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Archive for April 2018

The Art of the Tarrasch Defence: Strategies, Techniques and Surprising Ideas

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The Art of the Tarrasch Defence: Strategies, Techniques and Surprising Ideas

By Alexey Bezgodov

New in Chess, 2017

ISBN: 9789056917685

The Art of the Tarrasch Defence: Strategies, Techniques and Surprising Ideas

The Tarrasch Defence is an opening that promises classical play, proper grown-up chess.

The book is an excellent introduction, looking at the opening mainly from Black’s viewpoint, and is in five parts. Part 3, let us begin in the middle then time-shift later, presents a detailed survey (I count some 50 pages) of what Alexey Bezgodov calls the Kasparov System, which is clearly Black’s best approach. It arises after the moves: 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 c5 4.cxd5 exd5 5.Nf3 Nc6 6.g3 Nf6 7.Bg2 Be7 8.0-0 0-0 9.Bg5 cxd4 10.Nxd4 h6. All very logical and efficient and understandable. Here, White usually goes 11.Be3 but 11.Bf4, or indeed the capture 11.Bxf6, are decent enough alternatives. There is thorough coverage of them all.

Part 2, to backtrack a bit, is the largest section of the book (80 pages). We look here at a range of ways by which White might deviate from the logical sequence of moves (I won’t repeat them again; see above) leading to the Kasparov System. White might plumb for the quiet Symmetrical System on move 4 (4.e3) or essay the reckless Marshall Gambit, an act of self-harm more than anything, a move later (5.e4). An early development of the queen’s bishop to g5, f4, or e3 comes into consideration as well (mind, avoid Romanishin’s 4.Be3 because of the devastating reply 4..e5! and Lputian, his opponent, won in 24 moves). Or the bishop might go to e3 at a later stage (9.Be3) or be developed on the flank (following 9.b3). Other logical approaches involve capturing on c5 (9.dxc5 Bxc5) then following up with 10.Bg5 to pressure d5 or 10.Na4 Be7 11.Be3 and 12.Rc1, focusing fire-power on the dark squares on the queenside. In summary, Bezgodov concludes that while White has plenty of options, Black can equalise.

These two sections, Parts 3 and 2, are the grand heart of the book and will equip you to play the Tarrasch Defence in the form of the Kasparov System, its most modern treatment. But there is more…

Part 1 (let us turn all chronological, all of a sudden – it has 30 pages, by the way) is entitled ‘Four Bad Lines That Are actually Good’ and it sets out – well, actually, the title has said it all. There are brief, in one case a very brief, surveys of:

  • the Curt von Bardeleben System (I follow Bezgodov’s nomenclature): 6…cxd4 7.Nxd4 Bc5 intending ..Nge7
  • an active line favoured by Keres: 6…Nf6 7.Bg2 cxd4 8.Nxd4 Bc5
  • the Salwe System: 8…Qb6 instead of 8…Bc5 as in Keres’ line
  • and finally, the Lasker-Capablanca System: 7…Be7 8.0-0 0-0 9.Bg5 Be6

While these lines are unfashionable at the minute, they lead – as Bezgodov shows – to decent, playable positions for Black. Salwe’s move has a bad reputation because, in response to it, Rubinstein created one of his positional masterpieces (the game versus Salwe at Lodz, 1908), but Black can undoubtedly improve. Half a century after Rubinstein-Salwe, Bronstein played 8..Qb6 against Kortchnoi and drew.

Part 4 (70 pages) examines how a quartet of great champions – Kasparov, Spassky, Keres and Gligoric – played the Tarrasch Defence, and played against it. There is an abundance of entertaining and instructive chess on display here, and a special highlight is Kasparov’s theoretical duel with Smyslov, four high-quality games from their final candidates match in 1984. Finally, Part 5 (55 pages) is all about training, testing your knowledge and understanding of the opening. You are given 96 challenging exercises, followed by detailed solutions in the form of complete games.

Two minor criticisms, so let’s get them out of the way. First, no mention of John Nunn. He played the Tarrasch Defence well, though rarely, in his chess career and has some decent games with it. I would have liked to have seen one of them. Second, the book raised a few move-order questions but never really answered them. Here is one: in the Lasker-Capablanca System, should black play …Be6 before …0-0? (say, 8…Be6). What are the pros and cons of doing so? It seems from a Marshall-Capablanca match-game in 1909 that 9.Bg5 Ne4! equalises when Black goes with an early …Be6. How then should White best respond? This question might have been addressed in the context of games 23 and 24, or indeed game 168 (the Marshall-Capablanca game above), but wasn’t.

Overall though, this is a brilliant book on a venerable opening that possesses a lot of vitality still. The Tarrasch Defence is a sound, principled and positionally based way of fighting for the initiative from move 3: just look at its pedigree, an ardent advocacy over many years by Spassky, Kasparov et al. It leads to middle-games where Black’s active centralised pieces and use of open lines fully compensate for the isolated queen’s pawn (IQP). Indeed, even when this pawn is sacrificed (or inadvertently lost) Black’s pieces are often active enough to ensure a draw. There are 217 annotated games here, and a close study of them will give you a feel and fluency for the Tarrasch that will be invaluable in actual play. Finally, Bezgodov equips you to play five (count them: five) different systems in the Tarrasch Defence. Now that’s good value in anyone’s book.

