Review: Stein Move by Move, by Thomas Engqvist

By Davide Nastasio

I began to read “Rubinstein move by move,” but then, thanks to a friend, I got hold of this book, and realized I really didn’t know anything about Stein.  The reason was simple: I began to play late in life, and while major chess character lives are clear, thanks to a lot of material, some players are definitely buried by time.  This is the case for Stein, a brilliant player who died quite young at the age of 38.  It is interesting to notice that his death stirred a reaction by the greatest of all: Bobby Fischer, already away from the competitive chess world, who sent this telegram:




But why did I begin to read Stein? Because of the curiosity stirred by the following phrase written by IM Engqvist: “I remember how I tried to guess Stein’s moves before I checked the ones he actually played. Sometimes the moves were incomprehensible, so I sensed that he was a very profound player indeed.”
IM Engqvist just taught us, unconsciously, a great exercise he used to improve: guess the next move. Obviously this exercise is not easy, because it takes hours, but in this way we can follow the steps of these giants, and try to better understand them.

Engqvist’s book is based on 30 games played by Stein as White, and 30 games played as Black.
As always, thanks to my Megabase 2016, I quickly gathered all the games Stein played.   Big surprise, the number was 940.

Meanwhile, I found another book on Stein written by two other players who knew him personally: Gufeld and Lazarev.




Let’s begin to acknowledge some of Stein’s playing features.  He was a lightning player, with impressive wins.  In many games he thought only 15-20 minutes.

Gufeld and Lazarov deny the myth that Stein didn’t read chess books, a myth common also to another champion: Capablanca.  However, they also say that he would read just what he needed, and that often he would save himself from dangerous situations on the board, thanks to his imagination, because no book could give him those ideas. But he definitely studied the style of some champions of his period, like Tal and Petrosian, who surely gave him a lot of ideas to imitate in his games.

The book is divided in five chapters.

The first chapter deals with the formative early years. Stein didn’t collect the games of that period, and we have them thanks to the other players who played against him. From the book “Leonid Stein, Master of the risk strategy” we come to know that his favorite players, the ones he learned from, were Simagin, Mikenas, Ragosin, and Kopaev, also known as the romanticists for their attacking styles.
For those who never heard of these players, long forgotten in the past, I’d like to add one or two of their games here, because it will help to better understand Stein’s playing style and the world in which he grew.

This game is amazing for the way Simagin wins using the bishop pair, and the king hunt.  Notice that Black is one of the most solid players in history:



Vladimir Simagin




Particularly nice is the final fork in this game:




Mikenas vs Alekhine, 1937


The following game is also quite interesting, because Mikenas missed the chance to win at move 23.  Can you see it?



And the last player should be Nikolay Antonovich Kopaev, for some of these players it is difficult to find information because they are minor, and maybe the literature on them is only in Russian.
But Kopaev, if this is the right player, had two really nice games we should know about, which surely would help us to better understand Stein’s role models.

This game shows an amazing attack on the kingside:



And the next is a very deep game, played against likely the player who had the longest career in chess history:



Another important factor of that growing time was that Stein lost a lot of games, but those games were fundamental for his growth.  Often we think that we only need to win in order to improve, and miss the concept that through experimentation and accepting the losses coming from it, we can grow much more.

Throughout the first chapter, and the players presented fighting against Stein, we better know the historical period in which he lived.  Sometimes my curiosity was stimulated by such players, who will never have a “move by move” book, but have accomplished the impossible, as in the following game where we see Tal beaten by one of the players we will never hear from, and against whom Stein played and won.



And finally I’d like to present a game Stein played (likely the only game in which he played the Dutch, since he was clearly a KID player) which is quite interesting for the sacrifices, as well as the psychological aspect, he is trying to avoid the opponent’s opening preparation!



In this chapter, I particularly like the many chess characters which are presented, often with few words, but which I believe are extremely important, because also when on the sidelines they have contributed to make chess history.

In this case another interesting player presented in the first chapter is Iivo Nei, who was the second in Spassky’s match of the century against Fischer.



Iivo Nei, 1966


Obviously since the book is about Stein, the game played against Iivo Nei is a loss, but one would clearly misjudge the strength of such a player.  Here are a couple of games which show how strong Iivo Nei was.



This game is interesting for the use of the two knights by Black.



The second chapter tell us about Stein’s way to the top.  It begins with a game from the XXVIII USSR championship against Bronstein.  In that time, 1961, such tournament was likely the strongest tournament in the world.  Stein’s star begins to shine at this tournament where he makes a third place finish, with 12 points out of 19.  Notice that the winner of the tournament, Petrosian, would make 13.5 out of 19.

In the book, the game with Bronstein takes more than 8 pages of comments and questions.  Please notice that in such a tournament, Stein wins some of the strongest players of all times.  In this specific case, he even beats the tournament’s winner, Petrosian.   Here is the game.



