Monday 24 January 2011

The Smoke Fairies

The Smoke Fairies were on fine form at The Sage last night.

A full review will follow soon, but meanwhile, if you have a chance to see them on their current tour, I recommend you take it.

Follow the tour dates at their official website.

Sunday 23 January 2011

The Sarah Waters Interview

It's time to start filling in the diaries with the finest events 2011 has to offer. My two favourite literary events (Scarborough and Middlesbrough) have both recently confirmed their dates and I am looking forward to both events.

One of the biggest names announced for the Scarborough schedule is Sarah Waters. Sarah's five novels, from 'Tipping the Velvet' to 'The Little Stranger', have all proved extremely popular.

Sarah was at the Middlesbrough Literary Festival in 2010 and it was a fabulous evening. We recorded a short interview after the long book signing queue had finally died down. I have been saving the interview to tie it in with the announcement of this year's festival dates, so the time has now come to publish!

Festivals, book signings and the like are often regarded as a necessary evil in the eyes of authors. But how do you feel about them?

Well, I see them as an opportunity to meet readers which is always really nice and always feels really important to me, because I do write with readers in mind; it's lovely to get feedback. But they are tiring and they do take you away from your writing, which is sometimes a bit frustrating. But I like them; I enjoy it. It's an opportunity.

It's a bit strange at the moment because you are between books, and not really trying to publicise and sell a new one.

Yes, that's right…

…that's even more unusual, so it shows you must enjoy them.

Yes, I do…and in fact, as you can imagine, I get quite a lot of requests and I couldn't do them all, so I do end up saying no to a lot, which means that I actually end up doing the ones I do really want to do. Since I have a connection with Middlesbrough it was a really nice opportunity to come back. I haven't done an event in this part of the world - ever! - I don't think, so it was just nice to come up here.

You should come here more frequently!

I'd like to, yes!

I know that when you were younger you read a lot of horror and sci-fi but you tended to move away from that, until 'The Little Stranger', which may be horror or may not be, as the case may be (a lot is open to the interpreation of the reader). Are you ever tempted to enter those genres again as a writer?

Yes, especially having written 'The Little Stranger', I do. I felt very at home with the genre when I was writing that book, and even since I've finished I've still been reading a lot of ghost stories, a lot of classic ghost stories, and I would - the next book won't be supernatural - but I would definitely like to come back to ghost stories in the future. Maybe write a really classic, proper ghost story.

And also, you were a big fan of Doctor Who, weren't you?


Is that classed as juvenilia now, or are you still a fan?

No, I still feel a loyalty to Doctor Who. I was gutted when David Tennant left, I must admit, and I haven't quite bonded with Matt Smith yet. Since the series reinvented itself I've always found it very patchy. Some episodes I think are just a waste of time but some are really good and it's the really good ones that make it still worth watching.

Who was your Doctor?

My Doctor was Jon Pertwee!

Mine too.


I read your list of ten famous horror stories on your website…

Oh yes…

I presume there are more lists to come on the website?

When they put the website together I juts happened to have a couple of top tens and they just asked me to write a ghost story one so we sort of planned for me to do more but I've never got around to it but it's a nice thing to do so I would like to do some more.

An omission which surprised me was Edgar Allen Poe, because he's been name-checked in respect of 'The Little Stranger' in various places…

It has…they were supposed to be kind-of ghost stories he's written all those tales of mystery and the imagination yeah…they're not so much ghost stories exactly, are they?

More supernatural….

Supernatural, creepy…I do like Poe and they've certainly been a big influence on me but it's funny - no, he didn't spring to mind when I was thinking of my top ten. He's just below the bottom one, I think.

You said you weren't involved in the creative process of the adaptations of the screen versions of your books but how difficult was it to break away from feeling precious towards your works and having people change it?

I didn't find it very hard at all actually, although having said that, I think I was very lucky to get teams of people who took the novels very seriously and were careful so I can easily see that another author might have a difference experience which would sour the whole thing for them. But I always felt, actually, that the book was never going to change; the book was always going to stay my book and that whatever was made out of it was going to be somebody else's project and I still felt that, really. If it goes wrong, it's their fault, you know, but if it does well that's nice because hopefully it reflects well on the book somehow.

Were there any adaptations you were disappointed with or were you happy with all of them?

I've been happy with all them, yes. I think they've all got different strengths and weaknesses but broadly I've been happy with all of them.

