Thursday, December 31, 2015

Big Database

     The Big Database 2016 contains more than 6.4 millions games from 1560 to 2015 with ChessBase opening classification with more than 100,000 key positions, direct access to players, tournaments, middlegame themes, endgames. The most recent games of the database are from the Middle of September 2015. 
     You need a large reference database if you’re going doing serious study or correspondence play.   Online databases are OK, but they can’t manipulate the data and making your own requires a lot of time and effort. 
     With BigBase allows you to access various keys for openings, endgames, strategic and tactical themes which is probably the best and most helpful feature.  And, playing over a lot of sample games with your favorite opening lines, endings or middlegame themes is one of the best ways to learn.  When you see similar positions in your own games, you will remember them.  Even if it's only a vague recollection, at least you have a starting point. Learning by example is one of the best ways of learning anything.  Seet his article on Observational Learning.
     Note though that BigBase does NOT include annotated games and you are not offered a year’s worth of weekly updates. Nor does it, like MegaBase, offer rating data and pictures for thousands of players. Personally, I do not think the price of MegaBase (around $135) is worth the extra cash outlay. BigBase 2016 is available for download or by mail.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Get a 2500 Rating!


     How did Jonathan Hawkins manage to go from being an average tournament player with a rating of around 1700 to a Grandmaster? He claims he did it by focusing his attention on the endgame and devising a number of building blocks and identified a number of important areas of study. 
     In this book he reveal the secrets of his success. The book consists of two parts. Part I (Thinking Techniques) and Part II (Principles and Essential Theory) are composed of positions and ideas that serve as the basic elements of endgame knowledge. In Part I he describes how strong players break down analysis into key positions and linked ideas...pattern recognition. For example, one of my favorite examples is what he calls Capablanca’s Pawn Ending. White to move:
     Most of us would probably begin calculating and would soon be swamped with a whole bunch of lines and still be unsure if white wins. Hawkins says we should be looking for ’building blocks’ and key positions. The Shredder Endgame Database confirms there's only one winning move here: 1.Kf2 wins in 32 moves against the best defense which, of course, is beyond our ability to actually calculate. According to the database other moves only draw. By the way, if it's black's move he can draw with either 1...Kf7 or 1...Kg7. 
     Obviously, you need some kind of guide for positions like this. Hawkins does a good job of showing how strong players use short plans to improve their positions little by little to secure the win. 
     In Part II he shows us how the thinking techniques he describes in Part I work in simple positions. He looks at R vs. P vs R, R&P vs. B&P and other B endings. He also has an outstanding lesson on understanding how (and why) the Philidor and Lucena positions work. Parts I and II give the basics. 
     He gets down to business in the second half which is where he begins showing us the analytical work that resulted in his great success. He also throws in lessons on the middlegame. Then he examines R endings with 3P's vs. 4P's. Hawkins' book also teaches us another important thing...HOW to do the work that leads to improvement. Basically, he advises that improvement will come in small spurts as basic knowledge grows and one learns how to analyze. That was an interesting insight. GM Alex Yeromlinsky has also discussed how he made great strides in his chess development when he finally earned how to do independent analysis. I wish I had this book back in the 1970s!

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Buy Old Classics...Not new!!

A while back I made a post on my Blog titled An Unscientific Observation where I said that despite the glut of chess material that's available to us today, usually at high prices, we average players have not gotten much better. So, instead of paying $25-30 for a “modern” chess book or even more for training DVDs, one might as well buy reprints of old chess books on Amazon for a fraction of the price; they'll give the same results. A reader observed it's true in other areas, too. He mentioned golf where modern pros have improved, but despite modern training methods and videos, and despite the fact that we can all by the same great equipment the pros play, the scores turned in by the average weekend golfer haven’t improved in nearly a half-century. So, here's my recommendations for a few good, OLD books covering all areas.

The Game of Chess (Dover Chess) - Tarrasch. This book taught several generations how to play.
Guide to Good Chess (C.J.S. Purdy Gold Chess Series) - Purdy. ANYTHING written by Purdy is both fun to read AND instructional. He was one of the greatest writer EVER.
The Search for Chess Perfection (Purdy Series) - Purdy. A bio, collection of his games and...what makes it worth buying: a collection of his magazine articles on all aspects of chess. 

How to Play the Chess Openings (Dover Chess)- Znosko-Borovsky. Focuses on ideas and planning rather than memorization. He explains how to avoid amateur mistakes and traps.
Action Chess: Purdy's 24 Hours Opening Repertoire - Purdy. Deals with learning a basic opening repertoire quickly.

