Friday, August 2, 2013

Chess Tactics for Champions: A step-by-step guide to using tactics and combinations the Polgar way by Susan Polgar

      I’m not a fan of Susan Polgar (or her husband, Paul Truong who supposedly coauthored the book) for reasons I won’t go into, but her activities promoting chess, particularly for women and scholastic players, does have to be lauded.
      In any case, what we have here is yet another tactics book. In the introduction she writes, a tactic is “a tool that helps us gain some kind of advantage. It can lead to material gain or even to checkmate” and she goes on to assert that a player “can get a lot further by being very good in tactics and have only a basic understanding of strategy.” I really must take umbrage with this last statement. Openings have always been a favorite of authors peddling easy wins and these days it’s tactics. I’m not saying tactics aren’t important, but in days gone by, some claimed you couldn’t teach tactics; you were born with the ability to spot them! But guys like Renaud & Kahn, Vukovic, Euwe and Pachman wrote some pretty good books on tactics. Still, back when Botvinnik was “the man” in the chess world, there was a glut of books on strategy and the players who grew up on strategy books by Euwe, Pachman, Fine, et al played some pretty good chess. By the way, I think sometimes lower rated players fail to make a distinction between blunders and tactics. Some players say they are weak tactically and lose pieces and fall into simple mates when in reality they are just overlooking the fact that they are missing obvious replies by their opponents. Hanging your Q to a N fork or overlooking a one move mate is not failing to spot a tactic; it’s just an outright blunder that could have been avoided by looking at the entire board.
      This book consists of an array of exercises, organized by tactical motif and supplemented by examples, but generally descriptions are somewhat lacking. With each topic, she includes a short description of the tactic followed by an example from one of her own games and then jumps right into a set of problems to solve. Some players find the arrangement a major flaw because the tactics are grouped by motif. Personally, I don’t think that's a flaw at all. It's always obvious what kind of tactical solution you are looking for and the ability to recognize patterns and tactical motifs is fundamental for understanding combinations. Her presentation generally makes it fairly easy to find candidate moves that match the theme of the chapter and my understanding is that the Polgar sisters learned by repetition so this format makes sense. But, what would be helpful is a guide to spotting motifs that make combinations possible. C.J.S. Purdy has written some good stuff on this subject and you can download my synopsis, Hints on How to Study Chess for the Most Rapid Improvement here.
      Chapters: Forks and Double Attacks, Deflection and Removing the Guard, Discoveries, Double Checks, Skewers, Trapping Pieces, Decoys, Intermediate Moves, Pawn Promotions, Back Rank, Destroying the Castled King’s Position, King Chase, Two-movers, Three Movers, Four Movers, Game Saving Combinations, Perpetual Checks, Stalemates, Trap and Counter Traps, Sibling Positions, and 25 Famous Combinations
      The back cover says that the book is for "intermediate to advanced" players. That’s probably about right. This definitely shouldn't be your first tactics book if you are rated below, say, 1600, but if you fall between 1600 - 1800, it's worthwhile.

1 comment: