Fighting Chess with Magnus Carlsen

Fighting Chess with Magnus Carlsen

By Adrian Mikhalchishin and Oleg Stetsko

Translated and edited by Ken Neat

Edition Olms, 2011

ISBN: 9783283010201

Fighting Chess with Magnus Carlsen

Magnus Carlsen, the current world champion, is the best thing to come out of Norway since Ole Gunnar Solksjaer.

This book collects together 64 of his best games, played mainly against top-class opposition. His opponents include Anand, Kramnik, Topalov, Adams and Morozevich. He’s not always victorious, a fair proportion of the games being draws. However, this shows off one of Carlsen’s strengths as a player: he’s adept at defence, and consequently very difficult to beat. In game 45, for example, he is bested by Beliavsky (this is their encounter at the 2008 Olympiad) but, still, he hangs in there. And when the older man tires, giving Carlsen an opportunity to bail out, he leaps free. They share the point.

Despite the ‘fighting chess’ phrase in the title, Carlsen’s classical style is closer to Capablanca or even Karpov than the all-out aggression of (say) Kasparov in his prime. Naturally, he can carry out a kingside attack if it’s warranted, but he’s more likely to win through positional or even technical means. It is high quality stuff, mind, just a mite boring sometimes.

It was said once that Capablanca played like a machine. In the introductory chapter where the authors trace Carlsen’s development as a player, they describe him similarly as the ‘Hero of the Computer Era’; and actually there is something silicon-like about his style. Perhaps it is something to do with the almost complete objectivity of his decision-making.

Still only in his 20s, Carlsen can only get better and stronger. That’s what is difficult to comprehend fully: the best is yet to come.
For an appreciation of Magnus Carlsen as a chessplayer, this fine collection of deeply annotated games fits the bill perfectly. The publisher’s description of Fighting Chess with Magnus Carlsen can be read here.

Advertisements

Capablanca: A Primer of Checkmate

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.

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


Mikhail Botvinnik: The Life and Games of a World Chess Champion

Mikhail Botvinnik: The Life and Games of a World Chess Champion

Andrew Soltis has written another fine book.

There are about a hundred annotated games taken from all stages of Botvinnik’s career, but Soltis devotes just as much space to his life and a consideration of his personality. We learn some things about him that we did not know but might well have guessed. For example, that he did his own ironing and was a demon declutterer.  He had no qualms about throwing things away if he hadn’t used them for a period of years, reasoning that he didn’t really need them. ‘He couldn’t abide disorder,’ says his daughter. ‘His home had to be clean and everything in its place.’

One of Botvinnik’s chief characteristics, we learn, was a habit of creating rules for himself, in chess and in life. Soltis sees at least some of these rules as narrow-minded or misguided, maybe even authoritarian. For example, he believed that children should learn to play chess at 12; that was the best age because that’s when he learnt the game. This clashed with the considered opinion of Vladimir Zak, an experienced junior chess coach, who settled on 8 or 9 as the ideal age. Granted, certain of his rules were limiting. Others, though, were highly effective, allowing him to act with a focus and clarity of purpose that other, perhaps more talented players – Keres, Bronstein, Smyslov – lacked. And, certainly, his achievements – world champion for 13 years or so; founder of a chess school that produced Karpov, Kasparov and Kramnik, amongst others; a prolific, first-class author and analyst; a pioneer of computer chess – dwarf theirs. I would compare Botvinnik’s ‘rules’ with Gerd Gigerenzer’s heuristic-based approach to decision making (e.g. as set out in his recent book Risk Savvy); they’re one of the secrets of his success.

There is one story in the book which shows Botvinnik at his best, a man of iron integrity. During the Terror, Sergei Kaminer, an endgame composer and a friend of Botvinnik’s from their schooldays, suspected (quite rightly) that he would soon be arrested. So he entrusted a folder of his studies to Botvinnik, who kept it safe for over 40 years. They were eventually published in 1981.

Andrew Soltis’s book makes you aware of Botvinnik’s many achievements and gives you a good sense of his life and times. The publisher’s description of the book can be read here.


