The Lasker Method to Improve in Chess

The Lasker Method to Improve in Chess : Gerard Welling and Steve Giddins

The Lasker Method to Improve in Chess, Gerard Welling and Steve Giddins, New in Chess, 2021, ISBN-13 : 978-9056919320
The Lasker Method to Improve in Chess, Gerard Welling and Steve Giddins, New in Chess, 2021, ISBN-13 : 978-9056919320

From the book’s rear cover :

“Many club players think that studying chess is all about cramming as much information in their brain as they can. Most textbooks support that notion by stressing the importance of always trying to find the objectively best move. As a result amateur players are spending way too much time worrying about subtleties that are really only relevant for grandmasters.

Emanuel Lasker, the second and longest reigning World Chess Champion (27 years!), understood that what a club player needs most of all is common sense: understanding a set of timeless principles. Amateurs shouldn’t waste energy on rote learning but just strive for a good grasp of the basic essentials of attack and defence, tactics, positional play and endgame play. Chess instruction needs to be efficient because of the limited amount of time that amateur players have available.

Superfluous knowledge is often a pitfall. Lasker himself, for that matter, also studied chess considerably less than his contemporary rivals. Gerard Welling and Steve Giddins have created a complete but compact manual based on Lasker’s general approach to chess. It enables the average amateur player to adopt trustworthy openings, reach a sound middlegame and have a basic grasp of endgame technique. Welling and Giddins explain the principles with very carefully selected examples from players of varying levels, some of them from Lasker’s own games.

The Lasker Method to Improve in Chess is an efficient toolkit as well as an entertaining guide. After working with it, players will dramatically boost their skills, without carrying the excess baggage that many of their opponents will be struggling with.”

FM Steve Giddins
FM Steve Giddins

“Steve Giddins is a FIDE Master from England, and a highly experienced chess writer and journalist. He compiled and edited The New In Chess Book of Chess Improvement, the bestselling anthology of master classes from New In Chess magazine. In 2019 Giddins published, together with Gerard Welling, the highly successful chess opening guide Side-Stepping Mainline Theory (ISBN 9789056918699).”

IM Gerard Welling
IM Gerard Welling

“Gerard Welling is an International Master and an experienced chess trainer from the Netherlands. He has contributed to NIC Yearbook and Kaissiber, the freethinker’s magazine on chess openings. In 2019 Welling published, together with Steve Giddins, the highly successful chess opening guide Side-Stepping Mainline Theory (ISBN 9789056918699).”

 

Most instructional chess books fall, broadly speaking, into one of two categories.

There are those, often written by younger players, which emphasise studying recent grandmaster games, teach openings by encouraging you to memorise long variations, provide annotated games with reams of computer-generated lines, offer very hard puzzles from top level competitions, and sometimes suggest you devise a timetable for study, setting aside a certain number of hours a day for opening study, tactics training, online games and so on.

Then there are books, usually written by older and, perhaps, wiser authors, very often not of GM strength, but with decades of experience both playing and teaching, who understand that most amateurs have a limited amount of time available. They recommend studying the classics, keeping things simple, choosing openings which are easy to learn, understanding ideas and plans, mastering the ending.

You won’t be surprised to learn that my sympathies are, with some reservations, more with the latter camp. And that’s what we have here.

You might not like the vivid yellow and blue cover, with our hero Manny Lasker wearing cool shades, but, putting that aside, let’s dive in.

The introduction is always a good place to start, so that we can see the authors’ aims in writing the book. In this case, they have much to say which I found particularly interesting, or perhaps just confirming my prejudices.

The amateur player has limited time for chess play and study, but still likes to practice his ‘major hobby’ as well as he can, and thus would like to base his game on reliable premises. He ideally wants to play trustworthy openings, and reach a sound middle game, and would welcome a basic grasp of endgame strategy, but often lacks the time to work on this.

Some amateurs, certainly, most, quite possibly, but not all. If you prefer to play dodgy gambits in the hope of winning a few quick brilliancies, this may not be the book for you.

You might recall, that a few years ago, John Nunn wrote a text book based on Lasker’s games. How does this book differ?

In the present book, we aim to do something completely different: we emphasise the specifically Laskerian approach and how it can be used by the average club player. Lasker emphasised most of all playing by understanding and general principles, with minimum rote-learning (especially of openings). This is perfect for the average amateur player, who wants to be able to maintain a good standard of play without relentless homework.

And again:

Nobody can possibly play the best moves all the time. Mistakes are inevitable and they are what decide games, so his (Lasker’s) aim was to try to induce more mistakes from the opponent than from ourselves. So, for example, for the average player, playing a position which he understands and feels comfortable in is more important than playing an objectively superior position that he doesn’t understand and doesn’t feel comfortable in, because he is more likely to go wrong in the latter. 

If you, like me, are broadly sympathetic to this view of chess instruction, then, you’ll almost certainly enjoy this book.  Younger and more ambitious readers, who prefer to study hundreds of ‘trainable variations’ on an online platform might have a different opinion.

Chapter 1 is very brief, looking at Lasker’s general ‘common sense’ chess philosophy. His Manual of Chess dates from 1925. Almost a century later, chess is very different, but do his principles still stand up? The authors believe they do.

Chapter 2 considers the three principles of positional play. 1: the principle of attack: if you have the advantage you must seek ways of exploiting it. 2: the principle of defence: as your opponent will attack your weakest point, you must defend it. 3: the aim of your actions should be proportionate to the size of your advantage.

In real life, of course, it’s not always as simple as that. You might, for example, have an extra pawn but a weakened king-side or a less effective minor piece. Imbalances of this nature are also important.

Chapter 3 looks at endings. The authors explain the need to know theoretical endgames, and offer a few examples from Lasker’s games.

In this position, for instance, from the first game of his 1911 World Championship match against Schlechter, he managed to draw the game by giving up a second pawn with 54… Re4! 55. Rc5 Kf6 to activate his pieces.

We move on to Attack in Chapter 4. Only the first game here was played by Lasker. The others, mostly unfamiliar, illustrate the point that if your opponent’s king is insufficiently well defended you sometimes need to strike quickly before he has time to bring up the reserves. The openings, though, are often not those you’d associate with Lasker. A small point here: in game 12, where Lodewijk Prins played the eccentric 1. e4 c6 2. b4, the black pieces were handled by Rupert, not Robert Cross.

The authors prefer verbal explanations to variations, and that can be seen in the instructive note here (Sosonko – Eising  Mannheim 1975), where Black played 30… Nxg2!

The Australian master and didact C.J.S. Purdy warned that tactics dominate the game and can come out of nowhere, even in positionally lost situations. We believe it is a matter of formulation, because if there are correct tactics available, then, by definition, the position is NOT strategically lost. Lasker formulated this in a clear way, where he mentioned ‘a large superiority of force in a quarter where the opponent has an important weakness’.

Well, yes, but we’ve all lost games by blundering and allowing a tactic in strategically winning positions.

After Attack you’d be right to expect Defence. Two of the four examples here come from Lasker’s games. We’re often taught to seek counterchances or to enter swindle mode, but here the authors demonstrate that, in some cases, just sitting tight and trying to hold everything is the best policy.

Next, we have a short chapter on knights and bishops. Lasker had a particular appreciation for positions where knights outshine bishops, and here we learn about Giddins’ friend Michael Cook, one of the inspirations behind this book: a Lasker admirer who also favours equine manoeuvres.

The following chapter is perhaps unexpected: Amorphous Positions. Restrained but resilient formations without weak links but with potential energy. We first look at a couple of Lasker games where he placed a bunch of pawns on the third rank before moving on to meet another amateur, in this case a Dutch player named Philip du Chattel, who, when playing black, seemingly favoured Nh6 on move 1 or 2. I’m not sure this is something Lasker would ever have considered.

(As an aside, Welling himself is a chess maverick, and his latest book has been co-written with English maverick IM Mike Basman. I suspect there’s an interesting book to be written about strong (say 2200+) players who favour offbeat openings.)

Finally in this chapter we see some games played by Canadian maverick GM Duncan Suttles, who also preferred non-committal openings of this nature.

We’ve now, travelling backwards from the ending, reached the opening, and in Chapter 8 the authors propose a repertoire based on Lasker’s principles.

At amateur level, especially, most games are decided by tactical opportunities and it is of no relevance at all whether one side or the other has a quarter of a pawn’s advantage after the opening. The important thing is just to reach a playable position, with the pieces developed and the king safe, preferably without significant pawn weaknesses.

(Another aside: the authors previously collaborated on a repertoire book which proposed playing a Philidor/Old Indian setup with both colours. Here we have something very different.

As Black, we’re going to defend classically. We’ll meet 1. e4 with e5, playing the Steinitz Defence (with 3… Nf6 followed by 4… d6) against the Ruy Lopez. Against the Italian Game we’ll play 3… Bc5, although we’ll need some concrete analysis. 4… d5!? is suggested against the Evans Gambit, but Greco’s 7. Nc3 in the old main line is dismissed rather too hurriedly. If you don’t like this, 3… d6 is an alternative. We’re also provided with safe and sensible lines against White’s alternatives. We’ll decline any gambit, meeting the King’s Gambit with 2… Nf6!? and the Danish Gambit with 3… d5. Against d4, likewise, we’ll opt for 1… d5, playing the Orthodox Defence to the Queen’s Gambit. Again, common-sense lines are offered against the main line, the Exchange variation, the Bf4 variation and the Catalan. But something seems to be missing here: there’s nothing about the currently popular and annoying London System, not to mention the Colle or Torre. The English and Réti are dismissed in a column and a half (1… e6 and 2… d5) and other first moves aren’t mentioned at all.

With White, we’ll play 1. e4. Against 1… e5 we’ll play the Ruy Lopez, but, following Lasker’s predilection for knights, we’ll trade on c6 at the first opportunity. In the Exchange variation proper we’re advised to play 5. Nc3 rather than O-O.

If Black offers the Petroff instead we’ll head for the ending with 5. Qe2.  We’ll play the Closed Sicilian, with our king’s knight on the flexible e2 square. Against the French and the Caro-Kann you won’t be surprised to hear that we’ll trade pawns on d5. Again, this seems incomplete: there’s no recommendation against any other defence to 1. e4.

What do you make of this? It makes sense as far as it goes, but it’s certainly not for everyone. You’ll need a lot of patience as well as endgame skill to enjoy it. It might, of course, be exactly what you’re looking for. You might, as one often does with repertoire books, like some, but not all the suggestions.

Chapter 9 is the meat of the book: games for study and analysis based on the openings recommended in the previous chapter, 41 of them in total, well selected (many deeply obscure so you almost certainly won’t have seen them before) and well annotated. The young guns who tell you to study recent GM games will be horrified to see that most of the games are from the last century, although Carlsen makes an appearance playing the Exchange French. Welling and Giddins are not the first authors to comment on the similarity between Lasker’s and Carlsen’s approach to chess.

You won’t find many short brilliancies, but this is an exception:

Black chooses a modest opening formation giving White a slight advantage, but this game demonstrates how easy it is for the first player to overreach in this type of position.

We also meet Michael Cook again, and see two of his wins against the Ruy Lopez, one of them against my old friend Malcolm Lightfoot. I found the ending of the other game particularly interesting.

This is from a 1980 county match where Cook is black against R Bristow. Like many of my generation, I was brought up on Basic Chess Endings and led to believe that bishops were stronger than knights in endings with pawns on both sides of the board. Of course this is very often the case, and there’s an excellent example earlier in the book.

This position is objectively drawn, but it’s Black who can press for the full point.