I understand 'The Night Watch' is in production…?

It's in development, which is very different, because it may never develop into anything, but yes, a script has been written and I think it needs a bit of money, because of course it's the blitz, it's London and stuff, so who knows what might happen with that. But it's a nice idea.

Is that for TV?

TV, yes…BBC…

And 'The Little Stranger' will be a film?

A film, yes…

Are you sort of semi-hopeful for both going ahead…?

Yes, I would say so. 'The Night Watch' has been languishing for a while, so I've sort of lost touch with that. But 'The Little Stranger' got the option last year, so they're still quite keen. So that feels like it's moving a bit more than the other project. (Update: click here for the latest news about 'The Night Watch')

Do you have an overall plan in terms of your books? Are you just going to keep writing until you run out of ideas, or do you have a set number in mind…?

No, I don't have a set number and sometimes I feel like any author, I suppose, that I might only have so many books in me but at the moment I still have ideas; you know, I have an idea for the new book and I have dim ideas for the books after that, so I definitely…for now, I want to keep going for as long as I can.

Do you find that the more you write, the more ideas come to you?

Not necessarily, actually, but there always seems to be enough for me to envisage books in the future.

Similarly, do you have any abandoned projects? have you ever started a book and not completed it?

I've never done that; never have. I know that others have; I hear it all the time but I…the idea really alarms me; the idea of investing so much time and energy into a novel…I think what I would rather do is work at it and even if it then became another novel, you know, but it might happen one day.

Now, living in Wales and then living in London, it strikes me that they are both areas with tremendous local pride; and I'm cross-referencing this with a comment about how you don't populate your novels too much with characters - a set number of characters almost, small…

Oh, yes…

...and I was wondering if the experience of living in places steeped with pride seeps through into your characters. You take pride in each and every one of your characters and the characters themselves have their own pride.

Hmmm…I've never thought of it in terms of pride before. Certainly, place is quite strong in the novels and people are very attached to those places. I certainly feel my London characters feel very attached to London in exactly the same way that I do, with a very strong sense of London's geography and London's history and where they belong in relation to it.

So I guess that is a kind of pride, isn't it? That's interesting; I'll have to think a bit more about that. Yeah, I don't know how the Welsh…I've always thought of my Welshness as providing a bit of an alternative, really, to the…because London, you know, you think - lots of people who live in London think London is the centre of the universe. I do, a bit. Having come from Wales, a very small bit of Wales, brings something different to it I suppose; adds something to the mix.

Every one of your characters is very individual, they're all very strong characters and that does tie in with not overpopulating the novels…

Yes…I think that's crucial in novels, not to have too many characters playing the same sort of roles. So inevitably you want to make the characters vivid and complex if you can.

Yes. Do reviews have any effect on you? You get good reviews all of the time and you've won loads of awards for all of your books. Does that put any pressure on you?

The good reviews are great! Although yes, they can feel like a pressure, especially if the project you're currently working on…if people love your last book you think you're never going to be able to live up to it again, it can be really scary; its true. So I think reviews can be a bit of a cloud over you sometimes, even when they are good. But I find it's amazing how you just sort of shrug them off and get on with the new book. Reviews for me are intensely interesting for about two or three weeks after I've got a new book out and it's amazing - they just become less and less relevant to you somehow as you move on to a new project.

I read that you never re-read your books once they are published…


…Is that still true?


Why is that?

Just a kind of squeamishness about it.



But that doesn't apply when you are watching the adaptations….?

No, no…I can watch them very happily, because again it feels like somebody else's project; it doesn't feel like mine.

Very interesting. Do you think you will eventually re-read your novels?

Maybe, yes.

Finally, there's a major moment now to bring books out in digital format, with Sony Readers and that sort of thing. How do you think that will impact on your trade as a writer?

Everybody in the industry, form the writers upwards, publishers, editors, agents, booksellers - everybody is aware it's an industry in transition. Right at the moment, we all know it's going to change. We know how it's changing but we don't know exactly how things are going to end up. So I think everybody's a bit nervy. I don't use a Reader myself. I would be happy to use them for some kinds of books but I'm also very attached to physical books. I buy a lot of old books and they're never going to be replaced electronically.

