Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The Sicilian Dragon

     The Sicilian Dragon is still a good defense for black! The main lines lead to tremendously complex positions in which both sides attack freely. One slip could be fatal, and a deep knowledge and understanding of the opening is often a decisive advantage. 
     In this book IM David Vigorito focuses on all the critical Yugoslav Attack lines, examining the most important and instructive games in recent years (up to 2012) and highlighting the main developments and novelties for both sides.
     Like all opening books, the material is dated as soon as the book is published, but the author provides a good survey of BASIC theory in this defense which is still a viable option as black. The book is not a comprehensive Dragon repertoire book. It covers 9. Bc4 and 9. 0-0-0 and g4 very thoroughly, so you will need additional resources if white plays anything other than the Yugoslav Attack. 
     The good point is that it is organized with the major variations in bold type and the author provides ample descriptions of why certain moves work out well or poorly, which makes it easy to study.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The Power of Pawns: Chess Structure Fundamentals for Post-beginners by Jorg Hickl

     If you want to improve at chess, you must know the characteristics of typical P-formations and understanding them is the focus of GM Jorg Hickl's latest (published this year) book. 
     Better than Hans Kmoch's masterpiece, Pawn Power in Chess, Hickl's book is targets the average player and gives examples of hanging pawns, isolated pawns, backward pawns, passed pawns, doubled pawns, weak squares and pawn chains. Like Pachman's classic, Modern Chess Strategy, Hickl also includes three chapters showing the strengths and weakness of Rooks, Knights and Bishops. Unlike Pachman though, he does not include the Queen and King. 
     This book is good for players in the 1500 to 1800 range. Or, it could also be used by those under 1500 if they are willing to put in some effort and those over 1800 if they want to review what they should already know.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Chess Developments: The Sicilian Dragon by IM David Vigorito

     Vigorito gives good, but limited coverage of Dragon theory and as with all books that present the 'latest' theory they are soon outdated and this book was published back in 2011. In order to stay current you will need additional least if you are rated 2000 or better. For players below that a good over view of the most popular lines should suffice, so it has value for players below 2000 in that it will give them a place to start whether they might face the Dragon or play it as black. At least the 'theory' is not twenty or thirty years old.
     Because there's so much theory on the Dragon, this book only covers 9. Bc4 and 9. 0-0-0 with g4, but it does so very thoroughly. No Levenfish (6.f4), Classical (6.Be2) or Fianchetto variations (6.g3) and no ...Qa5 lines by black against the Yugoslav Attack, for example.
     Instead he has concentrated on the Soltis Variation, the Modern Variation, the Topalov Variation, the Chinese Variation and the Accelerated Variation when white plays 9.Bc4. If white plays 9.0-0-0 he covers black replies 9...d5 and 9...Nxd4.
     The book is nicely laid out...major variations are in bold-face and evaluations and plans explain why certain moves are good or bad, sort of in the style of the Dummy books. 

Download a pdf sample

Friday, October 14, 2016

Alekhine: Move by Move


Another book on Alekhine's games? What's the need for one?  This one is different. FM Steve Giddins looks at his favorite Alekhine games and challenges the reader to answer questions designed to keep you involved and allow you to monitor your progress. Giddins points out that while studying the classics may not be fashionable with modern day GMs, doing so is both enjoyable and instructional for us ordinary players. 
     Giddens analyzed 35 of Alekhine’s games and twenty positions. He uses mostly words and not a lot of concrete analysis in explaining Alekhine’s moves which makes it great for the lower-rated player. He relied on an old engine (Fritz 12) to check his lines, but because he is explaining plans and ideas in words for average players, a correction here or there that a stronger engine may have found is not a big issue as far as I am concerned. If I want a lot of analytical lines I will do the same as over the games with my own engine. 
     One reviewer didn't like the book because he thought that because Giddins is only an FM he is not capable of explaining Alekhine's games.  That's just plain asinine. As an FM Giddins is 1) strong enough to understand what went on in the games, even if it's only AFTER the fact because he has seen the outcome and knows what Alekhine had in mind, 2) he has access to engines which point out tactical flaws, 3) he has access to tablebases for aid in researching endings and 4) he has access to the notes of many other, stronger players. If you went by this fellow's criteria a lot of great chess books would have to get thrown out and we'd be left with only a handful of books written by world class GMs. 
     Giddins has used a minimum number of Alekhine's best known games, but of course there are some that just had to be included in this collection. And, of those that are included, thanks to the use of a chess engine, he has been able to shed new light on them. He also did not include any games against Capablanca because Kasparov included some of them in My Great Predecessors. Also, there's no autobiographical material, but like his games, a lot has been written about Alekhine and apparently Giddens saw no reason to repeat it and drive up the price of the book.