The Middlegame in Chess - Fine. Algebraic notation. Explains the  basic elements of combinations and attacks against the King. How to evaluate a position, handle superior, equal, and inferior positions, the significance of pawn structure and space, transition from opening to middlegame and middlegame to endgame.
Pawn Power in Chess (Dover Chess) - Kmoch. One you get past his weird names for different formations and maneuvers, this book offer some great instruction on strategy.
Modern Chess Strategy - by Pachman. Explains the characteristics of the pieces, exchanges, seven different uses of pawns, minority attack, dynamic elements, much more. 129 games and fragments are used as examples.
The Middle Game in Chess (Dover Chess) - by Znosko-Borovsky. Z-B teaches about Space, Time and Force.

The Art of Checkmate - by Renaud and Kahn. A classic. 23 mating situations are classified and described with example.

Basic Chess Endings - by Fine. Benko has revised this with the latest innovations in the endgame and adapted the book to algebraic notation. Very precise and technical with no frills or wasted words. A classic.

Reshevsky's Best Games of Chess - by Reshevsky. I believe Reinfeld was the real author of this book which contains 110 games prior to 1948. Very instructive and entertaining.
500 Master Games of Chess (Dover Chess) - by Tartakower and du Mont. Games arranged by opening.
Botvinnik: One Hundred Selected Games - by Botvinnik. 100 games played before becoming World Champion in 1948. Includes opponents like Alekhine, Capablanca, Euwe, Keres, Reshevsky, Smyslov. Explains his theories, the development of Russian chess, and six end game studies. Superb.
Zurich International Chess Tournament, 1953 (Dover Chess) by Bronstein.  Personally I prefer the book written by Najdorf, but whichever one you get, they are both instructive and it's fun just to watch the greatest players of that era slug it out. 
107 Great Chess Battles, 1939-1945 (Dover Books on Chess) - by Alekhine, Translated and edited by William Winter this book of games from 1939 to 1945 is not as great as the other two classics, but those two volumes are pricey.   
My Best Games of Chess: 1905/1954 (Two Volumes Bound As One)-  by Tartakower. I don't often use the word "delightful" but can't think of a better description.  210 games, annotated with brilliant wit, humor, and insight.  A great book. 

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Free Roman's Lab DVD

     The United States Chess federation is offering a free DVD for download: Roman's Lab: Russian School of Chess, vol. 62, part 1.  You do not have to be a USCF member.
     You have to supply them with your e-mail address then confirm it. Then subscribe. My first attempt got me a message that “there are too many attempts for this e-mail address. Please try again in about 5 minutes.” A few minutes later I downloaded the DVD with no problem.  Also, what are you “subscribing” to? Exclusive savings for USCF Sales Subscribers-Receive exclusive coupon codes in your inbox! Of course it's a trick to get your e-mail so they can send you offers, but I don't a life member, I already get them anyway.
     After that, you will receive an e-mail link in your inbox. After going to your inbox you have to click on “Please confirm subscription below to claim your free eDVD!” You will them be sent to the USCF site and awaiting for you there is a $5 off coupon on your next USCF order, but you are warned you have to act fast - the coupon expires in 7 days. After jumping through all those hoops there's a button to click on that downloads your zipped DVD.
     The DVD, which sold for $20, is over an hour long and “In this DVD, the first of GM Roman Dzindzichashvili's Russian School of Chess collection, Roman provides you with step-by-step instruction on how to develop your pieces for the best future activity and coordination.”    LINK

Monday, November 30, 2015

Shredder Chess

     Shredder 12 runs on all Windows PCs with at least Windows 2000 including Windows Vista, Windows 7, Windows 8 and Windows 10 and costs about $60. 
     It has the usual stuff you expect: an nice GUI that's easy to use, 6 sets of pieces and boards both in 2D and 3D though personally, I have never liked the 3D setups. 
     It has a coaching feature that alerts you to mistakes and suggests better moves, an analysis feature, access to Shredder's online endgame database which I very often refer to in correspondence play, etc, etc, etc. 
     If you are looking for the strongest engines then Komodo and Stockfish are your best choices, but if you are looking to practice against engines that plays more like a human, Shredder is a good choice. Shredder will play tactically if the situation requires it, but its overall style of play is pretty positional. The playing level can be adjusted to any strength and the best part is that at lower difficulty levels it doesn't play stupid moves; it makes typical human mistakes...the moves may not be good, but not irrational. 
     Another handy feature is that Shredder will rate your play in normal or rated games and it can adapt its playing strength automatically to your strength. There's also a handy feature that gives a graphic display of your progress 
     You can download a slightly restricted test version of Shredder Classic FREE and try it out for 30 days without obligation from their site HERE. I might also add that if you run into any problems, their customer service is very good. You may also want to consider the multi-processor version, but it'll cost you more...about $106.  As far as I know, you can only order Shredder from the site as it does not appear to be available on Amazon.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Analyze You Chess by Colin Crouch