But I also think, it's just another resource, just another way of reading books and so long as writers are paid for their work, continue to be paid for their work, in sort of appropriate ways, I think it's just the evolution of reading. How it will impact on the writing process, I don't think we really know yet, whether it will demand another kind of content. Iain Banks has just released something hasn't he, where he's provided sort of deleted scenes. I think it's exciting, I think it's exciting for readers, but for me as a writer, I think if my publisher starts demanding that I produce more content, that might be a bit daunting. But then again, maybe once I start it, I find I'll enjoy it. I don't know. It's all up in the air at the moment and I'm trying to feel positive about it.

Speaking of publishers, a lot of writers I've spoken to feel very confined within their own genre and the publishers demand that they churn out virtually the same novel under a slightly different guise, but you seem to have broken away from that. Was there any pressure to continue producing Victoriana?

No, I've never felt any pressure. You know, some people have asked me, did your publisher ask you to write a non-Lesbian book, you know…? No - nothing has ever come up like that and I've never been under any pressure, they've just been very happy to let me write and move in the direction I want to move in.

Sarah Waters, thank you very much!

Further reading:

The official Sarah Waters website can be found here.

The Scarborough Literature Festival will run from 14-17 April 2011. Further details are available here.

The Middlesbrough Literary Festival is scheduled for 4-18 June 2011. Some early details are available here.

Saturday 22 January 2011

New Ultravox Material

There's a double portion of good news for Ultravox fans.

A new EP will be released on 21 February, featuring four tracks from their most recent tour. Called 'Moments from Eden', the EP's songs are: New Europeans, White China, Love's Great Adventure and Herr X. The first three tracks are the ones added for the 'Return to Eden 2' dates and Herr X is, of course, a German version of Mr X.

As if that wasn't enough, Ultravox have now confirmed that they have been working on an album of brand new material, which is '...nearing completion'.

Hopes are high that the release of the new CD will be followed by a tour.

The best way to keep up to date with all the latest Ultravox news is to pay regular visits to the official website.

For my photo report on last year's tour, please click here.

Thursday 20 January 2011

Memories of Mike: Part 2

Our Mike Closs Memorial season has been going very well and the website has attracted considerable attention, particularly the excellent ‘Game of the Month' features presented by the inimitable Peter Lalic.

It’s time now to share a few more personal memories of Mike (part one can be found here).

We played against each other many times and, of course, played very successfully side by side for both Guisborough and Elmwood. The following game is one of very few we played together, move-by-move. It has survived because I included it as a trinket in one of my old Guisborough Chess Club bulletins (those with good memories may remember reading ‘Guisborough Knights’).

A blast from the past!

I’m glad we recorded the moves as the game conjures up lots of memories of fun times back in our Guisborough days. We were young and very keen.

Mephisto MM2 Level 3 v Mike Closs and Sean Marsh


Mike was proud of his Mephisto MM2. He used to talk his way into entering it into 5-minute tournaments at Guisborough Chess Club. The wisdom of his ways was eventually revealed one night when he pretended having trouble starting a game against it. He kept playing 1 e4 and pressing 'restart' until the machine played 1 ...e6, because he had found a flaw in its repertoire which he knew he could exploit.

In this game, which was played at my home while we were preparing for some tournament or other, Mike and I collaborated to try and crush the monster. It used to score heavily against us, but this is the only game against it we preserved!


Mike was already reaching for the 'restart' button. 'Leave it!' I said, 'I know a bit about the English!' 'Oh, go on then,' he replied. Under pressure not to stumble into a line I didn't know, and conscious of the fact that I couldn't allow the computer to make a lot of moves without it pausing for 'thought', I played...

1...Nc6 2.Nf3 e5 3.d4 exd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nxc6 bxc6 6.Bf4

'A typical computer move', I wrote at the time. I think this Bishop is better off on b2. They don't play like this these days.

6...Bc5 7.Nd2 0–0 8.e4 Rb8 9.e5 Re8

We liked our open files back in the 1980s.


Did Mr Metal (as we always called Mike's chess computers) really believe we'd carelessly allowed our Knight to be trapped? In fact it was an intentional piece of bait. We could always start again if it didn't work.

10...Rxb2 11.exf6 Qxf6 Now we have threats. It's an important tempo we gained on the Bf4. 12.g3


Big problems on f2 and the a1–h8 diagonal mean that White has to bring out his King.

13.Kxd2 Bb4+ 14.Kc2 Qc3+ 15.Kb1 d5

I remember we were getting quite excited at this point. Oh, to be 21 again!