Friday, September 30, 2016

A Must Have Database

     One of the most important databases you can have is MegaBase. It has over 6.46 million games. The database is searchable by player, tournament, and annotator and you can access various keys for openings, endgames, strategic and tactical themes. Also included are annotated games and a year’s worth of weekly updates and PlayerBase (this requires ChessBase 12 or 13), which collects rating data and pictures for thousands of players if you are interested in using that feature. The 2016 version includes over 68,000 annotated games. Many of them are Super-GM games annotated by other GMs, but there are also a lot of games annotated by IMs John Donaldson and Elliot Winslow which come from come from tournaments played at the Mechanics Institute in San Francisco. 
     One important feature is the update service that allows you access to weekly downloads of 5,000 games; this service is available for one year. Everybody knows of the enormous opening preparation that GMs and top-level correspondence players have to do. Back before computers the pros lugged around books and their own personal notebooks and index cards while correspondence players, in addition to opening books, subscribed to all the foreign magazines they could find. These days a monster database is essential. 
     Of course, readers of this Blog aren't likely to be playing in any international tournaments and won't likely be playing any GMs soon, so why should you buy this product and what can you do with it? How do you get the most out of your database? 
     With a databases you can review statistics on specific opening line, the percentage of the time a move has been played, how ell did it fare, when was it last played and what was its performance rating. You can locate games based on any criteria you want. All that's interesting and can be important if you are a serious correspondence player, but most of us aren't and my experience has been that class players usually leave the book within a handful of moves anyway, so memorizing lines 20 moves deep (assuming you have the ability to do even that) is a waste of time. A good opening book that explains the reasons behind the moves is a better investment. 
     Even if you can't remember line upon line of analysis it is very useful to be able to play over a lot of games using your opening lines so that PATTERNS become familiar and databases are great for that. 
     One thing you do have to remember is that a database only tells you which moves been played in the past by humans and those moves may be flawed and the refutation may or may not have been found.  
     Also, rememebr the sample size may be far too small too draw any conclusions. Another issue is when was the move last played? The older the game, the less likely the opening is to be considered good by modern standards. Case in point, in my early years Reshevsky was my favorite payers and I admired the ease in which he won games using the Exchange Variation against the Queen;s Gambit Declines and then proceeded to carry out the Minority Attack and racked up easy wins. Throw in Pachman's treatment in Modern Chess Strategy and Botvinnk writings on it, and it seemed like a great way to score points. Didn't work. Modern players were just too well versed in how to handle it, so I got a lot of draws. 
     Also, remember that a line might score heavily, but a recent development refutes it. I once made an opening book consisting of recent games played by correspondence players rated over 2500. They players were not only highly rated, but it was almost certain that their moves were checked by engines, so what could go wrong? In one game the opening line was from a game that was 3 or 4 years old and somewhere around move 20 I noticed my engine was suggesting a major improvement that left me at a serious disadvantage. Of course my opponent played it. 
     It is also important to consider the strength of the players in your assessment. Lines popular on lower levels may not work when played against higher rated opponents. You also need to consider whose games are in the database because games by near beginners are sometimes included. The best advice when using any database is...CHECK EVERYTHING.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Fritz 14 with Deep Fritz 64-bit [Download]

After reading customer reviews of this program I am convinced that most are NOT fair! I have used Fritz for years and have had absolutely NO PROBLEMS with it. In fact, it is still my go-to program because of its versatility and ease of use. This is a great chess program. Many users complained that it is complicated, but it appears most of them are former Chessmaster users who are not serious players or else their computer literacy is very, very poor. Download it and install Stockfish 7 or purchase and install Komodo 10 (or both) and you will have a top notch analysis program and database, plus many other valuable features...and maybe a few that are less so. And...the price is reasonable.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Must Have Books for Novices

Logical Chess Move by Move by Chernev. This classic explains 33 complete games in detail and explains the reason for every single move.


