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John Watson Book Reviews (104)

John Watson Book Review #104 - Biographies and Game Collections

John Watson Review 104. Photo ©

John Watson Review 104. Photo © |

John Watson returns with a new series of reviews. In number 104 he looks at biographies of players both for pleasure and instruction. Harding's Eminent Victorian Chess Players is a heavyweight work on familiar and not so familiar names from 19th century chess. My Best Games 1908-1937 by Alekhine, studied by generations of players, is out in a new English edition, Helgi Olafsson talks about Fischer in Iceland, Cyrus Lakdawala looks at instructive games of Capablanca and Kramnik.

John Watson Book Review #104 - Biographies and Game Collections

A lot of my chess reading these days is for pleasure, and over the past few years I've found myself looking at non-technical books a lot more than I used to. In this and the next column I'm going to return to biographical works, of which a remarkable number have appeared of late. And the historically-minded reader is getting a real treat with the publication of numerous new books about classic chess tournaments.

Eminent Victorian Chess Players

Eminent Victorian Chess Players; Tim Harding; 400 pages; McFarland 2011

My Best Games of Chess, 1908-1937

My Best Games of Chess, 1908-1937; Alexander Alekhine; 456 pages; Russell Enterprises 2013

Bobby Fischer Comes Home

Bobby Fischer Comes Home; Helgi Olafsson; 143 pages; New in Chess 2012

Capablanca move by move

Capablanca move by move; Cyrus Lakdawala; 364  pages; Everyman Chess 2012 (softcover and e-book)

Kramnik move by move

Kramnik move by move; Cyrus Lakdawala; 408 pages; Everyman Chess 2012 (softcover and e-book)

Eminent Victorian Chess Players by Tim Harding

Eminent Victorian Chess Players

Tim Harding has written many interesting books and columns over the years, on subjects ranging from opening theory to correspondence chess to chess history. I've reviewed several here. Next to his superb books on correspondence chess (the best out there that I'm aware of), I would place Eminent Victorian Chess Players at the top of his achievements as an author. The title might lost on younger readers. It is a play upon Eminent Victorians, a 1918 book by Lytton Strachey which used to be compulsory reading for an educated person (and perhaps still is in Britain), which deals with four famous figures of Victorian England. Strachey's work changed biographical writing forever, in part because he spoke ill of the dead, which in the modern English literary tradition had been considered bad form. Harding's book isn't critical in the same way, and is sympathetic in the main, but he doesn't hesitate to point out the infighting and petty cruelties of the 19th-century chess world.

Here's how Harding himself to describe the book (from his site ChessMail):

"Eminent Victorian Chess-Players consists of ten essays in historical biography about leading figures in British chess (amateur and professional) during the 19th century. All chapters have some games and pictorial illustrations. This large book begins with new revelations about Captain Evans, inventor of the Evans gambit, and ends with a chapter on the curious career of Isidor Gunsberg, the Hungarian-born British grandmaster who was Steinitz's third opponent in world championship matches. Eminent Victorian Chess-Players also includes major reassessments of several other players including Howard Staunton, Henry Bird, and William Steinitz. Many chapters are full of human interest, delving into aspects of player's careers that have rarely been discussed in chess books. This includes an investigation into the secret life of one of the "fighting reverends" of Victorian chess, the Rev. Arthur Skipworth. The other chapters in the book feature Blackburne, Burn, Loewenthal and Zukertort.

Chapters include career summaries and personal notes on several other players tangential to the lives of the main ten, including Ernst Falkbeer, Daniel Harrwitz, Leopold Hoffer, the Rev. George Alcock MacDonnell, and Adolphus Zytogorski. Through these overlapping stories, a new picture of nineteenth century chess emerges."

Beyond the assiduous research, an outstanding feature of this book consists of the original portraits and 'major reassessments' mentioned above. I particularly enjoyed, at the end of chapters, reading what contemporaries (including rivals) said about each player.

The book is simply packed with material so I won't attempt to do it justice with a real description. I've always been interested in Steinitz, and Harding's portrait of the first world champion is very original. It covers his years in London, 1862 to 1882. Early on, in 1866, he defeated Anderssen in a match 8-6 and claimed to be the champion. Harding questions that, but within a few years there was no doubt left, especially after he defeated Zukertort in a match. Here's an excerpt from Harding's concluding remarks:

"William Steinitz battled through life with the single-minded determination of a small man confident in his own superiority and determined to raise himself, from very humble origins, to the heights by his own largely unaided effort. Nobody can become a chess champion without a great intellect, big ego and a forceful personality, and in Steinitz these qualities, for good or bad, were even more apparent than they had been in Staunton. First let us consider Steinitz the chess master and then Steinitz the man, in so far as it is possible to separate them.

