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Finding Chess Jewels

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Finding Chess Jewels

Improve Your Imagination and Calculation

By Michael Krasenkow

Everyman Chess, 2014

ISBN: 9781781941546

Finding Chess Jewels

A useful as well as a beautiful book.

Krasenkow’s introduction gives the reader some thoughtful tips as regards how to analyse a position and calculate variations. These tips will prove helpful both when solving puzzles and when faced with a tactical firefight in an actual game. The introduction is followed by about 250 tactical exercises arranged in three sections. Most positions have the neutral instruction ‘White to Play’ or ‘Black to Play’ but very occasionally there is a more specific question for you to answer.

  • The first section, ‘Jewels’, is by far the easiest, though it is by no means easy to find the way forward here: you’re looking for a surprising single blow against which there are a few lines of defence.
  • The second, ‘Brooches’, is of a medium level of difficulty, the combinations being more elaborate.
  • And the final section, ‘Necklaces’, is the longest (92 positions) and also the most challenging.

The positions in this last section are mind-boggling at times. If I say that the solutions extend over about a hundred pages and that one position takes up four pages of detailed analysis, you’ll get a sense of their complexity.

Finding Chess Jewels has a straightforward, simple format (tactical puzzles followed by solutions), yet I found this to be a really engaging book, the most enjoyable I’ve ‘read’ (if that’s the right word for the kind of immersion it requires) for a long time. There is much beauty to be found in the combinations, most of them taken from Krasenkow’s own games, and his lucid annotations and rigorous analyses allow you to better appreciate it. It’s a beautiful book – a treasure trove of of precious, sparkling combinations. And a useful one as well, since solving or attempting to solve these exercises will undoubtedly improve your combinational vision and powers of calculation.

Highly recommended.

The publisher’s description of Finding Chess Jewels is here.

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Written by P.P.O. Kane

February 6, 2019 at 2:14 pm

Calculate like a Grandmaster

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Calculate like a Grandmaster

Learn from the World-class Attacking Players

By Danny Gormally

Batsford, 2010

ISBN: 9781906388690

Calculate like a Grandmaster

Xysts within the grounds of a palatial estate.

That would be an apt metaphor for Danny Gormally’s deep and detailed annotations to some 39 thrilling attacking games.

For the first two chapters, Gormally concentrates on some eight games of Mikhail Tal. Eleven pages are given over to the first game, eight pages to the 8th and last game: just to give you a sense of how in-depth and lengthy Gormally’s notes are. Up later there are chapters devoted to four current players, all of whom could be said to have picked up Tal’s baton and run with it: Shirov, Topalov, Morozevich and Anand. His next chapter is a bit sketchy: one game each by Fischer, Karpov and Kasparov, two games by Carlsen – a bit of a mixed bag, in truth. Yet the quality of the annotations makes up for it all. The last chapter has five of Gormally’s own attacking games, showing that he can also walk the walk when it comes to attacking play.

Studying such spectacular chess is enjoyable in itself and it is also, as Gormally explains, an effective way of developing the two key skills of analysis: accurate calculation and evaluation. The book is, as well, an entertaining read, not least for Gormally’s digressions on diverse topics: an ICC addict’s typical day; the strength of computers; the conditions and prize money on offer at your usual weekend congress; and psychology. And a few other topics an’ all.

Zeal is a precious quality, as rarely seen as an Aardvark or an intact £5 note, and Gormally’s zeal for chess shines through in this terrific book.

The Modern Scandinavian

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The Modern Scandinavian

Themes, Structures & Plans in an Increasingly Popular Chess Opening

By Karsten Müller, Matthias Wahls and Hannes Langrock

New in Chess, 2010

ISBN: 9789056913441

The Modern Scandinavian

A comprehensive guide to the middlegame themes that crop up in the Scandinavian, that’s what’s on offer.

