Wednesday 28 January 2009

More Mongoose

The 'Mongoose Times' blog is building up nicely. Here's the latest:

Chess Reviews: 78

New York 1924
By GM Alexander Alekhine
352 pages
Russell Enterprises

‘‘We use ‘super tournament’ so much today that, as with ‘super-model’, ‘super-computer’ and like, its meaning has become, well, less than super. But New York 1924 was a super tournament that was truly extraordinary’’

So says GM Andy Soltis in his thoughtful foreword, before going on to add some important historical context to the tournament.

There’s a note from the publisher, explaining that although various editorial mishaps have been corrected form earlier editions, Alekhine’s original game notes have not been checked against the analysis of chess engines

‘By all means, if that is what you wish to do, go for it. For the rest of` us, it may be enough to sit back and savor one of the great chess tournament books of all time. Enjoy…’

There’s a reproduction of a memorable group photograph, with facsimile autographs of all of the players. They all look very serious except for Dr Emanuel Lasker. I’m not sure if the picture was taken before or after the event, but the impish look on the face of the second World Champion was of course ultimately justified. Further photographs of the players intersperse the text.

The tournament thoroughly deserves its place as one of the most memorable ever seen. The reigning World Champion, Capablanca, was there as were his predecessor (Dr. Lasker) and eventual successor (Alekhine). Past and future World Championship challengers Janowsky, Marshall and Bogoljubow (plus Maroczy, who for some reason never did get around to playing his proposed title match with Lasker) were there too, no doubt all eager to prove themselves against the world’s elite.

Ultimately, Dr. Lasker pulled off another one of his extraordinary tournament victories after an exciting race with Capablanca. The latter had sensationally lost to Reti early on and just couldn’t catch the eventual champion.

Revitalised tournament books can be judged by various methods.

It’s time for a close examination of three of the key criteria.

1) How good is the original version of the book?

Those who already own the Dover version of the tournament book will probably read it with mixed feelings. There’s no doubt that Alekhine’s annotations were ahead of their time but the format of the notes is clearly very dated and they are difficult for modern eyes to follow.

In short, the old edition is undoubtedly a great book, but these days can be seen as hard work.

2) Are the games lively, entertaining and educational?

The grand mix of players highlights a pivotal moment in the history of chess. This was the true dawning of a new age, with Richard Reti leading the way for ‘Hypermoderns’ and their ‘openings of the future’.

The old guard were by no means willing to move aside and the sparks certainly flew over the board.

Here’s a few key examples:

Reti v Yates

An excellent demonstration of White’s hypermodern approach 1-0 (31)

The clashes in the openings were evident throughout the tournament. Famous endgames abounded too:

Dr. Lasker v Ed. Lasker

White drew from here, in 103 moves.

Capablanca v Tartakower

35 Kg3 ‘Decisive! White sacrifices material in order to obtain the classical position with king on f6, pawn on g6 and rook on h7, whereupon the black pawns tumble like rotten apples’.

Janowski - Ed. Lasker

Yes - White really is moving up the board. Several wins were missed before the game was drawn after 71 moves.

Those snippets should whet the appetite. Many more await the reader.

3) Is the new edition a worthy addition to chess literature?

The original book suffers from an outdated format and cramped layout. Russell Enterprises have very successfully improved both issues, with the notes now flowing through each game and the notation fully converted to algebraic. The pages are easy on the eye and the number of diagrams has been greatly increased.

The main body of the work is of course intact, and includes Alekhine’s famous article:
‘The Significance of the New York Tournament in the Light of the Theory Openings’.

His survey takes up 27 pages and he certainly has his work cut out, analysing his way through the classic openings (starting with the Ruy Lopez) through to the Reti Opening.

Some of his conclusions now appear quaint, such as his swipe at 1 e4 g6:

‘Capablanca took the liberty once of playing this ‘‘Joke Opening’’…naturally, this experiment has no claim to any theoretical significance.’

However, there is still plenty of wisdom in his words and it is historically interesting to see the differences in opinion between then and now.

Modern readers, who habitually eschew anything old fashioned (regardless of content and value) will have no problems being inspired to study the fabulous games.

It is good to see Russell Enterprises continuing to resurrect classic tomes for modern readers. One can only hope that the tournament book of Nottingham 1936 will receive similar treatment soon.

