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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

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

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

Zaubern wie Schachweltmeister Michail Tal

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Zaubern wie Schachweltmeister Michail Tal

By Karsten Müller and Raymund Stolze

Edition Olms, 2010

ISBN: 9783283010072

Zaubern wie Schachweltmeister Michail Tal

Tal, a unique figure in the history of chess, presents an interesting contrast to the current World Champion.

If Magnus Carlsen is the ‘hero of the computer era’ (see the review of Fighting Chess with Magnus Carlsen elsewhere at this site), then Tal was the absolute antithesis, especially in his early career. His speculative sacrifices, many of which were later found to be objectively dubious, would hardly stand scrutiny by a modern-day computer. Yet they won him the world championship because he was more courageous and could see farther and deeper than his contemporaries. For Tal, chess was a medium to test his own and others’ vision. His was a psychological approach, and a computer would, of course, be impervious to it.

There are two aspects to this wonderful book, an ebullient celebration of the magician from Riga. The first consists of individual contributions from Tal’s widow Engelina and from several players – among them Spassky, Uhlmann and Kramnik – who knew Tal as a friend and/or opponent. Of these, my picks would be the wide-ranging interview with Yusupov and a fine piece of analysis by Hubner. Yusupov perceptively remarks that Tal’s style maximised his strengths. As a player he was an amalgam of artist and psychologist, risk-taker and competitor, and his strengths lay primarily in his imagination, his combinational vision and a rare ability to calculate deeply and accurately. He used these strengths to challenge and unsettle his opponents, creating situations where they felt under constant threat. Only a handful of players – Yusupov singles out three: Spassky, Petrosian and Korchnoi – were able to resist this approach. Hubner, as a tribute to Tal’s genius, analyses the game he played against Keller at Zurich 1959. It takes all of 44 pages. The German grandmaster doesn’t do superficial or sloppy.

The second aspect of the book is that it serves as an advanced textbook on tactics, the gen here being 100 challenging exercises with detailed solutions. Some 10 exercises are concerned with speculative (unclear and sometimes not entirely correct) sacrifices, while 28 exercises are about ‘Defending or Warding off Magic’ – that is, finding the defensive or counter-attacking possibility that Tal’s opponent had missed. So it’s not your typical set of tactical puzzles.

For another personal view of Tal, I’d recommend above all Sosonko’s memoir ‘My Misha’; it is one of the pieces collected in his Russian Silhouettes and is wonderful. However, admirers of Tal’s magical chess will feast on this splendid book. Note that you’ll likely need a good grasp of German to get the most out of it.

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


Play like a Girl!

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Play like a Girl!

By Jennifer Shahade

Mongoose Press, February, 2011

ISBN-13: 978-1936277032


This is a book of tactical puzzles, but with a difference: in each and every position a female chess player delivers the decisive blow.


Most of the positions are not too difficult, although towards the end of each chapter they become slightly trickier. And the positions in the last chapter (chapter 15), a fair number of them anyway, are quite challenging.

A really enjoyable way of improving at chess, as Nigel Davies notes in the first chapter of 10 Great Ways to Get Better at Chess, is to develop your tactical vision and your ability to calculate variations. This book, and others like it (such as Alburt’s Chess Training Pocket Book), will enable you to do this – and so help you to recognize tactical opportunities when they arise in your own games.

The positions are arranged by theme (double attack, back-rank mate, pawn promotion, etc.) and each chapter includes a short profile of a famous or not so well-known female chess player (Vera Menchik, Judit Polgar and Alexandra Kosteniuk are among the more famous names). Of the 15 players profiled, 5 – that is to say, a third – live in the USA, as against 3 from Russia and only 1 from China. So there’s a little bit of a bias here, I’d suggest.

In appearance the book has a predominantly purple/pink cover and it is a large format hardback (about 22cm x 28.5cm), rather like an annual. The pages are spacious and there are as many as 6 large diagrams to a page. It is attractively designed and fun to read and study. In fact, it doesn’t feel like an ordinary chess book at all: a typical chess book is a paperback with dense analysis and lengthy annotations.

