John Watson Book Review (72)
Favorites Part 2 and Recommended Products
IM John Watson - Sunday 30th October 2005
My Most Memorable Games; Boris Gelfand; 261 pages; Olms 2005
Improve Your Positional Chess; Carsten Hansen; 195 pages; Gambit 2004
Foundations of Chess Strategy, Applying Business Methods
to Chess Preparation and Training; Lars Bo Hansen; 176 Pages; Gambit, 2005
Leningrad System: A Complete Weapon against 1 d4 (English translation); Stefan Kindermann; 208 pages; Olms 2005
The Dutch Defence Leningrad System A86-89; Boris Schipkov; ChessBase 2004
Najdorf: Life and Games; Lissowski, Mikhalchishin and Najdorf, 256 pages, Batsford 2005
Nimzo-Indian 4.f3 and Saemisch-Variation; Vladim Milov (CD); ChessBase 2002
Play the 4.f3 Nimzo-Indian; Yuri Yakovich; 128 pages; Gambit 2004
Starting Out: Alekhine's Defence; John Cox; 192 pages; Everyman 2004
Play the Sicilian Dragon; Edward Dearing; 256 pages; Gambit 2004
The Fascinating King's Gambit; Thomas Johansson; 215 pages; Trafford 2004
More favorites and/or recommended books and CDs. Apologies again for not covering the many worthy products that have appeared, and especially ones just released. They are too numerous to read in depth. Thus I've picked out a selection from the last two years that I've studied (usually with a student), and I've summarized one or two that caught my eye. Some of these are very recently published and more such will make it into the next two columns.
Boris Gelfand's games collection/biography My Most Memorable Games is another excellently produced Olms book, this time in softcover. The games go up through 2004, and it seems likely that the contents are the same or very close to the Olms German edition (which I don't have). The book begins with a short Preface by Vladimir Kramnik, who praises Gelfand's approach to chess and his universal style. That is appropriate, since Gelfand's victory over Kramnik in the 1994 Candidates Match (back when we had them) may later be remembered as the peak event of his career. He had previously defeated Adams and was on the verge of becoming the Championship qualifier until he fell badly to Karpov in the next round. Nevertheless, Gelfand enjoyed a certain revenge by defeating Karpov in several nice games over the years. According to Megabase, their record after 50 games stands at only 13-26-11 in Karpov's favour (+2), including Rapids and Blindfold games which were almost equally divided. A more powerful indication of Gelfand's strength is that he won the last two Interzonals that were held (and possibly the last two that will ever take place): Manila 1990 and Biel 1993. He has consistently been among the world's top players, often in the top 10.
As so often in these books, there is a rather dry introductory essay about Gelfand's career, leaving the reader in almost total ignorance of his life, adventures, or interests. Since Gelfand himself writes almost exclusively about games and variations, those who prefer a healthy mix of biography and games collection will be disappointed. Thus the book has to be assessed by its 51 games, and fortunately these are rich and fascinating contests. Gelfand is a top-rank theoretician who plays sharp systems as Black, using the Najdorf almost exclusively and, in earlier years, the King's Indian. As White he tends to play solidly but rises to the challenge if invited into complications. If there's any problem with this book for the average reader, it's his tendency to put in pages of dense analysis that few people are likely to read anyway. The extreme degree to which this is true in some games can actually have the effect of putting the less-cluttered ones in a better light. Then again, here's a very well-known example versus Shirov in which many of the variations are essential and beautiful. Shirov is the victim in no less than five of Gelfand's most exciting games in the book. But before assuming that Shirov has troubles with Gelfand's style, I looked up their contests and found that Gelfand has scored 11-26-20 (-9) out of 56 games. This result is however significantly weighted by Shirov's proficiency in Blindfold and Rapids games, in which he is +6 ! In any case, a collection of their battles could fill a book of its own.
Gelfand-Shirov, Polanica Zdroj 1998 (I've given a mix of Gelfand's
comments from the book and his ChessBase notes, almost the same, with some
structural and grammatical editing. You will probably be tempted skip by the
lengthy variations, but these are fascinating and should be an exception)
1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 g6 3.c4 Bg7 4.Nc3 d5 5.cxd5 Nxd5 6.e4 Nxc3 7.bxc3 c5 8.Rb1 8...0-0 9.Be2 cxd4 10.cxd4 Qa5+ 11.Bd2 Qxa2 12.0-0 Bg4 13.Bg5 h6 14.Bh4 14...a5 15.Rxb7 g5 16.Bg3 a4 17.h4 a3 18.hxg5 hxg5 19.Rc7! Na6?
[jw: We can skip the pages of notes that follow 19...Nd7 20.e5]]
20.Rxe7 Qb2 21.Bc4 Qb4 22.Bxf7+ Kh8
"It looks like White's Rook is trapped and their attack was incorrect. But I prepared a surprise for my opponent.
This is main move of the game, and I am proud that I foreseen it from quite far. Shirov, in his turn, called 23.Rd7 a 'prosaic 'move (and I have to agree with him!) and was afraid of the even more imaginative idea: 23.Be6! Bxf3 (23...Qxe7 24.Bxg4; the a-pawn would still far away and White would already have a material advantage) 24.Rxg7!
24...Bxd1 25.Be5! "The point of Alexey's idea. Now mate in 2 is a threat. 25...Qb5 (the only defence) 26.d5! (26.Bd5. The bishop is trying to protect his more important colleague, but 26...Rf5!! Now White has few possibilities, but it looks like they don't give an advantage. The other try is 26...Qxd5 27.exd5 Ba4 [27...Be2 28.Ra1+- ] 28.Ra1 Rf5 29.Rxg5+ Rxe5 30.dxe5) 27.exf5 (27.Rb7+ Rxe5 28.Rxb5 Be2 [28...Rxd5 29.Rxd1 ] 29.dxe5 Bxb5=) 27...Qxd5 28.Rd7+ (28.Rxg5+ Kh7 29.Rxd1 a2 30.Kh2 [30.Rd3 a1Q+ 31.Kh2 Qxe5+ 32.dxe5 Qxe5+ ] 30...Qe4 31.Kg3 Qb1 32.Rh5+ Kg8 33.Rdh1 Kf7) 28...Qxe5 29.dxe5. I was really amazed when my opponent showed me this line in post-mortem. During the game Alexey was not sure about Black's chances here, but as analysis shows, a draw is most likely result here: 29...Bc2 (29...Bg4 30.Rd4 Bxf5 31.Ra4 Nc7 32.Rxa8+ Nxa8 33.Ra1 Nc7 34.Rxa3 Ne6=) 30.g4 Nc5 31.Rc7 a2 32.Kg2 a1Q 33.Rxa1 Rxa1 34.Rxc5 Be4+= 35.f3 Ra2+ 36.Kg1 Bxf3) 26...Qb2! finally getting the Bishop 27.Rg8+ Kh7 28.Bxb2 Rxg8 (28...axb2 29.Rxf8 b1Q [29...Rxf8 30.Rxd1 ] 30.Rxa8) 29.Bxa3! Bc2 30.Bf5+. No, we are not going to exchange our nice Bishop for a passive Rook 30...Kh6 31.Rc1 Ba4 32.e5 and White is better, but it is difficult to claim something more, being a Rook down!"
