Chess24 Jan London

John Watson Book Review (29)

Coping with the Flood, Part 2

Chess Informant 78; Z Krnic, editor; 370 pages; ST Chess Informant, 2000

Tal-Botvinnik 1960; Mikhail Tal; 218 pages; 5th Edition; Russell Enterprises, 2000

The Hedgehog System; Mihai Suba; 156 pages; Batsford, 2000

Sizilianisch Im Geiste des Igels; Frank Zeller; 303 pages; Schachverlag Kania, 2000

Schachweltmeister; Frank Stiefel; Schachverlag Kania, 2000

Der Letzte Fehler; Klaus Trautman; 158 pages; Schachverlag Kania, 1999

Eine Reise Uber Das Schachbrett; Klaus Trautman; Schachverlag Kania, 1997

100 Greatest Chess Games of the 20th Century, Ranked; Andrew Soltis; 265 pages; McFarland, 2000

Corr Database 2000,Correspondence Games; CD-ROM; ChessBase, 2000

Basic Principles of Chess Strategy, Vol 2; A Bartashnikov; CD-ROM; ChessBase 2000

Sveshnikov Sicilian; Dorian Rogozenko; CD-ROM; ChessBase, 2000

100 Jahre Schach; CD-ROM; ChessBase, 2000

ChessBase Magazine #77; CD-ROM; ChessBase, 2000

The Traxler Counterattack; Dan Heisman; CD-ROM; Pickard &Son, 2000

NIC 55: The Ultimate Truth; CD-ROM; New in Chess, 2000

Chess Informant 78; Z Krnic, editor; 370 pages; ST Chess Informant, 2000

Tal-Botvinnik 1960; Mikhail Tal; 218 pages; 5th Edition; Russell Enterprises, 2000

The Hedgehog System; Mihai Suba; 156 pages; Batsford, 2000

Sizilianisch Im Geiste des Igels; Frank Zeller; 303 pages; Schachverlag Kania, 2000

Schachweltmeister; Frank Stiefel; Schachverlag Kania, 2000

Der Letzte Fehler; Klaus Trautman; 158 pages; Schachverlag Kania, 1999

Eine Reise Uber Das Schachbrett; Klaus Trautman; Schachverlag Kania, 1997

100 Greatest Chess Games of the 20th Century, Ranked; Andrew Soltis; 265 pages; McFarland, 2000

Corr Database 2000,Correspondence Games; CD-ROM; ChessBase, 2000

Basic Principles of Chess Strategy, Vol 2; A Bartashnikov; CD-ROM; ChessBase 2000

Sveshnikov Sicilian; Dorian Rogozenko; CD-ROM; ChessBase, 2000

100 Jahre Schach; CD-ROM; ChessBase, 2000

ChessBase Magazine #77; CD-ROM; ChessBase, 2000

The Traxler Counterattack; Dan Heisman; CD-ROM; Pickard &Son, 2000

NIC 55: The Ultimate Truth; CD-ROM; New in Chess, 2000

This will be my last column with a huge set of reviews, at least for a long time, although after a break, I'd like to continue reviewing one or two individual books at a time. I have several reasons for this, the time commitment being the most important one. In the next column, I hope to look back upon these columns, and address some issues which have arisen.

My MCO/NCO comparison attracted more responses than usual. One reader noticed the large difference of material devoted to the popular 4...a6 variation of the Slav (1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 a6). Indeed, NCO devotes a whole page exclusively to this move, considering 9 responses and 4 in detail. MCO has only a 4-line footnote that considers only one response, 5.Bg5. And although MCO often reaches conclusions similar to NCO's despite less material, that is not true in this case. MCO claims a small advantage to White after 5.Bg5; but both NCO and current theory disagree, NCO offering 2 paths to equality.

This is an extreme example of my point that NCO tends to be more detailed in contemporary openings, especially those arising from 1.d4, whereas MCO tends to have more coverage of historically important 1.e4 e5 lines. While 4...a6's popularity is fairly recent, it has still been important for at least 5 years. A possible explanation for the discrepancy in these contemporary 1.d4 openings would be that, aside from deFirmian and Fedorowicz, the MCO authors are less involved with active tournament play and opening trends.

