Fighting Chess with Magnus Carlsen

Fighting Chess with Magnus Carlsen

By Adrian Mikhalchishin and Oleg Stetsko

Translated and edited by Ken Neat

Edition Olms, 2011

ISBN: 9783283010201

Fighting Chess with Magnus Carlsen

Magnus Carlsen, the current world champion, is the best thing to come out of Norway since Ole Gunnar Solksjaer.

This book collects together 64 of his best games, played mainly against top-class opposition. His opponents include Anand, Kramnik, Topalov, Adams and Morozevich. He’s not always victorious, a fair proportion of the games being draws. However, this shows off one of Carlsen’s strengths as a player: he’s adept at defence, and consequently very difficult to beat. In game 45, for example, he is bested by Beliavsky (this is their encounter at the 2008 Olympiad) but, still, he hangs in there. And when the older man tires, giving Carlsen an opportunity to bail out, he leaps free. They share the point.

Despite the ‘fighting chess’ phrase in the title, Carlsen’s classical style is closer to Capablanca or even Karpov than the all-out aggression of (say) Kasparov in his prime. Naturally, he can carry out a kingside attack if it’s warranted, but he’s more likely to win through positional or even technical means. It is high quality stuff, mind, just a mite boring sometimes.

It was said once that Capablanca played like a machine. In the introductory chapter where the authors trace Carlsen’s development as a player, they describe him similarly as the ‘Hero of the Computer Era’; and actually there is something silicon-like about his style. Perhaps it is something to do with the almost complete objectivity of his decision-making.

Still only in his 20s, Carlsen can only get better and stronger. That’s what is difficult to comprehend fully: the best is yet to come.
For an appreciation of Magnus Carlsen as a chessplayer, this fine collection of deeply annotated games fits the bill perfectly. The publisher’s description of Fighting Chess with Magnus Carlsen can be read here.

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The Scotch Game for White

The Scotch Game for White

By Vladimir Barsky

Chess Stars, 2009

ISBN: 978-9548782739

The Scotch Game for White

Those who don’t have the time or the energy to learn all there is to know about the Ruy Lopez (and, quite frankly, who does?) might wish to turn their attention toward the Scotch Game.

The Scotch Game (arising after 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.Nxd4) offers White many advantages: a natural development of his forces, an early spatial superiority and greater central control. Before Kasparov employed the opening, most opening authorities (such as, for example, Paul Keres) held that 3.d4 opened up the position too early, needlessly dissipating the tension; 3.Bb5 was much the preferred move. But take a look at some of the players who have adopted the Scotch in recent years: Ivanchuk, Radjabov, Morozevich and Carlsen. They’re not the kind of customers who’d readily seek out a simple position, gladly settle for a draw or play an innocuous opening. It is only because the Scotch, while solid, has a real drop of poison that such super-GMs choose to play it.

Just study Vladimir Barsky’s excellent book and you will be sure to agree with this assessment. There is full, comprehensive coverage of all Black’s options and against the main one, 4 … Nf6, the author gives three lines:

  • Mieses’ 5.Nxc6 bxc6 6.e5, very much favoured by Kasparov
  • 5.Nxc6 bxc6 6.Bd3 d5 7.e5, a sharp line involving a pawn sacrifice
  • And finally 5.Nxc6 bxc6 6.Bd3 d5 7.0-0, with a slightly better endgame for White in prospect

Don’t be surprised, incidentally, if Soloviov’s 12.Nxg7! (on page 68) leads to the permanent abandonment of Steinitz’s 4 … Qh4. Gutman’s magisterial 4 … Qh4 in the
Scotch (2001) makes no mention of this move (see page 239 of that book), and it seems a genuinely significant discovery.

The publisher’s description of The Scotch Game for White, a solid survey of an opening that has been played at the highest level but is still underestimated, can be read here.

Capablanca: A Primer of Checkmate

Capablanca: A Primer of Checkmate

By Frisco Del Rosario

Mongoose Press, 2010

ISBN: 9781936277025

Capablanca: A Primer of Checkmate

Capablanca, renowned for his endgame technique, positional understanding and skill in playing ‘simple positions’, could also be a fearsome attacker. Furthermore, he had a sharp eye for tactical opportunities, as Fischer himself observed.

Frisco Del Rosario outlines a number of typical checkmates or checkmating patterns (e.g. the smothered mate, the back-rank mate) and tactical devices (e.g. the double check, the Bxh7+ sacrifice), illustrating them with, in the main, Capablanca’s games. There are 58 complete games altogether, 48 of them games by Capablanca, although one should add that often his opponents are weak or play poorly. And this diminishes somewhat the instructional value of the games, it has to be said.