Book Details

Mikhail Botvinnik: The Life and Games of a World Chess Champion

By Andrew Soltis

McFarland, 2014

ISBN: 9780786473373


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


The Colle-Koltanowski System

The Colle-Koltanowski System: Deceptive Peace behind the Stonework

This book is an essential reference work if you play the Colle-Koltanowski System.

To be clear, it is a monograph on the Colle-Koltanowski System (1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.e3 e6 4.Bd3 c5 5.c3), which should not, of course, be confused with the Colle-Zukertort System (1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.e3 e6 4.Bd3 c5 5.b3) – as though anyone would be silly enough to do that.  The very idea is absurd! The Colle-Koltanowski is a ‘plain bloke speaking on a radio phone-in’ kind of opening: it makes a sensible argument, initially at any rate. White plumbs for quiet, straightforward development and will only later turn his (or her) attention to active operations in the centre, typically with e3-e4 or Nf3-e5. Even so, the opening has more than a drop of poison and has produced its fair share of sparkling miniatures.

There are five chapters in total and the format is to present most of the detailed analysis within a series of annotated games, and then to end with a summary of variations, findings and evaluations.  In chapter 1, Bronznik devotes close to 100 pages to lines involving …Nbd7.  Play goes 5…Nbd7 6.Nbd2 and now the king’s bishop can go to …d6 (which is covered in games 1-14) or …e7 (games 15-21), or Black can take a different tack entirely and play 6…Qc7 in order to forestall Nf3-e5 at the earliest opportunity.  If Black goes 6…Be7, White will have quite a difficult job to get an advantage out of the opening.

Bronznik considers the other knight development, 5…Nc6, in the second chapter.  Against this, White usually takes on c5 and pushes e3-e4, so it seems immaterial whether the bishop is developed on …d6 or …e7 initially (for example: 6.0-0 Bd6 [or 6…Be7] 7.Nbd2 0-0 8.dxc5 Bxc5 9.e4, etc.).  Yet 6…Be7 would allow an early Nf3-e5, while 6…Bd6 may well leave the bishop exposed to 7.Nbd2 0-0 8.Qe2!? and an immediate e3-e4 advance; without an exchange on c5 first, that is.  As with the more mainstream openings, there are subtleties here too: there always are.

These first two chapters are quite substantial, clocking in at 93 pages and 73 pages respectively, and the theory of both lines seems to be well-developed.  Later chapters, however, are slighter. Chapter 3 (13 pages) examines lines where Black plays an early …b6, followed by …Bb7 or perhaps …Ba6, the latter move made possible with the queen’s knight on its home square.  Chapter 4 (8 pages) looks at an early …c4 for Black, including the line 5.0-0 c4 6.Be2.  An important variation, for it raises the question of whether White can defer the choice of c3 or b3 for a further move.  Finally, Chapter 5 (17 pages) considers several ways by which Black can avoid the Colle (of either variety).  Let us be clear: it is not advisable to play the Colle-Koltanowski against all set-ups (such as the KID or the QID); you need more than one gun in your arsenal.

Bronznik provides plenty of original analysis and suggested improvements throughout in his notes to the games.  He also discusses certain common strategic and tactical motifs arising out of the opening, such as the queenside pawn majority, the isolated queen’s pawn, the Pillsbury Attack and the Bxh7+ sacrifice.  It is all very interesting, useful and insightful.  His book ends with a bibliography and a comprehensive index of variations: efficient organisation, you’d expect no less from a German publisher.

Speaking of which, the Schachverlag Kania website seems to be down at moment, but a description of The Colle-Koltanowski System: Deceptive Peace behind the Stonework can be found at the New in Chess website here.


Book Details

The Colle-Koltanowski System: Deceptive Peace behind the Stonework

By Valerij Bronznik

Schachverlag Kania, 2004

ISBN: 3931192253


Profession: Chessplayer

170_tukfrontcover

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


My Best Games by Victor Korchnoi

My Best Games by Victor Korchnoi“ width=

This is a very fine book by perhaps the strongest player never to have become world champion.

