Saturday, 6 October 2007

Chess Book Reviews 30

Three very interesting books this time, dear readers! Great variety too...

Gambiteer II
A hard-hitting chess opening repertoire for Black
By GM Nigel DaviesEveryman Chess

The last book from GM Davies showed how to be a Gambiteer with the White pieces. This time he offers some dashing variations to try out with the Black pieces. However, this is not as easy, as the author admits in the introduction.

‘A complete repertoire of gambits for black is therefore unrealistic and even foolhardy. Having said that, Black can hoist the pirate flag against two of White’s strongest and most popular openings, the Queen’s Gambit and the Ruy Lopez.’

Then it’s straight into the fun, with the first half of the book taking a detailed look at The Schliemann Gambit against the Ruy Lopez.

1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bb5 f5

A controversial choice! Yet in a way the most obvious one to choose if one wants to be a committed Gambiteer. A critical line runs: 4 d4 fxe4 5 Nxe5 Nxe5 6 dxe5 c6 7 Nc3.…

…when Black has the option of taking the Bishop on b5, with a big mess. Regarding this moment, GM Davies comments: ‘Those with poor memories and/or bad nerves might prefer to decline the material with 7 …d5, or get a book on the French Defence.’

Meeting the Queen’s Gambit with the Albin Counter Gambit is a very interesting choice.

1 d4 d5 2 c4 e5 3 dxe5 d4

Very much under a cloud for decades, the once-fully respectable Albin was giving a real boost by the new ideas injected by free-spirit Morozevich. Indeed, it is the World Championship Candidate’s main idea that is the focus of attention. Eschewing the older plans involving …Bf5, …Qd7 and …0-0-0, he liked to play an early …Nge7 followed by a swift …Ng6 with lots of pressure on the e5 pawn.

For me, the Albin section is the best part of the book. The recent ideas are covered in depth for the first time and Black seems to be having a fair share of the fun. True, some rather weird and wonderful positions will appear on your board if you emulate Morozevich.

Sokolov - Morozevich
Wijk aan Zee 2005

Black won!

A final chapter, ‘Fight the Stodge’ rounds up a few odds and ends, giving Black some buccaneering ploys against the English, 1 Nf3 and The Italian Game.

This is by no means a repertoire book though. Players hoping to freshen up their openings for the new season will still have a lot of gaps to fill in and there will be a lot of other 1 e4 e5 knowledge to acquire from other sources.

There is a lot of fighting talk in this bright and breezy book. I don’t think it’s possible to climb to the top of the chess world with openings such as these, but anyone trying out the recommendations will undoubtedly enjoy a lot of fun over the board and develop a reputation as a dangerous tactician.

Chess Secrets:
The Giants of Strategy

By GM Neil McDonald
Everyman Chess

The first in another new series, the present volume of ‘Chess Secrets’ take a good look at the Kings of chess strategy, namely Nimzowitsch, Capablanca, Petrosian, Karpov and Kramnik.
GM McDonald introduces the giants at the start of the book and then uses their games to illustrate a plethora of important strategic themes.

There are nine key areas of interest, starting with a chapter on the seventh rank and working through to trickier subjects such as provocation and prophylaxis.

Some of the positions achieved by the giants can make the jaws of even players drop in astonishment and envy.

Mannhiemer - Nimzowitsch
Frankfurt 1930

What a great example of a blockade in action!

The whole game is given in the book, with excellent annotations. Black won quickly by picking off the terminally weak White a2 pawn and advancing his own, (newly passed) a pawn on an inevitable journey to a glorious promotion.
It’s not just old games that are placed under the McDonald microscope; he brings us bang up to date with Kramnik’s impressive over Anand over this year’s Wijk aan Zee tournament.
There’s plenty of verbal explanation (one of GM McDonald’s trademarks) throughout the instruction-packed 256 pages.
It’s an attractive looking book too, with the five of the best strategists staring out from the front cover, all showing their steely determination by looks alone. (…and Petrosian doing one of his very best Tony Hancock impressions.)
The impressive page-count seems to have led to the edging out of an index of players and a bibliography but minor quibbles aside, this is a very readable and instructive book.

Practical Endgame Play - Beyond the Basics
The definitive guide to the endgames that really matter

By GM Glenn FlearEveryman Chess

The first to notice about this book is the size of it. It’s about an inch taller and wider than the standard Everyman book and contains an incredible 544 pages. With an r.r.p. of £19.99, that’s just £5 more than normal too. So the first impression is definitely one of great value for money.

GM Flear starts off with a very well written introduction, explaining why he wrote this book and how the reader can get the most out of it. He adds a new term to chess terminology while he’s at it: ‘Nuckie’. That at least is his recommended pronunciation of NQE (‘Not Quite and Ending’), which refers to the blurry grey areas, the positions that fall into the murky gap between late middle games and pure endings.

Attention is drawn to the fact that endings with Rook and minor piece v Rook and minor piece are very poorly represented in chess literature (probably because it’s a very difficult subject and there aren’t the clear-cut answers one might find when studying pawn endings, Rook endings etc).

The book then moves on to practical examples, starting with the basics ‘Two extra pieces’ (i.e. - K, R&R v K…’We have to start somewhere!’) before moving fairly swiftly to meatier topics.

There are, typically, two example positions per page, complete with annotations and explanatory text. Multiply that by the number of pages and you will see that there is an astonishing amount of material packed into this fine book.

The material is split into five sections:

1) Clear material advantage
2) Only minor pieces
3) Asymmetric struggles
4) Rook and Minor Pieces
5) Heavyweight Struggles

A couple of examples will provide a flavour of the content.

Short - Beliavsky
Linares 1992

GM Flear looks at some of the preceding play and in this particular position suggests 59 Nxf6 is definitely the way to go. After Short’s catastrophic 58 Ke6?? Beliavsky was no doubt very relieved to flash out 58...Bc8 mate.
‘The moral of this sorry tale is that, even when logically carrying out our strategic plans, we should not overlook the basic tactics!’

Korchnoi - Seirawan
Lugano 1986

‘Korchnoi finishes off the game in style by preparing and executing a clever pawn breakthrough…’
51 Qd8 Kh7 52 a5! bxa5 53 b6! cxb6 ('If Bxb6 then 54 d6 and 55 d7 etc')

54 d6 Rg7 55 d7 b5 56 Qc7 1-0 the d-pawn will cost Black his Bishop and the queenside pawns.

Those are merely a couple of snippets; most of the examples in the book have much longer stories behind them and have lots of analysis.

Endgame books certainly don’t have to be dry theoretical works either. GM Flear sprinkles plenty of little anecdotes around, including pointing out that between adjourning and finishing a game with GM Speelman he went off to get married.

'I assume with good cause that there are not many people around who started an over-the-board game as a bachelor and completed it as a married man. Am I the only person in the world to have done this?'

Well, dear readers, I’ve certainly never done that (I’m sure I’d have remembered) but if you have then please let us know!

An absolute goldmine of chess instruction is to be found in this superb book. Definitely one for the proverbial desert island.

‘The most important Endgame book ever written’ it claims on the back cover. Well, maybe…just maybe…!

For more details on these and all other Everyman chess books, please visit:


Anonymous said...

Re: Flear's book's Korchnoi-Seirawan game, I believe you meant 52...bxa5, not 52...Bxa5.

Sean Marsh said...

Thank you - well spotted!