Saturday 24 December 2011

Chess Reviews: 193

The Amazing Chess Adventures of Baron Munchausen
By FM Amatzia Avni
235 pages

I have to declare an interest here; I was the editor of this book so rather than write a full review, it's probably best to quote the information given on the Mongoose Press website:

'The legendary Baron Munchausen was famous for telling incredible stories about his astounding happenings and astonishing feats. Munchausen was both a fearless, bold adventurer and a fun, inspiring companion.

Now, imagine the Baron playing chess!

This book presents a series of extraordinary chess tales, describing Munchausen's captivating chess adventures, as told by the great Baron to Amatzia Avni, his diligent biographer. Prepare to be amazed as the Baron engages in chess battles with a range of extraordinary creatures and characters, some of them - quite literally - out of this world!

The reader will accompany Munchausen to Heaven and to Hell; watch him play on a full board and on half a board; in simultaneous exhibitions, Internet and live chess; battling on land, sea and in the air; outsmarting a Cyclops; conversing with a talking horse and much more.

The Amazing Chess Adventures of Baron Munchausen is a compendium of the very best episodes first seen in the British periodical CHESS Monthly, together with a plethora of previously unpublished tales. Instructive, entertaining and sometimes simply baffling, the Baron's adventures are guaranteed to enrich the chess lives of all chess fans.

About the Author

Amatzia Avni is an Israeli psychologist, specializing in the fields of training and personnel selection. He holds the FIDE Master title in both over-the-board chess and composition.

A former editor of the Israeli chess Magazine Schahmat and a frequent contributor to various chess magazines and websites, the author has written a number of original, thought-provoking and entertaining chess books, including Creative Chess (1991, 1997) and The Grandmaster's Mind (2004).'

Readers of CHESS Magazine may recall some early adventures of the Baron. The best of those are included in this volume together with a plethora of new ones. Witty, instructive and entertaining, this boom puts the fun back into chess. It is enhanced by beautiful colour pictures of the Baron and his friends, by Elite Avni-Sharon. The book is beautifully produced and can be enjoyed by players of all strengths.

Chess Camp
Volume 4
Elementary Endgames
By Igor Sukhin
114 pages

The first three volumes of Igor Sukhin's ongoing series were reviewed earlier this year. I have used the puzzles extensively during junior coaching sessions and I can confirm how useful they are.

It's not just me who finds them ideal for coaching purposes; as the strapline on the new covers confirms, Chess Camp is now '...the official beginner's puzzle book series of the USCF' ('United States Chess Federation').

The format of the new volumes is the same as the others, with six puzzles on each page and very few clues. The strength is in the simplicity; the puzzles on each page are all very closely linked and often there's just a slight change in the placement of the pieces, making it perfect material to set up on a demonstration board, where a quick change helps to keep disruption at bay!

The material is arranged in three main sections:

Endgames with Three Pieces
Endgames with Four Pieces
King + Two Pieces vs. King

Here's an example for you to try.

Black to play
Make a draw

Chess Camp
Volume 5
Two-Move Checkmates
By Igor Sukhin
116 pages

The title is self-explanatory and the checkmates are split into two convenient categories:

Checkmates in Two without a Sacrifice
Checkmate in Two with a Sacrifice

The earlier volumes had lots of checkmate in one puzzles, which proved very popular around the schools. I'm looking forward to testing out these tougher ones on my travels.

It can take a while for Primary School children to grasp the benefits of a sacrifice, so the puzzles in the second category should be quite challenging.

This sample should give an indication of the level of material.

White to play
Mate in two

Two more volumes are due in March 2012, namely Tactics in Attack and Defense and Opening Tactics

All three of the new Mongoose books are very attractively produced, featuring sturdy hardback bindings.

Friday 23 December 2011

Chess Reviews: 192

As mentioned yesterday, my final few reviews of the year will have to be kept short and will be limited to a brief overview of the latest releases.

In my opinion, 2011 started quietly in terms of good chess books but it is certainly going out with a bang. The three considered here are all fine works and, unusually, they help to provide a review column completely free of products about chess openings.

Grandmaster versus Amateur
Edited by GM Jacob Aagaard and GM John Shaw
196 pages

I was expecting this to be in the format of Question & Answer, with a Grandmaster guiding an amateur through top-level games, just as it was in the well-known book by Max Euwe and Walter Meiden, called Chess Master vs. Chess Amateur.

It turned out to be something quite different. Seven Grandmasters present some of their memorable experiences against lower rated opposition and explain how GMs are able to outwit lesser mortals. To keep things balanced, there are also some examples of the worms turning.

