examples: ‘Wanderer, There is No Path Through’ is chapter 2 and it is concerned with a promising variation which, apparently, leads only to equality; ‘Don’t Interfere’, chapter 7, is a rubbishing of the Dutch: the title is a riff on Petrosian’s remark that ‘if your opponent wants to play the Dutch Defence, you shouldn’t try to prevent him’; and the 14th chapter is entitled ‘Casus’, a Latin term which refers to ‘an action, outwardly appearing criminal, but which is free of any element of blame’. It is about a principled yet trappy variation where Black often comes to harm.

Rather than presenting an exhaustive survey of Black’s possible responses to 1.b3, Odessky examines closely a number of key variations and positions. One chapter looks at the fashionable line 1.b3 e5 2.Bb2 Nc6 3.e3 Nf6 4.Bb5 Bd6!? (intending …0-0, …Re8 and …Bf8); another explores the curious Litus Gambit (1.b3 d5 2.Bb2 Bg4 3.f3 Bh5 4.e4!?). Two chapters provide a substantial examination of the Nimzowitsch Attack (1.b3 d5 2.Bb2 c5 3.e3 Nc6 4.Bb5). Three chapters focus on Petrosian’s experiences with 1.b3, and these are undoubtedly the most fascinating part of the book.

Odessky is a genuinely engaging and entertaining writer and Steve Giddins’ smooth translation ably captures his mock-melancholic voice. As an introduction to the Nimzo-Larsen Attack, this book cannot be bettered, and the author has many interesting things to say about positional play, chess strategy and the difficulty of playing good chess. Ultimately, the book is as much about these matters as an opening which, we are made to understand, has been the bane and joy of the author’s chess career (‘Don’t Grieve!’ is the title of the last chapter, incidentally: No, don’t!).

Book Details

Play 1.b3!

By Ilya Odessky

New in Chess , 2008

ISBN: 9789056912567

You can read a description of Play 1.b3! by Ilya Odessky at Amazon here.