To stop 16 ...Bf5+

16...Ba3 17.Bc1 dxc4

Modern machines tell us that both 17 ...Bxg4 and 17 ...Bf5+ lead to speedier victories, but then we'd have been robbed of an example of tripled pawns.

18.Bxc4 Bxg4

Thank you for the kind offer of a Bishop, Mr Metal - but we prefer to sacrifice pieces.

19.Qc2 Rb8+ 20.Bb3

Two more sacrifices should do it...

20...Bf5 21.Qxf5

21...Rxb3+ 22.axb3 Qxb3+ 23.Bb2 Qxb2# 0–1

The 1980s saw us playing in lots of weekend congresses together. His luggage consisted of one suitcase full of cosmetics and clothes and one crammed with chess books (nearly all on 1 e4 openings, although there was a solitary 1 d4 opening book; he was trying to learn the Nimzo-Indian at the time).

I remember him telling me one Saturday morning that he had forgotten to pack his underwear. It was to our mutual good fortune (we shared a room) that the tournament in question was played at the top of Newcastle’s Eldon Square shopping centre. The plan was to pop down to the shops between rounds two and three.

On and on his game dragged on. He stood worse against a Caro-Kann Defence (never his favourite) but put up terrific resistance. We were worried for some time that he wouldn’t have time to go shopping before round three and I was reluctant to go and buy the necessary items on his behalf. Guessing the size incorrectly would lead him either feeling insulted or receiving a boost to his ego and I desired neither of those possibilities to become a reality.

Eventually the game was over but still he nearly missed his shopping opportunity, because he felt compelled to conduct a lengthy post mortem. Luckily, he still had just enough time left to carry out his secret mission before the third round of the tournament started. He was pleased – I was delighted.

Brief encounter - Eldon Square as it is today

Mike didn’t relish endgames quite as much as openings or middlegames. At the start of the game, he was very happy to show off his preparation, which became extremely deep in his latter years. He had a brief dalliance with Queenless middlegames when he tried out The Lion in a few games during the course of one season, but generally he was much happier with the Queens still on the board.

I remember seeing one particularly impressive exception, which made Mike very happy.

M. McKenzie v Mike Closs
Cleveland v Northumberland

It seems that the game will soon end in a draw. However, Mike's ferocious will to win would often lead to him playing on for as long as possible in the hope of finding some little trick.

47 …Kxa4 48 Kc2 Bd4 and after 49 Kb1?? (49 Nd6 should draw) 49 …Be5! gave a perfect demonstration of the power of a Bishop over a Knight in the endgame. The rest is easy.

50 Ka2 b5 51 Kb1 Kb3 52 Kc1 Ka2 53 Kc2 b4 0-1

It wasn’t his only successful endgame, of course. I remember watching him hold the inferior side of King v King and pawn in a junior tournament when we first started to get to know each other. His exemplary technique in holding the opposition stuck in my mind. Before the start of that game, he and I had been reading the pairings. His opponent was called Haddock. He asked if I knew anything about him. ‘No, but it all sounds a bit fishy’, I said and he replied, ‘Yes, but he’s had his chips’. It was the first time we traded puns – but obviously not the last.

We played side by side in a couple of simultaneous displays. Actually, we did this from both sides of the board. We turned up to watch a junior tournament a very long time ago, and were cast as ‘local chess celebrities’ before we knew it. We were invited to give a simultaneous display, making alternate moves on each and every board. The number of opponents grew rapidly as the tournament games finished (we worked out later that we were not celebrities at all; we were just being used to keep the children quiet before the prize giving).

After a while, I found myself a Queen down in a couple of games and then things started to get somewhat worse, with Rooks disappearing between my visits to the board. I called Mike to the middle of the simultaneous ring for a word and asked him politely to stop sacrificing so much and to take the games more seriously. Soon, I told him, it would be too late to fight back and nobody who gives a simultaneous display wants to end the session with a string of losses. Mike looked at me and laughed. He had been waiting for an opportunity to ask me the same thing! It quickly became apparent that some of the juniors had been taking full advantage of the lack of continuity in our visits to the boards and had been taking pieces off when neither of us was looking.

On the other side of the board, we sat next to each other when we faced David Bronstein and Mikhail Suba back in the early 1990s. Against the former, Mike lost as White in a text book example of a well-played Sicilian. I even used it in my article about the event in CHESS Magazine, which gave Mike mixed emotions (although it was with his full consent!). The fame, he enjoyed…but to see a loss published…!