A chess teacher wrote to say that NCO was useless for students, due to its lack of explanations and readability. I would say instead that there are a least two types of students in this regard: those who are information-oriented and want to know as much as they can about the lines they play or intend to play, and those who blanch at crowded notes and trees of variations without words. Among very young students or adults who play fairly casually, it's likely that the second group is more numerous; as players develop more, they probably gravitate more to the first category.

Finally, I have been using both books recently to see what 'general' theory thinks about a variation I'm addressing. In doing that, I realized that I had neglected to mention that NCO lists its ultimate assessment for primary lines at the end of each row, a handy feature shared by the Encyclopedias and Informant pamphlets. Thus, for an overview, one needn't read the crowded footnotes to see how a top-level line is assessed. In MCO, this is really not an issue, since its footnotes tend to be about one line, with large type. In general, no one wrote anything which strongly contradicted the gist of the review.

On to the books. I will often limit myself to general impressions, and hope that it's obvious when I've looked at something more carefully.

For me, Chess Informants are so essential that I sometimes take them for granted. But for all the wonderful contributions of high tech magazines and Internet information sources, the Informant is still the king of chess publications for top-rank players and dedicated tournament players everywhere. Whyÿ Above all, for the hundreds of pages of top-flight games, annotated (often extremely thoroughly) by, among others, the world's very best players. Informant #78 has 535 games, classified by opening and indexed by players and commentators. A shortened list of big-name annotators includes Adams(13 games), Anand(2), Gelfland(5), Karpov(5), Kasparov(7), Khalifman(4), Kramnik(5), Leko(5), Morozevich(6), Shirov(8), and so forth. Other standard Informant features are selected combinations and endgames, tournament crosstables, and the top 10 games and novelties from the last issue. Aspiring young players should hook up with this publication as soon as possible.

I don't want to spend much time on a fifth edition of a book, but 'Tal-Botvinnik 1960' by Mikhail Tal was one of the very favourite books of my childhood, and remains one of the greatest chess books ever written. The warmth and frankness of Tal's writing and his fascinating notes to this classic World Championship match make wonderful reading. The translation, which I have no competence to judge, is by Hannon Russell, and my only minor gripe with the book is the existence of move typos (I ran into one almost immediately). It would be so easy to put the games and notes into a move-checking program and export the results.

What else is there to sayÿ Anyone who hasn't already read this book should get a copy.

There are two recent books on the Hedgehog System, but they cover different openings! Mihai Suba 's book is a compilation of notes and games about the system that is his lifelong love. The book deals with what I would call the 'Hedgehog Proper', which includes c4, Nf3 and a g3/Bg2 Fianchetto for White, ...c5,...Nf6, ...e6, ..b6 and, after White plays d4, Black follows with ...cxd4, ...a6 and ...d6. Black normally puts his bishops on b7 and e7, and his knights on f6 and d7, but Suba also discusses double fianchetto systems and a ..Nc6 option.

In the Introduction, he says 'This book was designed for both study and entertainment-easy to read and hard to forget'. Whether it fully succeeds I'm not sure, but there are some wonderful comments and stories. Speaking of Ratmir Kholmov's tendency to 'get altogether drunk' with greatly reduced chess powers, Suba talks about 'a long list of stories and jokes arising from his habit', relating one passed on to him by Karpov: "The game starts 1.e4 Nc6 2.f4 b6 3.Nf3 e5 4.fxe5. At this point Ratmir plunges into deep thought, while whispering 'I've played the Grunfeld all my life and never got into such a bad position! "

Suba's annotations are both insightful and lively, yet the overall plan of the book is off-putting. Even Suba cannot much lighten up a format with imbedded, mostly unannotated games, or, similarly, raw scores piled up after one another at the end of each main game. To the end of my reviewing days, apparently, I will have to protest against this facile and increasingly meaningless use of the 'complete game' format, produced by the direct cutting and pasting of ChessBase games. I couldn't begin to find the specific positions I was looking for, some of which seemed to appear in different locations. Suba discusses move order issues at several points, but without coming to any conclusions. In one place he makes a useful statistical comparison between early ...d6, ...a6, and ...Be7 orders; but elsewhere, using another set of statistics about precisely the same orders, he employs a fallacious statistical method and gets an absurd result.

The point is that the book should have used a traditional tree variation structure, with transpositions noted. Barring that, the index should be very comprehensive, with transpositions. Amazingly, however, there is no index at all.

