Chess24 Jan Nimzo

John Watson Book Review (26)

Endings, Endings, Endings

Practical Rook Endings; Viktor Korchnoi; 98 pages; Edition Olms, 1999

Winning Endgame Strategy; Alexander Belyavsky & Adrian Mikhalchishin; 28 pages; Batsford/Chrysalis, 2000

Endgame Virtuoso; Vassily Smyslov; 176 pages; Cadogan, 1997

Secrets of Rook Endings; John Nunn; 352 pages; Gambit, 1999 (revised edition)

Chess Endgame Lessons; Pal Benko; 254 pages; self-published, 1989

Grandmaster Secrets: Endings; Andrew Soltis; 214 pages; Thinker's Press, 1997

The Survival Guide to Rook Endings; John Emms; 160 pages; Everyman, 1999

Endgame Secrets; Christopher Lutz; 175 pages; Batsford/Chrysalis, 1999

Improve Your Endgame Play; Glenn Flear; 160 pages; Everyman, 2000

Secrets of Pawn Endings; Karsten Mueller & Frank Lamprecht; 288 pages; Everyman, 2000

Endgame Strategy; Mikhail Shereshevsky; 218 pages; Cadogan, 1985 (reprinted 1998)

Basic Endgame Strategy, Rooks and Queens; Bill Robertie; 139 pages; Cardoza, 1998

639 Essential Endgame Positions; Eric Schiller; 392 pages; Cardoza, 2000

Pandolfini's Endgame Course; Bruce Pandolfini; 320 pages; Simon & Schuster, 1988

Endgame Challenge!; John Hall; 222 pages; Hays Publishing, 1995

Improve Your Endgame!; Eric Schiller; 84 pages, Chess Enterprises , 1997

Practical Rook Endings; Viktor Korchnoi; 98 pages; Edition Olms, 1999

Winning Endgame Strategy; Alexander Belyavsky & Adrian Mikhalchishin; 28 pages; Batsford/Chrysalis, 2000

Endgame Virtuoso; Vassily Smyslov; 176 pages; Cadogan, 1997

Secrets of Rook Endings; John Nunn; 352 pages; Gambit, 1999 (revised edition)

Chess Endgame Lessons; Pal Benko; 254 pages; self-published, 1989

Grandmaster Secrets: Endings; Andrew Soltis; 214 pages; Thinker's Press, 1997

The Survival Guide to Rook Endings; John Emms; 160 pages; Everyman, 1999

Endgame Secrets; Christopher Lutz; 175 pages; Batsford/Chrysalis, 1999

Improve Your Endgame Play; Glenn Flear; 160 pages; Everyman, 2000

Secrets of Pawn Endings; Karsten Mueller & Frank Lamprecht; 288 pages; Everyman, 2000

Endgame Strategy; Mikhail Shereshevsky; 218 pages; Cadogan, 1985 (reprinted 1998)

Basic Endgame Strategy, Rooks and Queens; Bill Robertie; 139 pages; Cardoza, 1998

639 Essential Endgame Positions; Eric Schiller; 392 pages; Cardoza, 2000

Pandolfini's Endgame Course; Bruce Pandolfini; 320 pages; Simon & Schuster, 1988

Endgame Challenge!; John Hall; 222 pages; Hays Publishing, 1995

Improve Your Endgame!; Eric Schiller; 84 pages, Chess Enterprises , 1997

Those of you who have wondered why I haven't produced a review recently (all 4 of you!) will perhaps understand when they look at the list above. Even with all that time, I barely managed to scratch the surface of many of these books (why I'd go around scratching surfaces is another matter); others I took a special interest in and read maybe a third of! In other words, what follows will largely be impressions rather than comprehensive assessments.

The books are ordered according to their author's status (more or less): Grandmasters who are or have been among the world's best (4); 'Ordinary' Grandmasters (! well, you know what I mean) (6); International Masters (1); Others (5). These categories by no means correlate with the quality of the books, although with prominent exceptions, they tend to reflect the technicality of the books, and thus their intended audience. I have tried to represent as many publishers as possible; I'm sorry if I've neglected those who failed to send me review copies, or the rich literature in languages other than English. Some of the books listed are, however, written or available in other languages (mostly German). Also, there are remarkably many other recent endgame books, as well as older ones, most of which I simply don't have, a few which I found less interesting.

