Monday, 28 April 2008

Chess Reviews 44

The Survival Guide to Rook Endings
By GM John Emms
Gambit Publications
(This is reissue of the 1999 volume, with updated analysis thanks to the latest tablebases)

Rook endings are still officially the most common so it makes good sense to learn something about them. Endgame books, generally speaking, aren’t as attractive as books on openings to the average player but it’s refreshing to note the sober title; this is indeed a survival guide and not a rash claim to be able to ‘force a win’ or ‘win brilliantly’ (or anything piece of opening-book hyperbole) in Rook endings.

Study of the survival guide will definitely save - and gain - points at the chess board. There’s no doubt about it; knowledge of just the classic Lucena and Philidor positions alone will guarantee a decent return for you invested study time.

Starting with the very basics, the first position in the book leads on to a demonstration of how to mate with Rook and King v King.

Things get meatier straight away with the very famous - and highly entertaining - Saavedra Position….

White to play and win. Not as simple as it looks!

GM Emms always writes very readable books and at no stage does he leave the reader in the dark. The material has been chosen for practical reasons so it is not encyclopaedic; nevertheless, there is still a very methodical approach when it comes to building up the reader’s knowledge.
There are plenty of astonishing moves, despite the reduced material. For example, it’s amazing to find that in this position…

Lerner - Dorfman
Tashkent 1980

…there is only one winning move: 71 Rf2! The key point is that after the more obvious 71 Kb7 Kf6! 72 Kc6 Ke5! Black succeeds in ‘shouldering’ the enemy King.

The shortest section, featuring double Rook endings, misses one important aspect; with extra firepower it is often possible to sacrifice a pawn or more to massively increase the activity of the Rooks, leading to a significant increase in practical chances. The following is a classic example (curiously overlooked by endgame books)...

Sahovic - Korchnoy
Biel 1979

Black sacrificed two pawns and brought the game to a swift conclusion.

39...h5+ 40.Kxh5 Rd8 41.hxg5+ Kf5 42.Kh6 Rh3+ 43.Kg7 Rd7+ 44.Kg8 Kg6 45.Rf2 Rg7+ 46.Kf8 Rh8#

Nevertheless, this is an impressive and well-written guide and one of the most accessible and practical endgame books around. As the author says, it is ‘…a book for the survivor and not the connoisseur’!

Several exercises are given at the end of each chapter (28 positions in all). Here are a couple of samples.

The main three moves here are 1...Rd2+, 1...Rb2 and 1...Ra2. What are trhe verdicts on them?

Can White force a win in this position?

Jon Speelman’s Chess Puzzle Book
By GM Jon Speelman
Gambit Publications
GM Speelman starts off with a short introduction in which he outlines his reasons for writing the book and he whets the appetite of the reader a general discussion about tactics.

‘…There is a fairly simple message which is worth hammering home: tactics is a combination of vision and calculation; both are necessary and neither is obvious - even to the best players - during the hurly burly of practical play.’

There follows a short explanation on the subject of ‘vision’ and ‘calculation’, complete with a now-customary swipe at Kotov’s ‘Tree of Analysis’ method.
Soon, the reader is plunged into the world of tactics and there are plenty of positions to solve. The book is split into two main parts.

Part 1: The Elements

Knight Forks
Loose Pieces
Opening and Closing Lines
Overloaded Pieces and Deflections
Mating Attacks
The Back Rank
Pawn Promotion

Each section gives a number (between 12 and 34) of reasonably simple examples of the theme in question, enabling the reader to develop a skill for pattern recognition. Little clues are often given and the answers are on later pages, thus removing the curse of the (involuntary?) roving, spoiling eye.

Part 2: Tactics in Practice

Finger Exercises
Mixed Bag
Tougher Examples

The first two parts give present 48 exercises, still not too difficult, but all aimed at further developing the tactical vision of the reader. As the tests are no longer categorised, the reader must first decide what is on offer from the whole gamut of tactical possibilities covered in part 1. 42 Tougher Examples conclude the work.

It’s a bright and breezy read, ideal for a quick feel-good solving session to warm up before your next game and, provided there’s not a hoodie sitting next to you, a great way to pass the time on the bus or train.

The puzzles start off with a very elementary Knight fork but things build up nicely through the book with some tricky stuff capable of making stronger players pause for thought. Good fun!

Here’s a few of the Tougher Examples to test your powers (sorry - no clues!).

Black to play

White to play

Black to play

And finally, your chance to ‘beat’ two of the all-time greats.

White to play.

Imagine you are White against Kasparov here! Khuzman was…

and he forced a swift resignation.

White to play.

Can you KO Karpov from here?

Gambit’s book covers continue to show imagination and originality. The Puzzle Book shows a number of tactics in the guise of specimens of various dangerous-looking lotions and potions and The Survival Guide to Rook Endings depicts a lonesome Rook presumably ably surviving on a seemingly endless chessboard desert.

For the anwswers to the problems above - and plenty more - you're going to have to buy the books.

Further details of GAMBIT books are available over at:

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