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Winning in the Chess Opening: 700 Ways to Ambush Your Opponent

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Winning in the Chess Opening: 700 Ways to Ambush Your Opponent

By Nikolay Kalinichenko, with the collaboration of Kirill Kuznetsov

New in Chess, 2018

ISBN: 9789056917623

Winning in the Chess Opening: 700 Ways to Ambush Your Opponent

Every chess game tells a story.

And here every one of the 753 miniature games (the subtitle is an underestimation) carries a moral too: Develop your pieces. Control the centre. Keep your king safe. Pay attention to your opponent’s threats. And so forth.

What is interesting about chess (though it is certainly true for other fields as well, as has been demonstrated by Tversky and Kahneman’s work) is that experts make the same mistakes as novices. So we have Uhlmann greedily grabbing a pawn with his queen and being punished by Tal in characteristically spectacular style: a knight sacrifice followed by a lethal switch of a bishop to its most efficacious diagonal (as it happened, a3-f8) and, well, curtains. This masterpiece being their game at Moscow 1971: a win in 19 moves.

Most world champions (though not Botvinnik, interestingly enough) and plenty of world-class players are represented, from various eras and periods. You have Anderssen, Alekhine and Anand, if I can put it like that. Steinitz has the highest number of games: 16. Surprisingly, perhaps, Glek has several games – and deservedly so. He is a sharp and alert and, on this evidence, attractive player, clearly. There is the famous game attributed to Napoleon, which I remember coming across many years ago in an old library-worn copy of Irving Chernev’s The 1000 Best Short Games of Chess.

The games are arranged by opening, but not only that: there is an introduction to each opening, outlining the ideas behind it and something of its history and background. I have used this book as a teaching resource for a couple of months now and found it be especially useful when working with junior players who know opening principles, but have a rudimentary knowledge of specific standard openings and certainly not an established repertoire. (Indeed, they may be attracted to some openings simply by the name: the Four Knights, say.) The games, as you can imagine, are often quite short and pithy, which is very welcome since juniors can sometimes have a short attention span. All that activity on electronic devices, but alas no Settings screen within their precious noggins where a coach can enable Focus.

When coaching junior players, you can use the book to practice tactics (‘What was the winning move here?’) while learning about various openings (typical piece-placements and plans) and general principles too, because Nikolay Kalinichenko’s perspicacious annotations emphasise sound play. Sometimes a premature attack is beaten back, at other times excessive passivity is at fault. A few games are decided by tricks and traps, which means what? That one player was oblivious to the other’s malign threats. You can use the book as a point of departure in various ways. By talking about chess history and past champions (a great way of engaging junior players and sparking their imagination) or by encouraging juniors to seek out other games by the many fine players featured. All in all, this fine book will help you to provide a liberal chess education to your tender charges.

In such a large, salubriously produced book (of grand dimensions, over 450 pages, a diagram to every game) it is very difficult to avoid typos and I found one, but only one. In game 693 (Kramnik-Beliavsky), in variation A in the note to Black’s thirteenth move, it should surely be …Qf8 that is meant and not …Rf8 as given.

The publisher’s description of Winning in the Chess Opening: 700 Ways to Ambush Your Opponent is here.




How to Play against 1.d4

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How to Play against 1.d4

By Richard Palliser

Everyman Chess, 2010

ISBN: 9781857446166

How to Play against 1.d4

Yet another excellent opening book from the pen of Richard Palliser.

Within its pages, Palliser examines two closely related defences to the queen’s pawn:

  1. The Czech Benoni, arising after 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 e5. This is an old system, though still hearty and healthy: the wonders of modern medicine, you might say. It has been revived and revitalised in recent years by the likes of Nisipeanu and Marin especially. Palliser provides an iron-clad repertoire for Black from his second move; in other words, he looks at White’s third move alternatives (e.g. 3.Nf3), but not any alternatives on move two. Note that if White plays 2.Nf3, Black cannot reach the Czech Benoni.
  2. The ‘Closed Benoni’, as it is called here: 1.d4 c5 2.d5 e5 3.e4 d6. It is a neglected and underestimated defence, this one. In the given position White can profitably omit 4.c4 (which would transpose to the Czech Benoni after 4…Nf6) by playing 4.Nc3 immediately. Note also, however, that Black’s omission of the development of his king’s knight gives him the additional option of an immediate …Be7-g5 (after say 4.Nc3 Be7 5.Nf3 a6 6.a4 Bg4, he can follow up with …Bxf3 and …Bg5, etc.). Once the bishops are exchanged by …Bg5, White will be left with a bad bishop and will be a little vulnerable on the dark squares as well. Here, Palliser provides a complete repertoire for Black; he even examines 2.e4, transposing to the Sicilian!

