Tag Archives: Edmar Mednis

Andrew Soltis: Great Chess Authors, Part 9

After Mihail Marin last week, let’s examine another author who is fortunately still with us.

Andrew Soltis

Andrew Soltis

Andrew Soltis. Photo: World Chess Hall of Fame

Andrew Soltis (1947 – ) was born in Hazelton, Pennsylvania but grew up in New York City. By contemporary standards “Andy” started in chess late, not playing tournaments until his teens.

In an exceedingly difficult age for American chess players to make a living from the game, Soltis nevertheless became an International Master in 1974 and a Grandmaster in 1980.

Soltis twice won the U.S. Open (1977, 1982) and Reggio Emilia 1971/1972.

It is fitting Andy Soltis is Part 9 of this series, as he won the Marshall Chess Club Championship a record nine times!

Like Mednis, Znosko-Borovsky, Reinfeld, and Marin — Soltis is another author in our series for whom writing was a full-time career. He worked at the New York Post as his day job for over 40 years, writing more than 100 chess books during that time. He has also written the Chess to Enjoy column in Chess Life magazine, a great representation of his pithy writing style.

A Tour of the Andrew Soltis Library

This won’t be an exhaustive list, but I’ll cover some highlights in different categories.

Autobiographical

Confessions of a Chess Grandmaster (1990)

Soltis discusses his chess career and lightly annotates many of his games. Progress didn’t come easily, but he persevered on the path to Grandmaster when few of his peers crossed that hurdle. In some ways this is an inspiring book, as few of us are stars and have to grind away for years to reach our chess dreams. I couldn’t put it down. A very underrated book!

Historical/Biographical

Soltis has written several books in this genre, but the category is not my cup of tea. Titles include: Frank Marshall: United States Chess Champion (1994), Soviet Chess, 1917-1991 (1999), The United States Chess Championship, 1845-2011 (3rd revised edition, 2013), and Mikhail Botvinnik: The Life and Games of a World Chess Champion (2014). These books do contain games and most are beautifully produced and would look great on a bookshelf!

Middlegame

Pawn Structure Chess (1976, new edition 2013)

This is maybe the most highly-regarded Soltis book. The idea was perhaps revolutionary at the time, but I was never a fan. I have not read the new version, however. A big plus for Pawn Structure Chess is the “supplemental games” at the end of each section — they are well chosen and annotated with typical instructive and to-the-point Soltis comments.

The Inner Game of Chess: How to Calculate and Win (1994)

I have trouble with books that try to explain calculation processes. Of course, your mileage may vary. Other candidates to consider include: Think Like a Grandmaster by Alexander Kotov, Improve Your Chess Now by Jonathan Tisdall, and Grandmaster Preparation: Calculation by Jacob Aagaard.

The Art of Defense in Chess (1986), New Art of Defense in Chess (2014)

There aren’t too many books on chess defense. I haven’t read the Soltis books, so I can’t really comment. Paul Keres wrote an instructive chapter on “How to Defend Difficult Positions” in classic The Art of the Midddle GameAnother title is in this genre is The Art of Defence in Chess by Lev Polugaevsky and Iakov Damsky.

Endgames and Strategy

An interesting early Soltis book is Catalog of Chess Mistakes (1980), which introduces a variety of different errors a player can make playing chess or in their approach to the game. These include tactical, strategic, and especially attitude or psychological failings that can doom a player.

If you’re comfortable reading descriptive notation, I recommend giving it a look. You can find a used copy cheaply on Amazon.

The book I really want to emphasize in this section, however, is my favorite Soltis book of all: Turning Advantage into Victory in Chess (2004). This book will really help reframe how you think about chess technique — which is often regarded as elusive and mysterious.

I find a lot of players don’t appreciate static nuances the way they could, and this book will help with that.

Also give 100 Chess Master Trade Secrets and What it Takes to Become a Chess Master a look. The former is a great book to digest over time on-the-go, as it provides useful ideas and well-chosen examples in bite-sized pieces. The idea of “priyomes” is a very helpful way to build up your play.

Openings

Soltis has written a great deal in this category, but opening books were not his strength in general. However, I do recommend his old titles Winning with the English Opening.

Titles, plural? Yes. The funny thing is, I recommend both the 2nd edition (1987) and 3rd edition (1997) of this book, as I believe they are cheap and different enough to both warrant purchase!

An obscure Soltis opening book I recommend is Beating the Pirc/Modern with the Fianchetto Variation (1993).

As a 2000+ player, I found this book quite instructive as a middlegame text generally! I think this may be because the Fianchetto Pirc/Modern doesn’t have a ton of theory, so the author discusses more strategy than reams of variations. Many of the ideas can be applied against other fianchettoes.

I’ll stop here. There are so many more Soltis books that I have either not read or simply missed!

