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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.

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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.

Strike first with the Scandinavian

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Strike first with the Scandinavian

By Christian Bauer

ChessBase, 2017

EAN: 4027975008479

Strike first with the Scandinavian

There are a fair few reasons why the Scandinavian might serve you well as a defence to 1.e4.

First off, it is an opening that players on the White side might be inclined to underrate, not least because it breaks a cardinal rule drummed into us all as beginners: do not develop the queen at an early stage of the game (1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Qxd5). White players may take the tack that simply by playing sensible developing moves they will obtain an advantage. Secondly, theoretical knowledge develops slowly in the Scandinavian and, while there are certainly some critical lines, it is a low-maintenance defence. There are not many such defences around, frankly, so when you find one, cherish it. Third, Black can create the pawn structure he wants (essentially W: d4 versus B: c6 and e6) virtually by force. Larsen somewhere characterised the Scandinavian as an improved form of the Caro-Kann, and so in a sense it is. Certainly, it is more straightforward to play. Black doesn’t have to contend with interlocking pawn chains or isolated queen’s pawn positions, as he does when playing the Caro-Kann (think of the Advance Variation, the Panov-Botvinnik Attack).

At move three (following the usual sequence 1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Qxd5 3.Nc3), Christian Bauer recommends the once standard 3…Qa5 rather than Titiakov’s new-fangled (once, at any roads, it is now quite common) 3…Qd6 (which offers ‘only distant chances to equalise’ according to Bauer) or 3…Qd8, a move essayed by the current world champion. He presents the detailed theoretical material in the form of 30 or so video tutorials, with a further 13 videos being used to test tactical skills and understanding of Scandinavian structures. There are also two accompanying databases: one is a summary of the analysis in the videos, consisting of key games and lines, the other is a collection of 78 instructive Scandinavian games, about 30 of which are annotated by Bauer. In the ‘Analysis’ database I had some difficulty locating Bauer’s fine victory over Zinchenko (played at Metz, 2010), given in video 12, but found it eventually (the complete game) in the annotations to the main game Pavasovic-Bauer. Apparently, games given in the annotations are not searchable in the database (Pavasovic delivers a search result, Zinchenko does not).

Now a confession: I am a 1.e4 player myself and only intermittently Scandinavian (I like to watch Ibsen, eat Ollebrod and drink Sloe Gin on occasion, though not all at the same time), so let me take the opportunity to suggest three options for White:

  1. The mainline pawn sacrifice of 10.Qe2!? Bxc2 is worth exploring (this following 1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Qxd5 3.Nc3 Qa5 4.d4 Nf6 5 5.Nf3 c6 6.Bc4 Bf5 7.Bd2 e6 8.Nd5 Qd8 9.Nxf6+ gxf6), when the most accurate continuation is 11.0-0 Bg6 12.Rfe1… with decent compensation.
  2. An interesting positional sideline involves fianchettoing the king’s bishop and then, after the …Bc8 develops, hitting the Queen with b4 and following up with a later b4-b5 to try to pry open the long diagonal. Look, for example, at this game: 1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Qxd5 3.Nc3 Qa5 4.Nf3 Nf6 5.g3 c6 6.Bg2 Bf5 7.b4!? Qc7 (7…Qxb4 8.Rb1) 8. 0-0 e6 9.Rb1 Be7 10.b5, etc. (Shabalov-Minasian, New York 1998).
  3. Finally, there is 3.Nf3, a move that is still relatively unexplored. This reserves the option of kicking the Queen with c4 rather than Nc3 (there is a view that the knight is misplaced on c3, sitting as does in front of the c-pawn). And a tricky line is 1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Qxd5 3.Nf3 Nc6 4.Nc3 (notwithstanding the previous comment) Qa5 5.Bb5 when White’s active pieces crowd around the …Qa5 and Ne5-c4 might easily become a threat.

This is an enjoyable and useful DVD by the experienced French grandmaster. His calm and considered presentation effectively communicates the sometimes intricate theory of the Scandinavian, an opening that he clearly knows inside and out. Both methodical and perspicacious throughout, he will undoubtedly give Black players a thorough grounding in the 3…Qa5 Scandinavian. Furthermore, 1.e4 players should be able to glean several ways by which they can fight for an advantage.

The publisher’s description of Strike first with the Scandinavian is here.

Written by P.P.O. Kane

July 10, 2018 at 4:38 pm

The Gambit Files: Tactical Themes to Sharpen Your Play

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The Gambit Files: Tactical Themes to Sharpen Your Play

By Bill Harvey

Mongoose Press, 2011

ISBN: 9781936277117

The Gambit Files

A book that kills two birds with one stone.

