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Chess: The Art of Logical Thinking

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Chess: The Art of Logical Thinking

By Neil McDonald

Batsford, 2004

ISBN: 9780713488944

Chess: The Art of Logical Thinking

Neil McDonald presents 30 modern games – all were played from 1978 to 2002 – and adds a comment to each and every move.

It is a nice idea that has been seen before: Irving Chernev wrote a book along these lines, Logical Chess: Move by Move, some time ago. He may even have created the genre, come to that. While John Nunn’s excellent Understanding Chess Move by Move took a similar tack.

The games are beautiful and instructive and have been chosen to illustrate the variegated splendours of chess. There are smooth positional victories as well as explosive attacks on the king. There are games that serve as models of their type (so: emulate and win), while others are spectacular, original and inimitable (danger: do not enter). The endgame is a prominent feature of a fair few of them. For ease and convenience, the games have been grouped according to opening and, to some extent, theme (same opening = similar middlegames = recurrent themes). Most games open with either 1.e4 or 1.d4.

A difficulty with the book – and with the whole genre – is that there are only a limited number of things that you can say about the opening moves, about 1.e4 and 1.d4, say, or about 3…cxd4 in the open Sicilian, before you begin repeating yourself. When you’ve said of 1.e4 that it frees the queen and king’s bishop, facilitating quick development and early kingside castling, and that the pawn advance occupies the centre and controls the d5 and f5 squares, you are pretty much at a loss as to what to add next.

Hence that McDonald has recourse to flights of fancy, metaphors (If White were seeking to build a house, then 1.e4 is the first stone laid at its foundation), digressions, conceits (the pieces are akin to Dracula entombed in a coffin…), historical waffle and such like rhetorical devices is hardly surprising. And that is not necessarily a bad thing, of course. His notes to 1.e4 never take the form of a haiku though, or an instance of fixed-form poetry (double sestina, anyone?), so maybe he missed a trick there.

This is an excellent collection of beautiful and interesting games and Neil McDonald does a sterling job of elucidating and explaining their finer points.

Another description of the book is here.


Written by P.P.O. Kane

June 13, 2018 at 10:00 am

The Black Lion

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The Black Lion: The Chess Predator’s Choice Against Both 1.e4 and 1.d4

By Jerry van Rekom and Leo Jansen

New in Chess, 2008

ISBN: 9789056912574

The Black Lion

The Black Lion, as it is called here, is an opening that can be played against virtually any White first move; it has been named in part as a nod to co-author Leo Jansen, who has been its champion for many years.

Typically, the Black Lion arises after the moves 1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 Nbd7, followed by 4…e5. Black can play 3…e5 immediately, to rule out 4.f4, and this option is covered in Chapter 5, which is here entitled ‘The Lion’s Yawn’.

There is plenty to admire about the book. The prose is engaging and it is clear that the authors have a real enthusiasm for the opening, and a deep understanding of it. Also, the analysis is substantial and thorough and often original. Plainly, there are sharp and interesting possibilities for each side, such as Shirov’s 4.Nf3 e5 5.g4!? or (for Black) the Palatnik Gambit, which arises after 4.f4 e5 5.Nf3 c6 6.Bc4 exd4 7.Qxd4 d5! However, lines where White plays 1.d4 and follows up with 2.c4 are not analysed at all; there is a solitary game where co-author Jerry van Rekom faces this move order (on pages 27-29), and it has quite a neat finish, but that is about it. So a reader would not be well-prepared, or feel especially confident, when playing the Black Lion against 1.d4 after reading the book.

On a more fundamental level, you may end the book feeling rather like the children in Whistle Down the Wind, when they realised that it was not Jesus in their barn but just a fellow who looked like him. Let me explain.

The most commonly played moves (after 3…Nbd7) are 4.Nf3 e5 and they are examined in Chapters 3 and 4, entitled ‘The Lion’s Claw’ and ‘The Lion’s Roar’ respectively, as well as in part of Chapter 6, here called ‘The Lion’s Mouth’. Now despite the relentless reference to a certain big cat, it might occur to you that this sequence of moves simply leads to the Hanham Variation of the Philidor Defence, and I would be inclined to agree. The authors would argue, perhaps, that what distinguishes the Black Lion from the Hanham Variation of the Philidor is a plan involving a regrouping of forces on the kingside and a possible attack there. After playing …Be7, …c6 and …Qc7, Black will follow up with … h6 and …g5 if allowed. The queen’s knight will then go to …f4 (via …f8 and …g6), the king’s rook to …g8, and so on.

