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Secrets of Chess Training

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Secrets of Chess Training

By Mark Dvoretsky and Artur Yusupov

Edited and translated by Ken Neat

Edition Olms, 2006

ISBN: 9783283005153

Secrets of Chess Training

The main question addressed in the book is: how should you study chess, what can you best do to improve your game?

The short answer is that you should analyse your own games, especially your losses, since these best highlight your blindspots and failings. Those areas where you need to improve. Losses are diagnostic, while wins are not, on the whole.

Another reason to focus on your own games is because that will give you a handle on what you’re like as a player. Thus you’ll be able to accentuate your strengths and take steps to eradicate your weaknesses. It all sounds very straightforward, doesn’t it?

Most chapters in the book were originally lectures, and they were delivered at a chess school run by Dvoretsky and Yusupov. Dvoretsky wrote most of them, while Yusupov and a few others contributed as well. Kaidanov, for example, has a terrific chapter about king marches into enemy territory, the monarch playing the role of fearless attacker. A fascinating subject, which Dvoretsky and Yusupov later expand upon.

There is plenty of interesting stuff elsewhere too. Dvoretsky’s famous lecture on ‘the superfluous piece’ is here. One chapter compiles a selection of advice from great players (Steinitz, Tarrasch, Lasker, Capablanca…) on how to improve. And, as is customary with Dvoretsky’s writings, there are plenty of exercises and test positions with very full (both in terms of analysis and explanation) solutions.

Chess players who are seriously intent on improving their play will find Secrets of Chess Training to be a worthwhile investment. The publisher’s description is here.



Written by P.P.O. Kane

February 28, 2018 at 5:25 pm

Fighting the French: A New Concept

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Fighting the French: A New Concept

By Denis Yevseev

Chess Stars, 2011

ISBN: 9789548782838

Fighting the French: A New Concept

Let’s cut to the chase.

The ‘new concept’ is that White can play the Tarrasch Variation (1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2) with the aim of reaching an isolated queen’s pawn (IQP) position. So there might plausibly follow: 3…c5 4.c3 (4.exd5 is usual) cxd4 5.cxd4 dxe4 6.Nxe4 Bb4+ 7.Nc3 Nf6 8.Bd3 0-0 9.Nf3 b6 10.0-0 Bb7 11.Re1, etc. Or you could see a sequence that looks something like this: 3…Nf6 4.Bd3 (refraining from the usual 4.e5) c5 5.c3 Nc6 6.Ngf3 cxd4 7.cxd4 dxe4 8.Nxe4 Bb4+ 9.Nc3 0-0 10.0-0, etc. Such IQP positions, which more often than not arise from the Nimzo-Indian, the Queen’s Gambit, the Panov Caro-Kann and even the 2.c3 Sicilian, may objectively give White only a slight edge. But White, if well prepared, can count on having the upper hand here, from a psychological point of view at any rate, because your average French Defence player will likely be uncomfortable in such relatively open positions. They tend to prefer closed positions with interlocking pawn chains and not much going on by way of direct threats.

The book provides a complete repertoire for White against the French Defence, taking in the Rubinstein (3…dxe4) as well as those Tarrasch lines where the first player really must go e4-e5 if he is to have any hope of a serious advantage. For example, after 3…Nc6 4.Ngf3 Nf6 5.e5 is the best move, since playing according to program with 5.Bd3 runs into 5…Nb4=. Denis Yevseev demonstrates, through detailed and original analysis, that an IQP structure can be obtained from the French Defence. Surprising, really: you wouldn’t necessarily think that it could. A number of James Plaskett’s games are included in the book; he used to meet the French Defence in the manner advocated by Yevseev, and even defeated Short with it on one occasion. (So it can’t really be very new, you might say.)

This is a solid opening book. Naturally, it will be of primary interest if you play 1.e4 or meet that move with the French. But I’d recommend the book also to players who want to study and explore positions with IQP structures; in particular playing with the isolani, handling it as an attacker. Yevseev shows you how to reach these types of position against the French.

The publisher’s description of the book is here.

Written by P.P.O. Kane

February 28, 2018 at 4:53 pm

The Improving Annotator: From Beginner to Master

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The Improving Annotator: From Beginner to Master

By Dan Heisman

Mongoose Press, 2011

ISBN: 9781936277049

The Improving Annotator: From Beginner to Master

The author gives some advice about how to annotate a chess game, then presents 28 of his own games, and a further two positions taken from his games (‘snippets’ as he calls them), all fully annotated.

The games were played between 1967 – when Heisman was a bit stronger than a beginner, in truth – and 2006, when he was undoubtedly of master strength. The annotations are unfailingly entertaining and instructive.

In annotating your own games, you are compelled to cast a critical eye over virtually the whole of your play; to examine how you approach the opening, the middlegame and – if and when you reach that stage – the endgame. Little wonder, then, that many strong chess players and top coaches, notably the great Botvinnik, recommend it as an ideal way to improve. Heisman throws in his lot with them. With this book he explains how it is done and shows you how to go about it.

The publisher’s description of the book is here.


Written by P.P.O. Kane

February 28, 2018 at 4:32 pm

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.


Lessons with a Grandmaster 2

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Lessons with a Grandmaster 2

By Boris Gulko and Dr. Joel R. Sneed

Everyman Chess, 2012

ISBN: 9781857446975

Lessons with a Grandmaster 2

This book is as good as it gets.

Well-annotated, high quality games provide the richest source of educational material in chess, a fund of instruction and insight. When they are set in a question and answer format as here, with Joel Sneed, psychology professor and keen amateur, asking the questions and Boris Gulko, an acutely insightful, artistic grandmaster answering them, then the instructional value (not to mention the sheer entertainment) is enhanced tenfold.

Picturesque pyrotechnics can be seen in many games, notably in the draws with Shirov and Vaganian and the two titanic encounters (resulting in a draw and a win for Gulko) with Bronstein. There are also two wonderful miniatures where Renet and Lputian (strong grandmasters both) succumb quickly, the games clocking in at just 19 and 20 moves apiece.

This second volume (there are three in the series so far) places the emphasis squarely on dynamic chess. The topics covered are all about attack: sharp play and risk-taking (e.g. in the form of a speculative sacrifice), the importance of the initiative, how to acquire combinational vision and accuracy in calculation.

Develop your chess intuition and trust it, don’t rely solely on brute calculation – that’s the main message Gulko seems to be seeking to get across. Computers can crunch chess moves to their engine’s content, and may one day ‘see everything’, but human beings cannot and shouldn’t be asked to. Our cognitive strengths lie elsewhere, in intuition and judgement, and in using our sense of pattern, proportion and beauty. That’s what works for us. This must, however, be allied wherever possible with accurate calculation.

A study of these 30 games of exceptional depth and beauty cannot fail to improve your chess.

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


Written by P.P.O. Kane

December 20, 2017 at 2:25 pm

Kasparov: How His Predecessors Misled Him About Chess

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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