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Archive for the ‘middlegame’ Category

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.


Techniken des Positionsspiels im Schach

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Techniken des Positionsspiels im Schach

By Valeri Bronznik and Anatoli Terekhin

Schachverlag Kania, 2007

ISBN: 9783931192303

Techniken des Positionsspiels im Schach

One of the best books on positional play you’re ever likely to read.

There are 10 chapters covering a diverse range of topics, including domination, the open file, the bad bishop and (an unusual topic) play with the king. A final eleventh chapter has 40 exercises, followed by very full and detailed solutions.

What’s special about the book is that it goes into the nitty-gritty of positional play, focusing on 45 techniques (you might also call them stratagems or devices) which have been deployed successfully in past games. To illustrate by way of example: the chapter on the king looks at situations where one side castles by hand or voluntarily gives up the right to castle, because it is in their best interests to do so. (The classic game Matulovic-Fischer, Vinkovci 1968 would have fitted in here well, though the authors choose other examples.) Also, it looks at those situations where the king departs from a castled position, either for defensive purposes (the opposing forces are about to smash in the door and so the king does a runner) or as a preparation for attack (both players have castled on the kingside and one player marches their king out of harm’s way, before undertaking action on that side).

Topics covered in other sections include the principle of two weaknesses; restriction of the minor pieces; positional pawn sacrifices; prophylaxis; diverse exchanging (liquidation) operations; Reti’s battery of Qa1 and Bb2, as introduced in his game against Yates at New York 1924; the question of the wrong (or right rook). And, yes, Fischer’s famous game against Robert Byrne from the 1963 USA Championship is discussed in this latter section.

Techniken des Positionsspiels im Schach is a richly rewarding book that looks in depth at certain specific aspects of positional play, and I wholly recommend it.

Zaubern wie Schachweltmeister Michail Tal

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Zaubern wie Schachweltmeister Michail Tal

By Karsten Müller and Raymund Stolze

Edition Olms, 2010

ISBN: 9783283010072

Zaubern wie Schachweltmeister Michail Tal

Tal, a unique figure in the history of chess, presents an interesting contrast to the current World Champion.

If Magnus Carlsen is the ‘hero of the computer era’ (see the review of Fighting Chess with Magnus Carlsen elsewhere at this site), then Tal was the absolute antithesis, especially in his early career. His speculative sacrifices, many of which were later found to be objectively dubious, would hardly stand scrutiny by a modern-day computer. Yet they won him the world championship because he was more courageous and could see farther and deeper than his contemporaries. For Tal, chess was a medium to test his own and others’ vision. His was a psychological approach, and a computer would, of course, be impervious to it.

There are two aspects to this wonderful book, an ebullient celebration of the magician from Riga. The first consists of individual contributions from Tal’s widow Engelina and from several players – among them Spassky, Uhlmann and Kramnik – who knew Tal as a friend and/or opponent. Of these, my picks would be the wide-ranging interview with Yusupov and a fine piece of analysis by Hubner. Yusupov perceptively remarks that Tal’s style maximised his strengths. As a player he was an amalgam of artist and psychologist, risk-taker and competitor, and his strengths lay primarily in his imagination, his combinational vision and a rare ability to calculate deeply and accurately. He used these strengths to challenge and unsettle his opponents, creating situations where they felt under constant threat. Only a handful of players – Yusupov singles out three: Spassky, Petrosian and Korchnoi – were able to resist this approach. Hubner, as a tribute to Tal’s genius, analyses the game he played against Keller at Zurich 1959. It takes all of 44 pages. The German grandmaster doesn’t do superficial or sloppy.

The second aspect of the book is that it serves as an advanced textbook on tactics, the gen here being 100 challenging exercises with detailed solutions. Some 10 exercises are concerned with speculative (unclear and sometimes not entirely correct) sacrifices, while 28 exercises are about ‘Defending or Warding off Magic’ – that is, finding the defensive or counter-attacking possibility that Tal’s opponent had missed. So it’s not your typical set of tactical puzzles.

For another personal view of Tal, I’d recommend above all Sosonko’s memoir ‘My Misha’; it is one of the pieces collected in his Russian Silhouettes and is wonderful. However, admirers of Tal’s magical chess will feast on this splendid book. Note that you’ll likely need a good grasp of German to get the most out of it.

