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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

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

1001 Brilliant Ways to Checkmate

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1001 Brilliant Ways to Checkmate

By Fred Reinfeld and Bruce Alberston

Russell Enterprises, 2014

ISBN: 9781936490820

1001 Brilliant Ways to Checkmate

Fred Reinfeld’s venerable book, consisting of 1001 checkmate puzzles arranged by theme, has been edited and recast into algebraic notation by Bruce Albertson.

Themes include the queen sacrifice, discovered check, double check and pawn promotion; and only the last chapter, a collection of composed problems, seems slightly out of place. What you have got otherwise are positions taken from actual games that are, at most, of a medium level of difficulty. As such, this is an ideal workbook for beginners and junior players.

My prime advice would be to study a few examples from one chapter, a few from another, and so on, all within a single session of no more than an hour. To ‘interleaf’ the puzzles, rather than attempting to solve them chapter by chapter, block by block. It is far more enjoyable that way – there is more variety – and as a learning strategy it is much more effective (for evidence see, for example, Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning by Peter C. Brown, Henry L. Roediger III and Mark A. McDaniel, pages 85-86).

The publisher’s description of the book is here.

Tune Your Chess Tactics Antenna

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Tune Your Chess Tactics Antenna

By Emmanuel Neiman

New In Chess, 2012

ISBN: 9789056914042

Tune Your Chess Tactics Antenna

Tactics is all about vision: recognising key patterns, noticing when and where a combination or tactic may be present.

Emmanuel Neiman’s book aims to develop a player’s skill in spotting combinations, and in this it will undoubtedly succeed. Some early chapters are quite elementary – there is a chapter dealing with basic mates, for example – but later ones cover more complicated tactics and advanced topics, such as how to calculate variations in a systematic and accurate manner.

At the start, Neiman sets out seven central signals, what you might call key indicators that a combination may be possible. These include factors such as, for example, unprotected pieces, an overloaded defender or a shaky king position. They are then looked at in more detail later, with exercises being given to test understanding. One unusual twist: there are exercises that in effect ask whether a (sound)combination is present (or possible). So not (or not only) ‘What’s the combination?’ but ‘Is there a genuine combination here or, rather, a deceptive and dubious tactical possibility?’ In an actual game, this is of course a question – the key question, perhaps, since sacrificing a piece entails a risk – you have to ask. And it is perfectly possible for your opponent to have, say, a vulnerable king position but for you to have no way to checkmate him.

At the close, there is a final test, fifty tricky positions to solve, and that ends what is a very enjoyable and instructive book. To round up: the strengths of the book include the freshly minted examples of classical tactical themes (virtually all games date from 2011 and 2012) and the systematic approach overall, as regards both the presentation of the tactical themes and Neiman’s account of the thinking process (combinational vision, calculation, evaluation, decision).

I recommend this book very highly indeed.

The publisher’s description of the book is here.

Written by P.P.O. Kane

April 3, 2018 at 2:18 pm

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.