Wednesday, January 12, 2011


I read with interest a recent interview conducted with a budding national level player and his answer when asked what chess books moulded his play.

His reply was that he did not read much chess literature, counting more on a chess server for practice and ChessBase with a decent engine for analysis. I guess this would be the trend for many younger players who based their chess learning with the advent of the Computer Learning age. However, I am more inclined with the conclusions drawn from reading Robin Smith's Modern Chess Analysis. Much as computer-generated analysis can be a powerful tool, using automated analysis without checking can lead to very misleading conclusions. That is because computers cannot understand concepts like creating a fortress where the weaker side may be able to obtain a draw. As computers generally evaluate the position in terms of material, it may still produce analysis to support the stronger side but nothing decisive to overturn the conclusion. Programs can and do make mistakes. Another realm of computer weakness is in evaluating positions in which it would suggest trading into a lost king and pawn ending. It may also give inconclusive judgement on positions where there is a material imbalance, eg Exchange Sacrifices. 

Hence I would strongly advocate that chess erudition be complete with some study of classic chess literature. I have covered the main books in my earlier post. Now I shall give the reasons.

The classics cover the evolution of chess thought from the sacrificial nuances started by the Romantic Italian School, with the main emphasis on gambit play, fast development to create possible sacrifices to drive the King into the open. It peaked with the style of Paul Morphy, however reason in chess was reinstated with the theories of Wilhelm Steinitz. The positional elements were finally introduced, made even simpler to understand by the analysis of the games of Siegbert Tarrasch. Much of what is known about 1 e4 e5 games, especially in the Steinitz variation of the Spanish was covered in his annotations in his landmark classic "Dreihundret Schachpartien" (or 300 Chess Games in English). Of course, I would not take his comments on the openings seriously as much has been discovered since he wrote it about 1896,. In spite of that, he has given many good illustrations in his games on how to exploit positional advantages, which are often used in many modern-day middlegame books. 

Nimzowitsch, Tarrasch's arch-rival, made his summary of positional chess concepts in his 2 books My System and Chess Praxis. Though I did not like the pompous presentation of the facts by the author, we have 2 up-to-date versions of this classic, one by Hays Publishing and the other by Quality Chess. Much of the pomposity is trimmed and the examples are given more diagrams.

The biggest benefit in studying these classic theoretical books and game collections comes from renowned Soviet trainer Shereshevsky. He remarked that it would be much easier to see a middlegame plan executed in its entirety in a game played by the old masters, as their opponents were often much weaker and allowed their plans to succeed. We can therefore learn much more from studying such games. Today's games, however, would not be so easy to fathom as each plan meets with a counter-plan and when time-trouble occurs the logical thread of the game is disrupted and the game becomes unclear.Hence, I should think that any young player would do himself /herself a favour by reading these books.

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