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Chess Informant 135

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Chess Informant 135

Edited by Aleksandar Matanovic and others

Chess Informant, 2018

ISBN: 9788672970937

ISSN: 03511375

Chess Informant 135

There is plenty to enjoy in this, the latest volume of Chess Informant.

For a start, you have got about 300 annotated games, classified by opening, played in all major tournaments that took place between November 2017 and March 2018. I note that Anand was in excellent form during the whole of this period, and his game against Caruana at Wijk aan Zee in January, featuring the spectacular final move 42 Rd6!, was reminiscent of the scintillating games played in his prime. Besides the games, you have also got 9 combinations and 9 endgame positions to solve, and there is also a studies section, showcasing 9 beautiful studies by David Gurgenidze. I will present one of these studies (many have magical moments) in a future post.

As well as the traditional content above, which will be familiar to chessplayers from Chess Informant‘s earliest days, there are several interesting articles in the current volume. Three tournament reports, two on Gibraltar and the other on Riyadh, and three opening surveys, each one quite different in character. Ivanisevic looks at a curious line in the English Opening: 1.c4 e5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.e3 intending (can you guess?) a quick bayonet attack with 4.g4. It looks wild and wacky, but Carlsen himself has experimented with this line. Then Delchev comes on and casts not so much a critical eye as a warm and welcoming smile (for you can smile with your eyes) over an unusual move in the Exchange Slav: 1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.cxd5 cxd5 and now the skydiving leap 4.Bg5. This was a typically classy essay from the Bulgarian grandmaster. Finally, Markus examines a quiet positional system could arise after 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 (or 3…Bb4 4.Nbd2 or 3…b6 4.e3: there are many transpositional possibilities) 4.e3, etc. It can hardly be bad but nor is it particularly testing. Somehow, this system reminds me of a lot of Keres games where he had hanging pawns at c4 and d4, Horwitz bishops at d3 and b2, and typically won with a pawn advance in centre and / or a kingside attack involving a bishop or knight sacrifice on h7 or g7 and a rook lift across to h3 or g3. So maybe if you make this voyage there will be stormy seas ahead and not necessarily all ‘calm waters’, as Markus puts it.

In an interesting contribution, ‘Chess In The Fast Lane’, that maverick spirit Jobava analyzes 5 blitz and rapid games (he plays in two of them) and reflects on how the faster time control influences decision making and choice of move (do players tend to take more risks?). Perunovic has a neat, instructive essay on the issues arising when you’re thinking of liquidating into a pawn ending. Some well-chosen examples here, together with astute advice. Finally, the featured player in the ‘Best of Chess Informant’ section is the French grandmaster Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. He may look a little like Clark Kent or an art historian specialising in the Northern Renaissance (he is the spitting image of a friend of mine who does exactly that), but he is also one of the strongest, most creative and exciting chessplayers in the world at the moment. This section has a selection of his best games and combinations, his best opening novelties and endgame play. Inspirational.

All in all, this is a royal feast of fine chess from the world’s premier chess periodical! The publisher’s description of Chess Informant 135 is here.


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

Wojo’s Weapons, Volume 3: Winning with White

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Wojo’s Weapons, Volume 3: Winning with White

By Jonathan Hilton and Dean Ippolito

Mongoose Press, 2013

ISBN: 9781936277452

Wojo's Weapons, Volume 3: Winning with White

This is the third and final volume devoted to Aleksander Wojtkiewicz’s pragmatic, positionally based opening repertoire.

Most of the book deals with the Fianchetto Grunfeld, however the main weapon of choice is not Wojtkiewicz’s 11.Bg5 (following on from 1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.g3 Bg7 4.Bg2 0-0 5.d4 d5 6.cxd5 Nxd5 7.0-0 Nb6 8.Nc3 Nc6 9.d5 Na5 10.e4 c6) but co-author Dean Ippolito’s pet line of 10.Qc2 (that is, instead of 10.e4). It would seem that Black can comfortably equalise after 11.Bg5, hence the switch of emphasis here.

