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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.

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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

1000 Checkmate Combinations

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1000 Checkmate Combinations

By Victor Henkin

Batsford, 2011

ISBN-13: 978-1906388706

1000 Checkmate Combinations

Checkmates aplenty make for a wonderful book.

From what I can gather, it is apparently a translation of a Russian title which was first published in the late 1970s. Of the very many wonderful combinations included in the book, the latest one dates (I’m fairly certain) from 1978. It is as though Kasparov had never lived, or at any rate had never checkmated an opponent’s king.

That being said, there is no doubt that 1000 Checkmate Combinations is excellent, containing as it does a wealth of tactical examples, including 456 (!) exercises. The solutions could perhaps have been more fulsome and detailed, since usually only the main line of a combination is given. However, that’s my only (slight) criticism. The conclusion has to be: better late than never.

The structure of the book is as follows. There are 14 substantial chapters, each one being devoted to a piece (chapters 1-5) or a pairing of pieces (chapters 6-13: for example, chapter 13 focuses on ‘Queen and Knight’) or ‘Three Pieces’, which is the title of chapter 14. In each chapter, we are given a survey and a discussion of how a particular piece, or a particular combination of pieces, can come to deliver checkmate before moving on to actual cases and getting down to business.

For example, the chapter on the knight focuses quite a lot on the smothered mate, which necessarily introduces the concepts of double check and deflection. Along with these, there are also various motifs and manoeuvres that may arise preparatory to delivering a smothered mate, involving driving defending pieces away from crucial squares or compelling certain defending pieces to occupy squares around their king. All of this is set out by the author in a quite perspicacious and exemplary manner.

On the whole, the prose in this unattributed translation is clear, engaging and very readable. Henkin explains everything very well indeed and the points he makes are richly illustrated with a bevy of beautiful combinations taken from games, studies and problems.

One mighty fine thing about the book is that, because there are so many diagrams and with the combinations being generally quite short (say 7 moves maximum), it can be read by itself, without need of board and pieces.

You can buy 1000 Checkmate Combinations at Amazon here.

Written by P.P.O. Kane

May 1, 2018 at 11:40 am

The Art of the Tarrasch Defence: Strategies, Techniques and Surprising Ideas

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The Art of the Tarrasch Defence: Strategies, Techniques and Surprising Ideas

By Alexey Bezgodov

New in Chess, 2017

ISBN: 9789056917685

The Art of the Tarrasch Defence: Strategies, Techniques and Surprising Ideas

The Tarrasch Defence is an opening that promises classical play, proper grown-up chess.

The book is an excellent introduction, looking at the opening mainly from Black’s viewpoint, and is in five parts. Part 3, let us begin in the middle then time-shift later, presents a detailed survey (I count some 50 pages) of what Alexey Bezgodov calls the Kasparov System, which is clearly Black’s best approach. It arises after the moves: 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 c5 4.cxd5 exd5 5.Nf3 Nc6 6.g3 Nf6 7.Bg2 Be7 8.0-0 0-0 9.Bg5 cxd4 10.Nxd4 h6. All very logical and efficient and understandable. Here, White usually goes 11.Be3 but 11.Bf4, or indeed the capture 11.Bxf6, are decent enough alternatives. There is thorough coverage of them all.

Part 2, to backtrack a bit, is the largest section of the book (80 pages). We look here at a range of ways by which White might deviate from the logical sequence of moves (I won’t repeat them again; see above) leading to the Kasparov System. White might plumb for the quiet Symmetrical System on move 4 (4.e3) or essay the reckless Marshall Gambit, an act of self-harm more than anything, a move later (5.e4). An early development of the queen’s bishop to g5, f4, or e3 comes into consideration as well (mind, avoid Romanishin’s 4.Be3 because of the devastating reply 4..e5! and Lputian, his opponent, won in 24 moves). Or the bishop might go to e3 at a later stage (9.Be3) or be developed on the flank (following 9.b3). Other logical approaches involve capturing on c5 (9.dxc5 Bxc5) then following up with 10.Bg5 to pressure d5 or 10.Na4 Be7 11.Be3 and 12.Rc1, focusing fire-power on the dark squares on the queenside. In summary, Bezgodov concludes that while White has plenty of options, Black can equalise.

These two sections, Parts 3 and 2, are the grand heart of the book and will equip you to play the Tarrasch Defence in the form of the Kasparov System, its most modern treatment. But there is more…

Part 1 (let us turn all chronological, all of a sudden – it has 30 pages, by the way) is entitled ‘Four Bad Lines That Are actually Good’ and it sets out – well, actually, the title has said it all. There are brief, in one case a very brief, surveys of:

  • the Curt von Bardeleben System (I follow Bezgodov’s nomenclature): 6…cxd4 7.Nxd4 Bc5 intending ..Nge7
  • an active line favoured by Keres: 6…Nf6 7.Bg2 cxd4 8.Nxd4 Bc5
  • the Salwe System: 8…Qb6 instead of 8…Bc5 as in Keres’ line
  • and finally, the Lasker-Capablanca System: 7…Be7 8.0-0 0-0 9.Bg5 Be6

While these lines are unfashionable at the minute, they lead – as Bezgodov shows – to decent, playable positions for Black. Salwe’s move has a bad reputation because, in response to it, Rubinstein created one of his positional masterpieces (the game versus Salwe at Lodz, 1908), but Black can undoubtedly improve. Half a century after Rubinstein-Salwe, Bronstein played 8..Qb6 against Kortchnoi and drew.

Part 4 (70 pages) examines how a quartet of great champions – Kasparov, Spassky, Keres and Gligoric – played the Tarrasch Defence, and played against it. There is an abundance of entertaining and instructive chess on display here, and a special highlight is Kasparov’s theoretical duel with Smyslov, four high-quality games from their final candidates match in 1984. Finally, Part 5 (55 pages) is all about training, testing your knowledge and understanding of the opening. You are given 96 challenging exercises, followed by detailed solutions in the form of complete games.

Two minor criticisms, so let’s get them out of the way. First, no mention of John Nunn. He played the Tarrasch Defence well, though rarely, in his chess career and has some decent games with it. I would have liked to have seen one of them. Second, the book raised a few move-order questions but never really answered them. Here is one: in the Lasker-Capablanca System, should black play …Be6 before …0-0? (say, 8…Be6). What are the pros and cons of doing so? It seems from a Marshall-Capablanca match-game in 1909 that 9.Bg5 Ne4! equalises when Black goes with an early …Be6. How then should White best respond? This question might have been addressed in the context of games 23 and 24, or indeed game 168 (the Marshall-Capablanca game above), but wasn’t.

Overall though, this is a brilliant book on a venerable opening that possesses a lot of vitality still. The Tarrasch Defence is a sound, principled and positionally based way of fighting for the initiative from move 3: just look at its pedigree, an ardent advocacy over many years by Spassky, Kasparov et al. It leads to middle-games where Black’s active centralised pieces and use of open lines fully compensate for the isolated queen’s pawn (IQP). Indeed, even when this pawn is sacrificed (or inadvertently lost) Black’s pieces are often active enough to ensure a draw. There are 217 annotated games here, and a close study of them will give you a feel and fluency for the Tarrasch that will be invaluable in actual play. Finally, Bezgodov equips you to play five (count them: five) different systems in the Tarrasch Defence. Now that’s good value in anyone’s book.

The publisher’s description of The Art of the Tarrasch Defence is here.

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.