Tag Archives: Victor Moskalenko

Trend Hopping

This review has been printed in the August 2017 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.

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Edouard, Romain. Chess Calculation Training: Volume 1, Middlegames. Gent: Thinkers Publishing, 2017. ISBN 9789492510037. PB 250pp.

Kalinin, Alexander. Chess Training for Candidate Masters: Accelerate Your Progress by Thinking for Yourself. Alkmaar: New in Chess, 2017. ISBN 978-9056917159. PB 208pp.

Moskalenko, Viktor. Training with Moska: Practical Chess Exercises – Tactics, Strategy, Endgames. Alkmaar: New in Chess, 2017. ISBN 978-9056916763. PB 336pp.

Every year it’s the same.

Someone stumbles upon an unlikely hit – think Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, 50 Shades of Whatever – and others, desperate to get in on the riches, commission analogous titles. Similar books and movies appear in waves, and publishers try to surf those waves until they peter out, leaving their riders high and dry.

The chess world is not immune from such trend-hopping. Opening books are always in style and in print, but recently (and much to my liking) a spate of titles devoted to training have come to press. We looked at a few earlier this year, and we’ll check out three more in this month’s column.

Both the title and subtitle of Alexander Kalinin’s book – Chess Training for Candidate Masters: Accelerate Your Progress by Thinking for Yourself – are evocative of the book as a whole. Kalinin implores his readers to think for themselves and resist the colonization of their thought by the engines. True mastery, he argues, can be achieved if four training principles are followed.

Players must form “a relationship with chess as an art,” strive for analytical mastery and precision, study the classics, and cultivate interpersonal relationships with teachers and exemplars. This last point is particularly important, as Kalinin’s book is filled with bon mots and other insights from Soviet trainers both famous and forgotten. My favorite comes from IM Oleg Averkin: “Tactics have a greater significance in the endgame than in the middlegame!” (65)

Kalinin is a persuasive writer, and the book is chock full of interesting and little-known illustrative examples. Most players would do well to heed his admonitions and turn off Stockfish most of the time. Still, I do wonder if there’s not a slight luddism in play here.

It is true that there is no small danger in our overreliance on the computer and its inhuman evaluations. But it is false that “we have stopped thinking and analyzing for ourselves.” (11) There are far too many computer-trained GMs and young phenoms for this to be true. If anything, the computer has, when handled judiciously, expanded our thinking about what is possible with 32 pieces on 64 squares.

I’m always happy to receive a new book by Viktor Moskalenko. His work is enthusiastic, inspirational and consistently worth reading. In his newest effort, Training with Moska: Practical Chess Exercises: Tactics, Strategy, Endgames, Moskalenko offers readers a wide range of positions for solving and training purposes. Each of the three main sections described in the subtitle contain multiple subsections with instructional elements and problems to solve.

Training with Moska lacks a substantive table of contents, making the book rather difficult to use. There’s no way to know what’s in each section without looking at each page, the book has no thematic index, and scanning the text for specific topics is difficult due to the cramped layout. This makes focused training very difficult.

It’s also not clear to me that the positions on offer here are practical, as the subtitle claims. Many of them are engrossing, even spectacular, but practical training might require more sedate, everyday moves and problems. I suspect that ultimately Training with Moska is best suited for pleasure reading and not for hardcore training workouts.

Our last book this month, Chess Calculation Training: Volume 1, Middlegames, is a much more austere training manual than Moskalenko’s. It is Romain Edouard’s second effort in this vein, with the first (Chess Manual of Avoidable Mistakes, Part 2: Test Yourself!) being reviewed here this past January.

Chess Calculation Training consists of 496 positions from recent games separated into ten broad sections. Some of the tasks are typical of the genre, where readers must find winning tactical or positional moves. Others, like “Find the missed move!” (chapter 8) or “Evaluate the opportunity!” (chapter 9), are less common.

This is a rather Spartan book, especially when compared with Moskalenko’s. Edouard’s book is a set of difficult problems and sparse solutions, and that’s pretty much it. True, occasional hints are provided, but they are completely optional and appear on pages separate from the problems. You’ll need to work hard to find the answers in Chess Calculation Training, and that seems to be exactly Edouard’s point in writing it.

I’d suggest that readers consider their goals in chess before deciding to buy one of these books. Kalinin is fantastic for someone looking for a broad overview of training techniques, and Edouard is an advanced workbook for the ambitious improver. Moskalenko, I’d argue, is more appropriate for someone looking for interesting examples that might also impart some wisdom. Chess is supposed to be pleasurable, even when we’re trying to improve, and despite the warts, Training with Moska is a pretty enjoyable read.

Polishing the Gem

Moskalenko, Victor.  The Diamond Dutch: Strategic Ideas & Powerful Weapons.  Alkmaar: New in Chess, 2014. 300pp. ISBN 978-9056914417. PB $29.95; currently about $21 at Amazon.