The publisher’s description of The Art of the Tarrasch Defence is here.


10 Great Ways to Get Better at Chess

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10 Great Ways to Get Better at Chess

By Nigel Davies

Everyman Chess, 2010

ISBN: 9781857446333

10 Great Ways to Get Better at Chess

Any player seriously seeking to improve will find this an extremely useful book.

It does pretty much what it says on the cover. There are ten chapters, each focusing on a specific way to become a better player and, the reason why you’d want to, to win more chess games. All of the chapter titles are in the form of an imperative: ‘Study the Endgame’, for example, or ‘Create a Pre-Game Ritual’. Each chapter includes a case study, outlining the experience of one of Nigel Davies’s students or of Davies himself, and ends with a list of key points. For some reason, on reading key point 4 at the end of chapter 7, I thought of a comment that Hilary Putnam once made: ‘The smarter I get, the smarter Aristotle gets.’ In other words, the stronger you become as a chess player, the more you are able to appreciate the great players of the past.

Davies uses a variety of approaches in tackling the problem of how to improve at chess. He zeroes in on the skills and knowledge (tactical awareness, endgame technique) that will yield most dividends. The importance of one’s behaviour, as it impacts on performance during a game, is addressed in at least three of the chapters (chapters 5, 6, and 10); chess is primarily a sport, after all. And Davies also places an emphasis on seeking out a challenging environment that will allow you to learn and develop as a player, and give you the opportunity of appropriate competitive practice (chapters 3, 4 and 8 come under this heading).

However, the crucial chapter is undoubtedly ‘Know your Enemy’, the enemy being not so much your current opponent as yourself, your own biases and blind-spots and ability to make mistakes and mess up positions no matter how favourable. We all do it! Honest self-appraisal is the basis of all progress and improvement.

This is one of Nigel Davies’s best books, maybe his best so far. With it, he draws on all his experience as a chess coach to present his own ‘top ten’ paths to improvement. His suggestions and recommendations have been tried, tested and found to work – the case studies providing proof of that. So why not follow the advice of chapter 7, ‘Read a Good Book’, and seek it out? You won’t be disappointed.

The publisher’s description of the book is here.

1001 Brilliant Ways to Checkmate

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1001 Brilliant Ways to Checkmate

By Fred Reinfeld and Bruce Alberston

Russell Enterprises, 2014

ISBN: 9781936490820

1001 Brilliant Ways to Checkmate

Fred Reinfeld’s venerable book, consisting of 1001 checkmate puzzles arranged by theme, has been edited and recast into algebraic notation by Bruce Albertson.

Themes include the queen sacrifice, discovered check, double check and pawn promotion; and only the last chapter, a collection of composed problems, seems slightly out of place. What you have got otherwise are positions taken from actual games that are, at most, of a medium level of difficulty. As such, this is an ideal workbook for beginners and junior players.

My prime advice would be to study a few examples from one chapter, a few from another, and so on, all within a single session of no more than an hour. To ‘interleaf’ the puzzles, rather than attempting to solve them chapter by chapter, block by block. It is far more enjoyable that way – there is more variety – and as a learning strategy it is much more effective (for evidence see, for example, Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning by Peter C. Brown, Henry L. Roediger III and Mark A. McDaniel, pages 85-86).

The publisher’s description of the book is here.

Fighting Chess with Hikaru Nakamura

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Fighting Chess with Hikaru Nakamura

By Karsten Müller and Raymund Stolze

Edition Olms, 2012

ISBN: 9783283010232

Fighting Chess with Hikaru Nakamura

A compelling portrait of one of the most exciting players in the world.

Each chapter begins with a game or two from Wijk aan Zee 2011, arguably Nakamura’s breakthrough tournament – he won it, finishing ahead of Anand and Carlsen and several other elite players – then goes on to discuss a key aspect of his game. Nakamura’s prowess in the endgame, his opening repertoire and in particular his penchant for the King’s Indian Defence, the risk-taking and fighting spirit that’s so characteristic of his style, and (of course) his enthusiasm for bullet and blitz: these are some of the topics under discussion. A wide-ranging interview takes up the bulk of chapter 6.

My only slight qualm with the book is the constant comparison with Fischer (particularly prevalent on pages 109-124), which doesn’t do Nakamura any favours and anyway is beside the point. He is an elite player certainly, but he is not and is unlikely to be the dominant force that Fischer once was. Perhaps the comparison is a curse that all talented American grandmasters must endure (Seirawan got it to some extent). Anyway, recent results and interviews suggest that Nakamura has found his own path.

There’s plenty of chess in the book, the final chapter including five of Nakamura’s best games (four chosen by the player himself), but as intimated it is more than simply a games collection. This is a terrific book overall and timely too, in that Nakamura will likely prove to be one of Carlsen’s most dangerous rivals over the coming years.

The publisher’s description of the book is here.

