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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