Wednesday 31 March 2010

Chess Reviews: 136

The Final Theory of Chess
By Gary M. Danelishen
Phillidor Press
386 pages

Can chess be solved? Is there now - or will there ever be - a computer powerful enough to provide a definitive answer on the best moves and the best variations? The author of this new and ambitious book certainly believes that to be the case. As he writes in the Introduction:

'The game of chess is a game of incredible complexity, yet chess is still a finite game and therefore solvable. Chess will one day be solved; the question is not if, but when. technology will ply key role in how chess is solved.'

To that end:

'The Final Theory of Chess is an attempt to lay a solid foundation upon which further analysis may be built in order to reach the first goal of a partial solution to the game of chess.'

Interesting chapters follow on 'The Problem of Complexity and the Final Theory', 'A Brief History of Chess Thought', an 'The Foundation of the Final Theory of Chess' before the meat of the book is reached.

Essentially, the book attempts to provide as definitive an account of modern chess theory as possible.

'The Final Theory of Chess a practical opening guide for correspondence players, an aggressive repertoire for over-the-board players, and a solid foundation for future chess theory to build upon.'

The method is an unusual one. Several computers were left to analyse things to exhaustion; the book represents a distillation of their efforts. Consequently, what prose there is in the main body of the book is largely confined to provide a little bit of background to the genesis of each opening. The rest is languageless strings of moves, punctuated by (on average) three diagram per page.

The repertoire for White starts with 1 d4 and the backbone is the Blackmar-Diemer Gambit.

Position after 1 d4 d5 2 e4 dxe4 3 Nc3 Nf6 4 f3

It is a controversial choice. The gambit is often brushed aside in theory books but it retains a certain cult status. Will this book lead to a revival of the Blackmar-Diemar? That is up to you, dear readers, for you play much more chess than I do.

Naturally, Black doesn't have to fall in with White's plans and there are many other defences to try. Each and every one of them has been subjected to the analytical scrutiny of the powerful Fritz family.

For Black, 1 e4 e5 and 1 d4 f5 are the mainline recommendations, but every other White opening possibility is covered, starting with Anderssen's Opening (1 a3).

After 1 e4 e5, all of White's main tries are given substantial coverage, in particular The Marshall Gambit, which is given as a defence against The Spanish Game. The lines of analysis are long even in standard works; here, it is common to see a split after move 30, such as this one:

Five moves for White are analysed, namely:
30 Bg2, 30 Bg5, 30 h3, 30 Qg2, 30 Re2

I suspect the repertoire for Black will meet with more universal approval than the one for White; after all, 1 e4 e5 and The Marshall Gambit feature in the games of the World's elite. However, the critical test of the material will come in competitive play and given the amount of analysis on display I think correspondence players will be the likeliest guinea pigs.

This is not the sort of book you'd want to read on a bus but it has to be seen as part of a bigger picture. The 'Wiki project' for The Final Theory of Chess allows all readers (with certain stipulations) to make their own contributions.

It's a very unusual book and Mr Danelishen has certainly tried to do something very different to the norm

For further details, pop along to:

Tuesday 30 March 2010

More Mongoose

My latest post over at the Mongoose Times blog is all about Vasily Smyslov, who died last weekend.

Interview with Grandmaster Speelman

My six-page interview with Grandmaster Jonathan Speelman is included in the latest issue of CHESS (volume 75, no.1).

For ordering details, pop along to:

Thursday 25 March 2010

Chess Reviews: 135

Starting Out:
The Scandinavian
By WGM Jovanka Houska
320 pages
Everyman Chess

There was a time when people who played 1 ...d5 is response to 1 e4 were considered to be quite eccentric. A bit like people who grow up to be goalkeepers; it's clear they enjoy playing the game as much as the rest of us, but are a little odd in the way they go about it.

Nowadays, of course, the Scandinavian Defence (or 'Centre Counter', for older readers) is a perfectly viable way to meet 1 e4.

The author is an experienced Scandinavian player, which I think instills confidence right from the start of the book.

'On a personal note, I began using the Scandinavian through my teens and the opening took me very easily to Woman Grandmaster level.'

