"100 Soviet Chess Miniatures" by P.H. Clarke

"100 Soviet Chess Miniatures" by P.H. Clarke

BryanSmith
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This week I will be covering a very interesting old book called 100 Soviet Chess Miniatures. The games were selected and annotated by P.H. Clarke. This book is particularly unique because the games are entirely by unknown players, and the games are also very obscure, despite being quite beautiful and entertaining. I don't think I have ever seen any of the games in it anywhere else, before or since reading it. So if you want to see some beautiful and exciting games which you have definitely never seen before, this is the book for you.

The book - as its title indicates - includes 100 games, all under 25 moves long, played in the Soviet Union. All of the games are from the '50s and '60s. As the author states, games by the lesser-known - but still strong - players from the Soviet Union rarely reached the West. And indeed, I don't think you will find any of these games in the databases even today. But starting in 1955 the Shakhmatny Bulleten began to publish all of the games from important events in the Soviet Union; and this is where the author got his material. The book is a collection of twelve articles (one chapter for each article) which was originally published in the British Chess Magazine.

The chapters are the following: 1. King's Side Attack; 2. Queen Sacrifices; 3. Attack and Counter-attack; 4. 'Crime and Punishment'; 5. 'Sicilicide'; 6. The Object is Mate; 7. King in the Center; 8. Poisoned Pawn; 9. Shorter Still; 10. An Exchange of Quality; 11. 'War and Peace'; 12. Finishing Storms.

As you can probably guess, the games are very sharp and full of complex tactics. The Soviet school of chess was known for introducing the "dynamic approach to chess" and you can see that even in the games of these lesser masters, candidate masters, and first-category players.

Where I got it

I think I bought it at Title Wave Books in Anchorage. I didn't have this book as long as some of my other ones - probably I got it when I was seventeen or eighteen, or even when I was in college; I'm not sure.

What's good about it

This book is very entertaining, and you can spend many pleasant hours playing over these exciting, crazy, and pretty games, which are full of wild and obscure ideas. The author did a very good job selecting the games. The annotations are fairly sparse, most of them taking up a two pages; but they are very apt and address all the crucial variations.

From an point of view of instruction: this book was clearly made for entertainment, but the student of chess can certainly get a lot of instructional value as well. You get to learn some tactics and attacking methods; you will learn a lot about the concept of 'compensation'; and of course you will see many examples of what not to do.

I believe this book would be best for somewhat lower rated players, from 1200-2000 (although players of any level could enjoy it). It is particularly ideal for those players whose weakness is their lack of dynamism or who have difficulty making use of attacking opportunities.

How it impacted me

I definitely learned many attacking methods from this book, particularly in the open Sicilian. It probably opened my mind to the limitless tactical possibilities on the chessboard. When I was younger (from when I started playing chess at about thirteen until seventeen) I was a pretty quiet player. I studied a lot of Rubinstein's games, I played the London System and closed Sicilian as white and the French and Stonewall Dutch as black. Around sixteen to seventeen years old I pretty much quit playing chess and returned to it when I went to college in Baltimore. Afterwards I started to play in a much sharper style, and I am sure this book was part of the influence.

An Excerpt

Here is game 45 of the book, from the chapter "The Object is Mate".

Any Downsides?

This book is in descriptive notation. Probably some of the variations are not particularly scientific - if you look at the above game, for example, you can see that the annotator is a little too optimistic about White's chances after Black's alternative 11...Qd7. The first variation (12.e5) looks reasonable, but in the 12.Nxd6+ variation, he misses 15...Rh7! 16.Rxd7 Nbxd7, when the white queen is trapped, leaving him down two pieces. The third variation is also very unconvincing. And in the 14...Rxa2 variation in the note to Black's fourteenth move, Black has 15...Rxb2+ followed by 16...Qb5+ with a winning position; White should instead play 15.Nbc7+ immediately.

Additionally, this book might give you the idea that the Sicilian is a terrible opening. It isn't.

What you should eat/drink while reading this book

Pelmeni.

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