This game from the London 1883 tournament is very famous, and for good reason. You won’t forget it once you’ve seen it!
Johannes Zukertort(1842-1888) was born in present-day Poland. One of the leading players of early tournament chess, he challenged Wilhelm Steinitz in the first official World Championship match in 1886, which he lost (5 wins, 5 draws, and 10 losses).
In contrast to Zukertort, Joseph Henry Blackburne (1841-1924) enjoyed a much longer chess career. “The Black Death” competed in top tournaments (and matches) from London 1862 through St. Petersburg 1914!
The Black king is clearly in distress, but how should White continue?
I recommend Positional Chess Handbook to players (and coaches!) of all levels. Players rated from zero to at least 2200 will benefit. The book will give beginners ideas about strategy; it has much to teach club players; and it is a good refresher for the 2000+ crowd.
Originally published in 1991, it is filled with instructive game fragments from famous and not-so-famous players and composers. You’ll find examples from Morphy and Steinitz, as well as from Fischer, Karpov, and Kasparov. In all, there are 495 diagrams over 208 pages (plus index). I’m sure author Israel Gelfer (FIDE Master and FIDE Senior Trainer) spent many years compiling the examples that helped his students the most.
So what does it cover?
Positional Chess Handbook: Contents
Most of the 21 chapters isolate a certain positional feature, making it easy to reinforce understanding of a particular concept without distraction. A few sections are more general, but very instructive nonetheless. Of course, tactics are everywhere in this book, too — strategy cannot exist without them, right?
Today is the 65th birthday of the man who taught me how to play chess — my dad.
One Saturday night when I was eight years old, my dad was cleaning out the hallway closet of our family’s apartment. I noticed a folded chess board, similar to this one. I knew it was a chess set — I don’t remember where I was first learned what chess was — and asked my dad to teach me how to play.
That night and the next day, he did. I understood the basic rules plus castling and pawn promotion — later I realized that he didn’t quite understand en passant! We began to play.
Well … I am no Morphy or Capablanca! My attempts to win our early games went nowhere.
My parents, sister and I soon went to the now-defunct Coliseum Books near Columbus Circle. I was looking through the chess books and other things, and my dad saw this cool-looking book that had lots of colored arrows and diagrams! This was apparently not a common thing back then. The book was also written by a Grandmaster! It was …
My parents bought me the book and I read it over and over and over.
I learned basic strategy and solved my first tactical puzzles.
I learned about a bit about four openings explored in the book: the Spanish Game, King’s Indian Defence (sic), Modern Benoni, and King’s Gambit.
And the cherry on top? Brief, fascinating bios of great players past and present: Paul Morphy, Wilhelm Steinitz, Jose Raul Capablanca, Mir Sultan Khan, Bobby Fischer, Garry Kasparov, and Judit Polgar. I loved this book so much!
In it, I also found my first master game played by the author which I tried to make some sense of with the help of the annotations.
Today, it’s time for me to annotate this memorable game.
He made fast progress, competing in lower divisions of Coburg 1904, Barmen 1905, and Ostend 1907 — a six-week, 30-player round-robin!
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 against Alexander Alekhine, before Max Euwe finally wrested away the title in 1935 — the same year Nimzowitsch breathed his last.
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 this?
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.
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. Over-the-top as usual, and never one to shy away from a pissing contest, Nimzowitsch leaves ample room to attack Tarrasch and others.
The single 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 theisolani. You can find these ideas in the Chess Essentials Glossary.
It’s time for me to pick up My System again! After I cure my laziness, of course…
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 Nimzowitsch until you are 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…
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.
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?
Harry Nelson Pillsbury: A Top Player Gone Too Soon
Harry Nelson Pillsbury (1872-1906) was one of the world’s best players, but died at only 33 years old. U.S. Champion from 1897 until his death, he was the top American player between Paul Morphy and Frank Marshall.
Pillsbury won the celebrated Hastings 1895 tournament ahead of World Champion Emanuel Lasker and former Champion Wilhelm Steinitz. He also left behind several past and future Challengers: Mikhail Chigorin, Siegbert Tarrasch, Carl Schlechter, David Janowsky, and Isidor Gunsberg.
The Crowning Moment of his Crowning Moment
Pillsbury won the month-long round-robin at Hastings by defeating Gunsberg in the 21st and final round with an endgame breakthrough that will live forever in chess history.
White to play.
Passed Pawns: Hard to Contain in the Endgame!
Harry Nelson Pillsbury gave us a powerful display of protected passed pawns and connected passed pawns being a huge help in winning games! Besides purely “chess” factors, decision making becomes a lot easier for the side that possesses them, while the opponent needs to be very careful.