Not only that, but there is a point of honour to uphold:

'I must also confess to be a little bit inspired to disprove the negative opinion that shrouds the opening at the highest level, but I must stress there is a big difference between the elite (with their supporting seconds) and the lone individual playing club chess on a weeknight!'

Chapters 1-10 cover 1 e4 d5 2 exd5 Qxd5. After 3 Nc3, Black's main options of 3 ...Qa5 and the 3 ...Qd6 are analysed in good detail and the more eccentric options of 3 ...Qd8 and 3 ...Qe5+ receive a little bit of attention too.

I particularly liked the basic explanations given to this tricky line:

Position after 1 e4 d5 2 exd5 Qxd5 3 Nc3 Qd6

Black has a couple of different set-ups to aim for but there are some important points to watch out for to make them work. I felt I understood the system a lot better after reading WGM Houska's explanations.

Chapters 11-16 look at 1 e4 d5 2 exd5 Nf6. Most of the fun for Black here comes in the form of the Portuguese Variation and the Icelandic Gambit. The former is reached by 1 e4 d5 2 exd5 Nf6 3 d4 Bg4 and the latter via 1 e4 d5 2 exd5 Nf6 3 c4?! e6!? 4 dxe6 Bxe6

Fast-forward a few short moves and we can see that both sides are already trying to bite off more than they can comfortably chew.

'The Icelandic Gambit first became popular in the 1990s and for a while it was hot stuff! It's particularly fun to play against an unprepared opponent, ad White tends o get lured into making natural but bad moves.'

As usual with a book in the 'Starting Out' range, tips, hints and warnings pop up throughout, sometimes offering advice directly related to the opening in question and sometimes in more general terms.

This is a solid guide to an opening with a growing reputation. The material is presented very well and the author's personality shines through the prose.

Scandinavian fans will want this to add to their current libraries and it should also appeal to anyone wanting to add a new weapon to their repertoire.

For further details of this and other Everyman products, pop along to:

Critical Moments in Chess
By Paata Gaprindashvili
271 pages

'Before you is a book dedicated to a very important problem, but one that has hardly been looked at in chess literature - the problem of critical moments in the game.'

The author aims to educate the reader in the art of spotting and reacting to the critical moments over the course of six chapters.

Critical Moments

Critical Moments: struggle and capture of the initiative

Critical Moments: development of the initiative, creation of an attack

Critical Moments: obtaining and retaining the advantage; creation of counterplay; taking over the initiative from the opponent, etc.

Critical Moments: delivering the decisive blow


The first chapter discusses critical moments in general terms, using several illustrative games. The next four chapters analyse specific areas of study and contain, in total, 152 test positions. These are given without clues and the reader is invited to try and solve them, using the knowledge gained in the relevant chapter.

Here's an example from chapter 2, in which White spotted a critical moment and exploited it by changing the pawn structure.

Blatny - Salai
Stary Smokovec, 1990

'Black occupies the centre, but is behind in development. He still needs a few tempi to complete the mobilisation f his force and thereby consolidate his central position. So, if White wants to seize the initiative then he must act energetically. 9 e4! A powerful blow against the precarious centre. 9 ...fxe4 Now the centre is cleared of pawns - by opening files and diagonals, the pieces suddenly become active, laying bare the weak squares in Black's camp.' 1-0 (18)

Chapter six consists solely of exercises, arrange randomly and using ideas from all of the preceding chapters. This takes the exercise count up to 269 positions.

Here's one for you try. Don't forget - no clues are allowed, apart from knowing that a critical moment has arrived.

Black to play

The solutions are given in the remainder of the book and are fully annotated, but the lack of diagrams in this section of the book is surprising, as the solutions are generally lengthy and therefore not at all easy on the eye.

The student will have work very hard indeed at these exercises and this book is recommended only to those who are willing to put in considerable time and effort. Those who do will have few excuses for ever missing a critical moment again.

Studying Chess Made Easy
By GM Andrew Soltis
256 pages

This book, with its bite-sized chinks of common chess sense, reminds me of an earlier GM Soltis Batsford book; namely: 'The Wisest Things Ever Said About Chess'. This is no bad thing, as that book was well received and was very readable.

Essentially, this is more of the same.

