Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Art of Bisguier Vol 1 & Vol 2 by Arthur Bisguier

Vol 1, 1945-1960
     Large size: 8.5 x 11; easy to read, large type for game moves and italic type for notes, many photographs, 380 diagrams. Unfortunately the many photos appear washed out and are badly distorted.
     Bisguier was an amateur who worked for a living and played in only a few international events.  I met Bisguier a couple of times and found him to be one of the most gregarious of all the GMs.  He is an unassuming person, always courteous and pleasant to every person he meets. He is America’s most respected player.  Lombardy, Soltis and Mednis also stand out in the friendliness category, too. This book is full of puns, jokes, anecdotes, trivia and chess history.
      Depending on who you believe, either his notes are superb…even patzers can understand them or the analysis is poor and done in a slipshod manner.  In any case, it was a pleasure to play over the games. I played over the games using the Houdini engine and found some flaws, but that’s to be expected.  Bisguier obviously checked the games with Fritz 5 because in a couple of instances he says he disagrees with Fritz’ evaluation.  Unfortunately, he did not explain why.  In any case when running into this situation, I always believe the GM.
     The book consists of 82 of Bisguier’s games and each and every one is fun and instructive. Bisguier’s notes are interspersed with useful verbal explanations. While most of the games are of an attacking nature, the truth is Bisguier is more of a classical positional player but he is equally at home in wild, crazy positions.
      Bisguier plays against a lot of players whose names are unfamiliar to those not familiar with the U.S. chess scene of that era.  Opponents like: Weaver Adams, Karl Burger, Arthur Feuerstein, Eliot Hearst, Charles Kalme, Alex Kevitz, Lee Magee, Albert Simonson, Ken Smith, Tony Santasiere. Therefore, each game against an American is preceded with a short description of his opponent.

Vol. 2, 1961-2003
      This volume is much better produced and contains instructive, well-annotated games and black and white photos.  As in the first edition, there are anecdotes that preface each game.  He includes the story of an incident at the 1975 Cleveland International where IM Bernard Zuckerman threw a captured Bishop across the room at a noisy spectator. I witnessed that incident.  The guy was sitting in the front row right next to Zuckerman (I don’t remember his opponent) and just wouldn’t shut up despite Zukerman shushing him several times. Finally, in exasperation, Zuckerman picked up B and I prefer the word ‘tossed’ it at the guy who then refused to give it back until the TD intervened.

Both volumes are highly recommended; you will enjoy the games and anecdotes.

Pawn Power in Chess by Hans Kmoch

Pawn Power in Chess appeared in the 1950s and was the first book to deal extensively with the topic of different types of pawn structures. It was an original work, but filled with jargon and mainly covered Ruy Lopez and Benoni type structures.

Original discussion of pawn play isolated by elements and elaborates on various aspects.  Difficult to read because of the terms to describe what he is discussing.  

Kmoch uses awkward phrases like "leucopenia," when referring to white square weaknesses but if you can get past this, the book is full of whole sections on different pawn structures: the King's Indian, the Dutch Stonewall, Dragon formations, etc.  Kmoch discusses the key features of the positions and then presents a set of complete games with light notes to illustrate the themes in practice. Chess author and translator Walter Meiden did everything he could to persuade Kmoch to abandon his special terminology but Kmoch was adamant for reasons known only to himself and refused to do so.

Despite those flaws this book will be a benefit in all three phases of the game: opening , middle game and end game .

The Bobby Fischer I Knew and Other Stories by Arnold Denker

The Bobby Fischer I knew and other stories is a classic. "This Damon Runyan like work will inform future generations about such greats as Bobby Fischer as well as the New York Chess scene during the Golden Era of the 1930s and 1940s. In the introduction Larry Evans writes that the authors capture "some of the most raucous and colorful figures in 20th century chess" with a "Dickensian precision".   There are over 300 games and positions, many never before published.  The games are at the end of each chapter and have light notes and are of no instructional value.