The problem for the authors is that this kind of regrouping has been seen before, and in the Hanham Variation, so it is not actually distinctive or new. See, for example, the game Yates-Marco, The Hague 1921:

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 Nd7 4.Bc4 c6 5.Nc3 Be7 6.O-O h6 7.Be3 Ngf6 8.Bb3 Qc7 9.Nd2 g5 10.a4 Nf8 11.a5 Ng6 12.Re1 Nf4 13.f3 Rg8 14.Nf1 Be6 15.Ng3 Qd7 16.d5 Bh3 17.gxh3 Qxh3 18.Qd2 N6h5 19.Qf2 g4 20.Kh1 gxf3 21.Rg1 Bh4 22.Bxf4 exf4 23.Nxh5 Bxf2 24.Rxg8+ Ke7 25.Nxf4 Qh4 26.Rg7 Kf8 27.Rxf7+ Kxf7 28.dxc6+ Kg7 29.Ne6+ Kh8 30.Nd5 bxc6 0-1

One has to conclude that this ‘new’ opening (The Black Lion) amounts to little more than a re-branding, a re-branding which is relentless (the chapter titles show) and, after a while, becomes rather tiresome. Indeed, one could go further and say that bringing together the Hanham Variation of the Philidor Defence and the Old Indian, and treating them collectively as a universal system versus 1.e4 and 1.d4, is an enterprise at once spurious and absurd. There are similarities, granted, but there are similarities too between the Pirc and the King’s Indian. Would it make sense to regard these two openings as one universal system because they both involve a king’s fianchetto and an advance in the centre with …e5 or …c5? Clearly not.

The Black Lion is an interesting, thought-provoking opening book which will equip you with a little-known, under-regarded yet worthwhile defence against 1.e4. However, most of the time the Black Lion looks a lot like the Hanham Variation of the Philidor Defence. Mind, the name seems appropriate as a quiet system which disguises an aggressive intent, a lazy beast of prey.

The publisher’s description of the book is here.

Written by P.P.O. Kane

June 12, 2018 at 1:12 pm

Eine Reise über das Schachbrett

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Eine Reise über das Schachbrett


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

The 3…Qd8 Scandinavian: Simple and Strong

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The 3…Qd8 Scandinavian: Simple and Strong

By Daniel Lowinger

Russell Enterprises, 2013

ISBN: 9781936490769

The 3...Qd8 Scandinavian: Simple and Strong

An improved Caro-Kann?

Daniel Lowinger makes a good case for a plain bloke-simple line of the Scandinavian (1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Qxd5 3.Nc3 Qd8), a favourite of GMs Josif Dorfman, Nikola Djukic and David Garcia. He argues that White’s knight is, or may in time become, misplaced on c3 and will probably have to move later. Therefore the loss of time involved in retreating the queen to its original square will be recuperated.

There are a few reasons why this line is so little regarded. Apart from the apparent violation of principle, which applies to the Scandinavian as a whole (‘Don’t bring the queen out too early’), there’s the thought that surely there’s a more useful square for the queen than …d8. It hardly looks sensible at first sight, and one might well christen this the Yo-Yo Variation. Also, Bobby Fischer’s speedy demolition of both Robatsch at Varna in 1963 (that game lasted 20 moves) and Addison at Palma de Mallorca in 1970 (a slightly longer 24 moves) seemingly makes a convincing case for the prosecution. But improvements and resources have been found for Black since then.

Pertinent here is Bent Larsen’s interesting comment (quoted in the book) that the Scandinavian is an improved version of the Caro-Kann. Black at once exchanges d-pawn for e-pawn and so arrives at a Caro-Kann pawn structure.

It is an engagingly written monograph and Lowinger gives you a good understanding of the opening. He presents Black with at least two options against White’s main fifth move alternatives (following 4.d4 Nf6): 5.Bc4, 5.Nf3 and 5.Bg5. Other less critical moves are covered also. By the end, you’ll likely be convinced that Black’s position is solid and sound, if not always especially exciting.

The publisher’s description of the book is here.

Leningrad System: A Complete Weapon against 1.d4

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Leningrad System: A Complete Weapon against 1.d4

By Stefan Kindermann

Edition Olms, 2005

ISBN: 9783283004781

Leningrad System: A Complete Weapon against 1.d4

An unusual opening, named after a city that no longer exists.

In this well-structured book Stefan Kindermann sets out a complete defence to 1.d4, the centrepiece of his repertoire being the Leningrad Dutch with Malaniuk’s move 7…Qe8! – although, as he explains on page 11, the move may actually have been Chernin’s brainchild. (The move is played in the position arising after 1.d4 f5 2.g3 Nf6 3.Bg2 g6 4.Nf3 Bg7 5.0-0 0-0 6.c4 d6 7.Nc3.)

