Tag Archives: Mikhail Botvinnik

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?

Chess Tactics: Timman — Geller, 1973

Efim Geller.

Efim Geller. Photo: Chessgames.com

Born in Odesa, Ukraine, Efim Geller (1925-1998) was one of the world’s best from the 1950s through the 1970s. He was a six-time Candidate (1953, 1956, 1962, 1965, 1968, 1971) and twice USSR Champion (1955, 1979).

He defeated eight world champions in all, achieving plus-scores against Mikhail Botvinnik, Bobby Fischer, Tigran Petrosian, and Vasily Smyslov.

I highly recommend his autobiographical Application of Chess Theory. It is an underrated game collection! Geller shares incisive comments on openings and strategy, and a rich selection of his games. Quality Chess issued a new edition of this work under a fitting title: The Nemesis.

 

35 years after the historic AVRO 1938 tournament, another AVRO event was organized in the Dutch city of Hilversum in June 1973. This win helped Geller tie for first with Laszlo Szabo.

Black to play. How did Geller initiate a surprising king-hunt?

17…?

One move from castling is NOT enough!

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.

French Defense, Part 2a: Winawer & Classical Variations

In Part 1, we looked at French Defense lines where black exchanges pawns on e4. Now we’ll start looking at the most common center type in the French: white plays e4-e5. In this post we’ll look at the Winawer and Classical Variations. The next post will feature the MacCutcheon and the Tarrasch.

Notre-Dame de Paris

Notre-Dame de Paris in August 2016. Photo: Andre Harding

White locks the center with e4-e5; Winawer and Classical

There are several important lines where this can happen. In all of them, the main idea is the same: Black wants to attack white’s d4-pawn, starting with the pawn advance …c7-c5!

(a) Winawer Variation 3.Nc3 Bb4

The Winawer is the most dynamic system in the French Defense. It starts as follows:

Now black tries to break down the white center, while white accepts weak queenside pawns in order to get black’s strong bishop. Typically, white attacks on the kingside, and black goes for counterplay in the center and on the queenside. An important example:

This is the Winawer Poisoned Pawn Variation. Both sides face danger! In other versions of the Winawer, black castles kingside while he still can and creates counterplay on the queenside and in the center, while white goes for mate.

A classic example of Winawer chaos comes from the first game of the 1960 World Championship match:

Or the famous duel between Fischer and Tal later that year:

I have never played the Winawer as black in a tournament game…too crazy for me! The next possibilities occurred in plenty of my games, however.

(b) Classical Variation with 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e5 Nfd7

This is another double-edged variation, but play is not as “fast” as in the Winawer. Still, attacks can appear suddenly:

Games in this line often become positional struggles where black’s “problem” bishop on the light squares is a long-term factor:

(c) Classical Variation with 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bg5 Be7 5.e5 Nfd7 6.Bxe7 Qxe7

Both sides have attacking chances here as well, but too much enthusiasm can backfire, as here:

White can also play more aggressively, and offer a dangerous gambit.

(d) Alekhine-Chatard Attack: 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bg5 Be7 5.e5 Nfd7 6.h4

Black can take a pawn but needs to be careful, as shown by games like the following:

With care, black has chances as well.

Let’s stop here. Next time, we’ll see examples of the MacCutcheon and Tarrasch Variations.

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.