Tag Archives: Jose Capablanca

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 againt Alexander Alekhine, before Max Euwe finally wrested away the title in 1935.

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 any of Nimzowitsch’s stuff until 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.

Attack with Mikhail Tal

Attack with Mikhail Tal was written by the former World Champion with sports journalist Iakov Damsky. Tal died in 1992, but Ken Neat’s English translation was first published in 1994 by Cadogan Books.

Some players have a special aura in chess history. I would definitely include Paul Morphy, Jose Capablanca, Bobby Fischer, and yes, Mikhail Tal in this category.

The Magician from Riga

Born November 9, 1936 in Riga, Latvia, Mikhail Tal became the youngest-ever USSR Champion in 1957 at 20 years old (a record later broken by Garry Kasparov). He repeated as Champion in 1958, and won six Soviet Championships in all, equalling Mikhail Botvinnik’s record total.

Tal won the 1958 Interzonal Tournament and dominated the 1959 Candidates Tournament to challenge Mikhail Botvinnik for the World Championship in 1960. He won the match 12½—8½ becaming the 8th World Champion, and the youngest. He remains the third-youngest official, undisputed Champion in chess history, after Kasparov and Magnus Carlsen.

Botvinnik won the rematch in 1961. Tal never reached another title match, increasingly dogged by ill health, but he remained a top player through the late 1980s.

Still, Mikhail Tal captured fans’ imagination by the manner of his victories. He dismantled the chess elite with daring sacrifices and rich complications. But how did the Wizard see the game?

The point of Attack with Mikhail Tal

While Tal includes instructive puzzles at the end of each of the nine chapters (“What Would You Have Played?”), this isn’t a textbook. It’s not a first book on attacking chess; for that, choose The Art of Chess Combination by Eugene Znosko-Borovsky (written in Descriptive Notation).

“Misha” tries to cultivate in his readers an opportunistic eye and aggressive mentality needed to launch successful attacks when appropriate. Attack with Mikhail Tal is one of my favorite books, and I have always been an “attacking-challenged” player.

Tal knows that not everything can be calculated “to the end.” He took risks, but his play was not reckless! I would sum up the attacking principles presented as follows:

  • Pay attention to defects in the opponent’s position (Chapters 1 and 9)
  • Get as many pieces as possible into the attack (Chapter 3)
  • Get those pieces into strong positions (Chapter 6) and find the right path for them to get to the enemy (Chapters 4 and 5)
  • Remove obstacles (Chapters 2, 7, 8, and 9)

A chessplayer cannot be unduly materialistic. Chess is more than counting the point values of the pieces you and your opponent have; one also needs to assess their possibilities. Extra material is useless if it doesn’t take part in the game.

Tal evaluated the compensation would receive for his sacrificed material. There is a defnite value to strengthening your pieces or reducing the power of your adversary’s units! With practice, you will improve your feel in positions with unbalanced material.

Who should read Attack with Mikhail Tal?

Ideally, you should not be prejudiced about either sacrificing material or accepting sacrifices; do whatever the position in front of you demands. Easier said than done!

Just about anyone would enjoy Attack with Mikhail Tal, no matter their rating! Instructive games, memorable recommendations, and the book is a series of conversations or interviews between Tal and Damsky.

However, I would not expect huge improvement with this book for players rated below 1700. I am not sure they have the chess strength to evaluate attacking potential objectively.

My advice for lower-rated players: enjoy the book and re-read it as you improve. You will pick up new things upon a second and third reading, and Tal’s ideas will become easier to implement in your own play.

Capablanca’s Chess Fundamentals

Blast from the past

When I first borrowed 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.