Reinfeld Reissued!

This review has been printed in the August 2014 issue of the British Chess Magazine.  A penultimate version of the review is reproduced here.  My thanks to the good folks at BCM for allowing me to do so.

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Reinfeld, Fred. 1001 Brilliant Ways to Checkmate: 21st Century Edition. Translated into algebraic notation by Bruce Alberston. Milford: Russell Enterprises, 2014 (1955). PB, 224pp. ISBN 978-1936490820. List $19.95, currently $16ish at Amazon.

Reinfeld, Fred. 1001 Winning Chess Sacrifices and Combinations: 21st Century Edition. Translated into algebraic notation by Bruce Alberston. Milford: Russell Enterprises, 2014 (1955). PB, 240pp. ISBN 978-1936490875. List $19.95, currently $16ish at Amazon.

Fred Reinfeld (1910-1964) was also one of the most prolific authors in history, having written hundreds of books on topics ranging from numismatics to philately to science. He was best known, however, for his many books on chess. Reinfeld wrote fine biographical works on many of the major players of his day alongside dozens of elementary texts and primers. His two most famous books are the two currently under review, with new algebraic editions of these classics just out from Russell Enterprises.

1001 Brilliant Ways to Checkmate and 1001 Winning Chess Sacrifices and Combinations are, as their titles suggest, collections of tactical problems for solving. These books were fantastically popular with American players of a certain age, and both titles went through dozens of printings over the years. Now Bruce Alberston has converted both books from descriptive notation to algebraic, making them available once more for a new generation who never learned to read descriptive.

1001 Brilliant Ways to Checkmate consists of eight chapters of problems, beginning with queen sacrifices, moving through some typical mating attacks, and ending with a selection of mate-in-n compositions. 1001 Winning Chess Sacrifices and Combinations is (literally) the prototypical tactics workbook, with puzzles broken down by tactical motif into twenty chapters. Both books tend to put easier problems towards the beginning of a section, but the difficulty can range dramatically from problem to problem.

Unlike other authors in the Russell Enterprises stable, Alberston has resisted the temptation to ‘correct’ Reinfeld’s analysis with the help of the modern computer. This decision has both pros and cons attached to it. On the one hand, the books are rather faithful renderings of classic works; on the other, some of Reinfeld’s solutions are less than accurate. The design of these new editions resembles the originals, but all the text and diagrams have been reset in modern fonts, improving the books immensely.

If pressed, I would say that 1001 Winning Chess Sacrifices and Combinations is the better book of the two. The sorting of problems by motif is useful for the player learning the basic grammar of chess tactics. Both, however, can be recommended to players rated from 1200-2000, with 1001 Brilliant Ways to Checkmate skewing slightly to the lower end of that range.

The author was an American master.

Small games, big book

Tadic, Branko, and Goran Arsovic, ed. Encyclopedia of Chess Miniatures. Belgrade: Sahovski Informator, 2014. HB 560 pp.  ISBN 978-8672970715. List $53.95; approximately $44-50 at Amazon. Also available at the publisher’s website.

What makes for a miniature in chess?  The game must be short. (‘Short’ has historically meant anywhere from 15 to 25 moves.) It should be bloody, filled with tactics and blunders.  And it should be beautiful; or, at the least, there should be something aesthetically pleasing about it.

The Encyclopedia of Chess Miniatures contains 1636 fully annotated games sorted by opening variation, with no game running past 20 moves.  It follows in a tradition of books of miniatures, including books by Irving Chernev, Neil McDonald and John Nunn. Is ECM an improvement on this august tradition? Yes and no.

On the one hand, there is undeniable value for your money in this book. You can find wonderful miniatures in nearly any opening variation you desire, although – and this should not surprise – the majority of the games are in the B and C sections of the ECO coding system.  Closed systems don’t lead to short slugfests as often! The game selection represents a decent cross-section of chess history, with games from Morphy (10), Anderssen (7), Alekhine (12) and Tal (12). Among contemporary players, Jobava has 6 games in the book, and Beliavsky has the most (on my scan) with 17. Even Deep Blue gets in on the action with one game – I’ll let you guess which one.