After making a difficult route a1-b1-b7-c7-e7-d7, the rook has no place to go, but 24.d6 is a threat, so Black has no choice but to take. 23...Bf6 24.Bd5 (24.Bd6 Qb5; 24.Be6!) 24...Bxd7 25.Nxg5; 23...Qb5 24.Rd5; 23...a2 24.Bxa2 (24.Bd6) 24...Rxf3 (24...Bxd7 25.Nxg5) 25.gxf3 Bxd7 26.Kg2 Bxd4 27.Rh1+ Kg7 28.Be5+.
24.Nxg5 Qb6 25.Be6!
This is the point. Black has to give up Queen to prevent a decisive check from h-file. 25...Qxe6
25...Be8 26.Qg4 Bxd4 (26...Rf6 27.Be5 ...Rxe6 28.Nf7+) 27.Qh4+ Kg7 28.Qh7+ Kf6 29.e5+ Kxg5 (29...Bxe5 30.Qf5+ Ke7 31.Qxe5+-) 30.Qg7+ Bg6 31.Bh4+ Kf4 32.Qxg6+- 26.Nxe6 Bxe6 27.Be5!? Rf7 28.Qh5+ Kg8 29.Qg6 Bd7 30.Bxg7 Rxg7 31.Qd6 Kh7
Alexei misses an excellent practical chance, which is strange as he is, in my opinion, maybe the best defender in chess world... [etc. - a lengthy comment- jw]
32.Qxa3 Nc7 33.Qe3 Ne6 34.d5 Ng5 35.f4 Nh3+ 36.Kh1 Ra2 37.f5! Ng5 38.f6 Rg6 39.f7 1-0
Here's a cute manoeuvre from Gelfand's early days:
Gelfand-Ulibin, USSR Under-18 Ch, Yurmala 1985. White can't play h5 due to
...Bg4, so: 1.Qh1!! both allowing Nf3 and intending h5. 1...Rh5?!
But there's nothing much better, e.g., 1...Ne7 2.Nf3 Rh5 3.Ng5; 1...Bc6
2.h5 Nf8 3.h6 g6 4.Qh4+-. 2.Bg5! and the rook is trapped.
Apart from the sometimes unnecessary density of annotations, My Most Memorable Games is a wonderful contribution to the literature. It again demonstrates that one doesn't have to be a World Champion to play games of the highest quality or to annotate them with insights matching the world's best.
Gambit continues to produce the best books relating to the
broader subjects of strategy, positional play, and chess philosophy. I have two
favourites this time around. Carsten Hansen's Improve Your Positional
Chess is a blend of generally accepted principles and more sophisticated
concepts, all mixed with interesting opinions and interpretations. Hansen uses
exclusively middlegame examples to make his points, ones that are extremely
well-chosen and nonstandard. Right off I should confess that I didn't even
recognize most of them, even including many from contests between top-level
players. Karpov is by far the most-represented player with 28 positions (called
'games' in the Index). In fact, Kasparov with 'only' 10 positions appears to be
in clear second place. The list of positions is also dominated by modern
examples (there are three by Botvinnik, none by Steinitz, Lasker, Capablanca,
Alekhine, etc.). For the experienced reader, this is a pleasant contrast with
the dozens of middlegame books which use principally or exclusively classical
positions. For practical training, the examples are at least as educational and
interesting as traditional ones. Hansen's choices will serve a more advanced
audience best, but any developing player who wants to be challenged can advance
his or her general chess knowledge by leaps and bounds. To be ready to tackle
this book I don't think you need more than thorough understanding of just one
basic principles book or a couple of years of serious chess experience.
The book is divided into four main parts (General Terms, Relative Value of the Pieces, Dealing with Pawns, and Big Decisions). Within those parts are 12 chapters such as 'The Quest for Weaknesses', 'The Exchange', 'Structural Weaknesses' etc. Each is followed by sets of exercises, generally 3-6 per chapter, with the last chapter solely devoted to 30 more practice positions. The subsections of each chapter (not explicitly indexed) cover an even wider range of topics which constitute the essence of positional chess, for example, isolated pawns, backward pawns, king safety, piece distribution and coordination, opposite-coloured bishops, open files, centre, initiative, and much more. Thus, apart from its other good qualities, Improve Your Positional Chess serves as a substantive middlegame manual.
[An aside: Hansen's first chapter is entitled 'Understanding Imbalances', emphasizing the need to understand and evaluate 10 types of imbalances in a position. Sometimes we are unaware of the originator of an idea or method. Jeremy Silman deserves credit for the original use of this term (at least in the same sense and depth as later authors have used it), and for his detailed development of the concept.]
Within limited space, I think a good way to describe this book's ideas and style is to give illustrative quotes, including his own. In the Introduction, Hansen has a section entitled 'Chess is 99% Tactics', which begins:
'This claim was first made by Richard Teichmann, and has since been repeated hundreds of times in a variety of books of all sorts by all kinds of authors. Yet I shall allow myself to disagree, as I think it is, at best, misguided. The reason I think so is because the tactics normally exist because of an imbalance in one or more positional factors. Nimzowitsch once wrote: "Positional play and combinative play have to support each other," and he continues: "To play positional chess is to make a claim of the following kind: I'm better centralized than my opponent' or 'my opponent is weak on the light squares' and so on. But one thing is to make the claim, another is to prove it. And now it should be, as some kind of peculiarity, observed, that positional play doesn't always have the sufficient capacity to make the proof. Often enough it will come about without any difficulty: e.g. the centralization will force the opponent to seek to lighten the pressure through 'restrained' exchanges: as a result, several tempi are lost and the centralized party will obtain a superior endgame ... but there are also other cases where the positional superiority cannot be demonstrated by positional play. In these cases the combinative play will have to assist. In this we see the deeper importance of combinative play; isn't it wonderful that combinative play, despite its explosive dynamite-filled content, in a way still applies to positional play!"