What are your favorite books by Andrew Soltis?

Aron Nimzowitsch: Great Chess Authors, Part 4

I continue my survey of chess authors by examining perhaps the most influential of them all.

Aron Nimzowitsch (1886-1935)

Aron Nimzowitsch. Photo: World Chess Hall of Fame

Aron Nimzowitsch. Photo: World Chess Hall of Fame

Half a century before Mikhail Tal and Edmar Mednis, Aron Nimzowitsch was born in Riga (now the capital of Latvia).

He gradually improved his level, competing in lower divisions of Coburg 1904, Barmen 1905, and Ostend 1907 — the latter event a 30-player round-robin lasting six weeks!

Nimzowitsch hit the big time in Karlsbad 1907, tying for fourth place behind Akiba Rubinstein. He continued to prove he was a top player and received an invite to St. Petersburg 1914, but did not reach the finals (won by World Champion Emanuel Lasker).

Nimzowitsch fled Latvia during the Russian Revolution in 1917, eventually settling in Denmark. In the 1920s he won several elite events, reaching his peak by winning Karlsbad 1929.

One of the five-best players in the world in the late 1920s and early 1930s, Nimzowitsch could not secure financial backing for a World Championship Match. It was instead Efim Bogoljubov who got two chances at the throne in 1929 and 1934 against Alexander Alekhine, before Max Euwe finally wrested away the title in 1935 — the same year Nimzowitsch breathed his last.

Leader of the Hypermoderns

The hack-and-slash Romantic Era (think Adolf Anderssen and Paul Morphy) was emblematic of 19th century chess. The reaction was the positional logic of the Classical Era led by Wilhelm Steinitz, Lasker, and Siegbert Tarrasch beginning in the last quarter of the 1800s.

By the 1920s, it was time for another sea-change. Nimzowitsch, Richard Réti (1889-1929), and Gyula Breyer (1893-1921) led the Hypermodern Era of the 1920s and 30s. Influence the center from afar with pieces, using plenty of fianchettos! Entirely new opening branches were explored, including Alekhine’s Defense (1.e4 Nf6), Nimzo-Indian Defense (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4), and Grünfeld Defense (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 d5).

It’s notable that the top players of the era including Alekhine, Rubinstein, and Jose Capablanca embraced Hypermodern concepts and incorporated them into their own play.

Literary Legacy of Aron Nimzowitsch

Nimzowitsch may be the only top player more remembered in chess history for his books than his games! I wonder how he would feel about that?

Before moving to NImzowitsch’s most famous works, I’ll mention Как Я Стал Гросмейстером (How I Became a Grandmaster) which contains some of his early games and suggestions for improvement, but has not been translated into English (as far as I know). I’m very interested in reading this book one day, though my Russian is poor.

Ok, here we go:

The Blockade (1925)

This small (<50 pages) exploration of Nimzowitsch’s ideas on blockade is a great introduction to his theories and also contains some of his early articles. He is over-the-top as usual and, never one to shy away from a pissing contest, leaves ample room to attack Tarrasch and others.

My System (1925)

The most influential chess book of the 20th century, and there isn’t a close second.

Nimzowitsch begins with what he calls The Elements. My System is considered a middlegame textbook, but in addition to strategic ideas like open files, passed pawns, and pawn chains, he includes tactical ideas like pins and discovered checks!

I’ll note that his remarks on endgame technique are very helpful as well, especially on “welding” your forces together and “general advance!” Keeping this in mind has helped me overcome my opposition more easily when I have a clear endgame edge.

The second part of the book is all about positional play, and here Nimzowitsch delves into the concepts that define him including prophylaxis, overprotection, and the isolani.

It’s time for me to pick up My System again! After I cure my laziness, of course…

Chess Praxis (1929)

NImzowitsch annotates over 100 of his own games. This was the first work I read by the great author, when I was rated roughly 1000. My advice…don’t read Nimzowitsch until you are at least 1600, and maybe higher! Start with Blockade because it is short and easy to get your teeth into, then My System. If you want even more, there is Chess Praxis as well. And finally…

Carlsbad International Chess Tournament 1929 (1930)

This tournament book is disappointing! Nimzowitsch doesn’t cover all (or most) of the games, and the annotations are sparse. It seems the entire exercise was an effort to make a few bucks while attempting to secure a title match with Alekhine. Buy it if you love collecting chess books or are a Nimzowitsch diehard, but don’t expect great instructional value here.

Final Thoughts

Aron Nimzowitsch died in Copenhagen in 1935 at 48 years old.

His contributions to middlegame theory are second to none. Nimzowitsch also had a profound influence on openings, especially the Nimzo-Indian and Queen’s Indian Defenses, but also the French, Sicilian, and others.

