Double Review: The Chess Manual of Avoidable Mistakes, and The Chess Manual of Avoidable Mistakes 2 – Test Yourself!, by Romain Edouard
By Davide Nastasio
ThinkersPublishing, 2014, 228 pages
I came to know ThinkersPublishing because I casually stumbled upon the book Ivan’s Chess Journey on the internet. It is an autobiographical book written by GM Sokolov.
But I’ll tell you more on this book later in another review.
Later, while at a tournament, I was speaking with Thad Rogers and mentioned that I couldn’t find anyone selling the books of this publisher. He kindly contacted the publisher and bought all the books in their catalogue to sell here in the United States.
Being an avid chess reader, I acquired them too, because I wanted to know what a different publisher (based in Belgium) was writing about chess. I found the series of books published by ThinkersPublishing to be quite refreshing and interesting.
The first author I perused was GM Romain Edouard; he wrote two books which I believe are quite important for the competitive chess player. His idea for writing these books was to write something which didn’t exist, and that would help younger players to avoid the mistakes they commit, helping them to grow faster, and be better players.
For me the idea was quite simple: if I can reduce the number of blunders in my games, automatically I will raise my rating and achieve master level.
Romain Edouard has created the book based on his games. He took about 1000 of his games played in the last 10 years and selected 300 of the most important of them. Out of these 300, he has used a little over 100 for the examples of recurrent mistakes which are common to all players. But GM Romain doesn’t stop at just showing the mistakes; he also shows some of his recent games where those mistakes, which were a problem in the past, have been solved.
The first of the two books is divided into four main parts:
1. How to be more objective during a chess game
2. How to reduce the number of blunders
3. How to judge concrete moves and concessions
4. General tips to improve chess results (linked to openings, psychology, and work process)
Since I don’t know anything about this author and his games, the first thing I do is open my Chessbase 12 and the Megabase 2016. In the filter, I enter the name Edouard Romain. This gives me about 1300 of his games. He is a GM rated around 2650, with a peak of 2700. I began watching about 50 of his latest won games to get a feeling for the openings he likes and his style. I was amazed, because clearly this GM is quite original, especially in some of the openings I’ve seen.
This game is an example of his original style. Evaluate the game from Black’s side, and see if you get the impression that White is an amateur playing against Morphy in the 1850s, or if you’d believe White to be IM level, 2400+ against another titled player.
“This is another example of a fluent win against a top GM. I like this game because it ends in a great endgame position that I don’t see very often: two pawns on the sixth rank overpowering a rook! ”
Now returning to the content of the first book: GM Romain examines how we can be objective, and admits that we can’t be completely objective throughout the game. This is quite important for me, because chess is often a challenge to ourselves. Why didn’t I see a certain move? Why did I evaluate incorrectly in that position? These are just of the few questions one asks when analyzing a finished game. The book discusses in just the first chapter important themes like “how not to fear fake threats,” or “how to keep a cool head under pressure,” and “how to evaluate the position correctly!”
In the second chapter, GM Romain discusses some of the common causes for blundering, one in particular: “overconfidence.” This common cause I saw it in a real game. Last August when I was playing the fourth round of the Southern Chess Congress 2016, a player on another board, but on the same table I was playing, couldn’t keep his poker face, and he clearly thought he won the game against a young kid. But his overconfidence landed him in time trouble, and then likely into another blunder which GM Romain labels as “multiple evaluation changes during a game,” and in the end the game became a draw!
In the third chapter, GM Romain introduces an interesting concept: “concessions.” He then deals with all technical decisions we need to make throughout the game, be they transformations, prophylaxis, or transpositions, and the way we should make those decisions correctly.
The final chapter deals with minor topics which can still be very interesting and enlightening for the amateur and club player who aspire to reach the next level. For example: GM Romain explains how we should study the openings, the homework we should do before a tournament to be prepared, and the correct opening lines.
I’d like to illustrate a point about openings which is important. GM Romain shows a game he played against Dreev (Dreev – Romain 2011) that he lost in 48 moves, but he discusses deeply the situation after White’s move 14th:
His analyses, also if relative to a line I don’t play, were quite interesting for showing all the mindwork which goes into opening preparation.
Still he lost 4-5 times with such a line, and in the end his advice was “Sometimes a player likes a line, but the line doesn’t like the player!” We do need to have some humor to go on when admitting defeat and multiple losses all in the same line!
I believe this is the point where the amateur differs from the master. The amateur gives up right away; the master continues to fight, and then when all options are exhausted, admits defeat and changes. But exhausting all options is what makes a player great, and another mediocre! At the same time GM Romain warns us about being too stubborn with a line which doesn’t fit our playing style.
Each chapter is concluded with some exercises. Here is an example from Chapter 2:
Let’s now examine the second book: The Chess Manual of Avoidable mistakes Part 2 – Test Yourself!
This smaller volume, 152 pages, is the perfect complement to the first book! A must have.
The book is composed mainly of exercises, but once again the author wants to show creativity in his work, since anybody can put together some chess positions and call it a book of exercises. The author begins telling us that, in fact, there are many books of exercises divided in different ways: some for the beauty of the solution, some by difficulty, etc.
While those classic exercises are a good form of chess mind training, being organized in that way makes the mind lazy because it looks for a precise solution which often we don’t have in a real game. The positions chosen in this volume all come from real games that GM Edouard has selected for their teaching value. In his opinion these positions will teach us new ways of thinking, which we will be able later to incorporate in our games.
The book is divided into 6 chapters (the author, however, makes a mistake in the introduction by listing 7 chapters). Precise instructions are given at the beginning of each chapter, as well as an introductory example. The book is in English and French, so those who love the French language, or are trying to learn it, will have in this book a good language exercise, as well.
The book has a total of 280 testing positions. However, GM Edouard warns that in order to solve them, one must be precise, like in a real game. If we don’t calculate far enough, or correctly enough, then one has not solved the exercise, because in a real game the opponent would make us pay the for the imprecision of our analysis.
The six chapters begin with a simple and classical one, entitled Find the winning move, and then continue with chapter 2: Defend yourself!
Chapter 3 is entitled Move Now! Here is an example from one page of that chapter.
Then there are the following chapters:
Chapter 4: Difficult choices
Chapter 5: Weigh up a possibility
Chapter 6: Spot the missed opportunity
In conclusion: I find these two books to be quite remarkable. I believe more authors should write in this way. The first book leads the student to understand and learn, and the second book provides test positions related to the material of the first book. In this way, a serious student has feedback, and can discover what he/she didn’t understand.