In this book the late Victor Korchnoi (1931-2016) annotates 110 of his best games, half played with the white pieces, half with the black. Such has been Korchnoi’s strength and creativity, in a career spanning over half a century, that you could easily choose another hundred-odd games of similar quality. Be that as it may, among the opponents Korchnoi has bested here are Botvinnik, Smyslov, Tal, Petrosian, Spassky, Fischer, Karpov… and those are just the world champions. It has to be said that Kasparov is conspicuous by his absence, though Korchnoi has defeated him too in his time, of course.

There’s the odd walkover here (e.g. game 20, a 19 move win against Karpov) but virtually all of these games are fierce struggles, decent scraps. For Korchnoi, it seems as though the value of a victory is greater if the opponent kicks back, gets in his tuppence worth of aggression and resistance. He also has a relaxed attitude towards errors – and from both sides – an acceptance that inaccuracies will inevitably occur; they are all part of the game. Indeed, in an actual game, with limited time for thinking, the difficult-to-refute error may actually turn out to be stronger than the strictly correct move; it sets a vexing problem and if the opponent consumes time in trying to solve it, but can’t… well, so much the better! A small lesson one can learn from Korchnoi.

Few of these games are perfect in the sense of being free of mistakes on the victor’s side. But all are fiercely competitive, creative, profound and individual, the player’s own. Korchnoi writes here that ‘Chess is my life and these games are fragments of this life’; and you can well believe him. His annotations have integrity, insight and veracity, while remaining for the most part conversational in tone. The notes include his thoughts on many general chess topics, as well as the concrete situations arising in the specific games themselves. One recurring theme: he’ll often confess to an uncertainty concerning the essential soundness of his position, a feeling of doubt that many players, and not just world-class grandmasters, will be familiar with.

You can read the publisher’s description of the book here.


Book Details

My Best Games: Updated and revised anniversary edition

By Victor Korchnoi

Translated and edited by Ken Neat

Edition Olms, 2011

ISBN: 9783283010195


William Steinitz, Chess Champion

William Steinitz, Chess Champion: A Biography of the Bohemian Caesar

Imagine a time when the headline, ‘Great Discovery in Chess’, could appear in a daily newspaper, as in fact happened in the New York Sun for 2 June 1895.

And what was the nature of this ‘great discovery’? Wilhelm Steinitz had just announced that he had discovered a perfect defence to the Evan’s Gambit. It was a different age.

This is an enthralling biography of William (or Wilhelm) Steinitz, the first world chess champion and the father of modern chess. Steinitz was the player and theorist who laid the foundation for our current understanding of chess, and he was probably the game’s deepest thinker. His only other rival for this honour is Nimzowitsch, who reacted to Tarrasch’s simplified codification of Steinitz’s thought.

Many years of research have gone into the writing of this book, which is clearly a labour of love. Landsberger traces the trajectory of Steinitz’s life from his childhood in the Prague ghetto, about which relatively little is known, to his short time in Vienna as a young man and his later emigration to London, where he stayed for 20 years. It was in London that Steinitz came to prominence, most notably by defeating Adolf Anderssen in a match in 1866. From that point on, he was regarded as the
world’s best player until his defeat by Lasker in 1894. By that time, he had settled in America.

There were elements of tragedy to Steinitz’s life, and the author does not shy away from these. As is generally known, he had mental health problems in the last years of his life and he had difficulty in eking out a living as a chess player and journalist. In sum, though, his life was one of immense intellectual achievement; he revolutionized our understanding of chess.

Some excellent extras enhance the text. Andy Soltis provides deep annotations to 15 of Steinitz’s best games and two other games, played by correspondence between London and Vienna in 1872-1974, are annotated by Steinitz and Potter: they were significant as a test of Steinitz’s ideas. David Hooper’s perspicacious article on Steinitz’s theory of chess is reprinted from the British Chess Magazine, September 1984; and there are 46 black and white plates, which include photographs of the great man and his contemporaries, some facsimiles of his letters and an array of stamps issued in his honour.

