Think, Play, and Train like a Grandmaster

  • GM Julio_Becerra
  • | Oct 27, 2010

Alexander Kotov was born on the 12th of August 1913 in Tula, Russia. His trilogy of books “Think Like a Grandmaster”, “Play Like a Grandmaster”, and “Train Like a Grandmaster”, are his best coverletter! The first one is one of the best-selling chess books of all time. Also Kotov wrote a polemic book “The Soviet School of Chess” (1958) where he exposed that Soviet Chess was confident and aggressive, as opposed to the chess played by the conventional and conservative, decadent, capitalist, imperialist, formalist West. A good book, but tremendously chauvinist! Another, Kotov classic, co-authored with the Paul Keres, is “The Art of the Middle Game.”

Kotov was a great admirer of former World Champion Alexander Alekhine, writing a complete four-volume biographical series of books on his life and career, which helped considerably in Alekhine's rehabilitation in the Soviet Union.

As a player, Kotov also had good results. One of his best early results was the 2nd place in the 1939 USSR Championship. Here he won the Soviet Union Grandmaster title, the 3rd Soviet player to hold the title after Botvinnik and Grigory Levenfish. He won the Moscow Championship in 1941 and the USSR championship title in 1948 together with the rising star David Bronstein.

By qualifying for the Candidates Tournament in Budapest 1950, Kotov achieved the FIDE Grandmaster titled. Same year he finished 1st ahead of Vasily Smyslov at Venice in 1950. In 1953 qualified in grand style with a victory in the Stockholm Interzonal scoring 16.5/20, three points ahead of second place! He played for the USSR at the Chess Olympiads in 1952 and 1954. Also Kotov was the chief arbiter at the Chess Olympiads of 1972 and 1974.

He passed away in Moscow on January 8, 1981.













  • 2 years ago


    is it just me or is the first puzzle not mate? king e3

  • 3 years ago


    How many space can the knight move

  • 3 years ago



  • 4 years ago


    Nice puzzles, Kotov is brilliant!

  • 6 years ago


    Very good, Kotov was a great chess player.

  • 6 years ago


    kfan, Ng4 was where I went off track as well on the fourth board (instead of Nd7 as you say). It looked great, but while exhausting the possibilities on it Nxf4 came up, which appears to offer suprising resistance.

  • 6 years ago

    CM Kingscrusher

     Catalyst_Kh - 4 days ago

    Thank you for your reply - I did not know that it was originally called something else. Yes, that makes much more sense now. 

    However, even as a tree based thinking system it seems highly exhaustive. John Nunn has recommended a more efficient approach to Analysis and so has Soltis. Basicaly the method of analysing really does depend on the position, but it is also clear than even in highly tactically complex positions, sometimes GMs do have to still play intuitively. 

  • 6 years ago



  • 6 years ago


    in the fourth diagram there was no need to play36... Nxd5 +. Kotov could play 36.Kg8 + instead Nxd5 following the same sequence of moves

  • 6 years ago


    after 30. Rc7 + , if 30...Kxc7 31. Qf7 +! Kb8 32. Qd7 ! following with e7 +- the next move

  • 6 years ago


    a genius in his own right

  • 6 years ago


    simply magic

  • 6 years ago


    your puzzles are quite mind breaking

  • 6 years ago


    for fourth puzzle-Averbakh, Yuri L vs. Kotov, Alexander

    couldn't the player checkmate at 47. R7g4#?

  • 6 years ago


    Thank you for the article!

    In Play Like A Grandmaster, one of the things that Kotov stresses is to find many games from positions that we play in our own games and place them into notebooks categorized with analogous positions so that one may become familiar with the ideas and plans of a given position. The goal is to have seen many games where positions of planning become analogous with our own games.

    With the Internet and giant databases, going through many games from the openings we play is much more easy now than what the task would have been.

  • 6 years ago


    your puzzle like joke for meTongue out

  • 6 years ago

    CM Kingscrusher

    Hi mikemckernan22 - you ask me - "what is wrong with thinking like a machine".. Okay I will give it  a shot to reply to you: 

    The thing wrong with it is I think personally most GMs are primarily thinking strategically and not in terms of variation trees as Kotov implies.

    In fact Kotov himself in the introduction to the subsequent book "Play like a Grandmaster" does seem extremely apologetic for not emphasing positional elements and planning. This is probably why he had to do that subsequent book - to address complaints.

    If his candidate move system was so brilliant, it is a shame Fischer crushed Taimanov 6-0 when Kotov was Taimanov's chief assistance. Apparently Taimanov had been confident before playing Fischer indicating a comment such as "Fischer is a computer".

    I think this book is interesting because it is written at the peak of the cold war, and is a kind of "The USSR is better than everyone at chess, and here is the thought technology we have". When in fact, between themselves, it was considered a kind of insult to describe a player as a computer (back then). 

    And from personal experience, one of the top priorities when Soviet GM's came to play in things like the UK Lloyds bank masters were notions like counterplay removal. This idealistic reputation Kotov was giving the impression of GM's as elaborate calculating machines, meant at best "Think Like a Grandmaster" is a misleading book title in the extreme. At worst, it is actually a destructive bit of propaganda encouraging Western players to avoid positional and strategic notions, which our Schools of chess, such as the Hypermoderns had tried to teach us. Notions of the pawn chains, undermining, overprotection, centralisation, etc - that sort of thing. Not variation trees.

    So if the GM who presented this "great book" would like to elaborate more why it is so great, please I am deeply fascinated to know. Or is this just a "hit and run" article with no questions answered - if so fine. Enough said. 

    Kasparov btw, in his book "How life immitates chess", goes completely the other way, saying that variations and calculation are only in support of *ideas*. And to stand out it is not enough to have deduction - one must have tonnes of imagination and inspiration. He compares calculating to building a house - would you start putting out bricks of a house, without an architect first planning it out?! Not really. 

  • 6 years ago


    i believe you dont think you have to be an imperialist/capitalist to learn chess,do you?

  • 6 years ago


    Kotov's methods should not be taken literally.Intuition develops thereby.

  • 6 years ago


    great article, love the puzzles.

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