Kasparov: How His Predecessors Misled Him About Chess

Kasparov: How His Predecessors Misled Him About Chess

The books that have successfully combined chess and humour are few in number.

Offhand, I can recall only three outstanding examples: The Twelve Chairs, a satiric Russian novel of 1928 by Ilf and Petrov, and a couple of more recent efforts, How To Cheat at Chess and Soft Pawn, both from the adept pen of William Hartston. Tibor Karolyi and Nick Aplin’s book is a creditable addition to their number.

Kasparov: How His Predecessors Misled Him About Chess is probably best described as a spoof. The authors adopt the voice and persona of ‘Gary Kasparov’, or rather an imaginary version of the great world champion. Their Kasparov is a little wimpy and whiney at times, and he is prone to blame his mistakes on past champions.

There are twelve chapters, with each one devoted to a prior world champion, from Steinitz to Karpov. Every chapter has more or less the same format. Typically, we see a given world champion making use of a particular tactical motif or strategic device (e.g. Tigran Petrosian’s use of the positional exchange sacrifice) or playing a particular kind of position (say, a rook ending) – and, crucially, succeeding. We then see a game or three where Kasparov makes use of the same stratagem, or finds himself in a similar sort of position, but matters do not turn out so well. The joke (there is just the one) is that Kasparov has simply been aping or superficially emulating the great player’s approach without understanding it fully.

It is a neat conceit, but it does become a bit wearing after a while, and it simply cannot be sustained in a book just shy of three hundred pages. Eventually, one just wants the authors to show the games. Also, some of the analogies drawn between the past champions’ and Kasparov’s games can be misleading, or not awfully enlightening, as to the nature of the chess. A firefly is ‘like’ a fire, but phosphorescence and combustion are quite different processes.

The great virtue of the book is, however, the chess. All of the games involve at least one world-class player, so they are of a very high standard indeed. Generally, the annotations are erudite and enjoyable; the analyses are deep when necessary and seem accurate. There are a number of heavyweight ‘K. versus K.’ encounters, with Kasparov taking on Karpov and later Kramnik.

One overriding message to glean and take home: chess is a concrete game. It is the details, even the quirks of a position, which determine whether a certain approach is appropriate and likely to prevail. Therefore, it is never wise to simply parrot or ape an aspect of a great champion’s play (not that the actual Kasparov has ever done this, mind). Context is all!

Overall, Kasparov: How His Predecessors Misled Him About Chess is fun and instructive, though as indicated the humour is a trifle laboured. The publisher’s description of the book can be read here.


Book Details

Kasparov: How His Predecessors Misled Him About Chess

By Tibor Karolyi and Nick Aplin

Batsford, 2009

ISBN: 9781906388263


Dynamic Chess Strategy

Dynamic Chess Strategy

Suba’s book is at once a memoir, a games collection and an innovative and intriguing re-engineering of chess strategy.

The author writes about his life as a chess professional, and in particular about living and surviving in Romania during the communist period. It makes for a fascinating read, does this aspect of the book. There is also chess and among the 36 games there are victories over Kortchnoi, Larsen, Portisch and others. In general these are strategic games with lots of flank openings on show, not least Suba’s beloved Hedgehog. One of my favourite quotes from the book concerns the wily woodland creature:

I like to play it from both sides; as White you must always introduce some new tricks because over the years the Hedgehog has proved to be rock-solid. Playing it as Black gives more satisfaction – it’s like defending truth, justice and the poor simultaneously.

When tactics do occur in Suba’s games, they are quite often strikingly original – as, for example, the rook sacrifice in one of the two victories over Timman (game 15) and the move 19…Bh3!! in the brilliant win against Ward (game 36). Perhaps this is a consequence of his unique approach to strategy and, taken on their own, some may find Suba’s thoughts on strategy to be abstract and even arid. Chapter 4, for example, consists of 13 pages of solid prose with only three chess diagrams in sight. But link these thoughts with the given games and they come alive. Also, the strategic reflections in the notes are unfailingly interesting. One admirable aspect of the book, to my mind, is the way Suba links strategy to psychology: the objective (or ‘inter-subjective’?) with the subjective. I think this is necessary in a game like chess: both strategy and psychology impact on decision-making, ours and our opponent’s, and so influence the outcome of a game.