For more on books from Russell Enterprises, pop along to:

Missed a review? Please visit my archive:

Sunday 25 January 2009

GM Adams Tribute to GM Keene

There was a good article in yesterday's Daily Telegraph by GM Michael Adams, in which he paid tribute to GM Raymond Keene.

The article is not on the Telegraph website, but it can be seen here:

Fans of The Grob should look away!

Wednesday 21 January 2009

New Blog: Mongoose Times

There's a brand new blog for you to read and enjoy.

Mongoose Press, famous for publishing chess books, are the brains behind 'Mongoose Times'.

There are going to many contributors and the content is by no means confined only to chess.

To join the fun, pop along to: and add it to your 'favourites' while you're there.

Chess Reviews: 77

Secrets of Positional Play
By GM Mark Dvoretsky and GM Artur Yusupov
240 pages
Edition Olms

‘It became clear that there was the need to develop an approach to the position, which I call ‘prophylactic thinking’ - the habit of constantly asking yourself what the opponent wants to do, what he would play if it were him to move, the ability to find an answer to this question and to take account of it in the process of coming to a decision’.

This is volume 4 in the acclaimed ‘School of Future Champions’ series.

‘Prophylaxis’ is the main theme running through the book, but plenty of other positional motifs receive attention.

The material is split into five main parts.

Part 1: Methods of Improving Positional Play

Featuring three chapters by GM Dvoretsky and a shorter one by GM Dlugy.

The pick of the bunch is ‘Prophylactic Thinking’, particularly the annotated games by Karpov (against Timman) and Petrosian (against Gufeld). Those two masters of the prophylactic style played moves which can be very hard to predict. Try guessing what they will play while looking at their games; the ‘hit’ rate will be surprisingly low considering nothing much seems to be happening. Good annotations are essential to understand what is going beneath the surface.

Karpov’s own notes are used to augment the author’s and they shed a very revealing light on the art of preventing the opponent’s intentions.

Karpov - Timman
Montreal 1979

‘Karpov’s next move is probably the best in the game. How did he find it? Obviously he asked himself what the opponent wanted. The answer is clear: to bring the Knight into play via c5. How can this be prevented?’

22 Qc2!! (22 …Nc5 would be met by 23 b4! as the pressure on c6 is set to be strong)
The author points out that White had the tactical option of 22 Nxc6!? Qxc6 23 e5, but he was completely unwilling to allow any activity for the Black pieces.

A few moves on, Karpov is at it again. 24 Qd3 is tempting, but he chose the subtle 24 Bf2!

‘Prior to his decisive offensive White places his pieces in the most harmonious way possible, and…once again reinforces his central outpost at e4!’

It’s these little moves that make all the difference. Having the presence of mind and patience to find them at the height of the battle is one of the big differences between those who can play like this and those who can’t. Karpov very rarely lost his patience.

29 Be3! …and Black never did get even a glimmer of activity 1-0 (38)

Part II: Ways of Looking for Positional Solutions

There are two sections by Alexey Kosikov, one by GM Dvoretsky and one by GM Yusupov.

Part III: Typical Positions

This part contains two sections by GM Dvoretsky and one by the duo of Igor Khenkin and Vladimir Kramnik (on the Stonewall Variation of the Dutch Defence).

GM Dvoretsky’s section on ‘Opposite-Colour Bishops in the Middlegame’ is one of the most instructive in the book, showing how to use them alongside the initiative.

Karpov - Kasparov
Game 4, World Championship Match 1985

This looks like a balanced position, with Black doing well on the Queenside. GM Dvoretsky shows how Karpov methodically engineered decisive action on the virtually uncontested White squares.

38 Bb1!The triumph of White’s strategy - the queen inevitably reaches the b1 - h7 diagonal.’

The final position demonstrates the culmination of White’s strategy - and Black’s nightmare. The opposite coloured Bishops have not proved equal after all; Black’s is worse than a pawn and White’s is spearheading a decisive attack.


Careful study of the examples and annotations will give he reader an important addition to their middlegame armoury, especially as a lot of club and tournament will persist in thinking that opposite coloured Bishops are ‘always drawish’.

Part IV: Complicated Strategy in Practice

One chapter each for GM Dvoretsky and GM Yusupov; one by GM Bareev.