He vanquished in turn a series of great rivals in matches: Anderssen, Blackburne (three times), Zukertort (twice), Chigorin (twice), and Gunsberg, before age caught up with him. His writings helped to educate a generation of amateur players and began to get masters think­ing in a new way about how to achieve success at the board...

Cecil Purdy, the first correspondence chess world champion, wrote an article in 1978 under the provocative title "The Great Steinitz Hoax" in which he claimed that the "theory of Steinitz" was really an invention by Lasker. Hooper answered this in an 1984 article which enumerated the basic principles that could be found in Steinitz's own writings." As noted above, some of these principles can be found in embryo in Cluley's Philosophy of Chess—especially the idea, which Hooper could not find expressed by Steinitz—that once an advantage is obtained, it must be explained by attack lest it dissipate..." Harding goes on to quote Lasker, Fischer, Pritchett, and Kramnik about Steinitz' play. Much of the chapter is devoted to Steinitz' writings and relations (often bad) with his contemporaries. He was subject to much abuse, and fought back against his critics without a sense of diplomacy or compromise. This lead to the alienation of many in the chess community:

"Nowadays we tend to see Steinitz as the eccentric genius who transformed for all time the way chess is played, but to his London contemporaries in the mid-1870s that was not how he seemed. They saw an arrogant and argumentative individual who was in part annoying and in part a figure of fun. He had learned to write in good English and could express himself vehemently in conversation albeit with a strong Austrian accent. Needing at times to make money by casual play in the divans, he came in for the usual abuse from those who abhorred playing the game in public for a stake. Enemies like Duffy liked to portray the "shilling shark" as an unscrupulous foreign villain preying on the naive visitor to a chess cafe. For the amateur up from the country for a short stay, it probably felt different. The chance to sit for half an hour at a table with the great Steinitz, to breathe the same cigar-laden air, maybe to absorb a lesson or two while losing a few games This would make an after dinner story, and might help you win next time you played at your local club. This was worth the price of a few shillings."

I had never read anything biographical about Lowenthal, who was Staunton's favorite at first (a prote´ge´, as Harding describes it), and later his enemy. Because of Staunton's influence, this caused him difficulties in surviving as a chessplayer (he did so primarily as a journalist). His lengthy 1853 match versus Harrwitz has some particularly well-annotated games. It finished 10-11-12 in Harrwitz' favour. Lowenthal used the excuse that the new 20-minute-per-move rule caused his defeat! But he was always plagued by nerves. His match against Morphy (3-9) and mini-match versus Staunton (0-2) are the ones that stand out in terms of importance; and as always in this book, contemporary accounts are used to describe the circumstances and interesting sidelights.

The Contents:

Preface and Acknowledgments

Abbreviations and Annotation Symbols

1 William Davies Evans (1790-1872)

2 Howard Staunton (1810-1874)

3 John Jacob Loewenthal (1810?-1876)

4. Henry Edward Bird (1829-1908)

5 Arthur Bolland Skipworth (1830-1898)

6 William Steinitz (1836-1900)

7 Joseph Henry Blackburne (1841-1924)

8 Johannes Zukertort (1842-1888)

9 Amos Burn (1848-1925)

10 Isidor Arthur Gunsberg (1854-1930)

Appendix I. Career Records

Appendix II. Games by Captain Evans

Appendix III. Evans Family Financial Appeals

Appendix IV. Staunton's contract with Routledge

Appendix V. Loewenthal's Will

Appendix VI. The career of Mephisto

Chapter Notes

Select Bibliography

Index of Images

Index of Opponents

Index of Openings (by Name)

Index of Openings (by ECO Code)

General Index

The chapters on Evans and Gunsberg are incredibly well-researched and readable; I'm not a chess historian, but they strike me as the first time anyone has examined these players' lives and careers in anywhere near this detail. The same doubtless applies to others (certainly to Skipworth, an amateur player but important organizer and editor); this impression is heightened by the fact that in his extensive bibliography, only a few books appear to be devoted to specific players in the way that a biography would be (as opposed to a games collection). Two exceptions are Steinitz and Burn, who have comprehensive biographies as described in my columns.

Surely this is one of the best and most accessible pieces of chess history ever written.

