A. Chess Books
What follows is a list of my 10 favorite chess books.
1. Secrets of Practical Chess
By John Nunn
All the advice and training you would expect from the title. A beautiful prose style with bullet proof analysis and modern examples to boot. Some fun dismantlement of other Grandmasters work but all in all an informative and helpful guide.
2. Judgement and Planning in Chess
By Max Euwe
A classic textbook by an ex world champion. Covers all the important aspects of the evaluation function as well as what you should be trying to do in various common positions. It takes you beyond calculation!
3. Learn from the Grandmasters (origional edition)
By Raymond Keene with other contributors.
Lessons from some of the greatest chess players around when the book was written (1975). The first three names in the contents page say it all; Tal, Korchnoi, and Larsen. They submit two games each with their own analysis giving both variety and quality. (The new edition is less convincing as some of the old contributors have been thrown out! Cheek!!
4. Modern Chess Openings (13th edition)
By Walter Korn with Nick De Firmian
A comprehensive coverage of all chess openings. The perfect guide to openings in general, for anyone. There is enough on each opening for a player to use that opening with confidence and without the need for any other referance guide.
5. Openings For The Club Player
By Tim Harding and Leonard Barden
A selective opening guide but with greater explanation then "MCO 13". Excellent for players without the time to grind through huge works trying to put together an openings repertoire. Perhaps a little skimpy on the lesser played replies to 1. d4 but this is only a minor quibble.
6. Najdorf for the Tournament Player
By John Nunn
Here he is again but this time with an extremely high quality openings manual. The coverage is logical and complete with sufficient material even for high class players to be satisfied with. Usefull for players both with white and black this book is a must for anyone stupid enough to take up this opening.
7. The Chess Players Handbook
By Howard Staunton
Another classic text first appering in 1847 this book will be a joy for anyone who plays in a classical or romantic style. The book covers anything you would want to know about the game itself and even has some interesting opening ideas which have been forgotten. e.g. 1. d4 d5, 2. c4 c6?, (his criticism) 3. f3 Nf6, 4. Nc3 Bf5, 5. e3 e6, 6. Bd3 BxB, 7. QxB Bb4, 8. e4 BxN, 9. bc Nd7, 10. cd cd, 11. e5 Nh5 12. Ne2 "The game is in whites favour".
8. 15 Games And Their Stories
By M. Botvinnik
Written by the only man ever to hold the title of world champion on three seperate occasions this book is both an entertaining read as well as giving games against some of the worlds strongest masters. The analysis and comment is excellent and gives a deeper look into the positions. Once again a classic text.
9. Bent Larsen Master Of Counter-Attack
By Bent Larsen
As the book above except with a larger number of games. Perhaps Larsen was not as famous as Botvinnik for his excellence but even a quick look through this selection of games paints a picture of a true genius and artist.
10. Pocket Book Of Chess
By Raymond Keene
The best book for beginners.
Go to my books page to read only about books.
B. Chess Openings
Certainly Whites best thoretical chance for an enduring advantage after 1.e4 e5,
1. e4 e5, 2. Nf3 Nf6, 3. Bb5 a6, 4. BxN dc, 5. d4 ed, 6. QxP QxQ, 7. NxQ += White has a superior pawn formation and can simply exchange off into an engame with confidence. Blacks' bishop pair is not sufficient compensation for the damage done to his pawns.
I hate it! It is however Blacks most popular response to 1.e4 .
1. e4 c5, 2. d3 d6, 3. g3 Nf6, 4. Bg2 g6, 5. Ne2!? (interesting) Bg7, 6. O-O O-O, 7. Nd2 =
White has adopted a kind of hedgehog formation, the knight on e2 not hindering the advance of his f pawn. The d2 knight will come round to f3 and possibly h4 after the f pawn has reached f4 to enforce the thrust f5! Once the g pawn has advanced to g4 and possibly g5 the e2 knight will be reasonably placed on g3. Needless to say, white is launching an assault on Blacks king!
The French defence.