From Palliser’s considered analysis, it seems that the Czech Benoni leads to approximate equality provided Black plumbs for 9…Nh5! versus the so-called ‘Modern System’ (i.e. following 4.Nc3 d6 5.e4 Be7 6.Nf3 Nbd7 7.Bd3 0-0 8.h3 a6 9.a4), rather than the older move 9…Ne8. (Though that move also has its champions.) Against the Closed Benoni, White gets a slightly better ending if he plays the most testing line, but that’s all.

Both defences are low-maintenance and certainly playable and would suit players with a sound positional understanding who are not afraid of tactics, since Black’s …f5 break when it eventually comes can create quite hair-raising complications. Besides positional nous and the ability to calculate accurately, the other key quality that the Czech Benoni in particular requires of a player is strategic focus: the ability to carry out a plan in the most efficient way possible. If you can meet all that it asks of you, you will excel with the Czech Benoni.

The publisher’s description of How to Play Against 1.d4 can be read here.


Written by P.P.O. Kane

July 3, 2018 at 11:55 am

The Spanish Exchange Variation

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The Spanish Exchange Variation: A Fischer Favourite

By Stefan Kindermann

Translated by Phil Adams

Edition Olms, 2005

ISBN: 9783283004798

The Spanish Exchange Variation: A Fischer Favourite

This is a fine book on an opening line that was a favourite of two world champions, Lasker and Fischer.

Following 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Bxc6 dxc6 (Timothy Taylor in Slay the Spanish! makes the case that the move 4…bxc6 deserves serious consideration), Lasker would usually play 5.d4 or 5.Nc3, whereas it was Fischer who gave his stamp of approval to the now universally played 5.0-0 (a move that should probably be attributed to Johan Barendregt), playing it successfully at the 17th Olympiad held in Havana in 1966. It netted him three wins there and Fischer continued to play the Exchange Variation throughout his fractured career. It featured, for example, in his matches with Spassky in 1972 (the 16th game, a draw in 60 moves) and in 1992 (one of them, game 9, being a win in 21 moves).

As Stefan Kindermann points out, the Exchange Variation is not for everyone. If you’re an aggressive tactician or a gung-ho attacking player, it is probably best to look elsewhere. However, if you enjoy endgames (for the queens usually come off early) and are content with nursing a small yet durable positional advantage, confident in the knowledge that there are few risks of actually losing, then this is an opening that’s right up your street. You can also learn a lot about endgame strategy by playing this particular opening line, paradoxical though that might sound. And Kindermann’s second chapter, ‘Typical Positions’, is especially helpful in this respect.

The detailed theoretical information is set out in several illustrative games and it may need to be updated slightly. But it is robust enough to form the basis of a more detailed study of the line. Most attention is devoted to Black’s main choices of 5…f6, 5…Qd6, 5…Bd6 and 5…Bg4 but offbeat and unusual fifth moves (such as Smyslov’s 5…Qe7) are adequately covered too.

If you want a speedy, effective and relatively painless way of familiarising yourself with the various intricacies of the Exchange Variation, this book provides the ideal solution. There’s some superb study material here and Kindermann is a fine writer who clearly knows his stuff. The English prose is perspicacious and even elegant in places, for which we must also thank the translator, Phil Adams.

The publisher’s description of the book is here.

Written by P.P.O. Kane

June 26, 2018 at 12:48 pm

The Open Games for Black

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The Open Games for Black

By Igor Lysyj and Roman Ovetchkin

Chess Stars, 2012

ISBN: 9789548782883

The Open Games for Black

Another excellent opening book from Chess Stars, containing plenty of detailed and original analysis.