As well as the games, there are 17 or so quiz positions with solutions and explanations.

All in all, Dynamic Chess Strategy is a thought-provoking read. It radiates intelligence, humour and integrity.

The author recommends his book for players with an ELO rating of above 1900, but lower rated players could likely get a lot out of it as well, I feel. Very highly recommended indeed.


Book Details

Dynamic Chess Strategy: An Extended & Updated Edition

By Mihai Suba

New In Chess, 2010

ISBN: 9789056913250


Profession: Chessplayer

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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


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


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.

1001 Brilliant Ways to Checkmate

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.

It is a puzzle book whose various themes include the queen sacrifice, discovered check, double check, pawn promotion (etc.). Only the last chapter, a collection of composed problems, seems out of place. What you have got otherwise are positions taken from actual games that are of, at most, 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. To ‘interleaf’ the puzzles, rather than attempting to solve them chapter by chapter, block by block. It is far more enjoyable that way and as a learning strategy it is much more effective (for evidence see, for example, the book 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 1001 Brilliant Ways to Checkmate by Fred Reinfeld and Bruce Alberston can be read here.


Book Details

1001 Brilliant Ways to Checkmate

By Fred Reinfeld and Bruce Alberston

Russell Enterprises, 2014

ISBN: 9781936490820


Chess News Websites

 

Here is my choice of the best websites for keeping abreast of what is happening in the world of chess.

  • The Week in Chess. Mark Crowther’s site provides fresh content each day and a weekly digest, including thousands of games, for download. There is full coverage of even the most obscure national championship. John Watson’s book reviews are infrequent but always worthwhile.
  • chess24. I use this site mainly for watching tournament and match games in real time. Yasser Seirawan and Jennifer Shahade, together with the ebullient Maurice Ashley, are my favourite commentary team.  You can play chess here as well as watching games and reading tournament reports.
  • Chessbase: Chess News. There are round-by-round reports of major tournaments featuring games, often annotated, that you can play over online. There are interviews (a recent one with the late, great Mark Dvoretsky) and features (e.g. Jon Speelman’s Agony Column). Chessbase are usually fairly keen to push their products as well – nothing wrong with that, of course, and they are generally good products. A valuable resource.

Can you add to this list?

100 Chess Master Trade Secrets

100 Chess Master Trade Secrets: From Sacrifices to Endgames

An instructive book covering a wide range of topics – and one sure to make you a better player.

In 100 Chess Master Trade Secrets: From Sacrifices to Endgames Andrew Soltis sets out 100 key items of information, the kinds of things it is necessary or at least highly useful to know, if you want to progress as a chessplayer. The first chapter presents 25 middle-game stratagems, one such being the minority attack; the second examines 25 aspects of good endgame play (e.g. domination, building a fortress). Next, there’s a chapter covering standard sacrifices like …Rx(N)c3 in the Sicilian. Finally, a chapter devoted to theoretical endings (e.g. the Lucena and Philidor positions). Each chapter closes with a short set of exercises.

What holds your attention, even when presented with quite familiar fare, is Soltis’s knack of annotating a chess position. He does it in such a way that he tells a story, making each player’s intentions clear. Triumph and disappointment is there for all to see. This is his main strength as a writer, in my opinion: he is adept at bringing out the drama inherent in a chess game.

Most of the positions, where appropriate, are fairly recent. As no-nonsense handbooks go, this is an excellent example of the genre. An essential arsenal of chess concepts and techniques.


Book Details

100 Chess Master Trade Secrets: From Sacrifices to Endgames

By Andrew Soltis

Batsford, 2013

ISBN: 9781849941082


There is an interesting interview with Andrew Soltis at the US Chess Trust website, here.

The publisher’s description of 100 Chess Master Trade Secrets: From Sacrifices to Endgames by Andrew Soltis can be read here.