Victor Moskalenko is one of our most consistently – with one misstep – engaging and creative chess authors.  His two books on the French – The Wonderful Winawer and The Flexible French (sadly out-of-print) – are both original and erudite.  When I was putting together my French repertoire, in fact, I found that Moskalenko’s French books walk that very fine line between not enough detail and entirely too much.  His analysis is clear, if sometimes idiosyncratic, and he explains the key ideas and themes well.  Moskalenko has also penned books on the Budapest and the Pirc-Modern.  Now he takes on the Dutch, an opening that is growing in popularity as it appears more and more at the Grandmaster level.

The Diamond Dutch is a complete book on the Dutch.  It covers all the major Dutch and anti-Dutch lines without favoring White or Black in the process, as sometimes happens in repertoire books.  While the Stonewall, Classical and Leningrad variations are all treated here, the Stonewall and Leningrad receive a slightly larger share of Moskalenko’s attention; those interested in the Classical or the ‘Dutch Nimzo-Indian’ should note this.

This book follows Moskalenko’s usual format in that it uses complete games to anchor the analysis.  There is quite a bit of prose, and Moskalenko makes use of a number of symbols (or emojis?!) to make certain ideas or analytical bits prominent.  You can get a sense of how this plays out in the text by looking at the sample pdf on the New in Chess website.  There is a key on p.4 of the pdf (p.8 in the book) and some of the symbols appear in the sample text that follows.

It’s always interesting to see how new opening books stack up to their peers.  In his review, for example, Dennis Monokroussos compared Moskalenko’s analysis of 2.Nc3 with that offered by John Watson in his recent (and excellent, by the way!) A Strategic Opening Repertoire for White. He also compares Moskalenko’s coverage of 2.Bg5 with with Larry Kaufman’s analysis in his Kaufman Repertoire.

Having reviewed Richard Pert’s book on the Trompowsky, which contains analysis of 2.Bg5 vs the Dutch, I had thought that I might undertake a similar comparison for my review.  Moskalenko does not cite Pert – his bibliography is surprisingly slight – so perhaps such a comparison might be both illustrative and illuminating.  What I found was interesting, although perhaps not in the way I had expected.

Pert’s analysis, on first blush, seemed to anticipate a lot of Moskalenko’s, and with good reason!  Pert cites NIC Yearbook surveys by Moskalenko in the introduction to his analysis.  When I went back to the two surveys in NIC Yearbooks 94 and 95, I was in for a bit of a shock.  There is a tremendous amount of overlap between the surveys and the 2.Bg5 chapter in The Diamond Dutch.  Indeed, it is as if the 2.Bg5 chapter is a condensed version of these two surveys.  The games are much the same, the analysis is quite similar, and great swathes of prose appear verbatim in both places.

There is more.  Chapters 4 and 5 in The Diamond Dutch are ‘broader update[s]’ (87) of two chapters from Revolutionize Your Chess.  Moskalenko acknowledges this in the introduction to chapter 4, and while there are improvements and updates in the text – most notably, the hamfisted ‘touchstones’ from Revolutionize are omitted here – Moskalenko paraphrases his previous analysis and text when not simply reprinting it.

Some of these updates are found in other NIC Yearbooks.  HIs attempt to outfox Avrukh (ch4, pp.128-138) is anticipated by a survey in NIC YB 101, albeit with a number of updates and refinements new toThe Diamond Dutch.  Pages 123-128 find a very near relative in a survey from NIC YB 102.  Finally, the notes to some other games – Van Wely-Moskalenko, Ciudad Real 2004, for instance – have clear antecedents in the notes in surveys for Chessbase Magazine 120 and 121.

Let me be clear.  I’m not opposed to an author reworking previously published material, especially if the material is as good as that in The Diamond Dutch.  I’d simply like to see some kind of acknowledgement of that repackaging and reworking somewhere in the book.

That said, all of this reworking and updating finds its end in a finely polished analytical effort.  In my survey of Moskalenko’s analysis of 2.Bg5, for instance, I thought that the chapter was a broad and representative survey of all the main lines for both sides.  Whereas Pert gives a tight repertoire for White, Moskalenko provides enough material for both White and Black to navigate the variation.  I did, however, note a curious omission. After 1.d4 f5 2.Bg5 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.h4 Moskalenko analyzes 4…h6 and 4…Nh6, omitting 4…Nf6.  This, to me, is like leaving the punch line off the joke, since the whole point of the h4 push is (a la Pert and Schandorff) to sacrifice the exchange on h5 if Black plays …Nf6!

Fans of Simon Williams and his ‘Killer Dutch’ will be glad to know that Moskalenko addresses one of the current difficulties in the Classical Dutch.  He confirms Williams’ idea (given here in the essential ChessPub forums by Williams himself!) that after the critical line 1.Nf3 f5 2.d4 e6 3.c4 Nf6 4.g3 Be7 5.Bg2 0-0 6.0-0 d6 7.Nc3 Ne4!? 8.Nxe4!? Black should continue 8…fxe4 9.Nd2 d5 10.f3!? Nc6!? with decent prospects.

Dutch aficionados will find in The Diamond Dutch a ‘refined’ and reliable guide to all major variations.  Those who play closed positions with White will find much here to inspire the next assault on Black’s f-pawn.  I do not think there is a better guide to the Dutch – for either color – currently in print.