Winning Chess

Winning Chess

Good to see it back!

This is a welcome reissue, in algebraic notation, of a book that will be familiar to many. For myself, I remember receiving it as a present one Christmas and steadily working through the positions over the holidays.

It is a primer on chess tactics, with successive chapters covering topics such as the pin, the knight fork, the skewer, discovered attack, double check and so on; and it is a worthwhile introduction to these topics still. There are plenty of diagrams to illustrate each theme and a short quiz at the end of most chapters. Twenty-odd chapters all told.

These are not complicated positions , so can serve as excellent material for introducing tactics to juniors and/or beginners. Pretty much all the positions hold up, however in No. 167A Black should really play 2…R8d4 and not 2…c5 as given. The latter move allows White to escape by 3.Qe4. Other than that, the presentation is clean and the explanations are clear.

A classic book.

Book Details

Winning Chess

By Irving Chernev and Fred Reinfeld

Batsford, 2013

ISBN: 9781849941105

You can read a description of Winning Chess by Irving Chernev and Fred Reinfeld at the publisher’s website here.

William Steinitz, Chess Champion

William Steinitz, Chess Champion: A Biography of the Bohemian Caesar

Imagine a time when the headline, ‘Great Discovery in Chess’, could appear in a daily newspaper, as in fact happened in the New York Sun for 2 June 1895.

And what was the nature of this ‘great discovery’? Wilhelm Steinitz had just announced that he had discovered a perfect defence to the Evan’s Gambit. It was a different age.

This is an enthralling biography of William (or Wilhelm) Steinitz, the first world chess champion and the father of modern chess. Steinitz was the player and theorist who laid the foundation for our current understanding of chess, and he was probably the game’s deepest thinker. His only other rival for this honour is Nimzowitsch, who reacted to Tarrasch’s simplified codification of Steinitz’s thought.

Many years of research have gone into the writing of this book, which is clearly a labour of love. Landsberger traces the trajectory of Steinitz’s life from his childhood in the Prague ghetto, about which relatively little is known, to his short time in Vienna as a young man and his later emigration to London, where he stayed for 20 years. It was in London that Steinitz came to prominence, most notably by defeating Adolf Anderssen in a match in 1866. From that point on, he was regarded as the
world’s best player until his defeat by Lasker in 1894. By that time, he had settled in America.

There were elements of tragedy to Steinitz’s life, and the author does not shy away from these. As is generally known, he had mental health problems in the last years of his life and he had difficulty in eking out a living as a chess player and journalist. In sum, though, his life was one of immense intellectual achievement; he revolutionized our understanding of chess.

Some excellent extras enhance the text. Andy Soltis provides deep annotations to 15 of Steinitz’s best games and two other games, played by correspondence between London and Vienna in 1872-1974, are annotated by Steinitz and Potter: they were significant as a test of Steinitz’s ideas. David Hooper’s perspicacious article on Steinitz’s theory of chess is reprinted from the British Chess Magazine, September 1984; and there are 46 black and white plates, which include photographs of the great man and his contemporaries, some facsimiles of his letters and an array of stamps issued in his honour.

The author includes many contemporary accounts and profiles of Steinitz, as well as excerpts from his letters and writings, and those with an interest in chess history will find this deeply-researched book engrossing.

Book Details

William Steinitz, Chess Champion: A Biography of the Bohemian Caesar

By Kurt Landsberger

McFarland & Company, 2006

ISBN: 9780786428465

You can read a description of William Steinitz, Chess Champion: A Biography of the Bohemian Caesar by Kurt Landsberger at the publisher’s website here.

Play 1.b3!

Play 1.b3!

Ilya Odessky’s book is an ode to the Nimzo-Larsen Attack, an opening that he calls ‘a Friend for Life’.

Mind you, the book is also something of a lament; a tone of playful pessimism pervades much of it. Odessky seems to regard an opening (or 1.b3 in particular) as akin to a football team you’ve followed all your life, or an unfaithful wife that you love and cannot divorce. You are honour-bound to give your support. You absorb the small hurts because, just occasionally, there are resplendent moments of joy.