My Best Games of Chess, 1908-1937 by Alexander Alekhine

My Best Games of Chess, 1908-1937

My Best Games of Chess, 1908-1937 by Alexander Alekhine is a collection of 220 games annotated by the renowned World Champion. The Russell Enterprises 2013 edition is a faithful algebraic notation version of the old descriptive notation Dover edition (my copy is 1985), itself a combination of Volumes 1 and 2 of the original Bell editions. As far as I can make out, the games and Alekhine's notes are precisely the same as those in the old descriptive notation Dover edition, as is the J Du Mont memoir, which appeared at the beginning of the 2nd volume (Russell has, appropriately, moved it to the front of the book). In this new edition, there are several extra features in addition to the move from descriptive to algebraic notation. The Editor's Preface by Taylor Kingston contributes a brief but eloquent essay about Alekhine, was a chess hero to Kingston as he first learned about chess. He gives an overview of Alekhine's style and guides him through the text, for example: "...Alekhine's games have a quality – or more accurately a combination of qualities – and a stylistic variety, that are striking and unique. There are scintillating tactical brilliancies, such as against Bogoljubow at Hastings 1922, Asztalos at Kecskemet 1927, and Pirc at Bled 1931. His restless striving for the initiative, and his willingness to enter complications – as against Vidmar at Carlsbad 1911, Levenfish at St. Petersburg 1914, or, most strikingly, Reti at Baden-Baden 1925 – give his games an energy that made other masters seem torpid. He could produce positional masterpieces that showed deep strategic understanding (e.g., against Nimzowitsch at San Remo 1930, Menchik at Podebrady 1936, or Fine at Kemeri 1937). When attacking and combinative play was not feasible, he produced endgames of indomitable persistence and lethal technical precision".

Alekhine, like Botvinnik, Fischer, and Kasparov after him, was the leading opening researcher of his day. To quote Kingston again:

"Besides introducing the eponymous Alekhine's Defense to master practice, he is credited by The Oxford Companion to Chess with no fewer than 19 "Alekhine variations" in such varied lines as the Dutch, Sicilian, French, Ruy Lopez, Queens's Gambit (both Declined and Accepted), Slav, Semi-Slav, and Vienna Game. And his willingness to experiment with perhaps dubious but psychologically potent variations, and to hit opponents with unexpected novelties, was legendary. For example, his use of the Blumenfeld Counter-Gambit against Tarrasch at Bad Pistyan 1922, the Benoni against Bogoljubow and Gygli in two 1934 games, and, most strikingly, his piece sacrifice at the sixth move (!) against Euwe in their 1937 title match.

All these elements combine to make Alekhine's chess some of the most exciting, interesting, complex and beautiful ever played..."

There is a 6-page foreword by Igor Zaitsev, in which he propounds the view that the young player should study the classics, because individual chess development progresses in the stages as the evolution of the game itself, "just as if this individual were mimicking the law of biological development of an embryo" (alas, he doesn't use the phrase with which I was inculcated, i.e., "ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny"). Zaitsev describes Alekhine's contributions, e.g., related to initiative, attack, and combinations on both wings. He then shows examples of how Alekhine's ideas informed his own play.

A 63-page supplement Kingston (in rather small print, so there's a lot of material) is available on the web at It's called 'Analytical Corrections, Additions and Enhancements for My Best Games of Chess 1908-1937'. This is a huge effort, obviously heavily computer-checked and, especially for chess researchers, it adds significantly to the literature. It was possible to incorporate such corrections and comments within the games in the book itself, which has the advantage that you don't have to jump back and forth. This is how John Nunn did additions to the Batsford editions of classic books, which aroused some negative reaction at the time by purists. In retrospect, it's amusing to see how unobtrusive and modest in scope these scattered footnotes are. But for lengthier and more serious annotations such as Kingston provides, I prefer his way of doing things, which doesn't interrupt the narrative feel of the annotations. Very few people will be reading such an older games collection while simultaneously playing over every move, and even fewer are expecting error-free analysis. Apart from the fact that we generally read these books impressionistically, most games are available on the computer for instant replay these days, and you can always put an analytical engine on if you want to see some of the more serious errors. With the method Kingston (and Russell Enterprises) is using, the analytically-minded reader or researcher can go to the website, and the majority of readers are spared extra clutter (in the sense of readability), as well as the expense of additional pages. This is a book anyone interested in the play of the great champions will want to own.

Bobby Fischer Comes Home; Helgi Olafsson

Bobby Fischer Comes Home

For many years now, I've chosen to review mostly chosen books that I liked, only rarely warning readers away from ones that I feel are largely a waste of time (or worse, dishonest). There are seemingly countless works about Fischer, and most of the ones that speak about his life tend to share a few characteristics: claims of close friendship (at its worst, a sort of generalized name-dropping) and accounts of amazingly trivial details that only the Fischer-obsessed could care about. There are usually additional comments about what a pleasant guy Fischer really was, in spite of numerous crazy rants and blowups (which would never be tolerated in a real friend). All these apply to Helgi Olafsson's book Bobby Fischer Comes Home; anyone who followed Fischer in his years in the U.S. (or the Philippines, for that matter) will not be surprised that in the end Fischer turns on Olafsson in anger and their 'friendship' is broken off. Predictably, it's implied that Fischer's mental deterioration is responsible, ignoring a long string of 'friends' (practically everyone he ever interacted with) going back to his teenage years, most of whom he accused of betraying him (and/or being part of the Jewish conspiracy, whether or not they were Jewish). It's a pathetic and tedious pattern. Like so many players, Olafsson grew up inspired by Fischer's match against Spassky, which was instrumental in his own chess career. Unfortunately, the first chapter in this short 143-page book is almost entirely about Olafsson's own chess experiences and impressions, and the next two constitute a barebones, standard summary of Fischer's career and the Fischer-Spassky match that you have likely seen many times; at any rate, it appears in countless other sources. That pattern continues into the post-match years, and after a while we get to Fischer's arrest in Japan, about which we hear an extremely lengthy, thoroughly biased account from the now-defunct Fischer website. No source is cited, so this is presumably based upon Fischer's own tale, and probably written by Fischer himself (or transcribed from his words). The story and tone strongly resemble his 'torture in the Pasadena jailhouse' pamphlet. For example:

"Now Bobby was in U.S.-occupied - excuse us - U.S.-controlled Japan. Obviously the filthy Jew-controlled U.S. government preferred to illegally and criminally grab and destroy Bobby's passport only when Bobby was not in neutral Switzerland. So instead they planned to do the job elsewhere at a time and manner of their own choosing The U.S. not only wanted to grab and destroy Bobby's U.S. passport, but far more importantly they wanted to grab and destroy Bobby too. And neutral Switzerland was not the right place to do it Little did Bobby suspect the devilish criminal plot that the 'moderate' Colin Powell had in store for him now Bobby felt certain that there was a real possibility of his being chained and handcuffed and flown back to the filthy Jew-controlled U.S.A. with a bag over his head that very night. So he decided not to go down without a fight!..'

At this point we get a lengthy description of how the evil Japanese, for no apparent reason and quite unprovoked, physically assault and almost kill Fischer. In writing a 'book' with all these fantastic and typically racist claims, did it even occur to Olafsson to present another side to the story, e.g., to quote from the Japanese authorities, or to solicit anybody else's version of events? There's no mention of any such attempt. Worse, Olafsson himself seems to extend the basic narrative (citing vague suspicions) as the book proceeds, although he doesn't engage in Fischer's anti-Semitic or anti-Japanese vitriol.

Finally we turn to the authors' and others' efforts to get Fischer to come to Iceland and his time there after his release. It is painfully slow going; the most interesting of Fischer's Icelandic experiences seem to be his going out to eat, and his befriending the owner of a local bookstore. At this point I'm reduced to browsing (even that is painful), so I may have missed some fascinating story or other, but even lengthy positive reviews of the book don't indicate that there are any. Fischer's life outside of chess seems to have been as boring and narrow as it was when he was playing. What to say? This seems to me yet another attempt to trade upon Fischer's name, which itself is largely based upon the nostalgia that older chessplayers have for the heady days of his triumphs. Fischer worshippers and ardent fans have certainly already bought the book (perhaps multiple copies!), but I would advise others to turn to one of the excellent books about his chess, for example, Mueller's or Soltis'.

Kramnik move by move by Cyrus Lakdawala

Kramnik move by move

Cyrus Lakdawala is establishing himself as one of the best instructive writers in the business, and Kramnik move by move will only enhance his reputation. Lakdawala has written a raft of books over the past year, and is responsible for a remarkable percentage of Everyman's 'Move-by-Move' series books. These are definitely not move-by-move books in the old Irving Chernev sense, commenting upon literally every move, nor what John Nunn does in Understanding Chess Move by Move (which is almost the same as Chernev, but more advanced and analytical). The main idea of the series, as I see it, is to take more moves than would usually be commented upon and explain them verbally, while limiting the number and length of analytical notes. That is particularly true in these books about Capablanca and Kramnik, where the emphasis is upon the flow of the game. In Lakdawala's many Move-by-Move opening books, some of which I will review in forthcoming columns, it's awfully difficult to avoid concrete analysis, and you find more frequent notes with both analytical and verbal content. In either case, I think his greatest strength as an author is getting to the essence of what the average player needs to know about the position before him. He does so with humour and an accessible style, encouraging the reader to think that chess isn't so impenetrable after all, without letting on how deeply he understands the game.

In Kramnik move by move, Lakdawala takes on the difficult task of explaining the most sophisticated player of his generation (at least of the top-ranked ones), Vladimir Kramnik. In 59 games, he divides the material by general theme, emphasizing the typical chess elements that appear in each category. The Contents read as follows:

Chapter 1: Kramnik on the Attack

Chapter 2: Kramnik on Defence

Chapter 3: Riding the Dynamic Element

Chapter 4: Exploiting Imbalances

Chapter 5: Accumulating Advantages

Chapter 6: Kramnik on Endings

The bibliography lists 12 opening books - which seems odd given the book's lack of emphasis on openings - and a few websites and databases. You would think to include a few of the many books and DVDs about Kramnik, and of course his games are annotated extensively outside of the games collections, in other books and especially in magazines. A nice choice would be Kramnik's own My Life and Games (with Damsky); understandably, not everyone has this but it's a great book if you're interested in chess biography (Everyman 2000/2001).


