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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.




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.


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

Eine Reise über das Schachbrett

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Eine Reise über das Schachbrett


By Klaus Trautmann

Schachverlag Kania, 2003

ISBN: 3931192067

Eine Reise über das Schachbrett

A quite wonderful book on chess tactics.

If you have a reasonable understanding of German, say at about O or A level, then you’re likely to enjoy Klaus Trautmann’s book a lot. You can certainly follow the book and get a lot out of it without knowing the language especially well (for example,you can analyse the positions quite easily because the diagrams indicate whether White or Black is to move). But to get the full benefit a good knowledge of German is necessary.

The book focuses on tactics and combinations, it is entertaining and instructive, and a wee bit different than most. Every one of its 18 main sections (they are not really chapters) have been divided into smaller sections, so that there are some 128 subsections in total. So you’ll have a section on combinations occurring in positions where some kind of material imbalance exists, for
example, and within that there are subsections where a queen battles against two rooks, or where one side has the advantage of the exchange. Themes and topics covered include various types of mating combinations, ‘the move’ (where specific subsection topics include zugzwang, the zwischenzug and ‘winning a tempo’, etc.) and ‘forcing a draw’ (e.g. through stalemate, perpetual check or positional means such as setting up a fortress). In each subsection you’re given one position, or on the odd occasion two, showing a typical tactic; and then there are five positions for you to work out on your own. Most of the exercises are both beautiful and difficult; all will reward the effort invested in attempting to solve them. At the end of the book you’ll find comprehensive solutions to all the exercises, with explanations as and when necessary.

What is especially noteworthy the book is Klaus Trautmann’s entertaining prose, his eye for positions that possess both beauty and instructive value (many of which were new to me) and the interesting and innovative way in which he has organised the material.

A chess tactics book that is in a class above most others.

The publisher’s website is here.

Written by P.P.O. Kane

June 5, 2018 at 1:27 pm

The Benko Gambit: Move by Move

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The Benko Gambit: Move by Move

By Junior Tay

Everyman Chess, 2014

ISBN: 9781781941577

The Benko Gambit: Move by Move

Junior Tay has written an excellent, workmanlike survey of the Benko Gambit.

In presenting the theoretical material, he poses a series of questions which proactively explore your understanding of the opening, and of chess in general. Alongside these questions, scattered throughout the book, there are 40 exercises or test positions in chapter 10 (not all tactical puzzles), which has an excellent title: ‘Benko Dojo Time’.

The fianchetto variation (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 b5 4.cxb5 a6 5.bxa6 g6 6.Nc3 Bxa6 7.g3) and the so-called ‘king walk’ variation (7.e4 Bxf1 8.Kxf1) garner most attention, and not without reason. By far, they are the most popular choices. Still, declining the gambit by 4.Nf3 or giving the pawn back by 5.b6 remain viable positional approaches, and both moves require relatively little analytical work. Tay presents a thoroughly worked out black repertoire which takes account of these moves and others.

The Benko Gambit gives Black pressure on the queenside early on, and an initiative that often persists well into the endgame. One practical advantage of the opening is that Black’s position is generally easier to play. On the whole, the investment of a pawn represents good value.

An enjoyable study of what seems (still) to be a sound, positionally-based gambit.

The publisher’s description of the book is here.

Written by P.P.O. Kane

June 5, 2018 at 12:53 pm

Grandmaster Chess Strategy

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Grandmaster Chess Strategy: What Amateurs Can Learn from Ulf Andersson’s Positional Masterpieces

By Jurgen Kaufeld and Guido Kern

New in Chess, 2011

ISBN: 9789056913465

Grandmaster Chess Strategy: What Amateurs Can Learn from Ulf Andersson's Positional Masterpieces

Many will recall John Nunn’s remark about how, in one of their frequent games, ‘Ulf characteristically went straight for my little toe.’

Indeed, it is true to say that Ulf Andersson’s games rarely feature a lunge for the jugular or an attack on the king. He has quite a rarefied style as a player, being closest perhaps to Flohr, Petrosian and Rubinstein. At any rate he is of the same ilk as those three, being an elegant positional player with superb endgame technique. The closest to him among current top players is perhaps Kramnik, and the two share a fondness for the Catalan.

In this highly instructive book, each chapter is devoted to a particular positional theme (e.g. prophylaxis, the two bishops, control of an open file) or a certain sort of endgame (such as rook endings and minor piece endings), with each topic being illustrated by Andersson’s games. There are 80 games all told, a sizeable number.

Most games include positional themes other than the one emphasised, of course, but the idea behind the book is still a good one. You are given a textbook on strategy and also a timely reminder of what a fine player Andersson was when in his prime. There is instruction, entertainment and aesthetic pleasure in equal measure.

The publisher’s description of Grandmaster Chess Strategy: What Amateurs Can Learn from Ulf Andersson’s Positional Masterpieces is here.

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.