This is not a typical opening book, as the chapter titles alone make clear. Just to give three examples: ‘Wanderer, There is No Path Through’ is chapter 2 and it is concerned with a promising variation which, apparently, leads only to equality; ‘Don’t Interfere’, chapter 7, is a rubbishing of the Dutch: the title is a riff on Petrosian’s remark that ‘if your opponent wants to play the Dutch Defence, you shouldn’t try to prevent him’; and the 14th chapter is entitled ‘Casus’, a Latin term which refers to ‘an action, outwardly appearing criminal, but which is free of any element of blame’. It is about a principled yet trappy variation where Black often comes to harm.

Rather than presenting an exhaustive survey of Black’s possible responses to 1.b3, Odessky examines closely a number of key variations and positions. One chapter looks at the fashionable line 1.b3 e5 2.Bb2 Nc6 3.e3 Nf6 4.Bb5 Bd6!? (intending …0-0, …Re8 and …Bf8); another explores the curious Litus Gambit (1.b3 d5 2.Bb2 Bg4 3.f3 Bh5 4.e4!?). Two chapters provide a substantial examination of the Nimzowitsch Attack (1.b3 d5 2.Bb2 c5 3.e3 Nc6 4.Bb5). Three chapters focus on Petrosian’s experiences with 1.b3, and these are undoubtedly the most fascinating part of the book.

Odessky is a genuinely engaging and entertaining writer and Steve Giddins’ smooth translation ably captures his mock-melancholic voice. As an introduction to the Nimzo-Larsen Attack, this book cannot be bettered, and the author has many interesting things to say about positional play, chess strategy and the difficulty of playing good chess. Ultimately, the book is as much about these matters as an opening which, we are made to understand, has been the bane and joy of the author’s chess career (‘Don’t Grieve!’ is the title of the last chapter, incidentally: No, don’t!).

Book Details

Play 1.b3!

By Ilya Odessky

New in Chess , 2008

ISBN: 9789056912567

You can read a description of Play 1.b3! by Ilya Odessky at Amazon here.

1.d4 – Ratgeber gegen Unorthodoxe Verteidigungen

1.d4 - Ratgeber gegen Unorthodoxe Verteidigungen

This is an excellent opening book by an experienced author.

Valeri Bronznik looks at various unorthodox lines that might be tried against 1.d4 and recommends a particular response to each one. A circumspect response is usually the order of the day, not an overtly aggressive one.

The book will be of great practical value to players who open with 1.d4 as White: they are its main, intended readership. Still, those who play the odd offbeat line against 1.d4, or would like to investigate a few: say the Polish (1…b5), the Albin (1…d5 2.c4 e5) or the Black Knights’ Tango (1…Nf6 2.c4 Nc6), will find the book to be interesting and suggestive as well, a useful source of ideas. Bronznik provides a sober examination of opening systems that some other analysts have dismissed as dubious or downright bad, whereas many (though not all, in my humble opinion!) have merit. Often, you end up with positions where both sides have problems to solve – even though White is allegedly ‘better’.

The material is set out in three parts and 19 chapters. Part 1 (chapters 1-8) covers various first moves for Black other than 1…d5 or 1…Nf6. Among the lines looked at are the Polish, the Englund Gambit (1…e5) and the Dutch Benoni (1…c5 2.d5 f5), which Jonathan Levitt has christened the Clarendon Court Defence; the German author prefers a more descriptive or literal moniker. As for Part 2 (chapters 9-14), there Bronznik examines a number of lines arising after the moves 1.d4 d5 2.c4 and you will find chapters devoted to the Albin, Marshall’s move 2…Nf6, the Schara-Hennig Gambit (2…e6 3.Nc3 c5 4.cxd5 cxd4) and various Stonewall setups (e.g. 2…e6 3.Nc3 c6 4.e3 Bd6, as Ivanchuk played against Carlsen in 2009). Not the Noteboom though, which is a pity: one would like to have learned Bronznik’s thoughts on this double-edged variation. In the final part, Part 3 (chapters 15-19), Bronznik provides coverage of some systems following on from 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4; systems such as the Black Knights’ Tango, the Budapest Gambit (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e5 3.dxe5 and now either the usual 3…Ng4 or Fajarowicz’s 3…Ne4; both moves are discussed) and the so-called Snake Benoni (e.g. 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 e6 4.Nc3 exd5 5.cxd5 Bd6).