The game concluded 29. Kg1 Nd6 30. g3 f6 31. Bb4 Nb5 32. Kf2 Kf7 33. Ke3 Ke6 34. Ke4 f5+ 35. Kd3 Kd5 36. Bc3 g6 37. Be5 h5 38. Bb2 Kc5 39. Bc3 Nd6 40. Bd2 Ne4 41. Be1 Kd5 42. Ke3? (a3 would have held) Kc4 43. Ke2 Kd4 44. Bb4 h4 at which point time was called and the adjudicator (yes, that’s how we played chess 40 years ago) awarded Cook the point.  The authors claim that after 45. Kf3 hxg3 46. hxg3 Nc3 47. a3 Kc4  Black wins, but Stockfish isn’t convinced after, for example, 48. g4.

The authors comment:

Within reason, the objective assessment of the position does not matter that much, when it is just a matter of a slight plus one way or the other – what is much more important is knowing what you’re doing and understanding that the white advantage, if any, is relatively small. 

… and:

An additional point, as we have seen, is that the white player will frequently overestimate his advantage and play too ambitiously, often just because ‘the books’ say this Steinitz Defence is not really very good. Just as Lasker said, he preferred the side ‘which has kept back his forces a little’. so deliberately heading for a position where one knows one is objectively slightly worse, but also knows that the disadvantage is small and manageable, and where one also knows how to handle the position, is often a very effective way to play for a win.

Interesting and thought-provoking, I think, and certainly a very different philosophy from the maximalist approach espoused by many authors of instructional manuals. It’s certainly not the only way to play chess,  but it might just be for you. An awareness that your opponents might be taking that approach could also be useful.

Finally, there’s the almost obligatory puzzle section. We have 50 puzzles, split into easy, intermediate and difficult, taken, with one exception, from the games of the authors and their hero.

Again, they have some helpful insights to share:

Talking about the experience of analysing with a much stronger player:

The other chap just seems to ‘see’ things so quickly, noticing immediately little tactical tricks which escape the lesser player altogether, or else take him much longer to spot. And we are mainly talking not about spectacular sacrificial combinations, but about routine tactical ideas, 2-3 moves deep, on which so much of a chess game hinges.

Indeed. At club level it’s precisely this which decides most games.

So how does one acquire such ability? Well, as with most things in life, talent is obviously a factor, but hard work and regular practice is crucial. Tactical ability and alertness is rather like physical fitness – when you start from a very low level, a lot of work is needed to build yourself up to a certain level, but once you are there, 15-30 minutes’ exercise a day is all you need to maintain that level.

Here’s one of the intermediate puzzles.

In this position White played 24. Nxc4. Is this a blunder? You’ll find the solution at the foot of the page.

It’s often interesting when reading a book with two authors to try to guess which author was primarily responsible for which chapter. (You might like to do this with The (Even More) Complete Chess Addict.) Welling (eccentric openings) and Giddings (safe and simple openings) seem to have slightly different chess philosophies, but they converge with the idea that it doesn’t matter if you’re slightly worse: just that have more understanding of what’s going on than your opponent.

If you’re young and ambitious you might turn your nose up at books of this nature, but club players rated anywhere between, say, 1600 and 2200 who would like to improve their chess in between family and work commitments may well find this book inspirational even though they might not agree with everything the authors say, and might well find some or all the repertoire recommendations don’t suit.

I really enjoyed reading it, and felt I learnt quite a lot as well. I’ve always believed that you’ll benefit more from studying games played by someone 200-300 points stronger than you than you would from top grandmasters. Looking at their games you can think “Yes: I could learn to play like that”, and as Michael Cook, for example, was, at his peak, 200 points or so stronger than me, I could learn a lot from his games. My frustration was that the book seemed incomplete, and, as a result, perhaps not always totally coherent. There were a couple of signs that it might have been edited down from something much longer at the request of  the publisher, but of course my hunch could well be incorrect.

The book is well written and produced to this publisher’s customary high standards. It may not be a book for everyone, but if you’re part of the target market you don’t need to hesitate. There are many fascinating and provocative insights which will encourage you to look at chess in a different way.

Solution to puzzle (Giddins – Carlier Antwerp 1993): 24. Nxc4 isn’t a blunder because after 24… Bxc4 he has the decisive blow 25.Rb6! Qxb6 26. Re6+ Kg8 27. Rxb6.

Richard James, Twickenham 4th May 2021

Richard James
. Richard James

Book Details :

  • Paperback : 240 pages
  • Publisher: New in Chess (16 Mar 2021)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:9056919326
  • ISBN-13:978-9056919320
  • Product Dimensions: 17.25 x 1.55 x 23.67 cm

Official web site of New in Chess

The Lasker Method to Improve in Chess, Gerard Welling and Steve Giddins, New in Chess, 2021, ISBN-13 : 978-9056919320
The Lasker Method to Improve in Chess, Gerard Welling and Steve Giddins, New in Chess, 2021, ISBN-13 : 978-9056919320
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Desert Island Chess Puzzle Omnibus

Desert Island Chess Puzzle Omnibus, Adams, Nunn, Burgess, So, Gambit Publications Ltd., 2021, ISBN-13 : 978-1911465652
Desert Island Chess Puzzle Omnibus, Adams, Nunn, Burgess, So, Gambit Publications Ltd., 2021, ISBN-13 : 978-1911465652

From the publisher:

“If you had to choose a single luxury chess item to take to a desert island, then how about this: a superb selection of 400 puzzles to solve? Each author has carefully chosen 100 original positions, graded by difficulty and theme into four sections of 25. The emphasis throughout is on entertainment, instruction and inspiration. The solutions pinpoint lessons to be learnt and explain why plausible but incorrect solutions fail.”

“This book is written by an all-star team of authors. Wesley So is the reigning Fischer Random World Champion, the 2017 US Champion and the winner of the 2016 Grand Chess Tour. Michael Adams has been the top British player for the last quarter of a century and was a finalist in the 2004 FIDE World Championship. John Nunn is a three-time winner of both the World Solving Championship and the British Chess Federation Book of the Year Award. Graham Burgess is Gambit’s Editorial Director and the author of 30 books.”

End of blurb…

Before we dig in we suggest you take at look at this video about the book from John Nunn himself.

We all love puzzle books and this book is no exception. This excellent, entertaining book is split up into four sections by author:

Each author supplies 100 puzzles broken up into four chapters which progressively get harder. There are a few specialist chapters such as Graham Burgess’ Opening Themes which is one of my favourite parts.

The reviewer will kick-off by demonstrating some of the puzzle posers from Michael Adams’ section.

Black has just moved his to queen to h5 to offer the exchange of queens. What did he miss?

 Ray-Robson-Eugene-Perelshteyn-Lubbock-2010

Ray Robson-Eugene Perelshteyn Lubbock 2010

Solution: Black overlooked the stunning rejoinder: 14.Nd5! winning the bishop on e7. Black cannot move his queen to defend the bishop. If black tries 14…Qxd1, the intermezzo 15.Nxe7+ followed by recapturing the queen, wins a piece. Black cannot retreat the bishop with 14…Bd8 as 15.Nxf6+ followed by 16.Qxh5 wins black’s queen.

The next position reminds the reviewer of a game he won with this tactical idea in an early club match as a junior.

White has just played Ra5 going after the a-pawn. What did he overlook?

Boris-Gulko-Michael-Adams-Internet-2020
Boris Gulko-Michael Adams Internet 2020

Adams unleashed the devastating 37…Ne3+ exploiting the seventh rook for his rook. After 38. fxe3 Rb2+ white resigned because of 39. Kh3 Qxf3 40. Qc8+ Kh7 followed by a quick massacre of the white king.

In the next position, white has a clear advantage with a big lead in development. White played 20.Qd7 and won easily. Can you spot a quicker and more elegant  route to victory?

Laurent-Fressinet-Vladimir-Malaniuk-Bastia-2010
Laurent Fressinet-Vladimir Malaniuk Bastia 2010

20. Re8+ Bxe8 21.Qg3+ kills black prettily on the diagonals 21…Qe5 22.Qxe5#

In the next position, black is threatening the brutal Rc1#. How does white get the knife in first?

Vasilios-Kotronias-Francisco-Vllejo-Pons-Budva-2009
Vasilios Kotronias-Francisco Vallejo Pons Budva 2009

White wins with a common mating pattern: 42.Rh7+ Kxh7 43.Nf6+ Kh8 44.Rg8#

This next position was from a marathon blitz game. White has slowly edged his pawns forward and has just played 215. Re4. What was black’s response to abruptly end the game?

Vasily-Ivanchuk-Peter-Leko-Moscow-blitz-2007
Vasily Ivanchuk-Peter Leko Moscow blitz 2007

Peter Leko found the incisive 215…Qf7+ 216.Kxf7 stalemate, ending the torture.

In the next puzzle, black has just played Rd8. What was white’s crisp response?

Michael-Adams-Vladislav-Borovikov-Kallithea-2002
Michael Adams-Vladislav Borovikov Kallithea 2002

38. Qe8+ mates 38…Rxe8 39.Rxe8+ Kg7 40.Bf8+ Kg8 41. Bh6#

Nigel Short,  a brilliant tactician, missed a golden opportunity here. What is white’s best move?

Nigel-Short-Jan-Timman-London-2008
Nigel Short-Jan Timman London 2008

The rampant white knights stomp all over black with 19.Nd6! threatening 20.Nxc6+ and Nf7+ 19…Nd5 (19…Qxd6 20. Nf7+ wins the queen, or  19…cxd6 20.Nc6+ Kd7 21.Nxb8+ also captures the queen) 20.Nxc6+ Kd7 21.Nxb8+ Kxd6 22. Qa3+ c5 23. Bd2 white has a material advantage and a virulent attack.

The next position shows a classic over press in a drawn ending. White has just played his queen from b8 to b2. How did black punish this careless move?

Klaus-Bischoff-Mark-Quinn-Dun-Laoghaire-2010
Klaus Bischoff-Mark Quinn Dun Laoghaire 2010

Black used the power of his centralised steed to fork the queen with the knight 65…Re3+! 0-1 After 66.Qxe3 Nc4+ snares the lady, 66. Kd1 Re1+ also captures the queen, similarly 66.Kf1 Re1+ wins

Black has just played the active Rd2. How did white exploit this?

Michael Adams-John-Nunn-European-Internet-Blitz-2003
Michael Adams-John Nunn European Internet Blitz 2003

26. Rxe6! exploits the weak back rank. 1-0 as 26…Rxf2 27.Re8# & 26…fxe6 27.Qf8#

In this next position white baled out with a perpetual. How could white win with a beautiful geometrical sequence?

Ivan Saric-Vidmantas-Malisauskas-Novi-Sad-2009
Ivan Saric-Vidmantas Malisauskas Novi Sad 2009

47.Qd7+ Kg6 48.f5+ Qxf5 black’s queen blocks his own king 49.Qg7+ Kh5 50.g4+ Qxg4 once again the queen gets in the way 51.Qh7# Very pretty

The next section is by John Nunn who is a brilliant problem solver having won the world problem solving championship three times. I shall show a couple of beautiful studies from his chapter on Advanced Tactics, Endings And Studies.

White to play and win.