Speaking of publishers, I'd like to mention some web pages or, failing that, the email addresses of publishers who I've covered in this column. The Web pages tend to list books put out by that publisher, other chess books sold at that site, and sometimes, short reviews of books. Please alert me if I have gotten the information wrong or have neglected you. The following is (hopefully) in alphabetical order. Please skip to the book reviews if you aren't interested:

Batsford/Chrysalis: http://www.batsford.com/chess/Index.html; Cardoza: http://www.chesscity.com/books/books.html; ChessBase (Germany): http://www.chessbase.com; Chessco/Thinker's Press: http://www.chessco.com; Chess Digest: http://www.chessdigest.com; Chess Enterprises: http://www.chessworks.com (for books); Chess Informant: http://www.sahovski.co.yu/index.html; ChessPublishing: http://www.chesspublishing.com; Dorobanov International: http://www.dorobanov.com; Reinhold Dreier: http://members.aol.com/DreierR/ ; Everyman (US distributor): http://www.globe-pequot.com; Gambit: http://www.gambitchess.co.uk; GM-Schach: http://www.gmschach.de; Grandmaster Videos: http://www.chess.it/gmvideo.htm; Hays Publishing (email): ldhays@mail.fullnet.net; Inside Chess: http://www.insidechess.com; Kania: http://www.kaniaverlag.de/ ; McFarland: http://www.mcfarlandpub.com (click on 'sports and recreation'); New in Chess: http://www.newinchess.com; Edition Olms: http://www.olms.de ; Pickard: http://www.chesscentral.com; Russell Enterprises: http://www.chesscafe.com; Schach: http://www.schach-daniel.com .

Back to endgame books. I'd like to begin by mentioning two not-so-old endgame authors and some references which the reader might do well to be aware of. Some years ago, Jon Speelman wrote two brilliant books called 'Analysing the Endgame' and 'Endgame Preparation'. I should also mention Edmar Mednis, whose books on endings are the best thing he does. For general references, the Informant people have 'The Encyclopedia of Chess Endings'; and ChessBase has several endgame resources, including tablebases which generate and work out every possible ending with a specified number of pieces. There are also a number of theoretical works, e.g., Averbach's 5-volume set on endgames. Finally, I really like 'Batsford Chess Endings', an older compilation which I hope you can find a copy of.

Well, let's get started. The first book on the list, Korchnoi's, is short but fascinating. He begins with a review of 'basic' rook-and-pawn endings, and then shows a number of practical endings from his own praxis, with incredible depth of analysis. In fairly small print and with few diagrams, he uses 4 pages on an apparently simple ending, 7 pages on an Adams-Korchnoi ending, and a colossal 25 pages on just one rook ending, his incredible struggle versus Karpov in their Baguio 1978 match. I should mention Olms' typically high production value, which justifies the book as a collector's item. Clearly, this is a brilliant book, to be treasured by lovers of the game, but one which is well beyond the understanding of the average player. As usual, such real treasures can't possibly sell as well as the mediocre popular works. This one deserves to, although it's $20 price for 98 pages will justifiably discourage potential buyers.

'Winning Endgame Strategy' is the successor to 'Winning Endgame Technique', a book I haven't seen. With a theme we will hear from a majority of authors, Belyavsky and Mikhalchishin, very strong players, say: 'We have devoted a little more attention to methods of play…rather than concrete cases, which is a fault, on the whole, of all books on the endgame." We will see variants on this theme in most of the books on this list! Overall, I think that this is an excellent book, with terrific practical examples and no mistakes that I can find. There are many corrections to the received wisdom about famous endings, and absorbing analysis of games between famous players. Each section begins with simpler positions and ends with more difficult ones, and in the case of some chapters, with exercises. Carefully studying a book like this is arguably the best way to become a good endgame player, but many students will be looking for more structure, i.e., a series of standard elementary endings to begin each chapter. I can't see this as a first book, but anyone who has gone through a very specific course of elementary theory will do well to get a book like this to take their next step into endings study.