Written by P.P.O. Kane

April 12, 2018 at 6:30 pm

The Ultimate Anti-Grunfeld

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The Ultimate Anti-Grunfeld: A Saemisch Repertoire

By Dmitry Svetushkin

Chess Stars, 2013

ISBN: 9789548782944

The Ultimate Anti-Grunfeld

Svetushkin sets out an interesting way of meeting the two main Indian defences.

The Grunfeld is met by 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.f3, the typical sequence being 3…d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.e4 Nb6 6.Nc3… – and so on. White gets his usual pawn centre but, unlike goings-on in the Exchange Grunfeld, knights are kept on the board. Anand has used this system with some success, so too have Grischuk and Svidler. Against the King’s Indian, White steers the game into the Samisch (3…Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.Nc3, etc.). These defences are the chief focus of the book, and make up about three quarters of it. As for the rest, some lines related to the Benoni and Benko are covered too (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.f3 c5 4.d5 and now 4…d6 or 4…b5). Rare moves like 3…Nc6 and the sharp 3…e5!? 4.dxe5 Nh5 get a look-in an’ all. One tends to trust Svetushkin’s analyses and judgements, not least because he has about a decade’s worth of experience of playing these lines.

This is a well worked out and very thorough study of several related opening variations that will be of great interest to the 1.d4 player.

The publisher has provided a few sample pages from the book, mainly the contents page and the introduction section, here.

Written by P.P.O. Kane

April 12, 2018 at 6:10 pm

Wojo’s Weapons: Winning With White, Volume 2

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Wojo’s Weapons: Winning With White, Volume 2

By Jonathan Hilton and Dean Ippolito

Mongoose Press, 2011

ISBN: 9781936277230

Wojo's Weapons: Winning With White, Volume 2

In the second volume devoted to the opening repertoire of the late Aleksander Wojtkiewicz, the focus is on the Fianchetto Variation of the King’s Indian Defence.

The starting position for this volume arises after the moves 1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.g3 Bg7 4.Bg2 0-0 5.d4 d6 6.0-0, a position from which the theoretical material is presented through a series of deeply annotated games. While the authors praise Wojtkiewicz’s play when it is warranted, an uncritical adoration is blessedly absent, as (for example) their notes to the game Wojtkiewicz-Kretchetov attest.

Wojtkiewicz’s style might best be described as positional veering towards technical, and that’s the nature of the lines they recommend. His pet line against the Yugoslav (6…c5 7.dxc5 dxc5 8.Ne5!?) is examined in detail in chapter 10. He would also meet the mainline (6…Nc6 7.Nc3 e5 8.d5 Ne7) in quite an interesting way, pushing forward with the direct advance 9.c5!? – a move that is the subject of a densely packed 32-page chapter. If this is not to your taste, the more usual move – 9.e4 – is ably covered in the chapter following.

There is comprehensive coverage of Black’s various options throughout the book, and the authors provide helpful pointers and useful advice about how to meet them. Along, that is, with the kind of detailed theoretical analysis you’d expect from having read Volume 1.

If you’ve ‘come out’ as a slightly boring positional player – and it really is nothing to be ashamed of – and you play 1.Nf3 or 1.d4, then this may be a good book for you. It is a thorough, workmanlike manual on how to meet the King’s Indian.

The publisher’s description of the book is here.


Tune Your Chess Tactics Antenna

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Tune Your Chess Tactics Antenna

By Emmanuel Neiman

New In Chess, 2012

ISBN: 9789056914042

Tune Your Chess Tactics Antenna

Tactics is all about vision: recognising key patterns, noticing when and where a combination or tactic may be present.

Emmanuel Neiman’s book aims to develop a player’s skill in spotting combinations, and in this it will undoubtedly succeed. Some early chapters are quite elementary – there is a chapter dealing with basic mates, for example – but later ones cover more complicated tactics and advanced topics, such as how to calculate variations in a systematic and accurate manner.

At the start, Neiman sets out seven central signals, what you might call key indicators that a combination may be possible. These include factors such as, for example, unprotected pieces, an overloaded defender or a shaky king position. They are then looked at in more detail later, with exercises being given to test understanding. One unusual twist: there are exercises that in effect ask whether a (sound)combination is present (or possible). So not (or not only) ‘What’s the combination?’ but ‘Is there a genuine combination here or, rather, a deceptive and dubious tactical possibility?’ In an actual game, this is of course a question – the key question, perhaps, since sacrificing a piece entails a risk – you have to ask. And it is perfectly possible for your opponent to have, say, a vulnerable king position but for you to have no way to checkmate him.

At the close, there is a final test, fifty tricky positions to solve, and that ends what is a very enjoyable and instructive book. To round up: the strengths of the book include the freshly minted examples of classical tactical themes (virtually all games date from 2011 and 2012) and the systematic approach overall, as regards both the presentation of the tactical themes and Neiman’s account of the thinking process (combinational vision, calculation, evaluation, decision).

I recommend this book very highly indeed.

The publisher’s description of the book is here.

Written by P.P.O. Kane

April 3, 2018 at 2:18 pm