My conclusion: for general understanding of the ideas and practice of the Hedgehog, this is a very good book by an insightful, entertaining author who very much knows the subject matter. Unfortunately, if you want a specific repertoire to play, or an easy way to look up lines, you will be disappointed.

This brings me to the other Hedgehog book by Frank Zeller's 'Sizilianisch im Geiste der Igels' ('The Sicilian in the Spirit of the Hedgehog'). This and the next few books published by Kania Verlag, all require at least a decent understanding of German (what might be called an 'intermediate' level). Fortunately, quite a number of TWIC readers (especially on the Continent) have this ability. This particular book can be read as only a theory book, although one would miss the great deal of introductory prose and very reflective general comments. This book IS organized systematically by variation.

Zeller's book doesn't talk about Suba's Anti-English systems; rather, it deals with how Black can play just about every Sicilian variation in a Hedgehog fashion. This includes the Najdorf, Scheveningen, English Attack, Classical Be2 Variations, ...Qb6 variations, and especially the Paulsen/Taimanov Sicilians, to which more than half the book is devoted. The requirements of this Hedgehog are the same as Suba's from the Black side; from White's point of view, e4 is always in and c4 often isn't, g3 is only sometimes played, and the exchange d4, ...cxd4 has always occurred.

This book combines a great deal of original analysis (sometimes a whole subvariation; or several sections of an irregular line) and a good dose of philosophy. Any Sicilian player who wants to add to his repertoire or someone who would like to add a Sicilian can benefit from this book. Because of the obscure and irregular lines in the second half, you could throw your opponent off from theory at an early stage. Highly recommended.

Frank Stiefel's 'Schachweltmeister' is subtitled 'Was Sie Schon Immer Uber Schachweltmeister Wissen Wollten, aber Nie zu Fragen Wagten' (loosely: 'What you always wanted to know about the world chess champions, but were afraid to ask', a la Woody Allen). This is a comical book by a graphic artist whose wonderful caricatures are well known in the chess world. Here he presents an amazing number of caricatures and silly drawings about chess, more than 1 per page for the sections with prose (which are most of the book). Mixed in are lengthy accounts of the 'world champion's' lives (Philidor to Kasparov), including fantasy 'interviews' and imaginary conversations, such as the one in the first chapter, conducted between Goethe and Philidor in Faust-like poetry. I haven't had time to read the whole book yet, but most collectors will want a copy if only for the marvelous drawings. Fans fluent in German well will enjoy the detailed dose of chess history presented in a silly and original manner.

My favourite Kania book is Klaus Trautman's 'Der Letzte Fehler; 128 Irrtumliche Aufgegeben Schachpartie' ('The Last Mistake: 128 Mistakenly Resigned Games'). This is an intriguing collection of games in which one player resigned in a position which was either won or drawn by him; or, in a few cases, in which he had simply missed the way to survive, with somewhat worse chances, rather than resigning. These are extremely entertaining positions, and not obvious ones. The list of those who made this 'last error' includes older heroes like Steinitz, Tarrasch, Carlos Torre, and Flohr, as well as modern ones like Tsheshkovsky, deFirmian, Atalik, Ivanchuk, and Kasparov (famously, to Deep Blue). Alas, I think that there is too much storytelling for one who doesn't understand German.

I should also mention that Trautman has an earlier excellent work, 'Eine Reise Uber Das Schachbrett' ('A Journey Over the Chessboard'), which is subtitled 'A Systematic Textbook of Combinations'. One of the best combinations books that I've seen, and very well researched.

The insert to Andrew Soltis' '100 Greatest Chess Games of the 20th Century, Ranked' reveals that Soltis is the 'author of more than 90 books', and it really shows, in the tradition of other chess writers with 80 books or more (I can think of three others). Originally, I was so upset with this apparently cobbled-together book that I had written over 4 pages of criticism, and then realized that it wasn't worth it. I'll try to summarize just a few of my objections instead.