'Endgame Virtuoso' is a very original book from Smyslov, one of the great modern players. He is renowned for his endgame play, although I should add that he is underrated for his middlegame attacking skills. This book contains 122 endgames from his own games (how many people could find that many decent examplesÿ), and 40 from other players' games. I don't know how useful this book will be to the average player, since so many of the endings are won by superior calculation, and there is little thematic unity among them. For the advanced student, these are instructive and realistic endgames; otherwise, its main value comes from the way in which this book gives us insight into the mind of one of the greats.

I can't say much about the 1999 version of John Nunn's 'Secrets of Rook Endings', because it is so specialized: there are 342 pages of rook-and-pawn versus rook. Nunn generated every possible ending of this type using a computer program, thus ensuring an error-free book(!). His task was to find themes of interest in this mass of material, and an incredible finding he cites is that there are 209 examples of mutual zugzwang in these endings, all of which he lists. This is a massive, futuristic project, but I'm not sure how many people will find it compelling, the exception being endgame fanatics who want to achieve certainty about these deceptively complex endings.

'Chess Endgame Lessons' is one of my favorites in this list. This is a collection of 10 years worth of Benko's first-rate endgame columns in Chess Life, along with 30 of his games which moved into the endgame stage, with detailed annotations. I grew up with these columns, which address nearly every conceivable aspect of endgame theory, always thematically unified so that even inexperienced players can learn the basics of each type of ending. But there's plenty for the advanced player as well. Benko is also a brilliant composer, and I suspect that he ranks very highly among all living endgame connoisseurs. I strongly recommend this book (if you can find it-it's self-published). I have also heard that there is a more recent collection of his later columns; I haven't seen it, but I'm sure that one could never go wrong with this brilliant teacher.

Many of the books that follow are explicitly for the novice and lower-rated student (I can almost see the ears perking up here). It's worth it to keep this in mind as I discuss them, for I will tend to concentrate upon details which you may not feel are relevant to your needs (and rightly so). Furthermore, I read these books more superficially, so if I find errors, they come from a brief reading and are therefore likely to appear elsewhere in the book.

Andy Soltis' 'Grandmaster Secrets: Endings' is the first of such books. Soltis uses a 'Socratic Dialogue' between a teacher ('Noah') and his student ('Pat') to make his points. The Introduction quotes the publisher as saying 'The problem with endgame books' is usually that they are 'terribly designed and poorly written'. Soltis adds that the information is 'often arcane, the type too small, the wording confusing' and so forth. In the first Chapter, Noah tells Pat that '70% of the information [in endgame books] is impractical.' We will get very used to these claims, and begin to wonder what those terrible generic 'endgame books' are, since most of our authors claim that they're avoiding everyone else's errors!

This is a very popular book and deservedly so, in that the reader is truly entertained as he is introduced to a range of endgame concepts. My main objection is that Pat is constantly told that he doesn't need to know concrete endings, and is given a lot of simplistic generalities, some of which I don't even think are true. It is claimed that Grandmasters don't know that many positions by heart, something which my experience strongly contradicts. As to the value of learning concrete theory, one of the first positions I looked at in the book (I always look at rook-and-pawn endings first) was the following: White: K,f5; R,h7; P,e5 Black: K,e8; R,a1. Soltis gives 1.Kf6! Re1!, and explains: "Not 1…Rf1+ÿ 2.Ke6 K-moves 3.Rh8+ followed by Ke7 and e6, again headed to 'Lucena'." I was amazed at this, because it is so well known that Black is drawing. For just a second, I even wondered if Soltis had discovered something new. But the reality is that one should know some positions by heart, or you might not realize that 1…Rf1+ 2.Ke6 Kf8 3.Rh8+ Kg7 draws (4.Ra8 Re1 5.Kd6 Kf7 or here 5.Re8 Ra1 etc.). Maybe Pat should memorize those standard positions after all.

Later, Soltis is listing differences between middlegames and endings, and states that in the former case, 'space counts', whereas in the latter, 'Control of more space than your opponent is relatively unimportant.' But looking at the examples from his own book, or examples from any of the ending books listed here, one quickly realizes that the side with space tends to have the winning chances in a clear majority of cases. And this is not the only example. There are three 'Commandments' in the book, one of which is 'Never Shalt Thou Hurry', where 'hurry' is 'anything that rushes into a significant change in the number of pawns or pieces'. (Saying that you shouldn't rush into any decision is quite a different matter.) But in endings, one very often has just one chance to make such exchanges, and a counter-Commandment might be 'grab your opportunities before they disappear'. Such generalities are limiting enough; at least they be should be true.

