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Archive for the ‘middlegame’ Category

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.



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

A Universal Weapon 1.d4 d6

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A Universal Weapon 1.d4 d6

By Vladimir Barsky

Chess Stars, 2011

ISBN: 978-9548782791

A Universal Weapon 1.d4 d6

In a sense, this book completes a picture.

It can be seen as a companion volume to Vladimir Barsky’s work on the Philidor Defence, previously reviewed at this website. For if, following 1.d4 d6, we get the further moves 2.e4 Nf6 3.Nc3 e5, it is the Philidor Defence that arises. Other second moves (after 1.d4 d6) are set out in the present book as follows:

  • The system with the moves 2.c4 e5 is covered in chapters 1-6. Now White may exchange (3.dxe5) or advance (3.d5) or recapture on d4 with the queen (e.g. following 3.Nc3), but it is probably best to defend d4 with the king’s knight, even though the black e-pawn can then advance with tempo (3.Nf3 e4 4.Ng5 f5 and so on). Black’s space advantage ensures her (or him) of good chances in the middlegame.
  • Wade’s system, 2.Nf3 Bg4, is the subject of chapters 7-10. This is a line that has been successfully employed by both Miles and Hodgson – so it is part of an English tradition. By playing sensible, straightforward developing moves, Black obtains a solid position. If White pushes too hard, matters can easily back fire; the system has some poison.
  • All the rest of White’s reasonable moves are set out in chapter 11 (these include 2.c3, 2.Bg5, and others: one nice thing about 1..d6 is that it avoids the Trompowsky, not that that opening is to be feared). None of these lines should trouble Black unduly, truth to tell.

Many of the lines in the book can arise out of both the English Opening (after say 1.c4 e5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 e4 4.Ng5, etc.) and the Reti Opening (1.Nf3 d6 2.d4 Bg4, and so forth), so it makes sense, and is probably justified, to speak of 1…d6 intending …e5 as a universal or near-universal weapon. Although maybe it’s pushing it a bit, since Barsky’s suggested lines are different in character. The Old Indian would lead to a more familiar opening set-up for a player who meets 1.e4 with the Philidor, in my view, which would entail …Nd7 on move three or two (instead of 3…e4 or 2…Bg4) in the lines above.

As with his previous two books (on the Scotch Game and the Philidor), Barsky’s deep understanding of the opening shines through. He gives a detailed account of the opening, its various nuances and subtleties, and he considers as well the kinds of middlegames that can arise from it. That the English translation reads more smoothly than in previous Chess Stars books is very likely due to Phil Adams; he gave advice regarding the translation, which is duly acknowledged by the publisher.

An excellent opening book, which you can buy at Amazon here.

Written by P.P.O. Kane

May 15, 2018 at 12:36 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.

1000 Checkmate Combinations

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1000 Checkmate Combinations

By Victor Henkin

Batsford, 2011

ISBN-13: 978-1906388706

1000 Checkmate Combinations

Checkmates aplenty make for a wonderful book.

From what I can gather, it is apparently a translation of a Russian title which was first published in the late 1970s. Of the very many wonderful combinations included in the book, the latest one dates (I’m fairly certain) from 1978. It is as though Kasparov had never lived, or at any rate had never checkmated an opponent’s king.

That being said, there is no doubt that 1000 Checkmate Combinations is excellent, containing as it does a wealth of tactical examples, including 456 (!) exercises. The solutions could perhaps have been more fulsome and detailed, since usually only the main line of a combination is given. However, that’s my only (slight) criticism. The conclusion has to be: better late than never.

The structure of the book is as follows. There are 14 substantial chapters, each one being devoted to a piece (chapters 1-5) or a pairing of pieces (chapters 6-13: for example, chapter 13 focuses on ‘Queen and Knight’) or ‘Three Pieces’, which is the title of chapter 14. In each chapter, we are given a survey and a discussion of how a particular piece, or a particular combination of pieces, can come to deliver checkmate before moving on to actual cases and getting down to business.

For example, the chapter on the knight focuses quite a lot on the smothered mate, which necessarily introduces the concepts of double check and deflection. Along with these, there are also various motifs and manoeuvres that may arise preparatory to delivering a smothered mate, involving driving defending pieces away from crucial squares or compelling certain defending pieces to occupy squares around their king. All of this is set out by the author in a quite perspicacious and exemplary manner.

On the whole, the prose in this unattributed translation is clear, engaging and very readable. Henkin explains everything very well indeed and the points he makes are richly illustrated with a bevy of beautiful combinations taken from games, studies and problems.

One mighty fine thing about the book is that, because there are so many diagrams and with the combinations being generally quite short (say 7 moves maximum), it can be read by itself, without need of board and pieces.

You can buy 1000 Checkmate Combinations at Amazon here.

Written by P.P.O. Kane

May 1, 2018 at 11:40 am

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.