Saturday, August 25, 2012

Bobby Fischer Comes Home by GM Helgi Olafsson

          This book is not the usual psychoanalysis of Fischer but attempts to show Fischer in a more pleasant light and is the story of Olafsson’s friendship with Fischer. The review describes Fischer as a complicated person, funny and good-natured at times, bitter and unbearable at times, suspicious, but fun to be with.
       Olafsson was a member of the committee that successfully worked to free Fischer from a Japanese detention center. He first met Fischer shortly after Fischer returned to Iceland in 2005 and they spent a lot of time together making trips, watching movies, playing games and spoke on the phone almost every day.
       Olafsson doesn’t give us any new “dirt” on Fischer.  Instead he remembers Fischer as a friend and at the same time explains, or tries to explain, why Fischer acted the way he did. At the end of a dinner out with Anand as they drove away, Fischer made a statement to Olafsson that seems both curious and interesting.  He told Olafsson , “Yes. I think Anand got a better upbringing than I did.”
       Olafsson described a series of blitz games he played against Fischer in the latter’s apartment in 2005 claiming, “It almost felt like the game of chess was too easy for him. His calculating abilities were great. It is difficult to describe this but it seemed that he somehow had a different calculating method than most chessplayers. As if he was visualizing the geography on the chessboard, and every square was somehow within his grasp. As if he had created an internal spatial map in his brain. The main thing, however, was that he was happy playing chess, as if he was finally speaking his native language.”
       A fascinating book on a side of Fischer we don’t hear much about these days.

Bobby Fischer traveling to Iceland Part 1


Part 2    Part 3

Monday, August 13, 2012

Chess Assassin's Business Manual by Bob Long

      A book combining chess and business! According to Long the book is “peppered with stories, business trips and chess information.”  After 35 years running four of his own businesses and 40 years of playing chess, the author explains how these two activities complement each other.  To be successful at both requires disciplines such as patience, awareness, and perseverance. The book is a collection of games, stories, advice and complaints by the owner of Thinker’s Press.
      Long is an interesting character.  He doesn’t like, and has strong opinions about, a lot of things. Long opines that having an MBA or being a business school grad does not prepare someone to be a business owner.  Of course the same is true of any professional because things in the “real world” are seldom like they teach you in school.  It seems we live in an imperfect world and quite often things go wrong or just aren’t done by the book.  When things do go wrong they situations that are never covered in school and businesses frequently don’t operate by the book.
      There isn’t a lot of games in the book and it mostly is about Long’s career in the chess publishing and chess sales business. One reason for Long’s success is apparently that, at least to my knowledge, everybody who has done business with him has never had a bad experience…these days it seems take the money and run is the norm and customer service is often lacking but that doesn’t seem to be the case with Long.
      This book offers valuable advice if you are thinking about getting into any business on your own.  Even if you aren’t, it’s an interesting read…at least I thought so, but then I’ll read a biography of just about anybody. Although it isn’t a bio as such, it’s pretty close.
      If you are interested in purchasing the book, don’t buy it from Amazon, buy it direct from Thinker’s press.  In fact while you are there take a look at all Long’s material; it’s good stuff.  Thinker’s Press

MonRoi Personal Chess Manager

      This is a hand-held, wireless device for recording, storing and reviewing of chess games that carries a  $359 price tag.
      The Mon-Roi enables players to electronically record, store and view their games and relay moves to the Professional Tournament Manager (PTM) if one is being used at the tournament.
       Part of their advertising asks, “…ever discover you’ve made a ridiculous mistake on your paper scoresheet, and have to consult your opponent’s? Then, after looking at it, you find you’re unable to decipher his or her distinct scrawl? Perhaps, your own penmanship leaves something to be desired. Maybe you get so engrossed in your games that you forget to notate 3 or 4 consecutive moves somewhere in the middle, or simply write the wrong move when under stress due to time pressure, nerves, etc. If so, you’re certainly not alone.”
       I guess everybody has done this at some time, but when I was an OTB player the problem never reached such proportions that I felt the need to spend $350 to overcome it.  The device is also touted as “a great timesaver when it comes to preserving one’s games on the computer for later analysis and training purposes.”  It has no chess engine.
       If you play in a tournament that uses the Monroi Tournament Manager Hub device, then your device transmits your game wirelessly in real time to the hub, which can publish it to the Internet or just keep a record of all the tournament games played in range. If there's no hub being used by the TDs, you're not being recorded. 
      Short is a $350 replacement for a pen or pencil. On the other hand if you just like gadgets and have some money to micturate away, this is a great way to do it.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Excelling at Chess Calculation by Jacob Aagaard

Looking for an easy way to improve?  If so, move on…there’s nothing to see here.
      I’ve heard a lot of pros and cons about this book. Mostly though complaints seem to center around Aagaard’s taking potshots at John Watson and Josef Dorfman in his books.
      The standard back cover hype reads, “The art of chess calculation is the absolute key to the success of a player. Master this discipline and you can surely expect your results to improve dramatically.” One reviewer warned though, Aagaard advocates hard work and this book has a ton of analysis. So, if you’re looking for a book where everything is explained concisely using words and 3-4 move variations to illustrate the point, read no further.
      The thing is, you can’t study tactics without a lot of analysis. Aagaard writes, “For my other books I have generally refrained from long variations and tried to explain everything with words. But here it was the variations themselves that needed to be explained. Also, for those interested in working with this book seriously, it will be an advantage to be able to follow the author’s reasoning more closely.” Threading your way through all this is where using an engine would be very helpful.  I’d recommend saving the games to their own database as you go through the.  If you take this approach be prepared to end up with a ton of analysis on each game which, when you think about it, probably isn’t all that bad.
The chapters are:

1. Before you can think, you need to learn how to see
2. Candidate Moves
3. When is the right time to Calculate?
4. Important Thinking Techniques
5. Visualization and Stepping Stones
6. When it is time to calculate
7. Creativity and Combinational Vision
8. How to Train Calculation
9. Exercises
10. Solutions

      Aagaard makes the point that it makes little sense to investigate how to develop a tree of analysis based on the candidate moves if the player doesn’t know how to properly arrive at those candidates in the first place. So, he claims that the most important thing is not so much how many moves ahead you can see, but to first check out what possibilities there might be.  When calculating, one ought to first calculate wide, not deep.  I once heard a 2300+ otb player who also happens to be correspondence IM advising this is the correct approach when using an engine.  He said you have to look at a lot of moves before you start weeding out the ones that appear to be unplayable.
      Purdy, Soltis, Silman and others have touched on the subject of knowing when calculation is not necessary.  So does Aagaard but he also covers in detail when you should start calculating.
       In the first eight chapters there are about 80 positions or games and the reader is reminded about making assumptions and examples of desperados, vision, comparison, elimination and prophylaxis prove the point. He warns that sometimes you have to force yourself to calculate sometimes to the point of checking out every legal move in a position. To help with this process Aagaard also recommends some books like Jonathan Tisdall’s Improve Your Chess Now! And Paata Gaprindashvili’s Imagination in Chess as well as some of his own books (imagine that!). 
      As usual with books of this type, the last two chapters include a selection of 100 exercises. What’s really cool is he has a grading system for the exercises.
      One 2300+ player described this book as interesting, useful and practical. But he also warned that you have to be willing to put in some serious work. I think GM Alex Yermolinsky said that, too, in one of his books.  Not very comforting is it?  OK, so a 2300+ found it helpful, but most of us are a tad short of having that many rating points, so what about us?  He opined that for anyone below IM strength, IF they pay close attention and IF they are willing to think and IF they are willing to seriously attempt the exercises at the end of the book, then he thinks their play will improve.

Thursday, August 2, 2012


One of my earliest game collections was Tarrasch’s Best Games of Chess by Fred Reinfeld and I loved it!  Reinfeld was a great writer when he wanted to be and this book of Tarrasch’s games was superb…positional masterpieces.  Unfortunately, nowadays the book is rather pricey if you buy it off Amazon, but if you find it in a book store at a good price, buy it and play over the games.

      Dr. Siegbert Tarrasch was the first to formulate and express the rule that “If one piece is badly placed, your whole game is bad.” Properly applied, it is a significant addition to Stenitz’s theory. On the basis of this single axiom, various types of positions can be studied where the difference in force between the two sides is defined only by the difference in location between corresponding pieces.
       Co-authors GM Sam Palatnik and Master Mark Ishee have produced a valuable instructional book for all levels of players in their book, The Tarrasch Formula. 
       In the forward, as the authors so colorfully put it, “In searching for meat, the lion does not attack the whole herd of enemy prey, but instead instinctively takes advantage of seeking one weak or sick animal that becomes badly placed, separated from the herd. And so it is with the player, who should seek out the sick or weak piece in the enemy camp and steadily reduce the power of that enemy piece to render it helpless.”  They then proceed to attempt to show how this is done.
       The book is divided into seven chapters, the first five show how this is done with individual pieces:  Knight, Bishop, Opposite-Colored Bishops, Heavy Pieces, and Zugzwang. I like this approach.  In his classic, Modern Chess Analysis, Ludek Pachman took a similar approach of showing examples of the individual pieces at their best as he discussed each one.  The last two chapters deal with opening analysis on Philidor's Defense Revisited and the Neo-Philidor Defense which I personally was not interested in.
       Each chapter, except the Neo-Philidor Defense, has a selection of heavily annotated games with a lot of diagrams. The first five chapters have useful exercises of moderate to difficult endgame studies and there is a total of 57 annotated games.
       Palatnik's annotations are rather colorful: "The white pieces lined up along the c1-h6 diagonal are like a 12-inch sub sandwich: the only problem is ... where to take the first bite?"  Personally I don't quite understand that one.  When I eat a sub I take a bite off one end or the other, always assuming they are pretty much the same on both ends.  Does anybody take a bite out of the middle of a foot long Subway sandwich?
       In addition to games by  Palatnik and Ishee there are games like Saemisch-Nimzovich, Copenhagen 1923; Nimzovich -Capablanca, New York 1927; Alekhine- Nimzovich, San Remo 1930.
      One thing I did notice was, beside the usual typographical errors that seem to infest a lot of books these days, were a few other errors. Right off the bat, Game 1 is given as Marshall-Ragozin which is incorrect.  It was not the Soviet GM Vlacheslav Ragozin but Hyman Ragosin, a NY Master of the period. Spelling of players names is not consistent and many are misspelled…but I nitpick.
       I also didn’t like the fact that for the openings they used ECO codes rather than opening names. How many players know, for example, that E7 is the Classical King’s Indian Main Line? Another obvious problem is that the diagrams are such that there is a lot of white space on the bottom or top of the page with the diagram on the following page…not to mention that the diagram size is inconsistent… but again, I nitpick.
       It’s not the layout from which you will learn anything (unless you are publishing a book), but the instructional value of the games and annotations.  They are excellent and anybody up to Expert will learn something