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Archive for January 2018

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.


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