'A student needs to make better use of the tools he already has, such as computers and books. He needs to set the right goals, such as how far ahead in a position he needs to visualize. He needs to know how to budget available study time appropriately. Most of all, he needs to make studying chess enjoyable.'

To those ends, he presents the material in the following chapters:

Chess isn't school

Cultivating your chess strength

The biggest study myth

The right way to study an opening

Two-and-a-half move chess

Overcoming endgame phobia

Learning to live with TMI

How to learn more from a master game

Most of the chapter headings are self-explanatory ('TMI' means 'too much information'; it is just as valid an observation for chess players as it is for trendy youths).

GM Soltis is particularly strong in his recommendations for improving visualisation and calculation; 'exercising the mind's eye'. Students are encouraged to 'Try Bat Chess', which essentially means trying to read chess books without using a board and set. The idea is to try and follow the moves in one's mind, using the diagrams in the book as stepping stones.

He also recommends the use of studies, such as this one.

White to play and win

This is quite tricky. Why not give it a go? The notes from the book provide some assistance:

'If you examined this position for several minutes, you would likely look at both 1 Ra8+ and 1 Bb5+ since they are forcing moves. But neither leads to anything concrete (1 Bb5+ Kd8 2 Rd7+ Kc8 or 2 Ra8+ Ke7).

If you look further you might notice that White has a winning idea in 1 Kc5 and 2 Kd6 because then he threatens Ra8 mate.

Unfortunately, Black has a simple defense in the form of 1 ...f5!. Then 2 Kd6 is refuted by 2 ...Rf6+.

This means the study is much harder to solve. But this doesn't mean it is useless to the student who is trying to improve his look-ahead skill. Once he comes to a dead end - after seeing that 1 Rc8+, 1 Bb5+, 1 Kc5 and other moves fail - he should look up the first move of the solution and try again.'

I don't want to spoil your fun in solving it, so keep trying dear readers.

I appreciate the author's honesty as he seeks to demystify the thinking processes of Grandmasters. Boundaries are broken down and he makes it clear that most players - whatever their level of strength - share common habits. 'Admit it. You hate studying endgames. Guess what? Almost everyone does'.

'Studying Chess made Easy' is a an entertaining and instructive book. Club and tournament players should benefit from the methods of improvement GM Soltis suggests. Chess coaches will find a ready-made series of lessons which they should be able to tailor to suit the needs of all students.

For further details on Batsford chess books, please visit:

Saturday 20 March 2010

Chess Reviews: 134

The Ruy Lopez Revisited
By GM Ivan Sokolov
271 pages
New in Chess

I enjoyed GM Sokolov's previous book, on 'Winning Chess Middlegames', and was interested to see what he would find in the ancient Ruy Lopez opening that was worth revisiting.

'In this book I have aimed to explore these 'sidelines' for Black, and to give a practical opening guide to a tournament player who is willing to employ these variations, whereby he will often bring a fight to his opponent's doorstep as early as move 6 or 7.'

The sidelines is question, in order of coverage, are:

Jaenisch Gambit (pages 9 - 124)

Delayed Jaenisch Gambit (125 - 137)

Cozio Variation (139 - 163)

Smyslov Variation (165 - 175)

Bird's Defence (177 - 202)

Classical Variation (203 - 262)

Each chapter has an introduction, a main body of work and then a conclusion. GM Sokolov is not afraid to challenge established theory and beliefs. For example, in this line:

1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bb5 f5 4 Nc3 fxe4 5 Nxe4 d5 6 Nxe5 dxe4 7 Nxc6 Qg5

...he says:

'Most books on the Jaenisch consider this to be the main line, and claim that White has an advantage due to Black's potentially weak e4 pawn in the subsequent ending that arises after the tactical complications. In this chapter I challenge this verdict, and show that in the main line Black's position is quite OK, based on the fact that with dynamic play his e-pawn will be an asset rather than a liability. Also, contrary to the general opinion that White is better and does not run any risk at all, I will show that quite often the tables can turn quickly.'

The author must have spent a considerable amount time on this book, which is packed with variations.

I couldn't help noticing the lack of bibliography, which I think is a prerequisite of an opening book.

