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.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Development of Chess Style by Euwe (revised by Nunn)

     Chess history is NOT's fun, interesting AND...instructive! Study of the great players of the past is a great way to improve. 
     In this book Euwe showed the historical progression of theory through annotated games. The Development of Chess Style was first published in 1968 and Euwe's writing style is somewhat dry and formal, but what is important is his explanation of chess style and theory. 
     His chapter on Steinitz is a clear, no, brilliant, presentation of Steinitz' theories. Euwe's annotations are clear and concise and lower rated players cannot help but benefit from them. 
    This edition has benefited a lot from updating by GM Dr. John Nunn. Nunn has added footnotes and made some major corrections to the annotations that have enhanced Euwe's presentation. Nunn also converted the book to algebraic notation. Nunn rewrote the chapter on the Soviet School and added new chapters on Fischer, Karpov, Kasparov, Anand, Kramnik and Topalov. He discusses their styles, contribution to theory and added annotated games. Unlike Euwe, he spices things up with a little humor, but does not get ridiculous to the point of being flippant. 
     On the down side, guys like Louis Paulsen who was a pre-Hypermodern whose play actually gave birth to some of Steinitz' theory and Adolf Anderssen is pretty much ignored.  Euwe, a modest man, also ignores his own contributions to chess, giving only scant examples from his play. In what I find as a rare tribute, Euwe gives attention to contribution to theory by Flohr and Bogoljubow not exactly major players when it comes to cintributing to the development of chee, but apparently, Euwe thinks they had something significant to offer. 
     Euwe's opinions are sometimes at odds with other authors. Euwe, while clearly admiring Lasker, claimed that it wasn't possible to learn much from him. Reuben Fine, on the other hand, claimed that chess players are Lasker's pupils. It should be pointed out that Andrew Soltis attempted to clarify Lasker's importance in his excellent book, Why Lasker Matters.  Nobody pays any attention to Lasker today, but Soltis shows how "modern" Lasker was. He took risks when necessary, made positional sacrifices, knew when to transition into the ending, used psychological evaluations of his opponents to his advantage and was often more concerned with making practical moves than the theoretical best.
     What does this book do for the improving player? It will help in understanding of the concepts that today's chess is built upon. The 61 games teach the fundamentals of positional play. Development, mobility, the center, king safety, weak squares, pawn structure, Q-side majority, open files, two bishops, material advantage are the building blocks by which superior positions, usually culminating in tactical fireworks, are built. The best part is that you absorb all the information on what today is a neglected area on a way that is actually fun and painless. You'll enjoy the book and at the same time pick up a knowledge of positional play that cannot hurt your game, only help it.  It's also cheap compared to a lot of chess books on the market these days and they don't have half the substance.  Love this book.

Friday, July 24, 2015

ChessOK Sales - up to 50% off

From July 24 to July 30, the following special offers are available. All offers stack!

Products of the Week: 50% off all Products of the Week all World Champions courses for download and 2 books: Emanuel Lasker vol.1 and vol.2!

Special Offer 1: Buy Chess King Gold (DVD, download) or Chess King Silver (DVD, download) and receive ChessOK Aquarium 2015 (download) for free!

Special Offer 2: Buy Chess Assistant 15, Chess Assistant 15 PRO or Upgrade to Chess Assistant 15 from Chess Assistant 14 and receive three bonuses: Premium Game Service 2014-2015 (3000 new games weekly), online access to 7-man Lomonosov Tablebases until the end of 2015, and one-year membership in ChessOK Playing Zone! You can download CA 14 Demo version and try it.

Special Offer 3: Buy 3 World Champion courses (Anand + Kasparov + Fischer) at 50% off in our Combo Packages section! You can also find other 3-course packages there, available for half the price: Complete Chess Strategy (Chess Strategy 3.0 + Chess Guide for Club Players + Chess Guide for Intermediate Players), Complete Chess Opening (Opening Lab + Encyclopedia of Opening Blunders + How to Win Miniatures at Chess) and Complete Attack on the King (Attack on the King I + Attack on the King II + Advanced Defense)!

Special Offer 4: 20% off all products in the Beginners (DVD, download), Club Players (DVD, download), Intermediate Players (DVD, download), Modern Chess Opening (DVD, download) and Training Packages (DVD) sections.

Special Offer 5: If you order products for more than $120/€100, choose one download programs for up to $25/€20 each as a bonus!

Special Offer 6: Order any 2 programs in our web shop and get a 3rd program of your choice (within the price range of the first two) for free!

Note: Specify the bonus product(s) you want to receive in the comments field when filling the order form.

Chess Assistant 15 Houdini 4 is a unique tool for managing chess games and databases, playing chess online, analyzing games, or playing chess against the computer.
Chess Assistant has a long history of innovative and advanced analysis functions and now, with a built-in CQL search system, it has also taken the lead in advanced search functionality.

The program comes in two versions: Chess Assistant 15 and Chess Assistant PRO, the latter one being a better choice for more dedicated players, as you receive the PRO version of Houdini 4 (which supports up to 32 cores and 32 GB of hash) and more additional tools, such as the advanced Aquarium interface. Read the rest of the article

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Anand: Move by Move by Zenon Franco

  Download a 16 page pdf sample HERE!

      Franco is a Paraguayan Grandmaster living in Spain who wrote a previous book on Anand in Spanish. Unlike a lot of hack writers it appears Franco has well researched his material because he always references multiple sources. This book, a paperback of 376 pages in figurine algebraic notation, starts out with a 25-page description of Anand's style. It seems his main strength can be summed up in one word...flexibility. Franco notes that Anand changed playing style to defeat Kramnik and Topalov in World Championship matches. He actually compares Anand’s universal style to Fischer's! 
     For some people comparing Anand to Fischer sounds like blasphemy, but even though I am no GM, I have to agree. Many players, when they think of all time greats think of Morphy, Capablanca, Alekhine or Fischer, but I am reminded of an interview with Samuel Reshevsky where he said he didn't think Capablanca's play fell off towards the end of his life, but that other players were playing at a much higher level than they did during Capa’s heyday so his results were not so good. 
     In his book, Fire On Board, Shirov commented about his meeting with Botvinnik and their discussion of the Botvinnik Variation. Shirov said the meeting was of no interest to him because the old man was stuck in the past insisting that certain moves were best when Shirov knew better. 
     I could quote many examples, but each succeeding generation of players has built on the knowledge of their predecessors and as a result, they have advanced their understanding of chess to the point that surpassed that of the previous generation. So it is my opinion that Anand is greater than all those players that belonged to bygone eras. His games may not be as flashy as those guys, but his play is of a higher level than the greats of yesteryear. 
     This book has 32 annotated games from 1991 to 2014 and they games are well annotated. One thing I really liked is that Franco adds a lot of color when he also explains Anand's situation in the tournament so we know the circumstances under which that particular game was played. 
     A good thing about the annotations is even though he surely used engines, the annotations have a human flavor, not just a lot of engine variations. Another great feature is at critical junctures Franco poses questions with answers designed to make you think and keep you involved. If one were to actually take time to think through the questions, one could actually learn something and improve their play. That would be a lot of work though and my guess is most player won't bother, but by putting in the effort, this book doubles not only as a games collection by one of the best players in history, but as an instruction manual. Another nice thing about the annotations is even though he surely used engines, the annotations have a human flavor, not just a lot of engine variations. 5-Stars!

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Chess Apps For Android

 Chess - Analyze This

Offers multiple engines.
Load and analyze your games from PGN file 
Engine analysis of the current game with verbose English commentary! 
Save moves and variations 
Paste PGN or FEN 
Manage and install new UCI engines. (Pro version only) 
Annotate games with symbols and comments 
Supports Engines like Komodo8 

DroidFish Chess. FREE. Powerful and it uses the Stockfish engine. See my review HERE.

