Tag Archives: Pirc Defense

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!

Should I Play Attacking Chess?

Studying tactics and checkmates is usually the first step for new chess players. Next comes classic. short attacking games: the miniatures. They’re exciting and more straightforward for inexperienced players than technical masterpieces.

What is an Attacking Style?

Sometimes, the position requires you to attack the enemy king. Even the most conservative players will launch an attack when it is clearly the right plan. Does this, then, make everyone an attacking player? Not quite.

An attacking player is one who most often chooses to attack when the best available plan is a matter of taste. In the same position, a different player might try to gain space, press a queenside initiative, or go for a promising endgame.

It’s more a question of a player’s mentality and approach to chess.

Let’s take a simple example from the Pirc Defense (1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 g6):

As I warned when challenging the idea that 1…e5 players need to worry about a lot of lines, while others have a much easier task: white has plenty of options against the Pirc, too.

Sedate players like Anatoly Karpov or Ulf Andersson would choose simple development with something like 4.Nf3 Bg7 5.Be2 0-0 6.0-0 and play for central control:

Another treatment is the positional 4.f4 Bg7 5.Nf3 0-0 6.Bd3 favored by, e.g., Bobby Fischer:

An attacking player would not hesitate to pursue a kingside attack, for example with 4.Be3 Bg7 5.Qd2 c6 6.f3:

This was precisely the scheme Garry Kasparov used in his famous victory against Veselin Topalov at Wijk aan Zee 1999.

Garry Kasparov gets ready to play attacking chess against Veselin Topalov at the 1999 Wijk aan Zee tournament.

No one knew that one of the greatest games in chess history was about to begin.

Risk and Reward

Playing attacking chess in “borderline” situations increases the likelihood of a decisive result — either the aggressor breaks through or the defender repels the assault and winds up with extra material. You have to be willing to accept more losses with your wins.

There is also a greater burden on a player’s ability to calculate, even more so if they play sharp opening lines. We saw an example of this in Svidler — Vallejo-Pons. The player making the first mistake can lose outright. Some players love this kind of play, however!

What Kind of Player are You?

You have to play a lot of games and honestly assess what kinds of positions you feel more “at home” in. Does active play suit you…and how active are we talking? Do you prefer to initiate play or to play against your opponent’s ideas? Above all, don’t experiment too much in tournaments — that’s what online chess is for!

Another hint: which famous player’s games “speak” to you? It’s unlikely you’ll ever play as well as your hero, but finding a role model to emulate can be very helpful.

Don’t hesitate to keep tweaking your openings until you find a set of lines that you know how to play and actually want to play. If you would be happy to employ a line against a player rated 200 points higher than you, keep it in your repertoire!

What are your experiences? Please share!

Should I Play 1…e5 Against 1.e4?

If you are rated under 1000, YES! Without a doubt. Start with the Double King Pawn.

It’s important to learn how to fight for and maintain control of the central squares before trying to counterattack your opponent’s center.

After my first few rated tournaments, I began playing the Pirc (1.e4 d6):

And had no idea what I was doing. I simply chose the opening because I saw it in MCO-13 and it had a lot less pages to “study” than most other defenses to 1.e4. By study, I meant “memorize,” because that’s what I thought opening learning was about in those days.

When I was around 1000, I switched to the French (1.e4 e6):

About which I did have a decent idea thanks to the books Mastering the French with the Read and Play Method by Neil McDonald and Andrew Harley; and French Classical by Byron Jacobs.

My play was passive and one-dimensional. I didn’t learn how to attack, instead sitting back and waiting to spring a counterattack. I played other dodgy openings like the St. George Defense (1.e4 a6) sometimes, scoring over 50% with it.

You can get away with this against the Under 1800 crowd, but I wouldn’t recommend it!

I dabbled with other openings over the years, too: the Caro-Kann (1.e4 c6):

The Scandinavian (1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Nf6):

Even, for one or two tournaments, Alekhine’s Defense (1.e4 Nf6):

I deliberately avoided 1…e5 and the Sicilian (1.e4 c5)

Because they were “too complicated.”

Yes, there are many choices available to white after 1.e4 e5, but not a lot of different ideas. That is the key.

You want your pieces to become active and to not allow white to get (or maintain) a pawn duo on d4 and e4.

After the common sequence 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6:

Black’s control of d4 does not allow white to push the d2-pawn there without it being exchanged. If that exchange happens black will have decent control over the center.

Black is fine in the Italian game as long as he or she doesn’t fall into a trap, so let’s look at a common line in the Scotch Game:

Black has nothing to worry about here, with good development and a solid position.

This begs the question: why not play an early c2-c3 in order to play d2-d4 and replace a captured d4-pawn with the c3-pawn? Well, that’s what the Ponziani Opening tries but fails to achieve:

Black has other good tries on move 3. The point is, white can’t keep the entire center intact.

That brings us to white’s best attempt, and the main one black traditionally worries about when deciding to play 1..e5: the Ruy Lopez.

This is perhaps white’s strongest attempt to trouble black after 1.e4 e5. Black can also choose the solid Petrov Defense (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6):

Which is arguably even more solid.

I recommend all new players get considerable practice in the Double King Pawn before trying something else. At 1400-1600 a player can branch out if they feel they must.

Chess Tactics: Velimirovic — Rajkovic, 1971

The Pirc Defense is dangerous for both players!

When black answers 1.e4 with the Pirc (1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 g6), things can get weird in a hurry. Defenses like the French can become complex and tactical, but in a “standard” way.

Pirc Defense players fight for more wins, and are willing to risk more losses in the process. Don’t expect a lot of draws! Garry Kasparov’s immortal victory against Veselin Topalov in Wijk aan Zee 1999 also occurred in the Pirc.

The Pirc is somewhat reminiscent of the Sicilian Dragon or Alekhine’s Defense in the e4-universe, and the Modern Benoni in the d4-universe.

I would not have chosen such a risky line against Dragoljub Velimirovic, one of the most imaginative attackers in history! The uncompromising Velimirovic Attack in the Classical Sicilian is named after him.

Dragoljub Velimirovic (1942-2014). Photo: Eric Koch/ANeFo

Dragoljub Velimirovic (1942-2014) in 1966. Photo: Eric Koch/ANeFo

Velimirovic chose the space-gaining Austrian Attack (4.f4), and followed up with the dynamic 6.e5.

Rajkovic initially met this aggression in kind, setting up counterplay in the center. His 8th move was questionable, but probably ok.

He was undone by hesitating after white’s stunning 10th move and struggled for the remainder of the game. A great example of winning by creating more powerful threats than your opponent can muster!

There are some lovely variations in the comments. Please click through them and enjoy!

The value of each move is very high!