Although initially the tone of the book would seem to be positive for players of the Black pieces, GM Sokolov's investigations repeatedly show that White usually ends up with the advantage. The general conclusion is that although '...the Jaenisch is a fully fledged variation' the other sidelines are experiencing varying degrees of trouble.

This book is definitely not for beginners, who would feel out of their depth on they run into variations labelled 'C222b'. It would suit strong 'Open' category players who would appreciate a detailed, Grandmaster analysis of the rarer branches of the Ruy Lopez, perhaps with a view to adding a surprise weapon or two to their repertoires, or seeking a refutation of an opponent's pet line.

Mastering Positional Chess
By Daniel Naroditsky
239 pages
New in Chess

'If you want to excel at chess, you have to delve deeper, and appreciate not only visually pleasing combinations, but much more subtle positional ideas as well'.

This book aims to offer the reader a series of sensible, no-nonsense chapters to improve the understanding of positional play. The material is split into the following categories:


Defense in Worse Positions

Building and Breaking Fortresses

Positional Sacrifice

Paralysis in the Middlegame


Each topic is covered by an introduction, a series of well-chosen illustrative games and positions, a summary of the salient points and a small number of exercises. In some ways, the book reminds of classic teaching primers by the likes of Chernev and Reinfeld.

There is something unusual about this book; it was written by a 14 year old ('...the youngest published chess author in history'). The author won the World Junior Championship in 2007 .

Yet the whole book has been written with a maturity which belies the author's youth. At one point, he even warns of the dangers associated with relying too much on chess engines, which can give rise to what he calls 'Silicone Syndrome'.

'On every move, he asks himself, ''And what would Fritz do here?'' The constant questioning leads to big time trouble and often, to big blunders. Therefore, in chess, the more verbosity there is in the annotations, the better! Summing up, in practical play, there will be no computer to assist you, so it is verbal annotations, phrased in human language, that you will be able to retain and apply in your own games.'

Consistently, the book's approach is indeed one of prose conquering variations. Here's a sample of the writing style, from chapter4.

Jansa - Maki
Pula 1997

Black now played 28 ...Nd4!!

'The reason I'm putting two exclamation marks to this move is to highlight its importance.

Often, your brain forms a wall that doesn't let you consider certain moves which give up material - especially in the late middlegame, when you are about to transpose into the endgame. In order to tear down this wall, it's important to understand the concept of sacrificing t open up a square. When your opponent has a bad piece, try to think of ways (regardless of what you're sacrificing; you'll consider that later) where you can trade off the rest of the pieces. If this is at the cost of a pawn - that's fine. Sometimes, even the sacrifice of two pawns may be totally viable. Pawns alone cannot form anything - they need the support of pieces.

This idea of sacrificing to open up a square is not only a defensive method; if it can be achieved without any sacrifices, chances are that the position of your opponent will be close to lost. As Tarrasch said, If one piece stands badly, the whole position stands badly.'

This book will suit improving club players who are prepared to work on building up their positional skills. Is it possible to accept that an author so young has the sufficient wisdom to impart such knowledge? As far as this book goes, the answer is an unequivocal 'yes'.

New in Chess: The First 25 Years
An Anthology
1984 - 2009
Edited by FM Steve Giddins
398 pages
New in Chess

Wiser heads than mine have dubbed 'New in Chess' as the best chess magazine in the world. It is another reminder of the advancing years as one is reminded that it started over 25 years ago.

This new book is exactly what the title suggests it is: a collection of the best bits of New in Chess over a 25 year period, collated, edited and introduced by FM Steve Giddins.

The first article is an interview with Mikhail Botvinnik, which first appeared in issue 1 of New in Chess, back in 1984. It was shortly before Kasparov's Candidates' final against Smyslov - the last step of the former's meteoric rise to challenge Karpov for the title. The collection concludes with an interview with World Champion Anand from 2008. How much had changed between those years. Computers started beating World Champions, Kasparov retired from chess, Bronstein, Miles and Fischer died...

There are plenty of interviews in this collection and rightly so; they are always one of the highlights of the magazine and they usually involve the biggest of fish. There are numerous other articles too, featuring the acerbic wit of Hans Ree, the historical memories of Genna Sosonko (his article on Tal is a particular highlight) and reports from top events.