The 2nd World Champion, Emanuel Lasker, once wrote: "By combination the master aims to show up and defeat the false values; the true values shall guide him in positional play, which in turn shall bring those values to honour."
I think that chess is at least 90% based on positional factors.'
Hansen goes on to support this last claim throughout the book. Whether or not 90% is the correct figure (even for such an ambiguous division I think it's a bit high), I have long thought much the same: the fact that the results of many games are due to tactics leads people to grossly underestimate the role of the strategy that produced a tactical solution. It is also relevant that the player who is strategically worse is much more likely to make tactical mistakes or blunders.
Here's another assertion with which I agree and which corresponds to my teaching experience:
'My personal opinion is that the queen is a fairly overrated piece. Many players place far too much emphasis on the queen and consider it almost priceless. With that notion in mind, these same players think that a middlegame without queens on the board is boring and almost certainly on the way to a draw. However, this is far from the case.
Against aggressive dynamic attacking players, a very effective weapon is to exchange queens. This strategy was used effectively by Kramnik against Kasparov in their 2000 world championship match.
I'm sure that you will question whether you can play like Kramnik, and most of us certainly cannot, but pretty much all of us cannot play like Kasparov either. Therefore all we do is set the level a bit lower, but the factors remain the same: most dynamic, aggressive players will be unhappy with the departure of the queens. Then there is another group of players that are happy when the queens are off the board: those who play for a draw. But again, armed with knowledge of how to handle queenless middlegames, you will be able to retain excellent chances of playing for a win.'
Indeed. The last point is something that masters know but is seldom if ever clearly explained in a book. Probably the draws in Kramnik-Kasparov do not serve as the most convincing examples, though, given the hundreds of decisive grandmaster games to be chosen from! Hansen also directs attention to another common misconception of players (even some advanced ones): that opposite-coloured bishops are a drawing factor. Hansen: 'While [the presence of opposite-coloured bishops] may be [a drawing factor] in some cases, there are so many exceptions that with other pieces on the board it cannot be considered a rule any longer'. He presents an example Larsen-Schandorff, Danish Ch 1999, whose fascination derives from the fact that Hansen begins at a point well before most authors would. Unfortunately I'll have to skip most of his superior explanation (rewording the basic ideas) but the game to some extent speaks for itself:
'With this pawn sacrifices White forces Black to give up his light-squared bishop for a knight' [jw: thus creating opposite-coloured bishops which favour the attacker, particularly due to Black's damaged pawn structure]
26...Bxe4 27.Qxe4 f5?!
Further weakening the pawn structure.
28.Qf3 Bxa3 29.Rb7 Qd6 30.d5 exd5 31.Bxd5 Bb4?
31...f4! would have been better - Hansen quotes analysis by Lutz to demonstrate this.
Black misses ...f4 again, and in short order we return to the basic idea.
33.Bd3 Kh8 34.Bxf5
It may seem surprising that White is very likely winning here. Hansen: 'In order to save pawns on the kingside, he has to set up his pieces very passively, leaving the rest of the board to White.'
34...Qg7 35.Bc2 Kg8 36.Kg2 Kh8 37.Bb3 Kg8 38.h4 h6 39.Qd5 Bc3 40.Rb6 Kh8 41.Qh5 Bf6 42.Ra6
'Black is completely tied down', so he sacrifices the a-pawn to no avail.
42...a4 43.Bxa4 Rb8 44.Bc2 Kg8 45.Bd3 Bd4 46.Bc4! Kf8 47.Qd5! Re8? 48.Rxh6 Qxh6 49.Qxf7# 1-0.
A terrific example, because he shows how the basic principle applies even with greatly reduced material on the board. [Hansen's full notes are also presented more fluently than my rewritten ones.]
Just thumbing through the book one will see how economically the author makes the relevant points without cluttering up a game with the various details such as technical mistakes. He does carefully note the latter, which are inevitable in over-the-board play, but he makes clear that they have little to do with the point at hand. I can't emphasize enough how well Hansen keeps the readers on track by using verbal explanations whenever possible. I should also mention his broad research into games annotated by others, showing where he thinks they misunderstand the underlying issues.
As with any original book, it is fun to disagree with an opinion or contention here and there. As I see it Hansen sometimes makes a point without the examples being very compelling. And that may reflect the weakness of the assertion itself. For example, he has a short section called 'Bishop and Knight vs Rook', which begins as follows:
'A somewhat related topic to the exchange is the issue of rook vs two minor pieces. Nominally two pieces should always be worth more than a rook, but when the two pieces are bishop and knight, matters are not always as easy, especially if the side with the rook has one or two pawns thrown into the mix.'
The statement about bishop-and-knight being in general worse than other two piece combinations is not something I'm familiar with, nor agree with, since he is talking about their presence when there are other pieces on the board. Here are two of his three supporting examples. The first one comes from Torre-Karpov, Tilburg 1982:
'First let's look at an example of how to take advantage of the bishop & knight vs rook advantage.' etc.
'The first impression I get from looking at this position is that Black must be better. His bishop is nicely placed and there is a potential for an attack on the kingside along the f-file. However, Black must proceed with care as all of White's pieces are actively placed. Karpov nonetheless makes the win look very easy.'
That doesn't seem to provide much support for the thesis! In fact, Hansen goes on to show Karpov winning with excellent technique, while not using the f-file. Not only do the bishop and knight win, but at no point do I see them as the source of any problems. Indeed, I'd rather have them than a knight pair most such situations.