The stories are told over the course of eight chapters:

Jacob Aagaard - Danes Eat Fish for Breakfast
Peter Heine-Nielsen - A Tale of Three Stories
Pavel Eljanov - From Amateur to 2700
John Shaw - From 1700 to Grandmaster - and Back
Boris Avrukh - The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Tiger Hillarp Persson - The Ulysses Effect
Mihail Marin - It's an Amateur's World
Jacob Aagaard - Fish Eat Danes for Supper

There's plenty of wit to go with the wisdom. It makes for a very refreshing read; it's not so often that one can read really honest thoughts from Grandmasters.

Advanced Chess Tactics
By GM Lev Psakhis
365 pages

The focus of the advanced chess tactics in question falls firmly on the art of attack as GM Psakhis brings a lifetime of top-flight experience into this packed and entertaining book.

Aimed at players all the way from 2000 to 2600, the material is tough but worthy of the reader's time.

The chapter headings clearly indicate what to expect:

Attacking in the Benoni
Attacking with Hanging Pawns
IQP Positions: Attacking the King with Pieces
IQP Positions: Attacking with the h-pawn
IQP Positions: Versus the c-pawn
Attack in the Sicilian Labyrinths
Attack in the Catacombs of the Caro-Kann
Attack in Rare and Non-Standard Openings
57 Exercises

Psakhis's own games are prominent throughout, but there are plenty of fine attacking examples from other players too. Tal fans will not be disappointed.

Understanding Chess Middlegames
By GM John Nunn
240 pages

The basic premise of this book is similar to the one seen in Understanding Chess Endgames. 100 important themes are presented from various stages of the middlegame, each one enjoying two pages of detailed coverage.

Each theme is conveyed via a pair of annotated games (or parts games, depending on whether or not the opening moves are relevant).

A brace of opening essays, 'Myths of the Middlegame' and 'Interconnectedness' provide some background and context to the middlegame in general before the book moves on to the main material, which is split into the following categories:

Material Imbalances
Attacking Play
Defensive Play
Typical Central Pawn-Formations
Typical Mistakes

John Nunn is one of our most experienced and respected chess authors and this volume is easily up to his normal standard.

Strategy University Vol. 4:
The Technique of Realising the Win
by GM Adrian Mikhalchishin
Four hours and 37 minutes

There are to types of
advantage: material and positional. This DVD, by a very experienced trainer, looks at ways to convert such advantages and how to learn from cases where the attempt at realisation was faulty.

Essentially, this is a series of lectures on how to win winning positions, a problem that even very strong GMs still struggle with. The presenter offers practical solutions to the problem, whether it be the middlegame or the endgame. The illustrative games feature some of the real giants of chess, such as Botvinnik, Korchnoi and Spassky.

A lot of the advice boils down to appeal for more prophylactic thinking (a favourite of GM Mikhalchishin). Experienced tournament players will benefit most from the material on offer here. Casual and club players may find the heavily accented delivery a shade on the hard going side of things.

The final part of this round-up of recent releases should follow tomorrow, after which the chess reviews will take a little rest until the New Year.

Thursday 22 December 2011

Chess Reviews: 191

A large amount of chess literature and DVDs has been released over the last few weeks.

Given the volume of material, I shall restrict myself to very short reviews of all products over the course of the next three review columns. More in depth reviews of some products are scheduled to appear in the next issue of CHESS Magazine.

Everyman Chess have just released three interesting books on openings, with a heavy 1 d4 slant.

Chess Developments:
The Modern Benoni
By IM Richard Palliser
281 pages

Chess Developments is ‘...a brand new series providing state-of the art openings coverage’, has the stated aim of focusing ‘…on the current trends – concentrating on critical lines, theoretical novelties and powerful new ideas.’

Richard Palliser is a long-term fan of the Modern Benoni and he shares his expertise here. The coverage is not exhaustive or encyclopaedic, but rather it goes into depth with a number of key lines including the Modern Main Line, Taimanov Attack and the Fianchetto variations.

Symbols highlighting 'Tips', 'Warnings' and the like - familiar from the Starting Out series - are used throughout and they joined by a new one to draw attention to a 'Key Development'.

Do we need a new book on the Modern Benoni? Well, considering that John Watson's Gambit Guide to the Modern Benoni is now 10 years old the time does indeed seem right, especially as theory has advanced in the variations covered here. The Fianchetto Variation has become very popular indeed, due partly to Avrukh's works on 1 d4.

