By Davide Nastasio
Quality Chess 2016, 208 pages
I must tell you a strange story of which I am the subject. I heard the mailman coming and I went to get the mail. Nothing new. It happens everyday. Then I’m in my office getting ready to go to walk with my dog, and I see the mailman making a bizarre incursion into my home alley and delivering another little parcel. I went to see what it was, and I found this book which I didn’t order coming from Amazon. I wasted my time contacting them, and likely it was a mistake, but they didn’t care to get it back. Maybe because it would cost more than just leaving it to me, and honestly I really didn’t want to go to the nearest UPS place to send it back, so it was a good deal for both.
Then, of course, being a chess book, I thought, “Maybe this is a kind of message from God who wants to read my review of the book.” One never knows why things happen. I would have preferred the latest book by Gelfand, but reading the Tanakh I learned it is not a good idea to question Divine wisdom.
Before talking of the book, I’d like to talk about the author: Artur Yusupov.
Yusupov is extensively mentioned by Mark Dvoretsky, who was likely the best and most famous trainer in the world. Yusupov was, with Beliavsky, one of Dvoretsky’s most promising students, and then later they began to work together coaching new champions.
But who is Yusupov? Like most GMs he learned the game early, at the age of six. He won the World Junior Championship in 1977.
I found the following game. I didn’t know GM Zapata was playing in that youth world championship too! But it is amazing how in chess we can, like with a time machine, witness something which happened over 40 years ago!
Thanks to winning the World Junior Championship, Yusupov got the International Master title. Three years later, in 1980, he became GM. In 1979, at the USSR Championship, likely the strongest tournament in the world, he made 2nd behind Efim Geller. This game from that tournament is particularly exciting:
Yusupov reached the semi-final for the candidate to the world championship three times. In 1986 he was defeated by Sokolov; in 1989 he was defeated by Karpov; and in 1992 he was defeated by Timman. In 1995 Yusupov reached his peak Elo of 2680. With Dvoretsky he founded a chess school. Many famous names have been through it, like Peter Svidler, Sergei Movsesian, and Vadim Zijaginsev, just to mention a few!
Of course Yusupov has quite a rich biography, both for the number of tournaments won and for the number of books published. This brief sketch is just to give a small example of how great such a player and trainer is.
Going back to talk about the book, it is divided into 3 main parts, and each one is made up of 24 test chapters. There is a scoring system, but for me honestly it is not important, since I don’t see how good a score is if I cannot compare it with other players and their ratings. Instead, what is important are the topics on which one is tested, because if I don’t solve the problems correctly in one chapter, it means I have some kind of deficiency in that area that I must treat in order to improve.
And so I did. I began to solve all the problems, and since this is a review I’d like to share some of them with you. Such a work was quite useful, because a couple of days later I played in a tournament, and maybe some of the good results were also thanks to this training.
Before going to have fun with the positions, let me mention one thing: this book should be used after one has done all the exercises in the books of the Fundamental series.
Revision and Exam 1 is made by 432 exercises! I went over Part 1 in one month, and I had some stumbling blocks. Some areas were definitely difficult for me. But in general the entire book was difficult. I always remember one phrase from one of Aagaard’s books (Grandmaster Preparation – Calculation, p. 9) : “The best training material has a difficulty level of 110-120%.”
The total number of points at stake in section 1 is 285, divided over 144 exercises. It would be fun if the readers of this article would post their score so we can compare it.
Now let’s begin my lamentations! The first position of the book is a difficulty given by the author of 2 stars. The solution required the reader to find the right tactics which involved a bishop-queen battery, a bishop sacrifice, and a final combination, for a total of 1-4 moves for the main ideas, and up to 9 moves to see the won position! Now, the time it took me to visualize 9 moves was 30 minutes. I’m sorry, I’m not a computer. Notice the 9 moves are not just forced moves, otherwise it wouldn’t take me 30 minutes. And the position was played between 2 GMs: one 2500, the other 2700.
