Andrei Sokolov was born in 1963 in Vorkuta, Russia (then part of the USSR). A superstar in the 1980s, he is largely unknown by chess fans today because his career as a top player was relatively short.
Sokolov won the World Junior Championship in 1982, and captured the USSR Championship in his first appearance in 1984. At 21 years old, he was one of the youngest-ever Soviet Champions.
Still, he kept rising. A 3rd place finish in the 1985 Biel Interzonal (behind Rafael Vaganian and Yasser Seirawan) was followed by a tie for 1st-3rd place in the 1985 Montpellier Candidates Tournament (with Artur Yusupov and Vaganian).
Finally, there were Candidates matches. After defeating Vaganian (4 wins, 4 draws) and Yusupov (4 wins, 7 draws, 3 losses) in 1986, he faced former World Champion Anatoly Karpov in the 1987 Candidates Final. A victory here would have meant a World Championship match with Garry Kasparov!
Sokolov lost this match (7 draws, 4 losses). This is the same score Ian Nepomniachtchi managed in his 2021 World Championship match against Magnus Carlsen … and it’s also the same score Kasparov had against Karpov after 11 games in their 1984 match!
In 1987, Andrei Sokolov was ranked World #3 (with Yusupov, behind Kasparov and Karpov) at 2645, and he was just 24 years old. It seemed the sky was the limit.
Alas, the 1985-87 cycle would be the peak of Sokolov’s career — after 1988 he fell out of the Top 20, never to return. Since 2000, he has represented France.
Here we look at an early battle between Sokolov and Igor Novikov (born 1962) who would become one of America’s top players in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Note: I may receive a commission on products purchased through Amazon links on this page. Thanks for your support!
Struggling Against Mainline Sicilians? This Book WILL Help!
A familiar dilemma
The biggest headache that normally dissuades tournament players from opening with 1.e4 is the Sicilian Defense (1…c5) — specifically, the Open Sicilian (1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 and then 3.d4).
Of course, it’s possible to employ an anti-Sicilian, but this is already a partial victory for the second player. While systems with 3.Bb5(+) or an early c2-c3 are respectable, your opponent should not be afraid of these. I would not recommend employing lesser setups like the Smith-Morra Gambit or Grand Prix Attack every time.
Allowing Black to enter their pet mainline system is intimidating for the non-professional. But I have decided that this is a lesser evil than switching to the closed games (1.d4, 1.c4, 1.Nf3, etc.), as the second player has endless options there, too.
Besides, I have always enjoyed studying opening theory and reaping the rewards of my efforts. I strongly believe players don’t study their openings enough.
Which approach versus Open Sicilians?
It’s possible to face mainline Sicilians without playing in a berzerker fashion — check out IM Timothy Taylor‘s interesting 2012 book Slaying the Sicilian which advocates for a quieter approach like playing an early Be2 in many lines. World Champion Anatoly Karpov and perennial Candidate Efim Geller scored a ton of points this way.
Of course, many players dream of launching breathtaking attacks against the Black king.
Even if you’re an attacking-challenged player like I am, you can play aggressive setups if you study well and learn important ideas. The systems Yakovich discusses also have a sound strategic basis. The English Attack and Yugoslav Attack are well-covered, for example, but you won’t find ultra-aggressive “is-this-completely-sound?” stuff like the Velimirovic Attack or Perenyi Attack.
The Russian Grandmaster wrote a dense book (only 208 pages!) with lots of variations and computer analysis, no doubt about that. But it also contains generous text annotations and key diagrams, so you won’t get lost in a forest of endless lines. This is not a database dump!
You’ll have to take your time with this book, but you won’t be left scratching your head. An ambitious player rated 1500 would benefit, but the 1800-plus crowd will really make hay with Sicilian Attacks.
So, what’s in it?
Really, the only major system not covered is the Sveshnikov! And it’s much easier to find explanatory material for White on that setup than some of the others reviewed here.