      I rarely buy chess books anymore because 1) I no longer care to study and 2) like most players I learned that I was throwing money down a rat hole buying chess books with good intentions, but never reading them. This recent purchase was an exception. 
     According to the blurb Crouch believes the key to sustained improvement lies in the critical analysis and assessment of your own games. Each and every game you play provides a significant learning opportunity, and this opportunity should never be squandered. In this book which is actually a sequel to Why We Lose at Chess Crouch examines what can be done to maximize results and increase one's rating. Magic words for chess players, increase your rating. 
     The focus is on improving decision making, how to plan after the opening, how to maintain objectivity, improving endgame skills, the psychological aspects of the game, and more. Crouch looks at his own games (not because they are perfect, but you always understand your own games best) and his style is entertaining and a lot of fun to read and I think that's why I liked this book so much. 
     His focus is on games he blew...wins that were drawn, draws that were lost. Don't look for a lot of tactical play because Crouch is essentially a positional player with a limited opening repertoire and a love of the Scandinavian Defense. Still, the games are thoroughly annotated and I especially liked his prose explanations which is a change from much of the computer analysis you often see. Instead of bare bones computer analysis Crouch explains what he was thinking during the game which gives us a lot of insight into how master really think. I like that; it's almost like you are having a conversation with an IM.  Although there is a certain IM that I am familiar with whom I have seen analyzing in rapid fire fashion and playing moves so fast you could hardly  follow his hand.  Then after telling everybody, "See, black is lost." and before you could see anything, he would already be resetting the pieces back to their original position.  He had some students, but none of them ever improved much...I wonder why.
     There are some editing issues, but that seems to be something we have to live with these days. Good for anybody below master. Check out Amazon's Look Inside feature and it'll probably convince you that it's an excellent book!

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Chess Videos

      What about Igor Smirnov courses? Smirnov is a good salesman! He offers a ton of courses promising amazing results, usually at fairly hefty prices, but are they as good as he claims? His Remote Chess Academy offers courses like The Grandmaster’s Secrets-Learn and implement the most essential principles of chess. The course GM’s Secrets will show you how to think like a strong player step-by-step. Cost $57
      Calculate Till Mate-No fluff and no hype – “CALCULATE TILL MATE” is a COMPLETE and UNIQUE 3-in-1 training system that will sharpen your tactics, calculation, and visualization skills like no other chess book, DVD, or training program could. Cost $149
      The Grandmaster’s Positional Understanding-Learn everything about Chess Strategy, GM’s Positional understanding, a beginner chess course which will take your chess play to the next level. Cost $139
      Grandmaster Secrets is a basic course about positional play and one average player who bought is advised on one forum that it in no way compared to Silman's book How to Reassess Your Chess which is available for under $25.
      The general consensus of opinion is that while Smirnov has some sound ideas, the courses offer little in actual content. Watching videos may give some good ideas, but they are no substitute for grabbing a chess set and digging into a good book. I have talked to a few people who have tried various videos and so far none have actually improved significantly, but, come to think of it, the same could be said of books. The real problem is, truth be told, most “students” lack the gumption to put in hours of hard work, preferring instead to look for shortcuts and “secrets.”
 If you like videos, Smirnov does have some teaser stuff on his Youtube channel. There is also some other good chess content on Youtube and you may want to check out some of them listed HERE. Two of my personal favorites on Youtube are majnu and kingscrusher. I also recommend chessvideos as they have some excellent training videos by various National Masters, etcIM Greg Shahade also offers some pretty good Youtube lectures.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Free Chess Book App

Simply reading a Chess book without a Chess board is not easy unless you are Vishy Anand or Magnus Carlsen! What if you could read your PDF Chess ebooks or magazines as well as follow the games on a Chess board, all in one screen!? This is exactly what this app helps achieve. All your Chess books and magazines in the palm of your hand! Ideal for Large screen phones and Tablets.  Get the App

☆ Open YOUR ebook in pdf, djvu format or purchase from the Store!
☆ Built-in Store with magazines from Chessdom (Chess Insider) and 50 Moves Magazine!
☆ Open e-magazines from New in Chess, USCF, Chess Today, British Chess Magazine etc
☆ Analyze with the power of two Chess engines!
☆ Open web sites
☆ Talk to move! (experimental)
☆ Copy board position to other apps like Droidfish, Chess for Android
☆ Book options like Day/Night mode, Bookmarks, Multi-touch zoom, Crop, Split
☆ Edit Annotations/variations, change Board themes and much more

Forward Chess

If you don't know about this site, you should. Tons of free chess material. Just look at what's available!!  Link to site

Composed Chess Problems
Mate in 2's: Anonymous; George E Carpenter; George N Cheney; Ed H Courtenay; John Gardiner; Charles A Gilberg; Napoleon Marache; Joseph A Potter; George A Reed

