Tag Archives: English Opening

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?

Mihail Marin: Great Chess Authors, Part 8

Today I want to discuss a very popular and highly-regarded chess figure who also happens to be the first currently-living author in the series. Serious work for serious people, yes, but more approachable than most Dvoretsky volumes.

Mihail Marin

Mihail Marin

Mihail Marin. Photo: Mihail Marin’s Twitter, @MihailMarin3

Mihail Marin (1965 – ) was born in Bucharest, Romania. A three-time Champion of Romania (1988, 1994, 1999), he competed in the 1987 Szirak Interzonal. 

Marin has represented Romania in ten Olympiads, winning a bronze medal on Board 3 at Thessaloniki 1988. He earned the Grandmaster title in 1993 and was ranked one of the World’s Top 100 Players in 2001.

These are certainly impressive accomplishments, but Marin was destined for greatness in another realm of chess.

Starting at the Top

Secrets of Chess Defence by Mihail Marin

The first offering of a living legend.

In 2003, Gambit Publications issued Mihail Marin’s first book, Secrets of Chess Defence, which was nominated for the 2003 ChessCafe Book of the Year Award.

Gambit also published Marin’s Secrets of Attacking Chess in 2005, which was also well-received. If you can even get one of these books, you’ll pay a pretty penny! Well, there’s always Kindle…

A Critical Building Block

New publisher Quality Chess lived up to their name by bringing Mihail Marin into the fold early on. He has produced a string of hits for them — behold:

Learn from the Legends: Chess Champions at their Best (2004)

This book won Marin the 2005 ChessCafe.com Book of the Year Award, and was so highly-acclaimed that it has been revised and reprinted multiple times.

Each chapter examines a distinctive feature of a great player of the past: Akiba Rubinstein‘s Rook Endings, Mikhail Tal‘s Super Rooks vs. Two Minor Pieces, Tigran Petrosian‘s Exchange Sacrifices, Bobby Fischer‘s Pet Bishop, and more.

A book that definitely lives up to its hype: pleasant and instructive.

 

Beating the Open Games (2007)

A player who has decided to play 1…e5 in response to 1.e4 needs to prepare for the different lines white can employ. Fortunately, few of them cause much trouble and Marin prepares his reader to understand the ideas behind his recommendations.

A second edition of this book was issued in 2008, but don’t let that concern you: the majority of lines in this book haven’t seen major advances in theory that should concern the casual player.

I’m not sure there’s a better resource for the Double King Pawn.

 

A Spanish Repertoire for Black (2007)

In response to the Ruy Lopez (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5), Marin recommends the Chigorin Defense (3…a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 d6 8.c3 0-0 9.h3 Na5) to his readers.

He gets into some of the history, maneuvers, and reasoning for why lines developed as they did. This is not a waste of your time: such insights come to the rescue when you find yourself facing a move you have not studied. Marin’s discussion of the “Spanish Knight” is worth the cover price alone.

This book should be used with Beating the Open Games, above.

 

Reggio Emilia 2007/2008 (2009, with Yuri Garrett)

This book celebrated the 50th edition of the Reggio Emilia tournament held in the Italian city bearing the same name. It contains plenty of photographs, crosstables, and stories — as every tournament book should.

Hungarian Grandmaster Zoltan Almasi proved victorious.

Held over the New Year holidays every year from 1958, the series unfortunately ceased to exist due to financial issues. Anish Giri won the 54th and final edition in 2011/2012.

 

Grandmaster Repertoire 3 – The English Opening, Volume One (2009)

Grandmaster Repertoire 4 – The English Opening, Volume Two (2010)

Grandmaster Repertoire 5 – The English Opening, Volume Three (2010)

These three books ushered in unprecedented popularity of the English Opening at all levels!

From club players to super-GMs.

I have not read them myself, actually. But I have no doubt about their influence, as I recently alluded to. It could be decades before someone creates a more authoritative series of books on a major opening system.

Volume One covers 1.c4 e5, Volume Three covers 1.c4 c5, and Volume Two covers everything else after 1.c4.

 

Grandmaster Repertoire – The Pirc Defence (2018)

I don’t play the Pirc, or play against it, generally. So this book isn’t for me, strictly speaking.

Still, I agree with the rule that good chess authors write good chess books, and I’m sure I would learn a lot about chess in general by reading this book.

If you have any interest at all in the Pirc, I would highly recommend taking a look…but you probably own this book already!

 

Šahovski Informator

Old Wine in New Bottles (2019)

Mihail Marin has written a “textbook” for the makers of Chess Informant!

He stresses something that I often remind students and parents about: following the computer’s every move or recommendation is very limiting because the machine cannot help you during the game — at least it should not!

Having a good foundation of classical games and understanding cannot but help you. Over the years I have seen countless young chessplayers make serious mistakes because they lack this base.

 

ChessBase

I’ll also mention that Mihail Marin has authored several ChessBase DVDs (which can be purchased for download)  and contributed to countless others including, for example, the Master Class series.

I have an old ChessBase Catalan E00-E09 DVD by Marin somewhere. It was well-organized and thorough, even though I didn’t end up playing the opening after all.

 

Who knows what other great materials Marin has in store for us? I for one can’t wait!

What do you think of Mihail Marin’s books? Please share!

The English Opening: Playing 1.c4

The English Opening or …

I am by no means a specialist on openings in general, or the English Opening in particular, but I have opened with 1.c4, 1.d4, 1.e4, and 1.Nf3 in my tournament career.

As many before me have said, 1.e4 is the most straightforward first move, and 1.d4 can be very direct as well if the player intends it to be so.