Me, Mike, John Suscens and David Wise all watching a Sicilian Defence appear. Note that David Bronstein was happy to alternate the colours!

Against Suba, Mike held a draw as Black in a long King’s Indian encounter. This was around the time that Suba had released the first edition of his excellent book, ‘Dynamic Chess Strategy’. Mike had bought a copy and brought it along to be signed by the author afterwards. During the game, the book was nowhere to be seen. It turned out that Mike had the book resting on his knees under the table, held open on a certain page…which just happened to feature the very line the players were contesting over the board!

Mikhail Suba (back in the days when smoking was allowed at chess events), probably thinking he'd seen the position before somewhere. So had Mike - under the table! Julian Allinson is sitting next to Mike (Julian won the Memorial Tournament last year) and David Smith is watching the game. The hand with the crisps belongs to Jay Stockham.

We made the papers a few times. Because we stayed and watched every game at a congress, we were usually easy targets for the photographers. I remember Mike was a bit annoyed because the photgrapher kept calling him 'Mitch' instead of 'Mish'!

Part three of 'Memories of Mike' is currently in preparation.

Tuesday 18 January 2011

Further Reading

My reviews of the recent concerts by The Banoffee Pie Tour Collective and Mary Chapin Carpenter are both included in the latest issue of Maverick magazine ('January 2011').

I thought at first that Maverick was going 'digital only' from January onwards, but I can now confirm that a printed copy of the issue has indeed been released. The magazine will only be available in a digital edition from February 2011 onwards.

For further details, please visit the Maverick website.

Monday 17 January 2011

Chess Reviews: 167

There’s a lot to get through in our first review column of 2011, so this is a bumper issue covering four DVDs and four books.

Over the course of the next few review columns, there may be a slight change of style. I am hoping to review more products in each column and the reviews may well become slightly shorter and more to the point. Outstanding products will receive an in-depth column all to themselves.

The output from ChessBase remains prolific and (thankfully) shows no sign of slowing down for the New Year.

Black Repertoire Against 1 e4 Vol 2: The Open Games
By GM Jan Gustafsson
5 hours and 34 minutes

The first volume advocated the Marshall Attack against the Ruy Lopez. This volume look at everything else Black must be ready to face after replying to 1 e4 with 1 …e5.

There’s a lot of ground to cover, especially as it includes non-Marshall Ruy Lopez lines. These are dealt with first, with the first five lectures featuring White’s different methods of avoiding Black’s main weapon, namely:

6 d3

5 d3

5/6 Qe2

6 Bxc6/d4

Exchange Variation

Then it’s time to look at the Italian Game (plus the Evan’s Gambit), followed by the Scotch Game, the Four Knights, Ponziani, Bishop’s Opening, Vienna Game, King’s Gambit and Center Game.

This DVD will appeal to more players than volume 1, as not all 1 e4 e5 defenders play the Marshall Attack.

I think it makes good sense to take a good look at those parts of a suggested repertoire which have the reputation for cutting down one's own winning chances. For example, there's not much point having a razor sharp main line opening if an Exchange Variation somewhere along the line is going to allow even considerably weaker players to kill the game stone dead.

With that in mind, I was curious to see how the presenter would deal with 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bb5 a6 4 Bxc6 dxc6 after which Black must take care to avoid slipping into a passive position with very few chances to make things lively.

The presenter is happy with Black's chances after the sidelines 5 d4 and 5 Nc3 and after the more common 5 0-0 he prefers the creative 5 ...Qf6 to the more frequently seen 5 ...f6 and 5 ...Bg4. This sums up the ethos of the repertoire; Black plays soundly enough but always keep an eye on trying to create something a little different to avoid dull positions. However, that is not always possible when playing 1 e4 e5 as Black.

GM Gustafsson is a good presenter with a friendly, humorous style. I look forward to seeing more of his DVDs.

ChessBase Tutorials Openings #2
The Semi-Open Games
Five Hours

This DVD contains 24 video lectures presented by five different players.