I would guess that the intended or ideal reader for the book would be a girl or young woman, perhaps a promising junior, who’d be inspired by the players’ profiles and therefore be well motivated to use the tactical puzzles to get better at chess. Yet anyone with a liking for chess tactics will enjoy and be entertained by the puzzles in this book, even (dare I say it) boys who are normally allergic to pink. The book opened my eyes to Irina Krush’s chess, anyway; she seems, on this evidence, to win a lot of attractive, attacking games.

The book is subtitled ‘Tactics by 9 Queens’, after the 9 Queens website that Jennifer Shahade founded along with Jean Hoffman. It is well worth checking out and can be reached here.

The publisher’s description of Play like a Girl! can be read here.


Capablanca: A Primer of Checkmate

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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.


Written by P.P.O. Kane

October 4, 2017 at 1:24 pm

My First Chess Opening Repertoire for Black

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My First Chess Opening Repertoire for Black

By Vincent Moret

New in Chess, 2017

ISBN: 9789056917463
 My First Chess Opening Repertoire for Black

This thoroughly thought-out book presents a black opening repertoire for novice chessplayers keen to chalk up attacking victories.

When meeting 1.e4, the author’s recommendation is that you should play the Scandinavian with 2…Nf6 (so 1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Nf6), leading in due course to the Icelandic Gambit (3.c4 e6) or the Portuguese Variation (3.d4 Bg4), which can become a gambit too, of course, after say 4.f3 Bf5 5.c4 e6.

The Albin Counter-gambit (1.d4 d5 2.c4 e5), a line played on occasion by the young Boris Spassky, is the author’s remedy to the Queen’s Gambit. Against the other queen’s pawn games (all of them!), as well as against the Reti (1.Nf3 d5), the author recommends a Stonewall set-up (pawns at …d5, …f5, …c6, …e6; knight at …f6 and bishop at …d6: you castle, play …Ne4, …Rf6-h6, …Qh4 and mate! Simple as.).

On 1.c4, the English Opening, Black plays 1…e5 and a sort of Grand Prix Counter-attack (…f5, Nf6, Nc6, Bc5 or …b4 or …e7, etc.). Offbeat and irregular openings are well covered too (e.g. From’s Gambit against Bird’s Opening, naturally enough) and I particularly liked one of the author’s three (!) sensible suggestions against the Sokolsky: 1.b4 d5 2.Bb2 Qd6!? 3.a3 (3.b5 Qb4 picks up a pawn) e5: Black develops his pieces on sensible squares while supporting his pawn centre. Uhlmann essayed these moves in a game played in 1980; Black can hardly fail to get a playable game.

All in all, this ‘ready-to-go package for ambitious beginners’ creates a positive impression. Take up the gambit lines and you will have active piece play for the price of a pawn, while the attacking set-ups (the Stonewall and the Grand Prix) are aggressive and not at all easy to defend against. These openings are principled and lively and exciting to play, requiring also that you learn how to develop an initiative and plan an attack, how to spot a combination and calculate accurately. So they will develop you as a players too. They will yield victories against lower-rated players and valuable learning experiences against higher-rated players as well – because to win your opponent will, equally, need to show imagination, positional play, strategic skills and accuracy.

One could quibble and say that, objectively, the Scandinavian with 2…Nf6 is probably less good than 2…Qxd5 3.Nc3 Qd6, a line made fashionable by Tiviakov. Indeed, Sergey Kasparov in his recent Understanding the Scandinavian (2015) states that ‘2…Nf6 definitely doesn’t lead to equality’. But this is beside the point: the openings that strong grandmasters play are sometimes not appropriate for beginners, and vice versa. This is a terrific repertoire book for beginners.

The publisher’s description of My First Chess Opening Repertoire for Black by Vincent Moret can be read here.