Capablanca: A Primer of Checkmate

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.

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My First Chess Opening Repertoire for Black

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.

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.