Arpad Rusz-The Problemist-2019
Arpad Rusz The Problemist 2019

1.Rc1+! The obvious 1.a8=Q+ loses to 1…Kg1 2.Rc1+ Qf1+! 3.Rxf1+ Kxf1 4.Qa6+ Kg1 5.Qg6+ Rg2 6.Qf6 otherwise the pawn queens 6…Rf2+ skewers the queen and wins

1…Qf1+!! (1…Kg2 2.a8=Q+ Qf3+ 3.Qxf3+ Kxf3 4.Rc3+  Ke2 5.Ra3 and white wins the rook ending) 2.Rxf1+ Kg2

Arpad Rusz-The Problemist 2020 Move 3
Arpad Rusz The Problemist 2019 Move 3

3.Rh1!! (Deflecting either the black king or rook to an inferior square, 3.a8=Q+ loses as above) 3…Kxh1 (3…Rxh1 4. a8=Q+ Kh2 5. Qh8+ followed by Qg8+ winning the dangerous black pawn and the game) 4.a8=Q+ Kg1 (4…Rg2 5.Qh8+ Kg1 6.a6 wins) 5.Qg8+ Rg2 6. Qh8 stopping the pawn and white wins

Here is another brilliant problem. I could not solve this one, but just sit back and enjoy!

Mario-Matous-Dresden-Olympiad-Touney-2008
Mario Matous Dresden Olympiad Tourney 2008
  1. e7 cxb1=Q 2. e8=Q Nf3+! (To give access to h7 for a black queen) 3. Nxf3 Qh7+ 4. Kg3 b1=Q Black seems to have everything under control with the two queens poised to kill
Mario-Matous-Dresden-Olympiad-Tourney-2009-Move-5
Mario Matous Dresden Olympiad Tourney 2009 Move 5

5.Qe4!! Putting white’s queen en prise and forking the two queens. Black cannot take the queen because of a deadly rook check. 5…Qg1+ (5…Qg7+ 6.Ng5+ Qxe4 7.Rd1+ mates) 6.Nxg1 Qxe4 7.Nf3 black has no decent check to avoid mate. 7…Qxf3+ 8.Kxf3 with an easy RvN winning ending as black’s king is stuck in the corner, separated from the knight, for example 8…Nb7 9.Rd7 Nc5 10.Rd5 Ne6 11.Kg3 mating.

Section three is by Graham Burgess. The Opening Themes chapter is an instructive set of puzzles based on tactical possibilities in the opening. The reviewer had not seen these exact positions before, but a lot of the themes are common ideas and traps in the opening.

Black has just played the active and provactive Nb4. How should white deal with the threat to the d-pawn?

Igor-Kovalenko-Axel-Bachmann-World-Blitz-Ch-Berlin-2015
Igor Kovalenko-Axel Bachmann World Blitz Ch Berlin 2015

9.c3! Nbxd5 10. e4 and the knight is lost. 9.e4 is also good based on the same idea.

A typical position from the Sicilian.  Black has just kicked the bishop with h6, before deciding how to complete his development. How does white cut across this plan?

Denis-Wiegner-Wolfgang-Trebing-Hamburg-Juniors-1994
Denis Wiegner-Wolfgang Trebing Hamburg Juniors 1994

10.Ndxb5! axb5 11.Nxb5 threatening Nd6#  d5 12.Bf4! targeting the weak d6 and c7 squares 12…e5 13.exd5 exf4 14.dxc6 Nxc6 15.Re1+ Be7 16.Nd6+ Kf8 17.Nxb7 winning a couple of pawns

Black has just left his d-pawn en prise. Can white take it?

Ian-Marshall-John-Henderson-Corr.-1993
Ian Marshall-John Henderson Corr. 1993

No. After 6.Nxd5?? Nxd5 7.Qxd5 c6! white cannot prevent Qa5+ picking up the bishop on g5. Strange error considering that this was a postal game!

This is a Modern Defence.  Black has just unmasked his fianchettoed bishop with Nfd7. White can refute this outright. How?

Wolfgang-Schaser-Hubertus-Hilchenbach-Corr.-2004
Wolfgang Schaser-Hubertus Hilchenbach Corr. 2004

10.Bxf7+ Kxf7 11.Ng5+ Kg8 12.Qf3 Nf6 13.Qb3+ wins, e.g. e6 14.Ncxe6 Qe7 15.0-0 Bxe6 16.Nxe6 Qf7 17.Nc7

Finally an old trap in the Slav Defence. White has just played 12.e4. What is black’s surprising reply?

Zdenko-Kozul-Miguel-Illescas-Erevan-Olympiad-1996
Zdenko Kozul-Miguel Illescas Erevan Olympiad 1996

12…Nc5!! 13.dxc5 dxe4 14.Qxd8 (14.Qe3 exf3 is bad for white as well) Rfxd8 white loses back the piece and will be a pawn down 15.Na4 (15.Nxe4 Nxe4 16.Be3 Nxc5 and 15.Be3 exf3 16.gxf3 Rd3 leave black in a superb position) 15…exf3 16.Rfd1 Rd3 with a huge plus.

Finally, I will show a complex king and pawn ending given by Wesley So. Black to play – how does he capitalise on his better pawn structure and better king?

Alexander-Grishchuk-Wesley-So-Leuven-rapid-2018
Alexander Grishchuk-Wesley-So Leuven rapid 2018

The first few moves are obvious 31…Kg6 32.Ke2 Kg5 33.Kf3 f5 34.gxf5

Now what should black play?

Buy the book to find out.

In summary, this is a superb puzzle book with a varied pot-pourri of problems such as opening traps, pure tactics, attacking ideas, defensive ideas, endings,  and studies with a varying  degree of difficulty to suit all standards. An excellent book for not just junior training but for players of all standards to hone their tactical skills.

FM Richard Webb, Chineham, Hampshire, 30th April 2021

FM Richard Webb
FM Richard Webb

Book Details :

  • Hardcover :320 pages
  • Publisher:  Gambit Publications Ltd (16 Dec. 2020)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:1911465651
  • ISBN-13:978-1911465652
  • Product Dimensions: 17.15 x 1.65 x 24.77 cm

This physical book is also available as an eBook and as an App book from Gambit.

 

Official web site of Gambit Publications Ltd.

Desert Island Chess Puzzle Omnibus, Adams, Nunn, Burgess, So, Gambit Publications Ltd., 2021, ISBN-13 : 978-1911465652
Desert Island Chess Puzzle Omnibus, Adams, Nunn, Burgess, So, Gambit Publications Ltd., 2021, ISBN-13 : 978-1911465652
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The Iron English

The Iron English, Richard Palliser & Simon Williams, Everyman Chess, 2020, ISBN-13 : 978-1781945803
The Iron English, Richard Palliser & Simon Williams, Everyman Chess, 2020, ISBN-13 : 978-1781945803

Here is the publishers blurb from the rear cover :

Grandmaster Simon Williams was taught the English Opening at the age of six and 1 c4 was his weapon of choice until long after he became an International Master. For this new work, he teamed up with acclaimed theoretician International Master Richard Palliser to explore his old favourite. 1 c4 remains an excellent choice for the club and tournament player. This book focuses on the set-up popularised by the sixth world champion, Mikhail Botvinnik, the so-called Botvinnik formation with 2 Nc3, 3 g3, 4 Bg2, 5 e4 and 6 Nge2.

This system is compact but still aggressive and rewards an understanding of plans and strategies rather than rote memorisation of moves. In Opening Repertoire: The Iron English leading chess authors Simon Williams and Richard Palliser guide the reader through the complexities of this dynamic variation and carves out a repertoire for White.

They examine all aspects of this highly complex opening and provide the reader with well-researched, fresh, and innovative analysis. Each annotated game has valuable lessons on how to play the opening and contains instructive commentary on typical middlegame plans.

and. from the publisher, about the authors :

IM Richard Palliser
IM Richard Palliser

Richard Palliser is an International Master and the editor of CHESS magazine. In 2006 he became joint British Rapidplay Champion and in 2019 finished 3rd in the British Championship. He has established a reputation as a skilled chess writer and written many works for Everyman, including the bestselling The Complete Chess Workout.”

GM Simon Williams
GM Simon Williams

Simon Williams is a Grandmaster, a well-known presenter and a widely-followed streamer, as well as a popular writer whose previous books have received great praise. He is much admired for his dynamic and spontaneous attacking style.”

As with every recent Everyman Chess publication high quality paper is used and the printing is clear. Each diagram is clear as is the instructional text. Figurine algebraic notation is used throughout.

The diagrams do not have a “to move” indicator or any kind of caption so you will need to work out for yourself how they relate to the text that they are embedded in. However, this is fairly obvious.

The book consists of nine chapters :

  1. Key Ideas for White
  2. Kickstarter: An Outline of the Iron English Repertoire
  3. English Versus King’s Indian
  4. The Modern: 1.c4 g6 and 1…d6
  5. Other Fianchetto Defences
  6. The Reversed Sicilian
  7. The Symmetrical English
  8. The Mikenas Attack
  9. Other Lines (1…c6/1…e6)

Opening books are becoming thicker and more imposing year on year and at 464 pages this recent offering from Everyman Chess is no exception. Any book with the involvement of Richard Palliser deserves, without doubt, to be paid special attention to and complimenting him is the h (and now f) pawns favourite advocate Grandmaster, Simon Williams.

Having two authors with contrasting playing styles (we felt) would lead to interesting recommendations rather in the vein of “Good cop, bad cop”. We will leave you to decide which might be which!

In essence this book (and the strongly associated Chessable course) is a complete repertoire for White based around the English Opening.

In the BCN office one of our favourite English Opening books is the 1999 classic “The Dynamic English” by Tony Kosten

The Dynamic English, Tony Kosten, Gambit Publications, 1999, ISBN 1 901983 14 5
The Dynamic English, Tony Kosten, Gambit Publications, 1999, ISBN 1 901983 14 5

which is of a mere 144 pages and of even smaller physical dimensions. A timeless classic in our opinion.

The Iron English is the first (we think) book (in the English language) to provide a complete repertoire around the Botvinnik flavour of the English in which White clamps or strongpoints the d5 square with an early e4 thus:

or even more simply

and this solid generic structure is advocated against almost all of Black’s reasonable and unreasonable defences.

Chapter One provides sample games (mainly from the authors) to give an idea of what White should be striving to achieve and Chapter Two outlines the repertoire.

In order to benefit from the chapters following these two  should probably be read more than once. One of the reasons for this is the huge complexity of the transpositional possibilities and move orders. The end-of-book Index of Variations helps the reader to navigate their way through the mire of variations and following that is an Index of Games bringing up the rear.

The style of presentation is friendly and very, very chatty (Alan Carr is nowhere to be seen you’ll be pleased to learn)  and presumably driven by the same material’s presentation as part of a Chessable course.

To get a feel of this style here are sample pages to whet your appetite and here is a example extracted game from Chapter One:

which provides for engaging instruction (if you like that sort of thing!).

Quite correctly, the content is dominated by the King’s Indian (73 pages), Reversed Sicilian (102 pages) and 100 pages on 1. c4 g6 and 1.c4 d6 lines. Clearly a wealth of material and probably most suited to someone who already plays the English but not the Botvinnik System. Taking up the English for the first time via this book (and/or the course) could well be somewhat daunting and not for the faint hearted.

Each of chapters Three – Nine adopts the now familiar Everyman format of example games delivering the theoretical discussion. Thirty-three games are dissected in detail including six of SKWs.

In the BCN office we always like to see how we would fair defending “against the book” and since we play the slightly offbeat 1.c4 c6 we turned to page 440 for Theory 9A (!).

where we won our internal wager that White would be advised to play 2.e4 and transpose into a Pseudo-Panov (called the Steiner Variation in Win with the Caro-Kann) rather than to a Slav. So, how did the “game” go?

1.c4 c6; 2. e4 d5; 3.cd: cd:; 4. ed: Nf6; 5.Nc3 Nxd5; 6.Bc4!?

which is a little off the beaten track (but easily met) with 6…Nb6; 7.Bb3 Nc6; 8.Nf3 Bf5; 9. d4 e6; 10 0-0, Be7; 11.a4 Na5 12. Ba2 0-0; 13.Qe2 and instead of the move suggested (13…Rc8) we played 13…Nc6! with a totally playable position.