A typical page in this book. Dense analysis, but good commentary to help the reader navigate it. Well worth the needed time investment to absorb the main ideas.
At the end of each section, the author includes these “Conclusions” — a nice touch!
Yakovich’s chapters on facing the Yugoslav Dragon is the best I have seen anywhere, and alone worth the price of the book. He also makes sense of “strange” nuances in different Sicilian variations understandable.
Sicilian Attacks is really a middlegame book — plenty of discussion of pawn structures and piece placements, sometimes going as far as the endgame. That’s why you should not be put off by the 2010 publication date, at all.
Highly recommended for players willing to put in the work to play the Open Sicilian.
Viktor Kortschnoj (1931-2016) was born in Leningrad, USSR (now Saint Petersburg, Russia).
A four-time Soviet Champion and two-time World Championship Challenger (1978, 1981), Kortschnoj is universally considered one of the greatest chess players never to become World Champion. Other players in this category could include Akiba Rubinstein, Reuben Fine, Paul Keres, David Bronstein, and Vassily Ivanchuk.
While I haven’t read those volumes, I did work through his Practical Rook Endings. Highly recommended, and well worth the effort expended. I wouldn’t be surprised if Kortschnoj’s boast that the book will raise your rating 100 points was true. Considering it’s only about 100 pages, this is great value!
Let’s take a look at an instructive miniature “Viktor the Terrible” won against International Master Stefano Tatai (1938-2017). Tatai was 12 times Champion of Italy between 1962 and 1994.
A series of small errors has made White’s situation critical. Black to play.
Henrique Mecking (born 1952) was the first Brazilian to become a Grandmaster (1972) and won back-to-back Interzonals at Petropolis 1973 and Manila 1976. He was ranked as high as World #3 in January 1978, behind only World Champion Anatoly Karpov and Challenger Viktor Kortschnoj!
Unfortunately, he contracted a serious illness in the late 1970s, and this robbed him of a chance to fight for the title. He was only able to return to competition more than two decades later.
Lian-Ann Tan (born 1947) is an International Master and six-time champion of Singapore.
How did Henrique Mecking (White) win material here?
Understanding the Caro-Kann Defensewas published way back in 1981. Amazon tells me I purchased it in March 2012, but I’ve only read it recently … and regret not doing so much sooner.
I have read a lot of Caro-Kann (1.e4 c6) books over the years, as I flirted with the opening for years and have now made it my weapon of choice against 1.e4.
I’ll start with the conclusion: I don’t think any other Caro-Kann title comes close.
Keep in mind: I lack chess talent, and need things spelled out for me in a to-the-point manner. This is why I love Max Euwe and Edmar Mednis so much. Your mileage may vary. There are other choices if you want wild, entertaining stories with your chess.
More About Understanding the Caro-Kann Defense
The book has five co-authors: Raymond Keene, Andrew Soltis, Edmar Mednis, Jack Peters, and Julio Kaplan, with each writing two consecutive chapters.
All the main lines are covered, including 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Nf6 5.Nxf6 exf6 (by Peters) which most contemporary books ignore completely. Soltis covers sidelines in the final chapter, which includes the King’s Indian Attack (2.d3), TwoKnights (2.Nc3 d5 3.Nf3), and 2.c4 as expected, but I was surprised to see the Fantasy Variation (2.d4 d5 3.f3) discussed in a book from 40 years ago —and well-done, too!
The authors really take their time and discuss the ideas and key maneuvers available to both players in this opening. You really understand what both players are striving for, and their variations are helpful, not torturous.
The only place where the book really shows its age is with the Advance Variation (2.d4 d5 3.e5). It only discusses the old, not-topical line 3…Bf5 4.Bd3. Still, the coverage is helpful, as Keene explains this part very nicely, and the line still appears at lower levels!
I don’t read chess books very much any longer, but I couldn’t put this one down and finished it within a week. It was that helpful, easy-to-read, and confidence-building.