Mate in 3's: Anonymous; JB of Bridport; Mrs Baird; A. Bayersdorfer; O. Blumenthal; George E Carpenter; R. Collinson; A. Corrias; J. Crum; A W Daniel; H. Hosey Davis; A. Decker; F. Dubbe; K. Erlin; Otto Fuss; K. Gavrilow; W. Geary; Sam Loyd; O Nemo; F M Teed

Puzzles by Opening (ECO)
Grandmasters by country


Game Collections
Alexander Alekhine: "My Best Games of Chess 1908-1937"; AVRO 1938 Chess Tournament; Frederick Edge: "Paul Morphy: The Chess Champion (1859)"; Robert Fischer: "My 60 Memorable Games"; Roberto Franco-Perez: "God Of War - Bobby Fischer At The Peak of Power"; Garry Kasparov: "Fighting Chess: My Games and Career"; Viktor Korchnoi: "Chess is My Life"; Johann Lowenthal: "Morphy's Games of Chess"; Ludek Pachman: "Decisive Games in Chess History"; Fred Reinfeld: "Great Brilliancy Prize Games of the Chess Masters; Wilhelm Steinitz: Sixth American Chess Congress (1866); Russian Championship 2004; US Championship 2005; World Chess Championship 2005

William Aramil: "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Chess Openings"; James Eade: "Chess Openings for Dummies"; WTHarvey: "50 English Miniatures (A17)"; WTHarvey: "50 King's Indian Saemisch Miniatures (E81)"; WTHarvey: "50 Marshall Gambit Miniatures (C89)"; WTHarvey: "50 Sozin Miniatures"; WTHarvey: "50 Semi-Slav Miniatures (D47)"; Nick de Firmian: "Chess Openings the Easy Way"; Nick de Firmian: "Modern Chess Openings (15th ed.)"; I. A. Horowitz: "How to Win in the Chess Openings"; Bruce Pandolfini: "Chess Openings: Traps and Zaps"; Bruce Pandolfini: "More Chess Openings: Traps and Zaps 2"; James Plaskett: "Sicilian Grand Prix Attack"; Eric Schiller, ed: "Unorthodox Chess Openings"; Chris Ward: "Improve Your Opening Play"

Strategy & Tactics
Paul Keres: "The Art of the Middle Game"; Ludek Pachman: "Modern Chess Strategy"; Susan Polgar: "Chess Tactics for Champions"; Fred Reinfeld & Irving Chernev: "Chess Strategies and Tactics"; Fred Reinfeld: "Hypermodern Chess"; Vladimir Vukovic: "The Art of Attack in Chess"

Improve/Evaluate Your Game
Pal Benko: "Winning with Chess Psychology"; A D de Groot: "Thought and Choice in Chess"; Angus Dunnington: "Can You Be a Positional Chess Genius?"; Garry Kasparov: "Kasparov Teaches Chess"; Alexander Kotov: "Play Like a Grandmaster"; Dan Kretschmer: "How To Beat ANYONE At Chess"; Emmanuel Lasker: "Common Sense in Chess"; Jacques Mieses: "Instructive Positions From Master Chess"; Sam Palatnik: "The Tarrasch Formula"; Fred Reinfeld: "Chess by Yourself"

Irving Chernev: "Capablanca's Best Chess Endings"; Irving Chernev: "Practical Chess Endings"; Max Euwe: "A Guide to Chess Endings"; Reuben Fine: "Basic Chess Endings"

Chess Miscellany
Henry Bird: "Chess History and Reminiscences"; Ferank Brady: "Bobby Fischer: Profile of a Prodigy"; Bruce Pandofini: "Chess Thinking"; Hanon Russell: "Russian for Chess Players"; Eric Schiller: "Encyclopedia of Chess Wisdom"