This man left his fingerprints all over the chess world, and his influence is felt to this day.

What do you think of Nimzowitsch? Is he regarded appropriately, underrated or overrated?

Eugene Znosko-Borovsky: Great Chess Authors, Part 3

After Mednis and Euwe, the next author I want to shine a light on is Eugene Znosko-Borovsky! If you’re a more casual chess fan, you might be wondering: “Who, exactly?”

Eugene Znosko-Borovsky (1884-1954)

Eugene Znosko-Borovsky. Photo: Julian Mandel. Source: Wikipedia

Eugene Znosko-Borovsky. Photo: Julian Mandel. Source: Wikipedia

Born in Imperial Russia, Eugene Znosko-Borovsky was a literary critic and veteran of the Russo-Japanese War and World War I before emigrating to France in 1920.

Znosko-Borovsky was not a professional chess player, but fared well in international competition. He scored victories against Bogoljubov, Burn, Capablanca, Euwe, and Rubinstein at various points in his career. The win against Burn earned him one of the brilliancy prizes at the monster Ostend 1906 tournament.

A player who can defeat opponents like those — who also happened to be a professional writer? That helps explain why his chess books can be purchased more than 80 years after he authored them! Few others can make that claim.

 

Five Books in English

Five Znosko-Borovsky books (written between 1934-1940) have been translated into English and can still be purchased today. Not surprisingly, these translations use Descriptive Notation which will put off many readers flipping through the book in Barnes & Noble.

The books are cheap, pocket-sized (thank you, Dover!), and cover all phases of the game.

The Art of Chess Combination

One of my earliest chess books, and my first on tactics and combinational play. it was here that I was introduced to kingside attacking ideas like the “Greek Gift” sacrifice (Bxh7+), Legal’s Mate, Philidor’s Legacy (smothered mate), Fegatello (Fried Liver Attack), and so on.

How to Play Chess Endings

A really helpful book! It helped me learn many elementary endings: the bishop and knight mate and some elementary rook endings particularly stand out. I won several games with Rook+g+h pawn vs. Rook endings because of what I learned here. My only criticism is the confusing part on related squares. Just skip it.

The Middle Game in Chess

I read this book much later in my chess career, when I think I was already over 2000. I liked the way Znosko-Borovsky explained simple concepts without going through reams of analysis. This could certainly be a first book on middlegame play, before going more in depth with other works focusing on tactics and strategy like Judgment and Planning in Chess.

How Not to Play Chess

I’m a firm believer that knowing what NOT to do can be even more powerful than knowing what to do. This easy-to-read book lists common mistakes you can avoid by being aware of them.

How to Play the Chess Openings

I haven’t read this one, so I can’t really comment. I would expect that it is outdated theory-wise but, knowing Znosko-Borovsky, a worthwhile read for the ideas of common openings that have not changed much over time.

What else is there to say? Try one of Eugene Znosko-Borovsky’s books and see for yourself. I think you’ll be convinced that he is indeed a great chess author for improving players.

Max Euwe: Great Chess Authors, Part 2

In Part 1 we took a look at the chess career and many of the books of Edmar Mednis. Up for discussion today is Max Euwe.

Max Euwe (1901-1981)

Max Euwe. Photo: World Chess Hall of Fame

Max Euwe. Photo: World Chess Hall of Fame

Euwe, the Netherlands’ top player for decades, earned a doctorate and taught mathematics full time!

Despite not being a chess professional and playing sparingly, he improved by playing matches against Jose Capablanca, Rudolf Spielmann, and Alexander Alekhine, among others.

Euwe secured a World Championship match against Alekhine in 1935, winning 15½—14½ to become the 5th World Chess Champion. Alekhine won the 1937 rematch, but Euwe’s legacy was secure.

In his later years, the former Champion became FIDE‘s 3rd President (1970-1978).

Writings of a Bygone Era

Euwe was a brilliant author because he was clear and to the point. If you want excitement, look elsewhere — plenty of drivel is published each year to serve that purpose. But if you’re looking for pure, unadulterated instruction, Euwe has no equal.

The Bad News

Not all of Euwe’s books have been translated to algebraic notation. I assume this is a big reason the former Champion is not the most popular of chess writers. Well, I’ve got you covered: check out this primer on descriptive notation.

Middlegame Textbooks

Judgment and Planning in Chess taught me how to recognize the key features of many position types and play them successfully. Euwe tells you what you need to do and shows instructive examples. He doesn’t try to be entertaining or funny — it’s serious work for serious people.

Probably more popular are The Middlegame, Book One: Static Features and The Middlegame, Book Two: Dynamic and Subjective FeaturesI got these books much later in my chess career and didn’t read them in my developmental years, so I have less connection to them. Even so, I can’t imagine that careful study of these works wouldn’t help a club player immensely.

Best Endgame Book, Pound-for-Pound

A Guide to Chess Endings really should be more popular. I still reread portions of it from time to time, and the more I do the more I’m convinced of it’s greatness. The book gives very specific guidance on how to play the main types of endgames, well-illustrated with 331 examples. It also fits in your pocket, and thus cannot be compared with a standard endgame reference book.

Others

I recently learned about Strategy and Tactics in Chess and have skimmed parts of it. It looks like a great book, and I will surely read it one day.

Another famous Euwe book is Chess Master vs. Chess Amateur but I have not read this one. The book contains 25 (composed?) games between a master and a weaker player, annotated to help improving players. This idea has been imitated in other works, but I have to admit I stay away because I’m afraid of embedding bad patterns into my subconscious!

You can’t really go wrong by following the teachings of a World Champion! Especially as skilled a teacher as Max Euwe was. His math students must have been very fortunate to have him.

Edmar Mednis: Great Chess Authors, Part 1

A Completely Biased New Series!

I own several hundred chess books, and I’ve given several dozen books away over the years. I don’t buy books nearly as often as I used to, but even now I sometimes cannot help myself!

This is the first part in a new series of posts on writers I consider to be Great Chess Authors. I don’t yet know how long (or frequent) this series will be.

There will be obvious names, perhaps some surprising names, and controversial omissions! Everyone has a different taste in chess authors.

Today I begin with the author who makes up more of my chess library than any other.

Edmar Mednis (1937-2002)

Edmar Mednis. Photo: World Chess Hall of Fame

Edmar Mednis. Photo: World Chess Hall of Fame

Born in Latvia, Edmar Mednis emigrated to the United States during World War 2. A notable early result was second-place in the 1955 World Junior Championship. Future World Champion Boris Spassky won the event.

Few would proclaim Mednis a great player, but it’s incredible that the USCF refused to apply for his Grandmaster title. Puerto Rico did so in 1980. Mednis played on the 1962 Olympiad team and qualified for the 1979 Riga Interzonal. The first player to defeat Bobby Fischer in a U.S. Championship was not exactly a weakling!

A Tour of the Edmar Mednis Library

Mednis will be most remembered for his books (and columns in Chess Life magazine).

How To Guides

I don’t have one of his most famous titles, How to Beat Bobby Fischer, which includes his own victory plus 60 other defeats inflicted upon the 11th World Champion. A similarly-themed book is How to Beat the Russians, a collection of losses by Soviet Grandmasters to foreign players in 1973. I have the 1989 reprint How to Defeat a Superior Opponent.

Another, even more highly-acclaimed book is his How Karpov Wins, giving insight into the play of the 12th World Champion. I regret not finishing this one! Maybe someday…

Mednis game collections are an instructive, easy read for improving players.

Practical Advice

Mednis wrote a series of three books, all of which I have read and whole-heartedly recommend: Practical Rook EndingsPractical Bishop Endings, and Practical Knight Endings. They teach you the ABCs of these endings and provide great tips and examples. I only wish he had written books on pawn endings or queen endings!

“Practical” appears in a lot of the great author’s works, and in many of the titles! Mednis did not drown his readers in variations, instead providing step-by-step winning (or drawing) methods in a given position type, and then proceeding to lightly annotated examples.

He wrote a “Practical” series in the late 90s: Practical Opening Tips, Practical Middlegame Tips, and Practical Endgame Tips. I don’t think I own any of these works, so I can’t really comment. I do abide by the general rule “anything Mednis is a safe buy,” however!

Endgames and Strategy

Other endgame books I enjoy include Rate Your Endgame and Questions and Answers on Endgame Play. Mednis also wrote Advanced Endgame Strategies which I don’t believe I have, though it may be hiding somewhere!

Strategic Chess: Mastering the Closed Game is a good introduction to games starting with 1.d4, 1.c4, or 1.Nf3 for club players. Strategic Themes in the Opening and Beyond covers the strategic ideas in certain lines of the French Tarrasch and English Opening in depth.

There is also From the Opening to the Endgame, which features a selection of opening lines that can reach endgames (or at least queenless middlegames) almost immediately. This may be the only Edmar Mednis book that shows its age.

I’m leaving out some other titles (he wrote more than 25 books in all) but I think you can see the affinity I have for Mr. Mednis!

The Apple of My Eye

One book in particular had the biggest influence on the way I saw chess for most of my career.

From the Middlegame to the Endgame gave me hope. It gave me a grasp of the nebulous space between the middlegame and the endgame where I harvested so many points in the early part of my chess career. I finally found something I was good at in chess: endgame transitions. And there is no way I would have reached 1800, let alone 2100+, without this weapon.

Pick up an Edmar Mednis book if you haven’t already. Beware: you might fill your chess library with them before long!