After a brief historical overview, we are taken on a comprehensive strategic tour, looking at typical themes and plans for White and Black. The detailed theoretical information is then set out through a series of illustrative games. Naturally, Kindermann looks at all the important and wayward and downright awkward set-ups for White: the Karlsbad Variation, characterised by 4.Nh3 intending Nf4; the system with 4.c3 and 5.Qb3, momentarily preventing castling; lines where White plays b3 or even b4, to fianchetto the queen’s bishop or begin a concerted pawn advance on the queenside; and so on. He also looks at general anti-Dutch systems at moves two (2.Nc3, 2.Bg5 and the Staunton Gambit, 2.e4) and three (for example, 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Bg5).

In general, you have to conclude that Black comes out OK. The Leningrad Dutch itself can be characterised as a complex and indeed curious opening, which leads to positions that are difficult to handle for both sides. You could view it as a hybrid of the King’s Indian and the Dutch proper, or a King’s Indian where Black has already played …f5, saving a tempo or two (the king’s knight no longer has to move) and exerting control on e4, but weakening the king’s position and the e6 square. On …g7, the bishop points towards the centre and the queenside, a different kind of posting to, say, the …Bd6 in the Stonewall Dutch, but hardly less aggressive in the long run. If you like to play interesting and unusual chess, the Leningrad Dutch is definitely an opening to explore.

Lenin’s reputation may have taken a bit of a battering with the publication of a recent book by Robert Gellately, but the Leningrad Dutch is alive and well.

You can buy Leningrad System: A Complete Weapon against 1.d4 at Amazon here.

Written by P.P.O. Kane

May 15, 2018 at 12:59 pm

A Universal Weapon 1.d4 d6

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A Universal Weapon 1.d4 d6

By Vladimir Barsky

Chess Stars, 2011

ISBN: 978-9548782791

A Universal Weapon 1.d4 d6

In a sense, this book completes a picture.

It can be seen as a companion volume to Vladimir Barsky’s work on the Philidor Defence, previously reviewed at this website. For if, following 1.d4 d6, we get the further moves 2.e4 Nf6 3.Nc3 e5, it is the Philidor Defence that arises. Other second moves (after 1.d4 d6) are set out in the present book as follows:

  • The system with the moves 2.c4 e5 is covered in chapters 1-6. Now White may exchange (3.dxe5) or advance (3.d5) or recapture on d4 with the queen (e.g. following 3.Nc3), but it is probably best to defend d4 with the king’s knight, even though the black e-pawn can then advance with tempo (3.Nf3 e4 4.Ng5 f5 and so on). Black’s space advantage ensures her (or him) of good chances in the middlegame.
  • Wade’s system, 2.Nf3 Bg4, is the subject of chapters 7-10. This is a line that has been successfully employed by both Miles and Hodgson – so it is part of an English tradition. By playing sensible, straightforward developing moves, Black obtains a solid position. If White pushes too hard, matters can easily back fire; the system has some poison.
  • All the rest of White’s reasonable moves are set out in chapter 11 (these include 2.c3, 2.Bg5, and others: one nice thing about 1..d6 is that it avoids the Trompowsky, not that that opening is to be feared). None of these lines should trouble Black unduly, truth to tell.

Many of the lines in the book can arise out of both the English Opening (after say 1.c4 e5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 e4 4.Ng5, etc.) and the Reti Opening (1.Nf3 d6 2.d4 Bg4, and so forth), so it makes sense, and is probably justified, to speak of 1…d6 intending …e5 as a universal or near-universal weapon. Although maybe it’s pushing it a bit, since Barsky’s suggested lines are different in character. The Old Indian would lead to a more familiar opening set-up for a player who meets 1.e4 with the Philidor, in my view, which would entail …Nd7 on move three or two (instead of 3…e4 or 2…Bg4) in the lines above.

As with his previous two books (on the Scotch Game and the Philidor), Barsky’s deep understanding of the opening shines through. He gives a detailed account of the opening, its various nuances and subtleties, and he considers as well the kinds of middlegames that can arise from it. That the English translation reads more smoothly than in previous Chess Stars books is very likely due to Phil Adams; he gave advice regarding the translation, which is duly acknowledged by the publisher.

An excellent opening book, which you can buy at Amazon here.

Written by P.P.O. Kane

May 15, 2018 at 12:36 pm