Tag Archives: Intermediate

Simple Chess: New Algebraic Edition

If You Must Buy Only One Chess Book…

Pick Simple Chess by English Grandmaster Michael Stean. The original edition of the book was written in 1978, a few years before Stean retired from chess before the age of 30. Fred Wilson  edited the book and translated it to algebraic notation for Dover Publications in 2003.

Why this book in particular? An argument could be made for the “best” book in many categories of chess: tactics, endgames, and especially openings. In each case there are a number of comparable titles, though we all have our favorites.

But I think there is no argument about the most useful strategy book for most players.

Much as I love Max Euwe’s Judgment and Planning in Chess, it’s a slog for casuals: small print, small diagrams, and descriptive notation.

Aron Nimzowitsch’s books are even tougher for most players to get their arms around, as are  those by Ludek Pachman and Peter Romanovsky — though I heartily recommend each.

Most contemporary authors are not worth reading, but Aagaard, Dvoretsky (RIP) and Marin are exceptions.

 

What’s so great about Simple Chess?

St. Basil's Cathedral, Moscow.

The iconic St. Basil’s Cathedral, Moscow. Photo: Julius Silver, Wikipedia

When trying to find good moves or ideas, begin by looking at checks, captures, and moves that create threats.

If such “power moves” are not available, use the keys below; Russia’s 900-year-old capital can help you keep track of them:

Minority attack

Outposts

Space advantage

Color complexes

Open files

Weak pawns

Your mission is to identify which factor(s) are, or can become, dominant in the position and play accordingly.

Simple Chess teaches you how to do just that.

Simple Chess: Contents

This slim, 176-page book can be read in a few days at most. But it has what you need to dramatically improve your strategic play:

              1. Instroduction
              2. Outposts
              3. Weak pawns
              4. Open files
              5. Half-open files; the minority attack
              6. Black squares and white squares
              7. Space

Note that slightly changing the names of Chapters 5 and 6, then rearranging the letters of Chapters 2-7 gives M-O-S-C-O-W.

A Look Inside

You can get a closer look at Simple Chess here.

If you’ve made it this far, you either have the book or need to get it. Don’t hesitate; you won’t regret your purchase.

Have you read Simple Chess? What are your impressions? Comment below!

Understanding the Caro-Kann Defense

The Best Book to Learn the Caro-Kann Defense

Understanding the Caro-Kann Defense was 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

Understanding the Caro-Kann DefenseThe 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), Two Knights (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

Understanding the Caro-Kann Defense CONTENTS

Other Images from Understanding the Caro-Kann Defense

Understanding the CK page 7

Understanding the CK page 31

Understanding the CK page 99

 

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-Kann by 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…Bf5 by 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!

Houska wrote a major update in 2015: Opening Repertoire: The Caro-Kann.

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 Move by 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.

Attacking Chess: the French

Excellent for the Right French Player

Attacking Chess: the French by Simon Williams lives up to its name. This lines chosen in this book are for the player who wants to employ the French Defense in an aggressive style, and not for the player who wants to just sit back and equalize.

I read this book when considering going back to the French Defense a couple of years ago, and found many of the recommendations intriguing. Ultimately, I recognized that this kind of play is just not my style and I didn’t adopt the book’s suggestions … but if uncompromising play with Black is your style, you will be very happy with your purchase!

Even though I haven’t “used” this book, I don’t regret buying and reading it. Good repertoire books are hard to find, but I know one when I see it.

About the Author

Simon Williams, author of Attacking Chess: the French

Simon Williams. Photo: ChessBase

Simon Williams is well-known as a chess commentator, having teamed up to cover events with Irina Krush, Jovanka Houska, Elisabeth Pähtz, and Fiona Steil-Antoni, among others. He is a mainstay of the Gibraltar Chess Festival.

He is an unabashed attacking player, and has scored wins against chess heavyweights like Ivan Sokolov, Boris Gelfand, and Radoslaw Wojtaszek in classical chess.

Committed attacking or counterattacking play can be exciting and very effective! Attacking Chess: the French is a good example.

Hacking Up The King: Chess Calculation Practice

Killer Instinct in Chess

Hacking Up The King

The kings will experience harsh treatment from beginning to end in Hacking Up The King!

