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Review: Chess Strategy for Kids, by Thomas Engqvist

Gambit Publications, 128 pages, 2016

By Davide Nastasio

Most adults are biased when thinking about books for kids. In this sense the title “Chess strategy for kids” could be misleading. I received this book by mail in the afternoon, and since as an adult I’m biased too (also if I try to keep an open mind), I brought it to my son’s baseball game. I don’t understand anything about baseball.  I’ve never watched an entire game, and survived well in the last 50 years without it.  Strangely, staying on the grass with a big leather glove is a sport, while playing chess seems, in the mind of most laymen, not one.  Mysteries of the human mind.

In any case, I was trying to read the book while glancing at the baseball game from time to time, and I realized the book was deeper than I thought.

The book begins telling us how to study strategy.  It seems our chess strategy understanding comes from studying the games and writings of the greatest chess minds.

In fact, the author gives us a list of three main steps to follow:

1. Learn the basic strategic devices
2. Recognize typical patterns where strategic themes may occur
3. Incorporate your strategic idea with a broader plan

These three steps are unfolded into 50 sub-strategic themes which are divided in different main subjects. The author begins with the center; the development; and space, to which he dedicates 10 chapters.  He continues with Pawns (8 chapters), Minor Pieces (10 chapters), Major Pieces (7 chapters), and General Strategy is covered over the last 15 chapters.

The book then is completed with some chapters which give feedback to the reader, thanks to some test positions, their solutions, and suggestions for further study.

I found this book interesting because the author clearly knows the classics.  He is an IM with a decennial coaching experience, and throughout the book he simplifies some chess concepts in a manner that a modern reader can understand and appreciate. The problem with the books written in the past, like that of Nimzowitsch, is often they are not appealing to the amateur who is interested in improving his game, without the goal of becoming a master level player.

For example, in chapter 43, Overprotection, the author clearly shows he understood Nimzowitsch and knows how to convey Nimzowitsch’s ideas, but he does it in a easier and more appealing fashion.  Engqvist accomplishes this without the jargon or analogies Nimzowitsch used, which surely would not be comprehended by modern minds not living in Nimzowitsch historical context.

For illustration of what I just wrote, I’d like to show the following diagram: Reti vs. Yates, 1924, which is used as example of what Black should do in the Overprotection chapter at page 97.

 

reti_yates

 

I must admit that I didn’t think of the position in the terms the author did, and explained in the book, so his analysis was quite instructive!
At that point, looking at that diagram and understanding it was beyond me.  I took note of the author’s name again, and a bulb lit up in my head! He is the author of another deep book: Petrosian Move by Move.  A collection of more than 50 games of one of the deepest strategical geniuses of the past!

 

petrosian_mbm_cover

 

And he is also the author of Stein Move by Move, a book which deals with an amazing chess player who died quite early.

 

stein_mbm_cover

 

In my opinion, this book can be interesting for adults as well.  One can read it quickly, and then follow the author’s advice and go look for Philidor, Morphy or Capablanca’s games, and see if he/she can recognize any of the major 50 strategical themes explained in the book. Those themes can be surely found, over and over, in the games of those great players mentioned above , so it could be quite an instructive exercise to watch them.

In fact, it made me want to watch Capablanca’s games too. And just right now, while I’m writing this review, I’ve opened about 10 different windows from my Chess database program with the last 10 games won by the great Capablanca.

I also found the graphics absolutely exhilarating.    They show typical chess ideas in a stunning fashion, which makes them easy to remember, especially for the amateur.

 

pawn_islandsactive_king

 

I think this book can be a nice gift for children who are interested in improving, or for adults who would like to know more about the game but don’t want to deal with some boring authors of the past who were quite good, but didn’t treat the topic in an entertaining manner. After all, chess is many things: a game, a sport, art.  But it can also be entertainment, and in this magical year where the world championship will be played in US, I hope more adults and children will become passionate about our sport, thanks to an introductory text like this one!

 

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One Response to Review: Chess Strategy for Kids, by Thomas Engqvist

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