Ivan Sokolov, Sacrifice and Initiative in Chess: Seize the Moment to Get the Advantage (New in Chess 2013). 255 pp. $29.95/€24.95. Reviewed by Dennis Monokroussos.
Ivan Sokolov may be the strongest active player writing books on middlegame theory, and the quality shows. Speaking of which, the compliment is an ambiguous one, and it works both ways: he is active in the sense that his professional career, unlike, say, Garry Kasparov's, is still underway, but he's also active in the sense of being an aggressive player. Sokolov is known for being a fine attacking player with a fine sense of the initiative, and that certainly comes out in this book. There are 92 games in this book, 21 of which (by my quick count) are his, and his mastery shows. Further, he writes and analyses with great enthusiasm and expertise, and the attentive reader will not just be entertained by the great games, he'll be educated as well.
There are two parts, each corresponding to the concepts highlighted in the title. Part 1, Initiative, comprises the first seven chapters; part 2, sacrifice, the remaining nine. Each chapter ends with a number of "tips" that generally emerge from that chapter's games. Sometimes they are a bit superficial and overly general, but they can be illuminating as well. Generally there are some implicit tips given in the chapter intros, so be on the lookout for those. As an example of what you might find in the tips section, here's one of the better sets, from chapter 9 (p. 141), on attacking the castled king:
1. In the ratio of attackers versus defenders, the king counts as a defender.
2. It is often clever to keep your defending pawns on their original squares.
3. If you cannot compromise the enemy's defences with pawn breaks, a rook lift may do the job.
4. In an attack on Black's kingside in Sicilian positions, the Bf8 is mostly a useless defender. The light-squared bishop, however, is often an important defender of the a2-g8 diagonal.
5. The defender may balance an attack on his kingside with a counterattack on the queenside.
6. The pawn push ...f7-f5 is often a good way for Black to stop White's attack against h7.
7. With a black pawn on g6, a white knight sacrifice on f5 may be a dangerous way to eliminate Black's pawn defences on the kingside.
Not too many club players will find tips 2 and 5 shocking and new, but the rest will be new to most club players and some of these points (e.g. #4) might be new even to masters.
The game selection is excellent, featuring a nice blend of older and contemporary games, mostly featuring top players. (Carlsen, Kasparov, Fischer, Spassky, Tal, etc.) the analysis is illuminating without being overwhelming, and there is plenty of explanatory prose; indeed, there is more of the latter than the former.
For me the book works both as a game collection and as a catalog of techniques, and as a book that can be read for pleasure and for training. Recommended to mid-level club players and up.