The second example comes from Panno-Petrosian, Buenos Aires 1979. A series of forced exchanges leads to the two-minor-pieces-versus-rook position:
Hansen: 'White has a rook and pawn versus two minor pieces, and as we know from before, knight and bishop are not considered to work particularly well together.' He thinks that, in spite of the fact that Black has a weak e-pawn, other factors outweigh it and add up to a cause for White's problems. Those factors include his weak light squares around the king, the weakness of the c3-square, and a defensively-placed rook. Frankly, if you gave me this position as Black and took away those factors (i.e., Black's and White's weaknesses, the position of White's rook, etc), I'd feel very confident about winning, even against strong opposition. At any rate, I'm not sure what the example proves, as Black has no trouble achieving a dominant position within seven or eight moves:
30.Qc5 Qd5 31.Qc8+ (31.Qxd5 Nxd5 32.a3 Nc3; Hansen calls the favourable exchange of queens an "unusual" situation and he's right, but all it means is that if the exchange of queens hadn't yielded Black the advantage, he probably wouldn't have offered it) 31...Kf7 32.Qc7+ Kg6 33.Qxa5 Qd2 34.Kf1 Bc6 35.f3 Nd5 36.Qc5 Ne3+ 37.Kf2 Nc2 38.Rb1 Nd4 39.Qe5 Bxf3 40.Qe3 Qxe2+ 41.Qxe2 Bxe2 42.Ke3 e5 43.Rb2 Kf5 0-1.
Having given such examples, he should at least provide a couple showing the other two minor piece combinations working together better and being successful. As is the case with so many rule-like constructions, I think the idea of bishop and knight not coordinating well against rook-and-pawn stems from the commonplace observation that it holds true in a pure endgame without any other pieces. Even then it tends only to be true when the side with the rook has a passed pawn that is at some distance from the other pawns. As far as I know bishop-and-knight in the middlegame are in no way inferior to two knights (normally better, in fact) and even though two bishops are generally better than the other two combinations, the fact that they can't pile up on one point can make the bishop-and-knight superior in quite a few positions.
Similarly, while pointing out a genuine and important misconception about the worth of queens (described above), Hansen makes the point with three odd supporting examples. In one White's tactical advantages and attack give him a winning advantage. In another Black brilliantly sacrifices his queen for two bishops, two pawns. This is almost enough material by standard assessments (9 to 8 by simple point count), and Black also gains great activity. In spite of all that, White could have maintained an advantage, as Hansen shows. Instead White was thrown off psychologically and faltered. That is typical after queen exchanges or sacrifices for multiple pieces, but this has no objective theoretical weight. Finally, the most straightforward example is this variation from theory:
Adams-Ivanchuk, Dortmund 1998
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 g6 6.Be3 Bg7 7.f3 0-0 8.Qd2 Nc6 9.0-0-0 d5 10.Kb1 Nxd4 11.e5 Nf5 12.exf6
12...Bxf6 13.Nxd5 Qxd5 This is the queen "sacrifice". It has been the standard drawing idea for a number of years. 14.Qxd5 Nxe3 15.Qd2 Nxd1 16.Qxd1 Be6 Hansen takes some time discussing this position and why it is that Black has enough for the queen. Of course, Black has a rook and bishop for a queen with the added advantage of a bishop pair, generally considered worth about an extra pawn with open lines. So the material difference is at most negligible and there's no reason that Black shouldn't be equal in the first place. The game continued 17.Bd3 Rfd8 18.Qe1 Rd6 19.Qa5 b6 20.Qe1 Rc8 21.a3 Rc5 22.g4 Rcd5 23.Qg3 h5 24.h3 h4 25.Qf2 Rxd3 26.cxd3 Rxd3 27.Qe2 Rb3 28.Rd1 g5 1/2-1/2
To be fair, Hansen's main point is that amateurs overrate the queen and would probably disapprove of these sacrifices. I think that is true but would be better illustrated by significant material sacrifice with positional compensation that eventually shows its worth.
These cases notwithstanding, Hansen's illustrative positions are generally spot on and a great strength of his book. That's the problem with reviewing a thought-provoking book. One wants to discuss relatively minor differences and neglect some of the best features. I haven't, for example, described the final part of the book which concentrates upon the practical issue of 'where to attack and how'. This time Hansen enters fully into the world of chess teaching and is even better than earlier at explaining his precepts via high-quality examples. To his credit, he doesn't pretend that he can solve all your problems in this respect, but guides you towards the elements of positions that you need to look out for. The examples are relatively advanced and even the top players involved didn't always master the problems posed, so once again a certain level of chess strength would help. In any case one can concentrate upon ways to think rather than mastery of the particulars. I especially admire the way he directs the reader's attention to the key factors of the position, particularly those involving structural weakness. Here's a case where the exercises, a feature that I don't think adds much to most books, enhance one's recognition skills. Thus the book qualifies as a useful training course.
My assessment? Suffice it to say that players with at least mid-level experience won't find any book that matches Improve Your Positional Chess in describing basic positional issues. You can't go wrong with it.
Another sophisticated effort about chess strategy, this time in the practical sense, is Foundations of Chess Strategy, Applying Business Methods to Chess Preparation and Training by Lars Bo Hansen [To reduce confusion, I'll call him LB Hansen until further down in the review].
This is a deceptively complex book and the author has a variety of theses, some related to the world of business theory and some not. Be aware that it is rather advanced, not out of reach of developing players but better suited to players with quite a bit of experience. There isn't sufficient space to discuss the book in the depth that it deserves, so before I describe particulars I will quote from the Introduction and early pages to give an overall feel of what the author is doing:
'... it is becoming increasingly difficult to play chess according to 'standard principles. It is no longer sufficient to know how to play according to basic principles in typical situations such as 'isolated d-pawn', 'minority attack' or 'space advantage'. While there are still important principles that underlie the evaluation of many positions, they have now become commodities - knowledge and understanding of how to handle such positions is no longer reserved for masters; this has become public knowledge and as such cannot any longer be used to build a competitive advantage against a knowledgeable opponent. More concrete and deep analyses of the position and of the two players are required if you want to outsmart your opponent and become successful in chess. After all, the purpose of chess is to beat the opponent and get a point on the scoreboard!'