The book follows the same sequence of checkmates as set out in Renaud and Kahn’s classic The Art of the Checkmate (1953); indeed, Del Rosario will more often than not stick with the same chapter titles and nomenclature as given in Renaud and Kahn’s book (one notable exception: Del Rosario plumbs for the more common ‘back-rank mate’ rather than their rather idiosyncratic ‘corridor mate’). It is a well-known, straightforward and widely accepted taxonomy, of course, so why reinvent the wheel?

On the whole, this is an engaging and very readable introduction to checkmating patterns and tactics that beginners and intermediate-level players will get a lot out of. Stronger players will enjoy the book as a refresher course, but may be irritated by the occasionally imprecise and superficial annotations. One serious error occurs in the score of game 38, a win against Raubitschek played at New York in 1906. In the actual game, Capablanca announced mate in three after Black’s 31st move (which could occur by 32.Rxa7+ Qxa7 33.Ra5 Rb7 34.Qxb7#, for example, or 33…Qxa6 34.Rxa6#). For some reason, Del Rosario gives a game score which continues past Black’s 31st move and allows a draw by perpetual check (after 33…Qf2+ 34.Kh1 Qf1+ 35.Kh2 Qf4+, etc.), a possibility which Black missed and the author fails to notice. Where did these additional moves come from? Who knows? Incidentally, the Raubitschek game is number 169 in The Unknown Capablanca by Hooper and Brandreth.

The publisher’s description of Capablanca: A Primer of Checkmate can be read here.

My First Chess Opening Repertoire for Black

My First Chess Opening Repertoire for Black

By Vincent Moret

New in Chess, 2017

ISBN: 9789056917463
 My First Chess Opening Repertoire for Black

This thoroughly thought-out book presents a black opening repertoire for novice chessplayers keen to chalk up attacking victories.

When meeting 1.e4, the author’s recommendation is that you should play the Scandinavian with 2…Nf6 (so 1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Nf6), leading in due course to the Icelandic Gambit (3.c4 e6) or the Portuguese Variation (3.d4 Bg4), which can become a gambit too, of course, after say 4.f3 Bf5 5.c4 e6.

The Albin Counter-gambit (1.d4 d5 2.c4 e5), a line played on occasion by the young Boris Spassky, is the author’s remedy to the Queen’s Gambit. Against the other queen’s pawn games (all of them!), as well as against the Reti (1.Nf3 d5), the author recommends a Stonewall set-up (pawns at …d5, …f5, …c6, …e6; knight at …f6 and bishop at …d6: you castle, play …Ne4, …Rf6-h6, …Qh4 and mate! Simple as.).

On 1.c4, the English Opening, Black plays 1…e5 and a sort of Grand Prix Counter-attack (…f5, Nf6, Nc6, Bc5 or …b4 or …e7, etc.). Offbeat and irregular openings are well covered too (e.g. From’s Gambit against Bird’s Opening, naturally enough) and I particularly liked one of the author’s three (!) sensible suggestions against the Sokolsky: 1.b4 d5 2.Bb2 Qd6!? 3.a3 (3.b5 Qb4 picks up a pawn) e5: Black develops his pieces on sensible squares while supporting his pawn centre. Uhlmann essayed these moves in a game played in 1980; Black can hardly fail to get a playable game.

All in all, this ‘ready-to-go package for ambitious beginners’ creates a positive impression. Take up the gambit lines and you will have active piece play for the price of a pawn, while the attacking set-ups (the Stonewall and the Grand Prix) are aggressive and not at all easy to defend against. These openings are principled and lively and exciting to play, requiring also that you learn how to develop an initiative and plan an attack, how to spot a combination and calculate accurately. So they will develop you as a players too. They will yield victories against lower-rated players and valuable learning experiences against higher-rated players as well – because to win your opponent will, equally, need to show imagination, positional play, strategic skills and accuracy.

One could quibble and say that, objectively, the Scandinavian with 2…Nf6 is probably less good than 2…Qxd5 3.Nc3 Qd6, a line made fashionable by Tiviakov. Indeed, Sergey Kasparov in his recent Understanding the Scandinavian (2015) states that ‘2…Nf6 definitely doesn’t lead to equality’. But this is beside the point: the openings that strong grandmasters play are sometimes not appropriate for beginners, and vice versa. This is a terrific repertoire book for beginners.

The publisher’s description of My First Chess Opening Repertoire for Black by Vincent Moret can be read here.