I would order a copy of Understanding the Caro-Kann Defense if you have any interest in this opening — from either side, as a player or a coach. Not only can the book be had cheaply, who knows how long copies of the old gem will be around at an affordable price?
Table of Contents
Other Images from Understanding the Caro-Kann Defense
For Reference: Other Caro-Kann Books
If you want to play the line with 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Bf5:
Grandmaster Repertoire 7: The Caro-Kannby Danish GM Lars Schandorff (2010) was widely praised, and contained the latest theory and games. Still, I felt something was missing. At least for me. It’s the type of opening book you would expect from Quality Chess.
There is also Caro-Kann: Classical 4…Bf5by Garry Kasparov and Aleksander Shakarov (1984). The coverage is thorough, as you would expect from The Beast, and I suspect it can be a useful starting point even today.
I haven’t read Play the Caro-Kann: A Complete Chess Opening Repertoire Against 1e4 by Jovanka Houska (2007), but I remember it getting good reviews. Notably, she recommends answering the Advance Variation with 3…c5, rather than the much more common 3…Bf5. This line has gained in popularity at high level, and I might change to it myself!
If you want to play the line with 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Nd7:
I previously reviewed Opening for Black according to Karpov by former FIDE World Champion Alexander Khalifman. This book has been much more helpful to me, because it gives analysis and sensible reasoning for its moves and evaluations. It’s Caro-Kann coverage is not huge, because most of the book is devoted to defending 1.d4/1.c4/1.Nf3, etc.
More recently, there’s Caro-Kann: Move by Moveby Cyrus Lakdawala (2012). Personally, I don’t like these kinds of books that contain too many words that try to be clever and don’t get to the point. (At the other end of the spectrum, I wouldn’t bother with Eduard Gufeld and Oleg Stetsko‘s Caro-Kann: Smyslov System 4…Nd7 from 1998).
There are other books, too, of course. But these are the ones I am familiar with.
I recommend Positional Chess Handbook to players (and coaches!) of all levels. Players rated from zero to at least 2200 will benefit. The book will give beginners ideas about strategy; it has much to teach club players; and it is a good refresher for the 2000+ crowd.
Originally published in 1991, it is filled with instructive game fragments from famous and not-so-famous players and composers. You’ll find examples from Morphy and Steinitz, as well as from Fischer, Karpov, and Kasparov. In all, there are 495 diagrams over 208 pages (plus index). I’m sure author Israel Gelfer (FIDE Master and FIDE Senior Trainer) spent many years compiling the examples that helped his students the most.
So what does it cover?
Positional Chess Handbook: Contents
Most of the 21 chapters isolate a certain positional feature, making it easy to reinforce understanding of a particular concept without distraction. A few sections are more general, but very instructive nonetheless. Of course, tactics are everywhere in this book, too — strategy cannot exist without them, right?
Some readers may groan upon seeing the title of this post, and that’s okay. I get it.
Who, when taking their first steps in chess, dreams of winning wars of attrition? Probably no one. On the contrary, I often fantasized about winning a brilliant game in a tournament hall or chess club with a crowd of people watching in awe. Okay, I admit it … I still do!
Alas, I rarely win beautiful games. Most of my wins border on the tedious side — regularly 50+ moves. When I get away from this — whether because of fatigue, laziness, or delusions of grandeur — the results are usually disastrous. I’m just a grinder, and I’ve finally accepted that.
Fortunately, grinding works.
Easier to Play with Black?
With the White pieces, I feel a burden to “prove something” with my advantage of the first move. This often leads to going for too much, and bad things happen.
Grinders subscribe to the “equalize first” philosophy of playing the Black pieces. There isn’t any pressure to “do” anything. Even draws with peers are acceptable, though we want to win just as much as anyone else!
In the right position types, there will often be chances as Black to turn the tables on your opponent, especially if you’re willing to face a mildly unpleasant initiative. For a great example of this, play through Anatoly Karpov’s win against Gata Kamsky from the 1996 FIDE World Championshp Match.