Let us say you meet 1.e4 with 1…e5 and you’ve got your defence against the Ruy Lopez sorted. Perhaps, when it comes to the Lopez, you avoid 3…a6 altogether and play one of the defences outlined by Ivan Sokolov in The Ruy Lopez Revisited. Or you might play the venerable Steinitz Defence Deferred, as advocated by Timothy Taylor in Slay the Spanish!. Then again, the sharp Marshall Attack may be more your cup of tea, for which see Milos Pavlovic’s Fighting the Ruy Lopez. Never mind, no matter: the Ruy Lopez is sussed and sorted.

There still remains, however, the question of what to do against White’s other opening systems, and there are a lot of them. How will you meet the King’s Gambit, the Bishop’s Opening, the Ponziani Opening, the Scotch Game, the Giuoco Piano… and all the rest? Think panacea (well, almost) and you’ll have a good idea of what Igor Lysyj and Roman Ovetchkin’s book is all about: they provide defences to all of the above-mentioned systems, as well as others. They seem to have overlooked Mengarini’s Opening (1.e4 e5 2.a3), but apart from that everything has been covered, even Nakamura’s ridiculous 2.Qh5 and the rarely seen Philidor Reversed (2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d3).

As for the author’s repertoire recommendations, there are some interesting choices: Falkbeer’s 2…d5 versus the King’s Gambit; 2…Nc6 (rather than a line involving …c6 and …d5) versus the Bishop’s Opening; and against the Four Knights’ Game (following 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bb5 Bb4 5.O-O O-O 6.d3 d6 7.Bg5) the interesting 7…Ne7, an old move revived by Ponomariov. Most attention is paid to the Scotch Game (including the Scotch and Goring Gambits) and the Giuoco Piano (Evans’ Gambit included).

The Open Games for Black is a comprehensive, one-stop shop of defences to openings other than the Ruy Lopez, for those who play 1…e5 as Black. It does a very good and useful job.

The Content’s Page of The Open Games for Black is here.

The Gambit Files: Tactical Themes to Sharpen Your Play

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The Gambit Files: Tactical Themes to Sharpen Your Play

By Bill Harvey

Mongoose Press, 2011

ISBN: 9781936277117

The Gambit Files

A book that kills two birds with one stone.

There are 15 chapters all told, each one devoted to a gambit or an attacking opening line. The openings covered include the Scotch Gambit, the Albin Counter-Gambit and the Milner Barry Attack in the French Defence. After an introductory discussion of each opening, we are given a set of tactical puzzles, all of the positions having arisen from games played with the opening in question.

The aim is to illustrate typical tactical themes, tricks and traps that you are likely to come across if you take up the opening. In most cases, it is the gambiteer who plays to win; but in some positions these roles are reversed. Naturally, you need to be aware of the perils and pitfalls of careless play; your opponent’s tactical possibilities as well as your own. There are almost 250 puzzles in total, and they vary in level of difficulty.

The book would be most suited to gambiteers or attacking players who want a profitable way to brush up on their tactics. You can glean a flavour of the book by looking at Bill Harvey’s excellent tactical puzzles website, which is here. Look in particular at the section ‘Puzzles by Opening (ECO)’. You’ll need to scroll down a little bit to do so.

In summary, The Gambit Files is a useful tool, combining as it does opening study and tactical training.

The publisher’s description of the book is here.


Arthur Kaufmann: A Chess Biography, 1872-1938

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Arthur Kaufmann

A Chess Biography, 1872-1938

By Olimpiu G. Urcan and Peter Michael Braunwarth

McFarland, 2012

ISBN: 9780786461455

Arthur Kaufmann: A Chess Biography, 1872-1938

While never a professional chessplayer and now little known, Arthur Kaufmann nonetheless made significant contributions to the game.

