domingo, 23 de julio de 2017

Review: Learn from the Legends by Marin

Title: Learn from the Legends - Chess Champions at their Best 10th Anniversary Edition.
Author: Mihail Marin.
Publisher: Quality Chess.
Year: 2015.
Pages: 480.
Price: 29.99€ (hardcover).

Mihail Marin is a writer with a very good reputation. I knew him because of his books on the English opening. While I liked his style, I found the books in the same vein as many other openings books: Marin was mainly interested in showing how White is winning everywhere and not in the truth of the position. However it seems those books have made a lasting impression so who am I to tell otherwise.

Anyway I bought this book because I heard many positive things about it. Firstly it won the ChessCafe book of the year in 2005 when it came out. Secondly I reasoned that if a third edition (the 10th anniversary edition) was warranted that must mean something. Lastly I trust the publisher (as you may have already deduced by the number of their books I review).

To my surprise the book is about endings! I do not know how I could not deduce it by myself. I have browsed through its pages once and inspected the first chapter on Rubinstein. I noticed that this chapter was about rook endings, but what else could have it been? It is Rubinstein after all... I noticed there were chapters on some of the old champions, so I thought to each his own. The chapter on Tal surely would be about mad sacrifices, wasn't it?

It was not. The whole book is about endings, each chapter showing a theme based on the champions games and sometimes the games of Marin.

The chapters and its theme are:

  1. Rubinstein: Rook endings.
  2. Alekhine: The fourth phase of the game
  3. Botvinnik: Good knight versus a bad bishop on an open board, very unexpected theme for me, but imagine pawns on d4 and d5, open c and e-files and a white bishop on e3 and a black knight on e6. That kind of good knight versus bad bishop.
  4. Tal: Rook versus two minor pieces (the rook winning).
  5. Petrosian: Endings an exchange down (with more than enough compensation).
  6. Fischer: Good bishop versus bad knight.
  7. Karpov: Opposite color bishops.
  8. Korchnoi: No theme.
  9. Carlsen: No theme. New chapter for this edition.
This is usually one of those books people praise to no end while I'm quite unimpressed. You have to put a very strong will to study the material as it is very easy to just read and nod. In this book I tried hard not to do that and I went on studying the diagrams trying to decide on the next move. If I found the next move could be posed into an exercise (it was Dvoretsky and his little '?' marks in some diagrams who inspired me to do that) I would mark the diagram as an exercise (so next time I read the book I can train myself better). The final product looks like this:

In that chapter, for example, I found 39 exercises. I am too lazy to go through each chapter counting the exercises I found, but one may assume it is more than two hundred.

Taking advantage of the picture above I can say the edition is pretty good (at least in hardcover). As you see, the book lies flat on his own, something very useful when you are studying the material. I have already praised enough this publisher hardcovers, so there is nothing else to add.

The length of the book, at near 500 pages, is really great. You cannot really ask for more. And this extra size does not translate in an increasing price, which is good. It cost as much as the usual QC stuff.

Marin's style of writing is pretty good and insightful. While reading it I was able to understand why so many people claim this book to be one of the modern classics. Marin does not mince words and explains what is going on quite well.

However I was troubled with the analysis. There are three things I want to point out:

  • Big statements: Marin is big on saying: this position is winning. You fire the engine and he does not agree (at least not in my phone). It offers a line for the defending side and Marin does not talk about it. I understand that engines' opinion in endings have to be taken with a grain of salt as it is easy they have not reached enough depth. On the other hand, if I had doubts about the big statement and find the line of the engine convincing, what am I to do? Maybe the engine is wrong, but the analysis is at least incomplete and the reader is left with doubts.

    Personally I feel that this statements most of the times are clear exaggerations. However it forced me to check the text with an engine as I never trusted Marin again. And I was not that impressed in some instances (more than a simple check with a modern computer would allow).
  • Dissonant commentaries: If you read the book you will find Malfagia contributed heavily to the analysis. He is the italian translator and found a number of troublesome variations. In the second edition corrections to the text were made based on his and other people commentaries. In the third edition the text was corrected again (I cannot say if as heavily as in the second edition as I do not have anything to compare. Incidentally I think the mistakes I found were in those positions nobody else cared to look at). Unfortunately nobody read the whole text again and you may find contradicting statements where for example Marin says White is winning but then the variations afterward show a draw. It did not happen that much, but when it did happen it created distrust. I would say that you may find around ten instances of such thing in the whole book. It is not too much for a book that big, but it really bothered me.

    In that vein there is one very painful example: The game Karpov - Kasparov (Wch 9) Moscow 1984 has seen its analysis heavily edited each time. The ending is really difficult. It is hard to follow, but then when the text does not flow coherently as many edits have been made in the middle of the game it is a lot worse. At some point I had no idea if the position was winning or not, nor which was Marin's recommendation.
  • Uneven level of detail: There are games studied to painful depth (Karpov-Kasparov is one example). I doubt anybody except the most adherent fan of endings using silicon help would find those extreme cases interesting. You simply get lost in the details. You may find some interesting positions along the way, which I imagine is why Marin left the analysis there, but the rabbit hole went really really deep.

    On the other hand there are games with a very superficial analysis (and some are the infamous 'White is winning' from the first point). 

    I would have liked that the excessive details in some games were left out and all the examples were given its fair share.
Another thing I would like to point out that I did not like is that there are Marin's games. There are not many, but in some chapters they are a lot more visible. My guess is that the process of making the book is at fault here. It seems it was conceived as some articles on great players and then put together (that may explain the unevenness of the analysis). So in some chapter he may have wanted to compare his play with that of the great champion. But I as a reader would rather get a champion playing. It does not need to be the one featured in that chapter, mind you, but at least a world championship contender...

On the whole I have a very mixed feelings about this book. I liked reading it, I found it interesting and I am sure at all levels you will find something to learn too. As it is pretty lengthy, you can simply skip the analysis when Marin loses his head in the maze of variations and ignore the light analysis (mind you, it may be at Shereshevsky's Endgame Strategy level, but for me that is just not enough at this age) and you are still left with a lot of content.

On the other hand, the lazy analysis and the confuse text in some parts killed my joy.

So I recommend the book with some caveats. For my part I will read it again to take advantage of the exercises I found.

2 comentarios:

  1. Thanks Gollum!! Very useful as usual.

    I don't know if you have had the chance to have a look to the previous book version, where Carlsen was not included, but if yes, do you think it would deserve to purchase this 10th aniversary edition?
    I read Aagaard said that it took them a lot of work explain Marin where he was wrong and a lot of corrections where made (maybe because some "big statements" was wrong).
    Thanks so much for you reviews and comments.

  2. I think Aagaard said on his blog that if you had the 2nd edition it was not worth it to buy the book. So that is a big statement coming from the editor.

    The chapter on Carlsen is not such a big deal and my feeling (I have not seen the second edition, mind you) is that the flow of the text is much worse in the third edition because so many corrections disturbed the point Marin was making. That is why I think in so many places it is so difficult to follow the analysis.