On the other hand, some of the recent games – particularly those that have also appeared in the Informant – are more workmanlike and less spectacular than their diminutive brethren. In some one of the players just makes a blunder and is duly punished. While they may technically be miniatures, they don’t feel that brilliant.  Part of this has to do with the undoubted advances in chess skill and knowledge through the years, but all the same, some of the newer games don’t sparkle the way that the older ones do.

I have found the book to be particularly useful for teaching. In my work with kids, for example, I’ve found that miniatures are both pretty and short enough to keep their attention.  I showed two games (three, including Morphy at the Opera) from this book to a student in recent weeks, but I learned something too – I knew how to handle the 4…Qh4 variation of the Scotch because I’d studied the Maczuski-Kolisch game, beating an opponent who outrated me by 200 points!

Is this book for you? If you teach chess, particularly to kids, ECM will prove very useful indeed. If you enjoy playing through tactical melees, there are plenty here. And I suspect that using this book to help learn an opening – by seeing how typical mistakes are punished – would be a fruitful endeavor.

The price may turn some people off, and its lack of ‘utility’ may dissuade others. That’s a shame. Unlike an opening book, which is outdated as soon as it is printed, this is a book that will entertain for years and years to come. Sometimes we – and by we, I mean I! – forget that chess is supposed to be fun. Playing through the games in the Encyclopedia of Chess Miniatures will help you remember.

Learning Openings with Online Videos

This review essay has been printed in the August 2014 issue of Chess Life.  A penultimate version of the review is reproduced here.  My thanks to the good folks at Chess Life for allowing me to do so.

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Frank Brady, friend and biographer of Bobby Fischer, tells a story about his asking the future world champion for chess lessons in 1964. “For the first lesson,” Fischer told him, “I want you to play over every column of Modern Chess Openings, including footnotes.” Brady, understandably shocked, asked Fischer what they’d cover next. “And for the next lesson,” came the reply, “I want you to do it again.”[1]

Was Fischer serious? Probably not. Still, the severity of his proposed methods makes clear the import he placed on the opening, on its study, and on the value of Modern Chess Openings in the pre-computer age.

There is, of course, still a place for the one-volume encyclopedia in 21st Century chess, but today we have more options for learning our openings. New monographs continue to be published at a steady clip and on increasingly esoteric topics. The Informant series and the New in Chess Yearbooks are locked in a battle for superiority and market-share. Those slightly ahead of the curve subscribe to ChessPublishing.com, which provides monthly theoretical updates in twelve opening sub-fields.

But most popular, especially with the younger crowd, are videos. I realized this when a local junior recently ventured the Colorado Counter-Gambit (1.e4 Nc6 2.Nf3 f5?!?) against me in a club game. Not knowing this particular pawn-push – it wasn’t in MCO! – I asked where he’d learned it. The answer, naturally, was an online video.

In this essay I’ll review five of the paid video sites in alphabetical order, focusing specifically on their offerings in the opening. Each site has content worthy of your time and money. The goal of this review is to point you in the right direction to begin your studies.

Chess.com

Chess.com, along with its sister site chesskid.com, is probably the largest chess website in the world by userbase. While many of its diverse features are free to all users, only Diamond members ($99/yr, $14/mo) can watch videos. The videos consist of a 2D chessboard with voiceover, and they stream in your browser or inside a chess.com mobile app. A few of the videos come with pgns for future study, but none are available for individual purchase or download.

There are many IMs and GMs among the chess.com stable of authors, and more than a few have produced video series on their pet systems – Keaton Kiewra on the Dragon, for instance, or Eugene Perelshteyn on the King’s Indian. Fans of Roman Dzindzichashvili will note his prolific output for the site, with many of his videos devoted to diverse topics in the opening. Ben Finegold, currently on the chess.com and chesskid.com staff, is equally busy with opening videos.