Deep Fritz 14

    This is the newest version which features a 64-bit engine and supports multiple core processors. The Deep Fritz engine is supposedly almost 100 Elo points higher than the previous version. On the CCLR 40/40 rating list, the Deep Fritz 14 engine is only rated at number 20 though, placing it well behind the leaders Komodo 9, Stockfish 6 and Houdini 4. That does not matter though because there are a number of FREE engines, including Stockfish, that you can download.
      The main reason I like Fritz, besides the fact that's it's been my most used GUI and so I am familiar with it, is that it has a nice interface. A few players have complained that documentation is sparse and the interface is confusing, but I have not found that to be the case. Youtube has a lot of videos that cover all it's features and you can best learn how to use the various features just by playing around with it and experimenting.  Of course, a variety of pieces and boards with different color formats are available and you can move the windows around and resize them to suit your taste.  Forget the 3-D layouts though!
      Also, the new version runs faster and flows better on the latest versions of Windows. I am not much into the training and analysis functions, but they are excellent features.
      With a membership at server with Deep Fritz 14 you can, besides play real time online games, watch live commentary of tournaments or take part in training sessions with players like Daniel King, Klaus Bischoff, Maurice Ashley, Dr. Karsten Müller and many more. Deep Fritz 14 includes a free six-month Premium Membership to which is a nice perk that comes with your purchase.
      Deep Fritz 14 gives you access to “Let's Check” which is another feature I personally have no interest in, but it is popular. Over 200 million positions are available that have been deeply calculated by engines...handy for serious opening preparation or correspondence players I assume. This feature has little interest to me in correspondence chess simply because I prefer openings that while basically sound, are little explored. So, letting engines explore those positions for hours to uncover hidden resources is part of the fun of correspondence chess for me. In addition, Deep Fritz 14 comes with a new opening book with over four million positions and a database with over 1.5 million games.
      Some people have complained that the program is buggy, but I have not had any issues running it on Windows 8.1 on a quad core Satellite laptop. The truth is though that upgrading from my old Fritz 12 program didn't get me anything new except an upgraded opening book and database, but I don't consult the Fritz 12 book much and sometimes update my games database so it's not too out of date. If you already have a chess program that you like, I don't see any reason to get this one. However, IF you are looking for a good commercial program, Fritz is my preferred program. Just make sure you download a decent free engine because Fritz, while strong, isn't among the best.
      If you order from Chess Central they will also include Chess Masterpieces by Henry Bird. He wrote the book (available free on the internet) containing 150 games 125 years ago, but it's in old fashioned descriptive notation…”25.Kt takes R” so it is nice that the games are in electronic format. Chess Central normally sells the e-book for $10. This is just a nice little addition IF you are interested in playing over old games.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Middlegame in Chess by Reuben Fine

 In Fine's opinion, who was the greatest player who ever lived? He was, of course. He also claimed that he knew everything there was to know about endings and it was all in his book, Basic Chess Endings. Fine was a pathetic figure, but at one time he was one of the greatest players in the world.  Born in 1914 was only 23 at the time of his victory at AVRO 1938 and there was a good possibility that he could have become World Champion except World War II intervened. After the war his tournament career was practically over, but he could write about chess.  He died on March 26, 1993 
Fine and Reshevsky

     This 448 page legendary work by Fine was republished by Sam Sloane of Ishi Press last year. It's a completely revised and corrected edition in algebraic notation. NOTE: Do NOT purchase the revision by Burt Hochburg which has just about every mistake you can think of, two or three typos, incorrect moves or diagrams per page and is a disgrace to chess literature. 
     Back to the book...Fine discusses, among other things, the elements of combinations which includes example of how the individual pieces can contribute, pins and discovered attacks, etc. Mating attacks, how to analyze, material advantage and how compensate for a material disadvantage and nine different Pawn structures. Space and mobility where he discusses open files, semi-open files, long diagonals, two Bishops, weak squares, outposts and other positional factors are discussed. Next there are chapters on attacking the castled and uncastled king, the art of defense and how to play balanced and unbalanced positions. He concludes a chapter on how to continue from the opening and finally, with an excellent chapter on the endgame. Positions are taken from a host of games by well-known players but those of Alekhine, Capablanca, Euwe, Fine, Lasker, Nimzovich, Reshevsky and Rubinstein predominate. Worth studying.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Chess Story by Stefan Zweig

   I just finished a book titled Chess Story by Stefan Zweig. It was originally published under the title The Royal Game and was first published in German in 1941. Zweig was an Austrian Jew born in Vienna in 1881 and in his time one of the world's most translated writers. He left Austria in 1934 with the rise of the Nazis, and became convinced that the world was fighting a losing battle with evil. The Royal Game, whose underlying theme is the power of evil, was the last story Zweig wrote. He completed while in exile in Brazil and sent off to his American publisher only days before his suicide in 1942. In 1942, during the months of his exile in Brazil with his second wife, and during the time that they played over master games, Zweig wrote his last book, completing it just days before he and his wife’s double suicide.
     You can read the reviews and look inside on the Amazon site. It's a short book but a great read that was worth the ten dollars.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Bobby Fischer: His Approach to Chess by Elie Agur

 This book has been in sitting unread in my library for some time and that was unfortunate! I started going through it the other day and discovered I absolutely love it! In addition to a collection of Fischer's games, it's a great manual on the middle game. Agur explains how Fischer played the middle game with such chapters as the g-Pawn, the King's Indian Center, piece placement, material considerations, timing, strategic planning, seizing the initiative, typical maneuvers, space and much more. The best part is Agur's writing which is clear, concise and easily understood. When examining a position Agur has knack for showing how Fischer's approach to selecting a move differed from that of other great players. I am sorry it has been ignored for so long! 5-stars.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Openings for Amateurs by Peter Tamburro