For a start, there are two important opening variations associated with his name: in the Petroff Defence (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nxe5 d6 4.Nf3 Nxe4 5.c4) and the Vienna Game (1.e4 e5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.f4 d5 4.fxe5 Nxe4 5.Nf3 Bg4 6.Qe2). For another thing, he was a fine analyst, frequently praised by Marco, who aided the latter in writing his several celebrated tournament books. And he was also a strong player, in his best years perhaps of grandmaster strength. One early game against Englisch, played at Vienna 1896, had a wonderful finish. His best game, though, was probably this victory over Spielmann at Vienna 1914:

1. e4 c5 2. Nc3 Nc6 3.Nge2 e6 4.d4 d5 5.exd5 exd5 6.Be3 c4 7.g3 Nf6 8. Bg2 Be6 9.O-O Be7 10.Re1 O-O 11.a3 h6 12.Nf4 Qd7 13.Qd2 Rae8 14.Nxe6 fxe6 15.f4 Bd8 16. Kh1 Ba5 17.Bg1 Nd8 18.b4 cxb3 19.cxb3 Nf7 20. b4 Bb6 21. Re2 Nd6 22.Rae1 Rf7 23.Qd3 Qc8 24.Bh3 Rc7 25.Nxd5 Nxd5 26.Rxe6 Rce7 27.Qb3 Rxe6 28. Qxd5 1-0

Some may also be familiar with the consultation game that he and Fahndrich played against Capablanca and Reti in the same year (1914): it is quoted in chapter 4 of Reti’s Modern Ideas in Chess.

This book covers Kaufmann’s chess career and includes over 70 of his games; in addition, there is an outline of his life outside of chess, and that’s fascinating in itself. Our main source here was the great Austrian writer Arthur Schnitzler, for the two men struck up a deep friendship when young and corresponded frequently. Some of Kaufmann’s writings, notably an essay on Einstein’s theory of relativity, are alluded to and quoted from also – he had a diverse range of intellectual interests. It is puzzling, then, that he didn’t publish more or produce a substantial philosophical work. One would have thought him well capable of it.

Kaufmann died shortly after the Nazis entered Austria in 1938. He was Jewish, and the authors suggest that the most likely reason for his death was suicide. On the evidence marshalled here, they’re likely correct.

The publishers description of the book is here.

Written by P.P.O. Kane

June 13, 2018 at 10:22 am

Chess: The Art of Logical Thinking

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Chess: The Art of Logical Thinking

By Neil McDonald

Batsford, 2004

ISBN: 9780713488944

Chess: The Art of Logical Thinking

Neil McDonald presents 30 modern games – all were played from 1978 to 2002 – and adds a comment to each and every move.

It is a nice idea that has been seen before: Irving Chernev wrote a book along these lines, Logical Chess: Move by Move, some time ago. He may even have created the genre, come to that. While John Nunn’s excellent Understanding Chess Move by Move took a similar tack.

The games are beautiful and instructive and have been chosen to illustrate the variegated splendours of chess. There are smooth positional victories as well as explosive attacks on the king. There are games that serve as models of their type (so: emulate and win), while others are spectacular, original and inimitable (danger: do not enter). The endgame is a prominent feature of a fair few of them. For ease and convenience, the games have been grouped according to opening and, to some extent, theme (same opening = similar middlegames = recurrent themes). Most games open with either 1.e4 or 1.d4.

A difficulty with the book – and with the whole genre – is that there are only a limited number of things that you can say about the opening moves, about 1.e4 and 1.d4, say, or about 3…cxd4 in the open Sicilian, before you begin repeating yourself. When you’ve said of 1.e4 that it frees the queen and king’s bishop, facilitating quick development and early kingside castling, and that the pawn advance occupies the centre and controls the d5 and f5 squares, you are pretty much at a loss as to what to add next.

Hence that McDonald has recourse to flights of fancy, metaphors (If White were seeking to build a house, then 1.e4 is the first stone laid at its foundation), digressions, conceits (the pieces are akin to Dracula entombed in a coffin…), historical waffle and such like rhetorical devices is hardly surprising. And that is not necessarily a bad thing, of course. His notes to 1.e4 never take the form of a haiku though, or an instance of fixed-form poetry (double sestina, anyone?), so maybe he missed a trick there.

This is an excellent collection of beautiful and interesting games and Neil McDonald does a sterling job of elucidating and explaining their finer points.

Another description of the book is here.

Written by P.P.O. Kane

June 13, 2018 at 10:00 am