The Caissa Kid

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Techniken des Positionsspiels im Schach

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Techniken des Positionsspiels im Schach

By Valeri Bronznik and Anatoli Terekhin

Schachverlag Kania, 2007

ISBN: 9783931192303

Techniken des Positionsspiels im Schach

One of the best books on positional play you’re ever likely to read.

There are 10 chapters covering a diverse range of topics, including domination, the open file, the bad bishop and (an unusual topic) play with the king. A final eleventh chapter has 40 exercises, followed by very full and detailed solutions.

What’s special about the book is that it goes into the nitty-gritty of positional play, focusing on 45 techniques (you might also call them stratagems or devices) which have been deployed successfully in past games. To illustrate by way of example: the chapter on the king looks at situations where one side castles by hand or voluntarily gives up the right to castle, because it is in their best interests to do so. (The classic game Matulovic-Fischer, Vinkovci 1968 would have fitted in here well, though the authors choose other examples.) Also, it looks at those situations where the king departs from a castled position, either for defensive purposes (the opposing forces are about to smash in the door and so the king does a runner) or as a preparation for attack (both players have castled on the kingside and one player marches their king out of harm’s way, before undertaking action on that side).

Topics covered in other sections include the principle of two weaknesses; restriction of the minor pieces; positional pawn sacrifices; prophylaxis; diverse exchanging (liquidation) operations; Reti’s battery of Qa1 and Bb2, as introduced in his game against Yates at New York 1924; the question of the wrong (or right rook). And, yes, Fischer’s famous game against Robert Byrne from the 1963 USA Championship is discussed in this latter section.

Techniken des Positionsspiels im Schach is a richly rewarding book that looks in depth at certain specific aspects of positional play, and I wholly recommend it.


Lessons with a Grandmaster 2

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Lessons with a Grandmaster 2

By Boris Gulko and Dr. Joel R. Sneed

Everyman Chess, 2012

ISBN: 9781857446975

Lessons with a Grandmaster 2

This book is as good as it gets.

Well-annotated, high quality games provide the richest source of educational material in chess, a fund of instruction and insight. When they are set in a question and answer format as here, with Joel Sneed, psychology professor and keen amateur, asking the questions and Boris Gulko, an acutely insightful, artistic grandmaster answering them, then the instructional value (not to mention the sheer entertainment) is enhanced tenfold.

Picturesque pyrotechnics can be seen in many games, notably in the draws with Shirov and Vaganian and the two titanic encounters (resulting in a draw and a win for Gulko) with Bronstein. There are also two wonderful miniatures where Renet and Lputian (strong grandmasters both) succumb quickly, the games clocking in at just 19 and 20 moves apiece.

This second volume (there are three in the series so far) places the emphasis squarely on dynamic chess. The topics covered are all about attack: sharp play and risk-taking (e.g. in the form of a speculative sacrifice), the importance of the initiative, how to acquire combinational vision and accuracy in calculation.

Develop your chess intuition and trust it, don’t rely solely on brute calculation – that’s the main message Gulko seems to be seeking to get across. Computers can crunch chess moves to their engine’s content, and may one day ‘see everything’, but human beings cannot and shouldn’t be asked to. Our cognitive strengths lie elsewhere, in intuition and judgement, and in using our sense of pattern, proportion and beauty. That’s what works for us. This must, however, be allied wherever possible with accurate calculation.

A study of these 30 games of exceptional depth and beauty cannot fail to improve your chess.

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

Written by P.P.O. Kane

December 20, 2017 at 2:25 pm

Zurich 1953

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Zurich 1953

By Miguel Najdorf

Russell Enterprises, 2012

ISBN: 9781936490431

Zurich 1953

Najdorf’s book stands right up there alongside Bronstein’s classic book of the same tournament, that is the best thing I can say to convey its regal quality.

Just like Bronstein, Najdorf played at Zurich 1953. He finished in sixth place, sandwiched between seven Soviet players: five below and two above. It was Reshevsky in third place who spearheaded the Western challenge, though, ending two points behind the winner (and eventual world champion) Smyslov.

The crucial point about Zurich 1953 is that it was an elite tournament before such events became relatively common: 15 leading players participated, none of them weak or decidedly inferior to each other, over a period of about two months. Many of the 210 games that were played are now considered classics, and all except for a very few have moments of great interest. The spectacular queen sacrifice in Averbakh-Kotov; the powerful positional play of Reshevsky-Bronstein, a King’s Indian classic; and the concerted kingside attack that did for Taimanov and won Najdorf the Brilliancy Prize (another King’s Indian, incidentally). Those would be my top three but there many other beautiful games here too.

As for Najdorf’s annotations, they are as instructive and insightful as Bronstein’s, though more convivial and conversational.

Zurich 1953 is a wonderful book and is highly recommended.

