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.