Silman's Complete Endgame Course. Good! Silman separates endgame knowledge into rating level... Unrated-999, 1000-1199 and 1200-1399. Even if you are rated higher than 1400 it's still good to review this material.

Simple Chess by Michael Stean. Introduction to strategy aimed at novice players, but also excellent for intermediates! 


Monday, May 9, 2016

Chess Structures: A Grandmaster Guide by Mauricio Flores Rios


    I have not had the opportunity to review any chess books in a while simply because I haven't bought any, but recently was intrigued with this book after browsing through it.
     There have been several books that cover P-structures, Pawn Structure Chess by Andy Soltis for example and the monster work on the isolated QP by Alex Baburin, Winning Pawn Structures. That last one turned out to be more work than I cared to put in! 
     What I liked about Rios’ massive 464-page book is that it's a collection of 140 games (and positions) divided by P-structure. Flores Rios, like authors before him, takes a pretty classical approach by breaking down P-structures into families. He covers: 
A) 1.d4 d5
B) Open Sicilian 
C) Benoni 
D) King's Indian 
F) French 

     Each structure is further sub-divided by theme. Example: the d-Pawn opening chapter covers isolated pawn, hanging pawns, the Carlsbad formation, the Caro-Kann formation, the Slav formation, Stonewall formation, and Gruenfeld. 
     Best...he includes annotated games as examples that illustrate the objectives and then he gives final remarks. As one commentator opined, this book is not a primer of positional play, but rather the author describes the interrelation between P-structure and how you should go about planning. 
    Well written and I am happy to see somebody writing about something other than tactics! Recommended.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Chess Assistant 16

Available from ChessOK.

    I have been a long time user of Fritz 12 and use  Komodo 8 and Stockfish 7 for analysis, but a while back decided I needed a program that is better suited for manipulating databases and doing opening research so finally settled on the Chess Assistant 16 Starter package.
     Game databases are essential for training, study, research and analysis. While primarily a database program, Chess Assistant offers a lot more than just a database management as it does game analysis, helps with tournament preparation and serves as a playing partner.
     It's available as a Starter package and in a Professional package and here I am concerned with the Starter package. The program can be purchased by download so you do not have to wait for a CD to arrive in the mail. 
     Chess Assistant includes several databases of games. The most notable is the HugeBase which includes over 5 million games. These games can be updated from the site so that you can keep the database current. There is also a Guru database (slightly over one million games from 1807 to 2006) which includes games of the world's elite players plus a correspondence database (a little over 800,000 games) that includes games between top rated correspondence players from 1962 to 2014. The databases can be searched using a number of criteria: player name, opening, date, results and more. Also, you can search databases by not only exact positions, but those that are similar is, say, Pawn structure. Not all of the databases are games. For example, the Openings database can be used to study opening systems. This database also shows you the percentage of wins to losses and computer evaluations. 
     Chess Assistant does more than manage databases. It includes several engines (Rybka 2.3.2w32, Crafty, Dragon, Delfi and Ruffian), but you can also add other engines like the world's strongest, the free Stockfish. Also, if you want to practice against Rybka you can adjust its “personality.” For example, you can make adjustments to the opening book it uses, its outlook (from very pessimistic to ultra optimistic), how fast it plays and how it handles it time. 
     When analyzing games, analysis can be based on the amount of time the engine is allowed to use or by search depth plus the user can interact with the engine. It can also perform engine analysis in the background. This feature allows you to perform other tasks without interfering with the analysis. 
     The program also includes limited guest access to the Internet Chess Club. 
     If I have any issues at all, it's 1) the program does so much that the learning curve can be pretty steep. In order to help learn the features I created a couple of games that I put in a database named “Junk” so that I could experiment with different features without the risk of messing up anything. 
     CA also has excellent documentation and you can even view videos online that show how to use the different features. 2) the appearance has limited boards and pieces and the way you can move the windows around is not really very flexible, but that's a rather minor issue. CA does offer a free download of additional pieces. Personally, I downloaded from elsewhere my favorite pieces, those of Chessmaster. 
    For the price, Chess Assistant is a great value and I have had experience with their customer service a few times in the past and would have to give them an excellent rating in this area.  I can't say the same for  their main competition.
    Whether you are looking for a program to play against, practice openings, middlegame structures, endings or perform analysis, or managed databases, then Chess Assistant is an excellent choice at a reasonable price.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