GM Daniel King, one of ChessBase’s top presenters, covers the Advance, Classical and Winawer variations of the French Defence and several lines of the Najdorf Sicilian. GM Lars Schandorff looks at the Advance Variation of the Caro Kann and the Sveshnikov Sicilian. IM Valeri Lilov presents lectures on the Classical, Exchange and Panov-Botvinnik variations of the Caro Kann, the French Tarrasch, Sicilian Kan, Paulsen, Taimanov, Closed and Rossolimo. IM Sam Collins covers the Nimzowitsch, Owen’s, Sicilian Alapin and Scheveningen and IM Lawrence Trent looks at the French Rubinstein and Exchange, the Scandinavian, Sicilian Dragon, Accelerated Dragon and Richter-Rauzer, plus the Alekhine and Pirc Defences.

German viewers can watch lectures in their own language, presented by an almost completely different selection of titled chess players (with only GM King appearing in both sets).

The material is easy to follow and the level is pitched at interested club players.

The accompanying magazine is attractively presented and acts as a colourful guide to the disc’s contents. There’s even a page of tactical exercises for the readers to test their knowledge.

Junior 12, by Amir Ban and Shay Bushinsky, is the latest version of one of the top chess playing programs. Junior is a World Champion and version 12 has apparently increased it’s strength by approximately 200 ELO points.

I am planning a larger review all about the latest versions of Junior and Fritz, so watch this space.

And finally from the world of DVDs, Fritz Powerbook 2011 will boost your existing databases with an up to date representation of the current state of high-level opening theory. The Powerbook is based on an amazing number of quality games - 1.5 million!

So if you are tired of beating your engine and are ready for a tougher challenge, then by all means increase it's opening prowess with the contents of this DVD. Of course, it will boost your preparation for over the board games too.

Full details of all ChessBase products can be found at their very impressive website.

Dangerous Weapons: The Caro-Kann
By GM John Emms, IM Richard Palliser
and IM Jovanka Houska
304 pages

The Dangerous Weapons series makes a welcome return with an investigation into some weird and wonderful lines featuring one of the most solid responses to 1 e4.

Given the solidity of the Caro-Kann, it’s not so easy to stir up trouble early in the game. The three co-authors offer a total of 12 chapters, each looking at an interesting way to pep things up.

The first two occur in the Bronstein-Larsen Variation and are from Black’s point of view. Then there’s a couple of tries for White against the Classical 4 …Bf5 and 4…Nd7, followed by a suggestion for both colours in the Advance Variation. Three chapters cover the Panov-Botvinnik Attack (from Black’s point of view). Staying with the Black pieces, there’s an interesting suggestion against the Two Knights’ Variation and an idea against White’s unusual 1 e4 c6 2 Ne2 d5 3 e5. White gets one final idea with 1 e4 c6 2 d3 followed by a quick d3-d4.

The two chapters which I found to be the most interesting concerned the Advance Variation and the Three Knights’.

In the former, Black has been enjoying 1 e4 c6 2 d4 d5 3 e5 c5 in recent years. This book recommends that you ‘Don’t Let Black Have all the Fun!’ and keep up the run of consecutive pawn moves with 4 c4 (lines with 4 Nf3 Nc6 5 c4 are considered too).

This c-pawn lunge isn’t even considered in some standard Caro-Kann tomes, so it makes it ripe for unleashing over the board.

I have seen 1 e4 c6 2 Nf3 d5 3 Nc3 Nf6 before; it was recommended on an old Foxy Openings DVD by GM Nigel Davies (one of the very best of the range).

Black intends to cause trouble after 4 e5 Ne4. It’s good to see some up to date coverage of this line. It’s still a rarity over the board (partly because the Two Knights’ Variation hasn’t been a popular White choice for a long time) but I think it’s a worthy inclusion in a Caro-Kann fan’s armoury.

Generally speaking, this collection of Dangerous Weapons is a little bit more main line than some of the others in the series. The ideas wouldn’t attract too many funny looks from team mates if they appeared on the board. I was expecting to see original analysis on such oddities as 1 e4 c6 2 d4 d5 3 Nc3 dxe4 4 f3, 1 e4 c6 2 d4 d5 3 e5 Na6 and 1 e4 c6 2 Nc3 d5 3 Qf3.

Nevertheless, there is plenty of food for thought here and the recommendations will certainly freshen up a repertoire involving 1 e4 c6, from either side of the board.

Gambit Busters
By IM Sam Collins
208 pages
Everyman Chess

‘I’ve never liked playing against gambits’, admits Sam Collins in his introduction. He follows this up with a couple of gruesome examples from his own (bad) experiences. He has been stung by gambits and is keen to show how to deal with them.