Part V: From Games by Pupils of the School

With annotations by GM Yusupov.

I always find the ‘Games by Pupils’ chapters of this series to be essentially filler material. The games are usually replete with mistakes and blunders. The main interest lies in spotting which of the young pupils made it through to be strong Grandmasters between then and now.

There are a few exercises for the reader to solve at the end of some of the chapters. The standard is high; it is not easy to find the right paths.

Here’s a randomly selected sample:

Timman - Larsen
Mar del Plata 1982

It’s Black to move. The only clue given is: ‘What does my opponent want, and what would he play if it were him to move?’

I’m not sure there has been any significant - if any - updating of the material since the earlier Batsford edition. (Kasparov is still ‘the World Champion’, Kramnik a guest writer.) If you already have that one on your library then you might think twice before ordering this one. However, those new to this volume will find much to enjoy. There’s an impressive amount of prose to compliment the (often lengthy) lines of analysis.

The layout is typical for Olms books; everything is presented very tidily with good spacing and very clear fonts.

Of course, it is great to see such a high quality chess book enjoying a new and attractive edition, but there is a strong desire to see some completely original chess writing by GM Dvoretsky.

For further details of these and all other Olms books, please go to:

Missed a review? Pop along to my archive:

Wednesday 14 January 2009

200 Years of Mystery, Imagination and Terror

It’s over 25 years since I first read the works of Edgar Allan Poe. I was fascinated by the horrific depths of his imagination. He was able to summon up some of the most disturbing and horrible images in history (particularly impressive as it was so many decades before the invention of reality TV shows).

This year marks the bicentenary of his birth (19 January 1809 - 7 October 1849) so it seems to be an excellent time to visit his works once again.

Everyone has heard of the classics, such as 'The Premature Burial', 'The Pit and the Pendulum' and 'The Fall of the House of Usher', probably due to the fact that there have been famous films based on those stories.

However, there is a lot more to discover. Poe was there in the earliest days of detective fiction. Chevalier Auguste Dupin, the direct inspiration for countless fictional detectives (including Sherlock Holmes) solves the cases of: 'The Murders in the Rue Morgue', 'The Mystery of Marie Roget' and 'The Purloined Letter'. These are clever stories, showing his imagination being used in a different way.

Poe's sense of humour is often overlooked (to say the least) so stories such as 'Never Bet the Devil Your Head' and 'Why the Little Frenchman Wears His Hand in a Sling' may come as a surprise to some readers; they are usually left out of the standard anthologies so one has to dig a little deeper.

I was never a big fan of his poetry, although I enjoyed some of it, such as 'The Raven' and 'A Dream Within a Dream'. Far better for me was his one and only novel, 'The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket'. It is a masterpiece of pain and misery and can be an uncomortable read. It's a good antidote if you feel you are having a bad day.

So, dear readers, on these long Winter evenings, turn the lights down low, reach for your Poe and prepare to be entertained, horrified and amused.

Here's a little starter for you (I feel sure I don't have to name this masterpiece for you):

TRUE! - nervous - very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad? The disease had sharpened my senses - not destroyed - not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell. How, then, am I mad? Hearken! and observe how healthily - how calmly I can tell you the whole story...

Saturday 10 January 2009

Opening Workshop No. 4

Pop along to the Chess Links Project site...

...for the latest opening secrets from Norman Stephenson.

Friday 9 January 2009

Chess Reviews: 76

The ABC of the Leningrad Dutch
By IM Andrew Martin
4 hours, 10 minutes

‘Maybe Petrosian rubbed his hands with glee at the thought of facing 1...f5, but for the average player the Dutch can be a nasty shock.’

IM Martin’s 14 and 15 ChessBase DVDs form a two part survival kit for the dark and dangerous world of the Dutch Defence.

Through the eyes of many players, 1...f5 is outrageously risky. Black’s desire to control the e4 is a worthy ambition, but is the obvious weakening of the King’s position justified? The author describes the Dutch a s classic ‘risk v reward’ opening.

‘I don’t think everyone will be suited to The Dutch…you will need good nerves, and a thirst for battle.’

The introduction is followed by three inspiring games, featuring Black having lots of fun, just like here:

Ochkoos - Spragett

The initial examples of play are followed by a look at the strategic idea for both sides.Then it’s on to a study of the main lines.