This is the most logical response to 1. e4. It blocks attacks against f7 and prepares for a powerful attack on whites centre. Black can often emerge from the middlegame with the better pawn structure and sometimes an outpost on e4 or c4.
1. e4 e6, 2. d4 d5, 3. e5 c5, 4. c3 Nc6, 5. Nf3 Qb6, 6. Be2 Nge7, 7. O-O Nf5, = The move 3. e5 commits white to a very demanding continuation and if he doesn't swap off on c5 then black can have lots of fun snipeing at whites centre with c5 adn f6 and Nf5 and Nc6 and Qb6!
1. e4 e6, 2. d4 d5, 3. Nc3 Be7, 4. Qg4 g6, 5. e5 c5, 6. Nf3 Nc6, 7.
Be3 h5!, 8. Qf4 Nh6, 9. Be2 Nf5, =
The Nimzo-Indian defence.
The idea of this opening is to castle quickly and gain the better pawn structure to win a pawn for a decisive endgame advantage. As long as black does not succumb to a king's side attack he will have good chances.
1. d4 e6, 2. c4 Nf6, 3. Nc3 Bb4, 4. a3 BxN+, 5. bc c5, 6. e3 O-O, 7. Bd3 Nc6, 8. Ne2 b6, =+
Black can follow up with Na5, Ba6, Qd7 - a4, and Rc8. Winning the c4 pawn. Even from whites side we can see that he is not doing particularly well!
1. d4 e6, 2. c4 Nf6, 3. Nc3 Bb4, 4. Qc2 c5, 5. dc O-O, 6. a3 BxP, =
Whites' centre is gone so he can have little hope of an advantage.
Go to my openings page to read only about openings.
C. Chess Players.
What follows is a list of the top ten 10 chess players, ever, (according to me!).
Certainly the greatest natural talent of all time, he was extremely lazy and refused to "waste" time reading chess textbooks. He had a score of 318 wins, 249 draws, and only 34 losses in match and tournament play between 1909 and 1939. No other master has sustained so few losses. When asked how many moves he looked ahead his reply was "One move, the best move", and this probably holds more than a grain of truth. Capablanca was renowned for his ability to instantly and accurately evaluate chess positions. Perhaps, of all the chess players through history only he had such an accurate evaluation function.
World champion for 15 years and perhaps the greatest tactician of all time. He held the title of world champion from 1985 until 2000 (When he was beaten somewhat unconvincingly by Kramnik) and dominated major tournaments since the begining ofhis reign challanged only briefly by Anand. His results do not realistically represent his talents and only by playing through some of his games can his true genius be seen. He is often described as a ten eyed monster who sees everything in all positions. He is exuberant and showy and has a photographic memory. He is, of all players the most computer like in tactical ability with incredible tactical vision and yet he has a profound positional understanding and the deepest opening preparation in history.
Never world champion but one of the finest players not to be at least steriotypical in play. He would enter into positions which to others would appear ugly and yet was able to see original potential in all of them. Larsen never played for draws and as such his chess was extremely popular in the eyes of the public. His opening repertoire was extremely varied; the following quote from him describing it well; "I do not deliberately play openings that are obviously bad. I emphasize the surprise element and in some cases this makes me play a variation without being convinced that it is correct". A genius in his own right and a master of counter attack, drawing amazing resources from seemingly cramped and uninspiring positions Larsen will always remain one of my favourite players.
The only player to hold the world title on three separate occasions, a feat unlikely to be repeated. He was a scientist and this showed through in his style of play. His style was to create closed positions characterised by flank movements and manoeuvres. His abilities although very good, were enhanced significantly by his excellent preparation for games; with intensive fitness regimes and extensive study, especially of endgames. The result was superb endgame technique and superb concentration which inevitably gave him the edge time and again. In addition to this Botvinik had an excellent judgement of positions, probably at least partly derived from playing through thousands and thousands of games and painstaking analysis of many more. He was a practical player, more so than any before him and this contribution to preparation and thoroughness came from his scientific background. His contributions to chess computing were also significant.