Technicalities aside, I still like this book a lot for novices and players who know a little, but not much, about endings. In other words, most players. The book has an encouraging, upbeat, and entertaining style, and it covers a great number of useful positions. It is also very nicely laid out, with a unique 'horizontal' presentation that makes studying easier. In conclusion, Soltis has an excellent concept here: have fun while you learn. Just be wary of generalities, and learn some concrete theory on the side.

John Emms' 'The Survival Guide to Rook Endings' is back to the 'fairly advanced' category. It has the same obligatory introductory comment: "I've tried not to fall into the same trap as some endgame books which, while being fascinating, tend to devote too much space to rare and impractical positions." At least he said 'some'! Anyway, Emms does his usual excellent job, first presenting the basics at length. He isn't quite thorough enough on some useful R+P vs. R positions, but he makes the Vancura position easily comprehensible, which is no mean feat. Emms devotes most of the book to real examples, often drawn from his own play (20 of them). I think the fascinating thing about this book is that, with some exceptions in the last two chapters, Emms manages to stick with relatively simplified and simple-looking positions which, however, are terribly difficult to solve. In fact, the players involved, mostly grandmasters, tended to make multiple mistakes, regardless of how straightforward a position looked. What to sayÿ I like this book a lot and recommend it to just about anyone who isn't having an easy time with Korchnoi's book! It is readable and reasonably comprehensive, but doesn't sacrifice complexity for easy answers. A trivial and inessential gripe: I wonder why Smyslov and Levenfish's 'Rook Endings' isn't given in the Bibliographyÿ Okay, the other books mentioned contain all or most of that material, but is it really fair not to give credit to such a classicÿ

I just received Glenn Flear's 'Improve Your Endgame Play'. This is truly an elementary/learning book, containing just about all the basics and elementary techniques. Flear makes the usual point about specialised books that contain hundreds of theoretical positions, and how, if we try to learn by heart 'seemingly improbable and obscure endgame theory from dusty old tomes', 'we soon become bored, exhausted, and confused'. After this required disclaimer, Flear pretty much starts from the beginning (basic mates, converting an extra pawn, 'the square', opposition, outside passed pawns and the like). There are some more advanced positions to illustrate basic principles, but to my mind, this is an ideal teacher's book (with exercises), or a novice's self-teaching book. It is very well laid out and easily readable.

'Endgame Secrets' by Christopher Lutz, by contrast, is definitely a book for more advanced players, perhaps 2100 and above. It consists of 45 games, most of them deeply annotated (6-7 pages is not uncommon towards the end). Lutz is a specialist on rook-and-minor-piece endings, of which there are 20. I used this book briefly with another master, and found it fascinating, although we did find a serious error in one of the games (sorry, but I can't remember which one!). Almost all the principles of endgame play (and many exceptions) are found here, although it takes careful study to absorb them in depth. Ultimately, that is always the case, and I would compare this book to the excellent Speelman books I mentioned in the early part of this review.

I can't do justice to 'Secrets of Pawn Endings', by Karsten Mueller and Frank Lamprecht, because I've read so little of it. Again this is a technical work (don't worry: more elementary ones are coming!). The book contains only positions with king-and-pawns versus king, computer-checked to positions with up to 7 pawns. One might wonder how the authors can devote 288 pages to pawn endings (265, actually), but more than any specialized book, this one uses an extraordinary number of those pages for Exercises and Solutions, about a fourth of the book. First principles and what I would call elementary positions fill the first 33 pages, but that is deceptive, since most other chapters then begin with necessary concepts such as building a fortress, corresponding squares, 'preliminary considerations' and the like. There's no doubt that students of just about any level could learn from this book, but one must concede that the less-advanced student can learn what he needs to know in a lot fewer pages.