The author includes many contemporary accounts and profiles of Steinitz, as well as excerpts from his letters and writings, and those with an interest in chess history will find this deeply-researched book engrossing.


Book Details

William Steinitz, Chess Champion: A Biography of the Bohemian Caesar

By Kurt Landsberger

McFarland & Company, 2006

ISBN: 9780786428465


You can read a description of William Steinitz, Chess Champion: A Biography of the Bohemian Caesar by Kurt Landsberger at the publisher’s website here.

Carlsbad International Chess Tournament 1929

Carlsbad International Chess Tournament 1929

Nimzowitsch took first place at Carlsbad 1929, ahead of a strong field that included Capablanca and Rubinstein, but it did not earn him a shot at the World Championship.

Instead, Alekhine’s challenger later that year was Bogoljubow, who came eighth at Carlsbad, some 3.5 points behind the winner. This clearly rankled with Nimzowitsch, and undoubtedly provided one of the motives for writing the book, which was originally published in Russia in 1931. In it, he makes a forceful pitch for being the most deserving challenger to Alekhine’s crown.

It should be noted also that Nimzowitsch beat Bogoljubow at Carlsbad, their encounter yielding a fine strategic victory that shared the prize for the best played game (Euwe’s flawed win against Thomas was the other game, incidentally: about which, see below). If anything, this must have added petrol to the fire, rubbed salt into the wounds… choose your metaphor. He was not a happy bunny.

Of the 231 games played at Carlsbad , Nimzowitsch has selected 30 and arranged them by player. One would have liked to see more, but the games as given are top-notch. Nimzowitsch, as the winner, has 7 games; Capablanca and Spielmann, equal second, have 5 games apiece; Rubinstein, who finished in fourth place, has been given 3  games; the other prizewinners have 6 games between them; and, to end, there are 4 games to represent the non-prizewinners (those placed ninth to twenty-second). Among this last quartet of games is a win by Samisch (against Grunfeld) which picked up the First Brilliancy Prize.

Nimzowitsch’s annotations are lively and entertaining, appreciative and instructive; yet also abrasive at times. And it seems appropriate at this point to praise Jim Marfia’s terrific translation, which manages to bring the author’s personality fully to life.

One especially fascinating feature of the book lies in Nimzowitsch’s impressions of his contemporaries. His introductory remarks in the chapter on Rubinstein are heartfelt and genuinely moving, and bear comparison with Reti’s portrait of the same player in Modern Ideas in Chess. While his description of Vidmar’s style, a player for whom he apparently had a high regard, is insightful and eye-opening (see pages 108 and 111-112). He describes Vidmar’s chess as a blend of method and naiveté. Spielmann had publicly expressed his admiration for My System and Nimzowitsch writes of this established master and colleague almost as though he were his student. That is to say, he is just a little bit patronising. There is a sense, also, in which Nimzowitsch seems to feel as though he can appropriate some of Spielmann’s victories as his own, because they were achieved using his ideas (prophylaxis, blockade, centralization). Granted, the man wanted to promote his strategic vision of chess, but this was maybe the wrong way to go about it. Anyway, it is easy to see how Nimzowitsch could rub people the wrong way!

In his notes to the aforementioned Thomas–Euwe game, Nimzowitsch overlooks that after 22.Qxa2 axb3 White has the resource 23.Rxc5! turning the tables (see page 123). But this looks to be his only error in analysis. The move is mentioned by Euwe himself, incidentally, in From My Games 1920-1937 and so is not a ‘find’. Few would consider Euwe’s effort one of the two best played games in the tournament, anyway: Capablanca-Treybal, for one, was a much better game, pretty much a masterpiece.

Anything by Nimzowitsch is worth reading and, as I hope I have made plain, this is a fascinating book for all sorts of reasons.

The publisher’s description of Carlsbad International Chess Tournament 1929 can be read here.


Book Details

Carlsbad International Chess Tournament 1929

By Aron Nimzovich

Translated by Jim Marfia

Dover Publications, 2009

ISBN: 9780486439426