With the focus on the defenders’ side of the board, the author examines the psychology behind gambit play and how to deal with situations in which an attacker is essentially offering you ‘sweets from a stranger’ – with all of the danger that entails.

I thought at first that this book was going to be an opening manual, showing how best to play against all of the famous gambits. Instead, long variations take a back seat and explanatory text takes centre stage.

The list of contents shows what the reader should expect:

The Fear

Historical Development

The Blueprint

Harsh Treatment of Romantic Lines

Escaping the Defensive Mindset

Breaking Down Gambits

‘Something to Suffer For’

Korchnoi and Karpov

Profile of a Pawn Grabber


Further Themes

Gambit Openings

Irrational Positions

Modern Gambit Examples

I would have preferred fewer but longer chapters. For example, the chapter on ‘Korchnoi and Karpov’ is a very interesting one but too short. Only one of the illustrative games is between the two named players. Korchnoi is shown in action against Tal; their rivalry – given that their styles were so different, and that Korchnoi did, for some time, appear to be the only player in the world to permanently hold the key for success against the 8th World Champion - would make excellent subject matter for a whole book.

Tal - Korchnoi

In this encounter from Riga (1958), Tal played 33 h6+ Rxh6 34 Qxh6+ Kxh6 35 g7

- but can you see Korchnoi's refutation?

The chapter on ‘Gambit Openings’ starts with a couple of examples from the Catalan Opening, which may disappoint those expecting something from the sharper end of town.

However, the prose is instructive throughout the book, especially when augmented by quotes from the players under the spotlight.

For example, Seirawan’s thoughts are given on one his wins against Korchnoy.

Korchnoi – Seirawan
London 1984

Seirawan, who had worked a s a second for Korchnoi in the World Championship cycle of 1980-1, understood that Korchnoi would feel uncomfortable playing a Benko Gambit (even with an extra move) so he played 5 …c5!. The psychological war was under way and Korchnoi went on to lose in drastic fashion.

Summing up: players who would like concrete variations to win against gambits will have to look elsewhere, but those who prefer to read a book should be happy enough here.

A Guide to Chess Improvement The Best of Novice Nook
By Dan Heisman
381 pages
Everyman Chess

‘Novice Nook’ is a chess column which started in 2001 over at the impressive Chess CafĂ© website. This book is an anthology of the best of those columns.

General Improvement

Thought Process

Time Management

Skills and Psychology

Tactics and Safety


Endgames and Technique

Strategy and Positional Play

Shorter, Lesson Material

It’s a big book and it’s absolutely packed with well-written advice. Sometimes there’ll be a run of pages without a diagram in sight, but that’s no bad thing; when the prose is carrying the reader along in fine style, calling a halt to look at a position would be an unnecessary break.

‘Skills and Psychology’ is one of the best chapters (although none of them are without interest). It contains a lot of practical advice I’ve not read elsewhere, such as when to play your best openings, how to get the most of your chess club and how to deal with the worry surrounding the eternal problem of chess ratings.

Dan writes very well and pitches his material perfectly. Despite some of the pure chess content being aimed firmly at the novice level (hence the book's subtitle), this is always presented in an adult way, avoiding the trap of trying to pitch a book for juniors to all and sundry.

This is an excellent book for improving adult club players.

Prepare to Attack
By IM Gary Lane
192 pages
Everyman Chess

And finally for this bumper issue of reviews, here’s an example of Gary Lane doing what he does best: presenting a series of lessons, aimed at club players, in his usual laid back chatty style.

Essentially, this book aims to guide the reader in the art of where, when and how they should attack on the chess board.

The material is split into the following chapters:

Count the Pieces

Carry on Attacking

Direct Attacks from the Opening

Secrets of Success

Cashing in Your Chips

History Always Repeats Itself

Tricks of the Trade

The variations in the illustrative games are kept to a minimum. Gary prefers to bring the games to life with anecdotes and his sharp eye for observation.

There’s a typical example in the chapter called ‘Cashing in Your Chips’, when the author shows his own game against the 7th World Champion, Vassily Smyslov.

Lane – Smyslov Lloyds Bank 1983

White has a very strong position, but cashed his chips in too soon with the tempting 27 Qxf7? 27 Bf1! would have won the game. One line runs 27 …Bxf1 28 Bh6 Rg8 29 Re8!

The lively style keeps the reader entertained throughout the book.

For further details, pop along to Everyman Chess.