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.