Searching for specific opening tabiya or series is a bit clunky, as tagging is haphazard, but time poring through the archives is well spent. Sam Shankland’s 2009 series on the Najdorf is worth your attention, and Gregory Kaidanov’s videos on a 1.e4 repertoire for White are great for class players.

Chess24.com

Chess24 is the newest of the sites under review, and while it remains a work in progress, its early days have been quite promising. The site is the home for the web coverage of the Tromso Chess Olympiad, and the Norway Chess 2014 event was broadcast there. Chess24 has also lured a number of top players to their studios to produce videos, including two former world champions (Kasimdzhanov and Anand) and multiple 2600+ players.

Much of the early advertising for Chess24 featured a video series by Peter Svidler on the Grunfeld, and with good reason: the videos are fantastic. Over the course of 12+ hours, Svidler gives viewers an in-depth look at his approach to the Grunfeld, and he holds nothing back in his analysis. All of White’s tries are covered, and lines against 1.c4 and 1.Nf3 are included. I cannot recommend this series highly enough.

Videos stream in your browser, but not in the Chess24 mobile app. The presenter appears to the right of a 2D board, with the moves appearing on the 2D board in synchronicity with her words. The board and pieces are slightly jarring on first glance, but you get used to them quickly enough. Links to an opening database and an analytical engine appear beneath the board, and you can pause the video to try a move on the board and see the engine’s analysis. No pgns are available, but e-books for some videos may appear by the time of the Olympiad.

All videos are available to Premium members ($135.99/yr), or they can be purchased individually. Svidler’s series is available for $39.99. Other opening series of note include Jan Gustafsson on building a 1.d4 repertoire ($15.99), Sopiko Guramishvili on the Najdorf ($15.99), and Robin van Kampen on the King’s Indian ($24.99).

ChessBase

ChessBase is a behemoth in the world of chess software. They sell ChessBase 12, the database used by most every titled player in the world, along with analytical engines like Houdini and Fritz. ChessBase has turned increasing attention to chess videos, and given their prominence in the chess world, many strong European players record videos for ChessBase when they pass through Hamburg.

Videos from ChessBase can only be viewed from within ChessBase, the Fritz/Houdini programs, or the free ChessBase Reader. All are Windows only, leaving non-savvy Linux and Mac users out in the cold. Moves appear on the chessboard in synchronicity with the presenter video, and all of the features of the ChessBase interface are available to the user. You can check a move with your engine of choice while the video runs, and the analysis given in each video is nearly always provided for future study.

Most of the ChessBase videos are available to purchase via download. Prices range from €9.90 for the ’60 Minutes’ series of videos to €29.90 for current full-length DVDs. There is value at both ends of the spectrum. Super-GMs like Shirov and van Wely have made engaging videos in the ’60 Minutes’ series on the Winawer and the Najdorf, respectively, and I have given Henrik Danielsen’s video on the London System a positive review on my blog (chessbookreviews.wordpress.com).

Among full-length DVDs, Peter Heine Nielsen, former assistant to Anand and current Carlsen second, has recorded an impressive two-part series on the Dragon, with some of his analysis reaching into the endgame. I have also found the ‘ChessBase Tutorials’ series on the openings to be quite useful. Between the five DVDs in the series, nearly every major opening system or variation is summarized in about fifteen minutes time, making them handy for your next game against the local Grob fanatic.

Chessclub.com

I’ve been a member of chessclub.com – which I still call by its old name, ICC, or the Internet Chess Club – since it went commercial in 1995, and I still tend to think of it in terms of all-night blitz binges from college. In recent years, however, ICC has put a lot of time and effort into its video offerings, and it now competes on a fairly even playing field with all the other sites discussed in this piece.

There are multiple types of membership at ICC, ranging from the month-to-month ($9.95/mo) to the yearly ($69.95/yr), but all paid members are able to view all video content on the site. Three series are of particular interest as regards the opening: Ronen Har-Zvi’s opening videos, Boris Alterman’s ‘Gambit Guides,’ and – especially – John Watson’s ‘Sharpen Your Chess Sense’ series. (Disclosure: I have taken lessons from John and consider him a friend.)