Black is advised to head for the variation with 7...c6, rather than the older main line with 7 …Nc6.

IM Martin explains: ‘7...c6 is a solid,flexible and very reasonable move which is ideal for the average player to adopt. Black blunts the h1-a8 diagional for the time being and keeps all options open.

He may play in the centre with ...Qe8 and ...e7-e5! He could maybe think about transferring his Queen to the Kingside eg ....Qe8,..h6,...g5 and then ..Qh5!? Or he may play on the queenside with ....Na6-c7,...Rb8 and ...b5.

White has numerous replies,due to the lack of immediate contact.’

White has an abundance of options on move eight.

8 Rb1

8 Qc2

8 Re1

8 b3

8 b4

8 Qd3

8 Qb3

and finally, the main line, 8 d5, are all analysed. Considerable attention is devoted to Black’s 8...e5. White’s best is 9 dxe6, after which Black accepts a backward d6 pawn in return for active play.

It is interesting that Black is advised to avoid White’s rustic berserker attacks. Against 1 d4 f5 2 c4 Nf6 3 Nc3 g6, some players like to blast away with 4 h4. The author takes the advice given by Stefan Kinderman in his book and recommends the 3…d6 move order for the second player.

Other deviations are covered too, with the focus falling on White’s Nh3 and b4 systems. 4 Nh3 is dangerous.

Black is advised against playing into White’s hands with 4...Bg7 5 Nf4 0-0 6 h4. 4...Nc6 is given here as the better option, forcing through a quick central break after 5 Nf4 Bg7 6 h4 e5. This is consistent with the general approach recommended by IM Martin throughout his Dutch lectures; Black has to take the bull by the horns and actively seek the paths to cause the most discomfort for White.

Playing 1...f5 is a brave move. It would be foolish to play it without knowledge of White’s aggressive deviations from the main lines, which brings us neatly to the nex DVD…

ABC of the Anti-Dutch
By IM Andrew Martin
3 hours, 10 minutes

Those who play Dutch variations other than the Leningrad can sidestep a lot of White’s Anti-Dutch lines by playing 1 d4 e6 and then 2...f5. Leningrad fans don’t have such an option, so preparation is essential. IM Martin claims that these unusual variations will be seen at least as often as the main lines in your own games. It’s no fun being hacked to death in an opponent’s sharp pet line.

On this DVD, the presenter devotes varying degrees of attention to the following:

The Staunton Gambit

2 Nc3

2 Bg5

2 g4

2 h3

2 Qd3

2 e3

2 Nf3 and 3 Bg5

The Staunton Gambit is treated with respect. An old line, stemming from Nimzowitsch, is advocated, throwing White back on his own resources.

1 d4 f5 2 e4 fxe4 3 Nc3 Nf6 4 Bg5 b6

Black’s basic idea is to defend the e4 pawn by …Bb7, followed by …e6 and …Bb4. White might have trouble regaining the pawn, unless he quickly plays Bxf6. Black then should enjoy the Bishop pair. The illustrative games and explanations present a very healthy case for Black.

The key to meeting the obscure gambits such as 2 g4 is to avoid passive responses and to meet fire with fire. Black should claim some of the centre with an early …d5 and be aware of various counter attacking options.

Janachkov - Panbuchian

Black obtained a fine game with 4...d5, followed by developing the c8 Bishop, playing …Qd7, …Nc6 and …0-0-0.

Production wise, both DVDs are among the best of the range. IM Martin’s delivery is strong and confident, consistently maintaining good eye contact with the viewer throughout. The material is excellently chosen and presented in an inspiring way. I’m quite sure that IM Martin could sell lawnmowers and ice cubes to Eskimos.

Careful study of the lectures should result in the viewer being able to play the Dutch with an air of authority.

‘You should be ready now to go out and play one of the most exciting and unusual openings in the entire realm of chess theory.’

Fritz Powerbook 2009

Aimed at the serious players, this DVD uses over 1448642 games to produce 27 million opening positions.

There’s an additional opening book covering the most important top level games, historically stretching from the Steinitz - Lasker World Championship match of 1896 up to games played in November 2008.

