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

Chess Training Pocket Book

Chess Training Pocket Book: 300 Most Important Positions and Ideas, Third Edition

This book contains 300 positions of the ‘White (or Black) to play and win (or draw)’ variety: you have to decide on the best move, work out the most accurate continuation.

The positions are arranged in quartets: four diagrams to a page, with the respective solutions on the page facing. Most positions are taken from actual play but a few are composed studies or are standard, theoretical endgames. As well, there are a fair number of tricky endgames, though it has to be said that tactical middlegame positions predominate. They vary in difficulty.

Alburt’s introduction sets out some training tips and methods. He also discusses some
skills (intuition, calculation, etc.) that the positions are intended to develop. And, certainly, solving these kinds of positions represents an effective form of active learning. The positions provide concrete examples of tactical motifs that frequently arise in practice. Studying them will help you to recognize and seize such opportunities when they come up in your own games.

It is a nice size and all, this book, and very portable. During the interval at a play and concert, sitting through the adverts and trailers before the start of a film, travelling on  both train and tram: I’ve studied this book on these occasions and a fair few others.

Some of Alburt’s solutions could be embellished upon or might possibly require correction. For example, in position 230 I don’t think 1…Qxf2+ 2.Qxf2 d2 (as suggested by Alburt) is actually very good; after 3.Rf1 Re1 4.Bd4 White extricates himself from the pin. Placing this and a few other minor blemishes aside, however, and what you have is an enjoyable collection of mainly tactical puzzles that serves as a useful training tool as well.

You can read a description of Chess Training Pocket Book: 300 Most Important Positions and Ideas, Third Edition by Lev Alburt at the Amazon website here.

Book Details

Chess Training Pocket Book: 300 Most Important Positions and Ideas, Third Edition

By Lev Alburt

W.W. Norton & Company, 2010

ISBN: 9781889323220

Winning Chess

Winning Chess

Good to see it back!

This is a welcome reissue, in algebraic notation, of a book that will be familiar to many. For myself, I remember receiving it as a present one Christmas and steadily working through the positions over the holidays.

It is a primer on chess tactics, with successive chapters covering topics such as the pin, the knight fork, the skewer, discovered attack, double check and so on; and it is a worthwhile introduction to these topics still. There are plenty of diagrams to illustrate each theme and a short quiz at the end of most chapters. Twenty-odd chapters all told.

These are not complicated positions , so can serve as excellent material for introducing tactics to juniors and/or beginners. Pretty much all the positions hold up, however in No. 167A Black should really play 2…R8d4 and not 2…c5 as given. The latter move allows White to escape by 3.Qe4. Other than that, the presentation is clean and the explanations are clear.

A classic book.

Book Details

Winning Chess

By Irving Chernev and Fred Reinfeld

Batsford, 2013

ISBN: 9781849941105

You can read a description of Winning Chess by Irving Chernev and Fred Reinfeld at the publisher’s website here.

1001 Brilliant Ways to Checkmate

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.

It is a puzzle book whose various themes include the queen sacrifice, discovered check, double check, pawn promotion (etc.). Only the last chapter, a collection of composed problems, seems out of place. What you have got otherwise are positions taken from actual games that are of, at most, 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. To ‘interleaf’ the puzzles, rather than attempting to solve them chapter by chapter, block by block. It is far more enjoyable that way and as a learning strategy it is much more effective (for evidence see, for example, the book 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 1001 Brilliant Ways to Checkmate by Fred Reinfeld and Bruce Alberston can be read here.

Book Details

1001 Brilliant Ways to Checkmate

By Fred Reinfeld and Bruce Alberston

Russell Enterprises, 2014

ISBN: 9781936490820

100 Chess Master Trade Secrets

100 Chess Master Trade Secrets: From Sacrifices to Endgames

An instructive book covering a wide range of topics – and one sure to make you a better player.

In 100 Chess Master Trade Secrets: From Sacrifices to Endgames Andrew Soltis sets out 100 key items of information, the kinds of things it is necessary or at least highly useful to know, if you want to progress as a chessplayer. The first chapter presents 25 middle-game stratagems, one such being the minority attack; the second examines 25 aspects of good endgame play (e.g. domination, building a fortress). Next, there’s a chapter covering standard sacrifices like …Rx(N)c3 in the Sicilian. Finally, a chapter devoted to theoretical endings (e.g. the Lucena and Philidor positions). Each chapter closes with a short set of exercises.

What holds your attention, even when presented with quite familiar fare, is Soltis’s knack of annotating a chess position. He does it in such a way that he tells a story, making each player’s intentions clear. Triumph and disappointment is there for all to see. This is his main strength as a writer, in my opinion: he is adept at bringing out the drama inherent in a chess game.

Most of the positions, where appropriate, are fairly recent. As no-nonsense handbooks go, this is an excellent example of the genre. An essential arsenal of chess concepts and techniques.

Book Details

100 Chess Master Trade Secrets: From Sacrifices to Endgames

By Andrew Soltis

Batsford, 2013

ISBN: 9781849941082

There is an interesting interview with Andrew Soltis at the US Chess Trust website, here.

The publisher’s description of 100 Chess Master Trade Secrets: From Sacrifices to Endgames by Andrew Soltis can be read here.

Jon Speelman’s Chess Puzzle Book

Jon Speelman's Chess Puzzle Book

This book makes for a fine collection of tactical puzzles.

In his introductory remarks Jon Speelman points out that tactical skill involves both vision (seeing the tactical idea or pattern to start with) and calculation (verifying that the idea works against every possible defence) and, furthermore, that in calculation it is as important to accurately evaluate the final position at the end of each sequence of moves or variation. He then presents 300 or so positions where your task is to find the winning (or, more rarely, the saving) tactic.

The positions are set out in two parts. Part 1, ‘The Elements’, has ten thematic chapters (covering the Knight Fork, the Pin, the Skewer, Mating Attacks and so on), so you more or less know what to expect in each puzzle. The positions are very simple to start with and become progressively more difficult, though none is really tough. ‘Tactics in Practice’, Speelman’s Part 2, has three chapters. The first, ‘Finger Exercises’, has positions where the calculations required are not very deep; combinational vision is the skill they mainly ask of you. Still, the idea is often well hidden. ‘Mixed Bag’ has a wide variety of positions, some quite challenging. The final chapter, entitled ‘Tougher Examples’, contains tougher examples.

Speelman’s fine chess intelligence is evident in the comprehensive ‘Solutions’ section of the book, which runs to fifty or so pages. His personality and love of the game shines
through and at times he cannot resist pointing out interesting, albeit sub-optimal moves…

Jon Speelman’s Chess Puzzle Book is an excellent package overall and would make an ideal complement to an elementary textbook on tactics. You could think of it as being sort of a missing workbook. By diligently attempting to solve each position you will undoubtedly increase your tactical skill.

If you want to read more from Jon Speelman, and you should, his Agony Column at ChessBase is a good place to start. They are listed here.

Book Details

Jon Speelman’s Chess Puzzle Book

By Jon Speelman

Gambit Publications, 2008

ISBN: 9781904600961

The publisher’s description of Jon Speelman’s Chess Puzzle Book can be read here.