Chess24 Jan London

John Watson Book Review (12)

Assorted Recent Books

Die Tarrasch-Verteidigung; Harald Keilhack; 298 pages; Schachverlag Kania, 1993

The King's Gambit for the Creative Aggressor!; Thomas Johansson; 176 pages; Shachverlag Kania, 1998

The King's Gambit: A Modern View of a Swashbuckling Opening; Neil McDonald; 160 pages; B.T. Batsford, 1998

Logical Chess: Move by Move; Irving Chernev; 256 pages; B.T. Batsford 1998 (algebraic edition of original 1957 work)

The Art of Attack in Chess; Vladimir Vukovic; 352 pages; Everyman Chess/Cadogan Chess Series, 1998 (algebraic edition of original 1965 work)

Die Tarrasch-Verteidigung; Harald Keilhack; 298 pages; Schachverlag Kania, 1993

The King's Gambit for the Creative Aggressor!; Thomas Johansson; 176 pages; Shachverlag Kania, 1998

The King's Gambit: A Modern View of a Swashbuckling Opening; Neil McDonald; 160 pages; B.T. Batsford, 1998

Logical Chess: Move by Move; Irving Chernev; 256 pages; B.T. Batsford 1998 (algebraic edition of original 1957 work)

The Art of Attack in Chess; Vladimir Vukovic; 352 pages; Everyman Chess/Cadogan Chess Series, 1998 (algebraic edition of original 1965 work)

Before I start in, readers often ask me where they can find the books that I review. An easy answer to that is by ordering from the sponsor of this site, the London Chess Center! Click on the various icons and advertisements on the TWIC front page and you should be able to rather easily find your way around. Barring that, you can order from any number of mail-order distributors around the world; asking folks at your local club should lead you in the right direction or, if you're absolutely desperate, I can send you a few addresses and phone numbers. I'm still having trouble answering about 10% of the email I receive, however, as my service provider doesn't recognize the return address.

Today's list is topped by two books from a German publishing house which has established a reputation for excellent books by mostly obscure and often untitled authors. Schachverlag Kania has produced a number of books on somewhat offbeat openings ,e.g., the Albin Counter-Gambit, by IM Raetzki and FM Tshetwerik, a 1998 book, and 1...Nc6!, a 1995 production by the RandSpringer editor, chess eccentric Rainer Schlenker and co-authored by Kania's own chief editor Harald Keilhack. The former book requires no German (the minimal prose is presented in both English and German), but the latter book is fairly prose-heavy and the reader probably ought to have some facility in at least "chess German". In recent years, Kania has been translating popular works from various languages into German, including works by GMs Paul Motwani and Alexei Suetin, as well as Grigory Sankojew's extremely well-received book on correspondence chess ("The Third Try: My Road to Correspondence World Champion"). But if you are able to read German, I think the best-written book from this publisher, with the most original ideas, is the older (1993) one listed above, Keilhack's Die Tarrasch-Verteidigung (the Tarrasch Defence to the Queen's Gambit). I have often heard that this was the best book on the Tarrasch; but when I finally got a copy and began to read it over, I was completely taken aback by the depth and insightfulness of Keilhack's coverage. This is a great book! He pays equal attention to all lines of the Tarrasch, from strange move orders and obscure side systems all the way to things like 9.Bf4 in the main line and the best coverage of 9.Bg5 c4 I've ever seen. Keilhack also gives complete explanations of issues which have been neglected for years in the literature, for example: (a) What both sides should specifically do in the reversed Tarrasch, which can arise in a number of ways, e.g., 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5 4.Nf3 Bg7 5.e3 0-0 6.Be2 c5 7.0-0 cxd4 8.exd4 Nc6. Many masters are aware of the paradoxical nature of this position, i.e., that White has a hard time making a move which doesn't allow Black an easy time of it, but Keilhack explains exactly why, and tears apart the specific variations as well as any GM would. (b) 65 pages of the most thorough treatment I've ever seen of the Semi-Tarrasch symmetrical lines (both 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 c5 4.e3 Nf6 5.Nf3 Nc6 and 1. d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 c5 4.cxd5 exd5 5.Nf3 Nc6 6.e3 Nf6), with terrific explanations of how tempi are won and lost in these positions, and what paradoxical effects that has; (c) a thorough treatment of Tarrasch-like positions in other openings (e.g., English and Catalan). Die Tarrasch-Verteidigung should be useful for any player over about 1700, and might well excite the interest of grandmasters. The prose in this book is brilliant, but a facility in German is really necessary to appreciate it.

