Andrei Sokolov was born in 1963 in Vorkuta, Russia (then part of the USSR). A superstar in the 1980s, he is largely unknown by chess fans today because his career as a top player was relatively short.
Sokolov won the World Junior Championship in 1982, and captured the USSR Championship in his first appearance in 1984. At 21 years old, he was one of the youngest-ever Soviet Champions.
Still, he kept rising. A 3rd place finish in the 1985 Biel Interzonal (behind Rafael Vaganian and Yasser Seirawan) was followed by a tie for 1st-3rd place in the 1985 Montpellier Candidates Tournament (with Artur Yusupov and Vaganian).
Finally, there were Candidates matches. After defeating Vaganian (4 wins, 4 draws) and Yusupov (4 wins, 7 draws, 3 losses) in 1986, he faced former World Champion Anatoly Karpov in the 1987 Candidates Final. A victory here would have meant a World Championship match with Garry Kasparov!
Sokolov lost this match (7 draws, 4 losses). This is the same score Ian Nepomniachtchi managed in his 2021 World Championship match against Magnus Carlsen … and it’s also the same score Kasparov had against Karpov after 11 games in their 1984 match!
In 1987, Andrei Sokolov was ranked World #3 (with Yusupov, behind Kasparov and Karpov) at 2645, and he was just 24 years old. It seemed the sky was the limit.
Alas, the 1985-87 cycle would be the peak of Sokolov’s career — after 1988 he fell out of the Top 20, never to return. Since 2000, he has represented France.
Here we look at an early battle between Sokolov and Igor Novikov (born 1962) who would become one of America’s top players in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
With my posts on Mark Dvoretsky and Mihail Marin, it was only a matter of time before I devoted a post to another prolific superclass author.
Jacob Aagaard (1973 – ) was born in Horsholm, Denmark but for many years has represented Scotland. He earned his grandmaster title in 2007.
Aagaard’s most notable achievement as a player was his clear first place in the 2007 British Championship. He has also won the Championship of Scotland.
Not only does Aagaard have a great legacy as an author in his own right, he co-founded Quality Chess after writing a dozen books for Everyman Chess.
Quality Chess recruits top authors, including Marin, Boris Avrukh, Vasilios Kotronias, Artur Yusupov, and more.
A chess fanatic could safely buy a Quality Chess book sight unseen. I would not make this claim about any other chess publisher. Quality Chess also prints hardcover editions of their books: they have proven conclusively that players will pay for high quality work.
Anyway, this post is about Jacob Aagaard the author, so let’s get started, shall we? After all, he has won several Book of the Year awards from various entities.
From 1998 through 2004, Aagaard produced “typical” opening guides for improving players. I haven’t read any of these, because they didn’t cover subject matter that interested me at the time.
Excelling at Positional Chess was in my wheelhouse, and I enjoyed it even more than the original Excelling at Chess! Aagaard’s presentation of examples is sublime. I have not read Excelling at Technical Chess, but have been wanting to do so for years! So much for willpower.
Aagaard helped launch Quality Chess with Practical Chess Defence (2006). While interesting, it was perhaps slightly disappointing. I would think writing about defense is harder than writing about attacking.
Still, one must admire Aagaard for never shying away from taking risks and expressing his chess ideas.
In 2008, the new Grandmaster kept firing with The Attacking Manual 1: Basic Principles and The Attacking Manual 2: Technique and Praxis. In my opinion, these works raised Aagaard from popular writer and chess thinker to elite trainer. I didn’t get through much of these two books, but I did work through a handful of chapters — Dvoretsky-esque in many ways, but also more straightforward. This is no accident: Aagaard has been very open about his admiration for Mark Dvoretsky over the years.
As attacking-challenged as I am, these works did help. I imagine serious study would reap huge rewards. This pair of books won English Chess Federation Book of the Year for 2010.
What a way to cap off a successful career! Surely Aagaard would now focus on running Quality Chess and not write too much more, right?
Well … Aagaard is more of a field general, it seems!
Starting in 2012, he produced a series of training manuals for improving players — even up to GM level and beyond. I think there’s even a reference to Boris Gelfand using some of Aagaard’s material to help prepare for his 2012 World Championship match with Viswanathan Anand…
I bought Grandmaster Preparation: Calculation (2012) in hardcover, and it was so worth it. A beautiful book worth the $40 or whatever I paid for it. The little bit I worked through stretched me and restructured some of my thinking processes! Wow!
