Friday, December 28, 2012

The Ubiquitous Smirnov Chess Courses

     It seems I keep running into Smirnov's spam-like advertisements for his chess courses.  To me, the ads themselves look over-hyped and sleazy, but I admit to being a skeptic when it comes to a lot of things.  It appears he runs an affiliate program paying commissions to those who refer customers his way. Add that to the fact that my Webroot Anti-virus warns against visiting the site makes the whole thing look suspicious.  In regards to this warning, one forum poster wrote that the course he bought caused his anti-virus program to quarantine the main menu program but he was still able to run the individual components. 
      I have searched a lot of forums just to get a diverse opinion of people who have actually tried the program and have made an effort to avoid “testimonials” that looked to me like they were presented by shills. i.e. satisfied customers used to dupe folks into participating in a swindle.  In regards to this last point, one poster commented, “…the less savvy consumer (will believe) all recommendations to be an affiliate 'shill' for the seller...when in fact, the possibility does exist that he could just provide good products.”
     So, I decided to go on a search of the chess forums to see is anyone has actually bought any of Smirnov’s course and more importantly, to see if they have actually helped anybody improve.  What follows is a compilation of answers to the question of how good are the courses and I will let the reader be the judge of the merits of the programs.

... his marketing strategy looks very sleazy, and yet he delivers just what he advertises.
Since he offers a money back guarantee there doesn't seem to be any risk involved.
I have seen positive reviews from strong players.
      What I can say is that Smirnov's materials helped my thinking process and improved the clarity of my understanding and planning/move selection, and also helped me to explain things better in classes and in lessons. I wish I had his courses in 1997 or 1998.
     And for levels between beginner to 1800 I stand by my observation that there is little difference between Smirnov and Heisman…

Smirnov is very clear…
     One other mistake that is easy to pick up from almost any instructional writer is the "balanced" training schedule: You need to work on endgames, openings, attack and defense, strategy, calculation etc. to get good…But then none of it is likely to stick…I've never seen anyone else being as explicit about avoiding this trap as Smirnov is.
     The program has changed my idea of what a good training process should be though: Focus on one isolated skill at a time, and train it (to a higher level) until it becomes more or less automatic. In the past I've spent too much time trying to do a bit of everything, with little progress.
…I have Smirnov's course: "The Grandmaster's Secrets" and I found it simple to understand and very practical.
     I have bought FOUR of GM Smirnov's courses, and have not regretted them at all. I have just (got) a performance which will probably boost my rating by almost 200 points, getting me to the clear expert level.
     His base course the GM secrets explain how to study chess properly and get fast results
…I recently purchased Smirnov's course, the Grandmaster's Positional Understanding and I am not disappointed with the material.
… Smirnov presents the material in an instructive, methodical, and easy to understand manner.
…As a novice, I sought a deeper understanding of why moves are made and was discontented with rote learning. This course has definitely assisted in understanding the thought processes involved in making moves.
…if the cost is something that will not lead to a default on your car payment, then I do recommend it….
     There is one friend of mine…who…used this course as his only teaching aid and he got to a rating of 1800 in a bit more than one year.
     If you ask me, I'll say it's definitely good stuff!
     I liked his endgame course…pretty simple ideas but they helped me playing endgames like a 2200.
     I bought some of his courses and I do think they're helpful.

I'm not too impressed, BUT I have to admit I have not done the exercises!
Passive listening and looking will not make you a better chess player.
      Nothing Smirnov says is new or secret or presented in some mind blowing innovative way…
     Has it changed (my) chess in a positive way? The honest answer has to be "no". I believe the only fair way to judge is by results, and I've had a few good tournaments but also one really bad one that canceled out my previous rating gains.
     I've done his opening course and I have to say I thought it was a complete waste of money… after this I didn't think it would be worth buying anything else from him.
     I have bought the Grandmaster Secrets course.I'm not impressed.It consist of 5 short video lesson (about 20-30 minutes each), and 11 game tasks. Every task consists of about 5 games to study. For each of the games are there annotated games with solutions by Smirnov.
…I have not found anything new, which I haven't read before.
     (Smirnov) explains that chess players who heard his videos and did not improve simply refused to do some exercises because they think that they do not need it and that it is one of the reasons that adults fail to improve in chess.

One final comment that seems to apply to all instruction whether from books, videos or a chess coach: This video/lesson did not help me, but I did not do the hard work he requested.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Correspondence Chess in America by Bryce Avery

      Published March, 2000 by McFarland & Company, Inc.  McFarland has published several books on chess.  They do an absolutely beautiful job but the books are a little on the pricey side.  Well, actually a lot on the pricey side, but I got this book as a gift for Christmas, so cost was not an issue.
      Avery begins by devoting the first chapters to American correspondence chess history up to the early 1970's with most of the focus on the Correspondence Chess League of America.  Actually, the whole book is mostly a detailed history of the CCLA, but the fact that Avery is the historian of the CCLA would account for that.
      Based on a few minor errors of fact it would appear that the post-1970s era has not been quite so well researched.
      I would like to have seen more coverage of Al Horowitz’ Chess Review tournaments, US Chess Federation CC (though theirs is basically a continuation of Horowitz’ efforts) and the American Postal Chess Tournaments (APCT).
      Avery also covered some of the reasons why US players had a lot of trouble in international events back in the old post card days.  I can sympathize with these problems.  Years ago I entered an ICCF event at what today would be about the expert level and distinctly remember two particularly dastardly acts on the part of players who were in those days referred to as behind the Iron Curtain. 
     One was against a Russian. We got assignments about 30 days before the official start of the tournament and were allowed to begin play.  I mailed 1.d4 and never heard anything so when the official start date arrived I sent a repeat.  30 days later I got a letter from the East German TD informing me that I had lost on forfeit.  I composed a nice reply in German giving the details then had it checked by a native German-speaker just to make sure it was correct and all; never heard from the TD.  There was a similar incident against an East German opponent.  We played a few moves and I quit hearing from him.  Repeats were unanswered and in a couple of months I got a notice I had forfeited that game also.  Of course my reply to protest was unanswered.  In the words of my Swedish opponent, “Something is rotten.”  Avery described several similar incidents with other  US CC players. I also had a Canadian opponent who worked on a pipeline north of the Arctic Circle who said they flew his mail in about every two weeks.  After a year and 10-12 moves we agreed to a draw.  I never played international CC again using postcards.
     Where was I?  Oh, yeah; the Avery book.  Avery then does a very good presentation of the US World Correspondence Chess Champions Hans Berliner and Victor Palciauskas.
     There are also four appendices detailing the history of correspondence play in the United States, a bibliography and indexes of openings, players and general. The book contains 233 lightly annotated games and a very few OTB games that have a connection to CC.
     The fact that the book is really not a history of correspondence chess in America but of the CCLA is, in my opinion, a serious drawback, but that has not in any way reduced my enjoyment of the book.  But, would I recommend it? The games are interesting because it shows even unknown players were capable of playing some beautiful games given enough time.  But…unless you are specifically interested in the CCLA and have a wad of extra cash you don’t know what to do with, save your money.  On the other hand, if you can get it free as a gift like I did, it’s a great book.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Houdini 3

       Houdini 3 contains many evaluation and search improvements in all phases of the game and is claimed to be about 50 Elo stronger than Houdini 2.
      It has  been programmed for improvements in the the opening. These improvements are based on increased piece activity and space management and are demonstrated by its performance Fischer Random Chess. In the middle game Houdini 3 has significant enhancements for recognizing pieces with limited mobility and in king-side safety. In end games Houdini 3 will seek deeper and solve more positions than before.
       Recently Houdini 3 played long matches against Houdini 2.0c, Stockfish 2.3.1 and Komodo 5. Each match consisted of 120 games at 90 min + 30 sec/move with the overall results that Houdini 3 scored 62%. In the Tactical Mode Houdini 3 will adapt its search strategy to prefer tactical solutions rather than positional moves in the root position which supposedly makes it the most proficient tactical position solver ever. The Accelerated Principal Variation Search or “Smart Fail-High” is especially useful in very deep analysis when a different move becomes best at very high search depth. Hash usage has been optimized and it will now support hash tables up to 256 GB.
       Another major area of improvement is the engine evaluations have been recalibrated so that +1.00 pawn advantage gives a 80% chance of winning the game against an equal opponent at blitz time control. At +2.00 the engine will win 95% of the time, and at +3.00 about 99% of the time. If the advantage is +0.50, expect to win nearly 50% of the time. For further discussion of Houdini 3 visit their Facebook page.
     If you prefer...the Aquarium interface:

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Only Chess Books You Will Ever Need (?)