This is an outstanding opening book and quite an unusual one because, paradoxical as it might sound, it is mainly about strategy and tactics in the middlegame. It looks at the line 1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Qxd5 3.Nc3 Qa5 (and not 3…Qd6, which one could argue is the more ‘modern’ move) but the recommended repertoire, the baseline opening information as it were, is relegated to a ‘theoretical appendix’ right at the end.

The bulk of the book (to be exact, 15 of the 18 chapters) surveys the different central pawn formations arising from the Scandinavian and the sorts of plans, tactical motifs and positional factors that are frequently called into play because of this (topics touched upon include: key squares, the white bishop-pair, the important pawn levers available each side, etc). Certain central formations occur more often than others and, because the book aims to be (and, for the most part, succeeds in being) comprehensive, it has rather a lopsided structure. At one extreme there is chapter 2 on ‘the standard centre’ (a white pawn at d4 versus black pawns at …c6 and …e6), clocking in at close to 200 pages and containing 147 complete games (!), while right at the other end of the spectrum there is chapter 9 on ‘the multi-isolani centre’ (an isolated white pawn at d4 versus an isolated blackpawn at …c6 and a pawn at …e6 also), consisting of two short paragraphs only. There is a kinship between the two, of course. If from ‘the standard centre’ White plays c4 and Black responds with …b5 and …bxc4 (as well he might, for example to seize the …d5 square for a knight), then ‘the multi-isolani centre’ will come into being.

Although written very much from Black’s viewpoint, there is a near-objective outline of the plans and pluses for both sides. Naturally, this is a good thing. For as Black you need to be aware of what White is aiming for and what his assets are, else you could easily go wrong. White‘s early lead in development and noticeable spatial advantage can make for a volatile cocktail, , endangering Black’s exposed queen. And the position may blow up in Black’s face, as has sometimes happened.

In the main, however, the Scandinavian is a solid opening and with accurate play Black will equalize. Of course, Black contravenes a cardinal principle of opening play: don’t bring your queen out too early! But you could argue that the knight which chases the queen away is misplaced on c3 – it makes the d4 pawn look ever so slightly shaky. In fact, you could go further and argue that Black saves a tempo, despite having to move his queen, by comparison with the mainline Caro-Kann (1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 dxe4 4.Nxe4), since the Scandinavian has the same basic pawn structure and the knight is on a less central square (c3 and not e4). Well, perhaps that is might be going just a bit too far…

All those who play the Scandinavian, or meet it as White, will benefit from studying this book. The publisher’s description of The Modern Scandinavian is here.

Chess Informant 136

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Chess Informant 136

Edited by Aleksandar Matanovic and others

Chess Informant, 2018

ISBN: 9788672970944

ISSN: 03511375

Chess Informant 136

A focus on quality.

Quality opening articles are an often overlooked and underappreciated aspect of the modern day Chess Informant, so they will be the focus of the current review.

There are five opening articles in the current issue, Chess Informant 136, with perhaps the most topical being Markus Ragger’s How to Avoid the Petroff in Style. Ragger suggests that the Bishop’s Opening 1.e4 e5 2.Bc4 fits the bill as a neat way of sidestepping the Petroff; a view expressed also, incidentally, by Aleksander Delchev in his recent book, Bc4 Against the Open Games. Black then does best to avoid the Italian Game with 2…Nf6 3.d3 c6 and, after much toing and froing, we get an Isolated Queen’s Pawn structure that yields a slight advantage for White. Interestingly, Ragger believes that this variation might well make an appearance in the World Chess Championship match between Carlsen and Caruana (the two played a game with this variation at St. Louis, 2014 – Caruana won). It has not cropped up so far, but we will see.

Ragger’s key line is as follows 1.e4 e5 2.Bc4 Nf6 3.d3 c6 4.Nf3 (4.Qe2 is a move that has also been played by Carlsen, incidentally) d5 5.Bb3 Bb4+ (a new-fangled idea to provoke c3, take that square away from the queen’s knight and so ease the pressure on d5) 6.Bd2 Bxd2+ 7.Nbxd2, leading eventually to the IQP structure mentioned above after 7…a5 8.a4 Nbd7 9.0-0 0-0 10.Re1 Re8 11.d4! exd4 12.exd5, etc.

