Thursday, January 31, 2013

Zurich 1953 by Najdorf

      This book came highly recommended by one of my Blog readers. Russell Enterprises has done chess players everywhere a favor in printing Najdorf’s book on this great tournament, originally available only in two volumes in Spanish.  Why another copy of a great tournament of long ago when we already had Bronstein’s monumental work on the tournament?  Good question.
       Bronstein noted that he was responsible for the analysis in his book but the text was mostly by Boris Vainstein. In the book “Secret Notes", by Bronstein and Sergey Voronkov which Bronstein wanted published only after his death, he talked about how Zurich 1953 was fixed. He said that it was the most embarrassing moment of his chess career and the KGB monitored the event and instructed the players to arrange "rest draws" or even losses against the "chosen winner,” who was Smyslov as long as Reshevsky had the lead.

       In my Blog I gave the game Keres vs. Boleslavsky where it looked like Boleslavsky threw the game to Keres.  Nobody, not even Najdorf, was able to explain Boleslavsky’s play.  That game was played in the sixth round and as a result Keres and Smyslov moved to within a half point of the leader, Reshevsky.  According to Bronstein a KGB agent even asked him, "Do you really think you've come here to play chess". As a result of this tournament Bronstein confessed that he never did forget the shame that he felt. "We were all puppets"...
        This English translation of Najdorf’s book includes all 210 games with his notes, all the original introductory material, biographical sketches of the players, lots of diagrams, and pictures.  There is an introduction by Yuri Averbakh, who along with Mark Taimanov are the last surviving participants, and a foreword by GM Andrew Soltis.
       What makes this book so great is Najdorf’s vivid prose and his firsthand account of this great event.  Najdorf had a rare combination of skills; not only was he a great player, but he had the ability to explain things in a clear and entertaining way.
       One thing about this translation that is greatly appreciated is the work of the translator, Taylor Kingston.  He didn’t mess with the original but made a translation that is faithful to the original and  managed to capture Najdorf’s wit and style.
      So, why do we really need this new translation of a tournament played in 1953?  Forget about the fact that the tournament had the greatest players of the day or it may have been fixed or that Najdorf was a great writer and that the games were instructive, etc., etc.  It’s fun just to watch them play and read Najdorf’s notes!  Read sample
       This book is also available for the Nook and Kindle.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Elements of Positional Evaluation: How the Chess Pieces Get Their Power by Heisman

I’ve been a fan of National Master Dan Heisman ever since I discovered his columns online years ago. There are very few players who make things look so simple it makes you wonder why everybody isn’t a master; Heisman is one; CJS Purdy was another.
      In these days of seeing recommendations that you need to study tactics until you puke books on strategy are scarce. This book was originally written the mid-seventies on a typewriter. Heisman said of the original that it described the values and relationship between the pieces functioned in evaluating positions but it was not a beginners’ book. This latest edition has come a long way and Heisman recommends it for players rated between 800 and 1800. Personally, I think anybody rated below master would benefit from the book because it’s never a bad idea to review what you think you know, not to mention what you have forgotten.
      The contents are:
Background of Positional Knowledge
Elements Psuedo-Elements
Pieces in Relation to the Elements
Static Features Elements
Miscellaneous Applications of the Theory
Appendix: Illustrative Games

      Heisman starts off with an interesting history of positional theory then moves on to piece development and hypermodern theory. His discussion of the conflict between schools of thought, such as between Nimzovich's hypermodern theory and Tarrasch's dogmatic classical style is most interesting and instructive. Even when you are discussing strategy though, tactical motifs must be considered and Heisman covers basic motifs such as pins, combinations, sacrifices, and other tactical issues. His explanation of double pawns, development, static and dynamic positions, etc. can’t help but make things crystal clear.
      This whole area of strategy is often unappreciated by a lot of players, but answering the question “who stands better, and by how much?" is essential if one is going to understand the position because, barring a freak accident, tactical solutions either won’t be possible or else they will be unsound in most of the positions we encounter.  And this is precisely where I have seen a lot of lower rated players get into trouble.  Thinking the only way to win is to do so tactically, they will often play an unsound sacrifice then watch there so called attack fizzle out and be left a piece down.  Can't tell you how many free Bishop's I've been handed due to the old Bxf7+ trick even if it wasn't justified.
      When no sound combination is possible, you have to have some idea of who is better and why or you will just be shifting plastic to no purpose. These days, as compared to way back when, positional evaluations have changed, especially in regards to positional sacrifices. I can remember when positional sacrifices were made for no immediate material gain or no direct attack it left us all flabbergasted! But then the Benko Gambit (Volga Gambit to some), where Black sacrificed a Pawn for positional compensation created a sensation. GM Jim Tarajn's games used to fascinate me because he seemed to make exchange sacrifices a lot. Nowadays you see GMs routinely playing like that. Of course, they also play a lot of moves that look anti-positional and if Tarrasch thought some of Nimzovich’s ideas were bizarre, he would be appalled today. One thing Heisman covers very well is explaining the value of pieces varies depending on mobility, coordination, etc. IM Larry Kaufman’s discussion of this issue can be read HERE.

Bottom line: If you are looking for a better understanding of how to evaluate positions get this book!  Make sure you get the FOURTH Edition.

Friday, January 25, 2013

ChessEnthusiast - Nook Chess App for a Dollar

    For $0.99 I recently downloaded this chess app for my Nook Color. The online blurb says it offers a choice of two strong chess engines combined with a feature-rich GUI. This highly configurable app gives you the freedom to edit the board, return to any past position by clicking on the notation, toggle between human vs human, computer vs human, computer vs computer. You can also adjust difficulty level, edit the board, enter analyze mode and see computer recommendations for moves and move notation is automatically recorded for your review. You can even export the notation. It is also supposed to be possible to install other engines, but I am not quite sure what the procedure for that is. The game may be saved and resumed later.
       After I purchased the app I read the reviews and found it got poor reviews. The biggest complaint was that the engine freezes and stops making moves. One review said it was “thinking” for twelve hours. Another reviewer said it caused his Nook to freeze up after 2 moves and after restarting it several times he decided to delete the app after 1 hour of trying to get it to work. Others had problems with en passant capturing. I had initial problems with it not working also, but I think that problem had something to do with the time setting which I can only describe as “weird” and, possibly, the engine selected. Time setting options are “Moves – number of moves between time controls” which are 10-20-30-40-50 and 60. “Time – maximum thinking time between time controls” with options of 1-2-3-5-10 and 15 minutes. There is also an “Increment” setting that allows you to add 0 to 5 seconds per move. Engines choices are : Shitoku+ and Cockatoo. I was not able to locate information on either one of them but the Cockatoo engine seems only slightly weaker that Houdini…makes me wonder.

In addition to changing the engine from “Shitoku+” to “Cockatoo” I changed the “Moves” setting to 20 moves and the “Time” setting to one minute and have had absolutely no problems other than the fact that at these settings I have yet to win a game! Well worth the dollar it costs provided you adjust the default settings.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Wood Expressions Chess Sets

Wood Expressions, located in California, is a leading game distribution company that has been in business for over 30 years.

Roman’s Lab DVDs from Chess Central

All of GM Roman Dzindzichashvili’s (gin-gee-hah-shvi-li) CD's/DVD's are all of excellent quality and best of all, while enjoying his lectures you can actually learn something. Chess Central located in Charlotte, North Carolina offers low world-wide shipping rates and customers who purchase their chess software from ChessCentral receive post-purchase USA tech support.

Chessbase Software - Simply the Best!