According to USCF Life Master and chess instructor Alan Goldsby this list of books are the only ones the beginner will ever need.
1.       Chess Fundamentals by Capablanca
2.      Complete Chess Player by Reinfeld
3.      Logical Chess Move by Move by Chernev
4.      The Amateur’s Mind by Silman
5.      The Art of Attack in Chess by Vukovic
6.      The Ideas Behind the Chess Openings by Fine
7.      The Most Instructive Games Ever Played by Chernev
8.     Modern Chess Openings by De Firmian
9.      Secrets of Modern Chess Strategy by Watson
10.  The Road to Chess Improvement by Yermolinsky
11.   Pawn Structure Chess by Soltis
12.  Zurich International Chess Tournament by Bronstein
13.  Winning Chess Ending by Seirawan
If I were to take exception to his list it would be to eliminate Modern Chess Openings. Fine’s Ideas Behind the Openings is now in the public domain and can be downloaded free from a number of sources.  While the lines in Fine’s book are badly out dated, the IDEAS still remain valid.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Best Sellers on Amazon

I checked out the best sellers on Amazon and here is their top 25 best selling chess books. It is interesting because 7 of the books are aimed at juniors. Surprisingly, there is only one book on tactics; I would have thought that with the popularity of people on forums advocating the study of tactics, the number would have been higher. Maybe they prefer to use tactics servers instead. On the other hand several of the best sellers are strategy books; maybe the pendulum is swinging the other way? Only one book on endings (bad) and two books on openings (good).

1.Chess for Children by Murray Chandler, Helen Milligan 4.7 out of 5 stars
2.How to Beat Your Dad at Chess by Murray Chandler 4.2 out of 5 stars
3.Chess Tactics for Kids by Murray Chandler 4.7 out of 5 stars
4.Checkmate!: My First Chess Book by Garry Kasparov 4.5 out of 5 stars
5.The Art of Learning: An Inner Journey to Optimal Performance by Josh Waitzkin 4.3 out of 5 stars
6.Tactics Time! 1001 Chess Tactics from the Games of Everyday Chess Players Tim Brennan, Anthea Carson 4.7 out of 5 stars
7.The Art of Learning by Josh Waitzkin 4.3 out of 5 stars
8.Practical Chess Exercises: 600 Lessons from Tactics to Strategy by Ray Cheng 4.0 out of 5 stars
9.Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess by Bobby Fischer, Stuart Margulies, Don Mosenfelder 3.5 out of 5 stars – I have seen this book and unless you are an absolute beginner pass on it.
10. The Queen of Katwe: A Story of Life, Chess, and One Extraordinary Girl's Dream of Becoming a Grandmaster by Tim Crothers 4.7 out of 5 stars - Sounds weird.
11.Chess is Child's Play: Teaching Techniques That Work by Laura Sherman, Bill Kilpatrick 4.9 out of 5 stars
12.How to Reassess Your Chess, Fourth edition by Jeremy Silman 4.6 out of 5 stars – A classic…wish I’d had it 40 years ago.
13.Learn Chess by John Nunn 4.7 out of 5 stars – Anything Nunn writes is good.
14.Chess For Dummies by James Eade 4.5 out of 5 stars – I’ve seen this in bookstores; I’d pass.

15.Silman's Complete Endgame Course: From Beginner to Master by Jeremy Silman 4.6 out of 5 stars – Anything Silman writes is good.
16.Complete Book of Chess Strategy: Grandmaster Techniques from A to Z by Jeremy Silman – Anything Silman writes is good. 4.0 out of 5 stars
17.Power Chess for Kids: Learn How to Think Ahead and Become One of the Best Players in Your School by Charles Hertan 4.3 out of 5 stars
18.The Mammoth Book of Chess by Graham Burgess, John Nunn 4.4 out of 5 stars – Thanks to National Master Vieira of Portugal for pointing out that I had this book confused with another one of Nunn's books.  This one is a book on general instruction. 
19.The Amateur's Mind: Turning Chess Misconceptions into Chess Mastery by Jeremy Silman – Anything Silman writes is good. 4.1 out of 5 stars
20.Modern Chess Openings, 15th Edition by Nick De Firmian 3.3 out of 5 stars – This book has outlived its usefulness. If you are looking for a general overview of openings you can get better information on the Internet. If you intend to play a specific opening buy a book on that opening. I have been buying the latest edition of MCO since the 9th edition and have used this one only on very rare occasions. Even with limited use all tha pages are falling out.
21.The Powerful Catalan: A Complete Repertoire for White by Victor Bologan Publication Date: December 16, 2012
22.Play Winning Chess by Yasser Seirawan 4.5 out of 5 stars – Seirawan is another of those authors you can’t go wrong with.
23.Modern Chess Strategy by Ludek Pachman, Allen S. Russell 4.4 out of 5 stars – This was the book that I used to study the middlegame many years ago. It’s and abridged edition of Pachman’s original opus and is good for an overview of how the pieces and Pawns are best used. A good book, but I think Silman’s books have expanded on Pachman’s work, so I’s buy them instead.
24.Chess for Juniors: A Complete Guide for the Beginner by Robert M. Snyder 4.9 out of 5 stars - Snyder was a great teacher...these days he's probably teaching chess in prison. But maybe not; I've heard they don't cotton to pedophiles in prison.
25.What It Takes to Become a Chess Master by Andrew Soltis 4.6 out of 5 stars – I like Andy Soltis and his books are always interesting.

A Psychobiography of Bobby Fischer

      Fischer's ascent to the pinnacle of chess genius and brilliance was rapidly followed by his psychological decline into social isolation, paranoia, and likely mental illness. A Psychobiography of Bobby Fischer: Understanding the Genius, Mystery, and Psychological Decline of a World Chess Champion makes an effort to understand the inner workings of Fischer’s mind by examining the genetic, personal, family, cultural, and political factors that provide a window into the why of Fischer’s genius and bizarre behavior.  Counseling psychologist and author Dr. Joseph G. Ponterotto deconstructs almost every aspect of Fischer s personal and career life to form a psychological profile.  This book claims to be the first scholarly psychological assessment of the world s most famous chess champion.
      Among the topics addressed in the current volume are Bobby s early family environment and his natural intellectual gifts that predisposed him to genius in chess. Critical to understanding Bobby s personality development is his relationship with his mother Regina Fischer and his sister Joan Fischer, as well as his relationship to his likely biological father, Paul Felix Nemenyi. These topics are explored in-depth and the impact of these relationships on Bobby s psychological development is highlighted. Bobby s later-life internal mental state -- his mistrust, anger, and hatred of Jews is explored and the origins of this affective state are closely examined.
      Dr. Ponterotto also provides the first, carefully and cautiously sculpted psychological autopsy of Bobby Fischer relying on modern psychological assessment procedures. Of interest will be a full chapter comparing the genius and mental health challenges of Paul Morphy and Bobby Fischer. This book also explores the topic of the prevalence of mental illness among elite chess players, and provides a critical review of the research on the potential relationship between creativity and vulnerability to mental illness.
      Finally, Dr. Ponterotto outlines counseling and psychotherapy interventions that very likely could have helped Bobby throughout his life. The book includes 10 chapters and tables, figures, and family genograms, as well as appendices providing extensive detail on the life of Bobby Fischer and family. Finally, the book includes some original family photos never before published.

Monday, December 3, 2012

ChessBase 12

ChessBase is the database program which has become the world-wide standard and the advertisement says version 12 comes with a wealth of fantastic new analysis and search features.

The main advertising feature is cloud-based analysis with Fritz 13. The idea is that if someone else has already analyzed the position before you, you can download and make use of their analysis. How valuable this is to the average player is open to debate.

One commentator who owned both ChessBase 11 and Aquarium 2011 made the same comment I did concerning Aquarium and it IDeA function:  “…the IDeA part of it in particular is WAY too complicated for what one might get out of it...unless you are a chess monk with no life. Seriously, check out the Rybka/Aquarium forums before you purchase. THOSE people…are basically the ones who get something out of it...most people are not so dedicated and have given up…. Chessbase is pretty intuitive.”

New in ChessBase 12:
“Deep analysis” generates a dynamic tree of variations. Leave the analysis running as long as you want. The longer the running time, the more reliable the variations displayed. Variations which do not hold up at the greater depth of calculation are automatically excluded. The result is commentary containing analysis of the important candidate moves.”

This feature is an improvement over the deep position analysis function in Fritz, because you can stop the analysis and when you restart it, the engine picks up where it left off.  In the case of deep position analysis, once you stop it, all analysis is lost.