To this I would add that Delchev (in the book mentioned above) believes that Black can improve on the …Bb4+ idea by playing 5…a5 6.a4 Bb4+ with the point that if 7.Bd2 dxe4 (Black doesn’t have to take on d2 because the …Bb4 is protected). Here, though, White can go 7.c3 Bd6 8.exd5! (Delchev’s punctuation: now b5 is weakened) cxd5 9.Bg5 Be6 10.Na3 (angling for b5) Nbd7 11.Nb5 Bb8 12.d4! e4 13.Nd2, with one idea being Nf1-e3. So a knight (albeit the king’s knight) gets to pressurise d5 after all.

Delchev is an excellent theoretician, as the line above indicates, and he is the author of an opening article here too: The Semi Slav Defence – A Complete Repertoire for Black is Part 1 of a planned series of three, and it promises to provide a complete repertoire for Black versus 1.d4. His focus initially is on the Anti-Meran: 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Nf3 c6 5.e3 Nbd7 6.Qc2 Bd6, and now White has three main options. He can dash forward with the bayonet thrust 7.g4, fianchetto the queen’s bishop with 7.b3 0-0 8.Bb2 (but here 8…e5! as in the fine game as Korchnoi – Beliavsky, Leon 1994, does the business) or develop the king’s bishop with 7.Bd3. There is plenty of inventive, meticulous analysis here, as you would expect from a theoretician of Delchev’s stature, and the analysis is supplemented by a hefty 34 games.

The Sicilian Offroad II by Milos Perunovic concerns a Diagon Alley where treacherous events can easily transpire: perhaps a pistole to the back of the neck on a dark night . It is an anti-Najdorf system, in a sense, and has been played by Carlsen (notably against Wojtaszek at Shamkir, 2018) and Fedoseev. The opening moves go: 1.e4 c5 2.Nc3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Qxd4 Nc6 5.Qd2 and the plan is something like b3, Bb2, 0-0-0, then a pawn storm on the kingside with f3 and g4, etc. Perunovic suggests 5…g6 6.b3 Bh6!? as a disruptive ploy for Black, with the possible variation 7.f4 Nf6 8.Bb2 e5. Another possibility he looks at is 5…Nf6 6.b3 e6 7.Bb2 and now 7…d5 8.exd5 exd5 9.0-0-0 Be6 10.Nf3 Qa5!? You could argue that White’s castled position is weakened by the fianchetto but perhaps, on the contrary, it is instead more heavily fortified and therefore more secure? There is plenty of original analysis here, which goes with the territory. It is a road rarely travelled, if not quite the Wild West.

Next up we have Shyam Sundar’s survey of the topical Anti-Marshall line (following 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 0-0) 8.a4 b4 9.a5 (he also briefly looks at 9.d4 and 9.d3). Many elite players, not least that guy Carlsen again, battle this position out with both colours. The key point, on my understanding, is that the a5 pawn is a sort of strategic decoy. It will surely be lost if Black gangs up on it, but that will cost time and may well result in a degree of disorganisation that White can exploit. Sundar provides a good summary of the current state of theory.

Finally, Ferenc Berkes provides an outline of A Tricky and Ambitious Way of Tackling the Caro-Kann. The line in question is: 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Nd7 5.Ng5 Ngf6 6.Bd3 g6!? (to fianchetto the king’s bishop; usual is 6…e6). One intriguing follow-up is 7.N1f3 Bg7 8.h4 0-0! (castling into the maelstrom?) 9.h5 e5! meeting White’s attack on the king’s flank with a counter-offensive in the centre. In certain variations, Black will try to provoke White to sacrifice with Nxf7, when he (White) may have some compensation but it is probably inadequate in the long run. You get the feeling that Korchnoi would have relished playing many of these positions. White can get his customary slight advantage if he plays more sensibly (8.0-0 instead of 8.h4, as above, say) but even here he needs to play very precisely. In conclusion: a very useful weapon for Caro-Kann players.