Despite the age of some of the articles, there is no doubt at all that they have stood the test of time

The prose heavily outweighs the illustrative games, but that is a good thing. This is definitely a book to read rather than a tome for preparation. When chess moves do appear, they are of course of the highest quality and/or significance.

This one goes under the title, 'The Most Spectacular Move Ever?'...

Ivanchuk - Shirov
Wijk aan Zee 1996

21 Qg7!!

In short, if New in Chess really is the best chess magazine, then this is the 'best of the best'. It's a fabulous collection of chess writing, presenting genuine snapshots of momentous moments in the history of the game. Chess fans of any level will find plenty to enjoy here.

For further details of these and other New in Chess products, please visit:

Thursday 18 March 2010

'Maverick' Reviews

I'm pleased to report that two of my reviews have been published in the latest issue of 'Maverick' (April 2010).

The reviews are on the recent Transatlantic Sessions and Nanci Griffith concerts at The Sage.

Further details on the magazine can be found here:

A short report on the concerts can be found here:

Tuesday 16 March 2010

Chess Reviews: 133

Two Knight's Defence
By IM Lawrence Trent
Four hours and 45 minutes

International Master Lawrence Trent was one of the key commentators at the London Chess Classic in December 2009, bringing the games to life for the chess public. This DVD marks his debut for ChessBase and the subject is one of the most interesting branches of 1 e4 e5.

The introduction highlights the problems of playing the Ruy Lopez; Black can prevent some of White's attacking potential with such things as the Berlin Defence. Therefore, IM Trent reasons, a switch to 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bc4 to take on the Two Knight's Defence offer a '...solution to all your woes'. Readily owning up to the fact that Black might well choose 3 ...Bc5 rather than the obliging 3 ...Nf6, there is a hint at a ChessBase DVD in the pipeline to help with that particular problem.

He goes on to analyse the variations relevant to his argument over the course of 24 illustrative games. White is strongly advised to take the bull by the horns with 4 Ng5.
Mocked by Chigorin and Tarrasch, the jury is still out on whether or not this a duffer's move or the best try for an advantage.

The first variation to be considered is the unlikely-looking 4 ...Bc5; the Traxler Gambit. This is covered by two games. IM Trent believes that 5 Nxf7 may be the strongest with best play) but focuses on the simpler 5 Bxf7+ Ke7 6 Bd5

Asrian - Minasian

Game 3 shows an incautious approach by Black: 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bc4 Nf6 4 Ng5 d5 5 exd5 Nxd5 when 6 d4! - with a delayed Fried Liver Attack, is shown to be even better than schoolboy favourite, 6 Nxf7.

Games 4-10 cover lines with 5 …b5 and 5 …Nd4. Tricky, but IM Trent clearly fancies White’s chances.

There is an interesting recommendation against the Fritz Variation. 5 exd5 b5 6 Bf1 Nd4 7 c3 Nxd5 and now 8 cxd4 ‘...probably the most underrated move in the whole system’ rather than the popular 8 Ne4.

Wiech - Jedynak
Warsaw 1994

Games 11 - 25 examine 4 …d5 5 exd5 Na5. This is the main line and, Fried Liver aside, represents the meat of this DVD.

The early deviation 6 d3 is covered, and for Black the lesser played 6 Bb5+ Bd7 is examined.
Then it's on to the main line. After 6 …c6 7 dxc6 bxc6...

...three options are analysed: 8 Qf3, 8 Bd3, and 8 Be2.

In truth, the Two Knight's Defence is rarer in tournament chess than the presenter suggests on this DVD. Nevertheless, I think it does a good job in covering the current key lines from both sides of the board. The delivery of the presentation is very good, with a strong, clear voice and consistent eye contact. IM Trent is clearly not afraid of the camera; this is an impressive debut.

French Defence Strategy
By GM Nigel Davies
Four hours
This DVD is all about the French Defence but (with a couple of exceptions) it keeps clear of specific opening move recommendations. Instead, it seeks to explain the various strategical pitfalls and desires of this popular, reliable opening.

