domingo, 23 de julio de 2017

Review: Chess lessons by Popov




Title: Chess Lessons.
Author: Vladimir Popov.
Publisher: Quality Chess.
Year: 2011.
Pages: 256.
Price: 21.99€ (paperback) or 27.99€ (hardcover).

I got this book last year from the Quality Chess promotion where you buy three books and get one for free (if you are from the EU). I had not heard about it but John Shaw thought that based on the books I was ordering it was a good addition (I was ordering Learn from the legends and two GM Preparation books).

Popov is a Russian trainer (one may deduce he is kind of famous in Russia) who worked with the Kosintseva sisters (now both are rated slightly less than 2500 and inactive but at their peak they reached a little bit more than 2575) while they were ascending. The book is a compilation of lessons addressed to improving players based on the games of both sisters. Each chapter has an expository section where the point of the lesson is presented, and some exercises to solve. It reminds me heavily of the Yusupov's books, but while the main point of the second is in the exercises, in Popov's work it seems the exposition is the important part and the exercises a pleasant addendum. That feeling is reinforced by the fact that in the exposition part there are also exercises (with the solution immediately after the diagram as opposed to the exercise part of the chapter, which has the solution in the next page).

The themes of the lessons too remind of Yusupov: it is a mix between positional and tactics. Unlike Yusupov there are no endings or openings , so maybe it is Yusupov limited to the middle game but the lessons are more abstract than in Yusupov book (one chapter is on changing the pawn structure, other in piece play, while Yusupov deals with the isolani, hanging pawns, etc.).

I've got the hardcover edition. Unlike every other QC hardcover, the quality of the paper in this book is markedly worse, it feels more rough. If you compare it with Dvoretsky's Maneuvering - The art of piece play it loses by a very very small margin (so all in all the quality is not bad, just that I'm used to the great quality of the other books). The binding seems good and the book remains open when you put it on the table.

My guess is that the 2.5€ discount on a hardcover is actually because the paper quality.


The book is of normal length at 250 pages and the number of exercises can be found around 450 adding the official exercises and the ones you find in the expository section, but some of them cannot be solved as the exercise needs a blunder from the side to play.

The explanations are light, nothing too insightful. Yusupov's style. However the analysis is atrocious. Many of the 450 exercises you can find in the book (the great majority the positional ones) have bad solutions. The text may tell you that move A and B are bad (with '?' even) and move C is the good one, and you fire the engine and it turns out that the three moves have almost the same evaluation.

I understand that positional problems are prone to suffer from this. The engine often does not understand the position in the same terms as the human and maybe the human move is really the clearer from a plan-point-of-view. Maybe in some instances where I claim the solution is bad the engine was missevaluating it too. However Popov does not mention the engine at all in the great majority of the cases, so we are left with doubts.

The exercise section has a marked improvement in this regard. You may find the occasional alternate solution but normally you may be able to say why Popov considers his move as best. My guess is that the lessons were made quite some time ago (the examples rarely go further than 2005) while the exercise section has been made anew. So the old material was checked with an old computer with a positional understanding that a GM would not rely upon, while the new material has been checked critically with modern means (and maybe some further thought went to ensure there was only one solution).

I would not talk about the level of the expository section. The things exposed are quite simple and the exercises may as well be flawed, so you won't give it all anyway.

So how about the exercise section? In this respect the book is very deceptive. I thought the exercises were going to be very easy but was promptly proven wrong. For example in Chapter 16: Detecting ideas there are 12 exercise. I made 5 correctly, 2 half-correctly, 4 badly (one of which was flawed). In general solving half of them was the norm. As I'm around 2200, I think the material in the exercises is challenging while the expository section is quite simple (but the problems there, when they are not flawed, are difficult too, or maybe it seemed to me that way because I was unwilling to spend 20 minutes in a problem just to find out it was flawed).

So this book is aimed at a very wide range of players, from the average club player at 1800 who will benefit from the prose of the explanatory section to the ones aspiring to be masters who will give it all in every exercise, even if it is flawed.

My main problem with this book is that I had to check each and every diagram to see if the solution was correct and discard many of the exercises as flawed (or rewrite the question of the exercise to mend it). That is very time consuming and I was not really learning anything, as it was just time wasted while the computer thought about the position.

The book is not really bad. Bad of the kind that you want to rip off your eyes at the mere sight of it. If you accept that the exposition section has only expository purposes and you read it only to get some ideas but do not delve too much in the positions (that you know may very well be flawed) and with those ideas  you brought home from this you try to solve the exercises it may be even be called a reasonable book.

However if you are like me and wonder why in 2011 authors do not use a computer to check their analysis and reflect that on the book they are writing (like 'here the computer thinks A and B are as good as C, but this reason and this reason make me think C is better from an human point of view') you will not be pleased with this book. As I am who I am, I do not recommend this book. Maybe get it for free as I did. Then it may be worth it!

2 comentarios:

  1. Would you try "The Soviet Chess Primer" and/or "How To Reassess Your Chess 4th Edition"?

    Your reviews are great, thanks!

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  2. I browsed 'The soviet chess Primer' and it seemed 'interesting', but I have two main problems with it:

    1. I generally dislike old books because the analysis is often poor. I guess that this is the case here too.

    2. I thought this book was below my level and therefore I would not be able to get that much from it. But beware that may be a false impression as I did not spend that much time with it.

    On the other hand the publisher said quite a lot of nice things about it...

    I have no opinion about 'how to reassess your chess' as now is the first time I realize this book exists. I know Silman because he reviewed books and he has a kind of famous book on endings I think. But I have not read it.

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