Besides the opening articles, there are three tournament reports – on the U.S. Championship, the European Championship and the Women’s World Championship Match – and an instructive article by Mihail Marin on how to nurture an initiative, incrementally, so that it gradually becomes an all-guns-blazing attack. There are the regular features on combinations, endgames and endgame studies (here nine of Yochanan Afek’s best studies: extreme chess beauty). Whilst the subject of the Best of Chess Informant feature is Anish Giri.

And, of course, there is an abundance of beautiful and important games: 276 top quality games are here, arranged by opening. Three of my favourite attacking games were Andreas Kelires’s exciting Modern Benoni victory over Luka Lenic; Mamedyarov’s rather calmer win against Svidler in 22 moves (Marin would approve of this circumspect attack); and an even shorter victory, Rapport overcoming Bluebaum in a mere 18 moves in, of all things, an Exchange French. It is not all about the opening!

The publisher’s description of Chess Informant 136 is here.

Studying Chess Made Easy

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Studying Chess Made Easy

By Andrew Soltis

Batsford, 2010

ISBN: 9781906388676

Studying Chess Made Easy

For ambitious club players keen to improve, this is an invaluable book.

Soltis sets out to answer what seems a quite straightforward question, ‘How can you best and most effectively study chess?’ Straightforward but not simple; it needs unpacking somewhat.

So Soltis does this, devoting a chapter each to various specific topics. Such as how to approach the opening and the endgame. How and what to learn from master games. How best to go about improving your calculation of variations whilst acquiring the concomitant skill of accurately evaluating the various visualised position(s) arising from such analysis. One chapter addresses issues around just choosing a move, which one would have thought would be simplest of all. Not on your life, mate.

More general chapters reveal Soltis’s pedagogical approach. He believes that learning is best when it is hands-on (workmanlike and practical, involving play and competition in some form: e.g. training games, with a coach or a computer) and that to be effective it must be engaging and involving for the learner. It is in the nature of chess, according to Soltis, that most learning must take place independently and that information is often absorbed subliminally. On reflection, this is hardly surprising, since any one aspect of chess will necessarily touch on others.

There are very many practical suggestions throughout the book, ideas for things to do (methods and procedures) that will certainly make you a better player if you carry them out diligently. Some are quite obvious, so you may have done them or something similar already; others you’ll have wished you had thought of before.

Studying Chess Made Easy is a very helpful book, written in Soltis’s characteristically entertaining and accessible prose. If you are at all serious about improving your game, you’re sure to find it useful.

Written by P.P.O. Kane

September 12, 2018 at 11:33 am

Lessons with a Grandmaster

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Lessons with a Grandmaster

By Boris Gulko and Dr. Joel R. Sneed

Everyman Chess, 2011

ISBN: 9781857446685

Lessons with a Grandmaster

This very instructive book has a unique format, well worth describing in detail.

First and foremost, it is a collection of 25 of Boris Gulko’s best games, each one quite different in character and full of incident and interesting moments. His opponents include Kasparov (in fact, there are two victories against him), Karpov, Korchnoi, Smyslov, Adams and the current world title challenger Boris Gelfand. So, they are games of an extremely high-calibre indeed. As far as I can see, there are no gross errors in any of the games; Gulko prevails by gradually outplaying the opposition.

What makes the book special is that the games are commented upon by Dr. Joel R. Sneed, one of Gulko’s students, as well as by Gulko himself. Sometimes, Sneed will ask a question – and more often than not they are very astute questions – which Gulko will answer, authoritatively and (if need be) at length. At other moments, Gulko will ask Sneed a question, to test his understanding, and then either praise, gently correct or expand upon his student’s response. It is a continuous Socratic process and, in addition to this ongoing dynamic, Gulko sets certain specific exercises, based around the critical positions in each game. On a prosaic note, there are several diagrams to each game, many more than normal (I counted 19 diagrams in one game), so you can easily follow the play without board and pieces.