The author has a system of assigning points by 'criteria' which he then seems to ignore entirely. For one thing, that a game is well known or famous, not one of his criteria, clearly counts for more than the stated criteria. Soltis, as indicated by his oversized bibliography, apparently limits himself mainly (whollyÿ) to other's lists/selections, Informant lists, and games collections of famous players. He says that he doesn't attempt to balance the selection according to period, but then includes almost no wins by the best-known contemporary grandmasters (e.g., 1 Anand loss, 1 Shirov loss, 1 Ivanchuk loss, nothing by Kramnik, etc.). He calls Ivanchuk a 'supertalent' and 'genius', by the way-I wonder what game could have given him that ideaÿ Any serious attempt to really use his 'criteria' would replace many of his duller selections by the brilliant efforts of these players.

His well-known dislike of Karpov provides a stark example of personal prejudice. Karpov is represented by 3 losses and not a single win. Pathetically, Soltis tries to confuse the issue by including a Karpov win in the Introduction as an example of what couldn't make the book, claiming that Karpov played like a 'machine'. Then he creates a 'strawman' by saying 'Of all Anatoly Karpov's games, this [reject-JW] may be the most impressive for its accuracy and finesse' (a ridiculous statement, by the way), the implication being that any other win from the 'machine' couldn't qualify. This from the man who said something like: 'Who can remember any of Karpov's winsÿ' in a 'Karpov Forum' specifically designed to trash Karpov himself.

Soltis claims that a game which is unsound or with poor opposition (meaning the play of the loser, not the rating) shouldn't be included, but then includes both types, where it takes clear mistakes (sometimes numerous and not very obscure ones) for the opponent to lose. He ignores awe-inspiring positional masterpieces containing several profound moves and sustained brilliance in favour of a handful (if that) of lesser positional efforts by famous older players.

His #1 game of the century is Berliner's famous correspondence game against Estrin. This of course included vast amounts of thinking time ('weeks' just for the initial idea, according to Soltis) and no constraints on moving the pieces to test ideas. I think that's fine, but then did Soltis really make a serious effort to find the other postal masterpiecesÿ His categories of 'originality', 'opposition [play in the game]', 'soundness (/accuracy/difficulty'), 'breadth/depth', and 'overall aesthetic quality' are ones which would greatly favour the correspondence game, and I suspect that there would be at least 30 or 40 of them if Soltis took his own categories seriously (I believe there were only 3).

I said that I'd limit myself. To finish with, a comparison with Burgess, Nunn and Emms' 'Mammoth Book of the World's Greatest Chess Games' is interesting. They too relied upon games by top-level players and famous games, but they also had one of their 3 criteria as 'historical significance'. More importantly, they had deep and original analysis for every game; Soltis' notes are superficial and as far as I can see, completely unoriginal. The main reason I can see to get this book would its set of top-flight games; but then why not get a similar set of thoroughly annotated games by higher-quality authors (the just-mentioned 'Mammoth' book), for a fraction of the costÿ As with all Mcfarland books, the production quality is superb, but a closing comparison might be useful: Can you imagine Soltis' deeply-researched 'Soviet Chess' in a cheap pamphlet or newsprint formÿ I can't. Can you imagine this book in that wayÿ Easily.

Next we have a series of ChessBase chess CDs. The obvious generality here is that these products are appropriate for the ever-increasing number of players who use databases. In particular, these discs are compatible with ChessBase, which can be purchased or, alternatively, one can use ChessBase Light, as limited version of the program which ChessBase distributes for free.

Some people (especially young ones) prefer to learn things via the more visual and dynamic world of computer instruction. For those, Bartashnikov's 'Basic Principles of Chess Strategy II' is the computer equivalent of a standard strategy book, which covers both intermediate concepts and some basics for post-beginners. The clarity of explanations, graphics, and ease of use should make this an attractive learning tool for that range of player. Topics include weak and strong pawns and squares, outposts, overprotection, open and semi-open files, activity, good and bad bishops, etc.

ChessBase's 'Corr Database 2000' is a database of 295,503 correspondence games from 1804 to the present (obviously heavily skewed to recent times). I don't have the knowledge to compare this with other correspondence databases (which I don't have). But I have been using this as a general resource and am very happy with it. There are player, event, annotator, and opening keys, along with the usual ChessBase indices for tactics, strategies, endgames and the like. I imagine that current correspondence players would particularly like to have access to correspondence theory and perhaps their opponents' games.

