Tag Archives: Alekhine

‘Tis the Season

This review has been printed in the December 2018 issue of Chess Life.  A penultimate (and unedited) version of the review is reproduced here. Minor differences exist between this and the printed version. My thanks to the good folks at Chess Life for allowing me to do so.


Abrahamyan, Tatev, et al. The Sinquefield Cup: Celebrating Five Years 2013-2017. Privately printed. Available at qboutique.com

Alekhine, Alexander. Chess Duels 1893-1920: 260 Games Annotated by Alexander Alekhine. Prague: Moravian Chess, 2017. ISBN 978-8071890126. HB 452pp.

Donaldson, John, and Nikolay Minev. The Life & Games of Akiva Rubinstein, Volume 1: The Uncrowned King. 2nd edition. Milford: Russell Enterprises, 2018 (2006). ISBN 978-1941270882. PB 402pp.

Dvoretsky, Mark. Chess Lessons: Solving Problems & Avoiding Mistakes. Milford: Russell Enterprises, 2018. ISBN 978-1941270707. PB 274pp.

Llada, David. The Thinkers. Glasgow: Quality Chess, 2018. ISBN 978-1784830335. HB 208pp.

Ris, Robert. Crucial Chess Skills for the Club Player, Volume 1. Gent: Thinkers Publishing, 2018. ISBN 978-9492510228. PB 239pp.

Chess players are an ecumenical lot. While we all worship at the altar of Caïssa, the goddess of chess first described by the Renaissance poet Hieronymous Vida in 1527, many of us also prostrate before other deities. With the holidays fast approaching, let me be the first to wish you a joyous season, however you may choose to celebrate it.

It’s a good thing that we chess players are so open minded, since the only thing better than getting chess-related gifts this time of year is giving them! This month I want to look back at the year in books, picking out a few worthy titles that didn’t make their way into my column. (My favorites among those reviewed in the past year, for what it’s worth, are Timman’s Titans by Timman and Applying Logic in Chess by Kislik.) Perhaps you’ll find a gift idea for a chess friend here, or you can circle a title and leave this issue open somewhere for a loved one to find.

We’ll begin with a rare beast in the world of chess publishing, the coffee-table book. And not just one, but two!

David Llada’s The Thinkers is a sumptuous collection of more than 170 photographs of players from around the world. His subjects range from World Champions to street hustlers, but the real focus of the work is the game itself, the struggle and the agon. Anyone who loves our game will see themselves in this book, and non-initiates will come away with something of what it means to play it.

Llada includes a few mandatory shots: an intense, glaring Kasparov, a gaunt and haunted Grischuk, an Ivanchuk fully absorbed in the position in front of him. For me, however, it’s the photos of the lesser known personalities, many taken at Olympiads and the ill-fated Millionaire Chess, that are most evocative. We encounter in Llada’s portraits a chess world that is far more globalized and diverse than we might expect, and through his lens, perhaps we chess players might better understand our community and ourselves. Brilliant, brilliant stuff.

The Thinkers is a quintessential coffee-table book. Despite its heft and lavish production, I would argue that The Sinquefield Cup: Celebrating Five Years: 2013-2017 is not a coffee-table book, not precisely. It is that, of course, with its dozens of documentary photographs and stunning layout. But more to the point, The Sinquefield Cup is a fitting documentary tribute to a tournament and a patron that together have fundamentally reshaped American chess.

This eponymous book tells the story of the origins of the Sinquefield Cup. Rex Sinquefield explains how he had to be talked into lending his name to the tournament, and Sunil Weeramantry describes his early diplomatic efforts on behalf of the Saint Louis Chess Club. STLCC broadcasters Yasser Seirawan (2013), Jennifer Shahade (2014), Alejandro Ramirez (2015), Tatev Abrahamyan (2016), and Maurice Ashley (2017) report on each of the tournament’s first five years, including in-depth analysis and notes on key positions. An appendix contains player bios, crosstables and complete sets of games for each tournament.

The Sinquefield Cup is a well-crafted homage to the elite chess on display in the Sinquefield Cup, and a worthy testament to the great work done by Sinquefield and the Saint Louis Chess Club. This is a book that deserves to be read by all fans of American chess. Perhaps its only drawback is its size – you need a very big coffee-table to lay this book flat alongside a set and board!

Games collections always make good gifts for chess players, and more than a few notable titles have made their way to me in the past year. One of the most interesting is Chess Duels 1893-1920: 260 Games Annotated by Alexander Alekhine, out last year from the Czech publisher Moravian Chess. The book is, as one would expect from its title, a collection of games annotated by the 4th World Champion.

Chess Duels uses multiple sources for Alekhine’s annotations, including newspapers and chess journals in Russian and French. Many are from his own praxis, while more than a few are by other, lesser known players. And that’s where the exceptional value of this book lies. A good number of the games in Chess Duels can be found elsewhere, most notably in Alekhine’s own My Best Games 1908-1920. There are also dozens of gems played by half-forgotten masters of the past, many of which do not appear in MegaBase or other standard sources.