The topics covered are:

Black’s Queen’s Bishop

White’s pawn wedge

Super quartz grip

Destroying White’s pawn wedge

White’s pawn wedge attacking h7

White’s pawn wedge attacking h6

Black’s isolated d-pawn weakness

Black’s isolated d-pawn strength

Black’s backward e-pawn weakness

Black’s backward e-pawn strength

Black’s hanging pawn weakness

Black’s hanging pawn strength

Black’s broad pawn centre

Countering Black’s broad pawn centre

White’s doubled pawn weakness

White’s doubled pawn counterplay

White’s tripled pawns

Little centre White pressure

Little centre counterplay

Exchange centre

Flexible centre

There is an early cautionary tale from Tarrasch's game against Teichmann (San Sebastian 1912), showing the sort of thing Black must avoid falling into as regards his potentially passive Queen's Bishop, and then GM Davies look at various ways to initiate an early swap. One such example will appeal to those with a liking for unusual - yet positionally sound - manoeuvres.

Krogius - Karner
Sochi 1977

In this game, Black went directly for a trade of Bishops with 4 …Bd7 and 5 …Bb5.

The 'Super quartz grip' mentioned above is a particular pawn structure named by Hans Kmoch in underrated book, 'Pawn Power in Chess'. It has special relevance in the French Defence and Black is advised to take measures to avoid falling victim of the grip.

Konstantinopolksy - Lilienthal
Moscow 1936

The super quartz grip in action. White has just played 25 h5 and with the extra space and potential for a breakthrough, stands very well.

At the very end there's a 'Summary' and some basic pointers towards the creation of a low-maintenance repertoire (from Black's point of view).

This DVD presents an excellent summary of vital strategical points, with good advice for both sides on what to play for and what must be avoided.

Players who aleady use the French Defence will find much of interest here, as will those who face it on a regular basis.

Incidentally, don't be fooled by the pictures on the back of the DVD case; they have somehow migrated from the next one on our list, which is...

Building a 1 d4 Repertoire
By GM Nigel Davies
Five hours

This DVD addressed the problem of building up a new, main line 1 d4 repertoire for players who currently play the Colle and/or London System and the Torre Attack. Learning to play 1 d4 and 2 c4 all at once is a big task and GM Davies advises students to do it gradually, adding the main lines one or two at a time. He tells how GM Korchnoy looked at 10,000 games featuring 1 d4 to familiarise himself with the various patterns (in pre-ChessBase days!) but club players certainly don't have the spare time take that approach.

He starts off with little tasters of the Colle and related systems before highlighting some move-order issues which can be used to spoil the fun. For example, few Colle players will particularly enjoy seeing 1 d4 Nf6 2 Nf3 g6 or 2 …c5 appear on the board. So eventually it makes sense for the first player to take up some more testing lines.

The recommendation is still to start with 1 d4 and 2 Nf3, to cut down on some of Black's options, but to follow up with 3 c4. The defences covered are:

Queen's Gambit Declined


Queen's Gambit Accepted


Benoni systems

King's Indian Defence




The emphasis is very much on strategical play rather than sharper paths. For example, against the King's Indian Defence, White is advised to try the Petrosian System.

Position after 7 d5

Keeping the repertoire simple and low-maintenance (in other words - avoidng the sharpest and most theoretical lines) allows other parts of one's game to develop, such as endgame skills. Thus the line against the Queen's Gambit Accepted takes the Queens off at an early stage.

...and now 7 dxc5, allowing an exchange of Queens.

All in all, this DVD gives a series of very sensible steps to a 1 d4 system player develop into a 1 d4 2 c4 main line player. It should appeal to club player who have found some extra study time and would like to use it to expand their opening arsenal.

For further details of Chessbase products, please go to:

Saturday 13 March 2010

Chess Reviews: 132

Play the Ponziani
by Dave Taylor and FM Keith Hayward
301 pages
Everyman Chess

This is much-revised and expanded edition of an earlier work by Dave Taylor, called Ponziani Power published in 2000.

The Ponziani Opening arises after: 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 c3

It loos a little passive, at least compared to the Ruy Lopez, in which White crosses the central boundary with 3 Bb5. The justification is given in the following explanation:

'The Ponziani Opening bluntly attempts to take control of the centre with 3 c3 followed by d2-d4. This classical motivation is shared in the Giuoco Piano line: 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bc4 Bc5 4 c3 followed by d2-d4. The Ponziani delays the king bishop placement to execute the plan one move quicker.'