The text suggests that someone who plays 1…c6 could be unfamiliar with a transposition to the Caro-Kann. Yes, they may well be but more likely this is a forlorn hope.

Anyway, this recreational digression is not really germane to the main thrust of the book…

In summary, this book is a major piece of work by Richard Palliser and Simon Williams that adds considerable material to the increasingly popular Botvinnik English.

In a sense the Botvinnik English is a kind of very grown-up London System and Colle Opening approach to playing with the White pieces (i.e. a system approach) and a welcome addition to White’s armoury.  Anyone wishing to take it up will find this book to be a reliable and friendly companion.

John Upham, Cove, Hampshire, 29th April, 2021

John Upham
John Upham

Book Details :

  • Paperback : 464 pages
  • Publisher: Everyman Chess (1 Oct. 2020)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1781945802
  • ISBN-13: 978-1781945803
  • Product Dimensions: 17.3 x 1.7 x 23.8 cm

Official web site of Everyman Chess

As is fairly common these days, the book has been migrated to the Chessable platform. Here are reviews of that course.

The Iron English, Richard Palliser & Simon Williams, Everyman Chess, 2020, ISBN-13 : 978-1781945803
The Iron English, Richard Palliser & Simon Williams, Everyman Chess, 2020, ISBN-13 : 978-1781945803
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1.d4! : The Chess Bible : Understanding Queen’s Pawn Structures

1.d4! The Chess Bible, Armin Juhasz, Thinker's Publishing, 2021, ISBN-10 9464201118
1.d4! The Chess Bible, Armin Juhasz, Thinker’s Publishing, 2021, ISBN-10 9464201118

From the publisher:

“In his first book (we anticipate many more), the young Hungarian author makes a worthy attempt to walk his readers through a complete 1.d4 opening repertoire. Yet while he is taking you thru the opening he never forgets the other phases of the game. As a result, the subsequent middlegame and endgame elements are remarkably well organized benefiting both beginner and advanced players to acquire powerful skills with 1.d4!”

IM Armin Juhasz
IM Armin Juhasz

“Europe’s youngest FIDE accredited trainer, IM Armin Juhasz, is an active player and a successful coach living in Budapest, Hungary. Born in 1998 he is currently 22 years of age and earned the IM title when 17. In 2016 he achieved his highest Elo of 2424. Armin has twice won the Hungarian Youth Championship. He was a member of the Hungarian U18 team which won the silver medal at the European Youth Team Championship in 2016. In addition to being an active competitor he is also the owner and CEO of Center Chess School. This thriving start up effort in Budapest has seen outstanding results. Several of his students have won numerous medals on both the world and national stage. Included in this list of success are two Hungarian Championships, on in the U16 and the other in the U14 division. He has also coached a World U12 Champion from the United States.”

End of blurb.

As with every recent Thinkers Publishing publication high quality paper is used and the printing is clear. We were hoping that the excellent glossy paper of previous titles would be used for this one but never mind.

With a small amount of persuasion the book can be laid flat next to the board and does not require weights to prevent it from “self-closing” (a particular bugbear of ours !). Each diagram is clear and the instructional text is typeset in two column format, which, we find, enables the reader to maintain their place easily. Figurine algebraic notation is used throughout and the diagrams are placed adjacent to the relevant text and each diagram has a “to move” indicator and a “position after: x move” type caption.

There is no Index or Index of Variations but, despite that, content navigation is relatively straightforward.

The main content is divided into six chapters :

  1. The King’s Indian Defense
  2. The Grünfeld Defense
  3. The Benoni Defense
  4. The Slav Defense
  5. The Catalan Opening
  6. Frequent Endgame Types

Pedant warning: before we look at the important stuff you might have noticed above the above use of “defense” rather than “defence”. This is the spelling used throughout which we are surprised that the editor/proof readers/typesetter allowed through. We will shall not dwell further on this. The rear cover (but the not the preface) introduction by GM Horvath uses the horrible “thru” instead of “through”. Moving on…

Our first attempt at reviewing was to hit the buffers and this was caused by wording within the Preface (and rear cover text) from GM Horvath. He writes

the young Hungarian author makes a worthy attempt to talk his readers through a complete 1.d4 opening repertoire,

Complete? This did not fit with the above chapter listing (unless the definition of “complete” has recently been updated. Seeking clarification we consulted Thinker’s Publishing and they confirmed that the word “complete” was indeed employed erroneously by Horvath. In fact, the sub-title (which does not appear on the front or rear covers) of “Understanding Queen’s Pawn Structures” we were informed should have been given greater prominence. Moving on…

So what we actually have here is a partial repertoire for White against the five Black defences listed above plus an intriguing sixth  bonus chapter. Each of the five chapters selects a line for White and proceeds to help you understand that recommendation  using the same methodology (which appears to be both novel and sensible) as follows:

For each of chapters 1-5 we have sections:

  1. Introduction
  2. Model Games (I)
  3. Theoretical Section
  4. Model Games (II)
  5. Typical Tactics
  6. Homework
  7. Concluding Tips

Interestingly Model Games (I) provides annotated games that are not in the line for White suggested but important stem games for the Black defence providing extra background about the typical plans and structures for Black that you should be aware of.

Theoretical Section gets down to the nitty gritty of detailed variations and analysis. Model Games (II) is not more of the same of (I) but model games that are directly from the recommendations contained in the Theoretical Section.  Thinking back over the history of opening books for many of them this would have been the only style of content. Things have evolved for the better.

Typical Tactics is a collection often repeating tactical ideas and themes directly arising from these variations and therefore very relevant.

Homework sounded a little weird (to us at least) since surely all of the above are examples of homework? However the point of these sections is interesting. The book provides the reader / student  with half a dozen or so high quality games that are devoid of any notes or annotations. The student is invited to play through these games on a real chessboard (!), make notes, identify critical moments and find potential improvements for both sides. Finally, the student should check their work with an engine.

Finally, each chapter ends with Concluding Tips which is a series of bullet points that should be taken away.

We could end this review here and now but perhaps mention of some chess would be welcome?

Rather than tediously listing all of the recommendations of each chapter the BCN office staff chose the Slav chapter to dip into.

The author’s fourth move recommendation for White is perhaps not one you would have even considered. This is good since it means almost certainly neither will have your opponent!

Yes, 4.g3 which is an unpretentious little move but appears 4527 times in Megabase 2020 compared with 83884 times for the more familiar 4.Nc3.

4.g3 scores a decent 57.5% at all levels at 56.5% with the Top Games option enabled.

By comparison 4.Nc3 scores 57% and 58.6% respectively.

If you would like to see some sample pages from the book then click here.

If you would like to know all of the other recommendations then you will have to buy the book!

Possibly, the most interesting and novel chapter of all is the final one, Frequent Endgame Types. Nine games are provided starting as the middlegame ends and annotated in detail. Strong players will select openings based on a structure they like and understand and potentially because of the endgame it is likely to provide.

Here is an example of a provided game (the book annotations start at move 33):

In summary, if you play 1.d4 then this book will provide a unique insight into many typical structures and plans and if you play the King’s Indian, Grünfeld, Benoni, Slav or the black side of the Catalan then this book will be beneficial.

In many ways this book has provided a fresh approach to teaching openings and, tells us a great deal about the author in the process.

It is clear as daylight that IM Armin Juhasz is a talented trainer and author with a great passion for teaching. We are convinced that his time must be in high demand!

We think you will enjoy this book and derive benefit from it.

John Upham, Cove, Hampshire, 27th April, 2021

John Upham
John Upham

Book Details :

  • Hardcover : 280 pages
  • Publisher:Thinkers Publishing; 1st edition (12 April 2021)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9464201118
  • ISBN-13: 978-9464201116
  • Product Dimensions: 17.02 x 23.5 cm

Official web site of Thinkers Publishing

1.d4! The Chess Bible, Armin Juhasz, Thinker's Publishing, 2021, ISBN-10 9464201118
1.d4! The Chess Bible, Armin Juhasz, Thinker’s Publishing, 2021, ISBN-10 9464201118
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To Exchange or Not? The Ultimate Workbook

To Exchange or Not?, Eduardas Rozentalis, Thinker's Publishing, 8th December 2020, ISBN-13 : 978-9492510945
To Exchange or Not?, Eduardas Rozentalis, Thinker’s Publishing, 8th December 2020, ISBN-13 : 978-9492510945

From the publisher:

“When should we exchange a piece in the endgame and when should we keep it? Why is it so important? How to make a right choice? Different types of endings and guidance on how to make the correct decision were the subject of my book The Correct Exchange in the Endgame. Two editions were very well accepted by chess players of different levels. I am especially happy that many chess coaches and teachers found it useful for their training programs.

The book was announced as a silver winner of the Boleslavsky Award 2016 by the FIDE Trainer’s Commission. Many readers and coaches expressed a wish to see more instructive exercises, so together with Thinkers Publishing we decided to make an exercise book. It can be widely used by chess teachers in schools, coaches in chess clubs and all chess players.

Trying to solve 120 instructive exercises and then going through the correct solutions, you will certainly improve your decision-making ability and analysing skills, as well as enrich your knowledge and understanding of the final stage of the chess game.”

GM Eduardas Rozentalis at the Jersey International, 2013.
GM Eduardas Rozentalis at the Jersey International, 2013.

From the publisher:

“Lithuanian Grandmaster Rozentalis lifetimes achievements in chess are enormous. We mostly remember him being champion of Lithuania in 1981 and 2002, 3 times champion of the Young Masters of the USSR, 1984-85-87, World Youth Team champion in 1985 and World Senior Team champion in 2014. In between 1985 until now, he won 85 international tournaments, played for many European different club teams and in 10 Chess Olympiads for Lithuania. This is his second book for Thinkers Publishing. His first, ‘The Correct Exchange in the Endgame’, became a great success and was nominated as ‘FIDE CHESS BOOK 2016’.”

End of blurb…

There are two short introductory sections: a preface and an introduction that clarify the purpose of the book as an exercise book with 120 endgame positions to solve. The problems are all concerned with exchanging issues: exchange a piece or not; which piece to exchange; when and where to exchange.

The main workbook is divided up into six chapters based on three increasing levels of difficulty for the problems:

  • Warm Up
  • Warm Up Solutions
  • Intermediate
  • Intermediate Solutions
  • Advanced
  • Advanced Solutions

There are forty exercises from real games at each complexity level, presented as four problems per page.  Many of the positions are from Rozentalis’ own games. Each solution chapter demonstrates the answers with typically one to two pages of analysis for each solution accompanied by two to three diagrams.

The problems cover all types of piece configurations in endgames from single piece endgames through to complex multi piece endgames. The problems vary in their nature with these typical example themes:

  • Pure tactics
  • Calculation (for example pawn races in king and pawn endgames)
  • Knowledge of basic endgames
  • Exploitation of weaknesses
  • Suppression of counterplay
  • Positional considerations

The reviewer will show some positions from each problem chapter to give a flavour of the coverage.

Here is the first position in the book demonstrating an exchange to exploit pawn weaknesses and suppress counterplay:

E.Rozentalis-P.-Jaracz-Augustow-1996-Move-41
E.Rozentalis-P.-Jaracz-Augustow-1996-Move-41

The problem posed is should white exchange rooks or not?

General positional considerations say that a rook and bishop are slightly better than a rook and knight in an endgame: this advantage is regarded as a “grindable” endgame advantage by good endgame players. However, in this position black has numerous pawn weaknesses on both sides of the board, that can be exploited by the active bishop in an open position: namely a fixed g4 pawn and a vulnerable pawn chain on a6/b7. Black’s rook is also active on the c-file, if white moves his rook along the d-file to say 41.Rd5 Rc1+ is annoying for white.

