By Davide Nastasio
I generally buy the books or DVDs that I review. This time, however, to my surprise the marketing assistant from Batsford, Ms. Hannah Perry, kindly asked our editor if Georgia Chess News would review one of their latest books. I agreed because I like Batsford chess books, especially the one written by GM Soltis. In any case, I’d like to thank her and Batsford for sending us this book and giving our readers the chance to know more about this new book.
Before reviewing the book, I’d like to share a funny story which is somewhat related to this book. Sometimes my wife and I talk about restaurants or vacation places, and then magically in her Facebook there is an advertisement for those conversation topics. This happens without us looking for them on the internet, because then it would make sense. So we talked about the possibility of our phones’ ability to spy on our conversations.
But why is this story related to this book? Because a long time ago I had the idea for a book that would “label” or give a name to the main tactics and checkmate patterns. My rationale was that the human mind generally works and is built upon language, and if we can connect a name to a position, this should help the beginner to incorporate those patterns faster.
Now we fast forward some years, and like the conversations about food and vacation places, the product of my idea is now in my hands!!
As taught to me by IM and FIDE Senior Trainer Jovan Petronic (with whom I exchange messages on Facebook), the first thing I look for in a book is the author.
George Huczek is a Senior Candidate Master for the Canadian Correspondence Chess Association. I searched for this player in the Canadian Chess Federation and found his peak rating to be 2052, and his active rating 1936. Wikipedia informs us that Canadian ratings are about 50 points higher than those of the United States, and 90 points above FIDE.
Thanks to my Oracle, Chessbase 14 with Megabase 2017, I found 10 games played by Huczek. I couldn’t find a way to contact him, so I don’t know if he is actively involved in coaching in Canada. The book is a clear indication this could be coaching material he uses for his students.
The following game played by Huczek is the only one I could find against a top titled player:
Now that we know something about the author, let’s now review this wonderful book. The book starts off running! Yes, you read that correctly! In the introduction, the author shows a masterpiece played by Kasparov against Topalov in 1999. The reason the author used such game is the richness of tactical motifs in the game itself, or in the analysis, since obviously Topalov prevented many disasters which could have happened to a less skillful master-level player.
For those who are curious about the game, here it is:
The book is made up of 50 chapters in alphabetical order by the name of the tactical themes. It starts with Attraction.
The next chapters are Back rank mate, Back rank weakness, etc. The book ends with Zwischenzug! Most chapters are comprised of fragment of games, or positions, which illustrate the tactical concept we should learn. Throughout the book the author offers useful advice on how we should learn and improve our chess, or pointing out some important features of the positions presented.
I consider this book important for many reasons. One reason could be that chess is a sport, and as in every sport one needs to train daily in order to keep up with the harsh reality of weekend tournaments where one has to play 2-3 games a day for long hours, and where often we need to be able to finish an opponent with a few minutes left on the clock.
But it can be used also for teaching if one is a coach and wants to prepare a quick lesson on an aspect of tactics. In this case, it is enough to open the book at the right letter and find the material already there. The way I used the book was to push myself over the limit! The book ends with 400 positions/exercises. I gave myself a goal to finish all of them in one month. It is not unreasonable, just 13 positions a day every day!
The goal was to be achieved before this article would be published in October 2017!
I’d like to point out some positive features of the book:
1. The 400 exercises are given without any order, BUT the author created a reference by theme at page 340 up to 343. Why do I mention such a feature? Because while some coaches believe tactics shouldn’t be given with a theme, other coaches believe one should practice 50-100 exercises per theme in order to learn that pattern by heart.
2. We all want the magic book which will make us a GM-level player, but we often forget the “intermediate” steps, like becoming a master-level player. O ften we forget the even more intermediate steps, like becoming a 1800 from 1500. I believe this book is perfect for the needs of those amateurs and club players who want to achieve master level and need to work on their tactical skills.
As always, I don’t like the diagrams oriented from the White side if the move is for Black. Especially when we are advised to solve the exercises on a board, as is the case with this author. When looking at a diagram from the White side and trying to set up the position on the board from the Black side, mistakes can be made in piece placement. Another problem is regarding the solutions at the end of the 400 exercises: I would have preferred a page of diagrams and a page of solutions to check if I had solved them correctly.
Another problem is that the first twenty or so positions of the 400 exercises are quite simple mating patterns that are presented in all commercial chess sites, books, tactical chess software, etc. It takes a longer time to set the position on the board than actually solve it. I’m not sure these mate-in-2 moves are very useful. For example, I found it more useful to solve composed checkmates-in-2 which often take me 10 minutes per position. Many of the exercises in this book took me maybe 1 minute for 3-4 positions. But perhaps the goal of the author of this book was to focus on beginners more than active tournament players.
Closing thoughts: this is a good book written by someone who chose wisely the positions to study. It can be used by coaches or by a self-taught student who, once the chapters have been read, can try to find the tactics described by watching master level games. The quality of the paper is good. I’ve used the book for quite a while, and it doesn’t fall apart. Kudos to the publisher for believing in an unknown author, and giving us a high quality chess book!
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