An examination of the material shows that Black must be very careful indeed when facing a well-prepared opponent. With the help of IM Palliser, an equally well-prepared Benoni practitioner should be just about OK to keep playing this risky opening at quite an advanced level.

Also from Everyman, there are two new volumes in the 'Move by Move' series. The emphasis is very much on explaining the key ideas and plans behind the openings in question. Both of these volumes would make ideal starting points for anyone interested in adding the openings to their repertoires.

The Nimzo-Indian: Move by Move
By GM John Emms
368 pages

John Emms guides the reader expertly through the popular and solid Nimzo-Indian Defence. The recommendation against the Rubinstein (1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 e3) is 4 ...0-0 and that, in a nutshell, sums up the ethos of the recommended lines; Black keeps things as solid as possible and hopes to construct a fire-proof repertoire which will not swept away by a new tide of theory in the near future.

1...d6: Move by Move
By IM Cyrus Lakdawala
400 pages
Everyman Chess

I used 1 ...d6 extensively over a period of two years so I was interested to see the suggestions given by Cryus Lakdawala in this new book.

Rather than head for the relatively popular Lion and/or Philidor set-ups, Lakdawala goes his own way and gives 1 e4 d6 2 d4 Nf6 3 Nc3 c6 as the anti-King's pawn weapon, followed by 4 Nf3 Bg4 or 4 f4 Qa5. Slppery stuff and not the sort of thing players with the White pieces spend too much preparing for.

Elsewhere, there are the familiar sights of 1 d4 d6 2 c4 e5, 1 d4 d6 2 Nf3 Bg4 and ...d6/...e5/...f5 against the English.

As '...a universal system which can be employed against virtually any first move' I believe the modest pawn move is a useful and versatile addition to any player's repertoire and this book does a good job in priming the reader for action.

ChessBase continue to be extremely active. New DVDs are being released at an incredible rate.

First Steps in Defence
By IM Andrew Martin

First Steps in Defence
features IM Andrew Martin on fine form as he takes the reader through a range of well-chosen illustrative games. The idea is to give viewers a basic grounding in the art of defence.

Admitting that most players prefer to be on the attack, the presenter impresses on the viewer the need to understand how -and when - to defend.

There are 17 illustrative games, featuring the likes of Kasparov, Karpov, Short, Spassky and Larsen. Some of these are very recent, such as the big clash between Jonathan Hawkins and Nigel Short at this year's British Championship.

The material is aimed at improving club players, but doubtless more exeprienced players learn a thing or two as well.

Tactics - From Basics to Brilliance Volume 2
By FM Valeri Lilov

On Tactics - From Basics to Brilliance (Volume 2), FM Lilov looks at the functions of the pieces in the art of tactical play.

He takes the viewer through all of the pieces, starting with the pawns and working up to the King. There's a lot of material here - there are 24 video lectures - and it's all very acccessible to club players.

1.d4 - Beat The Guerrillas!
By IM Valeri Bronznik
272 pages

This is an updated translation of a 2010 German language book. The author looks at a large range of 'guerrillas', from the fairly respectable (Budapest Gambit, Black Knights' Tango) to the eminently disreputable (Englund Gambit, Polish...).

The material is presented from White's point of view and, despite some of the lines of analysis being long, it is accessible to club players. The conclusions at the end of each chapter are a particularly useful feature.

Black players who like maverick openings will need to take a look too, to see what they have to prepare against. Some of the suggestions look very strong for White, but it's not all bad news for the second player; for example, the Schara-Hennig Gambit suddenly looks in good health.

The Ragozin Complex
By IM Vladimir Barsky
351 pages

I've never played either side of the Ragozin (1 d4 Nf6 2 Nf3 d5 3 c4 e6 4 Nc3 Bb4) so most of the material in this book was new to me.

Following a thoughtful introduction looking at the pioneers of the opening, there is an essay on 'How to Study a Concrete Opening'. It's a good read and it clearly outlines the idea behind the opening before the attention is switched to an analysis of the various lines of play.

The material is denser than in the 'Guerilla' book, so club players may find it heavy going. Experienced tournament players will enjoy the depth though and those with the Nimzo-Indianand QGD (and even QGA) already in their repertoires may find some useful transpositions with which to annoy their unsuspecting opponents.

Power Chess for Kids
By FM Charles Hertan
159 pages

After divulging the 'three skills you need to be one of the best players in your school' and 'four ticks to help you think 1.5 power moves ahead', the author runs through various examples of forks, pins skewers interference moves. Cartoon characters and a very lively writing style make this an appealing book for young juniors.

