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Review: Training with Moska – Practical Chess Exercises: Tactics, Strategy, Endgames, by Viktor Moskalenko

New in Chess, 2017
349 pages

By Davide Nastasio

When I began to read this book, it seemed to me to be a new Fundamentals, the exceptional book written by Capablanca, which every chess player should read at least one time in their life.

 

chess_fundamentals

 

I’d like to mention one passage at page 7: “I firmly believe that the idea of learning all the basic aspects of chess in one single book is totally feasible.”

I consider this idea by the author quite exceptional — and correct! Often we have thematic books on one single aspect of the game, and they are great, but as an amateur chess player without a coach, how do I grow harmoniously in all areas of chess without neglecting some? Obviously the answer is through a book like this one, which will help me in all phases of the game. Notice the parallel with the diet: if we eat only one kind of food, our health will suffer; if instead we eat many different foods, we will nourish our bodies in a more complete way, and grow correctly. This is what this book does: it helps us to nourish our chess minds, giving us different kinds of chess foods to allow us to grow into better players.

The book is divided into 3 parts: part 1 covers tactics; part 2,strategy; and part 3, the endgame.  Part 1 is comprised of 10 different themes: double attack, pin, intermediate move, etc.  The order is quite interesting. When you think of a chess game, in the opening there can be tactics, then we have the middlegame with the strategy, and generally (at my level, 1900+), most games are won in the endgame, making it an essential part of the preparation for each tournament.

 

moskalenko

GM Viktor Moskalenko

 

I think Moskalenko did a good job also for the modern chess coaches that maybe still didn’t develop a curriculum, in this way they can use this book as guide.

But let me explain why I find this book so good. I have the feeling that finally chess is being taught like a college course! The teacher, in this case Moskalenko, gives a brief introduction to the topic he is treating and shows some examples.  In each chapter he also gives a lot of quizzes and positions from which one must find the right continuation, like in a real college class.

I must admit I missed the solution to some positions. Moskalenko used a position from one of his games which I found quite a difficult line to play.  In the solution, he shows a better more elegant way to win.

 

Black_pos_8

 

Here Moskalenko writes “Black has a notable material advantage: queen + bishop against rook + three minor pieces. Besides, there are two powerful Black pawns on the b- and c- files. However, we still have to be accurate. How do you continue?”

The key to learning chess, but also important in many other activities, is to be actively engaged in the subject.  Moskalenko does this throughout the book, showing different positions, and asking questions like this one:

 

exercise_11

 

Moskalenko: “Black has the option to win a pawn with 10…Nxd5; is this combination correct?”  Now the point is: maybe we cannot solve some positions, but at least we have worked hard on them, and this will be useful in our tournament games.

Then for each part he also created a comprehensive exam, like we would have through a semester in college. Instead in many books I’ve seen before they wouldn’t use this quite good teaching approach, they would just give you example after example, without ever testing if the learner understood the topic, and would be able to use it over the board.

The 3 exams in the book have a total of 150 positions, while the entire course is based on 500 instructive positions.  I love Moskalenko as a coach, because from the start of the book he gives advice which is essential for the development of the player, like playing blindfold for improving calculation and imagination in chess!

 

blindfold_chess

 

Moskalenko begins chapter 1 with an example position from one of the first games he ever played, and then follows with an exercise.  This is great because one becomes immediately an active learner.  I read the book and did the exercises on a chessboard. I didn’t use a computer. I also dedicated a little notebook to write down the solution of all the exercises.

I try to simulate tournament conditions. I gave myself 10 minutes for each exercise, which is not much, but in today’s time controls it is a lot!
As always, I was biased against the first part of the book.  I’ve done for many years more than 10,000 tactical exercises a year on different commercial sites. Once more, like for Yusupov’s books, I was humbled by some of the exercises chosen by Moskalenko, showing me two things:

1. Moskalenko is a real coach.
2. These tactical exercises are worthier than those found on any commercial site.  However, not all the exercises are difficult, on the contrary, some are quite simple, like the following:

 

pin_exercise

White to move and win.

 

What did I gain from such exercises?

This is my feeling and personal opinion. I don’t have scientific proof. I feel that I’ve gained in visualization and calculation clarity.  Sometimes around move 4 of a line, I would play the wrong move.  Afterwards I would look at the solution to check if it was correct, always without moving the pieces. I would see my mistake, and then I’d return to calculate and find the correct line.  This kind of training will surely lead to better results in tournament games.

I get surprised when I discover that a book is written with heart and passion by someone who has dedicated his life to teaching and improving other chess players. This is the case with the author of this book.

As in every human activity, we get back what we put in. This means that we do need to focus all our energies into what the author is trying to give us.  For example, exercise 18 on page 20 is about the “windmill,” a simple tactical pattern.  The author gives the following position, saying, “The most famous case (referring to the windmill tactic) was seen in an old game….”

 

exercise_18

 

Now the solution of the exercise is quite simple and clear, but I remembered Kasparov telling a nice story. He was invited to a dinner in his honor in Germany, and when he entered the dining hall he found that on a table there were many chessboards with some positions already on them.  He looked at them for less than a minute, and then proceeded to his table and dined. At the end of the dinner the host asked Kasparov to go to the table with the boards and see if he was able to identify them, because they were famous games.  Kasparov refused to move from his table, and from his chair announced board by board who were the players, and what was the next move. Now I don’t know if the story is true, but it is a nice story. While reading the phrase “an old game” and remembering this story by Kasparov, I also came out with a new exercise! Since after a certain level one has seen many games, can you remember the position from exercise 18 to which the game belongs?  I must admit, I’m not fast as Kasparov (it took me more than 10 minutes, and the name of the Black player came first, and then White…), but I saw this position twice, because I solved it online, and also because I wrote an article in which I discussed that game!
Here is the game for those who cannot remember it, or never saw it!

 

 

 

Now as a reviewer I must tell you the pros and cons of the book, otherwise I wouldn’t be an honest reviewer.  Keep in mind these are my “cons” and someone else maybe wouldn’t find any problems. For me, the diagrams were small. I do understand the predicament the publisher has, since there were 3-4 diagrams per page, and to make them bigger could mean to add 100 pages, making the book too expensive for selling.  But I’m old, I don’t want to use reading glasses, and I prefer the diagrams a little bigger.

Another problem I have is the diagram orientation. When it is Black’s turn to move, the diagram is still from White’s side. This is annoying for two reasons:

1. Sometimes I didn’t see it was Black’s side to move (my fault) and wasted 15 minutes not finding the right solution, because it was Black to move, not White. Again, it was my fault because I made the mistake of placing the pieces from White’s side.

2. It makes it difficult to place the pieces, or if one doesn’t want to solve the positions on a board, to work on it just reading the book.

Apart from these few cons, I find this book excellent and a MUST-have for everyone who is serious about improving in chess. Moskalenko is really a great writer, and I felt really lucky to have such a great masterpiece in my hands! If I could contact Mr. Moskalenko, I would surely express all my gratitude for writing such great book!

 

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