    This book is recommended for players below 1800 or 1900 as an aid in explaining the ideas behind openings. Ideas are more important than just leaning variations by rote because at the amateur level opponents rarely follow “the book” for very far and when they play a move that is unfamiliar or forgotten, we have no idea about how to continue. Knowing the idea behind the moves will help keep us on the right path. If our opponent's move is not consistent with the idea behind the variation then we can be sure there is something wrong with it. And, knowing that, we can better figure out a way to take advantage of his move.
     Reuben Fine’s old book, The Ideas Behind the Chess Openings, was such a book as was How to Open a Chess Game by Larry Evans and others. John Watson’s Mastering the Chess Openings was written with a similar idea, but Watson's book is somewhat more advanced, perhaps too much so for average players. 
     Tamburro begins the book with general advice that most players are already familiar with. Don't give up the right to castle without good reason, don't lose time in the opening, don't play memorized moves without understanding the idea behind them, don't create weaknesses that your opponent can exploit, know when to trade a B for a N, etc. He also gives advice on how to meet gambits and various fianchetto lines. 
     After that comes the good part...Openings for Amateurs. Tamburro presents an opening repertoire that does not emphasize memorization but ones with clear strategic ideas. The best part is he does not recommend weird, offbeat and questionable gambits or lines designed to “make your opponent think on his own.” Think about it. Once the opponent plays a move that wasn't in the book, or we forget what the next move is, then it is we who are thinking on our own, sometimes with disastrous consequences! 
     As White, Tamburro recommends 1.e4. Against the Sicilian he recommends some of the anti-Sicilians: Against 2...d6 he recommends 4.Qxd4.  His other recommendations are the Rossolimo Attack, the Closed Variation or the 2.c3 variations. 
     Against the French he recommends the Tarrasch (3.Nd2) and against the Caro-Kann he recommends what is known as the Fantasy (aka Tartakower) Variation: 1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. f3. This unusual move doesn't have a lot of theory and can get very sharp. 
     Against 1...e5 he recommends the Four Knights Game and the Vienna. 
     As black, against he suggests 1…e5 the Two Knights Defense, 4…Nf6 against the Scotch, the Ruy Lopez, or, if you don't like playing 1...e5, then he recommends the Sicilian Dragon.
     Against 1...d4 he recommends the Nimzo-Indian or the Dutch. He also covers Botvinnik's recommendations vs. the English. 
     All his suggestions are decent mainlines or reasonable sidelines and not foolhardy, unsound or borderline questionable gambits. Perhaps the Fantasy Variation against the Caro-Kann is a little odd and I question the inclusion of the Sicilian Dragon as it requires a lot of theory. Years ago there was a strong master I knew who was a recognized expert in the Dragon and in one tournament he was out in the hallway when someone asked his how his game was going. His reply was that his opponent had let him play the Dragon and “he doesn't know what he's doing, so I'm going to have an easy win.” That was over 40 years ago and I'm sure there's more theory now than there was then! 
     If you’re between below average to just above average and are looking for a way to improve you opening play, this is a good book at a decent price.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Finally, a book I can recommend

Bent Larsen’s Best Games: Fighting Chess with the Great Dane

     Bent Larsen (1935-2010) was known for playing unusual openings and his fighting chess; he defeated all the World Champions from Botvinnik to Karpov and was a candidate for the World Championship four times. He also won a ton of tournaments. 
     In 1967-1968 he won five elite international tournaments in a row and even Bobby Fischer bowed to his accomplishments when in 1970, in the match Soviet Union vs. the World, Fischer agreed to take second board behind unprecedented concession of Fischer's part!! That's how good Larsen was. 
     This book has more than 120 of Larsen’s best games, all annotated by Larsen himself. When it came to openings his opponents never knew what to expect and you'll see various flank openings, including Larsen's Opening (1.b3), Sicilians, King's and Nimzo-Indians, the Vienna and the Bishops Opening, etc. I can't think of a player of his caliber who ever played just a wide variety of openings except Tartakower. 
    You don't get to be as successful as Larsen by being a one trick pony; he was a master of opening innovations, middlegame strategy and tactics and endgame play and, rare among many GMs, he was an excellent writer who was able to describe the what was happening in an understandable way. No engine variations, the didn't exist, and the variations are mixed with verbal explanations...great! He also gives autobiographical information and his opinion of other players. 
     As has been pointed out by others, there are some small errors: impossible moves, incorrectly named openings and flipped evaluations. But, it seems it's a rare chess book these days that doesn't have editing errors...a sign of the times. When compared to the content, these are minor distractions.
     Well worth the money.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Carlsen Move by Move by Cyrus Lakdawala

Paperback, Figurine Algebraic Notation. Also available in the Kindle edition.