The material can easily be loaded on to ChessBase, Fritz 11 and/or Rybka 3; it takes just three or four minutes. One installed, the Powerbook should, if used diligently, ensure your opening preparation is raised to a level your opponents will envy.

For further details of Chessbase products, please go to:

Missed a review? Pop along to my archive:

For a bit about my own experiences with the Dutch Defence, see here:

Five of the Best...CDs of 2008

'We must have music...!' sang Noel Coward and he's right, of course. Here's five favourites from 2008 you may care to try for yourselves...

All I Intended To Be

Emmylou Harris

It's a major event when a new Emmylou CD is released.

“I’ve always seen myself as a relentless songfinder, a singer of other people’s work whom I admire greatly, and an occasional songwriter.”

This statement is a fitting indication of the CD's content.

Key tracks: 'Moon Song', 'Gold' and 'Sailing Round the Room'.

John Foxx and Louis Gordon

Things have been very active on the John Foxx front of late, with a number of limited edition releases coming our way. I thought 'Impossible' was the pick of the bunch, with reworkings of classic tracks from various eras. There's new versions of quite a bit of his 'From Trash' work as well as older stuff such as 'The Man Who Dies Every Day'.

When I Cut Loose
The Toy Hearts

I stumbled across The Toy Hearts very recently and am particularly enjoying their second CD. It's bluegrass, folk and blues, UK-style.

Key tracks: 'When Angels Sing to Me', 'Giving You Back Your Troubles'.

Sex and Gasoline
Rodney Crowell

World-weary, outsider cynicism. Great lyrics and musically excellent. The title track is one of the best; 'Truth Decay' and 'Forty Winters' stand out too.

Little Honey
Lucinda Williams

This speedy follow up to 2007's 'West' sees Lu in a clearly more optimistic and happy frame of mind. It's a good mix of up tempo rockers (such as 'Real Love' and 'Little Honey') and thoughtful ballads ( 'If Wishes Were Horses'). Here's hoping for some UK tour dates in 2009.

Thursday 8 January 2009

Five of the Best...Films I Saw in 2008

There were plenty of interesting films released in 2008. Here's my top five...

No Country For Old Men

Essentially a cowboy film set in 1980, it follows the fortunes (or lack of them) of a guy who helps himself to the proceeds of a drug deal gone wrong. A sinsiter killer is out to take the money back (as well as delivering a suitable punishment for such a cheeky crime) and there is competition from other killers too. The local law takes a much quieter approach.

The theme builds through the film: how much would a man be prepared to sacrifice for greed? At which point do you not want to keep the $2,000,000?

It's grim stuff, but exceedingly well done (not for the squeemish, of course).

Shine A Light

A terrific film, showing The Rolling Stones in full flow at a specially filmed concert.

Famous film maker Martin Scorsese is at the helm and he captures the remarkable 'front row' action with aplomb.

Various archive snippets and behind-the-scenes stuff crop up now and then through the film but mostly it's a couple of hours of the Stones on top form. A must-see for Stones fans and it should be interesting enough for ayone else with any sort of interest in live music.

Iron Man

I felt this was a notch up from the standard Superhero stuff.

It was certainly more serious and realistic than the Fantastic 4 films and worked all the better for it. The charcters were more believable and the plot (such as it was) more involving.

All in all, it was probably a much better viewing experience than the latest Indiana Jones movie.

The Changeling

This was a really good film. At two and a half hours, it sounds like it will drag, but it never does.

The basic plot concerns a missing child. The mother is delighted to hear of his return, a few months later, only to find that it's not the right one. The authorities try and convince her she's wrong and go to extreme lengths to keep the error and subsequent trouble under wraps.

There are quite a few twists and turns.

The cast is excellent without exception; underplaying the characters a little bit adds realism to the situation.

Clint Eastwood was the Director and Producer and he did a fine job in both cases.

One of the year's must-see films.


The latest gansgster film from Guy Ritchie certainly has a familiar feel to it, but that's a good thing if you enjoyed the previous ones.

This is more like 'Lock, Stock...' than anything else. There's a shady deal or two going down concerning real estate but everything is complicated by sub-plots involving criminals of varying degrees of pettiness, a very rich Russian, a has-been rock star and various other people one wouldn't invite round for tea.

Everything is connected, of course, more often than not by a valuable painting owned by the Russian which goes missing while on loan.

There's violence, but probably not as much as the other films. Those left standing at the end will go on to feature in the sequel, 'Real RocknRolla' (and there'll be one more after that).

It's entertaining stuff and nowhere near as complicated as 2005's 'Revolver', with it's diverting Kabbalic references.

Wednesday 7 January 2009

Five of the Best...Books I Read in 2008

I read a lot of books in 2008, mainly during long bus trips. You may be surprised that I read almost as many non-chess books as chess ones.

In a bid to inspire you all to read more in 2009, I present my top five recommendations for your perusal.

by A.L. Kennedy

A deep and moving story, written in an unusual style. Alfie Day was a Lancaster tail-gunner during the war and his story weaves in and out of the past and present, with his memories, hopes and fears ebbing and flowing throughout.

Small Island
by Andrea Levy

This is the best book I've read for some time.

The basic storyline concerns the lives of two Jamaicans who are starting a new life in post-WW2 London.

The narrative presents the story through the thoughts of the four main characters (two Jamaican, two English) and examines the prejudices and struggles to come to terms with a changing world.

It's good to read about the same events from diferent viewpoints.

It's a big book - well over 500 pages - but never drags.

Highly recommended.

In the Dark
by Deborah Moggach

Set during World War 1, it features a landlady with a set of unusual set of lodgers.

The dynamics of everyone's lives and relationships are changed forever when she falls for the local butcher, a man of means in troubled times, and marriage is suddenly in the air.

The story follows the effect that the change has on all concerned.

The characters are excellent, as is the mood of the depressing London times during the war.

Being 'In the Dark' is a significant state for many of the characters, but in different ways.

Attack of the Unsinkable Rubber Ducks
by Christopher Brookmyre

Christopher Brookmyre's recent book caught my eye at the Scarborough Literature Festival last year.

It's essentially about the debunking of mediums, fortune tellers and other pedlars of 'woo'.

The story is told through the eyes of various people. Famous (fictional) psychic Gabriel Lafayette is pivotal to the plot, as is investigative journalist Jack Parlabane.

Keeping secrets leads to a couple of deaths. There are some violent moments but plenty of humour too.

It's not easy to say much else without spoiling the plot (especially as many things aren't quite what they seem to be), but it's a book I can heartily recommend as being a very good, clever and interesting read.

Bounder!: The Biography of Terry-Thomas
by Graham McCann

Graham McCann does a decent job in his study of the life and death of Terry-Thomas.

I didn't know much about his background but this book fills in a lot of the gaps.

T-T was apparently never out of character; what you saw on the screen was exactly what he was like in real life. He even had designer underpants, which he changed three times a day.

His shocking decline and death from Parkinson's disease is well covered. When first diagnosed, he made a typically flippant joke about appearing on Michael P's chat show.

Two small criticisms:

1) It appears to be quite a long biography, but the last 100 or so pages are actually a combination of notes to the main text and a list of his TV and film appearances.

2) On occasion, several pages are devoted to script extracts, thus diluting the main text further.

I'd rather have read a lot more about the actual life of T-T. The listings and quotes are available elsewhere.

Nevertheless, this is a worthwhile read and it certainly whets the appetite for watching out for reruns of his films.

Tuesday 6 January 2009

Best Chess Books of 2008

I am delighted to report that the January 2009 issue of CHESS Magazine (Volume 73, No. 10) includes a six-page article by me, featuring my personal choice of the best chess books of 2008.

You will have to buy the magazine to read all about my reasons, but meanwhile this is my basic list (in no particular order):

Garry Kasparov on Modern Chess: Part 2
Kasparov vs. Karpov 1975-1985
Everyman Chess

Starting Out: The Modern
By GM Nigel Davies
Everyman Chess

The Flexible French
GM Viktor Moskalenko
New in Chess

The Chess Café Puzzle Book 2
By GM Carsten Muller
Russell Enterprises

The Art of Bisguier
Selected Games 1961-2003
By GM Arthur Bisguier and Newton Berry
Russell Enterprises

Adolf Albin in America
A European Chess Master’s Sojourn, 1893-1895
By Olimpiu G. Urcan
McFarland & Company

My 60 Memorable Games
By GM Bobby Fischer
Batsford Chess

Starting Out: Sicilian Grand Prix Attack
by GM Gawain Jones
Everyman Chess

Play the Slav
by FM James Vigus
Everyman Chess

American Grandmaster
by GM Joel Benjamin
Everyman Chess

Albert Beauguard Hodges: The Man Chess Made
by John S. Hilbert and Peter P. Lahde

It was going to be a strict 'top 10' but Fischer's book dropped through the letterbox at Marsh Towers just in time to be added, and I didn't want to relegate any of the others to the list of 'also rans'.