Anyone who loves chess and is interested in its history especially in its golden age of the 1930s and 1940s and the quirks and mannerisms of giants like Alexander Alehkine, Max Euwe, Isaac Kashdan, Fred Reinfeld, Reuben Fine, Samuel Reshevsky will love this book.

As on e reviewer put is, “Reading about life at the Manhattan Chess Club in the early 20th century can only make a reader nostalgic for a time before data bases and the need to memorize hundreds and thousands of openings.” That’s because Denker writes about the human side of chess: its history and colorful characters.

One thing though: the chapter on Fischer was included to justify the title of the book and offers nothing new or illuminating. Also, I have a gut feeling that some facts presented the way Denker remembered them may not be quite the way things actually were, but that doesn’t really matter.  He gives his opinions about everyone he came in contact with and makes himself out to be a really nice guy.  Jeremy Silman who had contact with the real life Denker on several occasions said, “I have to admit that this ‘Saint Denker’ version of reality is something I've missed out on.”

All in all, a great read.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Simple Chess by Michael Stean

I think this is a great book.  Chess strategy is a forgotten subject these days ever since somebody latched onto the phrase “chess is 99% tactics” but consider this:  Let’s say a game lasts 40 moves.  Further, let’s say the first 10 moves are book...that may be too many for average players, but it’’ll do for illustration purposes.  Let us further say that both players make five serious tactical errors in the game, so that accounts for 10 moves.   So, you have 20 moves, fully half the game, in which no combinations are possible; this means you have to play moves that, as Jeremy Silman says, the position demands to be played.  Any old move won’t do; you have to play a move based on positional factors.  On what basis are these moves played?  What are the objectives?  That requires some positional understanding. Tactics only gets you so far and practicing them is a helpful and necessary, but real progress comes from understanding strategy and endings.

Simple Chess provides you with some elementary objectives, which if attained, should eventually decide the game in your favor.  This, of course, is subject to the proviso that you don’t make any tactical blunders like getting mated or losing material. Naturally you have to be alert for tactical shots at every move; strategy takes a back seat to mating your opponent or winning material (usually)!

Simple Chess aims to teach you some of the basic ideas for forming a long-term plan and shows you how to recognize and accumulate small advantages which, though they may have may have little short-term effect, are permanent features of the position. As the game progresses, the cumulative effect of these little advantages begin to make themselves felt, eventually leading to more tangible gains.  Your position becomes so strong that a tactical solution is inevitable.

Table of Contents:
1. Introduction
2. Outposts
3. Weak pawns
4. Open files
5. Half-open files: the minority attack
6. Black squares and white squares
7. Space

Here are a couple of excerpts from the book:

The most important single feature of a chess position is the activity of the pieces. This is absolutely fundamental in all phases of the game (opening, middlegame and especially endgame)... The primary constraint on a piece's activity is the Pawn structure...The job of the chessplayer must therefore be to use his skill to create a Pawn set-up which will allow his own pieces the optimum freedom and stability, while denying his opponent's similar scope.

The essence of simple chess is mobility. Pieces need to be kept active and used economically. All the objectives of simple chess can be traced back to this underlying notion... However, the single most important factor in determining mobility must be space, but what is space? is not an easily definable or recognizable concept... The following is nearer the truth. Any given Pawn structure has a certain capacity for accommodating pieces efficiently. Exceed this capacity and the pieces get in each other's way, and so reduce their mutual activity.

This book really isn't for beginners but for those in, say, the 1500 range; players who don't blunder away material very frequently.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Soviet School of Chess by Kotov and Yudovich

"The Soviet School of Chess" by A. Kotov and M. Yudovich, was first translated from the Russian and published by the Foreign Languages Publishing House (Moscow) in 1958, 5.5" x 8" hardcover (brown cloth on boards with white lettering and decoration) with dust jacket, 390 pages.