Somebody once said that if you take all the piecs from the board, put them in a box, shake them around a bit and then pour them onto the board you would have the style of Steinitz. His games include many bizzare positions and his origional style of play made him an unpredictable and dynamic adversary. "For 20 years Steinitz stood heigher above his contemporaries than any other master". This overwhelming superiority demonstrated that he was well ahead of his time and his tournament record was the best up to his defeat in the world championship match in 1894 at age 59. His play could be tactical or positional as he excelled in both areas and this dynamism was his greatest asset.
He held the world champions title twice, losing only once to Euwe but regaining it almost immediatly afterwards and lost the title eventually only because of his death. He was a drunk and a devious manipulator and would surly have lost his title to Capablanca had the match between them taken place. It did not take place because Alekhine effectivly refused to play it! He was a strong player with great determination and studied for many years to make himself "the complete player". He had an incredible combinative talent. He is Kasparovs' hero and this in itself is sufficient to make him a player worthy of imitation. Perhaps he is inimitable?
7. Deep Blue
It's a computer. It beat Kasparov (if rather unconvincingly). It can analyse 200,000,000 positions a second. It is probably the strongest chess calculator of all time. It will however be superceded in a way which human players cannot.
Dull and uninspiring, Karpov takes positional play to new depths. The domination themes and willingness always to resolve tension make his games drab and sleep inducing. His talent however is undeniable. He was world champion for ten years and came close to retrieving it from Kasparov on several occasions. His tactical vision and positional understanding are outstanding and it is a shame he never put them to better use!
Likely to be the next world chamion Shirov may yet rise in this list considerably. His games are wild and exciting and he is always willing to enter into further complications. It was his Bh3 which won the most amazing move of all time award in the British chess magazine and the idea of sacrificing a bishop in an endgame with no visible compensation but only the gain of a distant tempo was amaziing and if he is able to repeat such feats in the future he is likely to reach the very summit of the chess world.
The most thorough chess analyst of all time, it is unlikely that any of his many chess books will ever be found to be innacurate in any way. His precision and sharpness give him, if not over the board success then at least victory in the post mortem! His contribution to chess literature has many highlights but his latest creation "Nunns' chess openings" is quite possibly the most complete and reliable guide to opening theory ever produced.
Go to my players page to read only about chess players.
D. Chess Quotes.
"The game greater than its players"
(Chess the Musical)
"Thus the devil played at chess with me, and yielding a pawn, thought to gain a queen of me, taking advantage of my honest endeavours."
"All we have gained then by our unbelief is a life of doubt diversified
by faith, for one of faith diversified by doubt: we called the chess-board
white, - we call it black."
"Life's too short for chess."
Henry J Byron
"Chess is the gymnasium of the mind."
"A pawn is a pawn."
"Chess is too much to be merely a game but too little to be anything
"Pawns are the soul of chess."
"Chess is 90% tactics"
"The beauty of a move lies not in its' appearance but in the thought
"Chess is not an equation."
"Chess is not dominows"
Kasparov (refering to the Grob [to read more about the Grob click here]!)
"You may have the bishop pair but I have the ultimate advantage; I am
the better player!"
"Draws make me angry."
"Rook endgames a pawn up are drawn. Rook endgames a pawn down are lost."
"Checkmates don't work if there's no one answering the door."
(In reference to correspondance chess.)
"A real chess game can only be experienced by two people."
"Our game is just too difficult for ordinary intelligent people."
"Chess is just a rhyme without a reason."
"If cunning alone were needed to excel, women would be the best chess
"Women are far too sensible to play chess."
"Chess is beautiful enough to waste your life for."
"Chess is thirty to forty percent psychology. You don't have this when
you play a computer. I can't confuse it. "
"I thought I was playing the world champion, not some 27-eyed monster
who sees everything in all positions."
"I'll take my five positions per second any day, thank you"
Viswanathan Anand (comparing humans with chess computers.)
"I don't have any solution, but I certainly admire the problem."
Go to my Qoutations page to see only quotations.