And that's one of L B Hansen's key points: beauty or even 'correctness' (and similar factors) are nice but not the goal. What is necessary is to take into account all competitive factors, including the type of opponent, your own style, the practical demands of the position, and the conditions at the board (e.g., time controls, etc.). Style is a priority consideration:
'Therefore it becomes increasingly important to understand your own strengths and weaknesses as a chess-player, as well as those of the opponent. Not all players handle all positions equally well, when they can no longer resort to their basic knowledge of how to handle 'this type of position'. Some players are very good at concrete calculations, while others thrive in simple positions. To become successful, you must understand these differences. Put simply, you need to shift focus from how to win the position to how to defeat your opponent. '
This philosophy puts one in mind of Gligoric's book I Play Against Pieces , a title which seemingly espouses the reverse philosophy. Whether or not Gligoric actually put this into strict practice is unknown (although he seems peculiarly 'objective'), L B Hansen might point out that he could have been even more successful by factoring in his opponent's predilections.
L B Hansen goes on to introduce the analogy between business and chess in terms of 'inside-out' versus 'outside-in' strategies: 'To avoid this potential deadlock [everyone having access to the same information], contemporary business strategy experts and researchers increasingly emphasize the role of internal resources rather than the external position .' 'The outside-in perspective is dominant in chess. It is how we are taught to think and work with chess from an early age - objective assessment of the position. It is this perspective that leads players to go for opening variations "because in ECO, lnformator or a New in Chess Yearbook it is assessed as leading to a slight advantage for White". But what if you are a positional player and the position demands a radical tactical approach? Or conversely, what if the position is evaluated as slightly better for White because Black has an isolated pawn, but actually you prefer active piece play over pawn-structure?'
'... as outlined above, the internal competences - the abilities of the chess-player - may not fit the external opportunities. The player may simply not be capable of playing the position. He may feel uncomfortable with having weak pawns in return for active play and may not have a clue as to how to continue. Then having a slight nominal advantage rarely helps...The players in a game are humans (forget about computers for a second), and the choices they make are influenced by their background, experience, self-confidence, personality, etc. This means that what is the right choice in a given position for one player is not the right choice for another player with a completely different personality and chess style. Therefore there is no 'best' choice in a (strategic) position... It is not enough to evaluate material, initiative, pawn-structure and other structural considerations generically - these considerations should be held up against the characteristics of the two players. The style and personality of the combatants should be included in the decision process as well. This means that we should give up the assumption that in a given strategic position there is one best way to play which should be chosen by any player in the given position against any opponent sitting on the other side of the board. The assumption that chess is played on a board and against pieces should be abandoned and replaced by an approach which acknowledges that chess is played between opponents and that the aim is to win the game against this particular opponent...'
'Take the example of two equally strong players but with different styles - one is solid and positional, the other a sharp attacking player... These two should recognize their differences and evaluate the same position in different ways - without paying too much attention to the 'right' evaluation that chess experts would put on the position. This is most likely to lead to the best practical results. Who has not been in the situation of having a position on the board which you knew was objectively OK, but still you felt uncomfortable, because the position did not really fit your style? Honestly - did you do well in such games?'
This philosophy leads to a book's worth of analyzing players' styles, tendencies, likes and dislikes. It is a huge effort which I can't possibly describe in full, and in my opinion is set apart even more by its rich examples than by its philosophy. I can only imagine how long the author took to compile such appropriate illustrations of his points. The variety of players and types of positions is remarkable, sometimes ones that the author's sharp eye has noticed at an event in which he played.
As the book goes on, his purely chess insights - based upon experience, analysis, and reflection - come to play a greater and greater role, or at least that's the way I see it. Early on, he ties in business thinking when he suggests that chess strategy involves not just finding a plan but a string of consecutive plans. By contrast, I just now opened the book to a section towards the end concerning the features of games with shorter time limits and/or time scrambles. The section is dotted with examples from L B Hansen's own games, describing the difficulty of choosing between the normally-suggested 'do-nothing' approach until the time control is reached (best followed in the case of sustainable advantages) versus a temporary advantage that might slip away with a few safe and static moves. He gives the interesting advice that in time scrambles one should keep the initiative (it's harder to defend than attack) and keep the pieces 'focused and close together' so as not to be subject to double attacks and such. This may bear some tangential relationship to business strategy but probably only in the cosmological sense that everything is related to everything.
The largest section and longest chapters of the book have to do with separating World Champions and other great players into classifications/types of players. These classifications are meant to reveal fundamental inclinations and practices, revealed even in their annotations! He uses four general categories:
(a) Activists, who are attackers, great tacticians and bold sacrificers. They often take risks and employ almost irrationally aggressive and enterprising methods. Hansen classifies Tal, Anand, Shirov and Morozevich as Attackers. Their main weaknesses are rather obvious, i.e., that they willingly take on positions in which they may stand worse, that their risky play may simply backfire against them.
(b) Pragmatics ['Pragmatists' seems a better word to me], who are calculators and fact-based players. They tend to be very theoretical in the opening (which often goes with sharp attacks). They are, as their name suggests practical and not irrational. Hansen includes Lasker, Alekhine, Euwe, Spassky, Fischer, Kasparov, and Korchnoi in this group. They can play weakly in dull positions.
(c) Theorists have a large base of theoretical knowledge relating to factors such as pawn weaknesses, manoeuvring in closed positions, use of two bishops, etc. They tend to be followers of the history of the game and its development. Their games are logical and systematic. They can be too dogmatic. Great Theorists are Steinitz, Tarrasch, Nimzowitsch, Botvinnik, and Kramnik.
(d) Reflectors [who aren't actually described as being reflective; thus 'Generalists' might be a better term] are players who have a feel for where the pieces belong and very good understanding of piece coordination. Reflectors are good at exploiting small advantages and are strong in the endgame. They calculate less than those in the other categories. Sometimes the Reflector finds the game 'too easy' and loses for that reason. Famous Reflectors are Capablanca, Smyslov, Petrosian, Karpov, and Adams.
I find these categories interesting but I disagree somewhat with the division. In general, I believe that differences in style are both stereotyped and overrated, especially when it comes to modern players. As for the division, I don't see Petrosian, a notoriously great calculator and Karpov (a less recognised one) as fitting the Reflector category very well, whereas Lasker and Spassky are certainly pragmatic in the normal sense of the word but hardly opening theorists nor weak players in dull positions. Botvinnik seems a good match for a 'Pragmatic' and not a Theorist. Korchnoi would be a better Theorist, or maybe even an Activist. Fortunately this is mostly a matter of opinion and doesn't impact the overall quality.