The Ponziani is often covered with a quick line or two in opening reference books. This one goes much deeper, offering no fewer than 12 chapters on the opening itself and a final one to round up Black's early deviations.
  1. 3...Nf6 with 5....Ne7
  2. 3...Nf6 with 5...Nb8
  3. 3...Nf6 with 4...exd4
  4. 3...Nf6 with 4...exd4
  5. 3...Nf6 Miscellaneous Responses
  6. 3...d5 4 Qa4 Bd7
  7. 3...d5 4 Qa4 f6
  8. 3...d5 4 Qa4 Miscellaneous Responses
  9. 3...d5 Bb5
  10. 3...f5
  11. 3...d6
  12. 3...Be7 and Other 3rd Moves
  13. Miscellaneous 2nd Move Defences
Theory doesn't advance very quickly, partly because the opening is not used regularly at a high level. Nevertheless, I didn't know that 'The sharp line 3...d5 4 Bb5 can no longer be considered playable for White'.

However, it's not all bad news: 'On the bright side, White's alternative, 4 Qa4, is scoring well.'

It is worth noting that chapter three covers a direct transposition to the Goring Gambit, which might appeal to a wider audience.

1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 c3 Nf6 4 d4 exd4 5 e5 is the Ponziani route, giving the same position as 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 d4 exd4 4 c3 Nf6 5 e5.

This book certainly provides thorough coverage of the unusual Ponziani, but I'd have liked to have seen a little more on the history of the opening.

The thoroughness should ensure that this is the standard reference work for this particular opening for years to come. The depth means that this is unsuitable for a 'quick repertoire fix'; it will take some time to absorb the detailed material and learn the essential nuances. This book will appeal to players keen to refresh their opening repertoires and who are quite willing to get stuck into a large body of theory.

Chess Secrets:
Heroes of Classical Chess
By IM Craig Pritchett
224 pages
Everyman Chess

The heroes in question are Rubinstein, Smyslov, Fischer, Anand and Carlsen. I was rather surprised to see that Tarrasch (often neglected in English chess literature) was not included (few were more classical) but the introduction makes it clear that is a personal choice of heroes.

'My heroes are all supreme in the art of divining and following the strategic and tactical threads of a game. They see chess primarily as an organic whole, not as a series of artificial phases. they don't attack or defend for the sake of it, but only when the position demands it, and they are equally at home whether playing the opening, middlegame or endgame'.

Each hero is covered in turn, chronologically, with some background data and well-chosen illustrative games.

The majority of the games should be familiar but the new notes are mainly in prose form, with variations kept well under control. There's a good balance between the best games of the heroes and little pieces of biographical information. We are spared the dark side of Fischer's personality; it's just not that sort of book. The ethos is to emphasis the best side of each of hero.

My favourite chapter is the one on Smyslov. The 7th World Champion is often in the shadow of some of his more dynamic fellow champions, so it is good to see his games being dusted off for a fresh look.

Smyslov's wonderful demolition of Ribli in game five of their 1993 Candidates' match makes an essential addition to any anthology of his games (I wrote about that game a while ago: ) His excellent endgame technique is highlighted in a key game from the 1982 Interzonal, the start of the incredible journey which brought him within one match victory of facing Karpov for the title in 1984 (unfortunately for Smyslov, that match was against Kasparov).

Browne - Smyslov
Interzonal 1982

'29...Ka2! Only this beautifully logical move wins! White can defend after 29...Kxb2? 30 Nxa4+ Kxa3 31 Nb6, but now after 30 Nxa4 Bb5, he loses a piece.'

30 Bh3 Bb3!

'And now astonishingly only this move wins. Just look at Black's king and bishop! Black's queenside light-square domination is absolute. His bishop defends his a-pawn, which must remain on the board to win the game, and Black's king, knight and rook now combine to end a last try for White on the d-file.'

After 31 Bd7 Nc4+ 32 Kd3 White resigned.

All in all, this is very readable and accessible volume and one which brings alive games which are 'classic' in more ways than one.