In ‘Sharpen Your Chess Sense,’ Watson offers viewers opening repertoires specifically designed for club players, and for both colors. Recent series have focused on the Queen’s Gambit, the French, and 1.e4, among others. The videos are a deft mix of ideas and analysis, and players of all temperaments can find something to suit their needs.

While ‘Sharpen Your Chess Sense’ is still in production, you’ll have to dig into the archives to find videos on the opening from Ronen Har-Zvi and Boris Alterman. Alterman’s videos focused on opening gambits, and they served as the basis for his two books from Quality Chess on the same subject. Har-Zvi’s videos covered a broad swath of opening lines with his trademark enthusiasm.

Non-members are now able to purchase and download many of these videos, with prices usually running about $2.99 per video. Oddly there is no discount when buying a multi-video series. Some videos come with pgns, but the detail contained in the files varies greatly. All videos are viewable in ICC’s app for iOS and in your browser.

ChessLecture.com

Chesslecture.com is not the fanciest website around, but what it lacks in polish, it more than makes up for in content. There are 2300+ videos available as I write these words, giving Chesslecture.com one of the deepest archives of material around. Many of the leading video authors have recorded for Chesslecture or do so now. It is currently the exclusive home for two of the best video authors around: Dennis Monokroussos and David Vigorito.

The website is mainly text driven, but the search options are plentiful once you learn where to look. You can sort videos by author or broad category on the left side of the screen, and there is a search box at the top right that allows queries by title, keyword, ECO code or author. The indexing and tagging of specific videos leaves something to be desired, but you can generally find what you want without excessive difficulty.

There are a lot of gems hidden in the back catalogue. David Vigorito’s videos are consistently excellent. His early series on the Bb5 Sicilian and the Tarrasch Defense remain useful and, generally speaking, theoretically valid. Any of Vigorito’s series, quite frankly, can be recommended without hesitation.

Membership at Chesslecture.com begins at $99.99/yr or $12.95/mo; if you want to download videos, you must be a Gold member ($229.99/yr or $24.95/mo). Some videos come with pgns, but again, detail varies greatly. Members can buy custom DVDs with their choice of video content, and non-members can purchase some Chesslecture.com content in DVD format at onlinechesslessons.net. [Correction: You can also buy ChessLecture videos on DVD at dvd.chesslecture.com directly from ChessLecture.]

YouTube

Some readers might be looking at all the dollar signs in this review and wondering about free alternatives. They do exist, although – as is always the case with ‘amateur’ content – quality can vary greatly. Let me point out six YouTube users to whom you might want to subscribe.

Chessexplained: Christof Sielecki, a German IM, offers his blitz games, tournament recaps, and a number of series on opening repertoires.

GregShahadechess: These videos by Greg Shahade usually involve his talking through his thoughts as he plays online games or solves puzzles. Very educational, but the language can get a little rough for sensitive viewers.

GJ_Chess: Gunjan Jani is the source for the videos on the Colorado Counter-Gambit mentioned above. What he lacks in playing strength he makes up for in enthusiasm and self-promotion!

kingscrusher: Tryfon Gavriel is a prolific producer of video, with 5000+ videos on YouTube. Gavriel analyzes games and talks through his online blitz games.

STLChessClub: All lectures from the St Louis Chess Club are recorded and appear here. The lectures are by GMs and IMs who visit the club.

Zibbit: Icelandic FM Ingvar Johannesson focuses on game analysis in his videos.


[1] This story has been told by Brady in a few forms, the most widely known of which can be found in his classic Bobby Fischer: Profiles of a Prodigy (260). He dates the exchange in a speech in Dallas in November 2011.

2014 US Open: Rd 9

The worst game I have played in my adult chess life. I am showing my ass here, but what else can I do?