There are 15 chapters all told, each one devoted to a gambit or an attacking opening line. The openings covered include the Scotch Gambit, the Albin Counter-Gambit and the Milner Barry Attack in the French Defence. After an introductory discussion of each opening, we are given a set of tactical puzzles, all of the positions having arisen from games played with the opening in question.

The aim is to illustrate typical tactical themes, tricks and traps that you are likely to come across if you take up the opening. In most cases, it is the gambiteer who plays to win; but in some positions these roles are reversed. Naturally, you need to be aware of the perils and pitfalls of careless play; your opponent’s tactical possibilities as well as your own. There are almost 250 puzzles in total, and they vary in level of difficulty.

The book would be most suited to gambiteers or attacking players who want a profitable way to brush up on their tactics. You can glean a flavour of the book by looking at Bill Harvey’s excellent tactical puzzles website, which is here. Look in particular at the section ‘Puzzles by Opening (ECO)’. You’ll need to scroll down a little bit to do so.

In summary, The Gambit Files is a useful tool, combining as it does opening study and tactical training.

The publisher’s description of the book is here.

 

Eine Reise über das Schachbrett

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Eine Reise über das Schachbrett

Kombinations-Lehrbuch

By Klaus Trautmann

Schachverlag Kania, 2003

ISBN: 3931192067

Eine Reise über das Schachbrett

A quite wonderful book on chess tactics.

If you have a reasonable understanding of German, say at about O or A level, then you’re likely to enjoy Klaus Trautmann’s book a lot. You can certainly follow the book and get a lot out of it without knowing the language especially well (for example,you can analyse the positions quite easily because the diagrams indicate whether White or Black is to move). But to get the full benefit a good knowledge of German is necessary.

The book focuses on tactics and combinations, it is entertaining and instructive, and a wee bit different than most. Every one of its 18 main sections (they are not really chapters) have been divided into smaller sections, so that there are some 128 subsections in total. So you’ll have a section on combinations occurring in positions where some kind of material imbalance exists, for
example, and within that there are subsections where a queen battles against two rooks, or where one side has the advantage of the exchange. Themes and topics covered include various types of mating combinations, ‘the move’ (where specific subsection topics include zugzwang, the zwischenzug and ‘winning a tempo’, etc.) and ‘forcing a draw’ (e.g. through stalemate, perpetual check or positional means such as setting up a fortress). In each subsection you’re given one position, or on the odd occasion two, showing a typical tactic; and then there are five positions for you to work out on your own. Most of the exercises are both beautiful and difficult; all will reward the effort invested in attempting to solve them. At the end of the book you’ll find comprehensive solutions to all the exercises, with explanations as and when necessary.

What is especially noteworthy the book is Klaus Trautmann’s entertaining prose, his eye for positions that possess both beauty and instructive value (many of which were new to me) and the interesting and innovative way in which he has organised the material.

A chess tactics book that is in a class above most others.

The publisher’s website is here.

Written by P.P.O. Kane

June 5, 2018 at 1:27 pm

The Benko Gambit: Move by Move

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The Benko Gambit: Move by Move

By Junior Tay

Everyman Chess, 2014

ISBN: 9781781941577

The Benko Gambit: Move by Move

Junior Tay has written an excellent, workmanlike survey of the Benko Gambit.

In presenting the theoretical material, he poses a series of questions which proactively explore your understanding of the opening, and of chess in general. Alongside these questions, scattered throughout the book, there are 40 exercises or test positions in chapter 10 (not all tactical puzzles), which has an excellent title: ‘Benko Dojo Time’.

The fianchetto variation (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 b5 4.cxb5 a6 5.bxa6 g6 6.Nc3 Bxa6 7.g3) and the so-called ‘king walk’ variation (7.e4 Bxf1 8.Kxf1) garner most attention, and not without reason. By far, they are the most popular choices. Still, declining the gambit by 4.Nf3 or giving the pawn back by 5.b6 remain viable positional approaches, and both moves require relatively little analytical work. Tay presents a thoroughly worked out black repertoire which takes account of these moves and others.

The Benko Gambit gives Black pressure on the queenside early on, and an initiative that often persists well into the endgame. One practical advantage of the opening is that Black’s position is generally easier to play. On the whole, the investment of a pawn represents good value.

An enjoyable study of what seems (still) to be a sound, positionally-based gambit.

The publisher’s description of the book is here.

Written by P.P.O. Kane

June 5, 2018 at 12:53 pm