Monthly Archives: December 2014

Book Note: Dvoretsky’s Endgame Manual (4th Edition)

Because there are just too many books coming out to keep up with, I’ll be doing some brief book notes along with my longer, in-depth reviews and essays. This is the first of those notes. – JH

Dvoretsky, Mark. Dvoretsky’s Endgame Manual, 4th edition. Milford: Russell Enterprises, 2014. 424pp. ISBN 978-1941270042. PB $34.95; currently $26ish on Amazon.

Dvoretsky’s Endgame Manual (DEM) is, for my money, the best single-volume endgame textbook in print. (There is an argument to be made for Muller & Lamprecht’s Fundamental Chess Endings, but that is an issue for another post.) Originally published in 2003, DEM is now in its fourth edition and fifth printing. What has been changed for this new edition?

The first thing that a reader might notice is an increase in the number of diagrams in the text. Dvoretsky claims in his author’s note to this edition that some 200 diagrams have been added, making it easier for his readers to study the book without a board. (What an optimist!) As new seven-person tablebases have become available, analysis of such positions has been checked and corrected where necessary. Other corrections – notably in the realm of certain rook endgames – have also been included, as theory has progressed dramatically in some cases, even since the previous edition was published in 2011.

Much of this movement in the theory of rook endgames is due to the remarkable analysis of a few obsessive endgame fans in the ChessPub Endgame forums. Dvoretsky pays special tribute to the work of Vardan Poghosyan, an endgame specialist whom I have mentioned in an earlier review, as being particularly important in this regard.

It is often said that opening books are out of date as soon as they are printed, as new games and new ideas are produced every day. This is less true of endgame manuals, but it is still a fact of publishing life. Another drawing idea in the Kantorovich / Steckner position was discovered by Jacob Aagaard earlier this year and verified by Poghosyan in the Chesspub forums. Because this discovery appeared too late for inclusion in the new edition of DEM, I provide it here. The position is 9-158 in DEM 4th edition, 9-144 in DEM 3rd edition.

While there are a number of improvements to this new edition of DEM, there is also potentially a regression. Some readers of earlier editions, notably the first and second, complained that some of the blue print (used to denote key theoretical positions and analysis) was fainter than they would have preferred. A few of the pages in my copy of this new edition suffer from the same problem. There are even a few pages where both the black and blue print are faint. All pages are fully legible, and I cannot say whether problem is unique to my copy or endemic to many; still, if you are sensitive to such things, be aware.

I don’t think you can call yourself a serious student of the endgame and not own Dvoretsky’s Endgame Manual. If you already own it, you can probably skip upgrading to the new edition, unless you (like me) are the sort of person who likes to have the most up-to-date theory at your disposal. If you don’t have it on your bookshelf, you should SERIOUSLY consider adding it to your collection.


Holiday Gifts for Chessplayers

Last year I posted a three-part guide to holiday gifts for the chess player or aficionado in your life. Most all of what was written there still stands, so before I mention a few newer items of note, I refer you to those three posts. I also encourage you to check out my complete list of reviews.

2013 Buying Guide #1: Clocks and Chess Interfaces (Note – ChessBase 13 is now available)
2013 Buying Guide #2: Databases and Engines (Note – the discussion of engines is slightly out of date; see this for updated information)
2013 Buying Guide #3: Chess books

Here are a few new thoughts on the swag you might buy for your beloved chess fan. Some (but not all) of what I mention has been reviewed here already; if it has been reviewed, I will link to the review in question.

For the serious player (or the player who wants to get serious):

ChessBase is indispensable. It is expensive, but it’s worth it, and your player will be over the moon upon receiving this. You can order from Amazon (available from Prime sellers) or download directly from if time is of the essence.

If they have ChessBase already, perhaps they need a new engine to use in it! You might also consider getting them Jon Edwards’ lovely (and useful) book on getting the most out of ChessBase.

For the improving player:

Don’t let the length of Arthur van de Oudeweetering’s name trouble you. His new book from NIC, Improve Your Chess Pattern Recognition, is a great (and pronounceable) read on positional ‘priyomes’ or patterns. Most of the book started as columns in the defunct ChessVibes Magazine, and those columns were just brilliant. I expect the book (still waiting on a review copy) will be no different.

Pete Tamburro’s Openings for Amateurs is really good for young players and players rated below 1800. It is good with explaining ideas but also contains enough analysis to form a coherent repertoire.

The 4th edition of Dvoretsky’s Endgame Manual is out, and it’s the gold standard for one-volume endgame books. It’s a serious book for serious students, but I can’t think of a more useful book for someone who really wants to improve.

The Stappenmethode series of books is, in my opinion, the best training system available.

For the openings theoretician:

Two recent books from Quality Chess are stellar:

1.d4 players will appreciate any of Alexei Kornev’s three volumes on closed openings. I’ve spent some time with the third volume, devoted to the Nimzo-Indian and other lines, and I’ve found the analysis to be solid and understandable for non-masters.

Those with limited time for opening study and those looking for a very solid response to 1.e4 will like Hannes Langrock’s French Defense: the Solid Rubinstein Variation.