E. Chess Sets.
The standard chess set is the Staunton design. It is named after the great player Howard Staunton (1810 - 1874) but was registered by Nathaniel Cook in 1849. The sets were made in ivory and wood and were advocated by staunton himself. Each set came in a box bearing his signature and he was paid a fee for each one sold. The popularity grew rapidly primeraly because of the ease of identification of each piece. Now they are the only sets permitted in FIDE events.
The Lewis Chessmen
One of the most famous chess sets is that composed of the Lewis chessmen. They are the largest group of of early chessmen to have survived. They were discovered on the south shore of Uig Bay on the Isle of Lewis in the outer Hebrides in1831. Ninety three related pieces are known today of which seventy eight are chessmen, and they are all carved from the ivory of walrus tusks. They are supposed by experts to be the remains of four complete sets as the numbers of pieces seem to indicate; eight kings, eight queens, sixteen bishops, fifteen knights, twelve rooks, and nineteen pawns. They are extremely detailed in design especially when considering thet the tallest of them is only just over four inches high (10.5 cm). Each piece is unique with no two the same, an extemely unusual quality in a chess set! The pawns look like tombstones and the pieces are human representations with expressions varying from gloom to anger. The actual date of creation is uncertain but the generally accepted one is around 1150 AD. The most important question and one which the answer will probiably never be known is how they got to the Isle of Lewis, since various experts have claimed that they were created in one of Iceland, Britain, or Scandinavia.
The Levantine Chess Set
The chances are that you will never have heard of this one but I include it because it is one of the few modern examples of a hand crafted chess set with unique figures and a "deeper meaning" (!). Its forces are supposed to represent in a balanced way the present day conflict between Muslims and Isrealis. Each figure dipicts a specific cultural or historical steriotype. The board too has depth, containing elements of memorial, tiled tomb and commemorative mosaic. The Muslim forces include an Iraqi tank soldier, a suicide car bomber, and an Egyptian Mummy terrorist. The western/Israeli forces on the other hand include an American tourist, a Biggles airman, and a cruicified sheep (!!). The board itself even has a series of names inscribed upon it as if to suggest a cenotaph. Although this particular set is of little value to a chess player who is used to having all his pawns the same shape it does serve as a powerful symbol of the tensions and millitary conflicst which exist in our world.
St George Chessmen
This was the standard design in Britain until the 1850's when it was almost universally replaced by the staunton sets. They were popular because they were cheap and easy to make as all but the horses heas could be turned on a lathe. They were mainly produced in France but were not used a great deal there. The main fault with this design was the difficult of identifying the pieces as they were all so similar. Only the Knights heads were really distincive.
Go to my sets page to read only about chess sets.
F. Chess Thought.
How chess players think
One of the most commonly asked questions when people begin to play chess is how far ahead good chess players look or calculate. This varies a great deal, not only from player to player but from game to game and even in different positions during the same game. In general good players look between 3 and 5 moves ahead by both sides but will concentrate only on the plausible moves. It is possible, when very little time is available, to play entirely on instinct, and still play good moves. This instinct comes from experience. It is often useful to compare the way in which human chess players think and the way in which computers calculate. The number of positions which can occur after only three moves by each player is well over 64,000,000, there are far more possible games of chess than there are particles in the known universe, and the number of chess positions, though far fewer, is still astronomical. Some computers can analyse huge numbers of positions; Deeper blue for example was able to consider 200,000,000 positions a second. Quite clearly it is impossible for a human to calculate such a massive number of positions and so he relies on instinct and feeling (which come from experience) in order to cut down the number of positions.
The way in which a human player calculates is fairly straightforward. Players construct what is known as the tree of analysis, where each branch represents a different position. It usually appears disorganized. The reason is that two variations can sometimes lead to the same position and that a player will not always calculate the same number of moves from each position or in the same depth. Only a small number of positions are considered at each level. This rejection of the vast majority of available options is known as thinning the tree. It has been estimated that humans will only consider around three dozen positions before choosing a move.
