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10 Great Ways to Get Better at Chess

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10 Great Ways to Get Better at Chess

By Nigel Davies

Everyman Chess, 2010

ISBN: 9781857446333

10 Great Ways to Get Better at Chess

Any player seriously seeking to improve will find this an extremely useful book.

It does pretty much what it says on the cover. There are ten chapters, each focusing on a specific way to become a better player and, the reason why you’d want to, to win more chess games. All of the chapter titles are in the form of an imperative: ‘Study the Endgame’, for example, or ‘Create a Pre-Game Ritual’. Each chapter includes a case study, outlining the experience of one of Nigel Davies’s students or of Davies himself, and ends with a list of key points. For some reason, on reading key point 4 at the end of chapter 7, I thought of a comment that Hilary Putnam once made: ‘The smarter I get, the smarter Aristotle gets.’ In other words, the stronger you become as a chess player, the more you are able to appreciate the great players of the past.

Davies uses a variety of approaches in tackling the problem of how to improve at chess. He zeroes in on the skills and knowledge (tactical awareness, endgame technique) that will yield most dividends. The importance of one’s behaviour, as it impacts on performance during a game, is addressed in at least three of the chapters (chapters 5, 6, and 10); chess is primarily a sport, after all. And Davies also places an emphasis on seeking out a challenging environment that will allow you to learn and develop as a player, and give you the opportunity of appropriate competitive practice (chapters 3, 4 and 8 come under this heading).

However, the crucial chapter is undoubtedly ‘Know your Enemy’, the enemy being not so much your current opponent as yourself, your own biases and blind-spots and ability to make mistakes and mess up positions no matter how favourable. We all do it! Honest self-appraisal is the basis of all progress and improvement.

This is one of Nigel Davies’s best books, maybe his best so far. With it, he draws on all his experience as a chess coach to present his own ‘top ten’ paths to improvement. His suggestions and recommendations have been tried, tested and found to work – the case studies providing proof of that. So why not follow the advice of chapter 7, ‘Read a Good Book’, and seek it out? You won’t be disappointed.

The publisher’s description of the book is here.


1001 Brilliant Ways to Checkmate

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1001 Brilliant Ways to Checkmate

By Fred Reinfeld and Bruce Alberston

Russell Enterprises, 2014

ISBN: 9781936490820

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.

Themes include the queen sacrifice, discovered check, double check and pawn promotion; and only the last chapter, a collection of composed problems, seems slightly out of place. What you have got otherwise are positions taken from actual games that are, at most, of 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 of no more than an hour. To ‘interleaf’ the puzzles, rather than attempting to solve them chapter by chapter, block by block. It is far more enjoyable that way – there is more variety – and as a learning strategy it is much more effective (for evidence see, for example, 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 the book is here.

Tune Your Chess Tactics Antenna

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Tune Your Chess Tactics Antenna

By Emmanuel Neiman

New In Chess, 2012

ISBN: 9789056914042

Tune Your Chess Tactics Antenna

Tactics is all about vision: recognising key patterns, noticing when and where a combination or tactic may be present.

Emmanuel Neiman’s book aims to develop a player’s skill in spotting combinations, and in this it will undoubtedly succeed. Some early chapters are quite elementary – there is a chapter dealing with basic mates, for example – but later ones cover more complicated tactics and advanced topics, such as how to calculate variations in a systematic and accurate manner.

At the start, Neiman sets out seven central signals, what you might call key indicators that a combination may be possible. These include factors such as, for example, unprotected pieces, an overloaded defender or a shaky king position. They are then looked at in more detail later, with exercises being given to test understanding. One unusual twist: there are exercises that in effect ask whether a (sound)combination is present (or possible). So not (or not only) ‘What’s the combination?’ but ‘Is there a genuine combination here or, rather, a deceptive and dubious tactical possibility?’ In an actual game, this is of course a question – the key question, perhaps, since sacrificing a piece entails a risk – you have to ask. And it is perfectly possible for your opponent to have, say, a vulnerable king position but for you to have no way to checkmate him.

At the close, there is a final test, fifty tricky positions to solve, and that ends what is a very enjoyable and instructive book. To round up: the strengths of the book include the freshly minted examples of classical tactical themes (virtually all games date from 2011 and 2012) and the systematic approach overall, as regards both the presentation of the tactical themes and Neiman’s account of the thinking process (combinational vision, calculation, evaluation, decision).

I recommend this book very highly indeed.

The publisher’s description of the book is here.

Written by P.P.O. Kane

April 3, 2018 at 2:18 pm

What It Takes to Become a Chess Master

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What It Takes to Become a Chess Master

By Andrew Soltis

Batsford, 2012

ISBN: 9781849940269


Soltis’s very useful book focuses on nine aspects of chess play that will enable you to become a better and more successful player, perhaps even a chess master.

His suggestions for how to improve take in topics concerned with competition (e.g., how to go about squeezing a win out of an equal or only slightly better position) and skill set (what to think about, when: I suppose you would call this metacognition), as well as strategy and tactics and positional factors such as pawn structure.

To illustrate the range of the book: one chapter looks very specifically at sacrifices and the different kinds of compensation they might offer; another advises how to aim for decision-friendly positions, where there are clear, straightforward plans and the moves are relatively easy to come by. In each chapter, along with a discussion of various instructive positions taken mainly from contemporary practice, there are tips about what to study and methods of study too.

All nine chapters end with a quiz, a series of puzzle positions where you’re required to answer a relevant question and find the best move; altogether, there are just over 50 of these quiz positions.

It is a very helpful book on the whole, in the same category and about the same class as Nigel Davies’s 10 Great Ways to Get Better at Chess and Simon Webb’s Chess for Tigers. The publisher’s description of the book is here.

Chess Strategy: Move by Move

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Chess Strategy: Move by Move

By Adam Hunt

Everyman Chess, 2013

ISBN: 9781857449976

Chess Strategy: Move by Move

A big thumbs-up.

Adam Hunt’s excellent introduction to chess strategy uses the ‘move by move’ format pioneered by Everyman Chess. What this means is that the exercises are hard wired into the exposition: on every page, below the diagram of a crucial position, there is a question or two for you to attempt, with the answer occurring a little later in the annotations.

There is a well thought out mix of classic and recent games, including games by Hunt (by no means all wins by the author) and some of his students. Just to illustrate and underline the point that, in chess, strategic principles apply universally.

The book is comprehensive, covering topics ranging from the centre and king safety to prophylaxis and overprotection; from the relatively straightforward to the more advanced and (in the case of overprotection, perhaps) the problematic. As well as knowledge and concepts, Hunt touches on the skills involved in strategic play. You will learn how to evaluate a position and form a plan, how to be more resilient in defence. A final chapter looks at psychology and practical play.

I was impressed by the book and also surprised to learn that it is apparently Hunt’s first. Surprised, since he is such an accomplished and engaging writer. As an IM he clearly knows what he’s talking about, equally importantly he puts across the ideas very well indeed.

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

Written by P.P.O. Kane

March 29, 2018 at 9:25 am

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