'Sveshnikov Sicilian', by Dorian Rogozenko is another recent ChessBase product on CD. There an extensive opening tree with access to games on its branches, training positions, and a large database of Sveshnikov Variation games. To me, the 'texts' are probably the most important elements of these opening CDs-they give an overview, describe the relative worth of various lines, and include links to the most important, usually annotated, games. The CD is in both German and English. The English is quite shaky, but one can always understand what's being communicated, which is the point. I wish that I could compare this with other Sveshnikov sources, but I'm not familiar with them. What seems clear is that those who prefer computer study and a lot of games should consider giving this a try.

'100 Jahre Schach' is a very recent ChessBase CD. It is definitely limited to those who can read German. It is basically a fun and instructive look at the main chess events of the last century in the context of the events (outside of chess) at the time, all on a year-to-year basis. The sections on World History are huge (maybe excessively so), and aside from the many chess happenings, there is a short biography of 95 great players hyperlinked to the text. For me, the best thing about the biographies is the inclusion of excellent, large photos of all the players. There are 144 top games, annotated by strong players like Lutz and Mueller, along with some by Kasparov!

Finally, we have ChessBase Magazine #77, another CD. This contains 1839 recent games, a large number annotated, as usual, by top players like Anand, Kramnik and the like. But what I'd like to talk about here is that this really is a Magazine, the best electronic one in the world, much as I believe that New In Chess Magazine is the best physically printed magazine. For one thing, there are always entertaining multimedia reports (videos), usually on major tournaments (CBM 'Extra' also has videos, e.g., the latest one on Linares). This issue had the Israeli Premier League Cup, with videos of the event (e.g., Kasparov walking around and looking at the boards, interviews with top players, etc.) and 'Fritz and Giants' man-and-computer tournament, with video interviews (hyperlinked to games) with the likes of Shirov, Leko, Kramnik, and other 'Giants'.

There is a section on tactics by GM Baburin, an extensive one on Middlegames by GM Peter Wells (dealing with 'Minor Piece Exchanges'), and 53 very-thoroughly annotated endgames by GM Joachim Hecht, organized according to material balance with texts. 'Correspondence Chess' is a set of over 400 games, some annotated.

Opening theory is increasingly well treated. There is an openings overview by Stohl, a Semi-Slav survey by Lutz, and in the 'Theory' section, one finds surveys on the Najdorf 6.f3, the Paulsen/Taimanov (with a full repertoire!), the Classical (Be2) Dragon (also with a repertoire), and a Leningrad Dutch 4.c3 survey.

The point is that ChessBase Magazine is not just a database with annotated games, but a true magazine with assorted columns and features.

I just received 'The Traxler Counterattack' by Dan Heisman, a CD put out by Pickard &Son. This CD is every author's dream. Instead of working out all sorts of complicated lines with beautiful subvariations and then having to skip them for reasons of space, Heisman is able to fit everything in! I have corresponded with the author on and off and read one of his books, so I'm sure that you'll get your money's worth. Well, of course, if you happen to be interested in the Traxler! (The opening referred to is 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.Ng5 Bc5!ÿ, by the way).

Heisman says that 50% of the material is new analysis, and he has used a computer together with his judgment to tear apart these lines. I was going to compare his analysis with the article in NIC Yearbook #55, but he'd already gotten all the material (and some newer ideas) from the authors! This may be the most thorough work ever on a particular subject! The only sad thing I believe I discovered was that, after greatly expanding the analysis in that NIC-recommended line, White according to Heisman has a variety of ways to keep an advantage at different junctures. I guess the issue comes down to how big that advantage is. Anyway, anyone interested in the Traxler from either side will be getting a truly, truly definitive work!

I just got my NIC Yearbook 55: 'The Ultimate Truth' CD from New in Chess, although I think it's been out for a while. It has 77977 games, a lot of surveys (the latter are not convertible to ChessBase, although most of the games are). Many of these games are annotated--some pretty thoroughly, other with merged games and perhaps one suggestion. If you count the latter, there are more than 1000 such games; but the real prize are the surveys, with authors like Khalifman, Gelfland, Belyavsky and others examining variations in great detail (hence 'The Ultimate Truth'). These surveys include things like the Bg5 Najdorf with 7...Nc6, Rubinstein's ...dxe4 in the French, the French Winawer, The Berlin Ruy Lopez, Queen's Gambit Exchange Variation, Rb1 Grunfeld and others. The older surveys for each topic are also included. In general, NIC Yearbooks are for opening fans who want maximum detail.

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