Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Chess Reviews: 243

Batsford continue to maintain a foothold in the busy world of chess literature. Their recent output is a mixture of new editions of old classics and new books. Today's reviews feature a bit of both.

Irving Chernev is a famous chess writer from times gone by, rather like Fred Reinfeld (with whom he occassionaly collaborated). Players of a certain age will need no introduction to his books but it is possible that the younger generation will require a few pointers.

Chernev wrote instructional books that are universally highly accessible to club players. My favourite of his is definitely Capablanca's Best Chess Endings (still available in a Dover edition and, indeed, a Kindle edition) but there is merit in each and every one of his 20 chess books.

The Most Instructive Games of Chess Ever Played was first published in 1965. This new edition benefits from a switch to algebraic notation and a general sprucing up to give it a more modern feel.

''The games in this book are to my mind the most instructive examples in the whole literature of the game, of position play - the strategy of winning chess.''

There are 62 games, each one annotated in Chernev's light yet instructive style, dating from the 1870s (Steinitz) to the 1960s (Fischer, Petrosian). The games are not presented in chronological order and each one demonstrates a clear strategical theme, such as ''Rook on the Seventh Rank'' and ''Zugzwang, the Invincible Weapon.''

Naturally, these are old games and some will have a dated look about them, particularly in the openings, and the there will undoubtedly be more instructive games around that would displace many of the 62 given here. Nevertheless, the book should be seen in the context of the time (almost 50 years ago) and the common sense notes still hold their value for club players.

Here's a sample note, to demonstrate the style.

Blackburne vs. Weiss
New York 1889
52 ...Bh4+

''This begins a fifteen-move combination. Despite its length, it is easy enough to visualize and understand it, if we break it down. This is the series of ideas:

(1) Bishops are exchanged to bring about a Pawn ending.

(2) A count-up of moves shows that each side will Queen a Pawn, but that Black's Pawn becomes a Queen with check.

(3) A series of checks will force an exchange of Queens.

(4) The new Pawn ending will bee in Black's favour, his King being near the adverse Pawns.

(5) White's a-Pawn will fall, leaving Black with a passed Pawn.

(6) The passed Pawn (after a bit of jockeying) will reach the Queening square.''

Needless to say, all of the above came to pass. Indeed, throughout the book Chernev is somewhat guilty of ''annotating by result'', praising the winner's moves and criticising the loser's replies, and this is very much in the style of Tarrasch (one of Chernev's favourite players and writers).

Despite the dated aspects, there's still a lot of wisdom in Chernev's notes and this book would suit medium-strength club players very well.

Andrew Soltis has been one of Batsford's most prolific authors for quite some time. New Art of Defense in Chess is an updated - and substantially rewritten - of  1974's The Art of Defense in Chess. ''Much of what I wrote,'' says Soltis, ''about the virtues of solid but passive restraint, for instance - makes little sense nowadays. It would fail against today's attacking players. They think differently from those 30-plus years ago.'' He goes on to discuss positions from the Hedgehog set-up to prove his point, saying that years ago a big advantage in space would virtually automatically give a player a large advantage in the game, but these days the merits of hogging such space are ''vastly overrated.''

There are 10 chapters, with self-explanatory titles.
  1. What is Defence?
  2. The Spirit of Defence
  3. New Defense
  4. Weapons of Defense
  5. Counterplay
  6. Risk Management
  7. Sacrifice
  8. Prophylaxis
  9. You Against Tal
  10. Last Chance to Defend
Anyone familiar with Soltis's Batsford output will know what to expect, format-wise: positions from games with a few key moves either side of the diagram and a few short explanatory notes. Each one a mini-lesson, making the book ideal for dipping in and out of rather than to be read, methodically, from cover to cover.

I imagine most people will turn straight to chapter 9 to see some entertaining examples from Mikhail Tal. Soltis puts you in the seat opposite the tactical wizard and encourages you to find the best continuation.

Tal vs. Korchnoi
Lugansk 1955
''The first defensive move that would occur to many players is 1 ...g6. Then White could try to win a good-N-vs-bad-B ending after 2 Rc1. Is there better for Black?''

The presence of Korchnoi, who was about as immune to Tal's attacking skill as possible, suggests there is indeed something better. Can you find it?

New Art of Defense in Chess is a good book for browsing and may be most effective in the hands of coaches, who will be able to present the material as a series of short lessons

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