Anyway, Kramnik Move by Move has all the good qualities mentioned above. Lakdawala begins insightfully, claiming what should be well-known but isn't: that Kramnik is an excellent attacking player: " I had the hardest time compiling this chapter, mainly because the cup runneth over from a glut of incredible attacking games - way too many for one chapter, or even one book for that matter. So this chapter is one of the largest in the book, to give Kramnik his attacking due...". That's a good idea, although I don't agree with his specific characterization of Kramnik's play, e.g., "Kramnik creates so many of his attacks by camouflaging true intent. He switches suddenly from strategic build-up, only to cash out mysteriously into a promising attack. He normally earns his attacks the hard way, incrementally, and very rarely attempts a wild leapfrog over the opposing barrier, in Morozevich/Nakamura-style." This certainly isn't the case with Lakdawala's own selection of attacking games, in most of which Kramnik plays very aggressively out of the opening and goes for an immediate attack. In fact, the dynamic, direct, and often highly theoretical openings he chose over the first major stage of his career are indicative of that. The real point is that Kramnik's style has changed dramatically over the years. 'Young' Kramnik often played for extremely complex middlegames, which helps explain the early dates of most of the attacking games Lakdawala selects. He then entered into a period of generally careful and risk-averse play. Interestingly, over the past year or more he seems to have sharpened his game again, possibly as a result of his loss to Anand.

I don't have room to review each part of the book, but the game analysis is uniformly instructive. The last chapter is called 'Kramnik on Endings'. Lakdawala says of Kramnik: "He is the only world champion who has knowingly schemed to set up his repertoire to circumvent the middlegame completely and plunge immediately into the ending." Here of course Lakdawala is talking about setting up part of his repertoire to work this way (rather than entire repertoire), and I think his claim is true. Moreover, no one else in the top 10 today is inclined to play this way so often. In any case, some of Kramnik's finest moments have come in queenless middlegames and endgames. One of my students and I looked over 5 endings from this book, each one useful in showing typical themes. This back-and-forth struggle was probably the most exciting (annotations directly from the book):

Kamsky,G - Kramnik,V Baku (rapid) 2010

1 d4 Nf6 2 Bf4 c5! 3 d5 b5!? 4 a4 Bb7 5 axb5 Nxd5 6 Bg3 g6 7 e4 Nb6 8 Nd2?! Bg7 9 c3 0–0 10 Ngf3 d6 11 Bd3 a6 12 0–0 axb5 13 Rxa8 Nxa8 14 Bxb5 Qb6 15 Qe2 Bc6 16 Bxc6 Nxc6 17 Rb1 Nc7 18 h4 Ra8 19 Qc4 Qb5 20 Qxb5 Nxb5

Vladimir Kramnik


Gata Kamsky

Position after 20... Nxb5

QUESTION: How would you assess this position?

ANSWER: Advantage Black. The pawn constellation looks quite a bit like a Benko Gambit, but without having given up a pawn.

21 Bf4

EXERCISE (planning): How can Black increase his edge? ANSWER: Swap a wing pawn for a central pawn.

21...f5! 22 g3 Ra4!

Adding a little nudge to e4.

23 exf5 gxf5

Now Black is ready to roll his central pawns.

24 Nf1 e5 25 Bd2 d5?!

Believe it or not, this move may be premature, since Black is unable to stabilize his centre. With hindsight, it was better to play 25...h6 first.

26 Ne3 Ne7

Black is about to playd5–d4 with a close to winning position. Kamsky, by now saturated with the odd hybrid of despair and desperation, comes up with an amazing idea.

27 c4!!

Kamsky puts two and two together and, oddly enough, comes up with the number five. He gives up a pawn to break up Black's monster centre. I always get nervous whenever I concoct some zany plan, which my logical mind ruthlessly dissects and rejects. But then this dark, insane voice in my head whispers: "Go for it. It will work!" Well, in this instance, Kamsky listened to his dark voice and, for once, the normally loony voice spoke the truth! His idea, crazy as it looks, was absolutely sound and should have saved the game.

27...dxc4 28 b3!

Suddenly, Kamsky's pieces burst forth in incredible activity.

28...cxb3 29 Rxb3 Nd4 30 Rb8+ Kf7 31 Ng5+

White holds the initiative.

31...Kg6 32 Rb6+ Bf6

Vladimir Kramnik


Gata Kamsky

Position after 32...Bf6

EXERCISE (combination alert/critical decision): White's pieces savour their brand new, elevated social status. Analyze 33 Nxh7. Does it work?

33 Kg2?

Kamsky protects against a ghost threat on f3. Now his brilliant idea becomes fragmented.