Monday 5 January 2009

Coming Soon...Great New Junior Book

Mongoose Press, who are known in the chess world for their very interesting books 'Chess Gems' and 'The Genius and Misery of Chess', (reviewed here: ) have a new junior book coming out very soon.

I have seen some 'work in progress' segments of the book and I was very impressed. A full review should follow here in due course. Meanwhile, further details can be found over at:

Thursday 1 January 2009

Chess Reviews: 75

True Combat Chess
Winning Battles Over The Board

By IM Timothy Taylor

208 pages

Everyman Chess

‘In other words, I’m in the trenches, battling through modern chess as it is actually played. Meanwhile, some other, perhaps more famous chess authors, gave up tournament chess - gave up true combat - so long ago that they have never played a serious game with a digital clock!’

IM Taylor is a practical player who seeks to share some secrets of over-the-board chess playing in this printed spin-off from his now defunct internet column.

The chapter headings should give an indication of the material covered:


The Critical Move

Opening Preparation

The Endgame and the Clock

Winning the Won Game

Beating a Grandmaster

Underground Innovation

As with the author’s previous book, exclamation marks are peppered throughout the text; there are far more in the prose than in the game moves and they rather lose their point as they are used so frequently. Hyperactive punctuation has more chance of survival on a short internet column; in book form it jars and dilutes any genuinely worthy point of emphasis.

The author makes the valid point that modern day chess is a world apart from the classic Capablanca era, with the much faster time-limits and the inexorable rise of opening theory being the main differences, causing greater problems for over the board players.

The conclusion of the chapter on ‘Opening Preparation’ is simply to add flexibility to one’s repertoire.

‘Favourite’ opening lines are death, as it’s too easy to prepare against them.

Possibly so…but not for the average reader, who is looking for advice on how to be more successful at club and tournament level. This manual isn’t aimed at International Masters and Grandmasters.

‘The only exception I can see if you are the world’s greatest expert on a particular line - then maybe you can get away with repeating it, as Bobby Fischer did in the past days when everyone knew he would play the Najdorf Sicilian.’

GM Kasparov would have been a better example to use, seeing as he played the Najdorf very successfully against much stronger ‘all-comers’ than Fischer ever did.

'Winning the Won Game' consists mainly of a small collection of games played by the author’s wife (currently rated 1800). This is indulgent, as is making a comparison to one of the Petrosian - Botvinnik World Championship games.

It comes across as a collection of annotated games and their stories. Unfortunately, the games generally fall short of the quality to make this book required reading.

'The Endgame and the Clock' came across as the most interesting chapter.

The author makes this relevant observation:

‘I have seen some chess writers bemoan the poor state of endgame play today, even at the GM level, but I think this is a spurious accusation. If we all played at fifteen moves per hour, we’d all play much better! However, now we see Grandmaster events where the endgame is played off at fifteen minutes (not moves) of sudden death! No one can play like Capablanca under such conditions, not even Capablanca!’

There are several gruesome examples of the IM Taylor’s time-troubled endgames to demonstrate the point. He is right; chess has changed so much since the days of the ‘classics’.

He shows a top-level disaster for further emphasis.

Short v Krasenkow
FIDE World Championship, 2004

At the end of a long game, the accelerated time-limit took it’s toll in the form of fatigue. The former title challenger played the inexplicable 121 Re6??, simply losing the Rook.

Such finishes are to be found every week in club chess, but I suppose it’s reassuring in a way to see that we’re all in the same boat when thinking time is diminished.

It seems to me that the book falls between two stools. The quality of the games isn’t consistently good enough to make it a worthwhile ‘best games’ collection and the advice to practical players isn’t useful enough to make a difference.

