Tag Archives: Strategy

Chess Tactics: Van Wely — Ki. Georgiev, 1997

Loek Van Wely. Photo: FIDE

Loek Van Wely. Photo: FIDE

Loek Van Wely (b. 1972) is one of the greatest Dutch players ever, becoming Champion of the Netherlands eight times so far.

A notable tournament victory was the 1996 New York Open. He is also a fixture at the prestigious Wijk aan Zee super tournaments.

In October 2001 Van Wely achieved a career-high rating of 2714 while climbing to 10th in the world rankings, also a career high.

 

Van Wely wins a sparkling game against Kiril Georgiev, another former top player (=9th in the world, January 1993), and author. This game was played in the first FIDE Knockout World Championship in 1997. This tournament has since become the World Cup.

White to play. How did Van Wely punch his ticket to the Quarterfinals of the grueling knockout?

18. ?

Line Clear

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!

Irving Chernev: Great Chess Authors, Part 6

After seeing my choice of Fred Reinfeld last week, today’s selection should not be a surprise. In fact, he co-authored a few books with Reinfeld.

Irving Chernev (1900-1981)

Irving Chernev. Photo: World Chess Hall of Fame.

Irving Chernev. Photo: World Chess Hall of Fame.

Born in Pryluky (part of the old Russian Empire, now Ukraine), Irving Chernev emigrated to the United States in 1920.

He wrote 20 books, including classics that have been updated to Algebraic Notation from Descriptive Notation.

While I consider Max Euwe the most instructive chess author, there is no one I enjoy reading more than Irving Chernev. His love of chess shines through on every page. Well-chosen examples, insightful comments, and easy reading.

Game Collections

I absolutely love game collections, and Chernev wrote several good ones, including Logical Chess: Move by Move (1957), The Most Instructive Games of Chess Ever Played (1965), and The Golden Dozen (1976). There is also 1000 Best Short Games of Chess (1955).

I was also gifted The Russians Play Chess (1947) by Charlie Ebbecke while I was a member of the Bronx Yonkers Chess Club in the late 1990s. I played through many of the games in this book several times!

But my favorite — and one of my top ten books — is Capablanca’s Best Chess Endings (1978).

If you have trouble making sense of endgame play, take a couple of weeks and play through the 60 games in this book. It will transform your entire outlook on chess. Chernev isolates the final phase of the games and explains in words what is going on. Brilliant stuff.

Instructional

By my count there are Combinations: The Heart of Chess (1960), Practical Chess Endings (1961), and two earlier books Chernev worked on with Reinfeld: Chess Strategy and Tactics (1933), and Winning Chess (1948).

Others

I’ve always wanted to get my hands on 200 Brilliant Chess Endgames (yes, I have a weakness for endgames!). Other titles include The Fireside Book of Chess (with Reinfeld, 1948), and The Bright Side of Chess (1948).

Final Thoughts

Irving Chernev wrote a great deal of good books for the improving and average player. His works are easy to read and you can easily spend hours on them without realizing you have done so…

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.

Fred Reinfeld: Great Chess Authors, Part 5

Not everyone will agree with this selection, but generations of American chess players grew up on the works of my next great chess author. I have read several of his books myself and always enjoyed them.

Fred Reinfeld (1910-1964)

Fred Reinfeld

Fred Reinfeld. Photo: World Chess Hall of Fame

Fred Reinfeld was born in 1910. The lifelong New Yorker was one of the USA’s best in the 1930s, playing in two U.S. Championships.

Retiring from active play in 1942, he never competed internationally. As a result, FIDE did not award him the International Master title when it was created in 1950. He likely had the requisite chess strength for this rank by today’s standards.

Reinfeld had the two ingredients every great chess author needs: playing strength, and an ability to reach improving players. His clever anecdotes and memorable rules are forever part of America’s chess heritage.

 

More Than 100 Books

Reinfeld was a prolific author, and I can’t name all of his works. Still, some of his titles stand out:

1001 Winning Chess Sacrifices and Combinations (1955)

1001 Brilliant Ways to Checkmate (1955)

These are still among the best puzzle books available. They’re cheap, filled with good material, and you can stuff them in your pocket and work through them on-the-go.

There are typos and the diagrams are not the most pleasing (at least in the old editions, new “21st century” editions of these books have been published in the last several years). But in a time before chess tactics software, web-based tactics training, and an overload of chess study material, I have no doubt these books helped create an untold number of master-level players.

I’m a big believer in Chess School 1a and Chess School 1b for players up to about 1600. At the same time, I would not second-guess anyone who put their trust in the Reinfeld duo.

The Complete Chess Course (1959)

The first Reinfeld book I read; and I still feel nostalgia when I see it in Barnes & Noble. Yes, it’s written in Descriptive Notation, as all of his books originally were.

This book, in eight parts, won’t do any harm, something I can’t say for every highly-acclaimed chess book. I borrowed the 700-page tome from the library circa 1995 and somehow finished it. I don’t remember much because my eyes began to glaze over at some point. There are many books I would recommend ahead of The Complete Chess Course, but I guess it was an amazing resource for its time.

Hypermodern Chess: As Developed in the Games of Its Greatest Exponent, Aron Nimzovich (1958)

Great Brilliancy Prize Games of the Chess Masters (1961)

Great Short Games of the Chess Masters (1961)

All of these game collections contain dozens of instructive games, each preceded by a catchy headline and introduction setting a frame for the battle. The Nimzowitsch book places more emphasis on the man’s theories as they come about in his games.

Reinfeld doesn’t go crazy with the analysis, and does a good job of choosing instructive lines to illustrate the play without getting bogged down in endless variations. Take out a chess set on a nice afternoon and play through a selection of these games!

Others

Reinfeld wrote many other books, some co-authored. One of the most enjoyable chess books I have ever read is Chess Traps, Pitfalls, and Swindles (1954) by Reinfeld and I.A. Horowitz. I still remember some of the stories I read in that one almost 25 years later, and the book helped me look for unlikely resources in bad situations — something that happens to me a lot…

He also wrote books on checkers, coin collecting, literature, and other things.

Which Reinfeld books are your favorites?

Final Thoughts

I’m not sure if Fred Reinfeld’s books will endure in the 21st century the way those of Euwe and Nimzowitsch surely will, but I hope they do! His books are instructive and engaging, and I heartily recommend you give them a try.

Chess Tactics: Gusev — Auerbach, 1946

This has to rank as one of the greatest queen sacrifices ever, and it is of the rare positional variety! The move is stunning, but once you see the idea everything becomes crystal clear.

Enjoy!

White to play. How did Gusev earn a slice of immortality?

24.?

Cornered!

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.

Chess Tactics: Hermann — Charousek, 1896

Rudolf Charousek. Photo: ChessBase

Rudolf Charousek. Photo: ChessBase

Hungarian master Rudolf Charousek (1873-1900) was an immensely talented player who competed successfully in several of the world’s elite tournaments in the late 1890s.

Like Pillsbury, Charousek was struck down very young, dying of tuberculosis at 26 years old.

 

 

Test yourself in the following position after white’s 17th move.

Black to play. 17…?

My pieces have a failure to communicate!

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.