41.Rd7+! exchanging rooks to exploit black pawn weaknesses and prevent counterplay by black with his rook.

41…Rxd7 42.Bxd7 Nd6 This loses the pawn on g4, but 42…Kf6 43.Bc8 wins either the b7 pawn or the g4 with a technically winning endgame

43. Bxg4 fxg3 44. fxg3! Capturing with the f-pawn, not the h-pawn to eventually make a distant passed pawn on the h-file which makes black’s defence even more difficult. White now has a straightforward technical win.

44…a5 45.Kf2 Nc4 46. b3 Ne5 47. 47.Be2 Kf6 48. Ke3 Kf5 49. Kd4 g4 Black tries to block the white pawns, and hopes for Nf3 as some point, but the g4 will just become another target.

50.Kd5 b6 After 50…Nf3, white wins with 51.h3!

51.a4 Zugzwang, if 51…Nf3 52.h3! wins, if the knight moves to say d7 or f7, white’s king penetrates decisively on the queen side.

51…Kf6 52.Ke4 1-0 (The g-pawn drops after Kf4 and Bxg4)

E.Rozentalis-P.-Jaracz-Augustow-1996-Move-51
E.Rozentalis-P.-Jaracz-Augustow-1996-Move-51

The second example shows a common tactical theme to simplify to a winning king and pawn endgame.

B.Wyczling-E.Rozentalis-Warsaw-2008-Move 44
B.Wyczling-E.Rozentalis-Warsaw-2008-Move 44

Black has achieved a lot in this endgame with the better placed pieces and a far more potent pawn majority, plus the white knight is utterly dominated. Black’s next move achieves a transformation that quickly decides the game.

44…Bxb2!  45.Nxb2 (45.axb4+ makes no difference: 45…Kxb4 46.Nxb2 c3+ wins)

45…c3+ 46.Kc2 axb2 47.axb4+ Kxb4

The white king has to deal with the black’s passed a-pawn, while the black king goes to the kingside for a delicious meal of white pawns.

B.Wyczling-E.Rozentalis-Warsaw-2008-Move-47
B.Wyczling-E.Rozentalis-Warsaw-2008-Move-47

Here is another position showing that exchanging the opponent’s most active piece is always an important consideration.

E.Bareev-E.Rozentalis-Tallinn-1986-Move-44
E.Bareev-E.Rozentalis-Tallinn-1986-Move-44

White has a very active rook which holds his position together. If white was to move, he would play Rf4 collecting black’s dangerous passed pawn.

But it black to move and he played 44…Rf8! (44…h3 allows 45.Rf2 and white fights on) and white resigned 0-1. Why did he resign?

If the white rook avoids the exchange, for example 45.Rd5, then after 45…h3 the black cannot be stopped.

Exchanging rooks is hopeless as the black knight dominates the bad bishop. Black’s passed pawn will distract the white king, while the black king mops up the weak white g-pawns:

45.Rxf8+ Kxf8 46. Ke2 Ke7 47. Kf2 Ke6 48.Kg2 Kf5 wins easily

E.Bareev-E.Rozentalis-Tallinn-1986-Variation-Move-48
E.Bareev-E.Rozentalis-Tallinn-1986-Variation-Move-48

Here is a cautionary tale regarding transitioning into a king and pawn ending. White had been pressing for a while, playing on for the win with an outside passed pawn and the better minor piece. It did not occur to him that he could lose, but just watch, enjoy and learn!

V.Malisauskas-T.Laurusas-Vilnius-2014-Move-46
V.Malisauskas-T.Laurusas-Vilnius-2014-Move-46

46.Kd4? (A poor move, over pressing, but white can still draw. Safer was 46. Bc2 b3 47.axb3 cxb3 48.Bd1 Na4 with a simple draw)

46…Nxe4 47. Kxe4?? (The losing move as white’s king is too far away to prevent a classic pawn breakthrough which is covered in all good endgame primer manuals. White must have lost his sense of danger. 47. Kxc4! Kg6 48.Kb5 with a quick draw as the knight cannot prevent the exchange of both queenside pawns.)

47…a4 48.Ke3 Only now did white realise that after 48.Kd4

V.Malisauskas-T.Laurusas-Vilnius-2014-Variation-Move-48
V.Malisauskas-T.Laurusas-Vilnius-2014-Variation-Move-48

one of the black pawns queens in a well known and instructive motif: 48…c3! 49.bxc3 b3 50. axb3 a3! winning.

After the game move of 48.Ke3 black played 48…c3 which wins. The players agreed a  draw in this position! An amazing escape for white, particularly as both players were at least IM strength (2400+).

To see why black is winning, analyse on.

49.b3 (Forced as 49.bxc3 allows 49…b3! queening a pawn as in the variation above) 49…axb3 50.axb3 Kg6

V.Malisauskas-T.Laurusas-Vilnius-2014-Variation-Move-50
V.Malisauskas-T.Laurusas-Vilnius-2014-Variation-Move-50

Black wins using a well known technique covered in Fine’s Basic Chess Endings and many other endgame manuals.

51.Kd3 Kxh6 52.Kc2 Kg5 53.Kd3 Kf4 54.Kc2 Ke3 55.Kc1 c2!

V.Malisauskas-T.Laurusas-Vilnius-2014-Variation-Move-55
V.Malisauskas-T.Laurusas-Vilnius-2014-Variation-Move-55

The key idea breaking into white’s position: black’s king seizes the critical squares and wins the b3 pawn by force.

56.Kxc2 Ke2 winning easily.

Now, the reviewer will showcase three positions from the intermediate problems chapter.

Here is a transitioning problem.

E.Rozentalis-A.Weindl-Stockholm-1990-Move-75
E.Rozentalis-A.Weindl-Stockholm-1990-Move-75

Black played the very poor 75…Qxh4?? throwing away a win. Was this bad evaluation or a lack of knowledge? If black hadn’t played so quickly, he would have easily found the win by retaining his much more active queen: 75…Qe3+ 76.Kf1 (76.Kh1 Qe2 mates, exploiting white’s passive queen) 76…Qe4 77.Qh2 Bd5! bringing the bishop into the attack and either mates or wins both g-pawns with check.

E.Rozentalis-A.Weindl-Stockholm-1990-Variation-Move-77
E.Rozentalis-A.Weindl-Stockholm-1990-Variation-Move-77

The game continued: 76.gxh4 g3 77.h5+ Kxh5 78.Kh1 Kg5 79. Kg1 Kf4 80. Kh1 0.5-0.5

E.Rozentalis-A.Weindl-Stockholm-1990-Move-80
E.Rozentalis-A.Weindl-Stockholm-1990-Move-80

This is a well known fortress draw, once again covered in Fine’s BCE and other good endgame books. Black can collect the a-pawn and bring his king over the kingside but the white fortress cannot be breached. A decent effort is put the black king on e1, e2 or e3 and wait for the white king to move into the corner and try the poisoned offer of the bishop on f3 viz 89…Bf3!?

E.Rozentalis-A.Weindl-Stockholm-1990-Variation-Move-90
E.Rozentalis-A.Weindl-Stockholm-1990-Variation-Move-90

If white rids himself of the turbulent priest, then 90…Kf2 wins for black. However, the calm 91. Kg1! from white, ignoring the proferred prelate, draws for white. Note that with a knight instead of a bishop, this would be winning for black as white must capture!

The next position shows a complex position with two rooks and a minor piece each. The attacking power and mating potential of two rooks is well known, particularly in conjunction with the absolute seventh. The example aptly demonstrates this.

E.Rozentalis-E.Deutsch-Jerusalem-2017-Move-33
E.Rozentalis-E.Deutsch-Jerusalem-2017-Move-33

White has a massive passed a-pawn and is winning. White continued with 33.Be7 and did win pretty quickly. There is however, a simpler and cleaner win:

33.Bxe5! Rxe5 34. Rb7 Rxg5+ (34…Re8 35.a7 Rcc8 36.Rxb6 Ra8 37.Rb7 followed by Rfb1 & Rb8 wins) 35.Kh1 Ra5 (black does not have time to attack white’s king as the a-pawn is too fast) 36.a7 Rca3 (Stopping the pawn, but…)

37.Rd1 mating after Rxa7 38.Rd8# (Pretty)

E.Rozentalis-E.Deutsch-Jerusalem-2017-Variation-Move-37
E.Rozentalis-E.Deutsch-Jerusalem-2017-Variation-Move-37

Here is a really educational ending about hidden dangers in so called drawn endings. Here white has an extra pawn in a Q+4 v Q+3 with all the pawns on one side. This is a drawn ending, but the stronger side can torture the opponent for a long time. To put this position into context, the last two moves were 81.Qd8+ Kg7?

V.Kortschnoj-A.lukin-Stockholm-2004-Move-82
V.Kortschnoj-A.lukin-Stockholm-2004-Move-82

White played an unexpected, but amazing move, which is not obvious unless you have seen similar ideas before.

82.Qf6+!! (Giving up the extra pawn to force a pawn ending with a better king.) Qxf6 83. exf6+ Kxf6 84.Kf4

V.Kortschnoj-A.lukin-Stockholm-2004-Move-84
V.Kortschnoj-A.lukin-Stockholm-2004-Move-84

Zugzwang! Black is totally lost. Black’s king must move one way and white’s king goes the other way. White exploits the weakness on h5 and his reserve tempi with the f-pawn.

84…Ke6 (84…Kg7 85.Ke5 f6+ 86.Ke6 f5 87.f4 Kg8 88.Kf6 Kh7 89.Kf7 Kh6 90.Kg8 wins) 85.Kg5 Ke5 86.f3! Zugzwang again.

V.Kortschnoj-A.lukin-Stockholm-2004-Move-86
V.Kortschnoj-A.lukin-Stockholm-2004-Move-86

86…Ke6 87.f4! The black king must retreat and white plays f5 destroying the pawn structure and wins the h-pawn with a simple technical win. 1-0

To finish, the reviewer will demonstrate one of the advanced problems. This is an exchanging problem in a Q+B ending.

D.Harika-Ju-WenjunLausanne-2020-Move-25
D.Harika-Ju-WenjunLausanne-2020-Move-25

The ending is complex with both sides having a spoiled pawn majority. White has the better bishop as black has many pawns fixed on black squares. White may have difficulty getting into black’s position as the position is fairly blocked. Black can hold but must be careful. Black forced the play with 25…Qd2? which was the wrong decision as white can win with a clever bishop manoeuvre, ruining black’s potential fortress, clearly overlooked by black.

25…Bf4+! was the correct move which looks like a pointless check but is extremely subtle. White must reply 26.g3 to make progress which restricts white’s own bishop: a quick h5 and Bh4 is no longer available. If 26.Kh3 Kf7 27.Qf3 Kg8 and black simply waits. 26…Bd2

D.Harika-Ju-WenjunLausanne-2020-Variation-Move-27
D.Harika-Ju-WenjunLausanne-2020-Variation-Move-27

If white goes for a queen exchange hoping to the win the better bishop ending, black is safe after 27.Qd3 (27.Qc4+ Kf8 is ok) 27…Qxd3 28.cxd3 c5 followed by c6 and white can never break through and it is a fortress.

In the game, white took the queens off with 26.Qxd2 Bxd2 27.Bg3! (Black probably expected 27.h5 Kf7 28.Bh4 Bg5 with a clear draw.) 27…Bc3 (The bishop is distracted to defend the e-pawn) 28.h5! Opening the way for the white bishop. Black has a nightmare bishop ending which cannot be saved as he has far too many weaknesses.

D.Harika-Ju-WenjunLausanne-2020-Move-28
D.Harika-Ju-Wenjun Lausanne-2020-Move-28

28…Kf7 29.Bh4 (Threatening the Bd8) Ke6 30. g5 Bd2 31.gxh6 was played which wins easily as white has undoubled his pawn and black still has the weak h6 pawn. However 31.g6! wins more quickly fixing the g7 pawn. The main point is that Kd7 from black allows Bf6! in reply.

 D.Harika-Ju-WenjunLausanne-2020-Variation-Move-31

D.Harika-Ju-WenjunLausanne-2020-Variation-Move-31

If black plays 31…Bb4, 32.Bd8 Bd6 (32…Kd7 33.Bf6) 33. Kh3 Zugzwang, eventually black will have to lose a pawn and the game.

All in all, this is an very good endgame puzzle book to work through. Players of all standards will learn a lot from attempting to solve the positions followed by studying  the solutions which are well structured and easy to follow.

FM Richard Webb, Chineham, Hampshire, 26th April 2021

FM Richard Webb
FM Richard Webb

Book Details :

  • Hardcover : 192 pages
  • Publisher:Thinkers Publishing; 1st edition (8 Dec. 2020)
  • Language:English
  • ISBN-10:9492510944
  • ISBN-13:978-9492510945
  • Product Dimensions: 16.51 x 0.64 x 23.5 cm

Official web site of Thinkers Publishing

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Minor Pieces: An Introduction

Minor Pieces : A Bishop and Knight
Minor Pieces : A Bishop and Knight

Minor pieces for two reasons. These articles cover minor pieces of chess history. And, for the most part, they will concern minor players in our game’s history. Grandmasters are often described as the kings and queens of chess, in which case international masters, and perhaps also national masters, might be seen as rooks: lesser major pieces. Children playing at a low level in school clubs are the pawns, while the rest of us, from social players through to club and tournament players like me. They might not have produced brilliant games or enhanced the knowledge of chess, but, by just being there, each one of them has been a link in the chain. You won’t just meet players, though. You’ll encounter a few problemists, maybe study composers, and others who made their mark in chess in other ways.

Some of you will be aware that, as well as chess history, I’m also interested in both family and local history. None of my ancestors were, to my knowledge, chess players, although I almost certainly share a very small piece of DNA with an English international. However, some of them married into the families of chess players, and others might have encountered chess players as they went about their daily lives.

Some of these stories will take the form of a circular tour, where we travel through the ages, and, on occasion, round the world as well, to find connections.

I’m also researching chess in my area: Richmond and Twickenham, along with neighbouring areas such as Kingston and Surbiton. I’ll be looking at the stories of some of those who lived in, or represented chess clubs in this part of the world. Where they’re available, I’ll show you some of their games or problems as well. In parallel, wanting to consider other parts of the country, I’ll look at chess in Leicester, my father’s home city and also the city where I studied half a century ago.

I’ll try to contextualise the stories in terms of social history. Who were these people? What were their jobs? What about their families? When did they learn? Why did they play? What part did chess play in their lives? Understanding history of this nature might help us in considering the changing nature of chess as we emerge from the pandemic.

Some of the stories I tell will have no connection with either my family or my locations of interest: just stories I came across and wanted, often for sociological reasons, to investigate further.

A quick note on sources. Genealogy websites provide ready access to birth, marriage and death records from 1837 to date, as well as parish records often going back a further two or three hundred years. Census records from 1841 to 1911 are also online, with the 1921 census being released in January 2022. The 1939 Register is also available. Many of the families I’ll consider have already been researched, with extensive and (sometimes, but not always) accurate trees having been created by relatives or historians. Others, though, are not, in which case I’ll have a go myself.

I hope you enjoy these articles. If you have any corrections, suggestions for further research, or other comments, please get in touch.

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Basic Chess

Basic Chess, David Levens, Hamlyn, 2021, ISBN 978-0-600-63718-9
Basic Chess, David Levens, Hamlyn, 2021, ISBN 978-0-600-63718-9

From the publisher:

“Now anyone can play chess with this straightforward, jargon-free introduction. Written especially for beginners, it’s the most comprehensive manual available and includes everything from explanations of each piece to orchestrating endgames. In addition to expert advice, simple instructions, and more than 200 easy-to-follow diagrams, novices will find: basic tactical principles, aggressive openings, the top-ten traps and attacks, specimen games to learn and crib from, and a test your chess IQ section.

Basic Chess is the book you need to master the game.”

End of blurb.

The book provides no background about the well-known author  (and neither does the Hamlyn web site) The book’s Amazon entry claims that David is the BCFs Director of Marketing (which David was in 2004).

David Levens, British Championships, Torquay, 2013, Round 11
David Levens, British Championships, Torquay, 2013, Round 11

From David’s coaching web site we have

“David Levens is a successful chess coach and experienced player.

Accredited by the English Chess Federation, and an experienced player, once ranked in the top 50 players in Britain, now an England Junior selector!

I am also Head Coach to Notts. Primary Schools Chess Association, who were NATIONAL CHAMPIONS in 2009 and 2010, and also England coach and manager for Glorney and Faber Cup U-18 teams, plus U14 and U12 teams, Glamorgan 2010.”

It is not often we receive a new chess book of “Penguin Paperback” dimensions. In fact some of our favourite chess books are of these handy measurements such as

The Penguin Book of Chess Positions, CHO'D Alexander, Penguin, 1973, ISBN 0 14 046 199X
The Penguin Book of Chess Positions, CHO’D Alexander, Penguin, 1973, ISBN 0 14 046 199X

In many ways Basic Chess reminds us of this BH Wood classic

Easy Guide to Chess, BH Wood, CHESS, Sutton Coldfield, 1945
Easy Guide to Chess, BH Wood, CHESS, Sutton Coldfield, 1945

Basic Chess, published in 2021, was originally published by Hamlyn (now an imprint of Octopus Books) in 2005 and reprinted as Basic Chess and Chess Basics since.

The 2021 edition has the branding of The Daily Mail at the head of the front cover. You might be forgiven forgiven for thinking “I was not aware of The Daily Mail’s interest in matters cerebral and least of all their interest in chess.” Do they have a regular chess columnist / feature or perhaps more modestly a chess puzzle to solve alongside their crossword and Sudoko puzzles?

We did our research (thanks Stephen Wright of Vancouver and Leonard Barden of The Guardian and The Financial Times) and it turns out The Daily Mail had a chess column from 14/11/1906 until 1908 edited by James Mortimer.  From 08/10/1919 until 04/05/1920 the editor was R.C. Griffith and finally from 14/10/27 until 1935 it was edited by  W. Hatton-Ward. Possibly in the 1970s Bill Hartston had a column but this is to be confirmed.

If The Daily Mail was to revive a chess column then this, of course, would be most welcome.

Maybe noticing that the various lockdowns plus the acclaimed “Queen’s Gambit” from Netflix has generated an extraordinary increase in on-line playing and sales of chess equipment and books the title has decided to derive some benefit?

Basic Chess is divided into twelve main sections as follows:

  1. Introduction
  2. Before You Start
  3. Chess Tactics
  4. Openings
  5. The Middlegame
  6. Endgames
  7. Test Your Chess IQ
  8. The Way Forward
  9. Glossary
  10. Index
  11. Notes
  12. Acknowledgements

It would seem that Basic Chess is most suitable for adults and in 2021 we have adults who want to

  • Start chess for the first time,
  • Restart chess after playing at school,
  • Restart chess to help their son or daughter.

However, this book is also appropriate for older children (13+) to supplement their school chess club experience or perhaps those who are home schooled: they’ve learnt a little and want to know more and perhaps value a physical book over yet more screen time and Zoom meetings.

The text is excellent and clearly written and does (as it says on the lid) take the reader from zero knowledge to a reasonable starting level. There are no assumptions of prior knowledge and the first few pages are really quite evangelical in style helping to create motivation.

At this point I feel obliged to report a fairly major mis-giving and it is this:

Diagram 2, Basic Chess, David Levens, Hamlyn, 2021
Diagram 2, Basic Chess, David Levens, Hamlyn, 2021

The above is a typical diagram. I have enlarged it for this article in the hope it will make it clearer.  I really do not understand the need to use such terrible representations of the pieces, the king is particularly poor and Black pieces on dark squares are worse still.

In the book the King is described as having “a crown topped by a cross” Well, clearly the graphic designer did not read this text and neither were they a chessplayer. There are no crosses for the diagrammed kings.

The discussion on chess clocks could easily have included an image of a modern DGT timer and mentioned the older analogue models.

Since this book was published to ride on the back of lockdown chess I was looking forward to the advice on playing on-line. Surely this section would be slap-bang up-to-date listing many of the  most useful resources? Sadly, you will be disappointed.  The two best sites for online chess are, apparently,  The Internet Chess Club and Freechess.org The latter (which became known as FICS) has not been updated for years and gives the impression that tumbleweed is breezing past its offices.

What of chess engines?  well, the word “engine” does not get a mention (it did not exist in 2005 of course)  and apparently one has to purchase a separate piece of dedicated hardware to play against a chess playing program.  There is no installing software on a laptop, tablet or mobile telephone : these are not options whereas for some time they have been main stream.

I don’t want to be too harsh. The really important material is really rather good for a beginner or someone who has returned to chess after a long absence.

However, there was a golden opportunity with this book that was missed : sort out the appalling diagrams and update the content that was way past its use-by date. It really would not have been difficult to do these things had there been the will.

Since I knew David fairly well (he was the editor of the ill-fated Junior British Chess Magazine that he subsequently discovered he had “volunteered” to do) through British Chess Magazine during 2013 – 14 I made contact and asked him about the 2021 edition. He wanted  to update the elderly content pertaining to computer use and online chess and he also wanted to see the diagrams improved. Sadly, the opportunity did not arise.

In summary, this is a good little book for beginners that will undoubtedly be stocked on the shelves on WH Smiths, Waterstones, motorway service stations and airports. It has missed an opportunity for an update in the light of Queen’s Gambit and lockdowns.

It will sell and I wish it good luck! PLEASE improve the diagrams!

John Upham, Cove, Hampshire, 21st April, 2021

John Upham
John Upham

Book Details :

  • Hardcover : 240 pages
  • Publisher:Hamlyn (2021)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:978-0-600-63718-9
  • Product Dimensions: 12.6 x 19.7 cm

Official web site of Octopus Books

Basic Chess, David Levens, Hamlyn, 2021, ISBN 978-0-600-63718-9
Basic Chess, David Levens, Hamlyn, 2021, ISBN 978-0-600-63718-9
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ECF Official Chess Yearbook 2021

ECF Official Chess Yearbook 2021
ECF Official Chess Yearbook 2021

From the publisher:

“Thanks to the efforts of a dedicated team of people within the English Chess Federation, the ECF Yearbook 2021 is now available in PDF form via this link – https://www.englishchess.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/Yearbook-2021-complete-medres.pdf *

The printed version will follow in a little while; it will be free to Platinum members of the ECF and may be purchased (while stocks last) for £15.50 by ECF members in all other categories [online form to follow].

Special thanks go to IM Richard Palliser at CHESS Magazine, Dr John Upham at British Chess News, Director of Home Chess Nigel Towers, compiler Andrew Walker and to our determined team of proof readers – Dagne Ciuksyte, Roger Emerson, Stephen Greep, James Muir, Mike Truran and John Upham.”

End of blurb.

One thing I failed to predict for 2021 (amongst numerous others) was having a hardcopy of the ECF Yearbook to review. I was not sure there would be a yearbook of any kind based on a lack of material to report combined with an impending fear of the hardcopy version being deprecated.