Here is one such game from the ill-fated Mannheim 1914 tournament, contested right as the first shots of World War I rang out. It features the noted Russian player and theoretician Peter Romanovsky in a wonderful tactical display.

Scotch Game (C45)
Mannheim B, 1914

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nxc6 bxc6 6.Bd3 d5 7.exd5 cxd5 8.0–0 Be7 9.Nc3 0–0 10.b3 Bb7 11.Bb2 d4 12.Ne2 c5 13.Ng3 Qd5 14.f3 Bd6 15.Nf5 Rfe8 16.Nxd6 Qxd6 17.Qd2


17. …Nd5!

“The start of a combination, amazing for its depth and length of calculation, in which already Black had to work out the consequences of his 24th move.” (Alekhine)

18.Be4 Nf4! 19.Bxb7

19.Rae1 Bxe4 20.Rxe4 Rxe4 21.fxe4 Ne6 with “good winning chances.”

19. …Re2 20.Qxf4

20.Qd1? Rxg2+ 21.Kh1 Qh6 and Black is winning.

20. …Qxf4 21.Bxa8 d3! 22.Bc3

Romanovsky recommended 22.Kh1 but Alekhine writes that after 22. …d2 White will have trouble defending against …Qe3 and …Re1. Modern engines show us that Romanovsky was probably right, with the amazing line (per Fiala) 23.Be4 Qe3 24.Bd3 Re1 25.Bc3 Rc1 and neither side can make any progress! Better is 22. …Rxc2.

22. …Qe3+ 23.Kh1 d2! 24.Ba5 c4!! 25.bxc4

If 25.Bxd2 Rxd2 (25. …Qxd2 26.Rad1 c3? 27.f4!) 26.bxc4 Rxc2 27.Bd5 (27.Rae1 Re2) 27. …Qd2 28.f4 Rxa2 and Black is better.

25. …Qg5 26.g3? Qxa5

26. …Qh5 is mate in eight.

27.f4 Re1 28.Bf3 Qc3 0–1

This year also saw the second printing of a games collection that had become very hard to find. The Life & Games of Akiva Rubinstein, Volume 1: Uncrowned King is the definitive treatment of the most important years (1882-1920) of Rubinstein’s legendary career, but due to scarcity or the vagaries of unseen algorithms, it was only available on the Internet at exorbitant prices.

Now, with this re-release, readers can once again enjoy the 492 Rubinstein games included in the book, many with notes collected by the editors John Donaldson and Nikolay Minev. Rubinstein is often cited as a player whose study will improve one’s chess, and Boris Gelfand has repeatedly discussed the value of playing through his games. This new printing is great news for all chess fans, save those collectors who had hoped to fund their retirements through the sale of the first edition!

Improvement books are always welcome gifts, at least in the Hartmann house, and Robert Ris’ Crucial Chess Skills for the Club Player: Volume 1 was one of the year’s best. Ris does an excellent job of focusing on three areas where most sub-2200 players might improve: endgames (chapters 1-4), tactics (chapters 5-6), and middlegame strategy (chapters 7-9). The three chapters on rook endgames are especially good.

Readers are not burdened with extensive analysis in Crucial Chess Skills. Instead they are treated to an appropriate and instructive mix of words and moves. Readers should also be aware, however, that much of the material in Crucial Chess Skills is recycled from his columns for the defunct ChessVibes Magazine – all the endgame examples, save one, are found there – and from his various video products. There’s nothing wrong with this practice, but if you have other Ris titles on your shelf, you might want to ask Santa for something different.

Our final title this month, Mark Dvoretsky’s Chess Lessons: Solving Problems & Avoiding Mistakes, is a sequel of sorts to Dvoretsky’s Analytical Manual, sharing much of its DNA. The analysis is intense, and Dvoretsky holds nothing back in his presentation, turning the firehose on full blast. But the real goal of Chess Lessons, as was the case with Dvoretsky’s Analytical Manual, is education. All of the analysis works to illustrate how the best players think about chess and also about their thought processes.

Take the discussion of the game Oll-Hodgson (Groningen, 1993). The notes stretch on for ten pages (68-78), but there is method to Dvoretsky’s apparent madness, with helpful asides on candidate moves, opening analysis after Carlsen, and the principle of the worst piece working as signposts to lead us through the analytical thickets. Dvoretsky’s study of Fine-Shainswit (US Championship, 1944) is excellent in its discussion (112-118) of the psychology of sacrifice, and his use of the position after Black’s 28th move in training games with his students helps us understand how different players can approach the same problem to be solved.

Chess Lessons is not for the faint of heart, and it’s probably best suited for experts and above who don’t mind a little hard work. I’m an A player, and while I struggled to stay afloat in the depths of Dvoretsky’s analysis, I do feel as if I learned something in the process. (Whether this is real or epiphenomenal, only time will tell.) My only complaint about the book is its size. There is so much text crammed into its 6×9 inch pages that it can be hard to read, and I suspect that making it oversized like Dvoretsky’s Analytical Manual would have made the layout much clearer.


One of the Classics… but better

Alekhine, Alexander.  My Best Games of Chess: 1908-1937 (21st Century Edition).  USA: Russell Enterprises, 2013.  ISBN 978-1936490653.  List $34.95.

