Friday, 30 April 2010

Review: Gary Danelishen's The Final Theory of Chess

Gary M. Danelishen, The Final Theory of Chess. Phillidor Press 2008, Berea OH.

A week ago, I received the first chess book that has been sent to me for a review in this blog. I must confess it was a surprise for me to get a book to be reviewed, as my original idea was just to write about chess books I had already bought. But I certainly will review any book sent to be reviewed by any chess publisher!

Gary M. Danelishen has taken a huge task: he aims at a computer-generated analysis that should at some day be able to solve the game of puzzle. Even if the game of chess is extremely complicated, it is a finite game and thus it is solvable at least in theory. In practice it is of course impossible for humans to solve the game of chess. On the other hand, computers have already been able to solve many simpler games, for example the checkers.

The Final Theory of Chess should of course be seen only as an attempt to lay a foundation for the theoretical solution of chess. Most of the book contains analysis conducted between 2004 and 2008 using a network of six computers running different versions of the famous Fritz software. As both the hardware and software evolve continuously, it is more than probable that the latest 64-bit computers with terabytes of memory and either Rybka or FireBird could correct the analysis here and there. But as I don't own neither a modern multi-CPU computer or the latest chess software, I haven not tried to refute any of the published analysis.

Both the idea of trying to progress towards the solution of the chess and the heavy use of our dear friend Mr. Fritz has lead the book to concentrate on concrete variations. The published variations have been color coded to give the reader an idea about the robustness of the analysis. Unfortunately the book is printed in black and white which makes it at times rather difficult to decipher the color coding. Finally each published variation gives an evaluation of the variation as given by Fritz.

In addition, the variations are practically devoid of any verbal explanations. Thus the reader will not find here any help about strategic nuances of the opening. This makes the book very inpractical for anyone interested in just playing chess on the board during the club evening of in an weekend tournament. The book is, however, quite useful as an guide when analysing the games afterwards. This is especially true for those chess enthusiasts who don't have a computer to help in analysing the game. In addition, this book could be extremely useful for correspondence chess players who are looking for new ideas in their tactical pet openings.

The search for the solution of chess has lead the author to concentrate on forcing tactical openings. This explains the about 110 pages dedicated to Blackmar-Diemer-Gambit, an opening of debatable correctness. In addition to BDG, the book presents computer checked analysis in many other tactical off-beat variations. If you are interested in them, you might well like to order this book from Amazon.

In case you are not sure, whether this book is for you or not, you should take a look at the web site The Final Theory of Chess. You might even decide to contribute yourself to the work in progress!

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Review: Silman's Complete Endgame Course from Beginner to Master

If you are like me -- or like most of the chess players who buy books -- your bookshelves are full of chess opening books. The opening books seem to promise us a quick fix needed for the rapid improvement of the tournament results or for being able to get a higher chess rating. At least I have dozens of books that promise to teach me how to win with Sicilian Najdorf, closed Sicilian or some other opening.

Unfortunately, those chess books have not been able to get my rating to the level where I would like it to be. Most probably my opening repertoire is already good enough for my level. The improvement must be sought in two distinct areas of the game: middlegame tactics and endgames.

I have always felt overwhelmed by some of the greatest endgame books. I have tried to study the classic endgame manuals by Yuri Averbakh, but I never had enough time to grasp the nuances I thought to be necessary for understanding anything about the endgame. Karsten Müller's and Frank Lamprecht's Fundamental Chess Endings was equally demanding for a patzer like me.

Finally, I found Jeremy Silman's Complete Endgame Course from Beginner to Master. It really is the best endgame book written for ordinary club and weekend players like me and you. Finally a book that does not expect me to learn to win the endgame K+N+B vs K -- Silman concentrates on practical results and not on learning endgames one very rarely encounters in practice. In fact, I can't remember having ever had to play the aforementioned difficult endgame during the last three decades, be it in a club evening, in a tournament or on an internet chess server.

The material in this book is organized according to the level of the chess player. Silman understands that the beginner needs to grasp the basics and that is impossible to learn the more difficult pawn and rook endings if one has not learned to play the simple endgames first.

In this way, I was able to jump directly to the section written for my rating group, class B. After mastering this material I should know everything I need to know in order to reach a class A rating. Finally I have a book that not only explains me what a master level player should know about the endgames but what I should next learn. Thus this book gives me clear advice about the next action needed in my chess improvement plan. It seems my work should now be directed to the rook endgames for Class A.

If I can follow the guidance provided by Jeremy Silman I might finally reach my goal: to have a rating of Chess Expert.

Rating: *****

Jeremy Silman: Silman's Complete Endgame Course from Beginner to Master. Siles Press 2007.530 pages. Order the book from Amazon now!

