Friday, 21 October 2005

Chess Reviews: 5

Sean Marsh
Book Reviews
No. 5

Starting Out: The Scotch Game
John Emms
Everyman Chess

The Scotch Game has been revitalised since Kasparov used it as a surprise against Karpov in 1990 and is now a thoroughly respectable alternative to the Spanish Game. John Emms is a consistently excellent writer who never fails to add a large amount of enthusiasm to his subject.

The Scotch is given the same treatment as the other openings covered in this excellent series, with lots of practical tips, notes and warnings flagged up to assist the learning process. Such instructive points are not confined to the opening.

For example:

‘It’s well known that lone knights are very poor defenders against passed pawns, especially ones on the edge of the board.’

‘Correspondence games are a rich source for discovering new and important opening ideas for over-the-board players, as these games are generally very thoroughly researched and analysed by the players involved.’

Following a short introduction - with the emphasis on typical pawn structures - Emms methodically moves through all the main lines and finishes off with the rarer Black tries. He doesn’t try and hype the opening up out of all proportion but sticks with sensible, honest comments such as, ‘The Scotch Four Knights is an ideal choice for the improving player, whether White or Black. The variations are neither too complex nor theoretical, both sides develop easily and the open positions are ideal for honing tactical skills.’

Here’s the fine finish of one of the author’s own Scotch games:

Emms - Summerscale
London 1997
22.Rxh7! Kxh7 23.Rh1+ Kg8 24.Rxh8+ 1-0 24...Kxh8 25.Bxe5+ Rxe5 26.Qh6+ Kg8 27 f6 with Qg7 mate to follow.

VERDICT: I think it is a great book for players looking to take up a new and promising opening, with plenty of analysis and tips for the already converted.

Starting Out: Defensive Play
Angus Dunnington
Everyman Chess

‘A harsh reality of chess is that - as in life - we don’t always get what we want; in fact we too often get what we don’t want’

With these wise words, the author begins a most interesting book on an aspect of chess that is often overlooked. Naturally, we’d all like to seize the initiative in the style of World Champion Topalov, but the fact remains that we spend a lot of time on the receiving end of a big attack or a tough positional squeeze.

Skill in defence could save lots of points. Yet players are reluctant to study defensive techniques because it can be hard work and perhaps because it is psychologically difficult to accept that we are inevitably to be on the ‘wrong side of the board’ much more often than we’d like.

Through six very instructive chapters (‘Active Defence’, ‘Simplification’ ‘The Castled King’, ‘Relocation’, ‘Holding On’ and ‘Provocation’), Angus divulges the secrets of this neglected part of the game.

The valuable tips include:

‘When deciding to simplify, don’t stop analysing at the point of the exchange itself’

‘If you don’t have anywhere near enough play for a pawn it makes sense to throw another on the fire if this means earning yourself a bigger share of the play.’

‘Never relax when ‘playing out’ a drawn ending - anything less than 100% effort and attention merely increases the opposition’s winning chances, and every half-point counts.’

One particularly interesting example appears in ‘The Castled King’ section.

Vasquez - Abreu
Cuba 2002

Here, Black is on the sharp end of a promising sacrificial attack. Angus highlights an excellent defensive strategy.
24 Qg4 Ne5! 25 Rh7+ Ke8 26 Qh5+ Kd8!
This is the idea. Black is material up and swapping the Queen off for the attacking Rook not only nullifies most of the offensive but also leaves a close points tally on the board. We are all reluctant to part with the Queen but Angus encourages us to look for the ‘threats’ to win it in such situations as the attacker can pay too high a price to execute such a threat.
27 Rh8 Kc7 28 Rxf8 Raxf8 29 Rg1 and Black eventually went on to win.

VERDICT: Angus is one of the best ‘common sense’ chess writers around. His books may not always have the snappiest titles and there are no ‘promises’ of forced wins inside 20 moves, but there is always a cornucopia of sensible, down to earth advice and practical tips. I think any player keen to put in some work would improve their play from careful study of this book.

Breaking Through
Susan Polgar & Paul Truong
Everyman Chess

I’d been looking forward to this book for some time and I can say straight away that I wasn’t disappointed.

The Polgars - and Susan in particular, being the trailblazer - had to overcome many obstacles on their way to the top. It seems like a description of another world when Susan relates not being able to compete in the World Championship cycle, even though she qualified, purely because it was then known as the Men’s World Championship.