Several original analyses are presented throughout the book, 58 to be exact, and there are about that many complete games, their annotations laden with theoretical references and astute judgements. Above all, it is the spirit of serious enquiry that impresses one most about Valeri Bronznik’s book; there is much food for thought.

Just one slight fault, which I can’t help but mention: the apostrophe in the title of chapter 19 comes before rather than after the ‘s’ (i.e. it is ‘Black Knight’s Tango’ rather than the correct ‘Black Knights’ Tango’). English grammar always has the last laugh, even when a book is written in German, as here.

The publisher’s description of 1.d4 – Ratgeber gegen Unorthodoxe Verteidigungen can be read here. And a pdf extract from the book is here.

Book Details

1.d4 – Ratgeber gegen Unorthodoxe Verteidigungen

By Valeri Bronznik

Schachverlag Kania, 2010

ISBN: 39783931192372

Carlsbad International Chess Tournament 1929

Carlsbad International Chess Tournament 1929

Nimzowitsch took first place at Carlsbad 1929, ahead of a strong field that included Capablanca and Rubinstein, but it did not earn him a shot at the World Championship.

Instead, Alekhine’s challenger later that year was Bogoljubow, who came eighth at Carlsbad, some 3.5 points behind the winner. This clearly rankled with Nimzowitsch, and undoubtedly provided one of the motives for writing the book, which was originally published in Russia in 1931. In it, he makes a forceful pitch for being the most deserving challenger to Alekhine’s crown.

It should be noted also that Nimzowitsch beat Bogoljubow at Carlsbad, their encounter yielding a fine strategic victory that shared the prize for the best played game (Euwe’s flawed win against Thomas was the other game, incidentally: about which, see below). If anything, this must have added petrol to the fire, rubbed salt into the wounds… choose your metaphor. He was not a happy bunny.

Of the 231 games played at Carlsbad , Nimzowitsch has selected 30 and arranged them by player. One would have liked to see more, but the games as given are top-notch. Nimzowitsch, as the winner, has 7 games; Capablanca and Spielmann, equal second, have 5 games apiece; Rubinstein, who finished in fourth place, has been given 3  games; the other prizewinners have 6 games between them; and, to end, there are 4 games to represent the non-prizewinners (those placed ninth to twenty-second). Among this last quartet of games is a win by Samisch (against Grunfeld) which picked up the First Brilliancy Prize.

Nimzowitsch’s annotations are lively and entertaining, appreciative and instructive; yet also abrasive at times. And it seems appropriate at this point to praise Jim Marfia’s terrific translation, which manages to bring the author’s personality fully to life.

One especially fascinating feature of the book lies in Nimzowitsch’s impressions of his contemporaries. His introductory remarks in the chapter on Rubinstein are heartfelt and genuinely moving, and bear comparison with Reti’s portrait of the same player in Modern Ideas in Chess. While his description of Vidmar’s style, a player for whom he apparently had a high regard, is insightful and eye-opening (see pages 108 and 111-112). He describes Vidmar’s chess as a blend of method and naiveté. Spielmann had publicly expressed his admiration for My System and Nimzowitsch writes of this established master and colleague almost as though he were his student. That is to say, he is just a little bit patronising. There is a sense, also, in which Nimzowitsch seems to feel as though he can appropriate some of Spielmann’s victories as his own, because they were achieved using his ideas (prophylaxis, blockade, centralization). Granted, the man wanted to promote his strategic vision of chess, but this was maybe the wrong way to go about it. Anyway, it is easy to see how Nimzowitsch could rub people the wrong way!