Nota bene: I was provided a review copy of this book by the publisher.

Some reviews are easier to write than others.

It seems to be a nearly universal recommendation for improvement.  Study the classics.  Study the games and ideas of the great masters of the past, and your game will improve.  Choose a chess ‘hero’ – preferably from before the Second World War – and play through all of their games to ‘get in their skin.’  (What a shame, by the way, that Jeremy Silman has removed so much content from his website.)  Soviet trainers used to tell their pupils that the study of Rubinstein’s games would add 100 points to their ratings; if this is true, surely the same can be said for a deep, intensive study of the annotated games of Alexander Alekhine.

Today’s youth don’t know the classics, and I think this is the case for a couple of reasons.  First, young chess players generally get their chess via the Interwebs.  This leads to something like a lingering presentism in their chess psyches.  Why study Alekhine when you can watch Nakamura play 1-minute on ICC?  Hell, why study annotated games at all when you can just play endless blitz for free at chess.com?

For those lucky few who have listened to their elders and chosen to study the classics, there is a second problem.  Most of the recommended game collections were originally published in descriptive notation.  All of Reinfeld’s game collections – on Keres, Lasker, Capablanca, and especially Tarrasch – are in descriptive.  Kmoch’s book on Rubinstein is in descriptive.  Alekhine’s game collection is in descriptive.  And none of today’s youth can read descriptive.

Hanon Russell has, after selling ChessCafe, turned his attention to the remedy of this deplorable situation, publishing ‘21st Century’ Editions’ of older books.  These ‘21st Century Editions’ involve, at base, the translation of these books into algebraic notation, bringing them back into the chess vernacular of our day.  Russell Enterprises has brought Lasker and Reti back into print, translated the semi-legendary Najdorf book on Zurich 1953 into English, and republished (in algebraic) the tournament books of important historical events.  Now Russell has done the chess world another great service by printing a new algebraic edition of Alexander Alekhine’s Best Games.

Alekhine was, in my humble estimation, one of the top five players ever to play our beloved game, and he was certainly among its greatest annotators.  Annotations before Alekhine (or perhaps Tartakower) tended to be fluffy, light on substance.  Alekhine’s annotations, while perhaps sometimes overly influenced by self-regard and game outcomes, are dense and educational, seeking to divulge the inner truths of positions.  His play tended towards the attacking and combinative, loading his game collection with sparkling brilliances and astonishing moves.  There are few game collections worthy of study more than Alekhine’s, and this new edition actually improves on the original Bell & Sons books through the considered inclusion of pictures and crosstables.  The layout feels more natural for the modern eye, and of course, the translation into algebraic renders the book readable once again for the chess masses.

The decision to render diagrams in Alekhine’s games with black ‘upside-down’ is, as Dennis Monokroussos points out, controversial.  Dennis considers this a ‘con;’ I, however, think it to be unproblematic.  Most of the people who are replaying these games will be doing so from Alekhine’s perspective, so for them, the ‘upside-down’ diagrams seem right-side up.  Modern players are also much more used to 2D representations of board with black on the bottom than are their elders.  Half of their games on the Internet, after all, appear in just this way.

I’m also appreciative for the restraint shown by Russell and Taylor Kingston, who did the conversion into algebraic, in their decision to exclude computer-assisted corrections from the text, preferring instead to publish them separately online.  One of the great advantages of playing over older game collections consists in the more ‘human’ or logical nature of the annotations.  I think you learn more from Alekhine’s annotations than, say, Kasparov’s annotations of the same games in MGP.  They might not be as analytically precise, but they tend to get to the essence of the position much more quickly and clearly than do the computer-assisted notes.  Too much analysis can overwhelm even the most attentive reader.

There remain a few editorial oversights in the text.  Some, it would seem, are unfortunate remainders from the conversion from Chessbase files to Word files to formatted text.  A few moves appear twice or are missing, for example. and this generally has to do with the placement or removal of diagrams in the text.  Such slips are, however, rare, and the book is on the whole free from error.

The price ($34.95) is a bit steep, but here I think we see the facts of the modern book market at work.  Russell is surely aware that most of these books will sell via Amazon, which discounts heavily.  The brick and mortar sellers don’t seem to stock chess books anymore, so why not set prices that reflect this reality?  My Best Games of Chess: 1908-1937 (21st Century Edition) is currently (as of 5/16) available on Amazon for $23.07, while the older descriptive edition from Dover lists for $19.95 and is discounted to $17.77.  $23 for this book is entirely reasonable, and I think that the pictures, crosstables and algebraic notation render the extra cost against the Dover edition worth your consideration.  Perhaps the only thing the Dover book has going for it is its slightly sturdier spine and paper.

If you have the old descriptive notation and you’re comfortable reading DN, you might skip the upgrade.  But if you don’t, or if you’re shaky in your descriptive reading skills, this book is entirely worth the purchase price.  I can warmly recommend it to players of all ratings; in fact, I will be recommending it to my students and to the chess team I coach.


PS: Hanon… translate Kmoch’s Rubinstein book next, ok?