While I continue to feel the above mentioned Aagaard’s phrase in my head, I cannot avoid asking myself, “How is it possible if I’m a 1900 player that I’m asked to play like someone 2500-2700?” And let’s say that the three books on which this revision and exam book is based are made to bring a player to 2200, wouldn’t it still be too difficult a position played between 2500 players?
Here is the first position for your enjoyment (in the end is a checkmate in 9 moves, with many possible variants to calculate).
Look at the next position. This position was given 3 stars, which means more difficult, but it is a flat checkmate in 5 moves. Can you find it?
In case you think you’re good, Stockfish found the solution in less than 0.1 seconds! And I made a mistake in my analysis at move 3. If you see the checkmate in less than 10 minutes, which is the time recommended by the author, very good!
The next position comes from a 4-star problem. It was quite exciting to see Stockfish’s version 5. Not finding the right move, it began considering 1…a5; then passed to 1…a6; then 1…a5; again, and then after a couple of minutes it found the right move. Notice that it gave an evaluation of 0.86 as Black’s advantage, which is like a pawn at a depth of 17 moves in a little over 3 minutes! The reason being that the engine analyzed the BEST continuation White could play, which is not the main line given in the book. Instead the line given in the book is more similar to what a human would play.
I got the solution right till move 4 (as human), and then I went into a variation instead of the main line analyzed by the author, which wasn’t as good as the solution given in the book. Note: this position has analysis which is 18 moves long. I don’t really know who would be able to analyze that far with today’s time controls.
One block I had was the checkmates in 2 moves. It should be quite simple. After all, how can someone not see 2 moves ahead? Well, clearly the positions chosen by Yusupov were quite difficult, and made for training our chess minds to see what we normally don’t see or look for!
But how do I measure improvement in something which is difficult to measure? I paid attention to how my mind worked. In the first three positions, I couldn’t find the checkmate in 2. I couldn’t even find the right idea. But from position n.4 something switched in my brain, like a muscle which became stronger. I would analyze more moves and wouldn’t stop till I found the right one. The exercise was hard, like at the gym with an inflexible coach, but I believe it gave me something back.
Finally, I’d like to give my opinion of the book. It is difficult and the positions are clearly arising from real games. The series of books made by Yusupov, if made upon similar exercises, are clearly forming the mind of the future chess master. But I don’t think it is suitable for the beginner or the amateur not interested in competition. This book is very hard. The exercises are hard, and I don’t advise it to anyone who is not seriously interested in chess. And for those competing, the book could bruise your ego, because the exercises are chosen by an expert trainer who is testing our knowledge and understanding.
On the other hand, this book is perfect for those who want to have a coach, and don’t have the money. Why? Because the exercises are clearly chosen by one of the best coaches in the world. And while it is true he cannot tailor the training to the specific individual, it is also true that he is forming a curriculum for those individuals who want to become chess masters.
All of these are just words, but let me show you a comparison with one of the most used commercial sites for tactics. In my opinion such sites are just a waste of time, and in this case this book proves it.
In this tactic from a very commercial site, White just played 1.Kh1, Black to move and win. The correct move, which I found after 12 minutes, was 1…Qf4; but why did I take 12 minutes? Because I couldn’t find a good and easy win after 2.g3. In commercial sites the positions are not checked by a human coach, they are just passed through a chess engine which determines the correct solution. Now try to guess what White answered….
The engine of this site decided the best move for White was 2.Qxe4 which is totally ridiculous. Why? Well, try to find out. However 2.g3, or 2.Bc5, are totally legit alternatives, likely better than 2.Qxe4. But since the position is analyzed for a few seconds by an engine, these are the “blunders” which can happen. Which begs the question: “What are these tactics trainer sites really teaching?”
With this book, and the series of 9 books made by Yusupov, we are being taught real chess, and how to reach chess mastery. Still it will be hard and require a lot of work!
Review: Improve your Tactics with Tania Sachdev Next Post:
Review: Crushing Isolated Queen’s pawn tactics, By Robert Ris