Book Notice: Dvoretsky's *Recognizing Your Opponent's Resources*
Monday, November 16, 2015 at 11:11PM
Dennis Monokroussos in Book Reviews, Mark Dvoretsky

Mark Dvoretsky, Recognizing Your Opponent's Resources: Developing Preventive Thinking. Russell Enterprises, 2015. 355 pp., $24.95.

Describing this book is very easy: there are four chapters, each beginning with a few examples illustrating the theme followed by a long series of very challenging exercises. In three of the chapters the focus is on what one's opponent can do, and in one we are given a technique for handling what our opponent is up to.

Chapter 1 (I)  has almost the same title as the book: "Pay Attention to Your Opponent's Resources". Dvoretsky helpfully elaborates in the chapter introduction:

The key word in the title of this chapter is "attention." It is no accident that a significant proportion of the mistakes (we call them "oversights" and "blunders") are by no means associated with your own failed ideas, but with strong opposition on the part of your opponent. You do not notice them because your attention is mainly directed towards looking for and studying your own strongest moves. You should put yourself in the position of your partner a little more often, and think about how he is going to react to the idea you have in store for him. However, this very important skill that forms the title of this chapter (like any other skill) does not appear by itself.

If there is anything true of Dvoretsky's books, it is his belief that skills can be developed with suitable training, and he aims to provide it. Even the positions given in the introductory portion of the chapter are in effect offered as exercises (diagrams have W? or B?, sometimes with a question below the diagram), and then there are 180 "official" exercises after the ten or so "friendly" pages. Even the initial exercises are moderately difficult, but by the end they are really, really, extremely tough. Dvoretsky's books are meant for very strong, serious and ambitious players - I'd say 2000 at a bare minimum, with 2200 or so probably a more suitable entry level for this work. Of course, anyone who wants to see for himself ought to do so, and at worst those who buy the book will be treated to some fantastic ideas and variations.

Chapter 2 (or rather, Chapter II), "The Process of Elimination", is the one chapter that is more focused on one's own possibilities than the opponent's. The technique in question is especially useful for perfectionistic time-trouble fiends, but we can all benefit by it regardless of our skill at handling the clock. There's a famous Sherlock Holmes quote that offers an apt analogy: "When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth." Sadly, we're not always right when we evaluate this or that thing impossible, but in the chess context we don't have to analyze a particular move very deeply when we know that all the alternatives lose, particularly if they lose pretty straightforwardly. If the idea isn't clear yet, it will be after his intro and another 107 exercises.

Chapter 3 (III) is on traps, a skill that also takes one's opponent into account in that a good trap is based on trying to anticipate what our opponent wants to do. A particularly subtle sort of trap occurs when one appears to miss the opponent's trap; this sort of trick was one of Mikhail Tal's specialties. (Indeed, two such examples are given in the introductory part of the chapter, with one more in the exercises.) As the subject of traps is already very well-known, there are only 36 exercises this time around.

Finally, chapter 4 (oddly, the Roman numerals cease, and it's given as "Chapter Four"), "Prophylactic Thinking", centers on a concept that Dvoretsky didn't invent, prophylaxis (the term goes back to Nimzowitsch, I believe, and the reality described by the term surely goes back to the first great players), but no one has done more than he has in recent decades to bring this term into the general consciousness of the chess community. One need not always prevent the opponent's ideas; additionally, sometimes the prophylaxis is against an idea that will only arise after we execute our own plans. Nevertheless, it is crucial to think about what one's opponent wants to do and will be able to do, and it's often very helpful to snuff out those ideas before they see the light of day. This concept is one of his favorites, so it's no surprise that there are 154 exercises this time around, bringing the grand total to 477, not counting the implicit exercises in the chapter intros.

A note on sources: some of the material, but (I'm pretty sure) not all of it, came from articles published in his monthly Chess Cafe column from July 2010 through November of 2012. (More specifically: chapter 1 material came in part from columns from July-September 2010, Elimination material from August-October 2011, Traps from March-June 2012 and Prophylactic Thinking from September-November 2012.

Highly recommended to the relevant audiences!

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