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    Monday
    Jul132015

    Book Review: Guliev's Winning Chess Manoeuvres

    Sarhan Guliev, Winning Chess Manoeuvres: Strategic Ideas that Masters Never Fail to Find (New in Chess, 2015). 238 pp., $26.95/24.95. Reviewed by Dennis Monokroussos.

    I suspect that most of you, like me, had never heard of Sarhan Guliev prior to hearing about this book, but this is not Guliev's fault! He is a grandmaster from Azerbaijan who has won his national championship three times, so he's obviously a very competent player. The "problem" is that he has worked mainly as a chess coach since 2000. He has also worked as a writer, publishing 11 books, but aside from an Informant-style endgame book published in 2003 this is the first one to come out in English (thanks to a translator).

    The book is another entrant in the increasingly popular "strategic patterns" genre. Almost all of us are familiar with tactics books divided by patterns (knights, forks, pins, skewers, etc.), but trying to increase players' middlegame knowledge by teaching strategic patterns has become a trend lately. Yaroslav Srokovski's Chess Training for Post-Beginners is one such work, and Artur van de Oudeweetering's Improve Your Chess Pattern Recognition is another. Such books are very useful, and I would recommend all three of them to aspiring club players of almost any strength.

    Books of this sort cannot count as "courses", as there are far too many patterns (or themes, maneuvers, "chunks" - pick your preferred term) to cover in any sort of systematic way. But clearly some patterns are more prevalent and more important than others, and while none of these books is exhaustive, taken individually or in tandem, they will help fill in important gaps in a reader's knowledge.

    Guliev's modus operandi in the book is to illustrate some idea, generally with one or more modern games, and then show that it had historical antedecents. (A bit like Mihail Marin's "Old Wine in New Bottles" column in the Informant.) The great players of today are not just talented in their own right, they have learned from their predecessors. As Guliev writes in the Foreword:

    The chess elite, with a few rare exceptions, consists of players with a high cultural erudition in the game. It could not be otherwise. Even if a self-taught player, by dint of sheer natural talent, achieves success in the early phase of his career, there will come a time when he will need to 'pore over his textbooks' to make further progress.

    Contemporary players know a lot, read a lot, and work a lot on the game. At the board, they are not fumbling in the dark. Their borrowings, in the great majority of cases, are conscious, not accidental. And the fact that they cannot always state exactly who the original source of the idea was, well, so what - nobody can know everything.

    Ironically, Guliev himself makes overlooks the occasional antecedent. One particular case is somewhat significant, and I'd like to correct the historical record in case there's a subsequent edition of the book. In chapter 23, "Torture to any Taste", Guliev covers Rubinstein's line in the Chigorin Ruy, the one where Black meets d4-d5 with the funny-looking play ...Nd8, ...Ne8, ...f6, ...g6, ...Nf7 and ...Ng7. He begins by showing the plan in the game Thomas-Rubinstein, Baden-Baden 1925, adding that Rubinstein refined his plan in later games with Bogoljubow from Breslau 1925 and Berlin 1926. But then he says that "we should restore historical justice. Back at the beginning of the 20th century, a game was played, in which the ideas of the variation were demonstrated very clearly", and then he cites the game von Bardeleben-Spielmann from Dusseldorf 1908.

    No! This claim is a historical injustice, as Rubinstein had trotted out the plan for the first time the year before, in Ostend 1907 against Bernstein. (Incidentally, Rubinstein and Bernstein tied for first in that gigantic tournament, a 29-player round robin. They don't make 'em like that anymore!) Not coincidentally, Spielmann was a participant in that same event.

    In any case, as Guliev himself notes, who got there first is a subject for the chess historian rather than the active player. (But if a non-historian is going to make historical claims, he should be careful.) What matters for us is learning the ideas, and Guliev does a very good job in the diversity, importance and clarity of presentation of the ideas (which, contrary to the title, aren't always "maneuvers"). I'll mention some of the 23 themed chapters here (a 24th, which is chapter 10[?!], provides some exercises to solve), to give an idea of what's covered.

    Chapter 1, "The Janowski Incident, or Grief out of Wit", begins with but consists of more than the infamous bishop and pawn vs. bishop ending from Capablanca-Janowski, New York 1916. Guliev begins with Fischer's draw in that sort of ending against Taimanov from Buenos Aires 1960. Guliev wonders where Fischer learned to play this ending - maybe he figured it over the board, or perhaps he had studied it from someone's coverage of Capablanca-Janowski, where Janowski resigned in a drawn position. In fact, it isn't a mystery. Taimanov himself asked Fischer after the game how he could not only draw it but could play it perfectly and make all his moves instantly, like an automaton. Fischer answered that he had studied the ending some months before in a Russian chess publication!

    After showing Taimanov-Fischer and how Janowski could have drawn in his game, he shows a contemporary example (Ponomariov-Aronian, Lausanne 2001) demonstrating that the idea has become common knowledge. But what is the "grief out of wit"? His next example, Karpov-Ljubojevic from Monaco 1996, is an example. Ljubo unthinkingly used the same plan, but there it didn't apply at all. Instead, he could have drawn easily by wholly different means (with 86...g3 87.Kb5 g2 88.Kc6 Bg3 89.a7 Bf2 90.a8Q g1Q, in case you want to look up the game).

    Chapter 3, "Connecting the Endgame with the Opening", is somewhat self-explanatory but still a revelation to most chess players at some point in their careers. As in chapter 1, he includes not only illustrations of success (long plans based on some great future ending exploiting various static advantages in the position) but also an example where that sort of thinking can lead to shipwreck.

    Chapters 5 and 6 offer examples with knights and bishops, respectively, where a developed minor piece is undeveloped or at least retreats to get to a more promising post. An example of such a knight transfer is Karpov's 24.Nc3-b1 in one of his 1974 match games against Boris Spassky, intending Nd2-f3 (Guliev offers Lasker's 22.Nc3-b1 against Pillsbury in Paris 1900 as a predecessor), while for a bishop transfer one can think of many French Defenses where White swings his dark squared bishop from a square like e3 to c1 and a3. We often think of developed pieces as "settled" where they are, and often neglect to reposition them as circumstances change.

    Chapters 8 and 9 look at a very wide array of positional sacrifices, and chapter 12 offers a look at what we might also think of as a sort of sacrifice, accepting doubled pawns - especially (but not only) when we're recapturing with a b- or g-pawn to the a- or h-file, respectively.

    Chapter 14, "Attack and Counterattack with a Closed Centre", examines (mostly) positions where White and Black have interlocking pawn triangles (c4-d5-e4 vs. c5-d6-e5) and White plays g2-g4 in the opening or early middlegame. The next two chapters, "g2-g4, and White wins" and "h2-h4, and White wins" continue the theme.

    I suppose that's enough to give some idea of what's on the pages, and as you can find an excerpt here I'll close by reiterating my recommendation for this entertaining and useful book.

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    Reader Comments (1)

    "We often think of developed pieces as "settled" where they are, and often neglect to reposition them as circumstances change."
    I once learned a thumbrule which is very useful for patzers like me: figure out which piece is worst placed, decide where you want it and find a way to get it there. It's especially useful in positions where I don't know what to do.

    July 13, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterMNb

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