You Know You Want Some of This Stuff

I discovered a site called Cafe Press that offers hundreds of chess themed products some of which is you can get customized. No chess socks though.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016



     Deep HIARCS Chess Explorer is a chess database, analysis and playing program for either Windows or Apple Macintosh computers. It has an easy to use intuitive graphical interface and the HIARCS 14 engine. 
     The program comes in two versions: Deep HIARCS with the multi-core/multi-processor plus it gives you access to additional online content, including one terrabyte of endgame and opening book databases. The regular HIARCS is the single core versionand only gives you access to standard online content. Obviously, the better program for serious analysis is the deep version, but the price is higher. The GUI can use any UCI compatible engine and the pieces boards are very nice. More importantly is the easy navigation of databases, games and players plus the documentation is very thorough. 
     HIARCS is not the strongest engine on the market so it is NOT suitable for serious engine assisted correspondence play. Currently HIARCS 14 4-cpu is rated only number 21 on the SSDF 40/40 rating list with a rating of 3067. You can use any engine, but the HIARCS engine is best known for its human-like attacking playing style which for many players will make it an excellent engine for preparing for over the board play. 
     The program also supports variations, embedded text comments, annotations, diagrams and symbols. It also prints the games, complete with diagrams wherever you want them in a nice format. It also has an Openings Explorer with multi-source real-time trees and live updates from regularly updated online opening books. If you are a subscriber, you can get access to additional content. Another important feature is the books and databases provide detailed opening statistics.
     If you want to play against the computer you will probably want to use the HIARCS engine because, as mentioned, it has realistic human-like handicap levels that allow you to set Elo strength. You can choose to play rated or unrated games with adjustable time controls, or not if you don't want to play rated games. You can also choose a starting position or select the opening you want to practice against. There are also the usual coaching features that point out mistakes and suggest better moves and gives hints. One unique feature is that the program matches your ability if you improve. HIARCS allows you to set 13 levels of play in the play game mode from beginner (under 1000 elo) to World Champion (over 2800 elo). A review on Youtube can be watched HERE.
     Recommended for study and practice for OTB tournament players.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Two Chess Books Worth the Money


Improve Your Chess Pattern Recognition 
subtitled Key Moves and Motifs in the Middlegame 
by IM Arthur van de Oudeweetering. 

     I have posted many times and offered many quotes by strong players about the importance of pattern recognition when it comes to improvement and van de Oudeweetering has produced a truly great book on this important subject. 
     Positions often have similarities with something you have seen before and this is basically all that pattern recognition is. We think in patterns, but studies have shown that we amateurs just can't see the best possibilities like GMs do simply because our recognition of patterns is limited. But, learning patterns is often a hit and miss process. Playing over thousands of master games quickly where you are going after quantity was the way U.S. Senior Master Kenneth Smith recommended doing it, but that system is pretty unorganized. A refinement is simply to play over games using the openings you generally play so as to become familiar with the recurring patterns in those openings. 
     In this book the author, in an organized way, supplies building blocks by giving short, well-defined subjects that are easy to remember and each section has exercises at the end. He also assigns each pattern a funny name, but, seriously, it's that funny name that may help in remembering the theme. 
     The author presents 40 patterns and in each chapter he gives you 7 or 8 examples of the theme and lots of diagrams are provided. As an additional, and important, feature he also gives a PGN database from the publisher's website that you can download that contains additional games for study. To reinforce the patterns he provides 4 tests of 10 problems each. Highly recommend for players rated 1600 or above. The price is a bargain, too!!