When I first started teaching chess around the schools, back in the late 1980s, I used a good number of Polgar games as demonstrations. They were always exciting games, usually featuring a snappy finish but I was also able to show that chess is not totally male-dominated. At that time, local chess playing girls were almost completely non-existent. Within a couple of years we had changed all that and for a while we were ahead of most counties with our achievements.

The point is that without good role models, the girls would never have flourished and seeing the top-level break though of the three sisters was inspirational and influential in our own local efforts.

The opening section compromises of an autobiography by Susan, followed by a good selection of her own games and combinations, all well-annotated. Susan then covers the lives of her sisters, with plenty of anecdotes from around the chess world.

Judit made it to the top ten of the world ranking lists and recently competed in the World Championship tournament.

Sofia doesn’t play very much these days, which is a pity. Her performance at Rome in 1989 shows what we are missing. If you are unfamiliar with her success at that event, go and look it up on your database now!

Four shorter chapters finish off the book. These cover a variety of subjects, including the plans for the Susan Polgar foundation and the successful rebuilding and training of the US Women’s team for the 2004 Olympiad.

There’s also a plethora of interesting photos, featuring not only the Polgars but also a whole host of chess luminaries, including Fischer and Kasparov.

Amazingly, the obstacles go on appearing. Following the tremendous and unprecedented success of the US Women’s team at the 2004 Olympiad, the Olympiad Training Program was cancelled as politics once again moved in to spoil things.

The biographical sections make fascinating reading but I’m sure a lot of readers will be more interested in the pure chess content. Rest assured, there are plenty of terrific games here with all three sisters showing a remarkable flair for tactics.

Here is one of Susan’s all-time favourites…

Susan Polgar - Peter Hardicsay
Hungary 1985

17 Bb5+! axb5 18 Re1+ Kf8 19 Bh6+ Kg8

20 Re7! Bd7 21 Qxb8! Qxb8 22 Ne4! 1-0

Gudmundur Gisalson - Sofia Polgar
Reykjavik 1988

35 … Rxe2! 0-1 as 36 Rxe2 would allow 36 … Qxh2+!! with mate to follow.

Judit Polgar - Lars Bo Hansen
Vejstrup 1989

33 Qg7!!+ and perhaps you, dear readers, can work out the resulting mating moves yourselves?
Despite all the ‘mines in the road’, Susan has remained incredibly optimistic regarding chess and its place in the lives of young people. For further details, see:

VERDICT: The inside story of a remarkable rise to chess success, against all the odds! This is an excellent and inspirational book on several levels. A good one to put on your Christmas lists, methinks!

Russians versus Fischer
Dmitry Plisetsky & Sergey Voronkov
Everyman Chess

An earlier edition was released in 1994 by Moscow Chess Books but this new version is fully updated and enlarged (462 big pages compared with 393 smaller ones). There is a lot more detail on the 1992 match and some new photos (although some from the first edition have been omitted). I was surprised at the time that the first edition wasn’t better known; I think this new Everyman edition will help to catapult the book into the limelight it deserves.

The book charts all of Fischer’s games with the Russians over the course of his career from Portoroz 1958 to Belgrade 1992.

There are lots of notes from the players themselves and a huge amount of interesting information about Fischer. The material gets deeper as Fischer sweeps his way to the 1972 title match.

The Russians are clearly extremely worried at the prospect of losing ‘their’ title (held by them since 1948) and no stone is left unturned in the search for weaknesses in his play. Lengthy analyses were submitted by players such as Korchnoy, Petrosian, Tal and Smyslov, picking over the openings and general game of the American.

In the post-mortem of Taimanov’s 0-6 Candidates’ shut-out, high level meetings were held to investigate how such a thing could have happened and how they could stop it happening again.
Baturinsky bemoaned the lack of decent adjournment analysis, and suggested that instead of sending three Grandmasters to help Taimanov, ‘Perhaps it would have been more useful to send over a physician.’
Spassky replied: ‘A sexologist.’
‘I see, Boris, that you are in a jovial mood’ came the cool response.

Korchnoy submitted a typically outspoken review regarding the play of both Fischer and Spassky a few months before the title match. He was critical of Spassky’s preparation, particularly in the openings.

The games are generally well known, of course and instead of picking the really famous examples I’ll just quote the end position of his very last serious game.

Spassky - Fischer

White resigned 0-1.
Before we know it, another 20 years of exile will have passed by….

VERDICT: This magnificent book highlights, more than any other, the struggle Bobby Fischer had to take on an entire system at chess. This is a MUST for all Fischer fans and an excellent companion piece to Kasparov’s book on the great man of last year.

For details of Everyman chess books, please visit:

Happy reading!

October 2005

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