In comparing Sneed’s often quite reasonable and sensible evaluations and conclusions with Gulko’s, you’re struck by the grandmaster’s deep understanding and seemingly complete grasp of the subtleties of each position, which seems of a different order entirely.  He has, of course, lived each and every one of these games and has no doubt analysed them exhaustively. Still, there is a palpable qualitative difference in understanding and cognition between the two authors.

I believe that all players will learn an immense amount and benefit mightily from this book. Essentially, you are given 25 in-depth tutorials by a world-class grandmaster. It is a (grand) masterclass and a half.

It is impossible to recommend this book highly enough.  Ten out of ten.

The publisher’s description of Lessons with a Grandmaster can be read here.

Chess Informant 135

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Chess Informant 135

Edited by Aleksandar Matanovic and others

Chess Informant, 2018

ISBN: 9788672970937

ISSN: 03511375

Chess Informant 135

There is plenty to enjoy in this, the latest volume of Chess Informant.

For a start, you have got about 300 annotated games, classified by opening, played in all major tournaments that took place between November 2017 and March 2018. I note that Anand was in excellent form during the whole of this period, and his game against Caruana at Wijk aan Zee in January, featuring the spectacular final move 42 Rd6!, was reminiscent of the scintillating games played in his prime. Besides the games, you have also got 9 combinations and 9 endgame positions to solve, and there is also a studies section, showcasing 9 beautiful studies by David Gurgenidze. I will present one of these studies (many have magical moments) in a future post.

As well as the traditional content above, which will be familiar to chessplayers from Chess Informant‘s earliest days, there are several interesting articles in the current volume. Three tournament reports, two on Gibraltar and the other on Riyadh, and three opening surveys, each one quite different in character. Ivanisevic looks at a curious line in the English Opening: 1.c4 e5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.e3 intending (can you guess?) a quick bayonet attack with 4.g4. It looks wild and wacky, but Carlsen himself has experimented with this line. Then Delchev comes on and casts not so much a critical eye as a warm and welcoming smile (for you can smile with your eyes) over an unusual move in the Exchange Slav: 1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.cxd5 cxd5 and now the skydiving leap 4.Bg5. This was a typically classy essay from the Bulgarian grandmaster. Finally, Markus examines a quiet positional system could arise after 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 (or 3…Bb4 4.Nbd2 or 3…b6 4.e3: there are many transpositional possibilities) 4.e3, etc. It can hardly be bad but nor is it particularly testing. Somehow, this system reminds me of a lot of Keres games where he had hanging pawns at c4 and d4, Horwitz bishops at d3 and b2, and typically won with a pawn advance in centre and / or a kingside attack involving a bishop or knight sacrifice on h7 or g7 and a rook lift across to h3 or g3. So maybe if you make this voyage there will be stormy seas ahead and not necessarily all ‘calm waters’, as Markus puts it.

In an interesting contribution, ‘Chess In The Fast Lane’, that maverick spirit Jobava analyzes 5 blitz and rapid games (he plays in two of them) and reflects on how the faster time control influences decision making and choice of move (do players tend to take more risks?). Perunovic has a neat, instructive essay on the issues arising when you’re thinking of liquidating into a pawn ending. Some well-chosen examples here, together with astute advice. Finally, the featured player in the ‘Best of Chess Informant’ section is the French grandmaster Maxime Vachier-Lagrave. He may look a little like Clark Kent or an art historian specialising in the Northern Renaissance (he is the spitting image of a friend of mine who does exactly that), but he is also one of the strongest, most creative and exciting chessplayers in the world at the moment. This section has a selection of his best games and combinations, his best opening novelties and endgame play. Inspirational.

All in all, this is a royal feast of fine chess from the world’s premier chess periodical! The publisher’s description of Chess Informant 135 is here.