Cloud analysis is a deep analysis done by several engines working in parallel, which saves an enormous amount of time. With the new Fritz, you can purchase time on other peoples’ computers or sell time on your own.

One nice feature is the “Similarity search.” In ChessBase 12 endings and middlegame positions can now be looked for and displayed classified according to their similarity to the position on the board.  The value of this is obvious.  For example, finding positions with a similar P-structure could be very useful.

There is also an online player encyclopedia with Elo ratings, upgraded throughout the year.  The “Lets Check” gives access the world’s largest database of in-depth analysis.

The basic package sell for $234 ($130 if downloaded)
Access to ChessBase Online Database (over 6.4 million games)
Premium membership on (1 year)
Big Database 2013
Games download until 31st December 2013
Access to ChessBase Online Database (over 6.4 million games)
Access to “Let’s Check” and “Engine Cloud”
Half a Year’s subscription to ChessBase Magazine (3 issues)

Mega package ($351)
Mega Database 2013
Games download until 31st December 2013
Access to ChessBase Online Database (over 6.4 million games)*
Access to “Let’s Check” and “Engine Cloud”
Year’s subscription to ChessBase Magazine (6 issues)

Premium package ($481)
Premium membership on (1 year)
Mega Database 2013
Games download until 31st December 2013
Access to ChessBase Online Database (over 6.4 million games)*
Access to “Let’s Check” and “Engine Cloud”
Year’s subscription to ChessBase Magazine
Corr Database 2013
Endgame Turbo 3 (9 DVDs)

For most players I would think the basic package would be more than sufficient to meet their needs.  As for the other packages, unless you are a geek that simply wants the latest and greatest software or a titled player who needs to keep up with the latest trends or are a correspondence player of the top level who uses dedicated computers to analyze, they seem to offer more “stuff” than most of us will ever need. 

For 99.9 percent of us, free programs and engines will be more than sufficient.  I use Fritz 12 with Houdini 1.5, but that’s only because I found Fritz at Office Max for $20 otherwise I would use the free Arena or SCID.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Good Buy on Wood Chess Set

This set has a 3.75” King (1.5” diameter base).  It comes with a 11.75 in. x 9.25 in. x 2.75 in. wooden box. Free shipping.  Regularly sells for $65.95.  NOTE: These pieces are advertised as “weighted” and while they are heavier than plastic pieces, they are not what one would normally expect as “weighted,” meaning they are not double or triple weighted as is often the case. Nevertheless, if you are looking for a nice wood set that is low in price, this is a good choice.


Thursday, November 29, 2012

Psychology in Chess by N. Krogius

      I have the original edition of this book that was published in 1976. This book would be useful for average players up to master. GM Krogius was Karpov's trainer in 1978   
      Even though I have long been ‘retired’ from OTB chess, I still think chess psychology is a fascinating subject and this book is probably the best available on this interesting subject.  For anyone interested in this largely ignored area of chess, I suggest Googling ‘how chess masters think’ and reading some of the interesting material that comes up.
     Krogius uses an informal, anecdotal style that makes for easy reading, but the real question is, can you actually improve your chess by reading about psychological factors in chess? Determining whether learning theory or practicing play is more effective in improvement, whether evaluation skills can be successfully taught and can players be taught how to accurately look farther ahead are all important aspects of chess psychology that many recent studies have tried to answer.
      One psychological study conducted in Great Britain several years ago that I read stated, “Talents that selectively facilitate the acquisition of high levels of skill are said to be present in some children but not others. The evidence for this includes biological correlates of specific abilities, certain rare abilities in autistic savants, and the seemingly spontaneous emergence of exceptional abilities in young children, but there is also contrary evidence indicating an absence of early precursors for high skill levels in young people. An analysis of positive and negative evidence and arguments suggests that differences in early experiences, preferences, opportunities, habits, training and practice are the real determinants of excellence.”
     We all know that when it comes to chess players, some people seem to have a natural gift for chess and, as we are seeing today, many kids display this talent very early because they, as the article stated, have early experiences, opportunities, habits, training and practice that simply were not available to previous generations.  Also, we all know that for many, no amount of practice seems to result in improved play. That does not stop us from trying though.
      In this book, Krogius begins by looking at chess psychology gleaned from writings of Lasker, Capablanca, Alekhine, Reti, Torre and Botvinnik. Then he discusses chess images, intuition, attention, time trouble, tournament tactics, knowing yourself and your opponent, emotions and mistakes.
       In the forward Boris Spassky notes that Krogius has not followed the traditional method which consists of concrete analysis of positions but has tried to shed light on chess from the point of human psychology.  Spassky adds, “It is difficult to overestimate the significance of psychology in chess, for it is not only knowledge, but also character, attention, will and, on occasion, the player’s mood which determines the outcome.”


Sunday, November 11, 2012

Understanding Chess. My System, My Games, My Life by William Lombardy

You have to buy this book direct from  Lombardy who will autograph it  and it can be purchased HERE.

From Lombardy’s website:
      "Understanding Chess is William Lombardy’s sixth book to date, aside from his collaborations in many books and periodicals. This ambitious project consists of an exposé of Lombardy’s most important games viewed through the prism of his system for learning. The first section of the book introduces the author’s background, how he came to learn chess, and how he came to formulate his theory of learning applied to chess, ultimately becoming one of the top players of his day. In this part the reader will find an articulated approach on how to learn the game in a well-rounded manner for those with long-term aspirations.
      The remainder of the book consists of the “Games” section, where the author highlights the underlying presence of his system. Many of the games are also complimented by the appendix section that often provides background information while supplementing the various motifs the author seeks to explore. Furthermore, the 119 newly annotated games (including several unpublished games and 37 appendix games), along with the 46 photographs, are embellished by anecdotes and observations drawn from Lombardy’s remarkable career, spanning almost sixty years from the early 1950’s to the present. Thus, aside from its main didactic endeavor, the book has a strong autobiographical undertone."

It is a paperback, 312 pages with 119 of his games, starting with one against Jack Collins in 1953 and ending with a 156-mover against Deep Shredder in 2009. The annotations have a huge amount of text in them.

Sample Game for Download
      Among his opponents are US chess greats from the past as well as international stars: Dr. Eliot Hearst, Anthony Santasiere, George Kramer, and Dr. Max Pavey, Hector Rossetto, Samuel Reshevsky, Tahl, Botvinnik, Olafsson, Spassky, Portisch, etc. Strangely, no game against Fischer though.
      This looks like a pretty interesting book that I would like to own and it’s gotten great reviews, but I hesitate purchasing it because of its hefty price tag of $54 plus a $6 fondling charge. 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Great Chess Upsets by Samuel Reshevsky

I was looking over this one the other day and can only say, it’s honest to goodness garbage.  First of all it’s pretty well known Reshevsky didn’t write most (if any) of the books attributed to him despite his claims otherwise. I doubt he wrote this one either and judging from some of the statements made in the book, Reshevsky’s memory was really bad or whoever wrote the book had a very limited knowledge of chess history. Even Reshevsky's chapter on himself has some inconsistencies.

The book is a collection of games by great players and is accompanied by brief biographical sketches.  There are seventeen players from Adolf Anderssen to Anatoly Karpov and includes all the world champions up to 1976.

In any case, most of the games hardly qualify as upsets. Seriously, who would consider Lasker losing to Rubinstein an upset?  Or Capablanca to Alekhine? And the book is full of such games.


I am appalled!
Careless editing is rampant.  For example, it seems the editor was not sure how spell ‘en prise’ because it is spelled several different ways.   One game is appears twice…Alekhine-Euwe from the World Championship match; the really funny thing is it has different notes.

Another stupid error…It says that Keres "still participates in numerous chess competitions and will probably continue to do so for many years." The book was printed in 1976 but Keres died in 1975. Also, I’ll bet you didn’t know Korchnoi got GM title in 1956 then the IM title in 1963. At least that’s what the book says.  What?  Did he get busted from GM to IM?  According to the book, "The height of Smyslov's career came in 1957 in the return match against Botvinnik.  The height of his career was losing the world championship?! Other stupid errors abound.

The chapter on Fischer does not mention his resigning his world title.  At the same time the book does mention the result of the Korchnoi-Karpov Candidates Match which was played after Fischer resigned. And no mention is made of FIDE declaring Karpov World Champion. I could go on, but won’t.

Save your money.  If you see it at the library, pass it up.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Chess Apps and Books for Kindle

Kindle Chess Apps:

Chess (A Classic Game for Kindle)-Price: $2.99. Play against Kindle or challenge a friend with Pass 'N Play mode. Choose between 10 levels of difficulty and choose whether you want to play with an optional time limit to increase the challenge. You can also take back a move and save your game at any time.