Hacking Up The King is all about trying to checkmate the enemy king, whether castled or still in the center. There are countless books in this genre, but the 2014 work by English International Master David Eggleston is better than most.

If you like Attack with Mikhail Tal (which I reviewed previously) or the Larry Christiansen duo Storming the Barricades and Rocking the Ramparts, this book will be right up your alley.

I’ll go even further and tell you I prefer Hacking Up The King to Art of Attack in Chess, one of the most overrated “classics” in all of chess literature.

Eggleston fills his book with plenty of lines (variations), but also a serious dose of commentary. He put a lot of effort into this book, and a serious read will sharpen your attacking skills.

Eggleston’s book is not for beginners; I suggest at least a 1700 rating to benefit from it.

Higher-rated players can read it without a board to practice your calculation and visualization. It’s tough, but worth it!

Since a picture is worth a thousand words, check out the images below to get a feel for what you’ll encounter.

Hacking Up The King: Contents

Hacking Up The King contents

Other Images from the Book

Eggleston page 47

 

Eggleston page 131

 

Eggleston page 188

Check out this book for a good calculation workout while sharpening your attacking skills!

If you have read Hacking Up The King, what are your impressions of it? Which attacking books do you recommend? Comment below!

Positional Chess Handbook: Strategy for All Levels

495 Chess Lessons in Your Pocket

Positional Chess Handbook

Positional Chess Handbook by Israel Gelfer

Positional Chess Handbook can be considered a strategy cousin to 1001 Chess Sacrifices and Combinations, the iconic puzzle book by Fred Reinfeld. Both are pocket-sized and ideal for studying on-the-go — but PCH is definitely the superior book.

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?

              1. Instroduction; Strong and Weak Pieces
              2. A Good Bishop versus a Bad Knight
              3. A Good Knight versus a Bad Bishop
              4. Bishops—Same Colour
              5. Bishops—Opposite Colour
              6. Knights
              7. Rooks
              8. Two Bishops
              9. A Rook versus Two Minor Pieces
              10. Choosing an Endgame; Some Aspects of the Endgame
              11. Key Squares—Strong Points
              12. Strategic Advantages
              13. Exchanges
              14. Cramped Positions, Restricted Pieces
              15. Pawn Structures
              16. Pros and Cons
              17. Active King; Central Supremacy
              18. Inducing Weaknesses
              19. A Diagonal
              20. Two Diagonals,
              21. Positional Sacrifices

            Index of Players and Composers

Images from the Book

Positional Chess Handbook, page 103 Positional Chess Handbook, page 81 Positional Chess Handbook, page 49

 

 

 

 

Positional Chess Handbook is one of the books I reread portions of regularly to keep my positional skills sharp. The others are Simple Chess and Judgment and Planning in Chess. You don’t need much else. Best of all in these tough times, each of these books can be had for under $10!

Have you read PCH? What are your impressions? Comment below!

200 Modern Chess Traps in the Fianchetto Openings

A Book on Chess Traps that is Cheap, Abundant, and Still Useful

200 Modern Chess Traps in the Fianchetto Openings

Howson’s book was issued in hardcover with dust jacket!

200 Modern Chess Traps in the Fianchetto Openings was written by J.B. Howson in 1970. As you might expect, the notation of choice is Descriptive.

The author divides his material into three parts: Queen’s SideKing’s Side, and Miscellaneous.

Looking through the chapters in each part, you realize that “Queen’s Side” refers to closed games: King’s Indian Defense, Grunfeld Defense, Modern and Old Benoni, Queen’s Indian Defense, Nimzo-Indian Defense, and English (1.P—QB4 and 2.N—QB3) and Reti Openings (1.N—KB3 and 2.P—QB4).

In the “King’s Side” section, you’ll find just two systems: Pirc Defense (Including Robatsch) — Robatsch is the traditional name of the Modern Defense — and Sicilian Defense. The Sicilian section mostly features various Dragons and Accelerated Dragons, but also a few Najdorfs and Classical Sozins.

