Saturday, January 20, 2007

Two great new books: don't read this post

Two mini book reviews continuing the theme of my previous post (openings and endgames): one is an endgame book, the other is an opening book. Both of the books are so good that I hesitate to tell anyone about them: revealing them will only make my competition better. As a compromise, I've decided to include a no-read clause for this post: if you think we might play each other in the future, you must stop reading now. Thank you for your cooperation.

The first book is Silman's Complete Endgame Course. This book is wonderful, and has instantly become my favorite endgame book. My other endgame books will be used as supplements. This elegant 500+ page book has a unique organization: instead of organizing things by topic, he organizes them by rating. The first chapter on basic checkmates is for people just starting to a rating of 999. Part II, for those rated up to 1200, includes discussion of more difficult mates and the opposition in King versus pawn endgames. There are 9 Chapters, with the last instructive chapter being for people rated to 2400. Each chapter includes exercises at the end with annotated solutions.

I just finished the bit on Philidor, Lucena, and the encircling maneuver (positions 1-3 from my previous post). The explanations were not only clear and helpful, but actually entertaining. Silman clearly worked hard to find the perfect mix of textual explanations and variation peddling (he takes five pages to explain the Lucena position). The images of the chess board are ample enough to follow along without a board (though of course for endgames it is key to work things out for yourself on a board or computer).

This is the first endgame book I have that really attempts to explain the endgame. It is not just an encyclopedia of positions (all the books have pretty much the same positions). In addition to the key positions and diagrams, he provides useful general principles on the sidebar, and repeats them periodically without being monotonous.

I have heard that he comes off as an arrogant prick in The Amateur's Mind. In this book he comes off as someone excited by his program of study, and who really wants to lift endgame training books up to a new level. He has succeeded.

The second book that I was very pleasantly surprised by was Play the Ruy Lopez by IM Andrew Greet. Opening book authors take note: Greet has just outdone you. This 375-page book is a truly comprehensive look at the Ruy. It is only after 240 pages that he gets to move five, as he thoroughly addresses black's deviations starting when the Ruy begins (3. B5). He recommends a cute little line (5. Qe2) for white, the Worrall System, which avoids all the theory associated with the open Ruy (5. 0-0 Nxe4!).

It will be easiest to say what I like about this book by first listing my pet peeves about opening books:
1) Lazy-ass author squeezes out an annotated game dump and calls it a repertoire.
2) No explanation of the basic plans for each side coming out of the opening.
3) The book advertises itself as an opening about X, but in fact 90% of the book is about a subvariation of X after move ten, and the last chapter includes one or two games that are meant to cover all other possibilities.
4) Lazy-ass author constantly says "And this transposes to another line in the book" without telling you which line (it isn't always obvious to the reader, but the author could put in about six seconds of work and improve the book tremendously).
5) Unobjective, too optimistic about the repertoire.
6) No index of variations to be found in the book.
7) Dry, mechanical writing style: the book doesn't seem to have been written by an actual person.

What is so good about Greet's book? He does the exact opposite of 1-7. To Everyman Chess, kudos for bucking the page limit usually imposed on chess authors' opening books: this is a tour de force, and while I am technically not supposed to be focusing much on openings right now, this book will make this charge very difficult.

I'll end my praise and leave you with a quote from Greet's introduction (p. 14):
One of my goals in writing this book was to make it suitable for as many chess players as possible, from casual club players all the way up to, dare I say, grandmasters. So to begin with, it was necessary for me to include a lot of textual explanations in order to enable less experienced players, or newcomers to this opening, to absorb all of the key ideas behind the move. At the same time I have conducted quite a rigorous theoretical examination of every major variation in order to cater for more advanced players who demaned a deeper level of opening preparation. [...] I will just mention that I have never, at any time, taken the opinion of any other author or commentator at face value. Every single move and evaluation has been carefully checked by my own eyes, as well as with at least one (and sometimes all three) of the strong analysis engines mentioned in the Bibliography.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good to hear you like Silman's complete endgame course so much. It is one of the endgame books i've been wanting to get for myself as well. I was instantly attracted to it when i came across it on the web (before you wrote this post).

1/21/2007 04:30:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i heard that this was due, and well makes up the gap from the paltry HTIYC, and his weaker endgame book, now out of print.

ive heard silman talk at the AFFC us chess championship here, and he is very funny.

id be interested to know what this new endgame book has that fundamental chess endings, dvoretskys endgame manual, and lighter but no less valuable, chernev and pandolphini's book dont have, or have but not as easily accessed?

and lastly eric, best regards for 07 and always so nice to listen in on your passion and commitment.

im back to CTA3 in a few days, for good, till i finish the first circle. :)


1/21/2007 05:43:00 AM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

DK: yes the difference is the explanations, the effort he puts into actual teaching. All those books have the same positions (give or take). How much do they work to help someone new to the position understand it? He spends five pages on the lucena, three more than the other books. Five useful pages.

1/21/2007 10:28:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, you've sold me. I am lifting my Silman embargo and will be the endgame book.

I know that your coach wants you to start playing the Ruy so I am guessing that is why you bought the second book. When the time comes that I go back to playing e4 maybe I'll pick up that book. I used to play the Ruy a lot and always enjoyed it. Good luck with it.

1/21/2007 08:13:00 PM  
Blogger Sancho Pawnza said...

Silman is great at explaining endings
I own one of his first works
"Essential Chess Endings Explained Move by Move" and found it very easy to understand.
But the Karsten Muller DVDs are still the best in my opinion, for those of us who can't read. :)

1/21/2007 10:55:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Jim: I wouldn't be surprised if you found at least half the endgame book too simple. I'd be curious to hear what you think about the higher-level stuff. The bits I have read have been great.

1/21/2007 10:58:00 PM  
Blogger wayward son said...

Well I will definately be buying Silman's new book. (It still seems as though it won't be available in Canada for a couple more months).

I haven't yet decided about Greet's book. I do like the main line Ruy quite a bit, but then again, I rarely get it in games at my level with Black seeming to prefer 3...d6 (Old Steinitz Defence) the most and 3...Nf6 (Berlin) also being far more common then 3...a6 at least in my games. I also find that close of half of my open games don't even reach the Ruy with the Philidor (2...d6) being very popular. So maybe I will get Greet's book for the deviations.

Looks like it will be another year of buying too many chess books.

If I could make a recommendation it would be to check out John Watson's two new books: Mastering the Chess Openings (vol 1 and 2). Only the first one is out yet, but in my mind it is amazing.

1/22/2007 01:50:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Wayward: I have Watson's Volume 1. I have only read the intro so far, so I can't comment on it.

1/22/2007 01:52:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

1)Question- your link to Amazon for the Silman book says "book not yet released". Did you get it at a bookstore?

2) Is the Greet book a repertoire for White, or a balanced book that gives equal weight to White and Black?

1/22/2007 02:29:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Funky: I had to get it at the USCF site, as Amazon won't have it for a little while (they keep postponing it at Amazon).

Greet's book is a repertoire for white.

1/22/2007 02:47:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The weird thing about the Ruy--as venerable and solid as it is--I don't see it played so much, at least in the chess circles here. Even if someone opens with e4, the Sicilian is simply a more popular response. Or maybe I'm just not paying attention.

1/22/2007 06:32:00 PM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

Liquid Egg: at my level (~1300 at ICC) I see 1...e5 more than anything (probably 70% of my games). The Sicilian I see about 20% or so...

1/22/2007 07:10:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Looking through some databases: seems that Ruy is still pretty popular.

Good luck with your studies. If you ever want to spice up the opening, you can try the Chicago Gambit.

1/22/2007 09:10:00 PM  
Blogger wayward son said...

"at my level (~1300 at ICC) I see 1...e5 more than anything (probably 70% of my games). The Sicilian I see about 20% or so..."

I am ~1300 on playchess and I find the same thing. Being a nerd I have kept all of my internet games that I have played in the last 8 months in a database and I just looked it up: Playing e4 I faced 1...e5 about 65% of the games and the Sicilian only about 15% of the time.

Most people at our level seem to play the open games from both sides almost exclusively and that has led to major headaches as I try to learn the open games as Black. To give you an example I have played many different openings as Black without any theoretical knowledge or book study - I just wing it and come out of opening phase in fine shape in 90 - 95% of my games.

As Black I have played:
-The french 56 times scoring 68%.
-Scandinavian 58 times scoring 48%.
-Sicilian 53 times scoring 40%.

Lately I have been playing the open games and have done a little book study on it. The result:

1...e5 40 times scoring 20%. Pathetic(and it is not because my opponents are better - today in blitz games I opted to use the French against opponents with a higher rating than me and beat all three and I used ...e5 againt opponents with a lower rating and lost against all 4). I just don't get it. Most of the time they choose the Italian and I fall for some trap and am in a completely losing position coming out the opening. It seems that most opponents have played hundreds of games from both sides of the italian and I have played almost none (as I have always opted for the Ruy as white and am just learning ...e5 now) so I feel like I am at a huge disadvantage. Still I think that knowing the open games is essential for chess understanding so I will try to continue to play this opening which I dread.

Which leads to my question - how is the switch to the open games as Black working out for you bdk? I noticed that mentioned that you had bought a book on the open ruy, so I guess you must be facing it more often that I am (four out of 40 games with black and three out of four white played the exchange variation).

1/23/2007 01:55:00 AM  
Blogger Blue Devil Knight said...

wayward: I haven't tried it yet. I want to study it some first, as my present closed ruy as black is fairly solid. Plus, I am spending very little time actually studying openings (lots more time talking about them), as I am focused on tactics and endgames almost exclusively.

1/23/2007 11:34:00 AM  
Blogger wayward son said...

BDK - spending most of your time on tactics and endgames is obviously the way to go. CT Art and the Mueller endgame DVDs normally take up most of my limited chess time, but recently I switched back to the Polgar brick after missing a mate in 2 and going on to lose the game. I knew the mate was there, but I just couldn't see it. So after 40 seconds of thought, I played some lame move without even thinking about it - it hung a rook - and got crushed.

1/23/2007 03:27:00 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home