For further details of these and other Everyman products, please visit:

Modern Ideas in Chess
By Richard Réti
132 pages
Russell Enterprises

The mighty Rubinstein is also one of the stars (Tarrasch is there too) of Réti's famous book, now reissued as a '21st Century Edition'.

There's an introduction by Bruce Alberston, Réti's original preface and a foreword by GM Andy Soltis.

Réti reveals the point of the book in his preface:

'I have in this volume attempted to indicate the road along which chess has travelled; from the classicism of Anderssen, by way of the naturalism of the Steinitz school, to the individualistic ideas of the most modern masters'.

Here's a map of the journey:

The Development of Positional Play


The Steinitz School

The Perfecting of Chess Technique

New Ideas


The author essentially takes us on a whistle-stop tour of chess through three ages, namely those of the Romantic, Classical and Hypermodern periods. Along the way he presents impressive games from Anderssen to Euwe (one of the 'youngest masters').

Students of chess history will, again, find the majority of games to be very familiar but there some examples of a couple of 'forgotten' players, such as Breyer. One of the original 'Hypermodern' players, Breyer died young (even before this book first appeared) and the world still awaits a serious collection of his games.

This is the sort of thing we have been missing:

Breyer - Dr. Esser
Budapest 1917

17 Rh7+ Kxh7 18 Qh5+ Kg7 19 Qh6+ Kg8 20 Bxg6 fxg6 21 Qxg6+ Kh8 22 Qh6+ Kg8 23 g6 and Breyer finished off in style.

Very little has been changed of the original text. Naturally, the notation has been converted to algebraic and the layout now enjoys a clean, modern feel. There are numerous quaint comments, authentic for the time (the bulk of the book was written in 1921, and Capablanca was the new World Champion). Here's a couple of examples:

'When Capablanca in his championship match with Lasker gave us at the beginning a very large amount of drawn games, he is said to have expressed himself as follows to a newspaper reporter. Chess technique and the knowledge of openings have progressed to such an extent today that it might, even against a weaker player, be difficult to win a game.'

'Through the world war the old Europe has lost its lead in the world, not only politically, but in culture. Americanism has forced itself into Europe, perhaps transiently, perhaps permanently. Who knows?'

Richard Réti certainly took chess seriously:

' the idea of chess and the development of the chess mind we have a picture of the intellectual struggle of mankind.'

'Modern Ideas in Chess' will appeal mainly to readers with an interest in the history and development of chess and to those who would like to build a library of the undisputed classics of chess literature.

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The Giant Chess Puzzle Book
by GM Zenon Franco
288 pages
Gambit Publications

1001 brand new chess puzzles to challenge and entertain players from novices to grandmasters

One of the main selling points for this particular collection is the freshness of the puzzles themselves. It is claimed that none of them have appeared in such collections before. The initial aim was to ensure that the positions were all taken from tournaments from the last two years and/or the authors own games, but there was, ultimately, some scope to stray beyond those criteria.

The material is arranged thus:

The Most Important Tactical Themes

Elementary Puzzles

On the Attack

Intermediate and Complex Puzzles

Tests 1-5

Defence and Counterattack

Mundo Latino

Tests 6-10

The World of Endgames

Tests 11-15

The Ultimate Challenge

Most of the headings are self explanatory. The chapter 'Mundo Latino' presents 90 puzzles from the games of players from Latin countries, starting with a winning combination by the great Greco from 1620. This is one of the easier puzzles for the reader to solve.

NN v Greco

Black to play

The vast majority of the puzzles are indeed very recent examples and should honour the promise of freshness. Here's an interesting position from 2009.

Black has three extra pawns, but this doesn't matter as
White can create unstoppable threats to the Black King

Can you see how? It's not obvious.

Each chapter starts with relatively simple positions, often with small hints, and then works up to tougher nuts. The answers are annotated to assist the learning process.

'The Ultimate Challenge' offers a final selection of 81 brain teasers. Here's one to try:

The game went 25 Rf6 and Black resigned. Is there any way to defend?

There's a great deal of fun to be had from this puzzle book, which should suit players who like to test and improve their tactical prowess. Anyone who tackles even just a reasonable percentage of the puzzles should be able improve their own vision and awareness.

For further details regarding the Gambit books, please visit their website: