Yesterday I wrote up a sort of micro-review of the second edition of Dvoretsky's Analytical Manual, noting that I had written a full review on a now-defunct version of my blog. Happily, Freddie Jones pointed me to my old review on the Internet Wayback Machine (many thanks!), and here it is:
Mark Dvoretsky, Dvoretsky's Analytical Manual (Russell Enterprises, 2008). 419 pp. $34.95. Reviewed by Dennis Monokroussos.
Long-time readers of this blog will know that I'm a big fan of Mark Dvoretsky's work, and his latest book is no exception. This new work is not a unified monograph but a compilation of articles, some (but not all) of which have been published on the Chess Cafe - see his "The Instructor" columns. Not all of those columns are included, and those that have been have been re-checked and edited in some ways. Two useful features of the new edit: First, the positions to solve are awarded a certain number of stars to indicate the difficulty (1 star for the easiest positions, 5 for those that would cause Rybka to give up chess for something easy like nuclear physics). Second, the formatting of problems is better (though still not perfect). In the original Chess Cafe columns, it's often almost impossible to avoid seeing the answer, which is often given right alongside the diagram; here, it's below the diagram, making it possible to safely cover the answer in advance.
Those columns will give you a very good taste for what you'll find here, but a few synthetic comments are in order. A major element of Dvoretsky's chess philosophy is that a chess improvement comes through the development of one's analytical skill. That's precisely what this book is good for: there are analysis exercises of tremendous depth for the serious, strong student. The book is designed to be used with a trainer or a sparring partner within 100 points of one's own rating, but in a pinch one can go through the exercises solitaire-chess style.
That's what the book is; what it is not is a sort of middlegame companion piece to the earlier Dvoretsky's Endgame Manual. That work goes beyond the standard endgame textbook, but it is organized as a textbook and can be used in that way. Here, in the Analytical Manual, there isn't a corresponding principle of organization or unity.
Part 1, "Immersion in the Position", focuses on exercises where accurate calculation of variations is the primary task.
Part 2, "Analyzing the Endgame", is just what it sounds like. The reader doesn't get a discussion of topics like schematic thinking or the do-not-hurry principle, but is invited to calculate and analyze. (Example: there are 11 large, dense pages on the famous knight vs. bishop ending from game 9 of the first Karpov-Kasparov match.)
Part 3, "Games for Training Purposes", doesn't really differ from the material in the first two parts, except that the analysis continues for a whole game rather than a fragment.
In part 4, "Practical Psychology", the tone changes. Here there's an explicit acknowledgment of our inability to always get to the absolute bottom of things; sometimes our analyses must be supplemented by a psychologically informed intuition. Dvoretsky singles out three components of the psychological factor in chess, in descending order of importance: one's own psychology, the psychology of the "abstract opponent", and the character and playing style of our particular (non-abstract) opponent.
Finally, there's part 5, "Lasker the Great", which celebrates Lasker not as some sort of psychologist who focused on and exploiting his opponent's concrete weaknesses - Dvoretsky consider this a myth - but as a powerful fighter. Dvoretsky takes a close look at seven Lasker games (including a whopping 28 pages on his famous draw with Edward Lasker from New York 1924); four of them wins, but a loss and two draws as well.
In every game and fragment there are many places where Dvoretsky stops and challenges the reader to find the next move or moves. As you'll have gathered by now, these exercises are somewhere between challenging and impossible, so the question arises: who should buy this book? I like his answer, which I will now quote at length:
The materials which in the course of my entire career as a trainer I have squirreled away and prepared for study (and later, used in books), have been aimed at youthful talents, who have already achieved a certain level of mastery, or else for young and ambitious grandmasters. A few reviewers have upbraided me for the excessive complexity of my books, and their inaccessibility to the common amateur. There is no more sense in such complaints than there would be in upbraiding the author of a beginners' primer for not making a book interesting for masters and grandmasters. Every book has its intended audience; it is not possible to make them interesting and useful for everybody at once.
...The book which lies before you is aimed first of all at helping strong players complete themselves. This ensures that it will overflow with exceptionally complex analyses and exercises which will be difficult for even the leading grandmasters to handle. But I suggest that even amateur players will find something of interest in it. How can it not be interesting to peek - perhaps not as an owner, but at least as a guest - into the world of high-level chess, to see with one's own eyes what sort of problems chess "pros" have to wrestle with (successfully or not), and how far from being complete even their play is? The many exercises presented in this book differ greatly from one another in their level of difficulty: some are fairly simple and accessible. It makes sense to take a stab at solving the tougher exercises, too; then later, once you have seen the answer, you will have a better grasp of your own abilities, strengths and weaknesses. And finally: the analyses presented in this book include a multitude of most impressive passages, unusual and spectacular moves and combinations - and chessplayers of almost any grade can certainly find enjoyment in beauty. [From the Introduction, page 7.]
I agree with his reasoning, but fear that most buyers will look upon it as a holy book, and will take the equivalent of a sacred oath or a New Year's resolution to go through the work as their next step on the path to chess greatness. This "holy" book will then find its way to the blessed bookshelf, to be covered by sacramental dust.... The problem is that with such deep analysis, one doesn't want to look at the games superficially. But then to do it right takes hours, and for that one needs time and energy, and Hey - look at the cute bunny rabbit in the back yard! I wonder what's on TV tonight. See you tomorrow, Mr. Mark, when I've got more free time and am feeling perkier.
Anyway, it's your money, and you'll be hard pressed to find a higher quality chess book than this one. Whether that means you should purchase this book is up to you. I hope that even if you're not part of the primary intended audience for the book, you'll give it a look anyway for the reasons he suggested. As long as you don't get caught up in the attitude described in the previous paragraph, I think you can enjoy the book quite a lot.