If you can find it, this is the the edition to get and is pictured on the left.  This original edition is full of propaganda but it contains bios of many of the older Russian GMs.  Unfortunately many of them have been deleted from the new editions.  For example, Bondarevsky, Levenfish, Korchnoi, etc.  There was an entire chapter on Alekhine, who the authors claimed was Russia’s greatest player, in the original edition which is missing from later editions.

The copy on the right is available from Barnes and Noble for $14.99.  I have the original and the edition pictured in the middle.  The middle one has a brief introduction to early Soviet chess and chapters with brief bios and a handful of games by Botvinnik, Smyslov, Tahl, Petrosian, Spassky, female players and Karpov.  I have not seen the Barnes and Noble edition so do not know what it contains.  In any case, I would not waste money on either of the newer editions, but if you can find a used copy of the original edition at a reasonable price, buy it.
Screen Shot of Original Edition

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

How Good Is Your Chess? By Daniel King

       Years ago, as a young player, one of my first books was a slim volume of the same name by the British player Leonard Barden.  I can well remember the joy and frustration playing over the games in that book!  Some games I’d score the equivalent of Class D and in others I’d be overjoyed because I came through with flying colors and got a Class A rating.  Eventually I was scoring Expert (just below master) and was really overjoyed…that is until I realized I was scoring so well because it was getting to the point I was remembering the games!
      This book by King has twenty complete games where you try to guess the next move. Most of them were played in the early 1990′s. King says something with almost every move, giving advice and analysis. This is a good way to learn different openings. King does make some mistakes in analysis.

Nezhmetdinov’s Best Games

If you like Tahl, you will like Nezhmetdinov.  He  is not widely known in the West, but two books are available:

Super Nezh by Alex Pishkin
Nezhmetdinov’s Best Games of Chess by Rashid Nezhmetdinov

Attacking play.  That describes these games.  Tahl praised his play; what more can you ask?

 Nezhmetdinov’s Best Games of Chess games with his own annotations.  In Super Nezh  the annotations are by Alex Pishkin.

Nezhmetdinov's Best Games of Chess has his personal account of his career which is quite fascinating and makes for great reading. Super Nezh is more of an overview by Pishkin.

Super Nezh has photos of Soviet chess personalities of the 1950s and crosstables of important events, but I disliked the way the crosstables were presented…colored blocks for the results instead of the usual numbers.  Super Nezh also has a nice feature in that it has thumb-nail sketches of Nezhmetdinov's opponents.

Nezhmetdinov's Best Games of Chess has included analysis by Fritz 6 alongside Nezhmetdinov's annotations.  This is something I think could have been eliminated from the book because these days almost everybody has a chess engine they can use to playt over the games if they are so inclined.  Also Fritz 6 can't fathom some of Nezhmetdinov’s combinations; I’m not sure about some of the later engines. 

The Art of Sacrifice in Chess by Rudolf Spielmann

One of the greatest attacking players of all time, Speilmann was a great writer who was also very well educated. This book is an excellent translation by J. du Mont. It is based upon 37 of Spielmann’s games. “Attempt to explain the sacrifices which occur, to classify them and to provide them with their own nomenclature.”   I'm not sure how much instruction one will get out of this book, but the games are great fun to play through!