The Veresov Move by Move by Jimmy Liew 
Liew is an IM from Malaysia and an FIDE Trainer. 

     The Veresov begins with the moves:   1. d4 d5 2. Nc3 Nf6 3. Bg5 and is attractive because it's rarely played and so there is not a lot of theory on it.   By playing the Veresov after reading this book you will be on familiar territory because you will be familiar with the themes and patterns that develop from the opening.  I know, I know!  Authors usually give this as the reason for playing a lot of openings, but in the case of the Veresov, unlike many seldom played openings that are recommended to amateurs, the Versov is a reasonably solid opening.  Of course, it's not without its weaknesses. As Nigel Davies observed in his book on the Veresov, if black knows what he is doing white will be struggling to hold his own. But, for most of us who won't be paired against any internationally titled players that possibility is slim and equipped with the knowledge gained from Liew's book, we should be in pretty good shape.
     The Veresov allows you to choose lines that are either positional or tactical in nature so it can be used by players who prefer either style. 
     Perhaps the books greatest value is that the author uses the Socratic method of teaching where he continually asks questions that will make you think and keep you involved. To do this he uses an excellent move by move format. Naturally he explains the main positional and tactical ideas for both sides and provides answers all in an easy to understand prose style that doesn't leave the reader swamped in a maze of variations.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Chess Informant

     Back in the old days when I ordered my chess literature from Europe, mostly Germany and England, the Chess Informants were high on my priority list. That was despite their rather hefty cost in those days...$5.00, or about $35.00 in today's money. 
     Chess Informant, or Sahovski Informator, is a publishing company from Belgrade that produces the Informants, the Encyclopedia of Chess Openings, Encyclopedia of Chess Endings, Opening Monographs, other publications and software. 
     The company was founded by GM Aleksandar Matanović and Milivoje Molerović in 1966 for the purpose of offering chess players access to information that up until that time was only enjoyed by Soviet players. They originally published two issues per year from 1966–90, but since then the number of issues per year has increased. Each issue, then as now, offers several hundred games or fragments of games from master play, most of which are annotated using the now popular symbols. 
     Nowadays much of the book is in English though the symbols remain. Since issue 5 they have also included a section on combinations and a section on endings. Garry Kasparov said of his generation,"We are all children of Informant" but Tigran Petrosian derided the books saying that the new generation of players were mere “children of the Informant” and they stripped the game of creativity and reduced it to a memory contest...wonder what he would have thought of today's computers?!  Even so, Petrosian still annotated 509 games for the Informant! Fischer? He only annotated 10 of his games. 
     These days what with games being instantly available on the Internet , the question is just how important or relevant can a book like the Informant be? Well, the thing is, you can find unannotated games scores all overt the place and you can annotated them with an engine, but what do you do when you have questions that an engine can't answer? GM thoughts and explanations of key positions are something an engine simply can't provide. It might be helpful to know white is better by 1.25 Pawns in a position with equal material, but Stockfish or Komodo won't tell you why. By the way, when this happens, the best thing I know to do is, if your GUI supports it, is run some Shootouts. Then you can click through the games and get a general idea of how the engine exploited its advantage. As you watch the game progress this method will often let you see why the engine evaluates the position as it does. 
     Another thing books like the Informant do is offer is color commentary, often by players who were present. Just as in the world of espionage, facts and photos are important, but you can't beat the human factor when it come to gathering intelligence. That said, among the annotators not many top players annotate their games for the Informant...can't give away any secrets, or perhaps they just don't want to. 
     The important thing is the games they publish are only high quality and generally of theoretical value, especially opening novelties. If you are interested in openings and/or a correspondence player to whom novelties are important, then Informants are valuable because they have already culled them all out for you. Another handy feature is that there is an index of players and annotators which makes it easy to find games by your favorite player. 
     Yes, the Informants are expensive for some because, as Reshevsky once commented, “Chess payers are an impecunious lot,” but generally no more so than a lot of poorly written and generally useless books, and at least you get your money's worth.