At this juncture I feel it appropriate for the Yearbook to (correctly) quote (but often misquoted) Samuel Langhorne Clemens (aka Mark Twain if you didn’t know otherwise) that

Samuel Langhorne Clemens (aka Mark Twain)
Samuel Langhorne Clemens (aka Mark Twain)

The report of my death was an exaggeration

A Yearbook of English chess was “first published sometime between 1904 and 1913” but not by the BCF. The first BCF Yearbook may well have appeared in the 1930s but the jury remains unclear. BCF Yearbooks continued up until 2005 and then became the ECF Yearbook in 2006 which suggests at least 90 odd editions. The events (or rather the lack of events!) after March 2020 led myself to believe we would not see an ECF Yearbook until 2022 if at all!

Despite all this Private Frazer style doom and gloom

Private Frazer : We're doomed, Doomed!
Private Frazer : We’re doomed, Doomed!

and thanks to the good offices of Andrew Walker (ECF Webmaster) we not only have a Yearbook but, dare I say it,  we have an excellent one with more pages than the previous year! So, (as they frequently say on television) how did they do that?

The Contents are divided into 15 sections viz:

  1. Report of the Board to Council
  2. Strategy and Business Plan
  3. New Initiatives – GoMembership / Queen’s Gambit Scheme
  4. Chess in Prisons
  5. John Robinson Youth Chess Trust
  6. The Chess Trust
  7. The ECF Academy
  8. ECF and Other Awards
  9. Home News 2020 – from CHESS Magazine
  10. Events around England
  11. Nigel Tower’s Online Chess Report
  12. Off the Wall
  13. Mark Rivlin (and Tim Wall) – the interviews
  14. Remembering -from British Chess News
  15. Endgame Studies / Chess Problem News

Being a Yearbook the overall layout would normally include formal content that you might be forgiven for leaving for the ubiquitous “rainy day”. Perhaps we should update that and leave things for a “sunny day”?

ECF CEO, Mike Truran OBE kicks-off with the year’s positives and he immediately thanks those who carried largely unpaid work on behalf of English chess and the ECF.

Gone are the lengthy (dare I say tedious?) lists of officials, Title holders, Past Champions and all the other content which is largely unchanged year-on-year. Most of this information has been migrated on-line and may be found on the ECF’s satellite Resource web site. This makes complete sense since this location may be maintained throughout the year rather than being cast in stone (or rather paper).

This is followed by an itemised list of the ECFs Strategy and Business plan which contains many laudable and worthy statements of intent some of which, at least, will hopefully eventually be brought to fruition.

I won’t go through every section but I would like to pick out a few  highlights. It was gratifying to read of a small army of volunteers whose efforts were recognised with various awards including Bude Chess Club and the Hull International Congress.

Winner of ECF Book of the Year was no surprise whatsoever and justly deserved. It was a pleasure to read of those who had become FIDE Arbiters : we badly need such persons if we are to run sufficient FIDE rated events to cater for the increasing demand especially since England has recently abandoned the Clarke Grading system and replaced it with an Elo style rating system. I could always mention the Netflix phenomenon of Walter Tevis’s Queen’s Gambit but I won’t. I mentioned it once(?) and I think I got away with it.

So, we have covered 8 out of 15 sections as we turn to page 27. Its going to be a thin one for 2021 surely? Not so. Thanks to CHESS Magazine we have reports covering 43 pages of home news reported by the much loved magazine launched in 1935 for 1/- (a shilling which is 5 new pence for those born post February 15th 1971) by BH Wood. Within these pages we have 16 annotated games from the pages of the aforesaid publication. BHW would have been most proud that his magazine was doing its bit for 2020 as it did during the Second World War.

Events Around England runs to 32 pages of more familiar content such as reports of the Four Nations Chess League (4NCL), the ECF Counties Championship, Hastings International Congress and so on and so forth with that well-known “English” event, Gibraltar making a welcome appearance thanks to the reporting of John Saunders.

Now at page 101 (and less than half-way through) you might think what else can there be to report?

Indeed and at this point the ECF’s new Director of Home Chess, Nigel Towers, steps up to the plate and offers 15 pages reporting of the largest growth sector for the English chess scene, (no not discussions of ratings versus gradings) but, chess played on-line (as some might call it The InterWeb)  including the scores of eight games.

Tim Wall continues our journey adding a lighter and more humorous touch with a veritable potpourri of musings on various topics including absent minded cats, Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov (aka Lenin), Arthur Ransome and a modern resurrection (with the joie de vivre) of Howard Staunton via HSs enjoyable Twitter feed. Who is the person behind the account? Answers on a postcard to….

Not to be outdone, the ECF’s Newsletter compiler and editor, Mark Rivlin conspired with the aforementioned young Timothy to bring us a gathering of lockdown interviews with the great and good including Danny Gormally, Shreyas Royal, Lorin D’Costa, James and Jake. If you want to know who James and Jake are (and I do now!) then purchase the Yearbook!

The largest (58 pages) section for 2020 could leave me facing charges of nepotism… British Chess News was delighted to be invited to provide content and twelve biographies of some of the most significant contributors to English chess. These names include Harry Golombek OBE, Hugh Alexander CBE, Vera Menchik, Tony Miles and Fred Yates. I won’t comment on the articles veracity but leave that for you to discover.

The final section, and one of my favourites, is that of the Studies Editor of British Chess Magazine, Kent based Ian Watson. Ian provides the best new studies of 2020 and reflects on the life of one of England’s foremost composers, Dr. Richard K Guy.

As a taster, here is Ian’s contribution.

At 209 pages we have reached the end. The English Chess Federation have done a splendid job in getting this Yearbook produced and published in challenging circumstances. Long may the tradition continue!

John Upham, Cove, Hampshire, 20th April, 2021

John Upham
John Upham

Book Details :

Official web site of English Chess Federation

ECF Official Chess Yearbook 2021
ECF Official Chess Yearbook 2021
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Improve Your Life by Playing a Game

Improve Your Life by Playing a Game, Dr. Jana Krivec, Thinker's Publishing, 28 Jan. 2021, ISBN 9464201029
Improve Your Life by Playing a Game, Dr. Jana Krivec, Thinkers Publishing, 28 Jan. 2021, ISBN 9464201029

From the author’s introduction:

“This book is partly designed as an autobiographical experience focusing on the processes that arise in the life of a chess player that have be translated into everyday life. In part, the book incorporates psychological theories that generally explain these processes, but overall it can be seen as a guide on how to use any activity to learn skills that will enrich your life. There are several activities in life which can be seen in the same way if we know where and how to exploit the opportunities. The truth is that all aspirations are interconnected when we keep an eye on the thematic links. I believe that this book will give you a new insight into how any ability can be transferred from a particular activity to the universal wisdom of life. It will awaken your networking skills and teach you how to turn life activities into lifelong skills that will improve your well-being. The course of the book follows the typical process of playing chess, starting with training, followed by the tournament situation, the course of the game, the time after the game and the tournament. Since I am not a poet, I have often borrowed some quotations from famous, imaginative and clever people from all over the world. I believe that these valuable thoughts have enriched the book. One thing I ask you to do while reading this book is to open your mind and enjoy the inner journey. So let us go and try to become aware of the processes behind our life activities. Let us find out what and why we do what we do in our daily lives.”

Dr. Jana Krivec at the Batumi Olympiad 2018
Dr. Jana Krivec at the Batumi Olympiad 2018

“Jana Krivec graduated from the Faculty of Psychology at the University of Ljubljana in 2004, where she successfully defended her doctoral thesis entitled “Cognitive Information Processing: the Case of Chess” in 2011. In 2004 she worked with the Faculty of Computer and Information Science on a project in which researchers developed a program for automatic annotation of a chess game. She was a researcher at the Department of Intelligent Systems at Jozef Stefan Institute, Ljubljana in the field of artificial intelligence. Her work was presented at several international conferences and published in scientific publications. She is a university professor of Psychology at the School of Advanced Social Studies in Nova Gorica. Jana Krivec is a Women’s Chess Grandmaster with a ELO rating peak of 2362 in 2008. She has been the Slovenian Women’s Champion seven times as well as a member of the Slovenian women’s chess team at eleven Chess Olympiads. At the 2006 Turin Olympics she and her teammates reached ninth place. She has won several international tournaments. Chess has been her passion and will probably remain explicitly or implicitly present throughout her life.”

 

The well deserved success of Barry Hymer and Peter Wells’ recent book Chess Improvement: it’s all in the Mindset, as well as The Moves that Matter, by Jonathan Rowson, two books which take very different, but essentially ‘serious’ approaches, suggests that there may be a hitherto untapped market for chess self-help books. A book which takes a more populist approach, then, should be welcomed.

What we have here is a book which can be read on two levels: as a self-help book for chess players, and as a book for general readers using chess as a metaphor. But the title: Improve your Life  by Playing a Game: what exactly does this mean? By playing one game, by playing chess generally, by playing any game? Bridge? Noughts and crosses? Snakes and ladders?

First impressions are good: a colourful book using nice shiny paper, with copious photographs, illustrations and cartoons as well as callouts in tasteful pastel-shaded boxes. Green for ‘key takeaways’, pink for ‘a minute of self-reflection, and so on.

The chapters take us through a chess tournament. In Chapter 1 we have to train for the tournament. Chapter sections look at goal setting, motivation, self-examination and improvement, discipline, hard work and persistence, learning from the masters, memorization techniques, working with modern technology, delayed reward … and never stop exploring.

In Chapter 2 we’re playing a game. First, we have to prepare for our opponent, then, during the game, we have ‘Always find a meaning’, ‘Focus and concentration’, ‘Systematic thinking, problem solving and decision making’, ‘Activation, patience and responsibility’, Courage and optimistic thinking’, Creative thinking and flexibility’, ‘Being in control of your feelings’, ‘Never stop fighting’ and ‘Ethics’.

After the game, in Chapter 3, we might have to cope with stress and losses, using cognitive techniques, behavioural techniques and understanding that if you don’t fail, you don’t learn.

Chapter 4 suggests what we might do after the tournament. We’re offered ‘A will to change’, ‘Who are you?’, ‘Mind and body work together’, ‘Positivity’, ‘Do what you like’ and ‘Gens una sumus’.

Chapter 5 warns us about the potential negative aspects of chess. Only two pages here, so clearly there’s not much worth talking about.

Chapter 6, Theories and Studies on Benefits of Chess’, moves into rather different territory. We learn about chess and education, and about chess and health problems, though I for one would raise a very strong objection to describing ADHD and Autism Spectrum Disorder as health problems.

Sadly, it’s not the only issue I have with the book. It starts right at the beginning, with the author’s introduction. We start with a quote, ‘Chess is life in miniature’, from ‘Gary’ Kasparov, but in the third line of text underneath he’s granted the preferred spelling of his first name: Garry. Gary and Garry seem to appear fairly randomly throughout the book, as do, for example, Bobby Fisher and Bobby Fischer.

Then we come to the inspirational quotations. You may well find many of them valuable, but there are attribution problems.

Page 37, for instance tells us ‘The only way to get smarter is by playing a smarter opponent’, attributed to a book entitled Fundamentals of Chess, published in 1885, with www.reddit.com as the source. The use of the word ‘smarter’ didn’t sound like 1885 to me, and a quick google located a Kingpin article by Justin Horton, which explained that this was a fictional book mentioned in the Guy Ritchie movie Revolver, where, however, it was given a publication date of 1883.