     I admit to being stuck in a time warp when it comes to chess. I have not played over more that a handful of games by players since Kasparov reigned. The problem is I don't understand the games by today's players...30 moves of engine generated opening theory and they break all the beloved principles of strategy I learned from Fine, Pachman, Euwe and others. 
     Plus, I think having hundreds, or is it thousands, of grandmasters in the world has taken some of the prestige from the title. Grandmasters used to be sort of mythical people who lived in far off places and you never actually saw one. I played in a weekend Swiss once and everybody was all excited. Why? The rumor was a master had entered! He finally showed up and he was sporting a 2202 rating. I remember one guy taking his daughter, who looked to be about 5 years old, up to the guy and telling her, “This is a real chess master!” Nowadays you can see them all over the place. I even saw a former U.S. champion at the mall once.
     SO...I bought Cyrus Lakdawala's Carlsen, Move by Move a while back to add to my collection of games by the greats of the past. First, on the downside, I absolutely hate Lakdawala's writing style. I hate Bisguier's, too. Knights and Bishops are just that...Knights and Bishops. They are not steads, horses, cavaliers or prelates. Pawns aren't Infantrymen and Kings aren't Monarchs, etc. Lakdawala is even worse...he writes about the black Queen emitting odd, adenoidal grunting sounds in response to her sister’s intrusion. To me it's neither entertaining nor humorous. It's sophomoric. 
     One feature I did like is Lakadawala challenges the reader to answer questions at critical points thus making the book, in addition to a collection of games, an instructional manual. For example, in this position against Kasparov (Reykjavik Rapid, 2004) it's Carlsen's move.
Carlsen played 15.Rae1 and the reader is presented with a question and answer:

     As for the games, GM Alexey Dreev said Carlsen doesn’t actually play chess and he's not a real player because all he does is wait for his opponent to make a mistake rather than try to outplay him like real chess players do. GM Vladislav Tkachiev said Carlsen isn’t capable of finding new ideas. GM Sosonko explained it that Carlsen is a product of computerization, and inspires no interest whatsoever for writing about him. Anand said in an interview that he couldn’t figure out Carlsen’s style and playing Carlsen was like playing a human computer. One reviewer complained that Lakdawala seems to have over-relied on computer analysis in his annotations and now you know the reason for that.
     I must admit, even though Carlsen is the probably the best player in the world, playing over his games was no where near as enjoyable as playing over those of Alekhine, Tahl or Fischer or a couple of dozen other players you could name. 
     Expect to see more and more players like Carlsen. David Bronstein wrote, “the majority of chess players today know only how to set groups of pieces. They don’t think in a creative way any more. Groups of pieces fight for some square or sector of squares on the board.” It's been happening for a long time though.  Forty years ago GM Rossolimo was complaining that players of his day were no longer interested in the beauty in chess, they only played to rack up points. I understand that though.  Time was when you couldn't make a living at chess, but after Fischer the money got big and now you can make a living at it...but only if you score points.
     Should you buy the book? While it does have some instructional merit, I'd say no. There are better instructional books on the market and there are players whose games are a whole lot more fun to play over.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Some of the Best Current Deals on Amazon


 I am not sure what you would do with this fabric...make a shirt, maybe?!


Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Saturday, August 1, 2015

1001 Winning Chess Sacrifices and Combinations by Fred Reinfeld

     Pattern recognition is a very important skill and this classic by Reinfeld drills it into your memory by testing your ability to recognize them and trains you to calculate variations. The problems range from simple mate in one all the way up to ten moves. A great feature is that with the diagrams no hints are given, only who is to play. That's a real game you don't get any hints.
    Reinfeld starts out with Queen sacrifices then some typical mating patterns are covered and then ends with a selection of compositions. He breaks down the problems by tactical motif, usually starting with the easiest first. This is a good way to help you learn to spot tactics by recognizing patterns.
    Bruce Alberston has converted this book from descriptive notation to algebraic, but one rather strange decision by was that he did not correct Reinfeld’s analysis with the help of an engine. Naturally, some of Reinfeld’s solutions are wrong and if, for whatever reason, they were not changed, at least incorrect solutions should have been pointed out. Or, was Alberston just too lazy to check 1001 positions with a computer?! 
     Except for that, this is a great book that taught a generation of players about tactics and after going through the book it's almost guaranteed that you will be spotting tactics in your own games. Highly recommended. 