Other items of possible interest: common sense prevailed for one moment at the Delegates Meeting when the knee-jerk ADMs about the problems at the National Elementary scholastics were defeated. It left the room when we spent 30+ minutes on the wording of the rule which specifies that you must touch the king first when castling. A NY TD introduced a slew of ADMs that would have added rules / TD tips to the rulebook to cover the rarest and most inconsequential situations. That took up another 40 or so minutes.

Everyone has plays a real stinker now and again, but did I have to pay so much money for the honor of doing so here?

At least I have the rest of the day to do something … once the thunderstorm that just rolled through passes.

I finished at 4/9 and I will lose dozens of rating points. A recap may follow eventually. Or not. Whatever.

2014 US Open: Rd 8

It is both a blessing and a curse to serve as a Delegate (pdf of Delegate’s Call) to the United States Chess Federation. On the one hand, it ‘gives me a reason’ to come to the US Open. I even get a small bit of financial support from my state association.

On the other, I have to sit through the meeting.

I’m told that meetings in years past were just painful, especially during the years of the Polgar wars. This year’s meeting, unlike last year’s, stretched into a second day. (I’m writing these words on that second morning right now.) But like last year’s meeting, this one has been mainly palatable, with the transmission of information flowing well and the embarrassing speeches from the floor at a minimum.

*Note that I reserve the right to revise these words after ADMs 14-32 through 14-34, which deals with the debacle at the National Elementary in Dallas this spring, and for which discussion is about to begin.*

The USCF is in a good place right now. The transition to 501c3 status is complete, opening doors to new fundraising and requiring the USCF to begin to rethink and reimagine its role in American chess. We have a new Executive Director who seems both competent and enthusiastic. Our financial status is better than it has been in the recent past, but it will be stressed with the inclusion of two international team events (Olympiad and World Teams) in the next fiscal year. And the executive board actually functions with the best interests of the membership in view. Someone pinch me.

There were, of course, a few uncomfortable moments. The motion which was a thinly veiled plea from a Delegate to let him work at national scholastic events? That was embarrassing. The near-hour spent talking about the US Open time control, based on experience in two and three day events, all of which is less-than-pertinent to the only American one-a-day in existence? So frustrating.

My round eight game was against a nine year old from Florida rated just south of 1500. Great. Just what I want when I’m having a rough tournament! I sat down to play, thinking that I should just try to keep the tactics to a minimum and use my superior intellect and education to grind the kid down. And then I blew open the center on move 12.

The power of the bishops told, and I won the game. Like many ill-educated children, Reddy refused to resign. So I played it out, and right at the point where mate was imminent, he resigned.

Hey kid, if you read this: (1) making me play it out is rude. I’m not a six year old who will stalemate you when I have nearly two hours on the clock. (2) If you’re going to make me play it out, let me deliver the mate. I know it’s not your fault, but your parents and teachers have failed you by not teaching you manners and decorum.

</soapbox>

Curious fact: this week at the Rosen Center and the surrounding area, there have been (at minimum) the following groups meeting:

Most notable have been the large numbers of young pageant ladies wandering about all week, besashed and bedazzled, both the aspiring Teen candidates and the current Miss America state crownholders. I saw just about every state, but not once did I see a Miss Nebraska – until last night.

Check out the pictures from yesterday, which include Jim Tarjan’s postmortem after his round 8 draw, and my picture with the 4th place finisher in the MAO Teen, Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Morgan Holen. Omaha represent!

2014 US Open: Rd 6, 7

I took a bye for round 6, leaving most of my Friday open.  I saw my good friend Abhinav Suresh, the NE representative to the Denker, along with his father in the morning, but as I had an early lunch scheduled, I had to pass on breakfast.

In an earlier post I alluded to the fact that I had undertaken a project to collect and preserve games from this year’s US Open. I think it is a scandal that there is no longer a bulletin service at the US Open. I think it is a scandal that the only preservation of games played is via Monroi. Many of the top players do not like to use the devices, and there are only so many devices to go around. Some weeks ago I contacted the event organizers and asked that I might make an effort to sort through the scoresheets and save what games I could.

The idea was twofold. First, I would encourage all players to e-mail me their games after the event for inclusion in a crowdsourced database. Flyers are up near the pairing sheets, the results sheets, and next to the scoresheet dropbox. I had business cards printed up to be distributed at each chess board before round 9.

I also planned to sort through scoresheets, sift out the top 20 boards from each round, and photocopy them for input into ChessBase. The organizers – Franc Guadalupe, Jon Haskell, and Alan Losoff in the backroom – have bent over backwards to accommodate this windmill tilt, and I would like to thank them publically. What I learned yesterday morning sifting and sorting was that my original plan would not work. Many of the yellow carbon copies of game scores would not photocopy. So the organizers agreed to ship me the scores, making my life much easier.

Lunch was had at Emeril’s Orlando with my friend John Watson. Being the fan of NOLA food that I am, Emeril’s was kind of a ‘gumbo patch’ for my NOLA addiction, and it served its purpose nobly. The trip out to the CityWalk was, if I am honest, disturbing. The sprawl of tourist sites shocked my Midwestern sensibilities, and I couldn’t understand how all of them – all the hotels, all the restaurants, all the waterslides – could make money. Maybe the economy isn’t as bad as everyone says it is.

I got back to the Rosen Center Hotel just in time to make part of the Publications Committee meeting, which was a bit of a shambles, and the Chess Journalists of America meeting, which was not. Injecting new life into a moribund organization takes time, and the CJA is transitioning. A few new initiatives were mentioned, and the Chess Journalism Awards were also announced. The home team was sadly shut out in all three categories for which it was nominated. Oh well – I’ll just have to work harder and win next year!

My round 7 game was against Steve Kuzma of Texas, who I learned was a former (and perhaps future) Husker like myself! I managed to win the exchange on move 15 and converted the point, although not without some difficulty.

This game was a good example of where my chess is at these days. I saw his idea on move 13, and nearly immediately saw the refutation at move 15. This kind of brute tactical idea is something that I think has improved in my game, and I attribute that mostly to the work with the Stappenmethode workbooks. I am stumbling, however, in positional areas. I’m too willing to eat a pawn and try to hold on. And I think I underestimate passed pawns while overestimating the bishops. The drive to improve never ends.

As I write these words, I am sitting in the Delegates Meeting, ‘enjoying’ the goings-on. More on that (with some pictures) tomorrow.

2014 US Open: Rd 4, 5

This was not a good day for me.  Well, not chess-wise, anyway.

My Thursday began with a visit with an old friend who I’ve not seen since my wedding some years ago.  This was lovely.

My round four opponent, Theodore Biyiasis, handed me a deserved defeat on the the Black side of the McCutcheon. I accepted a gambit pawn and failed to absorb the pressure.  After the game, we had a fruitful post-mortem and I got to speak a bit with Ruth Haring, current USCF President, while we located a set for analysis.  Both the post-mortem and the chat with Haring made up for the lost against the 2000+ Biyiasis.

In round five I lost, mainly through self-inflicted actions, against Alex Little, a 1630-ish player from Georgia. I got a dream position and then thoroughly misunderstood the lay of the land, giving up two minor pieces for a rook, a pawn, and the phantom of the initiative. By the time I understood that I stood worse, it was too late, and I folded like a house of cards. Kudos to the winner, but this one was on me.

As the night wore on, I had a few drinks with friends, and ended up meeting the coming scion of a salacious publishing empire at the bar.  He is in town for LeakyCon, the end-all of Harry Potter cons, and we traded stories about our respective events for a time. It’ll make for quite a tale for our friends back in Omaha.

Here are the games with light annotations.  I’m trying to avoid getting too deeply into analysis while the event goes on, preferring to focus on rest and socialization.  (I have even cut back on the opening prep after last year’s experience.) Today I attended the Publications and CJA committees, and my round 7 game is tonight. Let’s hope that this Lazarus can arise and play decent chess once more.