SCID on the Go 

Browse Scid files, optimized for databases with millions of games Search using player names, sites, events, dates, results, ECO, ELO ratings,… Search games by material and position Copy/paste games and positions to/from clipboard

Edit board PGN import (also includes import from Internet) 
Analysis with included chess engine: Critter 1.2 (ARM) or Stockfish 2.1.1 (x86); you can add additional UCI engines for analysis 
Retrieve positions from external programs

Chess - Play & Learn Play chess online with real players. You register with and you can play online FREE. More features available if you have a membership.

Mobialia Chess 
If you have an account with FICS (Free Internet Chess Server) then you can play online. Features: Play against computer (Elo 500 to 2100) 
PGN browser so you can load games from your memory card 
2900 chess problems (Easy/Medium/Hard). 
Has a paid version with additional features.

Chess Puzzles – iChess 
Free puzzle app Features: 1000 problems with three difficulty levels no internet connection required. 
Hint or analyze problems 
Has a paid version with additional features. 
Tactic Trainer - chess puzzle: Puzzle app but you need an internet connection to solve problems. 
More than 20,000 tactical chess problems 
You can track your performance by statistics and graphs

Shredder Chess
EUR 5.99 
Play against Shredder
Analyze and solve chess puzzles. 

iPad Features: 
Adjust strength from beginner to master level. 
Solve 1000 built in chess puzzles...tracks your performance 
Analyze with Shredder,

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Bobby Fischer Comes Home: The Final Years in Iceland, a Saga of Friendship and Lost Illusions by Helgi Olafsson

     Yet another book on Fischer and it's one some people loved while others hated it. There are no games and it covers the events leading up to his incarceration in Japan, how he arrived in Iceland and how he spent his time after he got there. 
     Olafsson and Fischer developed a friendship and they spent many hours together during his 1972 match with Spassky and after Fischer arrived in Iceland. Fischer came to be adored by Icelanders and as a result they decided to help him when the US government sought to extradite him for violating US economic sanctions. They formed an "RJF Committee" that got the Icelandic government to send diplomatic cables on Fischer's behalf, but they were ignored. After his arrest in Japan, the Icelandic parliament declared Fischer a citizen.
     Olafsson considered Fischer his friend, but guess what? If you guessed Fischer turned on him, you'd be right. 
     What's wrong with the book? One reviewer wrote that it exposes how conniving the U.S. government is.  That shouldn't surprise anybody, but what country's government isn't? Japan doesn't come off very well either. The book goes into great detail on how they, for no reason, made an unprovoked, physical assault on Fischer that he claimed almost killed him. Of course, when he was attacked Fischer did what he had always done...he bit his “attackers.” See my Blog post, Bobby Fischer Was a Biter.
     Mostly it's boring reading. As Jeremy Silman noted, Fischer had no life outside of chess and his time in Iceland seemed to revolve around going out to eat and hanging out in a bookstore. 
     A few have complained about the writing as being somewhat stilted and therefore, if you are a native English speaker, poorly written. That didn't bother me. 
     In the end, the book is filled with the same old, boring Fischer rants against the United States and, to use Fischer's favorite epithet, filthy Jews, communists and almost everybody else he ever came in contact with. It gets old in a hurry. 
     Olafsson describes meals with Fischer and his role as an agent for Fischer when he tried to arrange a Fischer-Anand match. Who cares about Fischer's meals and one wonders why Olafsson knowingly wasted his time trying to negotiate anything on Fischer's behalf. 
     Is this book worth reading? Yes and no. It was pretty much a waste of money on one hand, but on the other, reading it was like seeing a bad car just can't look away from all the gore. If you're really strapped for cash or don't think you'd be interested in Fischer trivia or if there's another chess book you think you'd like more, then you can save your money on this one.  
     On the other hand if you don't mind spending $15 on a book that describes what you already know about Fischer's personality, you like reading about one person's misery, you didn't live during Fischer's final saga, or you are just a Fischer fan, then go ahead and buy it.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Chess King Products

It's my opinion that they have some of the best chess software on the market! Watch Steve Lopez' review of Chess King with Houdini 4 on YouTube HERE.