The publisher’s description of the book can be read here.


Play like a Girl!

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Play like a Girl!

By Jennifer Shahade

Mongoose Press, February, 2011

ISBN-13: 978-1936277032


This is a book of tactical puzzles, but with a difference: in each and every position a female chess player delivers the decisive blow.


Most of the positions are not too difficult, although towards the end of each chapter they become slightly trickier. And the positions in the last chapter (chapter 15), a fair number of them anyway, are quite challenging.

A really enjoyable way of improving at chess, as Nigel Davies notes in the first chapter of 10 Great Ways to Get Better at Chess, is to develop your tactical vision and your ability to calculate variations. This book, and others like it (such as Alburt’s Chess Training Pocket Book), will enable you to do this – and so help you to recognize tactical opportunities when they arise in your own games.

The positions are arranged by theme (double attack, back-rank mate, pawn promotion, etc.) and each chapter includes a short profile of a famous or not so well-known female chess player (Vera Menchik, Judit Polgar and Alexandra Kosteniuk are among the more famous names). Of the 15 players profiled, 5 – that is to say, a third – live in the USA, as against 3 from Russia and only 1 from China. So there’s a little bit of a bias here, I’d suggest.

In appearance the book has a predominantly purple/pink cover and it is a large format hardback (about 22cm x 28.5cm), rather like an annual. The pages are spacious and there are as many as 6 large diagrams to a page. It is attractively designed and fun to read and study. In fact, it doesn’t feel like an ordinary chess book at all: a typical chess book is a paperback with dense analysis and lengthy annotations.

I would guess that the intended or ideal reader for the book would be a girl or young woman, perhaps a promising junior, who’d be inspired by the players’ profiles and therefore be well motivated to use the tactical puzzles to get better at chess. Yet anyone with a liking for chess tactics will enjoy and be entertained by the puzzles in this book, even (dare I say it) boys who are normally allergic to pink. The book opened my eyes to Irina Krush’s chess, anyway; she seems, on this evidence, to win a lot of attractive, attacking games.

The book is subtitled ‘Tactics by 9 Queens’, after the 9 Queens website that Jennifer Shahade founded along with Jean Hoffman. It is well worth checking out and can be reached here.

The publisher’s description of Play like a Girl! can be read here.


Capablanca: A Primer of Checkmate

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Capablanca: A Primer of Checkmate

By Frisco Del Rosario

Mongoose Press, 2010

ISBN: 9781936277025

Capablanca: A Primer of Checkmate

Capablanca, renowned for his endgame technique, positional understanding and skill in playing ‘simple positions’, could also be a fearsome attacker. Furthermore, he had a sharp eye for tactical opportunities, as Fischer himself observed.

Frisco Del Rosario outlines a number of typical checkmates or checkmating patterns (e.g. the smothered mate, the back-rank mate) and tactical devices (e.g. the double check, the Bxh7+ sacrifice), illustrating them with, in the main, Capablanca’s games. There are 58 complete games altogether, 48 of them games by Capablanca, although one should add that often his opponents are weak or play poorly. And this diminishes somewhat the instructional value of the games, it has to be said.

The book follows the same sequence of checkmates as set out in Renaud and Kahn’s classic The Art of the Checkmate (1953); indeed, Del Rosario will more often than not stick with the same chapter titles and nomenclature as given in Renaud and Kahn’s book (one notable exception: Del Rosario plumbs for the more common ‘back-rank mate’ rather than their rather idiosyncratic ‘corridor mate’). It is a well-known, straightforward and widely accepted taxonomy, of course, so why reinvent the wheel?

On the whole, this is an engaging and very readable introduction to checkmating patterns and tactics that beginners and intermediate-level players will get a lot out of. Stronger players will enjoy the book as a refresher course, but may be irritated by the occasionally imprecise and superficial annotations. One serious error occurs in the score of game 38, a win against Raubitschek played at New York in 1906. In the actual game, Capablanca announced mate in three after Black’s 31st move (which could occur by 32.Rxa7+ Qxa7 33.Ra5 Rb7 34.Qxb7#, for example, or 33…Qxa6 34.Rxa6#). For some reason, Del Rosario gives a game score which continues past Black’s 31st move and allows a draw by perpetual check (after 33…Qf2+ 34.Kh1 Qf1+ 35.Kh2 Qf4+, etc.), a possibility which Black missed and the author fails to notice. Where did these additional moves come from? Who knows? Incidentally, the Raubitschek game is number 169 in The Unknown Capablanca by Hooper and Brandreth.

The publisher’s description of Capablanca: A Primer of Checkmate can be read here.


Written by P.P.O. Kane

October 4, 2017 at 1:24 pm

Dynamic Chess Strategy

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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


Written by P.P.O. Kane

June 1, 2017 at 10:56 am

The Complete Hedgehog, Volume 1

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The Complete Hedgehog, Volume 1

In this book, the first of two volumes, Sergey Shipov examines the Hedgehog when it is used as a defence against the English Opening.

On 1.c4 Nf6 2.Nc3 c5 3.g3 e6 4.Nf3 b6 5.Bg2 Bb7 6.0-0 Be7, he mainly looks at 7.d4 cxd4 8.Qxd4 (8.Nxd4 gives Black a comfortable position and easy equality after 8…Bxg2) and 7.Re1 (with the plan of playing e4 and only then d4 and of meeting …cxd4 with Nxd4: the pawn on e4 making it impossible for Black to now exchange bishops); and he touches very briefly on 7.b3. His coverage can fairly be described as exhaustive, for over 250 pages are devoted to 7.d4 (which is Part 1 of the book) and just a little less than that number is allocated to 7.Re1 (Part 2).

It is clear that Shipov is an advocate, or perhaps more accurately still a zealot, when it comes to the Hedgehog; but he gives White a fair shout. His analyses and evaluations have integrity and approach objectivity. As he writes, ‘I love the Hedgehog dearly, but the truth means more to me.’ The story is told through a slue of deeply annotated games, where he looks at the genesis and history of each variation and not just its current theoretical status. This approach aids strategic understanding and it adds as well an intellectual excitement to the work, as though one were alongside these pioneers (Uhlmann, Andersson, Ljubojevic and others) as they grappled with the problems of playing the opening as White and/or Black.

Shipov demands much of his readers. He doesn’t simplify matters unnecessarily, and in fact he seems sometimes to delight in making things even more problematical than they need to be. You’d like to urge, on occasion: Give it a rest, Sergey lad, don’t think too deeply! But he gives a lot to the reader. His writing has wit and candour, and he clearly has a deep understanding of the opening and an enthusiasm for it. Along the way, Shipov acquaints us with the philosophy behind the Hedgehog, an inkling of which can be garnered from Sergey Makarichev’s musings on the origin of the opening, as quoted on page 39 of Revolution in the ‘70s by Garry Kasparov:

There is also another version of how the legendary system [the Hedgehog] was born. Long, long ago, back in the 1960s, one of the future grandmasters – perhaps the young Ljubomir Ljubojevic – was so captivated by the play of Inter Milan under the management of Helenio Hererra, that he firmly decided: ‘When I grow up, I will think up something similar in chess. My pieces, just like the Italian footballers, will completely concede space, but at the same time, when standing in defence, they will be constantly pressing, and when my opponent hesitates, even for an instant, they will punish him with a deadly counterattack.’

Shipov makes the point that, to play the Hedgehog well, you need to play purposefully and accurately, paying close attention to the smallest detail. You need always to be aware of your opponent’s possibilities as well as your own. Of course, you need to do this anyway in chess, but with the Hedgehog these qualities are accentuated because there is such constricted space in which to operate and manoeuvre. He concludes that the opening breeds good habits and makes you a better chess player and, no doubt, a nobler person.

As a final comment, let me praise the terrific translation by James Marfia; he has done much to make this such a lively and vibrant book and to give Sergey Shipov an English, albeit an American English, voice. It is impossible to recommend the book too highly.

If the Hedgehog has a poster boy, it is the game Polugaevsky-Ftacnik, Lucerne 1982. It is the subject of a lecture by Mato Jelic which can be seen here.

Book Details

The Complete Hedgehog, Volume 1

By Sergey Shipov

Mongoose Press, 2009

ISBN: 9780979148217


Written by P.P.O. Kane

May 25, 2017 at 10:35 am