I also find parts of the whole 'business methods' argument to be thin. I'm not sure if Hansen has ever worked for a sizeable company, but his descriptions tend to sound like academic models and business jargon rather than what I experienced working in the real world. Imagine if chessplayers could manipulate the rules and win immediate, transparent advantages over the board by the use power relationships with governing bodies and collaborative allies. One comparison would be using an Arbiter to change the way that the pieces move to your advantage. Or to force your opponent to play blindfold. The naive school model doesn't match what's happening out there with the exception of highly-competitive, mostly newer, industries (e.g., those with a heavy technological orientation). Maybe the word 'methods' should be changed to 'models'.
But all this is unimportant,
especially since the business theme seems to fade as the book goes on. The real
virtue of Hansen's effort, obviously a labour of love, rests with the examples
and his extremely intelligent analysis of them. Hansen is full of insights,
clearly interested in his subject, and capable of finding original ways to
describe the game. This is a unique book, and I can unequivocally recommend
Foundations of Chess Strategy to all mid-level players and above.
Stefan Kindermann's Leningrad System: A Complete Weapon against 1 d4 is a translation of his 2002 book Leningrader System - Eine Waffe gegen 1.d4 , a book that I reviewed in this column with the hope that there would be an English edition! The translated book has been considerably updated and worked upon, which is obvious as you pore through the most important variations. Kindermann's subject is 1.d4 f5 with a later ...g6 in most variations, and the book includes a very interesting and original chapter on 1.Nf3. I'll do some comparison with Boris Schipkov's excellent CD The Dutch Defence Leningrad System A86- 89, but the emphasis will be on A Complete Weapon against 1 d4 .
Kindermann begins with an historical introduction and quickly moves on to a thorough and well-written section on all the typical Leningrad ideas, with many supporting examples. He calls the next section 'Illustrative Games', but it is in fact the theory section of the book, with a complete analysis of all known alternatives in the notes. To me, this layout is a bit awkward and I miss the detailed tables which were provided in his earlier French Winawer book. Nevertheless I don't think that Kindermann misses anything important. And it's difficult enough to fit an entire Dutch Defence repertoire into 208 pages!
The main line is 1.d4 f5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.g3 d6 4.Bg2 g6 5.c4 Bg7 6.0-0 0-0 7.Nc3 Qe8
As I said in my previous review, he does a masterly job of reviewing the relevant material and showing the viability of the system. Without space to investigate all that, I thought that I'd start with Kindermann's chapter "My Special Recommendation for White", which features
It's amusing that GM Dolmatov actually gives this move, one of Kindermann's favourites, a '?!'. We now know that's wrong. Obviously, players of 1.d4 will gravitate to this chapter. But how good is 8.Re1 ? One game is Pigusov-Malaniuk, Moscow 1990, which continued 8...Qf7 Attacking c4. 9.b3 h6 (A risky move. Kindermann is 'mistrustful' but seems to think that it might be okay) 10.Bb2 (10.e4 fxe4 11.Nxe4 g5 12.Bb2 c6!? is given a lengthy analysis by Schipkov, who give White a small advantage in every line) 10...g5 11.e4 fxe4 12.Nxe4 c6! (maybe simply 12...Nxe4 13.Rxe4 Bf5 isn't so bad?) 13.Qd2 (and here I wonder about something like 13.Ned2 Na6 14.a3 Bf5 15.Qe2 Rae8 16.b4) 13...Na6 14.h4 Bf5!? 15.Nxf6+ exf6 16.Re3 (Kindermann mentions 16.Ba3 which 'according to Floria Graf gives White hopes for a small advantage". That seems true. Maybe 9...h6 is just a bit lacking) 16...Rfe8= 17.Rae1 Rxe3 18.Rxe3 Re8 19.d5 c5 20.Bc3 Nc7 21.Qe1 Rxe3 22.Qxe3 Qe8 23.Qd2 1/2-1/2
Next I'll turn to the line 8.Re1 Qf7 9.b3 Ne4 10.Bb2 Nc6 11.Rc1 e5 (There are other moves such as 11...a5 and 11...h6, which D Tyomkin analyses in great detail on the Schipkov CD. 11...Nxc3?! 12.Bxc3 e5? 13.dxe5 dxe5 14.Qd5! is a transposition to the next note and leads to a very large advantage for White) 12.d5 (Here Kindermann likes Lesiege's move 12.dxe5 intending 12...Nxc3 13.Bxc3 dxe5 14.Qd5"!!" with clear superiority. Instead, 12...dxe5 13.Nxe4 fxe4 14.Ng5 Qxf2+ 15.Kh1 Rd8 16.Qc2 is given as a clear advantage to White in the first edition, but Kindermann now feels that 16...Qf5! can hold the balance. A good example of how he's reviewing his material rather than simply presenting it again, as is the case with many translations) 12...Nxc3 13.Bxc3 Nb8 (K feels 13...Nd8! to be better) 14.c5 Na6 15.b4 e4 16.Ng5 Qe7 17.Bxg7 Kxg7 18.Qd4+ Kg8 19.h4 h6 20.Nh3+= Kindermann doesn't source this game, Pigusov - Zhang Zhong, Beijing 1997. Tyomkin's assessment is also +=.
As an alternative to all this, Schipkov likes the less-frequently-used idea of 10...Nd7 instead of 10...Nc6 (he even quotes a Kindermann game and analysis), whereas Kindermann gives it full attention but has some worries about the move 11.Nd2 in response.
In the new edition, Kindermann's "secret weapon" for White is 1.Nf3 f5 2.d3!, to which he appends a great amount of analysis and concludes, surprisingly, that Black has no known way to reach equality! An example of a line that falls short is the extremely natural 2...d6 (2...Nc6 3.d4!; 2...d5 3.c4) 3.e4 e5 4.Nc3 Nf6 (4...Nc6 is the main line) 5.exf5 Bxf5 6.d4!
So he suggests 1.Nf3 d6, allowing 2.e4 and either 2...c5 with a Sicilian or 2...Nf6 3.Nc3 g6 4.d4 with a Pirc in which White has foregone many aggressive systems by playing Nf3. The idea is that a player of 1.Nf3 might not want to prepare for those openings. So after 1.Nf3 d6 2.d4 g6 (2...f5 3.Nc3! Nf6 4.Bg5!) 3.c4 (but this time 3.e4 eliminates the Najdorf and most Sicilians) 3...f5 and Black is back to normal. Hmmm. Okay, so maybe the reader should play 1.d4 f5 but upon 1.Nf3 he would needs to be prepared for several other contingencies and he might as well play, say, 1...d5 or 1...c5 in order to dictate the play.