“Miscellaneous” contains the Budapest, Bird (including From Gambit), Catalan, Center Counter (Scandinavian), Dutch, King’s Indian Attack, Alekhine Defense, Orangutan, Spassky’s Defense (!? — this refers to 1.N—KB3 N—KB3 2.P—KN3 P—QN4), Grob, Three Knights, and Chigorin Defense.

The author incudes complete games or game fragments that illustrate the trap in question. Each trap has one or two diagrams.

 

Order it Now. Here’s Why.

Obviously, this 50-year-old book doesn’t contain the latest hot theory! But I think most players would have greater opportunities to apply the lines here than what might be found in contemporary games.

No matter which openings featured in this book appear in your games — I’m betting several do regularly! — there are important pitfalls that aren’t obvious at all. You might be surprised to see the names of some of the victims!

Almost any player would find this book helpful. It can be had for under ten bucks on Amazon. I’m sure there are at least a handful of points to be harvested using the ideas in Howson’s book … well worth it, I say.

How to Get Better at Chess: Chess Masters on Their Art

Wide-Ranging Opinions by Chess Pros

How to Get Better At Chess contains answers from Grandmasters and International Masters about their thoughts on chess improvement, motivation, study methods, etc.

I can’t remember how I discovered this book, but I’m glad I did. It was hard to put this book down, and I read it all in a few sittings.

Because the interviews were collected in the late 1970s and 1980s, this book doesn’t talk about analysis engines or databases at all … I find this refreshing! The respondents also don’t give too much advice on openings.

You’ll find answers given by players like Nick DeFirmian, Larry Evans, Bent Larsen, Vladimir Liberzon, Viktor Kortschnoj, Yasser Seirawan, and lots more.

The players often have conflicting opinions, but that shows there isn’t just one recipe to success as a chess player. I find it inspiring that different approaches can be highly successful. Find what works for you.

The authors also includes a selection of games.

If you’re a fan of “thought-provoking” chess literature, I consider this book a must-buy!

Capablanca’s Chess Fundamentals

Blast from the past

When I first borrowed Jose Capablanca‘s Chess Fundamentals from the library as a beginner in 1996, I didn’t like it. A few years ago I saw it in Barnes & Noble and purchased a copy; the way you view a book as a beginner is very different from how you see it as an expert!

Mikhail Botvinnik, the 6th World Champion, called Chess Fundamentals the best chess book ever written. I disagree with the Patriarch, but could I recommend the book to players trying to learn “fundamentals?” As it turns out, not so much.

Chess Fundamentals was originally published in 1921. This was the same year its author José Capablanca became the third World Champion, a title he held until 1927.

Capablanca may be the greatest genius in chess history. Undefeated from 1916 to 1924, he lost only 36 official games in his career. He was called “The Chess Machine,” and influenced future champions including Tigran Petrosian, Bobby Fischer, Anatoly Karpov, and Vladimir Kramnik.

Good, but incomplete

In some ways, Capablanca’s genius is the biggest fault with Chess Fundamentals. 

He doesn’t grasp that many of us are clueless and need a lot of help. He refers to the book as a guide and not a substitute for a good teacher or practical experience. There’s a lot he doesn’t spell out, and often tells “the student” to figure it out “for himself!“ For example, there’s no guidance on dealing with common pitfalls like Scholar’s Mate.

Some people are just too talented to teach others.

Capablanca’s insights on middlegame strategy and on endgames are thought-provoking for experienced players, but I much prefer the explanations of a different champion: Max Euwe.

Euwe, the 5th World Champion (1935-37), didn’t ask his readers to work things out for themselves; he gave short, precise commentary and presented instructive and memorable examples. He is one of my favorite chess authors.

Who would benefit from reading Chess Fundamentals?

Not only was the book written in 1921, its formal writing style is very different from modern books. Therefore, I can’t recommend it to children, but teens and adults can give it a try.

I would also hesitate to recommend Capablanca’s Chess Fundamentals to a chess newcomer, unless they had an appetite to explore chess for themselves and fill in the gaps. Otherwise, it would be an exercise in frustration.

If you’re a teen or adult who has played in a few tournaments, or has experience playing in a strong social circle, Chess Fundamentals could help you a lot. It could also serve as a decent guide for an ambitious parent teaching their child chess.