Monday, 14 December 2009

Review: Palliser, The Complete Chess Workout

Richard Palliser has been for some time one of my favourite chess book authors. I have enjoyed many of his opening guides that are very useful for an ordinary club player like me. Palliser's The Complete Chess Workout (Everyman Chess 2007) is even more helpful for a woodpusher of my level.

Most if not all games played in the club level are decided by elementary tactical mistakes. Even more games could be decided by them as patzers like me cannot notice the mistakes by the opponent or they cannot find the right way to punish the other player for his or her weak moves. This was one of the ideas that gave rise to the movement of Knights Errant a couple of years ago.

There are two main difficulties in following the route proposed by Michael de la Maza. One of them is to find enough time and stamina to work through a huge collection of tactical puzzles. The other problem was to collect the puzzles needed for the exercise. The latter problem can be solved by using Richard Palliser's book which includes on more than 300 pages 1200 tactical chess puzzles with computer-checked solutions.

The first one hundred puzzles are solvable by even beginning players. For the more experienced players, these can function as warming up for the more difficult puzzles. The next chapters are organized on a rather wide theme. The second chapter of the Complete Chess Workout is dedicated to the attack and the puzzles in the chapter are certainly useful exercises for any chess player. As the chapter is probably most important in the book, it does not surprise that it has almost 100 pages.

The next chapters include tactical positions with opening tricks and traps, followed by fifteen pages of endgame positions. Endgame is probably the weakest part of any club players chess skills. It could well be argued, that the chapter should have considerably more pages than it has been given. Unfortunately, I believe that most of the readers of this book will not spend as much time with this part of the book as with the more sexy attacking puzzles. The last three chapters are about loose pieces and overloading and "fiendish calculation". Finally, the book ends with ten "test yourself" tests, each with sixteen tactical puzzles. And of course, the books last pages present the reader with solutions to each of the problems printed in the book.

One of the great things about this book is the fact that Richard Palliser has spent some time looking around the latest chess databases in his search for tactical positions. Most of the puzzles are from recent games, played all around the world. So the puzzles are mostly new ones even if some old classics are included in the collection as well.

I warmly recommend this book to any chess player under master level. It should be especially useful for patzers like me!

Rating: *****

Buy the book: The Complete Chess Workout: Train your brain with 1200 puzzles! (Everyman Chess)

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Books for Chess Players

There are many kinds of books available for chess players. In this blog, I will not write about chess books written for those who are just learning to play the game, that is the rules of the game. I will rather concentrate on the books that should be useful for my level of playing. One reason for this is, that I'll have to buy the books I'll review and I don't plan to buy any chess books that I cannot consider useful for me. So  don't expect to find here any reviews of  books for newbies!

My collection of chess books grows constantly. Most of the  chess books I own are written either in English or German, so I intend to review mostly chess books written in these two languages.  Unfortunately, my Spanish is not yet fluent enough for being able to read any chess books. But maybe in the future not too far away...

The chess books I usually read can be divided in several categories according to the central theme of the book:
  • Opening books
  • Games collections
  • Tournament books
  • Endgames
  • Tactics and combinations
Like most of the chess enthusiast, I enjoy reading books about chess openings. It is probably not the most efficient way to become a better chess player - the time would be better spent studying any other kind of chess books, but it seems that reading about different chess openings provides more enjoyment than studying the intricacies of pawn and rook endgames. So it should not come as a big surprise to anyone, that my collection of chess books has all too many opening guides.

Some of the most enjoyable books I have read are games collections of certain master players. In fact, the first chess book I ever bought was a games collection of the then world champion Anatoly Karpov. Even now, twenty-five years later, I every now and then return to this collection of his games.

During the last years, I have tried to study chess endgames. Unfortunately, I never seem to have enough time for endgames. Now that I have a couple of great endgame books, there is no real excuse for not studying this interesting part of the game. Moreover, writing this blog might give me yet another incentive for at least trying to study some of the best endgame guides I have.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Reviews of Chess Books

Welcome to my new blog which included book reviews written by a patzer for other patzers. Don't expect me to review books from a professional point of view as I clearly am not competent enough to find analytical mistakes in any chess book. Hence I won't even try to find any flaws in the books written by international masters or grand masters.

On the contrary, I'll write from the angle of an ordinary chess enthusiast who likes to play on the internet, in the chess club and occasianally in the weekend chess tournaments. What I'm interested in finding out is whether the book will help me to earn a few more rating points - the more I'll learn from a book, the more useful it is. At the moment I'm rated around 1770. It will be interesting to see, if the books I'll read and write about will help me to improve my chess rating.

It is evident that some of the books I own are of high quality even if they have been completely useless for me. The books by Mark Dvoretski, for example, are clearly written for someone who understands a lot more about chess than I do. I think I should improve my rating at least to the level of about 2000 before even trying to comprehend the analysis presented in Dvoretski's fine books.

It seems I have to start reading the books that are more appropriate to my level of understanding and playing. Before too long, I hope to be able to report about some improvement in my chess.