Thursday, 25 March 2010

Chess Reviews: 135

Starting Out:
The Scandinavian
By WGM Jovanka Houska
320 pages
Everyman Chess

There was a time when people who played 1 ...d5 is response to 1 e4 were considered to be quite eccentric. A bit like people who grow up to be goalkeepers; it's clear they enjoy playing the game as much as the rest of us, but are a little odd in the way they go about it.

Nowadays, of course, the Scandinavian Defence (or 'Centre Counter', for older readers) is a perfectly viable way to meet 1 e4.

The author is an experienced Scandinavian player, which I think instills confidence right from the start of the book.

'On a personal note, I began using the Scandinavian through my teens and the opening took me very easily to Woman Grandmaster level.'

Not only that, but there is a point of honour to uphold:

'I must also confess to be a little bit inspired to disprove the negative opinion that shrouds the opening at the highest level, but I must stress there is a big difference between the elite (with their supporting seconds) and the lone individual playing club chess on a weeknight!'

Chapters 1-10 cover 1 e4 d5 2 exd5 Qxd5. After 3 Nc3, Black's main options of 3 ...Qa5 and the 3 ...Qd6 are analysed in good detail and the more eccentric options of 3 ...Qd8 and 3 ...Qe5+ receive a little bit of attention too.

I particularly liked the basic explanations given to this tricky line:

Position after 1 e4 d5 2 exd5 Qxd5 3 Nc3 Qd6

Black has a couple of different set-ups to aim for but there are some important points to watch out for to make them work. I felt I understood the system a lot better after reading WGM Houska's explanations.

Chapters 11-16 look at 1 e4 d5 2 exd5 Nf6. Most of the fun for Black here comes in the form of the Portuguese Variation and the Icelandic Gambit. The former is reached by 1 e4 d5 2 exd5 Nf6 3 d4 Bg4 and the latter via 1 e4 d5 2 exd5 Nf6 3 c4?! e6!? 4 dxe6 Bxe6

Fast-forward a few short moves and we can see that both sides are already trying to bite off more than they can comfortably chew.

'The Icelandic Gambit first became popular in the 1990s and for a while it was hot stuff! It's particularly fun to play against an unprepared opponent, ad White tends o get lured into making natural but bad moves.'

As usual with a book in the 'Starting Out' range, tips, hints and warnings pop up throughout, sometimes offering advice directly related to the opening in question and sometimes in more general terms.

This is a solid guide to an opening with a growing reputation. The material is presented very well and the author's personality shines through the prose.

Scandinavian fans will want this to add to their current libraries and it should also appeal to anyone wanting to add a new weapon to their repertoire.

For further details of this and other Everyman products, pop along to:

Critical Moments in Chess
By Paata Gaprindashvili
271 pages

'Before you is a book dedicated to a very important problem, but one that has hardly been looked at in chess literature - the problem of critical moments in the game.'

The author aims to educate the reader in the art of spotting and reacting to the critical moments over the course of six chapters.

Critical Moments

Critical Moments: struggle and capture of the initiative

Critical Moments: development of the initiative, creation of an attack

Critical Moments: obtaining and retaining the advantage; creation of counterplay; taking over the initiative from the opponent, etc.

Critical Moments: delivering the decisive blow


The first chapter discusses critical moments in general terms, using several illustrative games. The next four chapters analyse specific areas of study and contain, in total, 152 test positions. These are given without clues and the reader is invited to try and solve them, using the knowledge gained in the relevant chapter.

Here's an example from chapter 2, in which White spotted a critical moment and exploited it by changing the pawn structure.

Blatny - Salai
Stary Smokovec, 1990

'Black occupies the centre, but is behind in development. He still needs a few tempi to complete the mobilisation f his force and thereby consolidate his central position. So, if White wants to seize the initiative then he must act energetically. 9 e4! A powerful blow against the precarious centre. 9 ...fxe4 Now the centre is cleared of pawns - by opening files and diagonals, the pieces suddenly become active, laying bare the weak squares in Black's camp.' 1-0 (18)

Chapter six consists solely of exercises, arrange randomly and using ideas from all of the preceding chapters. This takes the exercise count up to 269 positions.

Here's one for you try. Don't forget - no clues are allowed, apart from knowing that a critical moment has arrived.

Black to play

The solutions are given in the remainder of the book and are fully annotated, but the lack of diagrams in this section of the book is surprising, as the solutions are generally lengthy and therefore not at all easy on the eye.

The student will have work very hard indeed at these exercises and this book is recommended only to those who are willing to put in considerable time and effort. Those who do will have few excuses for ever missing a critical moment again.

Studying Chess Made Easy
By GM Andrew Soltis
256 pages

This book, with its bite-sized chinks of common chess sense, reminds me of an earlier GM Soltis Batsford book; namely: 'The Wisest Things Ever Said About Chess'. This is no bad thing, as that book was well received and was very readable.

Essentially, this is more of the same.

'A student needs to make better use of the tools he already has, such as computers and books. He needs to set the right goals, such as how far ahead in a position he needs to visualize. He needs to know how to budget available study time appropriately. Most of all, he needs to make studying chess enjoyable.'

To those ends, he presents the material in the following chapters:

Chess isn't school

Cultivating your chess strength

The biggest study myth

The right way to study an opening

Two-and-a-half move chess

Overcoming endgame phobia

Learning to live with TMI

How to learn more from a master game

Most of the chapter headings are self-explanatory ('TMI' means 'too much information'; it is just as valid an observation for chess players as it is for trendy youths).

GM Soltis is particularly strong in his recommendations for improving visualisation and calculation; 'exercising the mind's eye'. Students are encouraged to 'Try Bat Chess', which essentially means trying to read chess books without using a board and set. The idea is to try and follow the moves in one's mind, using the diagrams in the book as stepping stones.

He also recommends the use of studies, such as this one.

White to play and win

This is quite tricky. Why not give it a go? The notes from the book provide some assistance:

'If you examined this position for several minutes, you would likely look at both 1 Ra8+ and 1 Bb5+ since they are forcing moves. But neither leads to anything concrete (1 Bb5+ Kd8 2 Rd7+ Kc8 or 2 Ra8+ Ke7).

If you look further you might notice that White has a winning idea in 1 Kc5 and 2 Kd6 because then he threatens Ra8 mate.

Unfortunately, Black has a simple defense in the form of 1 ...f5!. Then 2 Kd6 is refuted by 2 ...Rf6+.

This means the study is much harder to solve. But this doesn't mean it is useless to the student who is trying to improve his look-ahead skill. Once he comes to a dead end - after seeing that 1 Rc8+, 1 Bb5+, 1 Kc5 and other moves fail - he should look up the first move of the solution and try again.'

I don't want to spoil your fun in solving it, so keep trying dear readers.

I appreciate the author's honesty as he seeks to demystify the thinking processes of Grandmasters. Boundaries are broken down and he makes it clear that most players - whatever their level of strength - share common habits. 'Admit it. You hate studying endgames. Guess what? Almost everyone does'.

'Studying Chess made Easy' is a an entertaining and instructive book. Club and tournament players should benefit from the methods of improvement GM Soltis suggests. Chess coaches will find a ready-made series of lessons which they should be able to tailor to suit the needs of all students.

For further details on Batsford chess books, please visit:

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