Page 66 offers ‘One bad move nullifies 40 good ones’, attributed to Vladimir Horowitz, an outstanding pianist, but not noted for his chess mastery. A search revealed that my guess was correct: it was actually written by the chess master and prolific author IA Horowitz, although it has also been misattributed to Bernhard Horwitz. Horwitz, Harrwitz or Horowitz? Vlad, Al, or even Anthony? If you’re looking for inspiration or self-help you might not care, but some of us do.

The advice, while no doubt invaluable to many readers, incorporates a ragbag of ideas familiar to any reader of pop psychology books. We have the Big Five personality traits and de Bono’s Thinking Hats. There’s Kahneman’s Fast and Slow Thinking as well as the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment. All of which is fine and understandable, as they’ll be new to some readers, but they are often presented without criticism or adequate source references. Ericsson’s 10,000 hours is, of course, there, also quoting Malcolm Gladwell, but failing to mention any possible reservations (there are many) or that Gladwell failed to understand Ericsson’s research. Flow is also there,  but mysteriously attributed to Alan Watts (or possibly Wats: both spellings appear at the top of page 68): Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, the originator of the concept, doesn’t get mentioned at all. Sometimes, but not always, sources are quoted. Page 25, for instance, offers us ‘Some studies have shown…’ and ‘In one study…’, without any further information. (This is about the possible dangers of external rewards, and I’m sure they’re all quoted by Alfie Kohn, so I can look them up myself, but not all readers will have this knowledge.)

The text is enlivened by many photographs, colourful illustrations and cartoons, taken, with brief acknowledgements, from online sources, but not always either relevant or fully explained.

There is a bit of chess here as well, although, bizarrely, the author uses long algebraic notation but without capture and check symbols.

While talking about marshmallows and instant gratification, Krivec presents us with this position which I’m sure you’ll recognise.

Coincidentally, this is something Joel Benjamin also mentions: “I believe that 8. Qxb7 is the best move. Bobby Fischer would have played it. Or, as you kids would say, Magnus would play it.” Krivec takes a different view: “(Qxb7) is not a good move because it follows the urge for immediate gratification and not the rules of good chess playing.” Far be it from me to argue with a WGM about the best move, but this seems a rather silly thing to say. My view is that both authors missed the opportunity to explain that both Qxb7 and Nc3 are excellent moves: your choice will be a matter of style.

If you want a chess example of the disadvantages of immediate gratification there are thousands of better examples to choose from, including one or two later in this book.

In some of the other chess ‘minutes for self-reflection’ you’re not told whose move it is: not very helpful, I think.

On page 110 we’re learning about creative thinking: thinking outside the box. An important topic, in life as well as in chess. To exemplify this we’re invited to solve the 9 dot puzzle.

A good example, I think, because you literally have to think outside the box to solve it. However, the ‘solution’ on the following page only connects seven of the nine dots and doesn’t go outside the box at all. Again, like so much of this book, unsatisfactory.

It’s all a great pity. I’m sure there’s a demand for a book of this nature, which should appeal to many players at all levels. Taking some well known ideas from psychology and applying them to both studying and playing chess is a great concept which will be inspirational to many readers. Jana Krivec’s passion both for chess and for helping people improve their lives comes through very well. If you can forgive the problems, you’ll probably enjoy and benefit from this book. It certainly contains a lot of valuable, although not especially original, advice about many aspects of both chess and life, as well as exercises in, for example, mindfulness, which many will find helpful.

However, the typos, errors, inadequate referencing and sourcing, amongst other reasons, preclude a general recommendation. It really needed a lot more editorial input, preferably from someone with specific subject knowledge, as well as better proof-reading.

Thinkers Publishing are well known for their high production qualities and excellent books, mostly on advanced chess subjects. It looks to me like, in a praiseworthy attempt to broaden their appeal, they stepped out of their comfort zone.

Richard James, Twickenham 17th April 2021

Richard James
. Richard James

Book Details :

  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Thinkers Publishing; 1st edition (28 Jan. 2021)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10:9464201029
  • ISBN-13:978-9464201024
  • Product Dimensions: 16.51 x 1.27 x 23.5 cm

Official web site of Thinkers Publishing

Improve Your Life by Playing a Game, Dr. Jana Krivec, Thinker's Publishing, 28 Jan. 2021, ISBN 9464201029
Improve Your Life by Playing a Game, Dr. Jana Krivec, Thinker’s Publishing, 28 Jan. 2021, ISBN 9464201029
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Playing the Stonewall Dutch

Playing the Stonewall Dutch, Nikola Sedlak, Quality Chess, July 2020, ISBN-10 : 1784831093
Playing the Stonewall Dutch, Nikola Sedlak, Quality Chess, July 2020, ISBN-10 : 1784831093

GM Nikola Sedlak is a former Serbian Champion who has won both the EU Individual Open Championship and an Olympiad gold medal.

GM Nikola Sedlak in 2010 at the 16th Bora Kostic Memorial
GM Nikola Sedlak in 2010 at the 16th Bora Kostic Memorial

From the publisher:

“The Dutch Defense is one of Black’s most combative responses to 1.d4, and the Stonewall is the boldest version of this opening. Black immediately seizes space in the center and clamps down on the e4-square, laying the foundations for a complicated strategic battle. Many players believe the Stonewall to be a substandard opening, naively assuming that the e5-outpost and bad light-squared bishop must give White the advantage.

GM Nikola Sedlak disagrees, and in Playing the Stonewall Dutch he shares the insights that have helped him to rack up a healthy plus score from Black’s side. In addition to providing a complete repertoire in the main lines of the Stonewall, this book also offers useful guidance on dealing with Anti-Dutch variations and various move-order subtleties.”

End of blurb…

High quality paper is used and the printing is clear: excellent glossy paper has been used. The weight of this paper gives the book an even better feel to it!

The book can easily be laid flat next to the board and does not require weights to prevent it from “self-closing” (a particular bugbear of ours !). Each diagram is clear and the instructional text is typeset in two column format, which, we find, enables the reader to maintain their place easily. Figurine algebraic notation is used throughout and the diagrams are placed adjacent to the relevant text.

A small (but insignificant) quibble: the diagrams do not have a “to move” indicator (but they do have coordinates!). There is a full games index which is most welcome. This title is part of the Quality Chess Grandmaster Guide series.

The main content is divided into eleven chapters viz:

  1. Avoiding the Fianchetto
  2. Fianchetto with Bf4
  3. 7.Nbd2 & 7.Ne5
  4. 7.Nc3
  5. 7.b3
  6. 5.Nh3
  7. The Flexible Stonewall
  8. The Aggressive Stonewall
  9. Move Orders
  10. 1.c4 and 1.Nf3
  11. Exercises

Before we continue it is confession time…

Prior to reading this book I had little knowledge of the Stonewall Dutch from Black’s perspective although I did look at it briefly when studying the Triangle Variation and the Abrahams (Noteboom) Variation of the Semi-Slav. There are lines where Semi-Slav players have the option of transposing into a Stonewall Dutch and Gerald Abrahams did play this way on occasion. I am more familiar from White’s perspective but, nonetheless, to my chagrin, insufficiently so.

In a previous review I made the comment:

The Stonewall Dutch has not hitherto had many books published about it. Popularised by Botvinnik it has found most support by club players rather than by elite Grandmasters. The well known structure for Black is typically :

arrived at by numerous move orders.

and therefore comparison with this other book will be beneficial to the student.

The authors recommended move order of 1.d4 e6 clearly requires Black to be familiar with the French Defence (or the Franco-Sicilian  as a matter of taste.) and is a very common mechanism among practitioners of the Classic / Stonewall Dutch. Lenningrad Dutch players have less flexibility at their disposal. 1…e6 has the virtue of avoiding some of White’s pesky so-called Anti-Dutch ideas such as 2. Bg5, 2.Nc3 and the Staunton Gambit (2.e4).

However, for completeness, the author provides ideas for Black to combat the above (and more) white tries after 1.d4 f5 in Chapter 9. In fact, the coverage of these move two tries is more comprehensive than most books on any line of  the  Dutch Defence.

Consulting Megabase 2020 we find that the author, Nikola Sedlak has recorded 2102 games which ranks him as one of the most active players. We find that against 1. d4 nowadays he plays both 1…f5 and 1…e6 with the latter being the modern move order choice. The Stonewall features in many of these games.

Apart from the move two alternatives I was curious to see the recommendations for dealing with the overly ubiquitous London System. Indeed, against the Stonewall and Classical Dutch is one of the rare occasions where I would consider playing

and 3.Bf4 is only eclipsed (as you’d expect) by 3.c4 or 3.g3 in popularity. There is extensive coverage in Chapter 9 of this club player favourite.

Before delving deeper it is worth knowing that Quality Chess have provided a pdf excerpt of the Preface and and the first twenty or so pages of Chapter 5 on 7.b3. This will give you an excellent feel for the style of presentation so please take a look!

The Introduction chapter is 13 pages of invaluable discussion of the overall strategy of the Stonewall structure interspersed with plans, strategic ideas, themes and motifs. Re-reading until you fully understand these ideas will be time well spent.

Each main content chapter comprises of a schematic of variations followed by a detailed introduction to the ideas and then a number of high quality model games many of which have the author playing the black pieces.

The analysis and recommendations are generous with explanations  not spoilt by reams of tedious engine dumps. On average each page contains 3-4 diagrams giving the content a user friendly feel. It is clear that the author  does his best to keep the reader engaged and “on-side”: this is not always easy for opening books which are generally harder work to stay with than say games collections or tactics primers.

As I mentioned earlier, my knowledge of the “main” lines (those where white plays g3) is superficial so I decided to conduct a “gedanken”  experiment and use MegaBase 2020. Using the “most games” style of lookup I arrived at the following position to have been played the most up to 2020:

giving white a range of 7th move choices. Note that Black has opted for the more active …d6 development of the bishop as against the more conservative …e7. There is a considerable body of theory for both options.

By a considerably large margin the most popular move here is 7.b3:

and MegaBase 2020 has roughly 4,500 games between players of any strength and 1,000 games if you use the “Top Games” option. The author dedicates Chapter 5 and a full 40 pages to 7.b3. (The Pavlovic book also dedicates substantial space to this line.)

So having arrived here I asked Megabase 2020 to show me the most popular direction of travel from here :

7…Qe7; 8.Bb2, 0-0;9.Nbd2,b6;10.Ne5, Bb7;11.Rc1,a5; (various move orders are available as the saying goes) and then White is less clear about the next most popular move although 12.e3 is the standard recommendation.

Consulting the author we find ourselves in Chapter 5, variation B2), page 134 and the variation is considered over six pages in considerable depth. (Pavlovic also covers this position as you would expect.)

The first model game of this chapter to enjoy is this gem:

which is analysed in depth.

Unlike some reviewers I will not be revealing a list of spoilers of what the author recommends in positions x, y and z. Usually I like to point out important lines that have been missed out but I get the impression that coverage is comprehensive and devoid of such omissions.

The overall impression is of a superbly produced book suitable for someone considering adding the Stonewall Dutch to their repertoire as well as an excellent booster for someone who is experienced with it.

Highly recommended!

John Upham, Cove, Hampshire, 15th April, 2021

John Upham
John Upham

Book Details :

  • Paperback : 328 pages
  • Publisher: Quality Chess UK LLP (15 July 2020)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1784831093
  • ISBN-13: 978-1784831097
  • Product Dimensions: 17.17 x 1.6 x 24.28 cm

Official web site of Quality Chess

Playing the Stonewall Dutch, Nikola Sedlak, Quality Chess, July 2020, ISBN-10 : 1784831093
Playing the Stonewall Dutch, Nikola Sedlak, Quality Chess, July 2020, ISBN-10 : 1784831093
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