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


Written by P.P.O. Kane

December 20, 2017 at 2:24 pm

Zaubern wie Schachweltmeister Michail Tal

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Zaubern wie Schachweltmeister Michail Tal

By Karsten Müller and Raymund Stolze

Edition Olms, 2010

ISBN: 9783283010072

Zaubern wie Schachweltmeister Michail Tal

Tal, a unique figure in the history of chess, presents an interesting contrast to the current World Champion.

If Magnus Carlsen is the ‘hero of the computer era’ (see the review of Fighting Chess with Magnus Carlsen elsewhere at this site), then Tal was the absolute antithesis, especially in his early career. His speculative sacrifices, many of which were later found to be objectively dubious, would hardly stand scrutiny by a modern-day computer. Yet they won him the world championship because he was more courageous and could see farther and deeper than his contemporaries. For Tal, chess was a medium to test his own and others’ vision. His was a psychological approach, and a computer would, of course, be impervious to it.

There are two aspects to this wonderful book, an ebullient celebration of the magician from Riga. The first consists of individual contributions from Tal’s widow Engelina and from several players – among them Spassky, Uhlmann and Kramnik – who knew Tal as a friend and/or opponent. Of these, my picks would be the wide-ranging interview with Yusupov and a fine piece of analysis by Hubner. Yusupov perceptively remarks that Tal’s style maximised his strengths. As a player he was an amalgam of artist and psychologist, risk-taker and competitor, and his strengths lay primarily in his imagination, his combinational vision and a rare ability to calculate deeply and accurately. He used these strengths to challenge and unsettle his opponents, creating situations where they felt under constant threat. Only a handful of players – Yusupov singles out three: Spassky, Petrosian and Korchnoi – were able to resist this approach. Hubner, as a tribute to Tal’s genius, analyses the game he played against Keller at Zurich 1959. It takes all of 44 pages. The German grandmaster doesn’t do superficial or sloppy.

The second aspect of the book is that it serves as an advanced textbook on tactics, the gen here being 100 challenging exercises with detailed solutions. Some 10 exercises are concerned with speculative (unclear and sometimes not entirely correct) sacrifices, while 28 exercises are about ‘Defending or Warding off Magic’ – that is, finding the defensive or counter-attacking possibility that Tal’s opponent had missed. So it’s not your typical set of tactical puzzles.

For another personal view of Tal, I’d recommend above all Sosonko’s memoir ‘My Misha’; it is one of the pieces collected in his Russian Silhouettes and is wonderful. However, admirers of Tal’s magical chess will feast on this splendid book. Note that you’ll likely need a good grasp of German to get the most out of it.

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


The Safest Grunfeld

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The Safest Grunfeld

By Alexander Delchev and Evgenij Agrest

Chess Stars, April 2011

ISBN: 9789548782814


The Grunfeld Defence is a dynamic opening which has been played by several world champions, not least Bobby Fischer.

The American used it to good effect in two brilliant victories over the Byrne brothers, Donald (1956) and Robert (1963), though he was less successful against Boris Spassky. A big reason for this high-level advocacy is that the opening is genuinely testing for White: Black’s active, centralised pieces are fiendishly threatening and the play can become very sharp, very fast.

In this book, the authors provide a repertoire based around the Grunfeld (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5) and, as well as 3.Nc3, they look also at the Fianchetto Variation (3.g3) and the Anti-Grunfeld (3.f3), against which they recommend the rare 3…Nc6. They as well look at the Grunfeld when played versus the English opening (1.c4 Nf6 2.Nc3 d5) and examine a few off-beat, SOS lines like the Barry Attack (1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 g6 3.Nc3 d5 4.Bf4).

You could argue that the title is paradoxical or unintentionally ironic, since the Grunfeld by its very nature is an opening that is double-edged and therefore dangerous for both sides. It’s uncertain whether White’s pawn superiority in the centre will turn out to be a strength or a liability. But what’s meant by ‘safest’ here is an advocacy of those lines that are relatively straightforward, positionally based and, insofar as is possible, not dependent on long forcing tactical variations to make them viable. These lines are ‘safest’ because there is less possibility of them being refuted outright anytime soon.

Usually, the authors give two Black options versus each White system: one main line and one line as back-up. I’d perhaps query one of their back-up lines. Against the Russian System, they recommend an early advance of the e-pawn (4.Nf3 Bg7 5.Qb3 dxc4 6.Qxc4 0-0 7.e4 Nc6 8.Be2 e5!?) and state that it was first played in Carlsen-Dominguez, Sofia 2009, which they describe as ‘the stem game’; this on page 167. In fact, the move was played as long ago as 1965. After 9.d5 Nd4 10.Nxd4 exd4 11.Qxd4 c6, Uhlmann played 12.Qc4 against Shamkovich (instead of Carlsen’s 12.d6) and came away with an advantage. But their other back-up recommendations seem, to my mind, to be fairly sound.