In this chapter we also discover how Stein loved to play the Sicilian Najdorf, like Fischer. Although in books dedicated to a champion, they tend to show only his brilliant wins.   As a reviewer, my goal is to show interesting material which can be useful to the reader.  In this particular case, I’d like to show a loss by Stein, in the Najdorf, which was caused by a very strong player who we mentioned before as one of Stein’s role models: Simagin.   Simagin will win the prize for the most brilliant game in the XXVIII USSR championship, thanks to this game.  Now, while Stein loses, we must pay attention to his great defense, which maybe would have worked against a minor player.



The third chapter is entitled “The Strongest Period.”  There is a peak period for every athlete; in this case, Stein’s peak period (as defined by the author of the book) was 1965 to 1967.  Stein won two USSR championships in 1965 and 1966.  The chapter features 12 games from this successful period.
I’d like to show two games I enjoyed.

In the first game notice how by move 16, all Black’s pieces are on their initial rank, and how White’s pieces are ready to jump toward the kingside.



Now before giving the second game, I believe it is important to notice that this game was annotated, and explained in “How to play dynamic chess,” by Valeri Beim, at page 144 and following.
My wife says that I have too many chess books, and of course women (especially wives) are always right. But it is impossible to write a good review without knowing the history, and what the professionals have written about some games, players, and how the ideas were developed.  For those who are just beginning to understand the depth of chess, I’ll show two other games before giving Stein vs. Keres.   This way one can begin to understand what it means to know an opening, and follow its evolution.




This story begins in 1882 with a piece sacrifice…



And the story continues in 1900, with a novelty made by Janowsky at the 14th move:



Now let’s return to Stein, because clearly he didn’t know these games, and Keres maybe didn’t remember either.  The key of the previous game is the move 17. a4, which Stein doesn’t find right away, but finally plays it at the 19th move.



However, please buy the books and follow the annotations and explanations, which obviously will enrich you more than what this short review can do.

The fourth chapter is about setbacks and bad luck. The author begins saying that not having a coach, and not understanding how important this was (since chess is a tough sport), made Stein have some bad performances.  However, related to this period there is Fischer climbing the ladder of chess success, and the bad luck Stein had was being in the middle when the legend and giant was crushing everyone in his path.

The following game is famous also for another reason, it was game n. 60 in the book: My 60 memorable games, written by Fischer.  The title of the game, as given in Fischer’s book, was “When Champions Meet.”   Let’s enjoy it.



The other giant Stein met was also climbing to have a shot at the world title, and clearly in that period was the best western player after Fischer.  His name is Bent Larsen, and he would win the 1967 Interzonal.  He would continue to the candidate matches, where he would beat Portisch, but in the match Larsen vs. Spassky, Larsen would be definitely be beaten by Spassky 5.5 to 2.5.



And then we finally come to the fifth and final chapter entitled “The Final Years.”
I’ll leave it to the reader of the book to discover the very interesting games found in this chapter.

One final comment about the author: Engqvist has a wonderful idea in the book which I’d like to share, partially, with the reader before ending this review.  Eventually, once the reader has studied these games, he can then go to the book and see, thanks to Engqvist’s chess wisdom, how much more he can learn.  The idea is his list of the 10 best games Stein played.  Here are the first four games (I’ll let the reader of the book discover the other six), but notice that Engqvist doesn’t say they must be the same for you.  You could have a completely different list.  So this is the extremely interesting point: we can compare lists, and understand better what we like or dislike, and why.

Engqvist mentions first Stein’s immortal game.   This game is featured also in “The Mammoth Book of the World’s Greatest Chess Games,” the 1997 edition, which has only 100 games, the latest one 125 if I remember well.  But what does it mean?   It means that when we love a player, we should first watch his games and try to find his “immortal” game, and begin the list in that way.



But what if we consider that Stein could have played more than one immortal game?  Well, this is what happened also to Engqvist, who considers the following the second immortal game played by Stein. The reason is given by Kasparov, because the following game reminds one of another classic of the past, the game A.McDonnell vs. L.De Labourdonnais, London (4th match, 16th game) 1834, where in the final position there are three pawns on the second rank, and in this game we have couple of pawns from both sides running desperately toward promotion.



The following game is a battle of wills between White who was likely happy with a draw, and Black who wanted to win at all costs.  Black, thanks to weakening his own king’s safety, provokes White into attacking.  Chess is a sport in which psychology can be an important component and factor in winning or losing a game.



The next is an interesting game for the maneuvers on both sides.  The concept of two weaknesses comes to mind.



In conclusion: the book is surely interesting, and a must for those interested in this champion from the past. Hope you will enjoy it, as I did.



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