A different kind of book is Shereshevsky's 'Endgame Strategy', recently reprinted. The first thing I noticed is how restrained and almost conventional this book is, in stark contrast to Shereshevsky's brilliant-but-mad, analytically-flawed book 'The Soviet Chess Conveyor', which is sort of a cult classic. First, we prsent the usual claim: "Chess literature contains very few works on the endgame, and in the main these are reference books, in which theoretical and not practical positions are analysed. The present book [studies] basic practical principles."

Okay, what's in the bookÿ Some chapter titles are 'Centralization of the king', 'The role of pawns in the endgame', 'The principle of two weaknesses', 'The two bishops', and, to Soltis' delight, 'Do not hurry', although Shereshevsky makes clear that this is far from a Commandment, calling its logic 'mainly psychological', and emphasizing that 'on no account should this principle be abused', with an explanation of why that is.

In fact, one will not learn the basics from this book at all; rather, it is a series of mostly complex examples, often in the middlegame rather than in the ending! Indeed, there are 62 pages of 'complex endings'; and most players would call the vast majority of the rest of the book's examples quite 'complex' as well. I am very impressed by his insistence that 'everything depends upon the specific features of the position'. Also his tendency (more pronounced in his other endgame books) to take positions and structures that derive from certain popular openings. I like this book a lot, but it has more to do with transitions from the middlegame than with endings themselves.

The rest of the books are all elementary ones (with the exception of the last one, whose title fooled me). Bill Robertie's 'Basic Endgame Strategy, Rooks and Queens' covers rook endings (with pawns), queen-and-rook endings, and queen-versus-queen endings. This is a very elementary introduction to a topic which is essential for students. It even includes an explanation of notation. The basics are very well covered indeed, and the end of the book contains a few pretty and far more complicated examples. I have to complain that the cover says 'Queens and Rooks', when the title is actually 'Rooks and Queens'. But this is a good book which fulfills its purpose.

A book with quite a good page-to-price ratio is '639 Essential Endgame Positions' by Eric Schiller, which is probably too long for its purpose. Since the book is primarily for the less-advanced player, Schiller rightly uses a lot of prose, including a 9-page general introduction and numerous explanations of positions. I think this will please many readers, who tend to be alienated by too many moves (Flear's book also has this good feature, as did Soltis' and Robertie's). One cute early example arises when Schiller is explaining opposition, saying that it is 'like two Sumo wrestlers, trying to get the enemy to move aside'. Nevertheless, he does include one poor example of opposition, which neglects an opportunity for diagonal opposition.

I simply haven't looked at many examples from this book. The ones I did examine were fine; I think that computer-checking supplemented both the players' and author's analysis. The prose is sometimes a bit awkward, but comprehensible; and Schiller avoids the kind of mistakes I have mentioned before in this column, indicating that Cardoza proofreading has improved greatly since that time. Oh yes, there is the obligatory, but milder-than-usual claim: 'This book is intended to help you achieve greater practical results…You can't learn all of endgame theory from a reference book'. That's a pretty fair comment, but I had to include it for consistency's sake.

An interesting point Schiller makes is that a lot of these fairly elementary grandmaster mistakes we see in all these books are due to time-trouble (look at the move numbers), and that specific endgame knowledge is more important in these times of faster time controls. I found it amusing that he makes several comments about how studying compositions doesn't help much, when his earlier book (reviewed below) consists only of compositions! But from what I see of this book, it has lots of good and reasonably simple examples. A novice or developing player could learn the basics in great detail, and something more by judicious thumbing through the rest of the book.

The next book, 'Pandolfini's Endgame Course', by Bruce Pandolfini, has the usual introductory comments: 'I quickly realized that endgame books were few and far between. This wasn't the only problem. Existing books were of two unsatisfactory types. Either they were too analytic or too vague and general.' Fortunately, he can solve that problem by 'combining the best features of both'. Later we are relieved to learn that "no complicated 'textbook' positions have been included." But amazingly, he also says 'some of these positions-such as those on the Queen and Rook mate-are discussed in no other endgame book, and, perhaps, in no other chess book.' For Pandolfini, who has arguably never written anything original and deals almost exclusively in cliches, this is a remarkable claim. I rushed to the appropriate section and found the following two positions: White: K,e1; Q,d1; R,f4 Black: K,e5 (White to move), and White: K,e1; Q,a3; R,b4 Black:K,e5. (White to move). Now it's okay to give a rank beginner such a position, but to claim that it is an original contribution is…beyond words.