Chess teachers and coaches will be able to put the material to good use too.

ChessBase Magazine
December 2011

Last but not least, the new issue of ChessBase Magazine is now available. Highlights include the coverage of the Grand Slam, the European Cup and the FIDE World Cup.

As usual, there's a abundance of material which should present something of interest for players of all strengths, from beginners to Grandmasters.

Wednesday 21 December 2011

More Mongoose

Mongoose Newsletter No.6 is now available for your perusal.

Don't miss the new Mongoose Contest. A book prize awaits the winner.

Find the newsletter here.

Tuesday 20 December 2011

London Highlights: 3

Time to round off the London coverage with another trip to 'Theatreland'.

To continue the Dickens theme, I was delighted to obtain a front-row seat for Simon Callow's one-man presentation of A Christmas Carol at the Arts Theatre.

It was wonderful to see what could be achieved with the minimum of props and effects. There was the occasional use of a simple bit of back projection to set the mood and one or two chairs.
Other than that, it was all down to the powerful acting and performance skills of Simon Callow.

A Christmas Carol remains an exemplary seasonal story. This show was a real Christmas treat.

He has a book on Dickens due out early in the New Year. An essential purchase, methinks.

Next up was a trip to Islington for another very interesting and enjoyable show, this time featuring Suggs talking about his life and times at the King's Head Theatre.

The King's Head is actually a small pub. A door at the back leads to a very intimate theatre, limited to around 200 seats.

Suggs started his story with his 50th brithday. Everything seemed to be going well the day after that but then his favourite cat died and it started a process of reassessment for him. He made it his mission to find out more about the father he never knew. The narrative of the search then switches frequently to another strand, in which he reminisces about his musical progress from wayward band member (he kept missing sessions to go and watch Chelsea play and was consequently sacked, before being reinstated as the drummer) to his role as a key member of Madness.

Occasionally, he would break into song, mainly to punctuate a moment in the story. For example, we had a quick burst of Baggy Trousers to commemorate his schooldays.

It was a very witty, moving and highly entertaining evening, enhanced further by the very intimate setting (I was in the second row, which was great, but I don't think there was a bad seat in the house).

Suggs - My Life Story in Words and Pictures has just concluded a series of dates at the King's Head and is set to tour the UK in January and February. You don't need to be a Madness fan to appreciate the show; I think most people would enjoy it.

To round off the London visit, I'd chosen The Ladykillers at The Gielgud Theatre on the strength of the excellent reviews it had received.

In contrast to the intimate nature of the two shows mentioned above, The Ladykillers was a full-cast affair.

The set was amazing. For most of the evening it was the interior of a house, but there were some very quick swivels at key moments to show various exterior scenes.

I'm sure readers are familiar with the basic plot. Most will have seen the classic film. This version is excellent too, full of strong performances and laugh-out-loud moments.

Three very different shows - three sets of great memories. What to see next time, I wonder...?

Monday 19 December 2011

London Highlights: 2

A few more photos from around London...

...starting with a trip to St Paul's to see the protesters' camp. The slogans speak for themselves.

I was there early in the morning and the vast majority of protesters were (presumably) still asleep in their tents. However, the mid-camp piano was ready for action.

The Museum of London is a short walk from St Paul's. I went to see the Dickens and London exhibition, which was very good indeed.

Moving on to Trafalgar Square, I intended to go and see the Leonardo da Vinci exhibition at the National Gallery, but having joined the queue for tickets I was told that I wouldn't be able to get to the front of the queue to be served for another three hours, and then wouldn't be able to get in to see the exhibition until another three hours after that. It was also impossible to pre-book tickets, so I had to give it a miss.

However, Trafalgar Square didn't let me down. I was surprised and amused to see an enormous number of Santas arrive from all directions.

I didn't know at the time, but it was all part of the annual Santacon.

There were also some human statues to enjoy.

More serious things were happening too.

I returned to the Square the following morning and it was as quiet as I've ever known it.

On to Covent Garden...

An entertaining juggler! 'I'll start off juggling three balls. I know it's easy, ladies and gentleman, but I'll work my way up to six!'

Juggling four balls looked easy enough for him too, so he repeated his promise to juggle six.

He appeared to move into position to pick up the other two...

...but then he stood up again and started waggling his legs about. 'There you go, ladies and gentleman - I'm juggling six balls!'

Time for a trip to the Transport Museum.

...and so say all of us.

Go on - admit it: you thought of Reg Varney there, didn't you?

Finally, a few Christmas images from Whiteleys.