"The Test of Time" by Garry Kasparov

"The Test of Time" by Garry Kasparov

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This week I will be reviewing a book that was pretty influential for me when I was growing up. This is Garry Kasparov's game collection The Test of Time. The book includes his annotations of games starting from his first steps in international chess up to just before he became world champion.

The book contains a prologue by Mikhail Botvinnik and chapters based - for the most part - on each event that he played during that time, chronologically. The games are annotated in fairly great depth, although a few games have lighter annotations; in some of the games from his candidate matches he shows the whole game and then commentary after it dealing with particular moments. Not only wins, but also some draws and losses are included.

Most of the annotations of the games were written immediately after the event in which they were played; this I think is the best way - the game and also the feelings it evoked are still fresh in the annotator's mind. However, his old annotations include revisions made in italic font during the preparation for the book. In some of the new commentary he takes a very harsh tone towards the comments he made several years before.

The focus in the commentary is not so much the opening - most of the major analysis is devoted to the middlegame or even the ending.

The reason for the title of the book - "The Test of Time" - is that Kasparov wants to put his analysis, his games, and his chess philosophy out there to be judged by generations of future readers & players.


Where I got it

I'm not sure - I got this book a very long time ago, probably around 1995 or 1996, when I was first starting to play chess.


What's good about it

Unlike some game collections by top players, this was not a slipshod work; and was definitely not compiled by someone else. Besides the original annotations (made shortly after each tournament), Kasparov put a lot of work into revising the old annotations, finding mistakes, and introducing the games and describing the tournaments.

For the chess maniacs out there, this book will be great. Deep analysis by a world champion, entirely from the pre-computer era - so you get to see how he actually analyses the position without any electronic help. You can't find that anymore in the annotations by today's players. Everyone uses a computer nowadays to at least check the annotations, but back then (the book was published in 1986) computers were not strong enough.

The annotations are very deep, and Kasparov tries to be totally objective in his analysis. There is none of the arrogance you might expect - besides including games which he lost, Kasparov is also ruthlessly critical of himself, looking for every mistake he made, both in the game and in earlier analysis.

This book is most definitely for stronger players. Probably players over 2000 would get the most out of it. That said, I was reading it when I was probably 1600 or maybe even lower. I don't believe in dumbing things down for people who are learning something. If you want to be good at chess, don't have low self-esteem and buy a book like "Chess for Dummies" (or one of the many other books whose titles insult the reader as part of some kind of psychological marketing strategy). Reach for the stars. Even if you don't understand everything, this book isn't going to mislead you.


How it impacted me

I think this was my first book with in-depth analysis by a top modern player. Up to that time, I had probably been reading the old classics (My System, etc), simple game collections like 500 Master Games of Chess or collections of Rubinstein's games. This was my first look at modern, top-level chess. I could see how much depth of calculation and dynamism went into the game of chess in the modern era.

The book is modeled after Botvinnik's views about the critical analysis of one's own games being the key to improvement. I don't think I really conducted so many in-depth analysis of my games growing up in Alaska against 1400-rated opposition, but certainly the book influenced me as far as a self-critical approach is concerned.


An Excerpt

Here are Kasparov's annotations to his game with Anatoly Vaiser, from page 63-65 (in the chapter "Through the Prism of Analysis").


Any Downsides?

You know, looking at this book now, it makes me feel kind of depressed. The whole book is about the "search for truth" in chess. Only the test of time will tell whether his commentary merits consideration, whether he has gotten to the ultimate truth of what would happen if Kortschnoj had played 33.Ra8+ instead of 33.Bh6 in their game at the Lucerne Olympiad, whether he should have played 32.f5 or 32.fxe5 in his game against Petrosian in Moscow...This book was written by a young guy, whose whole life is chess, who wants to be the best - the absolute best - and to find the absolute truth to each chess position.

To me, now, this seems tiresome. I am no longer such a chess maniac, probably never really was. Chess is a large part of my life because that's the way it has been for a while, it is the only way I know how to make a living and to have any kind of worth in society. But I could care less about the ultimate truth in chess, and while the games and analysis in the book are very interesting and beautiful, the idea of "chess research" seems pretty dreary. Perhaps part of this is because times have changed. Nowadays, there are probably quite a few nerds - possibly who don't even really play chess themselves - working, with their computers, to "solve" chess. No doubt there will be a pot of gold waiting for them at the end of the rainbow.

So basically that is my main criticism - the tone of "chess research and the search for the truth" is rather depressing for me. But I doubt most who are reading this article are in the same position as me - either you are a casual player, and look on from afar with interest, or you yourself are a chess maniac and will love it.

This book is by Kasparov, so it is dead serious and very intense. There aren't too many lighthearted moments in there.


What you should eat/drink while reading this book

Power breakfast with strong coffee. Maybe raw eggs like Rocky. (Don't actually do that, you could get salmonella).

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