Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Chess Reviews: 207

Move First, Think Later
Sense and Nonsense in Improving Your Chess
By Willy Hendricks
254 pages

''Chess players, both weak and strong, don't first make a plan before looking at candidate moves. Trial and error is a very common and in fact highly effective way to get to the best move.''

That's the opinion of International Master (and chess trainer) Willy Hendricks and it represents one of the cornerstones of this very interesting and highly original book. It presents a path to self-improvement based on the careful study of exercises (found in all 27 chapters), and a change in standard thinking methods.

The author owns up to his role of agent provocateur in the preface.

''There is a fair chance that not everyone will endorse the points of view that are developed in this book - to a considerable extent they conflict with the doctrines of mainstream chess didactics. Although the author isn't a French philosopher, he does prefer claiming the opposite rather than putting forward some small refinement.''

The intention of ''claiming the opposite'' leads to some cutting remarks about the works of some respected writers, such as Jeremy Silman and trendy target Kotov. It's all part of the provocative stance. The chapter titles should provide a further indication of the book's ethos:

First move, then plan, then judge
Look and you will see versus trial and error
My most beautiful move
Recognizing the similar
In search for the master's understanding - back to De Groot
Pattern-like knowledge
If White advances with g4, block his aggression with ...g5
Breaking news: knights are superior to bishops
Free advice
Protocol versus content
The particular and the general
Big plan, small plan or no plan at all   
Seeing combinations and making plans
Watch out, it's a critical moment
Chance in chess
The sadistic exam
It plays chess in me
Trust your chess module
Quantity is quality too
The human standard
The chess nurture assumption
The scientific scruples of the chess trainer
Strategic exercises
Random puzzling

If the chapters betray an episodic approach, then it is because some of the material has already appeared as stand alone articles in the Dutch magazine Schaaknieuws. This is a multi-layered book which can be read on several levels. One can...

1) Dash through the essays and simply enjoy the illustrative - and extremely entertaining - game snippets.
2) The same as above plus some serious hard work on the exercises.
3) Read the essays and skip the chess work.
4) Combine all of the above.

Amid the fascinating material, one occasionally comes across a square peg that has been squeezed into a round hole, such as this one.

Kramnik - Kasparov
Game 10, World Ch. 2000 

''Kramnik could have exchanged queens with 18 Qxd8 Rcd8 19 gxf3 Rxd4. That gives White a small advantage but virtually no chances of losing. But he chose 18 gxf3 Qxd4 19 Nb5, staying in the (riskier) middlegame. He was proved right and won quickly ...''

''Had he lost, though, the proverb on the previous page might have read: 'When ahead in score, let your opponent take the risks'. Or: 'Never change a winning strategy' - in this case Kramnik's strategy of trying to exchange queens against Kasparov as quickly as possible ... Was Kramnik tossing up between these two (or maybe even more) proverbs?''  

In fact, Kramnik didn't need to think about any sort of proverb here. It had all been played in a game Hazai - Danielsen (Valby, 1994) and was known to be very good for White (although apparently Kasparov didn't know it) so it was merely a case of bringing his preparation to the board. 

Readers of all playing strengths should find plenty of interest here, regardless of which layer of the book they decide to explore. It is, by turns, inspirational, maddening, entertaining, instructive and witty. But most of all, it is thought provoking and that seems to me to be the main point of the book.

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