[ANSWER: He should complete the thought with 33 Nxh7! Kxh7 34 Rxf6 Nf3+ 35 Kg2 Nxd2 36 Rf7+! - the point; White regains the lost piece.]

33...Nec6 34 Nd5

[GM Eric Prie claims an advantage for White after 34 Ne6 , giving the move two exclams, but Houdini says otherwise after 34...h5 and declares the game dead even.]

34Bd8! 35 Rb1

[35 Rb7 is met by 35...Ra7]

35...h6 36 h5+!?

[Kamsky figures he has nothing to lose, since 36 Nh3 looks quite dismal.]

36Kxh5 37 Nf7 Bg5 38 Bxg5 hxg5 39 Nd6 g4!

The f3–square is a big one for Black's knight.

40 Rc1 Nb4! 41 Ne3

Vladimir Kramnik


Gata Kamsky

Position after 41.Ne3

In time pressure, when logic reaches a cul de sac and we lack the leisure to calculate out an exact line, we have no recourse but to take the dreaded "educated guess", which is just a fancy term for eeny meeny miny, mo!

EXERCISE (planning/critical decision): Black has two ways to play: a) 41...Kg6, consolidate. b) 41...Ra2, sac f5 and go for f2. One of the methods wins. Which one would you play? [41 Rxc5?? Ra1! leaves White unable to find a reasonable defence toNf3 andRg1 mate.]


ANSWER: Kramnik uncharacteristically underestimated the dynamic potential of his position. [He should go for it with 41Ra2! 42 Ndxf5 Nd3 43 Rf1 Nxf5 44 Nxf5 , when White must give up a piece to halt the surging c-pawn after 44c4 45 Ne3 c3]

42 Rxc5?!

[42 Nb7 was his final prayer.]

42 Nd3 43 Rc8

[After 43 Rc3 Ne1+ 44 Kh1 Ra1 45 Nf1 Ra7!! , a mysterious figure, a dark mote, appears on the outskirts and soon melts into the horizon. The rook's energy flows radially, reaching every corner of his world. There is no good defence toRh7+.] 43...Ne1+ One can only admire the multi-tasking black pieces who, despite their busy schedules, still find the time to hunt vampires after work. Now Black's two knights, rook, and his hook on f3 condemn White's king. In time pressure we just know in our gut that we are on the right track. The details can be put on hold, as long as we head in the correct overall direction.

44 Kh1 Ra1

The rook shoots a meaningful glance at White's king and awaits a decision.

45 Nf1 Nd3 46 Kg2 Ra2

The barbarian horde pounds at the gate of the city and f2 falls. White can resign. 47 Ne3 Rxf2+ 48 Kh1 Nf3 The impounded king remains locked in the warehouse on h1, hoping to score some much needed Prozac very soon.

49 Ndxf5

Well, why not?


White's king claims he isn't crying, citing a lame excuse about just having cut up an onion for the spaghetti sauce. 0–1

Note the QUESTION/ANSWER/EXERCISE format; this is used in all the Move-by-Move books, and provides a training element which complements the explanatory side. Lakdawala is excellent at finding important junctures which test the reader's understanding without requiring grandmasterly powers of calculation. I would recommend the book mainly for developing players, say 1200-2000, because they will benefit most; but stronger players will also enjoy it for the great games.

Capablanca move by move by Cyrus Lakdawala

Capablanca move by move

The same can be said for Capablanca move by move, a similarly organized book. The Introduction varies in that Lakdawala includes some biographical information and a description of his style. The bibliography this time includes numerous books on Capablanca himself. In Chapter One, we again find him challenging a stereotype: "The words "Capablanca" and "attack" are not normally associated with one another. [jw: compare: "Kramnik is not a name which normally comes to mind as associated with the word attack" from the book above]. As a kid who studied Capa, I remember mostly going over endings and positional games. His attacking games never really stuck out. Researching this book, I was shocked at just how many amazing king hunts Capablanca produced. In fact, at one point I had over 100 candidate games for this chapter!"

The Contents are as follows:

Chapter One: Capa on the Attack

Chapter Two: Capa on Defence

Chapter Three: Capa on Exploiting Imbalances

Chapter Four: Capa on Accumulating Advantages

Chapter Five: Capa on Endings

I won't review this book, which I didn't peruse as carefully as the one on Kramnik, but here's an excerpt featuring an extremely instructive positional game: Lasker-Capablanca, 10th matchgame, Havana, 1921

1 d4 d5 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 Nf6 4 Bg5 Be7 5 e3 0–0 6 Nf3 Nbd7 7 Qc2 c5

Jose Raul Capablanca


Emanuel Lasker

Position after 7...c5

8 Rd1

Lasker loved tension in any position. [I feel the best path to an advantage is the immediate 8 cxd5 as Flohr played against Capa in Chapter 2.; QUESTION: Can White go crazy by castling on opposite wings with 8 0–0–0 ?ANSWER: White can but it's a high risk venture: 8Qa5 9 cxd5 exd5 10 dxc5 Nxc5 and Black is happy to sac his d-pawn. Houdini likes White, but Kasparov feels Black has the better chances. When it comes to assessment, always go with the human]]


The queen wisely removes herself from the d-file.

