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:

No comments: