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

Monday 3 October 2005

Chess Reviews: 4

Chess For Tigers
By Simon Webb

We should all be grateful to Batsford for bringing out a brand new edition of this classic book.
The new cover is eye-catching and will especially appeal to Hull City fans and the tiger theme is continued throughout the book via the use of Edward McLachlan’s excellent and amusing cartoons that start the chapters.

Each chapter is packed with excellent advice on how to improve your play, e.g. ‘How To Catch Rabbits’, ‘How To Trap Heffalumps’ and ‘What To Do In Drawn Positions’.

Webb himself once trapped a very famous Heffalump.

Webb – Reshevsky
London 1973

White is in trouble but he spotted a chance of a swindle.
He played: 30 Rf3 and feigned excessive nervousness, ostensibly due to his time-shortage, and hid the trick behind a facade of playing a quick move to enable him to reach the time control. Reshevsky was fooled and blundered with 30 …Qd7?? and was shocked by 31 Nc5! Which won the exchange and eventually the game.

One of the pieces of advice given to avoid blunders is to write down the move before playing it, but of course the rules now forbid this, as it can be taken as referring to written notes. However, an editorial note explains that this part of the book has been left in as a mark of respect to Simon Webb, who died in such tragic and terrible circumstances between him submitting the manuscript and it being published.

VERDICT: A real classic that everyone would benefit from reading, regardless of current playing strength. If you’ve got through life without this wonderful book, you have been missing out.

How To Choose A Chess Move
By GM Andrew Soltis

There have been so many books on self-improvement over the years! Some are useful; some are just unhelpful potboilers and I was intrigued to see which route Soltis would go down as he has written books belonging to both categories.

He starts by questioning whether or not Reti really didn’t need to see a single move ahead during his famous combinations, as he had claimed, and quickly concludes that this is nonsense. Over the next 238 pages he tries to guide the reader through the various steps leading to the successful choice of a chess move.

A lot of the examples given to illustrate the themes are well-established classics but I was pleased to see a good number of very recent top-flight encounters, all the way up to 2005.
Nowadays, it is seen as trendy to be able think like a tree, because ‘green’ issues are definitely ‘in’. It’s the 2000s equivalent of the 90’s man being in touch with his feminine side.
However, thinking in terms of trees has been popular with chess players for much longer; in fact, ever since Kotov extolled the virtues of such a method in his classic work, ‘Think Like A Grandmaster’. The basic idea was to think through the possible candidate moves in a given position as if they were branches of a tree, but a player was advised to look at each branch once and once only before moving on to the next one.
Soltis goes a little bit deeper again and argues the pros and cons of this approach. For instance, he points out that such discipline and accuracy required to look at each branch only once involves powers beyond most Masters and are certainly not always suitable for your average club player.

One problem with thinking like a tree comes when the branches eventually merge and transpose, when there is a danger that the players will not twig the subtle differences along the way.

J. Polgar - Spassky

In 1993, Polgar and Spassky had a match and the Closed Lopez was one of their battlegrounds. Twice Spassky played the normal 11…Bb7 here, and after Bc2 Re8 they reached one of the main lines. In this game Spassky incautiously played 11…Re8?? But after 12 Bc2 Bb7 they merely transposed. Both players failed to see the difference – 12 Bxf7+! wins immediately as …Kxf7 Ng5+ and e6 wins the Queen in broad daylight. The correct move order, 11..Bb7, makes luft, not war.

There are some great nuggets of advice to be found in this book. For example, Soltis points out that, ‘the longer you study a position, the less you may see tactically.’ This must strike a familiar chord with most readers. How many times have you had a longer than average think, believing that you have sussed out the secrets of the position, only to have missed a one-mover early in the variation you had spent all the time on?

There’s lots of thought-provoking material in this book. Will reading it actually help the reader choose better moves? I really don’t know. After all the self-help books I’ve read over the years, I can’t recall ever consciously going through any of the various methods while I’m at the board trying to figure out the best way forward. Perhaps most of the advice is subconsciously buzzing away, but it still seems to me that most of us non-Masters choose moves based on a mixture of experience and intuition, tempered and clouded by how tired we are at the end of a working day, what else we have on our minds and what distractions there are in the room.

One interesting section considers a typical mistake in the way we think. Often, during a sequence we are calculating, it is easy to slip into thinking that a series of captures is forced, as in draughts. However, things are not always clear as this example shows…

Macieja – Sadvakasov
Curacao 2003

The Rooks have been taking pawns and White assumed that Black would continue the trend with 1…Rxb4, when 2 Rc1! is a strong reply. However, Black found the much stronger 1…Rc6! with a forced - and decisive - doubling of Rooks on the seventh rank on the way.
One of the most encouraging aspects of books such as these is how we can see that the top players can make exactly the same sort of mistakes we all do.

J. Polgar – Anand
Wijk aan Zee 1998

Here, Anand wants to complete his development with …Nbd7 but doesn’t want to allow Bxe6 and Ng5. Reluctant to ‘waste’ a tempo with the prophylactic 11…h6, he tries to gain one instead with a capture and played 11…Bxb3? Unfortunately for him, this is a terrible positional error with a very ‘club-playerish’ look about it. White’s bind on d5 could never be broken and Polgar could always plan to end with a Minor piece on that square. She later won brilliantly.

VERDICT: Interesting stuff and a good read. There’s a lot of thought-provoking material here and if you can absorb the information there is a good chance that it will indeed improve your decision-making at the board.

For details of this and all other Batsford chess books, please visit:

Buzan’s Book Of Mental World Records
By Tony Buzan and GM Raymond Keene
D&B Publishing

This interesting book begins by pointing out that the Olympic motto ‘Citius, Altius, Fortius’ (‘Faster, Higher, Stronger‘) is better suited to mental rather than physical activities and observes that the one-minute mile is absolutely impossible until humans evolve wheels whereas the ability of the human mind is virtually without limits.

The first two chapters cover the birth of Mind Sports, through such colourful characters as As-Suli (AD 854-946) of Baghdad ‘the first chess grandmaster, the first mental sportsman, the first genius of mind sports’ and highlights what qualities are needed to become a champion.
Subsequent chapter take a good look at a variety of mental records before moving on to various Mind Sports.

Naturally, the chess content will be of most interest to readers of this column. Over the course of 25 pages we are taken on a journey from the very beginnings of chess right up to the infamous Adams v Hydra ‘Man v Machine’ clash of earlier this year (which ended in a terrible defeat for the human and quite possibly signalled the death knell for such encounters).

Considerable attention is devoted to the World Champions and various attempts to rank them in order of strength. This can be a futile exercise - it is not possible to compare like with like, as things change so much over the generations - but it is always intriguing and fun to see how such rankings end up. Here, 18 players are considered to have sufficient criteria to enable them to be on the final list. Taking into account the results of all the serious games played by the greats, with various tweaking, Emanuel Lasker eventually emerges at the top of the list, closely followed by his old rival Wilhelm Steinitz. Kasparov is third, while Fischer - often the fans’ favourite - can only manage 12th place.

It is possible to argue all day with such lists but it has to be said that I agree with the sentiment expressed in the book that more attention should be paid to the early champions and their fantastic achievements. For instance, Lasker’s World Championship matches were so impressive that it is easy to slip into thinking that his trounced opponents such as Marshall and Janowski were very weak players, but that is certainly not the case. Lasker was World Champion for over 26 years - much longer than any other player, and a record that is very unlikely to be surpassed.

One unfortunate thing about a book dealing with records is that some of them will inevitably be broken, thus making some of the data out of date. Andrew Martin’s Simultaneous World Record, set in 2004, was broken a couple of months ago by Susan Polgar.

Whether or not one is interested in actually playing the other games featured in the book, (Go, Draughts, Bridge, Backgammon), the historical facts and records still make fascinating reading.
Dr Marion Tinsley is offered up as being a candidate for being ‘The Greatest Mind Sportsman of Them All’ for his fantastic ability in the world of draughts. He won seven USA National tournament without losing a single game and was undefeated internationally in match play between 1947 and 1995! In 1992 he won a massive match with computer program Chinook by a score of 4-2 with 33 draws.

The list of World Champions, from 1844 to present, is very interesting. Eight of the 21 are from Scotland (it’s always draughty in the Highlands, and the kilts are no help) and three from England, the sort of heritage British Chess can only dream about.

The book concludes with some puzzles and problems from the various disciplines.

Here’s a few random records to give you a taster…

Sean Adam is the fastest reader in the world, clocking up an amazing 3,850 words per minute.

Harry Lorayne has memorised 7,500,000 names and faces. So if he says, ‘I never forget a face’, you’d better believe him.

Akira Haraguchi memorised the first 83,431 digits of Pi in 2005.

I was going to tell you who the World Champion of memories is, but for the life of me I just can’t remember.

VERDICT: Although not a chess book as such, Buzan’s Book Of Mental World Records is well worth a look and contains many staggering facts and examples that will keep the reader entertained and amused for some time. It may also inspire you to give some of the other games a try and that can only be a good thing.

For details of this and all other D&B books, please visit:

Saturday 1 October 2005

Archive: UNCUT! 42

The Sean Marsh Chess Column

*Column 42*
* *October 2005* *

Dear Readers,

The current World Championship tournament is a chess spectator’s dream, with so many fighting games to keep the viewer entertained, captivated and enthralled. My pre-tournament top-tip Topalov is in tip-top form.

For once, the line-up is fully respected and there is a refreshing lack of chess politics. The chess itself is the only focus of attention. There are no big-name retirements, no off-form World Champions and no talk of the Petroff draw-death to distract us all from the wonderful games being played.

Needless to say, despite having an Englishman in the line-up, there’s no chance of seeing even the faintest glimmer of coverage on TV. We could try and sneak into the schedules, bulging with a never ending stream of so-called reality TV shows, by changing the advertising slant from ‘World Chess Championship’ to a ‘few people sitting around playing chess’ but I doubt that would work. After a lifetime of enduring ‘geek’ tags I suspect the average chess player is ironically too normal to feature on live TV.

I was in the unfortunate position of having to watch about 15 minutes of ‘Big Brother’ a short time ago and I could actually feel my brain turning to jelly. Even worse - one of the adverts gave us the ‘delightful’ Jamie Oliver telling us all how to make a ham sandwich (gosh, thanks) and then displaying the manners of a dog when he proceeded to tuck into it while still standing and talking with his mouth full. Or was such a display merely a further example of ‘reality’?

Oh well, never mind. Perhaps we should just accept our cult status and continue to keep ourselves to ourselves.

The return of the World Championship in any shape or form should be welcomed with open arms and this time, after so many false dawns, it really does seem that we are on some sort of path to reconciliation and title-unification.

By way of celebration, here are a few random snippets from the rich history of the Championship….

Unforgettable Positions

There are dozens of key moments in the big title matches. Here’s a random selection from the archives…

Steinitz - Chigorin
Game 23, 1892
With a victory in this game, Chigorin could have equalised the match at nine wins all, whereupon the match would have been extended beyond the ‘first to 10 wins’ rule as it was felt a margin of two points would have been required. However, Chigorin played one of the worst blunders in history with his shocking 32 Bb4?? Allowing one of the standard mating patterns after 32 … Rxh2 0-1

Bogoljubow - Alekhine
Game 8, 1929
Alekhine easily had the measure of his opponent and was able to indulge his tactical flair far more often than he had two years earlier against Capablanca.
26 …Ng3+! 27 hxg3 hxg3+ 28 Nh3 Bxh3 29 gxh3 Rxh3+ 30 Kg2 Rh2 mate

The only World Championship game to end in mate on the board.

Euwe - Alekhine
Game 26, 1935
‘The Pearl of Zandvoort’

The moment it became clear that Euwe was going to topple the mighty Alekhine from the throne (albeit temporarily).
21 Nxf5!! Bxc3 22 Nxd6 Qb8 23 Nxe4 f6 24 Nd2 and the central pawns advanced to bring about Black’s downfall. Despite winning the next game, Alekhine couldn’t close the gap as the last three games were drawn.

Fischer - Spassky
Game 2, 1972

White forfeits (0-1) following a dispute about TV cameras.

Not a joke, but a grave sign of things to come. Fischer’s principles, variously described all the way from ‘worthy’ to ‘baffling’ were to keep him from the game from the moment he won the title, with the exception of a big pay-day exhibition rematch with Spassky in 1992.

Karpov - Kasparov
Game 24 1985

With the whole board ablaze, Karpov resigns the game - and his 10 year-old title - to the only player he could never control.

Contrasting appraisals

Botvinnik on the young Karpov, circa 1965:

‘This young man understands nothing about chess’
Alekhine on the young Smyslov in 1945: ‘There’s a certain Smyslov, in Russia, who plays very well and will go very far’. Curiously, Alekhine had lost a game to Smyslov’s father back in 1912.


In 1983, Smyslov and Hubner met in a Candidates’ match. After three draws, Smyslov took the lead. Four more draws followed before Hubner finally equalised. Further games were required but they just kept on drawing. Ultimately, with just one win each and no less than 12 draws, the tie was decided by the spin of a roulette wheel. Smyslov chose red, Hubner black; the first spin came up zero. The second spin came up red and Smyslov progressed to the next round. (He went on to defeat Ribli but was eliminated by Kasparov in the Candidates’ final.)


In 1909, World Champion Emanuel Lasker played David Janowski in a four-game match backed financially by Janowski’s sponsor Leo Nardus. The contest ended 2-2 (four decisive games). Due to the fine showing of Janowski, Nardus sponsored a longer match. Thus a 10 game encounter was arranged which Lasker won easily with seven wins, two draw sand only one loss. This is the contest often mistakenly referred to as a World Championship match; it wasn’t but when the two met in another match in 1910 the title was definitely on the line. Unfortunately for Janowski, Lasker was again far too strong and easily picked up the eight wins necessary (won 8, drawn 3 lost none!).

Thus Lasker ensured a couple of decent pay-days from the generous Nardus. If the first match had been 4-0 rather than 2-2 it seems unlikely that Nardus would have seen it worthwhile to sponsor a title match with a potentially humiliating defeat for his favourite.

Did Lasker gambit two points in return for boodle? The lifetime score between the two players was 26 wins to 4 in favour of Lasker, with only seven draws.

The title match was the last occasion Nardus saw fit to sponsor Janowski. They fell out during a friendly game when Janowski could bite his tongue no longer over the playing strength of his millionaire benefactor. With the unwise words, ‘You are really the greatest patzer I have ever met!’ their partnership ended.

If your appetite for World Championship chess has been whetted, then off you go to find more interesting snippets! If it hasn’t, then go and grab a ham sandwich and switch on the telly!

Sean Marsh
October 2005