We stick close to Wojtkiewicz’s repertoire in the rest of the book, mind, where later chapters deal with the Slav Grunfeld (where Black plays …c6 and then …d5), various English Opening lines (including the Maroczy Bind, the Hedgehog and Rubinstein’s Variation) and some species of the Dutch (the Leningrad, Stonewall and Classical). If the Black Knights’ Tango ever reared its rowdy head, Wojtkiewicz would deftly transpose into the Bogo-Indian (1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4 Nc6 3.d4 e6 4.g3 Bb4+) rather than seek a direct refutation; and he had similarly cultured methods of meeting the respectable Old Indian, Wade’s 1.Nf3 d6 2.d4 Bg4, the ‘interesting’ and always welcome 1…b5 and various other odds and ends.

All these openings are thoroughly covered in the book, which is another solid contribution by Dean Ippolito and Jonathan Hilton. As before, they combine detailed analysis of Wojtkiewicz’s chosen lines with lucid discussions of the underlying strategic ideas. Taken as a whole, the three volumes in the series will give the positional player a tried and tested, low-maintenance repertoire based around 1.Nf3 and 2.c4 or 2.d4, leading in due course to myriad closed openings, the Catalan, the Queen’s Gambit and the King’s Indian Defence among them.

Besides their functional value in providing an opening repertoire for White, these books serve as a fine monument to a fine player.

The publisher’s description of Wojo’s Weapons, Volume 3: Winning with White is here.

Written by P.P.O. Kane

May 15, 2018 at 12:09 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.

Aron Nimzowitsch: On the Road to Chess Mastery, 1886-1924

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Aron Nimzowitsch: On the Road to Chess Mastery, 1886-1924

By Per Skjoldager and Jorn Erik Nielsen

McFarland, 2012

ISBN: 9780786465392

Aron Nimzowitsch: On the Road to Chess Mastery, 1886-1924

Anyone with an interest in the great thinker and theorist will find this valuable book to be essential reading.

Nimzowitsch was the most profound of the hypermodern pioneers. He invented and revived numerous opening systems. And, from about the mid-1920s until his death in 1935, he was one of the strongest players in the world.

This book covers his life and chess career up to the eve of the publication of his major writings: Die Blockade came out in 1925 and Mein System followed shortly thereafter (1925-1927). What do we know about the life? Well, we know that Nimzowitsch was born into Riga’s Hasidic Jewish community, which was where he learnt chess from his father at the age of eight. And we know that he had many intellectual interests, notably in philosophy, psychology and the arts (at one time he worked as a theatre critic for a Riga newspaper, as well as writing the chess column), as well as an obsession with chess that gradually took hold of him. It is interesting to note that for Blumenfeld, recalling the Nimzowitsch whom he knew as a teenager in the cafes of Berlin, it was ‘incredible that this lively, gifted youth should only become a chess player.’ Blumenfeld’s little-known memoir of Nimzowitsch appeared in the Russian magazine 64 in 1927: one indication of the extensive research that has gone into the writing of the book.

An illness of some seriousness – Nimzowitsch contracted tuberculosis, the first attack coming in 1908 – may well have played a role in curtailing his other ambitions. Never mind the First World War and the Russian Revolution, two world historic events occurring back-to-back that impacted upon his life directly. He was conscripted into the Russian army at one point, despite his medical condition, and he witnessed at close quarters the Bolshevik occupation of Riga. These experiences must have left their mark and may explain some of his eccentric behaviour in later life. He left Riga for good in 1920, first settling in Sweden and then later moving to Denmark.

The authors don’t speculate whether the dismantling of the Austro-Hungarian Empire – a process whereby events at the periphery led eventually to the dissolution of the centre – may have influenced or given rise to the hypermodern mindset. Or indeed whether in managing an unpredictable malady like tuberculosis Nimzowitsch may have hit upon prophylaxis as a richly suggestive metaphor when thinking about chess strategy. One doesn’t have to be (or to have read) Stephen Toulmin, though, to realise that ideas always have a context, both external (historical and cultural) and internal (psychological).

