Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Here Are Some Beach Reads For You

In a comment to one of BDK’s recent posts, I mentioned some “historical” chess books that I enjoyed (you know, the kind that isn’t full of those annoying games and diagrams). He suggested that I turn that into a blog post and since he is a wise man, I am following his suggestion :) If you love chess and enjoy reading about the game and its origins, its famous protagonists with all their idiosyncrasies, and some crazy stories involving all sorts of crazy and not-so-crazy people, then don’t miss out on the following books.

Chess Bitch by Jennifer Shahade:
This book is mainly about women, stereotypes, and gender bias in the chess world. Shahade was US Women’s Champion in 2004 and has probably had the kind of exposure that puts her in a good position to comment on these issues. I believe this was her first book, and she clearly is no Shakespeare – but that wasn’t her goal I suppose. Shahade gives a good overview of strong female players past and present, provides entertaining anecdotes, and presents a lot of her own opinions and (often debatable) conclusions on topics such as women-only tournaments, the notion of “playing chess like a girl”, etc. The book could have been better organized, but I can say that it made for a very entertaining read.

End Game: Kasparov vs Short by Dominic Lawson:
This book is about the 1993 World Championship match between Kasparov and Short. The author is a friend of Short’s and it’s not surprising that a not-so-subtle anti-Kasparov tone prevails. I found this book to be absolutely fascinating. It’s full of drama, providing insights into the crazy mind games and psychological warfare on both sides, Short’s home preparation, and political nuances surrounding the match. Not to mention the ups and downs during the actual games. Highly recommended to any chess aficionado.

The Immortal Game by David Shenk:
This book traces the history of the game from its beginnings in Persia (ca. 500 A.D.) up to what it is today. Shenk is an excellent author and it shows in this very well written book. A very nice feature of the book is that Shenk sprinkles his chapters with the moves to the “Immortal Game” between Adolf Anderssen and Lionel Kieseritzky in London in 1851, so every now and then you get to enjoy a bite-sized portion of that classic game of the romantic era. The book’s sub-sub-title probably sums it up best: “"How 32 carved pieces on a board illuminated our understanding of war, art, science, and the human brain." Good stuff.

The Chess Kings by Calvin Olson:
This is by far the driest book of the lot, but if you want a pretty well-researched, scientific account of top level players, tournaments, and matches from the past and the present, this is it. The book provides an extensive bibliography, supplementary info, and a bunch of annotated games.

Bobby Fischer Goes to War by David Edmonds and John Eidinow:
The 1972 match between Spassky and Bobby Fischer was, without a doubt, the most notorious chess match ever. No other match has ever received the same kind of media coverage, and this duel sparked a chess renaissance not only in the US but other countries as well. After all, this was more than just a chess match – to many, it was a manifestation of the cold war. It was the single American chess genius against the mighty Soviet chess empire, trying to break the solid grip that Soviets had on the world champion title. This book was hard to put down. The authors did a great job conveying the tense atmosphere, the politics, the bickering, and Fischer’s antics. Don’t expect to see a lot of detail about the actual games – the book doesn’t provide that as the games have already been analyzed to death anyways. Bottom line – a very, very entertaining read.

King’s Gambit by Paul Hoffman:
As the sub-title to the book (“A Son, A Father, and the World's Most Dangerous Game") suggests, this book is part autobiography, part portrait of the crazy world of chess. The autobiographical part evolves around the author’s difficult relationship with his own father, tying it in with general observations about chess psychology. The book is full of colorful real-life characters (including Kasparov and many others), and there is no shortage of entertaining sub-plots – including a crazy trip to Libya for a chess tournament with spy-story-like qualities. I enjoyed Hoffman’s writing style, which you can get a taste of on his blog.

The Chess Artist
by J.C. Hallman:
Another fun excursion into today’s world of chess. The author meets and becomes friends with a master, and the reader can follow them on a journey exploring chess culture in the US (including tournaments, hustlers in Washington square park, games on ICC etc). The focal point of the book is a trip to the Russian province of Kalmykia, whose president is Kirsan Ilyumzhinov – yep, the same guy that’s president of FIDE. While in Kalmykia, the two protagonists try to meet with Ilyumzhinov, who proves to be somewhat elusive. At the same time, they set out to explore the odd little “Chess City” built by Ilyumzhinov, with its crown jewel, the “Chess Palace” – a glass pavilion dedicated to nothing but chess. Overall, I found the book to be entertaining while at times it was a little “slow”. If I had to chose, I’d prefer “King’s Gambit” over this one, but if you’re addicted to chess (which you probably are if you’re reading this), I am sure you will enjoy “The Chess Artist”.