In his notes to the aforementioned Thomas–Euwe game, Nimzowitsch overlooks that after 22.Qxa2 axb3 White has the resource 23.Rxc5! turning the tables (see page 123). But this looks to be his only error in analysis. The move is mentioned by Euwe himself, incidentally, in From My Games 1920-1937 and so is not a ‘find’. Few would consider Euwe’s effort one of the two best played games in the tournament, anyway: Capablanca-Treybal, for one, was a much better game, pretty much a masterpiece.

Anything by Nimzowitsch is worth reading and, as I hope I have made plain, this is a fascinating book for all sorts of reasons.

The publisher’s description of Carlsbad International Chess Tournament 1929 can be read here.

Book Details

Carlsbad International Chess Tournament 1929

By Aron Nimzovich

Translated by Jim Marfia

Dover Publications, 2009

ISBN: 9780486439426

Fighting the Ruy Lopez

Fighting the Ruy Lopez

Fighting the Ruy Lopez is what the author had hoped it would be: a serious book.

The tone is set early on, on page 5 in fact, where we are told that one should not ‘expect to find instant solutions inside a book – amongst other things chess is a process of continual learning.’ A good sign, for it indicates that there won’t be any easy answers here, or any simplistic remedies. Pavlovic has written a repertoire book which provides a complete Black response to the Ruy Lopez. As such, it does not present a total solution to the perennial problem of how to meet 1.e4, but it takes you a long way down that road.

The centrepiece of the proposed repertoire is the Marshall Attack (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 0-0 8.c3 d5), thoroughly covered in Part 1 (chapters 1-7). It should be pointed out that, in the main line of the Marshall, theory often extends past move 20, so you must be prepared to follow another player’s moves for quite a long while. The second part (chapters 8-11) covers various Anti-Marshall lines, and it is interesting to note that Kasparov never allowed Black to play the Marshall; he always avoided it with 8.a4 or 8.h3. One curious omission here is 8.a3, Suetin’s move; it is a minor option, but still… Together, these first two sections make up the bulk of the book, while part three (chapters 12-15) covers early white deviations. These include the Exchange Variation (4.Bxc6), the Worrall and Centre Attacks (6.Qe2 and 6.d4), 6.Nc3 (a move which Keres had an inexplicable fondness for) and the rather dreary DERLD (6.Bxc6). Against each White system, Pavlovic gives just one Black choice (e.g. 5 … Bd6 versus the Exchange Variation after 4 … dxc6 5.0-0), generally an active line, principled and sound, and therefore in keeping with the overall character and tenor of the Marshall Attack.

Milos Pavlovic plays the Marshall himself and has contributed to its theory. In each chapter, he sets out the material well, highlighting the strategic themes and outlining the various typical plans and schemes of development for each side, before examining the theory in depth. Although an advocate for the Black side, his appraisals and evaluations strike one as being honest and objective.

There are pros and cons to adopting any mainstream opening line. To play it well, you need to make a substantial investment of time and effort. It is likely to be time well spent in this case, mind, for the Marshall gives good winning chances and is generally reliable, being the choice of many elite players. This book is an excellent place to start if you are thinking of taking up the Marshall Attack, though while bearing in mind the author’s words of caution about not expecting ‘instant solutions’.

The publisher’s description of Fighting the Ruy Lopez can be read here.

Book Details

Fighting the Ruy Lopez

By Milos Pavlovic

Everyman Chess, 2009

ISBN: 9781857445909

The Petrosian System Against the QID

an excellent monograph on the Petrosian system, still reckoned to be White’s best response to the Queen’s Indian Defence.

