In Part 1, we discussed 1.e4. I opined that the King Pawn universe is not for everyone. That begs the question:
What About the Closed Openings?
This is a much broader topic, because it includes basically everything except 1.e4!
Still, there’s an obvious place to start.
1.d4 — Have it Your Way
Generally, you’ll prefer 1.d4 to 1.e4 if you don’t want to play directly for kingside attacks most of the time. 1.d4 tends to lead to White seeking an advantage on the queenside. That doesn’t mean you can’t play aggressively if you choose to! Far from it.
Botvinnik and Keres met in 20 tournament games. Photo: Verendel.com
White can go for the throat against even Black’s most solid options: consider the classic game Botvinnik — Keres, 1952 (given at the end of this post).
The 6th World Champion meets the Queen’s Gambit Declined with the seemingly dry Exchange Variation … and then plays directly for a central and kingside attack! He won in crushing fashion; even now this is considered a model game for the QGD Exchange.
Against the solid Nimzo-Indian(1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4) White has many solid approaches, but he can also satisfy his bloodlust with the Sämisch Variation.
When Black tries more double-edged systems like the Modern Benoni Defense (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 e6 4.Nc3 exd5 5.cxd5 d6), Dutch Defense (1.d4 f5), King’s Indian Defense (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 and 3…Bg7), or Grünfeld Defense (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 and 3…d5), White can play solidly (the first player could choose a quiet kingside fianchetto against each of these, for example) or meet fire with fire.
If you’re a 1.d4 player looking for several good recommendations against Black’s options in one place, I recommend taking a look at Beating the Fianchetto Defensesby Efstratios Grivas. The esteemed Greek trainer is not always my favorite author, but this offering is very well done.
He chooses sensible systems against the Benoni, Benko, KID, Grünfeld, and Modern Defenses, and then delves into the typical middlegames and endgames that arise from them.
I hope I’ve provided some food for thought. Below is, as I promised, Botvinnik — Keres, 1952. Note that it arises from a Nimzo-Indian move order.
The fun doesn’t stop here. In Part 3, we’ll discuss the Flank Openings — perhaps the most interesting way to open a game! Stay tuned!
Isaac Boleslavsky(1919-1977) was born in present-day Ukraine. He was one of the best players in the world during the 1940s and 1950s.
Runner-up in back-to-back USSR Championships in 1945 and 1947, he narrowly missed a chance to face Mikhail Botvinnik in the 1951 World Championship match. He later assisted Tigran Petrosian in his title matches.
Despite this formidable résumé, Boleslavsky’s legacy can be most clearly seen in the Ruy Lopez, King’s Indian Defense, and Sicilian Defense. His ideas are everywhere in these systems. Unfortunately, I doubt most casual players have even heard of him!
The very first Interzonal was held in 1948 in Saltsjöbaden, Sweden. Up for grabs were places in the Budapest Candidates Tournament of 1950, the next step in the World Championship cycle. Boleslavsky qualified easily with a strong third place result in Saltsjöbaden behind David Bronstein and Laszlo Szabo. These three players were part of the first 27 awarded the new International Grandmaster title by FIDE.
In the first round of the interzonal, Boleslavsky won a miniature against Finnish master Eero Böök with an important new idea.
Teaching imparts knowledge and skills to the student that they are lacking.
Coaching helps the student use his/her knowledge and skills more effectively.
Over many years working with students in New York City, I primarily referred to myself as a chess teacher.
I have always believed that knowledge is power in chess … and most of my students needed to increase their knowledge in order to improve their results. It wasn’t only a matter of doing things better.
Knowledge must be shared in a way that is both memorable and useful. Don’t assume your student knows more than they actually do!
You Must Be a Teacher
A good teacher must be well-prepared and engage their students.
Nowadays most players, no matter their age, don’t read chess books. They especially don’t study middlegame and endgame textbooks like I and generations of players before me did. The names Euwe, Fine, Nimzowitsch, Pachman, Romanovsky, Shereshevsky, etc. mean little, if anything, to them.
Solving tactics (recommended) and trying to learn openings through YouTube (not recommended) has somehow become a substitute for taking out a board and pieces, or at least using ChessBase.
