Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Chess Reviews: 81

In the real world, efforts are being made to present e-books as a fully viable option to printed matter. The Sony Reader and Kindle devices are busy competing for the new market but the impact does seem to be that of a slow burner rather than a dramatic change of readers’ habits.

The chess world has been joining the slow revolution too. I was interested to see how a selection of titles from the Everyman range would look and how the format would compare to their traditional book alter-egos. Consequently, this review column will focus as much on the differences between the two as the actual content.



Starting Out: Sicilian Sveshnikov
By IM John Cox
Everyman e-book

I have already the reviewed the content of the book here:

http://marshtowers.blogspot.com/2007/06/chess-reviews-25.html

The e-books arrive via email, thus saving money on postage and time on delivery. They load up instantly on ChessBase, complete with all of the usual database features. For example, it is easy to arrange and search the material by game, player, tournament etc with a couple of mouse clicks. Adding an engine is easy too. Perhaps the reader will uncover improvements on the analysis, and even some computer assisted novelties? It is definitely easier this way than having to manually input the key positions before letting Fritz loose.

I think the format works best of all for opening books. This is because one can add extra notes to those already given, thus giving the diligent reader the option of manually updating the book with extra games, new annotation and the latest developments. Of course, this is also possible with a physical book and a pen, but the results would not be as neat.

The text of the e-books is identical - as far as I can tell - to the printed versions. There are links throughout the text to enable the reader to navigate instantly to the other chapters and the illustrative games. The latter are fully playable, just as any game stored in a ChessBase database is. The variations in the annotations are playable also.



Winning Chess Strategies
By GM Yasser Seirawan With IM Jeremy Silman
Everyman e-book

The authors take the readers on a journey through a course on strategical aspects of chess games. The explanations are very clear, lively and instructive.

The list of contents clearly described the breakdown of material:

1. The Importance of Strategy

2. Making the Most of a Material Advantage

3. Stopping the Enemy Counterplay


4. Understanding Where the Pieces Go


5. Superior Minor Pieces


6. How to Use Pawns

7. The Creation of Targets


8. Territorial Domination


9. Attacking the King


10. Faulty Strategies


11. The Great Masters of Strategy
.

Here's a fairly simple example of what to expect:


Karpov - Browne
San Antonio 1972

'A glance shows that no weak squares exist. Karpov changes this assessment with a surprising capture. 4.Bxf6! White does not give up his strong fianchettoed Bishop to double Black's pawns because the doubled pawns won't be weak in any way. He gives it up because he sees that, when the e-pawn is drawn away from e7, it will not be able to exert any control over d5. In other words, White is playing to create a weak square!

4...exf6 5.Nc3
Having created a weakness on d5, White proceeds to "capture the square" by training the sights of all his pieces in that direction.

5...Bg7 6.g3
With 5.Nc3, White obtained a firm grip on d5, but he is not satisfied with just a little control: He wants total domination of that square! By playing 6.g3, he allows his light-squared Bishop to join in the d5 orgy.

6...Nc6 7.Bg2 f5
Black also has a Knight, a Bishop, and a pawn hitting d4. Does that mean that he can lay claim to that square? No. 8.e3 Now none of the Black pieces can land on d4. 8...0–0 9.Nge2 .


White intends to add to his control of d5 with an eventual Nf4, and in fact White went on to win this game. The rest of the moves are not important here. What is important is how White went out of his way to create the weak square, and how White rushed all his pieces to it. It's also important to pay attention to why White owned d5, while Black didn't own d4. The d4-square was not Black's because the White e3-pawn defended it.'

The ebook format makes it easier to present puzzles and their solutions without either letting the eye wander ‘inadvertently’ or having to flick through pages to find the correlating information.

Try this one:


Sherbakov-M. Gurevich, Helsinki 1992
White to play

'White is a pawn down. He could try to defend passively and hope for a draw, but that type of thankless misery is only for the masochistic. Because all of White's pieces are aiming at the Black King, White must try for some kind of knockout in that direction. Normal material and positional considerations do not count (you can give away as much as you want); it's all or nothing in this situation! Fortunately for White, he can land a decisive blow. See if you can find it..

The book then says: 'Press F10 for solution', whereupon the following is found via a link:

'Because his dark-squared Bishop and his Knight both hit g7, and because his Queen can join in that fight, the punch has to land there. Here's the blow-by-blow: 1.Bxg7!

White shreds the kingside pawn shield. 1...Bxg7 2.Qg5 Now g7 falls, and the game is suddenly over. What good did Black's extra pawn do him? None whatsoever! White's attack on the kingside proved to be the winning one, but if he had not taken advantage of it right away he surely would have lost. 2...Kf8 3.Rxe6! [Black was hoping to run his King to a safer place after

3.Qxg7+ Ke7
. After 3.Rxe6! the pawn position around the Black King is completely tossed aside.] 3...Qe5 Desperation. [But 3...fxe6 4.Qxg7+ Ke8 5.Bxh7 leaves Black unable to cope with the threat of 5...-- 6.Bg6# .]

4.Rxe5 Bxe5 5.Re1 Re8 6.Qh6+ Ke7 7.f4
. At the end, White doesn't care about checkmating the Black King anymore. He just wants to win all of Black's pieces. His army in tatters, Black resigns. It doesn't matter whether or not you saw 1.Bxg7!. It does matter whether or not you recognized that White had to do something on the kingside.'


The book should be accessible to players of most strengths and is definitely suitable for improving juniors.


Art of Attack in Chess
Vladimir Vukovic
Everyman e-book

This is a classic book which has already gone through various editions, including a conversion from Descriptive Notation to Algebraic.

Contents:

1. The attack against the uncastled king

2. The attack on the king that has lost the right to castle


3. On castling and attacking the castled position in general


4. Mating Patterns


5. Focal-Points


6. The classic bishop sacrifice

7. Ranks, files and diagonals in the attack on the castled king


8. Pieces and pawns in the attack on the castled king


9. The attack on the fianchetto and queenside castling positions

10. Defending against the attack on the castled king


11. The phases of the attack on the castled king

12. The attack on the king as an integral part of the game


The introduction highlights the need to make occasional slight amendments to the text. There is a mention of footnotes appearing at the bottom of a page, and ‘where there is no room for a footnote on a particular page, the footnote appears on the following page’. Clearly, this is now out of context and redundant.

This may be a minor point but it deserves consideration; in the context of an e-book the meaning is not relevant, but should one preserve the original text for historical reasons or permit a tweak or two to eradicate discrepancies?

On a similar note, I spotted a couple of small typos in the form of full stops where commas should be and a missing letter in one of the chapter titles (I've corrected it above).

One such 'comma' example occurs in chapter 12, in the preamble to the Alekhine - Asztalos game. I don’t have a copy of the printed algebraic book to hand to check if the errors are consistent. My intention is not to be a critical typo-jumper; I am merely interested in the process of conversion, and wondering whether or not the whole text had to be retyped or simply uploaded from existing files.

My favourite chapters from this book have always been 5 & 6. A long time ago, when I was discussing the Greek Gift with Norman Stephenson (at the time a future British Senior chess champion), he had an abundance of praise for this book and chapter 5 in particular.

He suggested that I ‘…beg, borrow or steal’ a copy. Like I fool, I bought one instead. However, the chapter is a gem and required reading for those seeking the full story of when Bxh7+ is expected to be sound and when it isn’t. Vukovic lists ‘a practical criterion for the sacrifice’, giving the reader all of the necessary preconditions for a successful over-the-board sortie. It works even better in the e-book format, because after each criteria one can click the links and instantly display the relevant illustrative games.

A small difference in the preconditions can change the course of the game and even the best players can make mistakes…

Capablanca - Molina Carranza
Buenos Aires casual Buenos Aires, 1911

The following is indicative of the book's style:

'
12.Bxh7+?!
However unsound the sacrifice is, his opponent will see to it for himself that his own position is spoilt... [The young victor from San Sebastian naturally does not consent to make a peaceful move like 12.Be2 against an Argentine amateur.] 12...Kxh7 13.Ng5+ Kg6 Black is correct to choose the ...Kg6 variation and the reader - armed with the guidance given a few pages back - will notice that White's chances of success in this case are dubious, since he does not have the two necessary supporting pieces, but only one, and a fairly weak one at that (the knight on c3).

14.Qg4 f5
[As a lover of fine combinations from his earliest youth, Capablanca here quotes the following continuation: 14...e5? 15.Ne6+ Kf6 16.f4! e4 (or 16...Nc6 17.Qg5+ Kxe6 18.f5+ Kd7 19.Rfd1+ Nd4 20.Qxg7 when White will get one piece back and have three pawns for his knight plus a winning attack against Black's exposed king) 17.Qg5+ Kxe6 18.Qe5+ Kd7 19.Rfd1+ Nd3 20.Nxe4 Kc6 21.Rxd3 Qxd3 22.Rc1+ and mate in a few moves.]

15.Qg3 Kh6?
This game has entered the anthologies as one of Capablanca's famous feats because commentators have passed this obviously incorrect move by in silence.

[By 15...Kf6! Black could have shown that the bishop sacrifice was unsound. This game, here given a proper critical commentary for the first time. provides yet another blow against the legend of 'the infallible Cuban'. Another interesting point is that Capablanca often undertook attacks against the castled king in his earlier years, but extremely rarely as he became older. This was to a certain extent the result of the progressively greater ability of his opponents and a general rise in standards, but it was perhaps even more because of a gradual waning of enthusiasm under the weight of increasing self-criticism. Unlike Capablanca, Alekhine played in his own style from his youth right till the end, accepting the risk of difficult attacks against the castled king even against strong opponents.' (eventually 1–0
)

Here's a position created by Vukovic in 1965 to demonstrate some basic ideas of using focal points.


'White, to play, has excellent prospects for an attack on g7. His knight is already observing the square, while his queen and bishop are in a position to threaten it in one move. An extremely useful point is the fact that the queen has the choice of attacking from either c3 or g3.

Nevertheless, the situation is not quite as simple as that, and White must be prepared to sacrifice his bishop on h6 if he is to obtain a winning position;
1.Bh6! [by simply playing 1.Qg3 White would only gain a relatively small advantage, e.g. 1...g6 2.Bg5 Qc5 3.Nf6+ Bxf6 4.Bxf6 , when Black can counter with 4...h6 followed by ...Kh7. Only 1 Bh6! guarantees complete success; the main reason why it is better to move the bishop rather than the queen is that in order to attack g7 the bishop has only the one move to h6, whereas the queen has a choice between c3 and g3.

Thus the bishop enters the fray first, while the queen waits to see which will be better, depending on Black's reply. ] Thus:
1...g6 [If 1...gxh6 , then 2.Qc3 f6 (if 2...Bf8 , then 3.Nf6+ leads to a quick conclusion) 3.Qg3+ Bg4 (otherwise the queen mates on g7) 4.Qxg4+ Kf7 5.Qg7+ Ke6 6.Nf4+ Kd7 7.Nd5 followed by 8 Nxf6+. In this variation the queen is most effective if it goes first to c3 and then to g3.; If 1...Bf8 , then White plays 2.Bxg7 Bxg7 3.Qg3 Kf8 4.Qxg7+ Ke7 5.Qg5+ Kf8 6.Rd3 (or 6.Nf6 .) ]

2.Qc3 f6 3.Nxf6+
and White wins,[for after 3.Nxf6+ Bxf6 4.Qxf6 Black has no defence against mate on g7. ]'

Some of the material in this book is quite advanced. The prose style may be a little dated compared to more modern books but it's well worth the student's effort to study the detailed and instructive material.


Summing up the differences between the two formats

Advantages:

Speedy delivery.

Fast loading on to ChessBase.

‘Playable’ games - no need to set up a chess board.

The option of manually updating/amending material.

Trees and warehouse space is saved.

Customer returns/faulty goods are easier to deal with.

Disadvantages:

A computer is needed; one cannot read as easily in as many places.

Reading from a screen is still not as comfortable as reading form a printed page.

Eye strain could be a problem.

For the publisher, piracy problems could be a big issue.

Old habits die hard. E-books are not generally popular at the moment and the format is taking time to catch on.


I would be interested to read comments from readers regarding e-books. Do you like them? Dislike them? Would you be willing to give them a try? Comment, dear readers!


For full details of Everyman ebooks, please visit:

http://www.everymanchess.com/

For the archive of my reviews, please go to:

http://marshtowers.blogspot.com/2007/12/chess-review-archive.html

1 comment:

CMoB said...

Personally, i very much like them, and i've got almost every Everyman eBook title available. Regarding reading from a screen vs printed page i can only agree when it comes to scanned material like all those chess books you are able to find on the Internet in pdf format, which are a huge strain to the eye. The Everyman eBooks in CB format however are very easy on the eyes. The only real disadvantage i can agree with is the fact that you need a computer to read them. But since so many people nowadays have laptops and carry them around with them that shouldn't be to much of a disadvantage anymore.