Now I want to share another classic in a similar vein, also one of my favorite examples:
Boris Spassky (born 1937) was the tenth World Chess Champion (1969-1972). Before that, however, he was one of the greatest prodigies of early modern professional chess.
Born in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg), he defeated Mikhail Botvinnik in a simul in 1947 as a ten-year-old, a year before Patriarch became the sixth World Champion.
With a third-place finish in his very first USSR Championship, Spassky qualified for the 1955 Gothenburg Interzonal. At Antwerp he captured the World Junior Championship a point ahead of Edmar Mednis. He next qualified for the 1956 Amsterdam Candidates Tournament — earning an automatic Grandmaster title.
At 18 years old, Spassky became the youngest GM ever, eclipsing Tigran Petrosian‘s record by five years.
He established himself as a top player in the early 1960s. Highlights include the 29th USSR Championship (Fall 1961) and the 1964 Moscow zonal.
Spassky battled through the World Championship cycle to earn a title match with Petrosian in 1966. The match went the full 24 games, but Iron Tigran narrowly retained his title.
Undeterred, Spassky immediately won the Second Piatigorsky Cup. In the next Championship cycle he defeated Petrosian in June 1969 to become the new Champion.
Why he is underrated
Unfortunately, Spassky was outshone by two meteors: first Tal, then Fischer.
Mikhail Talwas born less than three months before Spassky. He won back-to-back USSR Championships, an Interzonal, a Candidates Tournament, and a World Championship match within four years! Just 23 years old, he shattered the record for youngest World Champion ever.
Bobby Fischer broke Spassky’s youngest-ever GM record by three years. Later, he won 20 consecutive games en-route to victory in the 1970 Interzonal and 1971 Candidates series with tallies of 6-0, 6-0, and 6½-2½. Then he took Spassky’s World Championship title in 1972.
This is a loss for chess! The casual fans who only know Spassky as “the guy who lost to Fischer” should play through some of his best games — they are as enjoyable and imaginative as those of any player in chess history, full stop.
After losing his title, Spassky won probably the strongest-ever USSR Championship, the 41st, in October 1973. The field included established stars like Lev Polugaevsky, Viktor Kortschnoj, Efim Geller, Paul Keres, and Mark Taimanov, youngsters Evgeny Sveshnikov and Alexander Beliavsky … and four other World Champions — Smyslov, Tal, Petrosian, and Karpov.
Today I want to show one of my recent blitz games on the Internet Chess Club (ICC). I think it is somewhat instructive, especially in the context of IQP (Isolated Queen Pawn) positions.
I have enjoyed playing the white side of IQP positions ever since I read Alexander Baburin‘s phenomenal Winning Pawn Structures around 20 years ago. The book contains a couple of examples right out of the Panov-Botvinnik Attack as seen in this game. Even though I usually struggle with attacking, this one felt natural because Baburin’s examples are memorable.
Gashimov reached a peak rating of 2761 in January 2012, the same month as Wijk aan Zee. As it turned out, this would be his last tournament … epilepsy and a brain tumor forced him to retire from chess at just 25 years old. He died two years later, only 27, reminiscent of Pillsbury, Charousek, and other top talents a century before.
His notatble tournament victories include the Cappelle la Grande Open (2007 and 2008), the FIDE Grand Prix(2008) in his home city of Baku, and Reggio Emilia(2010/2011). He also won the decisive last round game that clinched gold for Azerbaijan at the 2009 European Team Championship.
The Gashimov Memorial has been held annually since 2014 in Shamkir, Azerbaijan.
Gashimov wins a minature against the formidable Boris Gelfand. The Belarusian-Israeli legend was only the fifth player in chess history to achieve a 2700 Elo rating (after Fischer, Karpov, Tal, and Kasparov). He nearly reached the chess Olympus in 2012 when he drew a 12-game World Championship match with Viswanathan Anand (+1 =10 -1) but lost the rapid tiebreak.
White to play. How did Gashimov end the game quickly after Gelfand’s untimely castling?