I'd love to hear other recommendations or opinions on these books.

Sunday, April 27, 2008


Played my first round game in T37 of the T4545 league yesterday and won. Woohaa :) Here's the game:

Friday, April 25, 2008

Power Play

Sweet. Last night I received Daniel King’s Power Play volumes 1, 2, 5, and 6. I already owned part 3 which I think is excellent. I am not interested in part 4 as it deals with openings – not a priority for me right now. Daniel King is a great presenter with a wonderful sense of humor. His lectures keep me glued to my computer.

I know what I’ll be doing this weekend :-)

I'd provide a review of the DVD's but Grandpatzer already did a fine job here and here. Then again, he only reviewed volumes 1-3 so I might give an extensive review of volumes 5 and 6 when I'm through with them.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

BDK, Was This You?

In honor of The New Englunder (who seems to be bowing out of chess blogging, sorta kinda), here's a 5 0 blitz game I played on ICC today. I am white playing against the Englund Gambit. I know this wasn't BDK because he would've played a better line, not this silly crap that allowed me to crush him ;-)

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Perils of Chess ADD

I need to focus. The way I study chess just seems to be all over the place. I jump from one thing to the next, often not giving 100% effort to the particular task at hand. I start reading one chess book, then get distracted by another one. I start looking at a certain set of endgame problems, but don’t take the time to really master them because the next day I’m on to something different. I start looking at GM games in a particular opening to internalize plans and patterns, but then I stop after just a few games, moving on to something different. And so forth…

My efforts just feel too fragmented, too unsystematic. Pareto’s principle comes to mind (more commonly known as the 80-20 Rule): 80% of your effort will only produce 20% of your benefit. I need to focus on the 20% of my effort that will yield a higher return on my study time and produce the highest benefit. I need to make sure those 20% of my effort are structured right. There needs to be a discipline in my studies that is lacking right now.

I think I am not alone; this seems to be something affecting many improving players. A big challenge for many seems to be how to study. How do you structure your (often limited) chess study time? How do you focus your efforts in an ideal way, how can you leverage those 20% of your most productive efforts?

I think the ideal solution to this is working with a strong chess coach who can help you identify your biggest weaknesses. This might be the core problem: many improving chess players probably don’t know what their biggest weaknesses are (I include myself in that category). It seems logical that you will reap the biggest benefits from your limited study time if you focus your efforts on those weaknesses. But what to do if you don’t have the time, money, or inclination to work with a coach? I think the next best approach might just be going over all your long games (not blitz games) and try to analyze them as deeply as you can. Try to get to the “truth” of the game, spend hours, even days on a single game. Figure our what the critical points are, and where/why you went wrong. If you do this long enough and with sufficient depth, and for multiple games, you might just see a pattern in the kinds of mistakes you make. Those patterns should then be your guide when you budget your study time.

Now I need to take my own advice and actually do this. I need to figure out my biggest weaknesses (aside from the obvious tactical weaknesses that we probably all need to be working on constantly).

Any thoughts?

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Beer And Chess...

...are a fun combination but don't expect to increase your rating.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Bobby Fischer's Legacy?

Have you seen this story? Do you think it’s for real? As much as I wish it were true, I have my doubts. It would be really cool to see new Fischer games if he did indeed play online since his “retirement”, especially if he played against some of the current elite GM's. And it would definitely make for some juicy news if all that correspondence was real. I just don’t buy it though.

The last email they show says it was “Sent: Sunday, 09 December 2008 04:08”. Well, obviously this date was doctored as I doubt Bobby traveled to the future to send it. Why shouldn’t everything else be doctored as well? It just seems too good to be true, I have to believe this is highly bogus. But it would make one heck of a story…

***Happy April's Fools day everybody!***