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While continuing to go through some of my boxes of chess books, I came across another I’d like to discuss today.
A Tactics Book?
In 2022, many chess lovers use their smartphones to play and study, but I’ve never been comfortable with this, and I’m surely not alone.
Don’t get me wrong; I’ve embraced technology in chess. I almost never use a chessboard, and do nearly everything chess-related on my computer including playing, solving puzzles … and blogging! But chess-by-phone is a bridge too far for me.
Cheap, Portable Tactics Practice!
If you’re like me and want to practice tactics in book form while on-the-go, portability is a big concern.
The title is a misnomer. We know scholastic tournaments are all the rage, and this was already the case in when WCTJ was first published in 1994. Think how many sales this title generated at “kiddie tournaments”…
The premise is partially that WCTJ was based on the much larger and more difficult Combination Challenge! from 1991 by the same publisher. I remember this book being well-regarded in its time, but with it’s large size and (still!) high price, I don’t see a reason to recommend it over Chess School 1a and friends.
Adult improvers should not feel embarrassed about studying a book with “Juniors” in the title. Winning Chess Tactics for Juniors is a good tactics set for anyone rated below 1600.
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What’s in a game collection?
Now in my 20th year of teaching chess, more than ever I’m convinced most improving players bite off way more than they can chew. I’m no exception.
This applies to every area of chess, especially in selecting a coach or choosing which instructional materials to study.
Game collections are always popular with chess fans; Irving Chernev and Fred Reinfeld mostly built their repuations as authors with their books of highly instructive, well-annotated games.
Well-annotated, but not too well annotated!
There are plenty of game collections with dense notes by grandmasters, backed up with computer analysis … but do these “correct” books actually help most readers improve their play?
There’s nothing wrong with grandmaster commentary … but their notes are often written for very strong players. In the United States, only 2-3% of tournament players have ratings over 2000. I suspect things are similar in most countries.
John Donaldson(born 1958) is an International Master (1983) and FIDE Senior Trainer (2020) who has captained the U.S. (Open) Olympiad team since 1986. He’s written dozens of books on all phases of the game, including a number of historical works. I could have justifiably included him in my Great Chess Authors series, and in hindsight maybe I should have.
Miniature collections can be fun, but often feature “gimmicky” chess and lack instructional value. Not this one!
Donaldson defines a “miniature” as a game that ends in under 21 moves, and gives 76 examples, one to four pages each, in these chapters:
Introduction Chapter One: History Repeats Itself [games 1-9] Chapter Two: King Pawn [games 10-28] Chapter Three: Queen Pawn [games 11-48] Chapter Four: English and King’s Indian Attack [games 49-57] Chapter Five: Perpetuals [games 58-70] Super Short Games [games 71-76] Bibliography
Chapter One features games where multiple victims fell pray to the same (or nearly the same) opening pitfalls.
Chapters Two, Three, and Four feature miniatures divided by opening family; within each chapter, the games are sorted by ECO code.
Chapter Five features short games drawn by repetition or perpetual check. There are a couple of well-known examples, but most you are not likely to have seen.
Super Short Games is just what it sounds like; included is the backstory to the infamous Zapata—Anand game from Biel 1988.
How to Win Quickly at Chess is not a must-buy, but it is a fine modern game collection for the improving player. At 2000+, I myself picked up some useful ideas. Leave the dense tomes behind; get easy-to-read volumes like this one by serious authors that contain excellent instructional content.
If you’re comfortable reading books on a screen (web or downloadable app), ForwardChess will save you a lot of time:
No need to use a board and pieces, resetting again and again to play through variations.
No need to enter games or entire books into ChessBase.
No need to add more “stuff” to your physical chess library which, if you’re like me, could have hundreds of books in it already!
Try Before You Buy
If you walked into a real bookstore, you could peruse the books you were thinking of buying. Forward chess allows you to read samples, often including a chapter or two to see if the title is what you expect.
The 670+ books currently available on ForwardChess are usually cheaper than their print alternatives, and comparable to Amazon prices. And whether you get a physical book or a Kindle version, you can’t play through the moves without a board …
Most major publishers are represented, including Chess Stars, Everyman Chess, Quality Chess, and New in Chess. The notable exception is Gambit Publications.
Chessable has a lot of fans; I’ve used it some and I think it’s ok … but it doesn’t let me study the way I grew up doing with “regular” books. At least, I don’t know how to use it in this way.
ForwardChess books are intended to be read like physical books. It is a blessing for chess players. If you’re lazy, like me, and don’t want to take out a board and pieces any longer, there is no longer any excuse to not study!
After Mihail Marin last week, let’s examine another author who is fortunately still with us.
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 Emilia1971/1972.
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.
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!
Soltis has written several books in this genre, but it’s just not my cup of tea.
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.
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 Game. Another 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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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 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:
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 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.
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!
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?
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.