The Search for Chess Perfection by CJS Purdy

       Purdy is a forgotten author of instructional books.  IM Jeremy SIlman said of this book, “this book offers more key advice and instructional punch than a dozen other books sitting on a bookstore's shelf.”  Purdy had the unique ability to communicate chess in words without using reams of analysis.  Clear-cut instruction is the term that comes to mind.  Purdy was a master player, outstanding teacher and the first World Correspondence Champions. 
       Originally titled, C.J.S. Purdy His Life, His Games and His Writings, this book which is actually a compilation of Purdy’s magazine articles is great because you don’t have to start at the beginning; you can open it to any page and learn something.
       In addition, the last part of the book, 90 pages worth, contain Purdy's games; mostly correspondence games and games against Australian players.  The book begins with his life story.  And a rare individual he was!  Purdy was athletic, a  tennis player and runner; he didn't smoke, drink or overeat, avoided stress and refused to worry.
       Sandwiched in the middle is the really good stuff -  almost 190 pages where he explains the most basic concepts in a clear, easy to understand manner. Brief, to the point and highly instructional essays on exchanging, combinations, how to reduce errors, general endgame strategy, play with the pieces, the what he calls ‘play for position after the opening’, planning, a method of thinking, the isolated d-pawn, compensation for a pawn, transposition from the opening to the middlegame, when attack is the best defense, when counterattack is wrong, the two Bishops, Rook against two minor pieces, weak pawns and weak squares, how to avoid traps, the true elements of chess, why a pawn center?, what is position play? and more.  There is no useless information; just good instruction in an understandable format.  Another great feature is a description of his own system which is a guide on how to figure out a position and avoid blunders.

Highly recommended for players up to 2000.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Reshevsky’s Best Games

Vol. 1 and Vol. 2
Reshevsky shot to fame as a child prodigy and Vol. 1 covers his early career up to the mid 1940's when Reshevsky was established as one of the leading contenders for the world chess crown. His later games are published as Reshevsky's Best Games - Volume 2

This book was one of my first and was one of the few chess books I actually read; it got used to the point that the cover fell off.  Reshevsky has always been my favorite player because his style was one without eccentricities or prejudices and his games were simple and clear cut.  I can’t fathom the play of Karpov or Shirov or Anand but I could always relate to Reshevsky's play.

Rubinstein’s Chess Masterpieces by Hans Kmoch

100 selected games. Rubinstein had astonishing early success with a severely limited style and his ability is often over-rated. He lost many games to simple-minded knight combinations and to suggest that he would have had a chance in a match with Lasker is simply not true.. Alekhin lost his first two games to Rubinstein, in 1911 and 1912, but then became aware of Rubinstein’s weakness and won 8, lost 1, drew 3. These are excellent examples of how to attack with bishop, rook and queen, and Rubinstein was a great endgame player.  Reuben Fine said, “Rubinstein’s weakness was the middle-game.” Tarrasch said: “Fortunately the gods have placed the middle-game before the endgame.”

Chess Master vs. Chess Amateur by Euwe and Meiden

25 games between master and amateur – chosen, arranged and annotated to help amateurs learn how to avoid a variety of weak strategic and tactical moves. Selected, with commentary by the 1935-37 World Chess Champion Max Euwe and by Walter Meiden, a typical amateur player, the games point out graphically how the chess master exploits errors of the amateur.

Decisive Games in Chess History by Ludek Pachman

Brilliant analysis.  Pachman focuses on 65 of the most important tournaments and matches of the last century, capturing the drama and excitement of the key games, the intrigue of tournament tactics and the psychological processes of winning. Extensive diagrams. Pachman was a great teacher.

107 Great Chess Battles, 1938-1945 by Alekhine

One of the game’s greatest players annotates fascinating games involving such masters as Capablanca, Bogoljubov, Kashdan, Reshevsky, Tartakower, Keres and others, including many of his own games. His views on fellow masters and rivals for the world title.

My Best Games of Chess by Alekhine

This is a great bargain of two books in one.  My Best Games 1908-23 shows his dynamic, aggressive, attacking style. My Best Games 1924-37 are more one-sided and show his great endgame skill. There are more than 220 games with his annotations.

200 Open Games by David Bronstein

Bronstein was one of the greatest combinational players of his time. All games begin 1.e4 e5. When Bronstein wanted to win he was the best player in the world, and in most of these games he tried to win, but he loses many of them: “As I look through this game I can see I wanted to avoid at all costs the systematic, strategical type of game in which my opponent is still reputed to be a great authority.”

Strategic Chess: Mastering the Closed Game by Edmar Mednis

Insightful manual offers detailed, seldom-discussed insights into the real significance of the opening. 30 games area analyzed, between such masters as Petrosian and Korchnoi, Karpov and Kasparov, Gligoric and Kaplan, and more, showing how strategic themes of the opening are carried through all applicable phases of the game.

500 Master Games of Chess by Tartakower and du Mont

Monumental work with more games in the notes. Arranged by opening. Good introduction to the best players of all time and a good way to learn about the different openings. Low price for such a huge book.

100 Selected Games by Botvinnik

On of the best individual Master’s collection. 100 games annotated by Botvinnik before he became World Champion in 1948. After that his play deteriorated. A vicious, ambitious man whose play was extremely powerful. Botvinnik’s weakness was that he often tried too hard to win a winning position and made crude blunders, over-looking his opponent’s counter-attack.

The Road to Chess Improvement by Alex Yermolinsky

Yermolinsky, a U.S. Champion and 2600+ grandmaster, gives an insight about nearly every aspect of practical play. He is frank, and doesn't shy away from presenting his own failings and frustrations. The core of the book is a thoroughly annotated collection of Yermolinsky's own games (93 of them, including fragments).

Practical advice about how to approach a tremendous variety of positions and tons of interesting comments and original ideas.

Yermolinsky says, "we do not practice a 'quick fix approach' that is popularized by many teaching GMs," and students are urged to avoid "primitive set-ups designed to avoid theory."

As for books since WWII, he says "guess what, a lot of them just repeat each other. Same boring lists of positional elements, same 'tactics serve strategy' and 'attack only when prepared' hollow advice, same carefully selected games which are nothing but one-way beatings delivered by chess heavyweights to the tomato cans of amateur ranks."  Also included is Yermolinsky's personal experiences with Soviet training and his gradual advance into the world's 2600+ elite.

This book is primarily aimed at advanced players, but it could not fail to help those above 1600. For anyone looking to improve and to understand modern chess, this book is a must have.

Secrets of Modern Chess Strategy by John Watson

This book is a thorough, profound work on the modern handling of chess positions, and how Nimzowitsch's theories been refined and used alongside classical concepts.

The first section of the book discusses how the understanding of classical themes, such as pawn majorities, the centre, and structural weaknesses, have been refined. Watson then discusses new concepts, including the willingness of modern players to accept backward pawns in return for dynamic play, the idea of a good 'bad' bishop, knights finding useful roles at the edge of the board and the exchange sacrifice idea that became prevalent with the post-war Soviet players.

It essentially says that everything you know is wrong.  After reading this book you will begin to understand chess much more deeply because it will shake the dogmatic ideas that dominated the past and still dominates beginner’s instructions.

Zurich 1953 Candidates Tournament by David Bronstein

This book is one of those timeless, best ever works on chess, being a high-level look at one of the world's top tournaments. 

All 210 games from the greatest tournament since World War II. Smyslov, Bronstein, Keres, Reshevsky, Petrosian, 10 others; perceptive annotations by Bronstein. Algebraic notation. 352 diagrams. Double Round. (Actually written by Boris Vainstein, with Bronstein’s help. Paul Keres was forced to lose two games to Smyslov, so that Smyslov could win the tournament. Bronstein said this was a treatise on the middlegame.

 This book is one of three of GM Yasser Seirawan’s favorite books. Jeremy Silman wrote, “Deep strategic explanations of the King's Indian, Nimzo-Indian and Sicilian abound. The personalities of these chess legends are soaked into every page. Magical combinations take our breath away and profound endgames keep our attention glued to every move. If you combine all these things with an exciting battle for first place (it almost feels like you're at the tournament watching the event take place), you might begin to realize just how special this book really is…if you don't buy and read this fantastic book you will be doing yourself a great injustice…this is simply the greatest tournament book ever written and it deserves to be in every self-respecting chess library