As with the majority of opening books from Chess Stars, each separate system is covered in three sections:

  • ‘Main Ideas’ gives you an outline of what’s to come, looks at some strategic themes and typical tactical motifs, and presents a few classic games: it gives you the gist
  • ‘Step by Step’ gives you the gen, the detailed must-know information
  • finally, ‘Complete Games’ gives you an opportunity to see the opening in operation, into the middlegame and through to the endgame

Overall, The Safest Grunfeld is another excellent opening offering from Chess Stars, and further details about the book can be seen here.


Written by P.P.O. Kane

December 19, 2017 at 3:25 pm

Play like a Girl!

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Play like a Girl!

By Jennifer Shahade

Mongoose Press, February, 2011

ISBN-13: 978-1936277032


This is a book of tactical puzzles, but with a difference: in each and every position a female chess player delivers the decisive blow.


Most of the positions are not too difficult, although towards the end of each chapter they become slightly trickier. And the positions in the last chapter (chapter 15), a fair number of them anyway, are quite challenging.

A really enjoyable way of improving at chess, as Nigel Davies notes in the first chapter of 10 Great Ways to Get Better at Chess, is to develop your tactical vision and your ability to calculate variations. This book, and others like it (such as Alburt’s Chess Training Pocket Book), will enable you to do this – and so help you to recognize tactical opportunities when they arise in your own games.

The positions are arranged by theme (double attack, back-rank mate, pawn promotion, etc.) and each chapter includes a short profile of a famous or not so well-known female chess player (Vera Menchik, Judit Polgar and Alexandra Kosteniuk are among the more famous names). Of the 15 players profiled, 5 – that is to say, a third – live in the USA, as against 3 from Russia and only 1 from China. So there’s a little bit of a bias here, I’d suggest.

In appearance the book has a predominantly purple/pink cover and it is a large format hardback (about 22cm x 28.5cm), rather like an annual. The pages are spacious and there are as many as 6 large diagrams to a page. It is attractively designed and fun to read and study. In fact, it doesn’t feel like an ordinary chess book at all: a typical chess book is a paperback with dense analysis and lengthy annotations.

I would guess that the intended or ideal reader for the book would be a girl or young woman, perhaps a promising junior, who’d be inspired by the players’ profiles and therefore be well motivated to use the tactical puzzles to get better at chess. Yet anyone with a liking for chess tactics will enjoy and be entertained by the puzzles in this book, even (dare I say it) boys who are normally allergic to pink. The book opened my eyes to Irina Krush’s chess, anyway; she seems, on this evidence, to win a lot of attractive, attacking games.

The book is subtitled ‘Tactics by 9 Queens’, after the 9 Queens website that Jennifer Shahade founded along with Jean Hoffman. It is well worth checking out and can be reached here.

The publisher’s description of Play like a Girl! can be read here.


Fighting Chess with Magnus Carlsen

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Fighting Chess with Magnus Carlsen

By Adrian Mikhalchishin and Oleg Stetsko

Translated and edited by Ken Neat

Edition Olms, 2011

ISBN: 9783283010201

Fighting Chess with Magnus Carlsen

Magnus Carlsen, the current world champion, is the best thing to come out of Norway since Ole Gunnar Solksjaer.

This book collects together 64 of his best games, played mainly against top-class opposition. His opponents include Anand, Kramnik, Topalov, Adams and Morozevich. He’s not always victorious, a fair proportion of the games being draws. However, this shows off one of Carlsen’s strengths as a player: he’s adept at defence, and consequently very difficult to beat. In game 45, for example, he is bested by Beliavsky (this is their encounter at the 2008 Olympiad) but, still, he hangs in there. And when the older man tires, giving Carlsen an opportunity to bail out, he leaps free. They share the point.

Despite the ‘fighting chess’ phrase in the title, Carlsen’s classical style is closer to Capablanca or even Karpov than the all-out aggression of (say) Kasparov in his prime. Naturally, he can carry out a kingside attack if it’s warranted, but he’s more likely to win through positional or even technical means. It is high quality stuff, mind, just a mite boring sometimes.

It was said once that Capablanca played like a machine. In the introductory chapter where the authors trace Carlsen’s development as a player, they describe him similarly as the ‘Hero of the Computer Era’; and actually there is something silicon-like about his style. Perhaps it is something to do with the almost complete objectivity of his decision-making.

Still only in his 20s, Carlsen can only get better and stronger. That’s what is difficult to comprehend fully: the best is yet to come.
For an appreciation of Magnus Carlsen as a chessplayer, this fine collection of deeply annotated games fits the bill perfectly. The publisher’s description of Fighting Chess with Magnus Carlsen can be read here.


Written by P.P.O. Kane

October 4, 2017 at 2:02 pm