Of the thousands of students I taught over the years, only a handful were interested in reading books, watching DVDs, or using ChessBase. If they won’t do this, we have to fill in the gaps during classes or lessons. Otherwise, the student will have gaps in their chess understanding everywhere.
This is where chess teachers earn their money! I have never *expected* my students to do intensive work between lessons unless they expressed an interest in reaching a certain rating level or aimed to win a particular tournament.
If you want your students to improve, quickly … find their weaknesses and eliminate them through thoughtful lesson planning. This is where being well-versed in classic games really comes in handy. I can turn any student weakness into a strength in 3-8 lessons.
A Shortcut to Coaching Success
World Champion Mikhail Botvinnik believed the surest path towards improvement is in learning from your own games and opening analyses. I can’t disagree with him.
I offered the next best thing: to analyze my students’ games for them (with extensive text comments — not computer analysis!) and send them PDFs of my work for them to study between lessons … at no extra cost.
Few of my NYC students ever took me up on this … but the ones who did so consistently saw massive improvement, and fast. This was the biggest secret to my coaching success! Well, that and diligent lesson preparation in general.
It took me hours to analyze and comment on my students’ games … but I didn’t mind. I was immersed in chess and derived great satisfaction from their quick progress.
If most players are spending the lion’s share of their time on tactics, how do you separate yourself? Sure, you can do the same things your peers do, a little better … but ultimately, you need to create a competitive advantage — to borrow a term from economics.
Coaching, at least good coaching, will help you become more efficient and beat yourself less often. Not having critical knowledge will leave you trying to reinvent the wheel every game … that’s where good teaching comes to the rescue.
Boris Spassky (born 1937) was the tenth World Chess Champion (1969-1972). Before that, however, he was one of the greatest prodigies of early modern professional chess.
Boris Spassky. Photo: Britannica.com
Born in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg), Spassky defeated Mikhail Botvinnik in a simul as a ten-year-old in 1947, a year before Botvinnik became World Champion.
With a third-place finish in his very first USSR Championship, Spassky qualified for the 1955 Gothenburg Interzonal. At Antwerp he captured the World Junior Championship a point ahead of Edmar Mednis. He next qualified for the 1956 Amsterdam Candidates Tournament — earning an automatic Grandmaster title.
At 18 years old, Spassky became the youngest GM ever, eclipsing Tigran Petrosian‘s record by five years.
He established himself as a top player in the early 1960s. Highlights include the 29th USSR Championship (Fall 1961) and the 1964 Moscow zonal.
Spassky battled through the World Championship cycle to earn a title match with Petrosian in 1966. The match went the full 24 games, but Iron Tigran narrowly retained his title.
Undeterred, Spassky immediately won the Second Piatigorsky Cup. In the next Championship cycle he defeated Petrosian in June 1969 to become the new Champion.
Why he is underrated
Unfortunately, Spassky was outshone by two meteors: first Tal, then Fischer.
Mikhail Talwas born less than three months before Spassky. He won back-to-back USSR Championships, an Interzonal, a Candidates Tournament, and a World Championship match within four years! Just 23 years old, he shattered the record for youngest World Champion ever.
Bobby Fischer broke Spassky’s youngest-ever GM record by three years. Later, he won 20 consecutive games en-route to victory in the 1970 Interzonal and 1971 Candidates series with tallies of 6-0, 6-0, and 6½-2½. Then he took Spassky’s World Championship title in 1972.
This is a loss for chess! The casual fans who only know Spassky as “the guy who lost to Fischer” should play through some of his best games — they are as enjoyable and imaginative as those of any player in chess history, full stop.
After losing his title, Spassky won probably the strongest-ever USSR Championship, the 41st, in October 1973. The field included established stars like Lev Polugaevsky, Viktor Kortschnoj, Efim Geller, Paul Keres, and Mark Taimanov, youngsters Evgeny Sveshnikov and Alexander Beliavsky … and four other World Champions — Smyslov, Tal, Petrosian, and Karpov.
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!
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?
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.
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.
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:
When I first borrowed Jose 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.
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.