9 Bd3

Lasker agrees to give up a tempo. [In the seventh game of the match, Capablanca, as White, released the tension with 9 cxd5 and got too little to realistically play for the win after 9Nxd5! (9exd5 10 Be2 c4 11 0–0 Re8 12 Ne5 gave White perhaps a small edge, J.R.Capablanca-F.Yates, London 1922) 10 Bxe7 Nxe7 11 Bd3 Nf6 12 0–0 cxd4 13 Nxd4 (too many pieces swapped off to take on an isolani) 13Bd7 14 Ne4 Ned5 , when Black equalized and drew quickly.]


Just in case you didn't notice, White threatened Bxh7+!.

10 Bh4 cxd4

[Alekhine suggested 10...Nb6]

Jose Raul Capablanca


Emanuel Lasker

Position after 10...cxd5

11 exd4

[QUESTION: Can White avoid an isolani position and play 11 Nxd4 ?ANSWER: It lacks dynamism to do so, but sure, the move is playable and dead equal after 11dxc4 12 Bxc4 Nb6 13 Bb3 Bd7]

11...dxc4 12 Bxc4 Nb6 13 Bb3 Bd7

Jose Raul Capablanca


Emanuel Lasker

Position after 13...Bd7

Black has a nice version of an isolani position. QUESTION: Why? He has yet to engineer a single piece trade. ANSWER: True, but White's queen sits awkwardly on the open c-file, handing Black a tempo. White also wasted a tempo with his earlier Bd3, taking two moves to capture on c4, so Black is better developed than he would normally be.

14 0–0 Rac8 15 Ne5 Bb5

[Capablanca criticized this move and suggested 15...Bc6]

16 Rfe1 Nbd5?! 17 Bxd5?!

Lasker makes the same error Teichmann made last chapter. It makes no sense to keep swapping down when White is the one with the isolani. [Breyer suggested 17 Bxf6! Bxf6! (17...Nxf6? loses on the spot to 18 Ng6! Rfe8 19 Rxe6!!) 18 Bxd5 exd5 and now 19 Ng4! , when d5 is under heavy pressure to the coming Qf5!.]

17...Nxd5 18 Bxe7 Nxe7 19 Qb3 Bc6!

Kasparov made no comment on this move but, for the time, it was an original strategic decision. [I think most masters of the day would have played 19...Ba6 to avoid the deliberate weakening of Black's structure.]

20 Nxc6 bxc6

Jose Raul Capablanca


Emanuel Lasker

Position after 20...bxc6

Capablanca correctly gauged that his backward and isolated c-pawn was actually stronger than White's isolani on d4. QUESTION: Don't the mutual pawn weaknesses cancel each other out? ANSWER: Euwe writes: "It is noteworthy that in this position White's queen pawn is weaker than Black's queen's bishop pawn; the main reason for this is that Black's queen four square (d5) is very strong."

21 Re5 Qb6 22 Qc2 Rfd8 23 Ne2?!

White falls under pressure after this meek response. [23 Na4 would be more consistent.]

23...Rd5 24 Rxd5

[Lasker claimed this was a blunder, giving instead 24 Re3 , but then Houdini points out 24...c5! 25 Rc3 Rcd8! with a clear plus.]


From this point on, Capa plays flawlessly.

25 Qd2 Nf5 26 b3

[Lasker also criticized this move, giving 26 g3 as better.]

26...h5 27 h3

[Lasker, by now a complete downer on himself, claimed this was another error and gave 27 Ng3 instead, but as Kasparov points out, White's position is "cheerless" after 27...Nxg3 28 hxg3 Qc7]


Jose Raul Capablanca


Emanuel Lasker

Position after 27...h4

QUESTION: Why is he trying to prevent Ng3? White would have to capture away from the centre. ANSWER: Capa's move was designed to discourage g2–g4 instead.

28 Qd3 Rc6 29 Kf1 g6 30 Qb1 Qb4 31 Kg1

EXERCISE (planning): It is clear that Black stands much better but how to make progress? Come up with a concrete plan to do so. ANSWER: Begin a queenside minority attack, swapping a pair of pawns on that wing. The end result will be another isolani for White to nurse. This game has to be one of the earliest and most clear examples of how to conduct a minority attack successfully.