The actual process of "looking" at positions is not a case of thinking "I have a pawn there and a bishop there and if he goes there then I go here and I will have a rook there and a knight here" etc. After someone has played a number of games the important characteristics of the positions become obvious to the person's mind and little conscious effort is needed to hold positions close to the one in front of you together.
Humans do not choose their moves solely on the basis of cold logic and calculation. Players usually have a plan around which specific variations can be constructed. This plan is usually based on position considerations. This sounds complicated but in fact it is little more than a gut feeling which is usually innate and is extremely difficult to teach or explain. Attempts to do his usually consist of ideas of thousands of positions from previous games flashing past the minds eye and making an almost subconscious impression which can somehow be detected by the player. Positional considerations are things such as weakness of King position, and space available for manoeuvring.
The most important element of a chess player's thinking is how well he evaluates positions. That is, how well he can decide who is winning and why. Again an analogy to the chess computer is useful. A chess computer program will first check if the position is the end of the game for example checkmate, and if not it will add up the pieces giving a numerical value to each position. It will do this crude evaluation in each position it looks at and will choose a move based on which sequence of moves gives it the biggest end number. A human player has a much more advanced evaluation function. In most cases he will carry most of his evaluation over from the last move editing it as appropriate to save time. He will check the material balance, consider the strengths and weaknesses of the relative positions of the two sides, both in terms of long term and short term factors, and will decide what plan each player will form. He will then select the sequence of moves which will either;
a) give him a material advantage (more pieces) or
b) give him the more straight forward and reliable plan.
The conclusion must be that a chess player's thinking is far more general than is usually thought, and far more effective and advanced than the way in which computers play.
Go to my thought page to read only about chess thought.
G. How to play chess.
Chess is a game for two players and is played on a square board of 64 squares. Half are white and half black alternatly. The bottom right square is white. The squares are refered to using letter and number coordinates. Beggining on whites bottom left corner we have letters a-h along the bottom and 1-8 up the side. Each player has 16 pieces. One players pieces are white the others black. The pieces are named. In order of size from smallest to largest on a standard Staunton set they are pawn, rook, knight, bishop, queen, King. The pieces are arranged as follows: From left to right along the the row of squares a1 to h1; (all white) rook, knight, bishop, queen, king, bishop, knight, rook. On the row of squares, a2 to h2; (all white) pawns. Blacks pieces are placed at the opposite side of the board simply reflecting the white ones (such that the black queen stands on a black square). The pieces can move as follows: The King can move one square in any direction (horizontally, vertically and diagonally). Check is when a piece threatens to take the king. He cannot move into check. If he is in check he must move to a square on which he is not attacked. The Queen can move any number of squares in any direction. The Rooks can move any number of squares horizontally or vertically. The Bishops can move any number of squares diagonally. The Knights can move in an "L" shape which means that they move two squares in one direction then 1 to the left or right (of the direciton they were moving in). The knight is the only piece which can jump over other pieces. The Pawns can move one square, forwards only. They can capture one square diagonally, forwards only. On its first move a pawn can move 1 or 2 squares, forwards only. Special moves: Castling; if the king and rook are both unmoved, if the king is not in check, if no pieces are between them, and if none of the squares between them are attacked (except b1 and b8) then the king may move two squares towards the rook and the rook may jump to the adjacent square to, and on the other side of, the king all in one go. En passent; If a pawn is on its fifth rank (ranks are rows of squares accross the board) and an enemy pawn moves two squares forward to either of the adjacent squares to the pawn then the pawn on its fifth rank may capture this enemy pawn as if the enemy pawn had only moved one square. Promotion; when a pawn reaches the eigth rank it must be exchanged for another piece (not a pawn or a king). The object of the game is to deliver checkmate. This is when a king is threatened and it cannot avoid capture. The side whose king cannot avoid capture has lost and the other has won. Stalemate occurs when a players king is not in check but that player has no moves available to him, this is a draw. A draw can also occur if 1) both players want a draw and agree to a draw, verbally, 2) 50 moves occur without a pawn move or a capture, or 3) the same position occurs three times. Victory can also be obtained with your opponents resignation.
Go to my how to play chess page to read only about how to play chess.
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