In the context of a snappy, bite-sized chess column the material presented here would probably make for a bright and breezy read. As a book, sacrificing substance for style, it failed to draw me in and I don’t think I absorbed a significant amount of knowledge.

How To Play Against 1 e4
By GM Neil McDonald
238 pages
Everyman Chess

‘When I was asked to write a repertoire book against 1 e4, I guess it was natural that I would seize the opportunity to discuss the French Defence, 1 e4 e6, which has been my staple defence for more than a quarter of a century.’

Indeed, GM McDonald has already written extensively on the French Defence, so does this new book offer new thoughts and insights?

The list of contents provides some initial clues:


The Advance Variation

The Exchange Variation

The Fort Knox

The Classical 4 e5 Variation

The MacCutcheon

The Tarrasch 3...Be7

The King’s Indian Attack

Odds and Ends

I was expecting coverage of the Winawer Variation (a McDonald favourite) and was surprised to see that The Fort Knox is advocated this time.

1 e4 e6 2 d4 d5 3 Nc3 or Nd2 dxe4 4 Nxe4 Bd7

‘I guess the purpose of this chapter can either be:

i. To give you a universal reply to both 3 Nc3 or 3 Nd2 that you can use whilst you are in the process of learning other, more complex, defences; or

ii. To give you a safe, non-theoretical, but rather unambitious opening that you can use for a lifetime.’

There’s a little problem here. Several times, the author uses the word ‘guess’ in the book. This is an inappropriate word when the author is the reader’s guide to the subject. It may be simply a figure of speech, but the word ‘guess’ in the given context is a clumsy one to use when one is trying to inspire confidence.

Black intends to put the Bishop on c6 and will typically swap it for a White Knight before playing …c7-c6, with a Caro-Kann type structure.

As it can be played against both 3 Nc3 and 3 Nd2, it has the obvious merit of cutting down one’s study time. The defect of relying on the Fort Knox is also obvious; it’s not so easy to create winning chances for Black and below Master level that can prove to be a big handicap on the road to club and tournament success.

It could make a reasonable drawing weapon in the right hands and those wishing to add it to their repertoire will find the basics here to enable them to do so.

It would be folly to leave the Fort Knox as the reader’s only choice, so it’s good to see that later on there are chapters to cater for more ambitious players.

A recurring theme of trading the traditional ‘bad’ French Bishop and this is particularly apparent in the section on 3 e5, in which both of the major suggestions show Black trying to swap ‘bad’ for ‘good’ very earlier in the game.

1 e4 e6 2 d4 d5 3 e5 b6

1 e4 e6 2 d4 d5 3 e5 c5 4 c3 Qb6 5 Nf3 Bd7 6 Bd3 cxd4 7 cxd4 Bb5

The Wade Variation. It’s recommendation in this book would have made a very timely tribute to the great man, but unfortunately the variation is not named here.

Against 3 Nc3, the Winawer is eschewed once again, in favour of the MacCutcheon Variation. 1 e4 e6 2 d4 d5 3 Nc3 Nf6 4 Bg5 Bb4

If White sidesteps the possibility with 4 e5, leading to this typical position,

…then Black is advised to try ‘Black’s brilliant 7...Be7 move’. There are some interesting lines leading from this little semi-waiting move.

The trendy and tricky 3 …Be7 against the Tarrasch Variation when one fanices a day off defending Fort Knox.

Fairly standard lines are recommended to combat the Exchange Variation and King’s Indian Attack. Against the former, GM McDonald likes 1 e4 e6 2 d4 d5 3 exd5 exd5 4 Bd3 Nc6! with 5 …Bd6 to follow and for the latter, along with the golden rule always meeting with g3 with …b5, Black is advised to do all the other developing moves before castling, thus hoping to frustrate White’s automatic attacking intentions.

Anyone hoping to take up the French will need to do some further reading. This book falls somewhere between a ‘Starting Out’ book and one offering a more detailed repertoire. Indeed, the ‘Warnings’, ‘Tips’ etc from the ‘Starting Out’ range are all present and correct so it may even have been originally intended for that range.

There’s a good index of variations, complete with helpful diagrams. A bibliography would have been useful too.

It certainly provides a low-maintenance repertoire, coupled with some typical McDonald common sense general suggestions. As one's French career takes off, readers will probably add sharper lines to their repertoires to build on the solid stuff given here.

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