A 1.Nf3 user often employs transpositional “games” against their adversary, aiming for certain openings or variations while avoiding others. Two defenses that regularly get frozen out in this way are the Nimzo-Indian and the Grünfeld, when white plays an early Nf3 and c4, but not d4.

Why 1.c4?

One of the main arguments for 1.Nf3 is that it avoids 1…e5.

In contrast, the 1.c4 player wants to play “English” positions; not just transpose into favorable d4-lines. Specifically, I’m talking about positions that arise after 1.c4 e5.

The 1.c4 player likes playing these positions since black has ceded control over the d5-square white hopes to clamp down on:

I began to like these positions after studying How to Play the English Opening (Batsford, 2007) by Anatoly Karpov. The ex-World Champion spends a lot of time covering the Four Knights Variation with 1.c4 e5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.Nf3 Nc6 4.g3:

…mainly through his games against Garry Kasparov and other absolute top players. He also covers other choices on move 4 besides g3.

Game Changers

Kosten's famous book on the English Opening

I doubt Kosten imagined the influence his small book would have on the popularity of the English Opening!

Karpov’s book is underrated, but that likely has to do with the enduring popularity of The Dynamic English (Gambit, 1999) by Tony Kosten, and the authority Mihail Marin established with The English Opening (3 Volumes, Quality Chess, 2009-2010).

Kosten and Marin recommend the move order 1.c4 e5 2.g3. Kosten’s book in particular is very system-based, which appeals to many players. But with the explosion of chess information over the past 20 years, black players are more aware than ever how to deal with his main setup, the Botvinnik System:

That doesn’t mean white should hesitate to play this way if s/he enjoys the resulting positions. The strongest ideas in chess are those that are effective even if your opponent knows they’re coming.

But the “Old” English Opening was Popular for Decades!

1.c4 e5 2.Nc3 is less predictable: both sides have freedom to choose their preferred setup — black can even try 2…Bb4. Going into lines with 2.Nc3 is something to consider for a player who has more advanced positional skills than their peers and has reasonable hopes of outplaying them — though I wouldn’t recommend the English until a player is 1600, at least.

Flank openings are more structurally fluid than 1.e4 or 1.d4, but choosing 1.c4 over 1.Nf3 takes that to another level. If you can become a specialist in “pure” English positions, there are plenty of points to be scored simply through better familiarity of the terrain.

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!

Opening for Black according to Karpov

If you like Karpov’s black openings this is an underrated gem

Opening for Black according to Karpov was written by Alexander Khalifman and published by the Bulgarian publisher Chess Stars all the way back in 2001. I believe it was one of their first books.

Now, I have to admit being attracted to this book when I first bought it many years ago because Anatoly Karpov, the 12th World Champion, has always been my favorite player. I remember enthusiastically reading his Grandmaster Musings column in Chess Life magazine in the late 1990s.

Khalifman did a five-volume series on Vladimir Kramnik’s white opening repertoire, Opening for White according to Kramnik, and years later made a new edition of these books. He also wrote a 14(!) volume series on Viswanathan Anand’s white opening repertoire, Opening for white according to Anand.

The Karpov book is a slim 187 pages plus an Index of Variations, and there are no other books in the series. Still, it’s a definitely worth having if you have interest in playing drier openings that resist cutting-edge theory.

The openings for black

Against 1.e4: Caro-Kann

After 3.Nc3/Nd2 dxe4 4.Nxe4, he gives 4…Nd7.

Of course…this is often known as the Karpov Variation!

In the Advance Variation, Short System after 3.e5 Bf5 4.Nf3 e6 5.Be2,

Khalifman gives 5…Ne7

which indeed Karpov favored. Coverage is light here, and theory has certainly moved forward, so I would supplement study here with a database of modern games.

Khalifman’s guidance on sidelines is sound and easy to understand. In general Chess Stars authors really shine at conveying the ideas behind the moves.

Against 1.d4: Nimzo-Indian, Queen’s Indian, Catalan

You start with 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6, as Karpov usually did.

Against 3.Nc3 you go for the Karpov Variation of the Nimzo-Indian (3…Bb4 4.e3 c5 5.Bd3 0-0 6.Nf3 d5 7.0-0 dxc4 8.Bxc4 cxd4 9.exd4 b6).

The coverage is better than I’ve seen anywhere else. Again, supplement with newer games.

Against 3.Nf3, the recipe is the Queen’s Indian with 3…b6.

I suppose 4.g3 Ba6 is the main line here

so you’ll want to consult a database for more up-to-date games.

Against 3.g3, when white plays the Catalan, you play 3…d5 4.Bg2 Be7 5.Nf3 0-0

The explanations are great, but as I keep saying, you need to supplement the text with contemporary games.

A similar approach with …Nf6 and …e6 is given against Queen Pawn Games like the London, Trompowsky, Torre, Veresov, etc.

Against 1.c4: English with 1…e5

I’m not a specialist on these lines, so I can’t comment on how theory now views the lines given, but once again the commentary is instructive.

Against 1.Nf3: 1…Nf3 2.c4 b6

Some similarities with the Queen’s Indian section, but in many lines Khalifman recommends a double fianchetto and does a great job showing how the play can develop. Again, newer approaches are missing, but it’s a great start.

Khalifman also gives some guidance against 1.b3 and 1.g3 in this chapter.

Verdict

As you can see, this book has definite limitations in 2020. Still, the structure of the repertoire, care taken about move orders, and above all the easy-to-understand insightful commentary make Opening for Black according to Karpov one of the forgotten opening book gems of the past 20 years.