Another book in this series which is written with a lot of heart and enthusiasm is The King's Gambit for the Creative Aggressor, by Thomas Johansson. This time the book is written in a dual language format, with English first and then a German equivalent. Johansson's work is a complete repertoire for White in the King's Gambit, suggesting specialized systems, but also offering quite a few second choices along the way. Johansson has tried to provide "relatively new, less known variations which give both players, but especially White...plenty of room to find new ideas." The book is carefully researched, borrowing from numerous sources (notably Joe Gallagher's and Colin Leach's works), and tends to offer modern interpretations, such as 4.b3 after 1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Nf3 h6, and 5.b3 after 3.Nf3 d6 4.Bc4 h6, although in this line he also analyses 5.d3 g5 6.g3 in depth. This is a good point to introduce the next book on my list, GM Neil McDonald's The King's Gambit (a Batsford Opening Guide), written in the same year (1998). McDonald is a fine writer who presents a more balanced view of the opening. In this case, his approach might be called more 'conventional' than Johansson's, providing a lot of common sense, but not always commenting on unusual moves. In the variations before us, McDonald doesn't even mention 5.b3, for example, although Johansson gives games going back to 1978 and 1980. But in the 5.d3 g5 6.g3 lines (a Gallagher favorite), McDonald features a game Johansson seems unaware of, Gallagher-Kuzmin, Biel 1995. After 6...g4 7.Nd4 f3 8.c3 Nc6!, McDonald mentions 9.Na3ÿ! (as Gallagher played) and 9.Qa4. Without the game to refer to, Johannson analyses 9.Qb3 Ne5 10.Bf4 (unconvincing), and 9.Bf4 Nxd4 10.cxd4 Bg7 11.Qb3 Qe7 12.Nc3 c6 13.d5 b5 14.Bxb5, which seems to give a genuinely strong attack, but leaves a lot of options unexamined along the way. In the 3.Nf3 h6 4.b3 line, Johannsson investigates 4...d6, 4...d5, 4...Be7, 4...Nf6, 4...Nc6, and 4...Ne7, some of these at length, although the quality of the analysis sometimes appears shaky to me. Since he is covering the entire opening and not just a repertoire, McDonald gives only one game after 4.b3, with 4...d5. Interestingly, there is another quick divergence at that point: after 5.exd5, Johannson only deals with 5...Be7 6.Bb5+ c6 (and a note on 6.Bc4), whereas McDonald's featured game Fedorov-Svidler, Pula 1997 goes 5...Nf6 6.Bb2 Be7 7.Nc3 0-0 with play which is not at all similar to the 5...Be7 line.

I am not a King's Gambit player and am not qualified to assess these books. They both appear to be good efforts which a King's Gambit player of just about any playing strength would want to own; the odd thing is that there is so much literature on this opening, and yet it still isn't played a great deal on any level, as far as I can tell! A casual reading of both works suggests that there are also a large number of completely unresolved lines in the King's Gambit, so perhaps we can expect more work on this slightly eccentric topic in the near future. Since the Kania books are not available from many dealers in English-speaking countries, by the way, let me supply an address and email: Kania Schachverlag, Richard-Wagner-Strasse 43, D-71701 Shwieberdingen, Germany. email:

Lastly, we look at two reprints of classic instructional books, both converted into algebraic notation from their original descriptive-notation editions. Batsford's new edition of Logical Chess: Move by Move, written in 1957 by Irving Chernev, is a collection of 33 games with a famous player on at least one side of the board. Chernev's idea was to 'explain' every move of every game, mostly with a paragraph or more of prose, and sometimes (but not often) with supporting analysis. Since he has to justify every move, the book is replete with advice, principles, axioms, and tips to guide one's play. These are at the most elementary level, and the first thing to realize about Logical Chess is that it is definitely for beginners and players who are just starting to learn about development, weak squares, the centre, standard attacking ideas, and the like. In many ways, it would a wonderful 'first' book (or first 'serious' book, after the ones which teach the rules and elementary mates, for example), and a nice gift for a young player just taking up chess. For one thing, the games are clearcut and instructive. In one of the Dvoretsky books, a point is made about classical games being more instructive than modern ones, not because they are better, but because the ideas are so simple and because players allowed their opponents clear, one-sided advantages. This is very true of Chernev's games, which are almost all examples of miserable defence by the loser, or of utter lack of understanding (by modern standards). But precisely for that reason, they contain powerful thematic lessons for the beginning player. My only warning would be that the impressionable student should be gently reminded by a friend or mentor that most of the rules and principles Chernev so dogmatically states do not actually have any consistent validity in real-world chess, so that the book should be looked at as a way to get started thinking about positions, not as a reliable guideline to what chess is really about. With that proviso, I would recommend it heartily to anyone just starting to explore the game, and therefore, to scholastic chess teachers as well.

A much more advanced instructional classic is Vladimir Vukovic's The Art of Attack, originally written in 1965, and rather enthusiastically revised and corrected by John Nunn in this new edition. Cadogan/Everyman has done the chess world a favour by reprinting this book, which is still cited more than any other by players asked about their favourite book on the attack. Vukovic classifies attacks and attacking principles into comprehensible categories, and has the art of explaining the key features of an attack in a way which the student will not forget. His analysis is both deep and original; it led to revised opinions of some of the most famous games in history. The reader can review this book more-or-less casually and learn a lot just from it's diagrammed examples and prose; but he or she can also spend hours immersed in the more complex notes Vukovic provides, and thus learn even more.

I have to admit that John Nunn's numerous corrections of Vukovic's analysis left me a little uncomfortable at first. Nunn says of his various 'analytical footnotes': "I hope readers will not form the opinion that Vukovic's analysis was especially unsound--this is certainly not the case." But in fact, the corrections (in themselves flawless, as far as I can see) are so ubiquitous, and so often obvious in hindsight, that one starts to wonder (a) whose book this is; and (b) how a book on the attack can have so many tactical oversights! In a way, however, this is a good lesson for us all. The chess world has changed dramatically, however much we might not like to admit it. Analysis by strong players today is in general more accurate and thorough than that by legends of the past. Of course, some of this is due to the use of analytical engines (playing programs), and Nunn has no doubt benefited greatly from their problem-spotting and confidence-raising attributes. But the increased dynamism and complexity of modern chess, along with the simple fact of heightened competitiveness, has both improved published analysis and subjected it to more stringent criticism. Furthermore, the errors in Vukovic's book to some extent undermine his attempts to philosophize and generalize about the attack (and the history of the attack). The modern attacker (exemplified by Kasparov and Shirov) ultimately relies on few or no principles, but rather emphasizes the concrete and analytical to an extent previously unknown. Of course, intuition also plays a major role, but even intuition is informed by calculation and experience more than by what used to be called 'principle'. Perhaps Vukovic's analysis was not 'especially unsound' for it's day, but it certainly would be now. Nunn's corrections help us to focus on the beauty and complexity of Vukovic's examples, and at the same time to be skeptical of his often-dogmatic claims about both individual players as attackers and why in general an attack 'must' succeed or fail. That is certainly a healthy thing if our goal is really to improve our attacking skills.

To conclude, I think that The Art of Attack in Chess would be enjoyable to players in a range from about 1500 to 2600, and useful for players from about 1500 to 2200. Beneath 1500, my guess is that getting extremely used to solving tactical problems (from one of those '1001 Combinations' sort of books) would be the appropriate preparation for a later study of Vukovic.

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