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    Entries in Vladimir Tukmakov (2)

    Monday
    Nov162015

    Book Notice: Tukmakov's *Risk & Bluff in Chess*

    Vladimir Tukmakov, Risk & Bluff in Chess: The Art of Taking Calculated Risks. New in Chess, 2015. 224 pp., $26.95/€24.95.

    Vladimir Tukmakov is probably best known these days as Anish Giri's trainer, but he is a very successful grandmaster in his own right. He was the runner-up in three Soviet Championships (back in the days when they were approximately equivalent to today's super-tournaments) and was among the world's best players in the 1970s and '80s. His earlier books Profession: Grandmaster and Modern Chess Preparation were very good, and this third book is also worthwhile.

    The line between risk and bluff is often razor-thin, especially bearing in mind our fallibility and that of our opponent, and Tukmakov's subtitle gets it right: we learn the art of taking calculated risks. Barring omniscience at the chess board, risk is ineliminable, but through our experience and the experience of others we can develop a better sense of what risks are acceptable and get a sense of how to orient ourselves (to some degree) in irrational positions.

    After some introductory material, which includes seven mostly historical game and game fragments, Tukmakov's book includes nine full chapters with a further 99 games and game fragments. The analysis is excellent and a fine combination of human insight and the computer's depth and accuracy, and his writing is enthusiastic and pulls the reader along. Although the analysis is deep enough that most player will need a set or software to follow it, the writing is so good that one will be tempted to read the book as a book!

    Chapter 1 is on Mikhail Tal as the forerunner of a new era in chess. Tal is featured, of course, Boris Spassky and David Bronstein are acknowledged as well.

    Chapter 2 looks at bluff in the opening, which generally arises when one plays a move not recommended by the engines, but is difficult to meet, in part counting on the reasonable likelihood that one's opponent will not have analyzed the possibility.

    Chapter 3, "The Madness of the Brave", focuses "on positions in which there is absolutely no necessity for risky action", to quote Tukmakov's comment in the intro to the chapter. This often involves introducing a material imbalance into the position, a strategem often employed by Tal, who again features in the chapter. Two other greats of Tal's era play a prominent role in the chapter, the late greats Leonid Stein and Bent Larsen.

    Larsen is also one of the stars of chapter 4, "The Logic of the Irrational". Here the emphasis is on non-standard positions, and the need to cope with them by making non-standard, paradoxical decisions. One must calculate, but ultimately trust one's intuition - provided, as Tukmakov wryly notes, your intuition "is something you can trust".

    Chapter 5, "By Right of the Strong", looks at cases where risk and bluff were helped along by the lower-rated player's fear (or at least excessive respect) of the higher-rated player.

    Chapter 6, "Masculine Desperation", shows examples where a player under pressure took risks - even enormous risks - to change the trend of the game. Risk and bluff don't only come from a position of strength or even equality!

    Chapter 7, "In the Grip of Passion", is topically similar to chapter 3 - only more so. In that chapter one is sharpening the play; here, one is taking a huge, point-of-no-return decision from a sort of internal compulsion. (For a good example of this, I will draw your attention to one of my own games, to the move 6.Nxd4. Objectively, it was a poor decision, but I felt at the time that I simply had to try it, and even though I only managed to draw by a miracle it's still one of my all-time favorite games. [Perhaps that's in part because I drew by a miracle.])

    Chapter 8 looks at games where a win is the only acceptable result, and chapter 9 looks at last chance tricks (see about half of my game, linked above, including 53.b4!) - including some less-than-savory ones related but not endorsed by Tukmakov.

    This is a great book, suitable for the pure amateur and the aspiring player alike. Get it!

    Monday
    Apr022012

    Book Notice: Vladimir Tukmakov's Profession: Chessplayer: Grandmaster at Work

    Vladimir Tukmakov is not a household name among today's chess fans, but he was one of the strongest players of the late Soviet era. He came in second in the 1965 World Junior Championship, finished second in three Soviet championships, nearly qualified from the 1982 Interzonal in Las Palmas for the Candidates' matches, and participated in the 1984 USSR vs. the Rest of the World match. Maybe he's not well-known because of the "seconds", but if he is known today it's because he's a second - or rather, a coach - he has served in that capacity for the Ukrainian national team since 2004 or so.

     

    The résumé above suggests that he was a very strong player at his peak, and he certainly was. But there are many other great players, so why should readers spend their time and money on this book? One reason is that it's a substantive autobiography: it's not just "I went here and won the following brilliant games". He talks about his childhood (in the third person!), candidly discusses both his successes and failures, and most interestingly discusses his big decision to really make a serious push for a big goal fairly late in his playing career. He comments on many other players whose careers overlapped, most especially including Anatoly Karpov but plenty of other, less well-known players, too.

     

    The autobiographical section of the book takes about 107 of the book's 258 pages (pages with content), with most of the rest devoted to his careful analysis of 41 memorable games. His notes are thorough, honest and human, though checked with a computer. (What else would one expect from the book's title?) The games and annotations are excellent, and a nice bonus feature is that every diagram comes with a training question. The list of opponents has some big names, including single games with Kasparov, Tal and Petrosian and two apiece with Topalov, Smyslov and Korchnoi.

     

    I left the autobiographical situation wishing for more, and look forward to going through all the annotated games very carefully. Another nice feature of the book is that there are lots of photos, though it would be nice if some of them were a bit clearer. I know it would raise the price of the book, but the paper used by Russell Enterprises just isn't good enough for many of the photographs. It would also be nice if they did a more careful job of copyediting, but these are quibbles, and I can heartily recommend the book.