Review: Extreme Chess Tactics, by Yochanan Afek

Gambit Publications 2017
143 pages

By Davide Nastasio

If you have the word “Extreme” in a book title, it is bound to be fun.  If to that we add that the author is one of the greatest chess composers of our time, as well as the author of great chess books with a long and amazing chess career, well clearly this is the book for everyone.



IM Yochanan Afek


But let me tell you a little more about Yochanan Afek.  There was an occasion when I couldn’t solve a “checkmate in 2” from one of Yusupov’s books. Obviously there are many excuses I could use, such as I was tired after a long workday and in the evening often the eyes close themselves! In any case, I was trying to solve the same problem for two days, and I was starting to get frustrated thinking that maybe there wasn’t a mate-in-2 solution, because I found mate in 3-4 moves but couldn’t find the mate in 2 moves. So I decided to send a snippet of the position to Yochanan, since I knew he was a world-class problem solver. And on his side of the planet it was 1:00 or 2:00 am! But after five minutes I got the answer!   He told me the idea was nice, and took him less than one minute to solve.  Thanks to him, I tried again to solve the problem.  He gave me a hint on the way I should think.  Another 5-6 minutes later and I finally found the solution. I was happy I didn’t give up, and I was happy that I got some moral support from a person on the other side of the ocean! That is the kind of modest and helpful man the author of this book is!
This is the mate in 2 for those who were curious:




And since we are on the topic of mate in two, I’d like to show you another brilliant mate in two problem composed by Afek in 1978:




But now let’s review the book beginning with the cover, done by one of the best chess artists of our time: Wolff Morrow!  The position chosen on the board is already quite significant, a study from 1976, the solution of which is given in the book on page 6. I enlarged the board in the following image, and the reader can try to find the solution.  White to move and win!




In the introduction, the author asks a difficult question based on the famous Teichmann quote which says that chess is 99% tactics.  Such a quote suggests that in every chess game tactics are a decisive factor influencing the result. The author asks rhetorically, “If tactics are fundamental, why do we spend so much time studying openings?”  As always, balance in one’s training is important.  W hile one must study the openings to understand the ideas and the positions he will encounter in the middlegame, or to know which endgames will come out from that opening, it is also important to train our chess minds on tactics.

The book is comprised of 16 chapters with main tactical themes like the skewer.



Example from the chapter on The Skewer


Other themes in the book include deflection and decoy, back rank weakness, etc.  Each chapter has the explanation of the tactical motif, with many examples and exercises (more than 300!). The last chapter is only made up of exercises, 40 in total.

On every chess site we have tactical trainers, positions, etc. So what does this book add? I believe one thing no chess site really has is a quarter century of experience in many chess fields! Yochanan Afek is clearly the right person for selecting positions which will help us improve our calculation power and tactical abilities. The book is aimed at the strong club player, or the active tournament player interested in self-improvement.



Example of exercises in the last chapter.


The book paper quality is good, and the price is probably what we would pay to spend 20 minutes with a GM. The book in my opinion can give material for at least 6 months of studying!  Don’t miss this chance to own a masterpiece which will surely make you gain a hundred rating points, or at least become a better chess player!

By the way, the publisher Gambit has also an app for Android and Apple devices with more than 100 titles.  I’m mentioning it because some people prefer to read books on their phones or tablets.


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