For the historian:

Andy Soltis has written a number of really important historical works, but for a long time they were only available in expensive hardcover format. Now McFarland has begun printing some of those titles in paperback. Two of them are worth consideration: Frank Marshall, United States Chess Champion, and Soviet Chess 1917-1991. I found the latter to be indispensible when I was reading and reviewing Soltis’ new book on Mikhail Botvinnik, which itself won the 2014 Chess Journalists of America Book of the Year award.

Jimmy Adams’ books have long been out of print and hard to find. His book on Johannes Zukertort, one of his best, has been reset and reprinted by New in Chess. There are lots of exciting attacking games in these pages.

For the chess fan:

Judit Polgar retired from competitive chess this year, but before she did, she left us with a gift. The three volumes of Judit Polgar Teaches Chess are luminous! They cover the entirety of her career, and while the books are structured by topic and theme instead of in a strictly linear fashion, there is a lot of color and personal reminiscence to complement the games and analysis. These are very personal works, and I think they’ll stand up against the best autobiographical works in the history of chess literature.

Bent Larsen’s Best Games makes the games of the Great Dane available once more to an English-speaking audience.

A ‘fan’ or a ‘historian’ would appreciate Mark Dvoretsky’s latest book, For Friends and Colleagues: Profession: Chess Coach. I reviewed this for the January 2015 issue of Chess Life, and while I can’t break the publishing embargo, let’s just say that the review was positive.

My best wishes to my readers for the holiday season!

The Great Dane

This review has been printed in the December 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.


Larsen, Bent. Bent Larsen’s Best Games: Fighting Chess with the Great Dane. Alkmaar: New in Chess, 2014. Translated from Todas Las Piezas Atacan (volumes 1 and 2) by Freddie Poggio and John Saunders. ISBN 978-9056914684. 336pp. PB $34.95; currently (12/2) $25ish on Amazon.

The name Bent Larsen is, for many Americans, inextricably linked with that of Bobby Fischer. It was Larsen, not Fischer, who played first board in the 1970 USSR vs the World match, with Bobby – returning to chess after a three year absence – graciously giving way to the Dane. And it was Larsen who was Fischer’s second victim in his miraculous march to the World Championship, the score of the Candidates Semi-Final in Denver standing 6-0 in the American’s favor.

Such myopia is perhaps understandable, given the Fischer-colored lens that colors American understanding of chess history. It is also lamentable. Bent Larsen was not merely a bit player in the great Fischer drama. He was, for at least a decade, the only Western player (besides Fischer) to seriously trouble the Soviets, the winner of dozens of tournaments and three Interzonals, and a prolific writer to boot.

For years the English-speaking world has had to make due with just one games collection from Larsen: his 1970 Larsen’s Selected Games of Chess 1948-1969, now out of print and relatively hard to find. New in Chess has seized upon this fact and published Bent Larsen’s Best Games: Fighting Chess with the Great Dane. And not a moment too soon.

Bent Larsen’s Best Games is a translation of two recent Spanish collections. Games #1-74 are an extended and revised version of the material in Larsen’s Selected Games, with games through 1973. Games #75-124 come from Larsen’s 1973-77 journalistic efforts, so the notes have a slightly breezier feel than the earlier ones.

Larsen is not quite in the class of Botvinnik or Smyslov as an annotator, but he is very close. His notes are deeply instructive, judiciously mixing variations with prose. We get a real sense of Larsen the player and strategist in these pages, and the influence of his hero Aron Nimzowitsch is clearly felt.

Here is Larsen’s account of a ‘mysterious rook move’ that would have pleased the Stormy Petrel. White is to play.



… the advantages of 18.Rb2 can be summarized as follows: (1) it leads to a direct threat, with a gain of tempo; (2) it prepares for a doubling of rooks on the d-file; for example, 18…Qc7 19.Na4, with the idea of 20.Qc4 and 21.Rbd2; (3) it is important to retain the c-pawn to support the knight on a4. That is to say, with the c-pawn solidly protected and the a-file blocked, White can concentrate his forces on exploiting the open d-file. Then White will be able to strengthen his position with Nd2 and Nc4, Bf1 and Bc4, or h3–h4 and Bh3. (43)

Here we see the profundity of Larsen’s play as well as his explanatory prowess. Modern engines may prefer the ‘dogmatic’ (Kmoch) 18.b4, but they do not contradict the validity of Larsen’s move. If we look at the text a bit closer, we might also see something else.

The same game – Larsen-Perez, Gijon 1956 – appears in Larsen’s Selected Games. There Larsen says that “it is really important to keep the pawn on QKt3, to protect the knight on QR4. With the pawn on QB5 solidly protected and the QR file blocked, White is able to concentrate upon the exploitation of the Queen’s file.” This earlier rendering makes more sense, and I suspect – although I cannot say definitively – that the new translation is mistaken.

There are other small errors sprinkled through the text. Impossible moves are given (11…Kf5, 153). Openings are incorrectly named (35) and evaluations are flipped (287). It may seem pedantic to note such issues, but Larsen’s writing deserves much better.

Still, this is a fantastic book. Bent Larsen was a world-class player and writer. His games remain vital, entertaining and educational. So do yourself a favor: put down that opening book for a few days and let Houdini rest for a while. Get out your set and pieces and spend some time with Bent Larsen’s Best Games. You might just remember why you started playing chess in the first place.