domingo, 9 de agosto de 2015

Review: Grandmaster chess strategy by Jürgen Kaufeld and Guido Kern

Title: Grandmaster chess strategy.
Author: Jürgen Kaufeld and Guido Kern.
Publisher: New in Chess.
Year: 2011.
Pages: 224.
Price: 22.95€.

Today it is time for another old book. As stated previously, it is my purpose with this blog to review the books I have read so someone else can benefit from my experience with them. Obviously the newer the book the more interesting will be the review for you, but older books still sell, hence there is a niche to cover, isn't it? So today I present to you a book from 2011.

 Grandmaster chess strategy aims to teach chess through Ulf Andersson's games. Not in vain the subtitle of the book is What amateurs can learn from Ulf Anderson positional masterpieces. The book is divided in fifteen chapters covering some positional themes, like Playing against two weaknesses, Prophylaxis, The positional exchange sacrifice ... each chapter features a short introduction and some annotated games (around five for each chapter). A good addition to the book is that while annotating, the authors pose the reader questions which are answered immediately afterwards. Sometimes though, it is really difficult to not spoil yourself. In that regard the edition of the book could have been more careful.

Ulf Andersson's style of play is one I like a lot. He rarely makes mistakes, he aims for simple positions, seemingly drawish, where he outplays his opponent. It does seem like a good guy to base a book on positional play.

The edition of the book is correct. The book is short (224 pages) but it does not seem so, at least compared to The secret life of bad bishops. My guess is that the paper's quality of the later is higher than the former, hence the later is thinner. Anyways when I bought it, I never thought of that, only now when I'm writing this it crossed my mind.

I bought this book based on a very positive review by Arne Moll. I consider it important to point you in that direction. Not because I want to pick a fight, but because I want you to consider the other side of the coin.

For me the idea of this book is great, what could go wrong with picking good Andersson's games and annotate them? Well, for starter, the fact that the authors picked up eighty games. If you consider they have to fit it in two hundred pages, each games has two and a half pages only, and in practice a lot of them enjoy even less space. Taking into account that Andersson's games usually are long fights, you will realize that there is not much space for analysis in this book.

That is my main concern with this work. I would rather have had half the games and double the annotations. It happened to me a lot while studying the games that I was left wondering why the weak side did not choose this or that defense. Remember that the positions under consideration more often than not fall into 'seemingly dead draw' positions. The authors scarcely touch upon the best defense. Neither they discover any misplay by Andersson himself. This lack of objectivity killed the book for me. I do not want to be firing an engine to know where both sides went wrong. I expect the authors to point it out, and I expect them to not be partial.

If you didn't know better, reading the book would give you the impression that Andersson's play was perfect and the win was just a matter of technique or fate. Rarely there is a mistake pointed out, only when it is really really gross. Do not get me wrong, there are annotations, and some options for both sides are explored, but to my taste, it should have been done deeper and more often.

It is entirely possible that this book was just aimed at a lower level than mine. Maybe some 1800 player will have a different opinion. Or maybe if you want a quick read this is a good book (I sincerely think this is what happened to Arne Moll). If you go over the games without wondering anything, just nodding it will indeed seem like a good book, because you never stop to question what is being said. The moment you try to investigate deeper, however, the spell is broken and you are left wondering where you should start the engine because the authors did a poor job annotating the games.

All in all, I do not recommend this book. I think it is expensive for the quality and quantity of the work (remember it is a short book). You would be better off just downloading Andersson's games and annotating them with your own engine (even better would be a collection of best games by Andersson himself, which I do not know if it exists) and studying them afterwards.

I felt cheated in 2011 when I bought it and left it unread for four years until I recently picked it up again and finished it with great effort and only because I thought that at least I got a collection of good games and it would be a shame not to go over them.

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