Turning our attention to 1.d4 f5 2.Nc3, we have 2...Nf6 3.Bg5 d5 ('!') 4.Bxf6 exf6 5.e3 Be6, and now Palliser's Play 1.d4! book suggests 6.Qf3, which Kindermann also adorns with an '!'. Then 6...Qd7 is the main line (6...Nc6 7.Bb5 Qd6!? 8.Nge2 0-0-0 9.a3!?, and both authors cite a game with 9...0-0-0 10.Nf4 leading to a White advantage, but Kindermann gives the one-move suggestion 9...Ne7). After 6...Qd7, play goes 7.Bb5 Nc6 (7...c6?! 8.Bd3) 8.Nge2 a6 (8...0-0-0 9.Nf4) 9.Ba4 Rd8 with obscure play. They both follow the same game and assess a key position as unclear (Kindermann) or favouring White (Palliser).
As for research, Schipkov lists Kindermann's 2002 book in his very short Bibliography and Palliser has neither of the others' works in his (of course only Kindermann 2002 was out at the time). More importantly, it seems that Kindermann didn't use the other two works, because even his refreshingly extensive 2005 Bibliography mentions neither one.
I would suggest that someone taking up the Dutch and intending to play the Leningrad can do very nicely with either product (both describe the basic ideas very well). Partly comes down to whether one prefers to study on a computer is more comfortable with a book. Schipkov's CD has the advantage of looking at a lot more alternatives for Black (and White's replies), since it doesn't present a repertoire. The CD also includes a database of sample games (with notes from ChessBase Magazine, for example) and has a useful set of training exercises.
An advantage of Kindermann's book is that he gives the reader a complete repertoire for Black. For one thing this means that he is selecting the best lines and explaining them (and in fact he also looks at quite a few Black alternatives). That is a project that the average player with an average amount of spare time might take years to do properly. As readers may know, I prefer such repertoire books in these days when complete books are hopelessly complex for the normal player. Also (unlike the particular Schipkov CD we have discussed) he gives recommendations against the many White sidelines such as 2.Nc3, 2.Bg5, 2.c4 with 3.Nc3, several variations involving the move Nh3, the Staunton Gambit (at length), and a host of more obscure tries such as 2.g4!?. But one should know that Schipkov's is actually part of a trilogy on the Dutch. His most recent CD is Dutch A80-A85, which does in fact deal with these 2nd and 3rd move alternatives, and he has previously examined the Dutch Classical lines (A90-99). Essentially you would have to purchase the 2 CDs covering A80-A89 to match the material investigated by Kindermann.
In conclusion, Kindermann's book is state-of-the-art for the Leningrad Dutch and will be an essential source for many years to come. Both his and Schipkov's are very fine products that will not disappoint the serious student.
Najdorf: Life and Games is a noteworthy book by Lissowski, Mikhalchishin and Najdorf himself. It will bring back a lot of memories, at least for those of us who have been in the chess world for a couple of decades or more. The book is a translation; it doesn't indicate from what language (Polish?). Najdorf's daughter Liliana had already written a book Najdorf on Najdorf from which some material was drawn, and the first lengthy section (53 pages) by Tomsz Lissowski is an account of Najdorf's life, initially split between his childhood and chess. Naajdorf's adventures begin with his fortuitous absence from Poland when the Nazis and Soviets invaded in 1939. He was playing in Buenos Aires at the time, settled in Argentina and for a brief while played chess for a pittance. Unfortunately, Lissowski condenses into one paragraph Najdorf's move into the life insurance business, and we hear almost nothing more about the life-long career that supported him as a chessplayer.
After that there's limited biographical material apart from chess tournaments, results, and the events surrounding them. Najdorf was a great personality, raconteur, and emotional character, so the descriptions of him are entertaining enough. In the field of chess game collections anything along these lines is a real positive. Still, the usual goings and comings from and to tournaments wears thin. The best part of the book consists of the exciting games, mostly dynamic contests that make for good reading. Many are annotated by Najdorf himself, some by or in conjunction with other players and commentators, many by Mikhalchisin. Najdorf was one of the world's best players for many years, particularly in the 1940s and well into the 1950s. The authors make the familiar claim that Najdorf should have been invited to the 1948 World Championship Tournament, based upon his score against Botvinnik. That kind of reasoning is silly, of course, and might lead to a championship tournament between practically anybody. In fact, Najdorf was a notch below the very elite, but in his career beat almost every (or every?) World Champion from Euwe to Fischer at least once, as well as most leading players.
The book ends with a brief endgame section and a Postscript, the latter with stories and even games from a 1996 Reunion tournament. This is a fine book that is well worth reading, although you may be disappointed with the lost opportunity to concentrate upon the human side of this legendary personality.
I hate to give short shrift to companies and their hard-working authors and
editors, but here are comments upon other worthwhile products which are
selected mainly because I've had positive experiences with them. In the next
few columns I'll devote more time to electronic products and recent works.
Vladim Milov's CD Nimzo-Indian 4.f3 and Saemisch-Variation is older than most products that I'll be discussing, but having used it a good deal I feel that it deserves an endorsement for its original analysis of extremely complex variations. At the time of his writing it (2002), GM Milov's record with the moves 4.a3 (Saemisch) and 4.f3 was staggering, even against 2600+ opponents. The moves can sometimes transpose, although Black can force his way into several critical independent variations versus 4.f3. I feel that the Saemisch is much more interesting than it is generally held be and quite playable.
The other book on 4.f3 (independent of the Saemisch) is Yuri Yakovich's Play the 4.f3 Nimzo-Indian . Perhaps it's just a matter of taste, but I find the main lines after 4.f3 less convincing, and indeed Yakovich shows almost as many good ideas for Black as for White. If you're looking for something new against the intractable Nimzo you may want to investigate 4.a3 and/or 4.f3. Likewise, if you need a weapon against these moves, both products will be useful.