This, as you might have guessed, is the most elementary of all the books listed, appropriate for 'able beginners', in his words, and I don't know who else-I would guess school kids with ratings up to 1000 or 1200, but I don't know. That audience is an important one, and I think that this book could be very useful for teachers of introductory and second-year school courses. There are 239 positions, with one position per page. By the end of the book, Pandolfini has a few more difficult examples of basic rook endings and some simple minor piece endings; but since the bulk of the material is at an extremely elementary level, I wouldn't recommend it beyond that rating range. At any rate, it's hard to see how Pandolfini has mediated between the two types of books he mentioned above, since they surely deal with more advanced material. On the good side, there are plenty of words in the descriptions of each position. Perhaps notes for each move might have been a good approach at this level, but I'll defer to his teaching experience. Also useful for teachers is the 14-page Glossary at the end. Finally, I should mention that the price is excellent for so many pages.

'Endgame Challenge', by John Hall, returns us to the world of somewhat more complicated endings, some of which will challenge at least mid-level students. Still, the book starts out at what I would call a 'below-intermediate' level. That is, only 3 truly elementary mates are given, and a couple of easy king-and-pawn endings are included, but already there are many more difficult mates (bishop and knight, two knights with an enemy pawn, bishop versus rook, etc.) and more complicated pawn endings. Before I forget, this quote from the Introduction: "…most of us feel that learning endings is a dry and boring process. Not so with 'Endgame Challenge!'. This book offers a fun and dynamic approach…Rather than pore endlessly over rules and techniques in some dusty 500-page manual, you can now take an active part in your endgame education!" Notice how these 'manuals' and 'tomes' are always 'dusty'. Don't a lot of the books you bought two years ago have a nice layer of particles as wellÿ

In fact, I really like the approach this book takes. Its 451 examples, all with 'Hints' next to them and then solutions on another page, reminds me of the best of those '1001 Tactical Exercises' books that we grew up with and are still strongly recommended by top players. The positions are marked according to difficulty, so you can jump to the ones appropriate to your level. I feel that thinking about and then taking your best shot at these problems is a great way to learn endings. The fact that feedback is required takes the passivity out of study. Among the elementary books discussed here, this has to be one of the best. I recommend it highly.

Eric Schiller's 'Improve Your Endgame!' takes a very original approach in its modest 84 pages. The idea is to take 30 endgame studies, the great majority with reduced material (normally 4 to 7 pieces, counting the kings), and form an instructive book from them. The Introduction is a bit disappointing. Schiller admits right off that 'there is no shortage of useful literature' on the endgame (a scandalous notion). But he does say that endgame study 'tends to be rather tedious' and proposes 'to make the acquisition of endgame essentials easy, fun, and aesthetically pleasing.' That's more like it. The back cover states: 'Practical endgame play is best studied by examining composed positions', a dubious claim, one challenged by Schiller himself in his book above.

But what about those studiesÿ Even a Composition-Ignoramus like me can recognize names like Reti, Polerio, Botvinnik, Grigoriev, Cheron, Euwe, Weenink, Havasi, and the great Troitsky. As you can therefore imagine, these studies, even the simple ones, tend to be very elegant, and satisfying once you've solved them. I think it's true that a careful study of these compositions could do a lot for your overall skill level (including calculating ability). But I was fooled by the mass-market title: this is a rather advanced work, with only a few moderately-simple studies to start with, and it is well beyond the level of what I have characterized as 'elementary' books. Club players who like problems should find this book rewarding, and I know that I had a great time with several of the studies, so it's only fair to categorize this as an 'advanced' or 'moderately advanced' work.

I did find an error and confused analysis in an early study (#3), which ends up in this standard position: White: K,e2; Q,a8 Black: K, g2; Q,h1; P,c7. (Black is in check). First, the diagram before this position had White's king on e5 instead of e2; and, from the correct position as I listed it, the analysis goes 1…Kg1 2. Qa1+, at which point Schiller says '2.Qg8+ would work just as well', missing 2…Qg2+. A small point, but it's possible that other studies are similarly flawed. In any case, I enjoyed this highly original book, which will mainly appeal to those who enjoy problems.

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