Jose Raul Capablanca


Emanuel Lasker

Position after 31...a5

QUESTION: What is a minority attack? ANSWER: It is when the player with the fewer pawns on one side of the board launches them forward. The idea here is to swap Black's a-pawn for White's b-pawn, saddling White with a second isolani.

32 Qb2 a4

The tyranny of the minority exerts its power over the masses. NowRb6 may be coming, so White allows queens to come off the board.

33 Qd2 Qxd2 34 Rxd2 axb3 35 axb3

Jose Raul Capablanca


Emanuel Lasker

Position after 35.axb3

QUESTION: I realize White stands worse, but even if he drops his b-pawn he probably draws. Isn't this an acceptable ending for him? ANSWER: I strongly urge you to stop accepting such rancid positions! You are misassessing. Imperceptibly, by fractions of a centimetre, Black's game keeps improving. Capa managed to seed Lasker's position with two permanent, chronic pawn weaknesses. Later, Lasker did indeed lose his b-pawn and yet failed to secure the draw.


Principle: If you can, force the opponent's rook into awkward lateral defence.

36 Rd3

[36 Rb2? drops a pawn to 36...Rb4]

36...Ra6! 37 g4

[Kasparov gives 37 Nc3 Ra1+ 38 Kh2 Rc1 39 b4 Rc2 40 Kg1 Rb2 41 b5 Rb4! , when White drops his b-pawn and remains with a weak d-pawn after 42 Ne2 Rb1+ 43 Kh2 Rxb5]

37...hxg3 38 fxg3 Ra2 39 Nc3 Rc2!

No rest for Lasker. Black's rook chases the knight like children at play, threateningNxd4!, overloading White's rook.

40 Nd1 Ne7! 41 Nc3 Rc1+ 42 Kf2 Nc6 43 Nd1!

Lasker sets up a deep trap...


[...which Capa deftly dodges: 43...Nb4 44 Rd2 Rb1 45 Nb2!! (now Black has a "combination") 45...Rxb2? 46 Rxb2 Nd3+ 47 Ke2 Nxb2 48 Kd2 was the point. The knight is trapped and White draws.]

44 Ke2?

Jose Raul Capablanca


Emanuel Lasker

Position after 44.Ke2

With each passing move, Lasker's belief in his survival grows less a conviction and more a theory. The chronically ill b3– and d4–pawns are, as doctors like to call it, pre-existing conditions. We the ordinary can take heart. Even world champions do dumb things from time to time.EXERCISE: (combination alert): Beset with weary frustration under the heavy positional pressure, Lasker walks into a simple trap. Can you find the combination for Black which Lasker missed? ANSWER:


The knight fork on d4 allows Black his trick.

45 Ke3

A parent in a life-and-death situation has no time to mourn the loss of a child if other children remain in danger. Lasker, having dropped b3, now fights ferociously for the life of the others.


Pinning White down to his biggest weakness, d4.

46 Nc3 Ne7 47 Ne2 Nf5+ 48 Kf2 g5 49 g4 Nd6 50 Ng1 Ne4+ 51 Kf1

The king must simmer at the bottom of the pot to avoid the loss of a second pawn. [If 51 Ke3? then 51...Rb1 52 Nf3 Rh1]]

51...Rb1+ 52 Kg2 Rb2+ 53 Kf1 Rf2+ 54 Ke1 Ra2

Capa messes with his opponent's head a while before taking action, allowing Lasker to stew in the memory of errors and regrets.

55 Kf1

The king, body riddled with welts and contusions, slumps back, too weak to move, and too beaten down to grow angry.

55...Kg7 56 Re3 Kg6 57 Rd3

Jose Raul Capablanca


Emanuel Lasker

Position after 57.Rd3

EXERCISE (planning): The door to White's survival closes quickly. Work out a step by step winning plan for Black to convert. ANSWER: Step 1: Transfer the king to d6.

57...f6! 58 Re3 Kf7 59 Rd3 Ke7 60 Re3 Kd6 61 Rd3 Rf2+ 62 Ke1 Rg2 63 Kf1 Ra2 64 Re3

Step 2: Playe6–e5 and create a passed d-pawn.

64...e5 65 Rd3 exd4 66 Rxd4 Kc5 67 Rd1

Step 3: Push it down the board!

67...d4 68 Rc1+ Kd5 [68...Kd5 69 Rd1 Nf2 70 Rb1 d3

is utterly hopeless for White.] 0–1

I should mention that since 2007, all Everyman books come in e-book format as well and can be downloaded from the Everyman site ( They are available in interactive cbv and pgn formats. For those few of you who are unfamiliar with chess programs, that means you can click through the moves on your computer without a physical set and board, add an engine for analysis, and perform various other functions, for example, searches for players and positions. Everyman also has an app called Chess Viewer, free of charge through iTunes, for download of their books. Finally, they sell their books in Kindle format and in epub format via the Nook and Kobo devices.

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