I’m not exaggerating: I think serious worth with this book could take an Expert like me and raise him or her to 2200-2300. All ambitious players should get it, say, 1800 and above.
That it won the 2013 Association of Chess Professionals Book of the Year award is almost an afterthought.
I haven’t bought any other books in the series, because I hardly work on chess any longer, but they are:
After mostly choosing authors for this series who geared their writings for beginners and intermediate players, let’s discuss an author on the opposite end of the spectrum.
I warn you: this post will be long.
Mark Dvoretsky (1947-2016)
Muscovite Mark Dvoretsky was a very strong player, becoming an International Master in 1975. In this period he reached his peak as a player but soon became a trainer.
And what a trainer he was! He worked extensively with such players as Women’s World Championship Challenger Nana Alexandria, Valery Chekhov, Sergei Dolmatov, and Viktor Bologan, among many others.
His most prominent student was Artur Yusupov, who rose to World #3 in 1986. Dvoretsky and Yusupov would collaborate on many books for very strong (or at least very ambitious) players. These were borne out of training sessions with future stars, including Vladimir Kramnik and Peter Svidler.
NOT for Beginners!
Honestly, no other author scares me the way Mark Dvoretsky does. That’s a compliment, by the way: his books will make you work like no others that I’ve seen. A trademark of his books is very deep analysis of his own games or his students’ games. He will often discuss how well or poorly his students did in solving these training positions.
I’ve read reviews that complain about the inclusion of chapters from other trainers’, but I appreciate the different viewpoints. Dvoretsky frequently gets lost in a forest of analysis so dense you question how helpful it is to your chess development. The contributors tend to stick to one topic and cover it in very instructive fashion.
I consider my study session a success if I can get through one chapter of one of these books.
These are the books that introduced the West to Mark Dvoretsky. They feature lectures at the his chess school, sometimes with chapters from other contributors like Igor Khenkin, Aleksei Kosikov, and Boris Zlotnik.
I absolutely love this book. It isn’t about opening theory, but typical maneuvers and operations in a variety of opening systems. This book forms the basis of how I play the Sicilian against the Grand Prix Attack, and helps orient me when I face King’s Indian Attack-style setups.
Devour this gem one bite (chapter) at a time. It discusses positional play in ways you wouldn’t expect having read other classics. The contributors each have something valuable to add — including chapters by top players Vladimir Kramnik and Evgeny Bareev!
Assiduous study of this book will vault you far ahead of other class players when it comes to positional understanding.
This one is quite good, but literally makes my head hurt! Dvoretsky keeps making you think he has revealed the answer to one of his analysis positions…only to go back and reveal a further nuance to consider. The lasting impact it has left on my play is don’t assume. The attack you think is irresistible…the defense you think is impenetrable…may not be so!
This is perhaps the most popular of Dvoretsky’s books, as it is not aimed towards master-level players only. It contains a lot of explanatory material and diagrams, but personally I am not a big fan. Probably I would have a different opinion if I was taking my first steps in chess.
I have never read this book, and don’t intend to. It’s famous for its dense analysis, and is geared towards budding International Masters and Grandmasters.
Edition Olms Books
Before talking about the books, let me just say that I have never regretted purchasing an Edition Olms book, or paying their high prices. They produce gorgeous paperbacks that you never want to ruin: high-quality paper, print, and binding.
Some of these books are reprints of the Batsford books that have long been out of print.
A good mental workout! It’s not a puzzle book, but a collection of positions are discussed which feature unexpected tactical solutions. I didn’t find this book as challenging as Dvoretsky’s other works, because of I’m used to solving paradoxical “Russian” tactics.
This book is original, and not a reprint of the earlier Batsford series. It’s challenging, and stresses the importance of small nuances. It’s really helpful if you play King’s English (1.c4 e5) or Reversed Closed Sicilian (1.Nf3 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.g3 Bg7 etc.) positions from either side.
This one really helped me in my coaching endeavors. It stressed to me how individual chess improvement really is, and how much of a disservice coaches can do to their students if they take a cookie-cutter approach.
I very much enjoyed the anecdotes Dvoretsky provides about his experiences as a trainer, and the frame of mind a coach should approach helping a student from. I recommend it to coaches and to anyone directing their own self-improvement.
I stopped buying Dvoretsky’s books because they require a commitment to study that I was no longer willing to give, but I might read his two autobiographical works at some point. His other titles include: