Sunday, 2 December 2012

Chess Reviews: 206

Here's another round up of recent New in Chess publications.

Move First, Think Later and The Magic Tactics of Mikhail Tal will both be subjected to in-depth reviews, with a full article devoted to each one. Today we have briefer summaries of my thoughts on three other books.

The Powerful Catalan 
By Victor Bologan 
252 pages
New in Chess

The Catalan has never been so popular. We've definitely moved on from an era where Korchnoi was the sole Catalan flag waver at the highest levels. The early kingside fianchetto is currently a very regular sight at virtually every top tournament and is a house guest at World Championship matches.

Victor Bologan's new book adds to the growing library of literature devoted to the Catalan. As a top-level Grandmaster, his view and analysis are most welcome.

The 'complete repertoire for White' starts only after the moves 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nf3 d5 4 g3 so obviously further reading will be required to play 1 d4 with confidence.

There's coverage of all of the reasonable Black tries, from 4 ...b6 ('Queen's Indian Style'), through the Tarrasch Defence, the trendy Triangle System, the early ...Bb4+ and various tries after 4 ...dxc4 5 Bg2 (5 ...Bd7, 5 ...b5, 5 ...c6, 5 ...c5, 5 ...a6, 5 ...Bb4+, 5 ...Nc6) before moving on to the main lines with 5 ...0-0.

The recommendation for White is to play 6 0-0 dxc4 7 Qc2 a6 8 Qxc4 (rather than 8 a4) 8 ...b5 9 Qc2 Bb7 10 Bd2 (with the plan of Ba5, pinning down the c-pawn, before subjecting it to sustained pressure).

Bologan writes very instructively and the material is presented in a very tidy manner, making it admirably accessible. He keeps things very clear and doesn't bog the reader down in complex variations. The explanations are good and the conclusions at the end of each chapter are particularly welcome.

The Dynamic Benko Gambit
By Sergey Kasparov
316 pages
New in Chess

Sergey Kasparov's introduction is very instructive and written in a witty and engaging manner. For example, he says of 'the considerable quantity of diagrams in the book will allow lazy readers to study the contents lying on the sofa, on the beach, or even sitting on the toilet.' He offers guidance on when to play the Benko Gambit. Against the world's elite, 'failure would be almost guaranteed' but 'if you are stronger than your opponent, the Benko Gambit, as opposed to, for example, the Slav Defence or the Petroff Defence won't give him chances to quickly steer the game into a drawn position.'

There follows a short history of the opening, with the author commenting 'to humour Western chess players I will use the name ''Benko Gambit'' in this book' (as opposed to the more familiar Russian name of the Volga Gambit). 'In return I hope this work will win the favour of English-speaking readers.' 

Kasparov presents very thorough coverage of all standard Benko lines before moving on to the rarer ones, such as 4 a4 and even 4 e4. There's also a section on White's attempts to avoid the Benko altogether, usually by refusing to play 4 c2-c4 after 1 d4 Nf6 2 Nf3 c5 3 d5 d6.

The author cannot be accused of not practicing what he preaches; his own games are used throughout the book (as are plenty of games by other players, including Carlsen and Gelfand.

Strong club players will feel at home with the material given in this repertoire book. Dynamic play is guaranteed!

The Enigma of Chess Intuition
Can You Mobilize Hidden Forces in Your Chess?
By Valeri Beim
268 pages
New in Chess

In this book, well-known chess author (and Grandmaster) Valeri Beim tackles the subject of chess intuition, which 'is by far the vaguest and hardest to grasp subject in chess, and consequently the least studied.'

There are three main sections.

First Explorations
Successful Use of Intuition
The Elements of Chess Intuition

The author uses numerous games by the greats to try and get to the bottom of the mysterious quality of intuition. Some of the world champions are picked out for special merit: 'There have never been any other players in chess history whose intuition was so obvious and indisputable as Capablanca and Tal.'

There's plenty of excellent material here, although I'm not entirely convinced by all of the conclusions. For example, the 'Karpov problem' is discussed. How can it be that the great champion's intuition, which swept all before him in the 1970s and early 1980s, desert him in later years, even to the extent that he sometimes manages to lose on time? Capablanca is also name-checked as suffering a similar decline. 

Can it really be simply a case of: 'With age, we see a weakening of whatever abilities it is that absolutely necessary for the effective functioning of intuition (or at least, chess intuition).' Maybe. Or maybe Karpov's declining powers can be explained in other ways too. Compare his team of helpers at the 1978 World Championship in Baguio City to 10 years later and there may be some clues there also (and maybe his countrymen were no longer so inclined to finish on the wrong of model games in tournaments).
I think the book can be read on two levels. Firstly, it represents a fine collection of inspirational games which can be enjoyed by any class of player. Secondly, it provides a deeper, thought-provoking read on a difficult subject. Either way, it will certainly encourage independent thought, which must be a good thing.

All of the books featured today are published by New in Chess. Further details can be found on their website.

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