Everyman is pouring out books of many types about a huge range of openings. They have a number of series: the "Starting Out With the [name of opening]" series, e.g., Ward's "Starting out with the Nimzo-Indian" and the "Play the [name of opening]" series, e.g., "Play 1 e4 e5!" by Davies, a very strong book reviewed in the next column. They also publish opening manuals with unadorned titles such as Taylor's recent "Bird's Opening". These are all of varying quality and type, ranging from relatively elementary books for developing players to ones containing analysis dense enough for the professional. It seems that hardly any opening is left untouched, and as far as I can see all of the prominent theoretical authors of England are represented, along with various 'foreigners' including expatriates and Americans. Personally, having used a few on particularly broad subjects, I think that many deserve more care by the author [and by anyone who is going over the analysis for him]. Too many of these books are being written by someone who hasn't (or hardly) played the opening in question, and many otherwise good authors are simply producing too many books, CDs, videos, etc.. Nevertheless, the average player may need an overview of material more than he needs accurate details of analysis. And the more specialized books in these series give a better impression.
The "Starting Out" series has the most books; one such is Starting Out: Alekhine's Defence by John Cox. I thought that I'd pick out this particular repertoire book, now going on two years old, because I've read most of it and because Cox's presentation is so refreshing. He convincingly shows that the Alekhine's can be a practical weapon for the average player and perhaps much stronger ones. Cox also uses an interesting approach that serves players of both colours well. He suggests a "solid" White repertoire, a "tactical, theoretical" White repertoire, and even a 'Offbeat tries for White' repertoire. For Black he puts forward a "non-theoretical" repertoire, a "positional" repertoire", and a "tactical" repertoire. Thus the reader can find something to suit his or her style (a la Lars Bo Hansen!). This general approach has been seen elsewhere but I wish that it was used more often.
An example: like many players I have looked to the Voronezh Variation 1.e4 Nf6 2.e5 Nd5 3.d4 d6 4.c4 Nb6 5.exd6 cxd6 6.Nc3 g6 7.Be3 Bg7 8.Rc1 0-0 9.b3 for an advantage. After 9...e5, concrete analysis takes over and the theory of this line has advanced since the book, helped in fact by Cox's own submissions to ChessPublishing.com. That would be in Black's tactical repertoire but it is facing serious difficulties. The tactical player may still wish to use dynamic lines against other 7th and 8th moves while switching to Davies' 9...e6 or 9...Bd7 to serve as an alternative in the Voronezh. For the "positional" repertoire", 5...exd6 is a less critical move that is holding up well. It is given in the non-theoretical repertoire, with a choice between the two recaptures for his positional one [I'd stick with the safer 5...exd6]. There are numerous ways for both sides to play around with alternatives, although I have to say that I've never liked 1.e4 Nf6 2.e5 Nd5 3.d4 d6 4.Nf3 dxe5 5.Nxe5 c6 at all for Black. I should emphasize that this is no detailed theoretical tome and certainly contains some errors (it is already dated!), so you should expect to be given the spirit of the opening with no illusions of getting an airtight repertoire.
Starting Out: Alekhine's Defence is well-written and to my mind serves the main purpose of this series as a guide for the inexperienced player, but with some fairly advanced material interwoven for more experienced one. This division is typical of most of the Starting Out series, although a few recent ones tend to be rather advanced. The "Revealed" series tries to concentrate more upon general ideas and a relatively small group of thoroughly annotated games with plenty of written explanation. I wish that I could guide you through Everyman's abundant offering and will try to do so in the future once I examine (or get feedback about) more of these books. [see next column].
Edward Dearing's Play the Sicilian Dragon is an amazingly detailed work that provides a repertoire for Black in the Dragon. Apart from the main lines it gives an overview of various alternatives. The Soltis Variation 12...h5 versus 9.Bc4 and 9...d5 versus 9.0-0-0 are the featured antidotes to the Yugoslav Attack. Dearing presents a few (but not completely comprehensive) alternative systems against both 9.Bc4 and 9.0-0-0, which are meant as a prelude for further research in the literature. Thus he doesn't cover them as thoroughly as his main choices but gives the reader plenty with which to form a general repertoire. The Yugoslav uses up a little more than 80% of the book, which may well be proportional to its usage on the master level. The Classical Variation (6.Be2 with 0-0), Levenfish (6.f4), Fianchetto (6.g3), and 6.Bc4 take up 45 pages. The author's intent for these sections was to provide more general ideas and games that was the case with the Yugoslav, but the material is still quite dense (thankfully, I think) with relatively less explanation than elsewhere. Dearing has an engaging style and explains both the ideas and their evolution extremely well. His Introduction is very original, tracing his own use of the Dragon and even discussing the drawbacks of Black's pawn structure (for example, its rigidity, even 'passivity' and the difficulty of enforcing ...d5 without creating weaknesses); naturally these disadvantages are counterbalanced by Black's familiar and extensive set of attacking ideas. Overall, though, this is a relatively advanced book (at least in terms of copious detail and pages of analysis and lightly annotated games), probably best suited for 1700 players and above, but also for enthusiastic and considerably lower-rated students who love this opening (there are many such). It's a question of whether you like a coverage of a repertoire fulfilling the role of a reference book, with a strong guiding hand by the author (as I do); or a book with an uncluttered emphasis on ideas, but lacking the kind of detail that is so important as you gain more experience.
As with every book on the Dragon, my students have found a couple of gaps or marginal assessments here and there, but not many. This is the new Dragon bible and because of the analysis it will remain essential to every Dragon player for years to come. Gambit's emphasis has always been on quality and depth, thus giving their books a long shelf life. Play the Sicilian Dragon is a great example of this, and also one of the best opening books in recent years.
Thomas Johansson's repertoire book The Fascinating King's Gambit is published by Trafford, a Print-on-Demand company for self-publishing authors. It's a little sloppy-looking, but that generally doesn't bother me in books and it has everything you need to know to play 1.e4 e5 2.f4, assuming that you are happy with the main line 2...exf4 3.Bc4. I've personally looked at various whacky ideas "the Westerinen Gambit" (1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.Nc3 c6 5.d4!?) and here the critical 5.Bb3 d5 6.exd5 cxd5 7.d4. Of course you have to trust the main lines beginning with 3...Qh4+ 4.Kf1. I believe that the latter poses less threat to White's ambitions than the former, and both sides have issues to solve in the King's Gambit Declined (2...Bc5). Johansson's is another book that a student of mine is absorbed in, and potentially provides you with a way to avoid the near-infinite theory of the Spanish Game.