An Encyclopedia for the 21st Century

Petronijevic, Zoran, and Branko Tadic, ed.  Encyclopedia of Chess Endings: Volume II – Rook Endings, 1st Part.  2nd ed.  Belgrade: Šahovski Informator, 2014.  HB 511pp.  ISBN 978-8672970692.  Approximately $45-50 on Amazon.  Also available at the publisher’s website.

You could, when I was a child, buy individual volumes of an encyclopedia – not World Book or the Encyclopedia Britannica, but some sad impostor – at the grocery store.  A new volume would show up a few weeks later, and if you had the cash, you’d add the next volume to your burgeoning collection.  Eventually the sum total of collective knowledge would reside on your shelf, there to sit unread for years and years to come.  (Really – how many of you got past A or B?)

The age of the print encyclopedia has come and gone with the advent of the Internet and, in particular, Wikipedia.  Hard-earned expertise has been replaced with crowd-sourced wisdom, and given the breadth and speed of the web, there’s something almost quaint about the printing of a brief of what we know in book form.

Nevertheless, I would argue that there are still some corners of human knowledge that lend themselves to summary.  Chess just might be one of those corners.  The publishers of the Šahovski Informator have revised and republished two volumes in the Encyclopedia of Chess Endings series, and the second of those, on pure rook endings, is under consideration in this review.  It is a book that every strong player, and every player looking to improve their understanding of rook endings, should consider for their library.

The first edition of ECE II (1985) was out of print for some time, as was ECE I (1982), which was devoted to pawn endings.  Both were hard to find; this was, presumably, because rook and pawn endings are among the most important for the practical player to master.  With this new edition of ECE II, over two hundred examples (1930 in v2 compared with 1727 in v1) have been added to the book and analysis has been updated / corrected.  Such updates are critical given the emergence of strong analytical engines and the contributions of tablebases to endgame knowledge.

One of my go-to tests for assessing any endgame materials is to compare them with the analysis being done in the Chesspub forums.  Did the writer / editor do their due diligence and scour the globe for new ideas and discoveries?  Immediately I checked the player index in ECE II and looked for Adrian Hollis, scholar of the classics, grandmaster of correspondence chess, and holder of the White pieces in the 1972 postal game Hollis v. Florian.   This is #1357 and 1358 in ECE II.

ChessPub forum members Micawber and Poghosyan have published numerous corrections to older analysis of this game along with other similar (a-pawn or b-pawn 4-3 rook endings) positions, many of which have found their way into the works of Dvoretsky and Muller.  Their analysis is properly cited in the appropriate positions (1357-1376), and I confirmed that IM Petronijevic had in fact monitored the ChessPub forum to keep tabs on discoveries there.  (There is unfortunately no bibliography of sources in ECE II.  After my e-mail inquiry, Petronijevic mentioned that he’d collected approximately 5000 positions for possible inclusion in the book, and that he’d used most of the major reference books and magazine articles in its writing.)

Before my recent and ill-fated entry in the 2014 Nebraska State Closed Championship, I spent quite a bit of time playing out rook endings against both human and silicon opponents.  I would choose a position from ECE II at semi-random, play it out, and then compare the results with the published analysis.  What I found was not explanations of the ideas – the analysis is wordless, as is standard for Informant publications – but compact, dense analysis of most of the major tries and key lines.  Some of my faulty moves in the training games were anticipated in the analysis, and it was interesting to see how long I (or the weaker engines I played) could hold out before making mistakes.

Because the book is without explanatory prose, this is not an ideal book for the beginner who wants to learn about rook endings.  I can recommend for such players Mednis’ Practical Rook Endings, Minev’s A Practical Guide to Rook Endings, or Emms’ The Survival Guide to Rook Endings.  The classics one volume guides by Dvoretsky and Muller are also very good, if perhaps for a slightly advanced player.

ECE II is not perfect.  No chess book is.  The aformentioned Vardan Poghosyan has found one oversight in #1736, where – despite a number of revisions to the the original example – John Nunn’s 2009 improvement on Portisch-Petrosian 1974 is not included.  (Here is the analysis for the endgame junkies among you.)  Still, having checked through a number of examples using comically powerful engines and tablebases via the Chessbase Engine Cloud, the errors are few and far between.  The analysis is both terse and fairly complete.  That’s not easy; my hat is off to the editor. The book is also physically sturdy, its binding typical (in my experience) for good Eastern European hardbacks.

If you’re interested in rook endgames and looking for study material, it’s hard to think of a better buy than ECE II.  The book is just a brick of well-analyzed rook endings, and it provides great bang for your buck.  There’s no getting around the need to master rook endgames if you want to advance in chess.  For the player looking to improve, and for lovers of the endgame, ECE II is well worth the investment.

Note: ECE II is only currently available at Amazon via third-party sellers.  You may want to buy directly from the publisher – they ship worldwide from Belgrade via DHL, and I’ve found the process to be shockingly quick.

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One thought on “An Encyclopedia for the 21st Century

  1. Pingback: Book Note: Dvoretsky’s Endgame Manual (4th Edition) | Chess Book Reviews

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