The Petrosian system is introduced by White’s distinctive fourth move in the sequence: 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 b6 4.a3. Part 1 of the book covers the consequences of 4 … c5 and 4 … Ba6, but the main focus is on 4 … Bb7 (Parts 2-11). A final section (Part 12) focuses on gambit lines. Surprisingly perhaps, the purpose of 4.a3 is to fight for the e4 square. White spends a tempo to prevent … Bb4 in response to Nc3, which enables the knight to support e2-e4.

After the usual 4 … Bb7 5.Nc3 d5 6.cxd5 Nxd5, the first player has three options. The older 7.e3 generally leads to quiet positional play; the e-pawn will reach e4 in two moves, not one. The modern 7.Qc2, aiming for an immediate e2-e4, is much sharper. White will meet … Nxc3 with bxc3, capturing toward the centre, and castle kingside after Bd3. Sharpest of all, mind, is the Dementiev system, characterised by 7.Bd2. White aims to play Qc2, 0-0-0 and a later e2-e4, recapturing on c3 with the bishop. If Black responds with … c5 at some point, as he really should, the situation can get very dicey for both sides. Whatever option he chooses, White can usually count on a smooth harmonious development.

Each section has the same format: ‘Main Ideas’ to give the gist – a general overview – of a particular variation or system; ‘Move by Move’ to present the analytical nitty-gritty. This format strikes me as an effective, user-friendly way to set out the theoretical material, though some complete illustrative games would have been welcome. The prose is fine overall, though the translation does read peculiarly in a few places: ‘that’ where ‘this’ would be appropriate, the omission of an indefinite article here and there. There is plenty of helpful explanatory text alongside the often heavy-weight analysis and a conclusion ends each section.

That Beliavsky is the co-author is a virtual guarantee of quality, and so it turns out. All in all, this is a balanced and authoritative examination of the Petrosian system.

You can view a pdf extract (contents page and foreword) from The Petrosian System Against the QID here.

Book Details

The Petrosian System Against the QID

By Alexander Beliavsky and Adrian Mikhalchishin

Chess Stars, 2008

ISBN: 9789548782685

Karlsbad 1907 International Chess Tournament

Karlsbad 1907 International Chess Tournament

It has taken well nigh a century for this classic tournament book to be translated into English. Much too long, of course, but it has been well worth the wait.

Karlsbad 1907 was a fairly strong tournament. Although it lacked the presence of Lasker and Tarrasch, the rest of the best players of the day participated. Rubinstein, then in his prime, came first and was closely followed by Maroczy. Other participants included Chigorin, Janowsky, Marshall, Duras and Nimzowitsch. The future author of My System was 20 years old at the time and shared fourth and fifth place with Schlechter. We are told by one contemporary commentator (in a newspaper account of the tournament that is given in the book) that he was ‘a young, upcoming talent, whose supporters will have to help curb his temperament if he is to attain successes at the chessboard and in the intercourse of society’. What the latter comment refers to is left unsaid.

All of the 210 games are annotated, about three quarters of them by Marco and the rest by Schlechter. The translator, Robert Sherwood, has added to these annotations: expanding, correcting and validating the authors’ analysis as appropriate. As an aid, Sherwood has made use of both his faithful Rybka and notes from a few other sources (such as Kmoch’s book on Rubinstein). From the many splendid games on show, here my favourite five:

  • Maroczy-Marshall
  • Janowsky-Rubinstein
  • Vidmar-Dus-Chotimirsky
  • Leonhardt-Maroczy
  • Tartakower-Maroczy

Marco has a high reputation as an annotator, and he more than lives up to it here. The breadth of his mind is everywhere evident; his notes are by turns poetic and methodical and rigorous. He has the knack of identifying critical moments and turning points in a game. Indeed, his annotations are often of greater interest than the games themselves. Or rather, the annotations are so penetrating and instructive that they make even pedestrian games seem interesting, so adept is Marco at showing a game’s internal logic. One modest example: Mieses-Maroczy, a bishop and pawn ending, was agreed drawn after 46 moves. Does this sound appealing? Well, perhaps not. Yet Marco’s note to Black’s 37th move, which extends over two pages and is full of detailed analyses and intricate explanations, compels you to look at this game with renewed appreciation. And this is by no means a solitary example; e.g. the note to move 48 in Salwe-Cohn is of a similar length and depth.

Often, Marco’s notes are of a more general nature. Recurring themes are the role of  risk, uncertainty and chance in chess and the ineluctable nature of human fallibility and folly (‘It is remarkable how often, in the realization of its aims, the human mind uses the most impractical methods,’ begins one such exasperated meditation). His note to the fourth move of Marshall-Cohn is a reflection on why paradigms are so slow to change, in science, religion and chess, and it anticipates the thought of Thomas Kuhn. (Well, perhaps I am exaggerating  a little here.)

Karlsbad 1907 International Chess Tournament is, without a doubt, a classic of chess literature and this beautifully produced edition, bound in red cloth, is commensurate with its worth. Ideally, it should be read in a wood-paneled library with a glass of port by your side and your faithful bulldog napping by the fire. It is an absolute pleasure for all who love chess.

The best online summary of Karlsbad 1907 International Chess Tournament is at the  New in Chess website – read it here.

Book Details

Karlsbad 1907 International Chess Tournament

By George Marco and Carl Schlechter

Translated by Robert Sherwood

Caissa Editions, 2007


1001 Brilliant Ways to Checkmate

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.

It is a puzzle book whose various themes include the queen sacrifice, discovered check, double check, pawn promotion (etc.). Only the last chapter, a collection of composed problems, seems out of place. What you have got otherwise are positions taken from actual games that are of, at most, 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. To ‘interleaf’ the puzzles, rather than attempting to solve them chapter by chapter, block by block. It is far more enjoyable that way and as a learning strategy it is much more effective (for evidence see, for example, the book 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 1001 Brilliant Ways to Checkmate by Fred Reinfeld and Bruce Alberston can be read here.

Book Details

1001 Brilliant Ways to Checkmate

By Fred Reinfeld and Bruce Alberston

Russell Enterprises, 2014

ISBN: 9781936490820

Fighting Chess with Hikaru Nakamura

Fighting Chess with Hikaru Nakamura

A compelling portrait of the winner of the 2017 Tradewise Gibraltar Masters, who also happens to be the most exciting player in the world right now.

Each chapter begins with a game or two from Wijk aan Zee 2011, Nakamura’s breakthrough tournament – he won it, finishing ahead of Anand and Carlsen and a slue of other elite players – and then goes on to discuss a key aspect of his game. Nakamura’s prowess in the endgame, his opening repertoire and in particular his penchant for the King’s Indian Defence, the risk-taking and fighting spirit that’s so characteristic of his style, and his enthusiasm for bullet and blitz; these are some of the topics under discussion. A wide-ranging interview takes up the bulk of chapter 6.

My only slight qualm is with the constant comparison with Fischer (particularly rife on pages 109-124), which doesn’t do Nakamura any favours and, anyway, is beside the point. He is an elite player certainly, but he is not and is unlikely to be the dominant force that Fischer once was. And he plays much more than Fischer ever did – a different approach entirely. Perhaps the comparison is a curse that all talented American grandmasters must endure (Seirawan got it to some extent). Anyway, results and interviews (e.g. this one at Chessbase) suggest that Nakamura has found his own path.

There’s plenty of chess here, the final chapter including five of Nakamura’s best games (four chosen by the player himself), but as intimated it is more than simply a games collection. This is a terrific book overall and important too, in that Nakamura may well be Carlsen’s next challenger.

Hikaru Nakamura’s website is here.

The publisher’s description of Fighting Chess with Hikaru Nakamura by Karsten Müller and Raymund Stolze can be read here.

Book Details

Fighting Chess with Hikaru Nakamura

By Karsten Müller and Raymund Stolze

Edition Olms, 2012

ISBN: 9783283010232