Be assured that, besides the biography, there are plenty of games here too (well over 400), most of them with annotations by Nimzowitsch himself, and many of these culled from out-of-print tournament books, his chess columns in Riga and Scandinavian chess magazines.

All in all, this is an excellent book, well researched and well written, and produced by McFarland to their usual very high standards. I very much look forward to the sequel.

The publisher’s description of Aron Nimzowitsch: On the Road to Chess Mastery, 1886-1924 is here.

10 Great Ways to Get Better at Chess

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10 Great Ways to Get Better at Chess

By Nigel Davies

Everyman Chess, 2010

ISBN: 9781857446333

10 Great Ways to Get Better at Chess

Any player seriously seeking to improve will find this an extremely useful book.

It does pretty much what it says on the cover. There are ten chapters, each focusing on a specific way to become a better player and, the reason why you’d want to, to win more chess games. All of the chapter titles are in the form of an imperative: ‘Study the Endgame’, for example, or ‘Create a Pre-Game Ritual’. Each chapter includes a case study, outlining the experience of one of Nigel Davies’s students or of Davies himself, and ends with a list of key points. For some reason, on reading key point 4 at the end of chapter 7, I thought of a comment that Hilary Putnam once made: ‘The smarter I get, the smarter Aristotle gets.’ In other words, the stronger you become as a chess player, the more you are able to appreciate the great players of the past.

Davies uses a variety of approaches in tackling the problem of how to improve at chess. He zeroes in on the skills and knowledge (tactical awareness, endgame technique) that will yield most dividends. The importance of one’s behaviour, as it impacts on performance during a game, is addressed in at least three of the chapters (chapters 5, 6, and 10); chess is primarily a sport, after all. And Davies also places an emphasis on seeking out a challenging environment that will allow you to learn and develop as a player, and give you the opportunity of appropriate competitive practice (chapters 3, 4 and 8 come under this heading).

However, the crucial chapter is undoubtedly ‘Know your Enemy’, the enemy being not so much your current opponent as yourself, your own biases and blind-spots and ability to make mistakes and mess up positions no matter how favourable. We all do it! Honest self-appraisal is the basis of all progress and improvement.

This is one of Nigel Davies’s best books, maybe his best so far. With it, he draws on all his experience as a chess coach to present his own ‘top ten’ paths to improvement. His suggestions and recommendations have been tried, tested and found to work – the case studies providing proof of that. So why not follow the advice of chapter 7, ‘Read a Good Book’, and seek it out? You won’t be disappointed.

The publisher’s description of the book is here.

What It Takes to Become a Chess Master

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What It Takes to Become a Chess Master

By Andrew Soltis

Batsford, 2012

ISBN: 9781849940269


Soltis’s very useful book focuses on nine aspects of chess play that will enable you to become a better and more successful player, perhaps even a chess master.

His suggestions for how to improve take in topics concerned with competition (e.g., how to go about squeezing a win out of an equal or only slightly better position) and skill set (what to think about, when: I suppose you would call this metacognition), as well as strategy and tactics and positional factors such as pawn structure.

To illustrate the range of the book: one chapter looks very specifically at sacrifices and the different kinds of compensation they might offer; another advises how to aim for decision-friendly positions, where there are clear, straightforward plans and the moves are relatively easy to come by. In each chapter, along with a discussion of various instructive positions taken mainly from contemporary practice, there are tips about what to study and methods of study too.

All nine chapters end with a quiz, a series of puzzle positions where you’re required to answer a relevant question and find the best move; altogether, there are just over 50 of these quiz positions.

It is a very helpful book on the whole, in the same category and about the same class as Nigel Davies’s 10 Great Ways to Get Better at Chess and Simon Webb’s Chess for Tigers. The publisher’s description of the book is here.