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Pump Up Your Rating: Unlock Your Chess Potential by Axel Smith

 When I noticed this book with its kind of silly title and promise to unlock hidden potential, my first question was, who is Axel Smith?! 
     It turns out Axel Smith is an International Master who boosted his rating from 2093 to 2458 within just two years. That's pretty good. Then, when I thought about it, the thought occurred that maybe Smith is some kind of prodigy so maybe the pumping up of HIS rating was only natural. It turns out Smith (born 1986), from Lund. Sweden, was not a prodigy. In 2006 he decided to focus on improving his chess after he won the Swedish junior championship and he was awarded his IM title in 2008. In January 2006 Smith's rating was a modest 2093, but then by January 2008 it was over 2450. After that his progress slowed, but at that level that's natural. 
     What player wouldn't be thrilled over a 365 rating point jump in two years? Still, there are some unanswered questions and some things about his training that Smith appears to have left out of the book. He put in a LOT of hours and, oh, by the way, former SuperGM Ulf Andersson was his coach. It never hurts to be able to study 8 hours a day and have a GM on staff to coach you. 
     Smith recommends something he dubs the "Woodpecker Method" for learning tactics. It's Michael de la Maza's debunked approach for learning tactics but with a new name. You get yourself a a set of puzzles and keep working them until the patterns are firmly imprinted in your brain. The difference is that Smith demands more than de la Maza did. He advocates that you need to analyze all the variations when you repeat a problem rather than just recognizing the first move from memory. He starts you out with a set of positions for you to work through, but for most players they are probably way too complicated. Besides all that, who has time to work through a thousand of those puzzles a day?! If you worked at chess 8 hours a day that's 125 puzzles an hour, or about 30 seconds each. 
     Some of his advice IS good, in fact excellent, but it must be remembered that, like almost all chess books, it contains a healthy dose of crap. Smith studied and played tournament chess over ten years, analyzed games with paid coaches, including GM Andersson and read a boat load of chess books. Personally, I'd venture a guess that Ulf Andersson probably had a LOT to with his improvement, but we'll never know because he conveniently leaves that information out. 
     So, what if you don't have the time to do all that woodpeckering and can only study a couple hours a week and can't afford a GM coach, or don't want one? Is there anything of merit in the book? Yes! 
     While it seems the book is intended for a 2000+ player it can definitely be beneficial to lower rated players and it has some very interesting ideas. It might be too hard for anyone below 1500 though and no matter what, that old bugaboo of chess players, hard work, is going to be required. 
     Smith covers opening preparation, middlegame play and endings and offers advice on how to practice and improve. He divides the book into two parts, first he covers strategy and thinking and then in the last half of the book, he offers advice on training. 
     For example, in Chapter One he discusses “No Pawn Lever – No Plan” by which he means Pawn breaks.  Andersson’s games were used as his models as seen Chapter Two where he discusses different types of exchanges and material imbalances. 
     Chapters Three and Four deal with thinking and calculation. For example, he offers a list of questions to ask yourself when calculating and one of the most important is to ask if the position is critical. He also explains what a critical position is. In Chapter Four he offers up a “method” for calculating. The truth apparently is that methods advocated by Kotov, Mark Buckley and others aren't really used by strong players. GM Andy Soltis confessed that despite all the different methods being advocated, in reality GM's skip around all over the place like everyone else. 
     In Part Two Smith offers a training program for improvement, supposedly it's the program that helped him jump from around 2100 to IM in two years. There's really nothing new in his program. He recommends: 

1) analyzing your games and making a list of mistakes
2) using a De la Maza method to study tactics 
3) doing serious opening study using ChessBase 
4) mastering approximately 100 key endgames. 

     He also recommends finding yourself a training partner because he believes that will likely offer the best chance of improving. That may be hard for a lot of players though. Living here in the city of Butt Crack, I would be hard pressed to find a training partner who would be interested in serious study and even if I did, their schedule isn't like to be compatible with mine. 
     Smith also discusses the use of engines in training. Like everyone else, Smith advises against initially analyzing your games using an engine. Analyze them on your own first then go over them with your training partner (if you have one) and only then check them with an engine. 
     Then make a list of mistakes you have been making, Honestly, I think about the only list you can make is 1) tactical errors. Really, how many non-masters will know about positional errors, incorrect positional evaluations or understand why they lost a complicated ending?
     Speaking of endings. Smith says you learn endgames by playing them and then analyzing them and he gives about a hundred endgames to memorize (which you can download). He says you study these endings once and after that, you need to review them annually. His memory is clearly better than mine! 
     All in all, it's clear that Smith has a passion for chess and he's a good writer, but in all honesty, the methods he gives are perhaps too ambitious for the average working stiff who has to devote time to work, family and life in general. It's also probably too much for an aging brain to absorb, too. But, that said, Smith offers a blueprint for improvement that one can probably modify to fit their schedule. 
     I can recommend this book to those that want to improve, but with two caveats: 1) Remember that Smith was working with a GM coach and 2) Don't expect to see a 400 point gain in your rating.