Hi all. As you know if you read my last article, I am starting a new column. Because many people have asked me for recommendation of good chess books, I will be covering a different book each week. The only thing the books have in common is that they are on my bookshelf. Additionally, I will only be covering books that I actually like – so there won’t be any negative reviews.
When I grew up and was learning chess, computers were not a big factor. For the most part I didn’t have a computer growing up; and when I did, I didn’t use it for studying chess – in fact, I had no database until I was 21 years old (nevertheless, I strongly recommend players of all levels to have a database program). Additionally, there were very few opportunities for me to actually play chess, nor did I ever have any kind of teacher. So chess books were a huge part of my education.
I don’t think I have ever really read a chess book cover-to-cover. Mostly I just pick up a book to a random page and start reading. From time to time I have taken out an actual chess board and played through the games (especially when I was younger) but normally I just read. I’m not saying that my ways are ideal – in fact, probably you would get more out of a book by reading it entirely and playing through the games, paying close attention. Nevertheless, this focus on studying chess as if it were “work” could often lead you simply to never study chess. For me, I didn’t see it as work and simply read/ played through games because I wanted to.
I will be picking books that I own and like, but not necessarily in the order of importance. I will probably review only a few opening books, but they are going to be the more important opening books – I won’t be covering the random recent creations which are constantly being produced, especially since I don’t own many of them. I will be covering both books that I obtained recently, as well as those which I have had since my first steps in chess
For those of you who are wondering, yes that is a picture of my actual bookshelf. Nevertheless, those are not all the books that could possibly be covered, because I have another bookshelf that is not in the picture.
So, let’s begin the first review. I will be covering Dynamic Chess Strategy by the Romanian grandmaster Mihai Suba.
Dynamic Chess Strategy is a fairly recent book, published in 2010 by New In Chess. Many people – in both chess literature and literature in general – tend to decry the poor quality of recent work, compared to older books. But I think the reason is that – at any period – there are some books that will fall by the wayside, and others that will live on and continue to be read. This book belongs to the second group. I am sure there were plenty of slipshod opening books written in the 1950-s, just as there are today. But nobody reads poor-quality old books. Dynamic Chess Strategy, I think, will continue to be read in the future.
Mihai Suba is an older grandmaster who shared 1st in the World Senior Championship in 2008. His heyday was the 1980-s, when at one point he was 30th in the world. He also won the Romanian Championship three times.
Suba is a big expert in Hedgehog positions, the Modern Benoni, and the English Opening as white. Those who play these openings can benefit greatly from this book.
Where I got it
I bought this book at the beginning of my trip to Europe described in the Travelling Chess Player series. I had heard good things about it, and after the Prague Open I decided to buy it from the bookseller there, Tamas Erdelyi.
What’s good about it
Pretty much everything. This guy Suba is a very funny guy, with a real colorful personality. I would like to meet him, although I never ran across him in any of my travels in Eastern Europe. He seems like one of these old chess players who will grab you by the arm and start telling you funny stories with wisdom in them too.
In any case, this if far from a dry chess book. And chess shouldn’t be everything. There is philosophy in there, the philosophy of chess. And colorful stories help you remember stuff.
For example, he tells the following joke on page 51, referring to other Romanian players publishing analysis of their rivals’ opening repetoires:
“…I succeeded in pushing a Federation decision regarding the National Team members’ cross-publishing. It wasn’t respected ad literam, but it saved some of the ‘neighbor’s goats’, and the results improved all over. The Romanian saying quoted above comes from old times, when God walked the earth.
When crossing America, God saw John crying.
- Why are you crying, John?
- Oh God, my neighbour has more land and more money than I do.
- What would you like, John?
- Let me have as much as him!
When crossing France, God saw Jean crying.
- Why are you crying, Jean?
- Oh God, my neighbour is handsome and much more popular with the ladies.
- What would you like, Jean?
- Let me become irresistible!
When crossing Romania, God saw Ion crying.
- Why are you crying, Ion?
- Oh God, my goat has died, but the neighbour’s is well, so he has milk, cheese, and yogurt.
- What would you like, Ion?
- Let the neighbour’s goat die too!”
I showed this to my then-girlfriend Dragana, and she said, “yeah, in the Balkans there is this obsession with goats.” It became a joke with us, for example she would tell me (in pretend broken English) “You win tournament, then we get goat and have fresh milk and yogurt.”
There are many other funny stories and anecdotes. But of course, it is very rich in chess content. This is a middlegame manual, and he goes deep into the very concept of dynamicism in chess, with games as examples. All of the games included in the book are his own games – and you get his actual thoughts and feelings about the games, not dry analysis. Thus it is both a middlegame manual and an autobiographical game collection at the same time. A good combination, I think.
How it impacted me
Just before I left the U.S., I had been having a bit of a crisis in chess. Chess seemed to be becoming very restricted for me, and I was feeling like I should quit playing. This book definitely helped me to see the width of chess, the variety of possible ways of playing. I even mentioned it in one of my “Travelling Chess Player” articles. Suba shows that chess is a human game, rich in possibilities, and governed by human thoughts and general philosophy of chess. Nevertheless, unlike some older players, he does not discount modern findings (which have often been worked out by computers); or accept them but get pessimistic about the future of chess as a result. Rather, he is able to embrace those things which computers have shown to be true, but simultaneously show that chess is still a human game, and that creative vision is still the right way.
Generally, I would say that the book widened my horizons and also its humor helped me to regain interest in chess. I was reading it a little every evening when I made my first GM norm in the Bulgarian Open.
There are so many possible places in the book I could choose. Here is Suba’s game with Parik Stefanov, from Bucharest, 1980.
Parik Stefanov is a very likeable chap and his face always had an adolescent look. That’s why colleagues spoiled him with many diminutives. He is also an interesting and uncompromising player with whom I have always had fighting games. Here is one from the Romanian Championship.
In general, I would say I highly recommend this book. The only downside that I can think of is that it is not particularly organized. However, I don’t think it was intended to be, and it doesn’t take away from the book in any way.
What should you eat while reading this book?
I have spent a fair amount of time in Romania so I know some of the traditional Romanian food. I’m going to say that this book would be good read over breakfast of mămăliga with sour cream and a cup of coffee. Mămăliga is basically porridge made from corn.