Chess Genius, Android.
Compatible with: Kindle Fire. Amazon customer rating: 4 1/2 stars -Price: $4.99. Has 33 playing levels. Save and load games to PGN databases, copy and paste PGN games to clipboard.  Has features like Tutor, Hints, and Chess Clocks.

Chess Free, Android.
Compatible with: Kindle Fire. Price: $0.00. Ten levels. There's also a complete chess-move manual included for those completely unfamiliar with the game. The app also has a two-player mode.

Chess Premium, Android. Compatible with: Kindle Fire. Price: $0.99.  Supports both one-player and two-players.  Undo moves and automatic saves.

iChess for Android,
Compatible with: Kindle Fire. Price: $0.00.  Over 1100 puzzles with three levels of difficulty. If you're stuck, you can ask for a hint and you can also analyze puzzles you've already solved. A scorecard keeps track of your progress, including number of solved puzzles and hints used. Some puzzles are positions from actual Grandmaster chess tournaments.


Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Improve Your Chess Now by Jon Tisdall

For those newer readers who never heard of him, Jonathan D. Tisdall (born August 26, 1958 in Buffalo, New York) was awarded the GM title in 1995.  A US citizen by birth he later became an Irish citizen and still later, Norwegian.  Tisdall won the Norwegian championship in 1987, 1991, and 1995. Combining chess with his job as a journalist, he often attends major chess events as a reporter for Reuters.
Let Tisdall explain why he wrote the book:  This book is a manual for players facing problems in the development of their skills, i.e., most people.  I will try to explain what goes on when experienced players are thinking, or should go on.  There is a lot of psychology and philosophy here.  Although such serious words are not considered ideal when finding a title for a book, I hope that they will make this book instructive in a less conventional way.
In the course of a long and sporadically encouraging career, I have given a lot of thought to various methods of improvement.  This book is a selection of various ideas, both my own and those of others.
Some classic advice must be repeated, but I have tried to expand on this when possible.  I have tried to list all conscious influences.  During the closing stages of writing I have begun to understand how many subconscious influences there are.  To deal with this you will find an appendix that combines the tasks of bibliography and a review list.
While the book’s title may sound like it is an elementary textbook, it is not.  It is one of the best books on instruction available.
Tisdall offers a lot of tactical and pattern-training exercises aimed at players of 1600-2200 strength, but IM John Watson once wrote he thought it was possible that even GMs could learn a thing or two from it.  I don’t know about that, but this one should be a classic and is a must read.
Right in Chapter 1 he debunks Kotov’s famous tree of analysis theory and points out a lot of flaws in it and then at the end of the chapter he presents a list of tips on how to calculate that is worth memorizing. Tisdall states. "My theory contends that a combination of the natural human approach to the position, tempered with some of the discipline advocated by Kotov, is more effective. The components of this technique are (in this order):

1) To aim towards the choice of a single critical variation (heresy!). Branches are dealt with when unavoidable, and primarily to navigate the chief variation.
2) The constant application of abstract assessment.
3) A scan for critical candidates."
He then moves on to visualization methods, using blindfold chess and the idea of 'resetting the mind's eye' or visualizing intermediate positions as training technique for improving the ability to calculation accurately. He has tried this technique with his Norwegian students and they work.
            The book is filled with practical advice…lots of it. There are chapters on playing bad positions, recurring patterns, the value of the pieces, including a discussion positional sacrifices.
His writing style is very entertaining and the last chapter, Wisdom and Advice, is philosophical. Where else will you read stuff like, “Shave on somebody else's face” - Arnold Denker. "Instead of cutting yourself, try to learn from other people having accidents."
He presents provocative thoughts and observations from various sources and includes practical advice concerning time pressure and there is also a discussion of prophylaxis.  This concept is important in understanding GM chess these days.    He discusses attitude, energy, objectivity, and practical play in general.
The above mentioned Appendix contains useful mating and tactical patterns and  bibliography, complete with a mini-review, of each book.
Highly recommended.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Chess Software

This book is a MUST HAVE for Chessbase product users!!  The back cover says:

Even basic chess software packages now usually have numerous interesting features and working out how to use these effectively is no easy task. Many players simply use a
playing program to practice against and a database program just for storing and replaying games. Yet there is very much more that can be achieved with such packages and this book will show you how the experts do it.
…Learn powerful techniques for organizing and managing your chess data
…Discover proven, effective methods to study the middlegame and endgame
…Learn how to most effectively harness the power of a chess engine
…Analyze efficiently your own strengths and weaknesses
      Authored by Byron Jacobs, Jacob Aagaard and John Emms Jacobs, this book is packed with advice on how to study all facets of the game.  You will learn a LOT about how to manage databases and work more effectively studying openings.  Particularly useful is Chapter 3 where GM John Emms shows how to use a database of your own games to discover your strengths and weaknesses.
      Aagaard tells you how to use software for training and study an opening so that you will understand the ideas behind it. There is also a chapter devoted to endgame training, especially valuable is advice on how to use methods of endgame study that have been advocated by Mark Dvoretsky.
      Note that the programs and training methods are all based on ChessBase software so the book is really only good if you use Chessbase software. If you own any of their products then this book is a must.

Monday, September 3, 2012

The Stonewall Attack by Andrew Soltis

      Soltis begins by stating, “The Stonewall is unique in the realm of chess openings. It is one of the simplest to play and yet it is one of the rarest to be found in tournament-at least on the master level.” And that was the trouble with a book on the Stonewall Attack that I once read by Al Horowitz. As often happens with these kinds of books, the authors only give games where your opponent obligingly falls in with your plans and the authors often ignore refutations and stronger lines in order to prove their point. This is not the case with Soltis.
      Like all of these ‘system openings’, claims to the contrary, you cannot avoid study. In the case of the Stonewall Attack you cannot play it by simply posting your pawns to c3, d4, e3, and f4 and then deploying your pieces in typical Stonewall fashion with Bd3, Nf3-e5, Nbd2, Qe2 or Qf3, O-O, etc. Instead, you have to be willing to play a system of interconnected lines that respond to what your opponent is doing.
      For example, against the King's Indian Defense set-up by Black where it will be difficult to prevent an eventual ...e5 break by Black, you should switch to a Zukertort line with b3 and Bb2, which has a similar goal to the Stonewall in controlling dark squares with the added feature that the dark squared Bishops typically get exchanged later to White's advantage.
      Against an early light-squared Bishop development by Black with 1.d4 d5 2.e3 Bf5, switch to a Queen's Gambit set-up with 3.c4 with the idea of pressuring the weakened light squares on Black's queenside.
      Against a premature...c5 advance by Black, play the position as a Reversed Queen's Gambit Accepted, holding onto the pawn via 1.d4 d5 2.e3 c5!? 3.c3 Nc6 4.dxc5! e6 5.b4 since White can so easily protect the dark squares.
      The Stonewall Attack is characterized by its spearhead of pawns on b2, c3 and d4, with the all-important support pawn, to prevent Black playing e5, on f4. In the accepted sequence of moves f4 may follow or even precede d4. The main objective of the Stonewall Attack is to set up a pawn barrier (the 'wall') on the long diagonal a1-h8 and to funnel every single piece towards a Black king which has castled kingside.
      The good news is that if Black doesn’t know the attacking potential inherent in this opening and just plays reasonable looking moves but ones which allow White to maximize the potential of his pieces, he can quickly fall victim to a smashing attack. Alas, that seems to rarely happen. That’s where preparation comes in.
      Now, when Black knows what’s coming and follows a different defensive plan you have to have options. You have to know which plan to follow, how to adapt a different strategy. In short, you must opt out of the Stonewall.
      In this book Soltis begins by discussing move order. After that he illustrates simple K-side attacks, discusses good vs. bad bishops, Q-side play (yes, sometimes you have to switch play to the other side of the board) and a couple of other ‘small’ details. He then devotes chapters to the Theoretically Best defense, the Traditional Defense and then tells you how to play against the fianchettoe of Black’s B to …g7.
      So, unless you are going to be playing Masters of GMs, the Stonewall Attack can be a dangerous weapon against amateurs if you understand all the nuances. Of course to do that will require putting in some effort and Soltis does a pretty good job giving you the tools.

Stonewall Legacy Series - Group of Videos on the Stonewall
Introduction- 6 min Video
Baltic Defense - 10 min Video
The Baltic Trap 4...Nc6! -5 min Video
Horowitz Defense - 10 min Video
Teichmann Defense - 11 min Video
Mainline with 5....Bd6 -11 min Video
Mainline with 6....Qc7 - 7 min Video
Bg4 Lines - 10 min Video

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