Books from My Past, Part 4

Oct 19, 2014, 4:45 PM |

In this fourth and final installment of the "Books from My Past" series I'll review the final two books that I read before starting the serious chess study in 2013 that I have been journaling about in this blog.

My 20 year chess career can be split into two epochs, BH and AH. Of course, these mean, Before Heisman and After Heisman, respectively. 2009 was the year that I found Everyone's Second Chessbook by Heisman while randomly sifting through titles at the Chicago Class Championships bookstore. Devouring that book marked my transition into the AH era by finally letting me in on the secrets of intermediate chess. By reading Heisman, I realized that I must look at all "Checks, captures, and threats" each move. If I did not do this each move I was doomed to play "Hope Chess" instead of the elusive "Real Chess" that intermediate and advanced players were playing.

It is interesting and disturbing that I didn't come up with these ideas myself after reading several chess books and playing in nearly two dozen OTB tournaments over more than a decade. Sure, I looked at my opponents ideas during games; I looked at checks and captures. But not on every move. Not religiously, as if my own health and wellbeing depended on it. The awareness that this discipline was required is what I gained from Heisman.


Everyone's 2nd Chessbook

by NM Dan Heisman (2005) 

As you may have guessed, this book reshaped the way I think about chess and chess improvement. The ideas is contains are critical to improving beyond a 1200-1400 level. You don't need to get those ideas from this book--but you must get them somehow.

Playing Real Chess instead of Hope Chess is the key takeaway from this short book (127 pages). This Real Chess idea just wasn't covered by chess books before Dan Heisman. Chess authors assumed that novice players would naturally bring these basic ideas with them to chess--or quickly discover them independently. But I can attest to the fact that this just isn't the case with so many players. This mental discipline, or thought process, even novice players must quickly develop in order to improve.

Besides the concept of Real Chess, this book discusses practical exercises and concepts for the novice player. These include board vision drills like the knight tour and checkmate vision exercises. The book discusses the essential official rules of chess that novice players need to know when playing in tournaments. Some of the situations covered include 3-fold repetition draws and even include the useful advice that if you don't understand something while playing a game, just stop your clock and find a tournament director to clarify the situation! I don't know how many times I've seen beginners get bamboozled by unscrupulous opponents and a simple question to the TD would have prevented any harm.

Other areas covered in this short book are the importance of tactics training for novices and the idea that tactics training means going over thousands of easy and intermediate tactics problems. This was a revelation for me because my study of tactics up to that point consisted of only one dedicated problem book and that book only contained a few hundred problems. I wasted 10 years of my chess development on things other than tactics sets and this certainly held me back.

There is much more contained in this book but, unfortunately, it is no longer in print. But the good news is that much of the material is available for free from Dan Heisman's Novice Nook archives, which you can get to from his home page. You can also read the successor to Everyone's 2nd Chessbook, titled The Guide to Chess Improvement, also by Heisman, but that excellent book is almost three times longer and the critical information a novice improver needs is spread throughout and hence doesn't receive the same emphasis. I believe there is a real need to have Everyone's 2nd Chessbook updated and/or re-printed.


Winning Chess Strategy for Kids

by Jeff Coakley

One of the advantages of being the newest adherent (newest in 2009, that is) to Dan Heisman's chess writings is being able to follow his book recommendations, where he gives his recommendations based on the rating of the reader. This is genius because rating matter so much when deciding what to study. A 1200 player and an 1800 player have very different needs when choosing a positional (aka strategy) book, for instance. In this case I was the 1200 player and Dan recommended the funny looking, and funny sounding, Winning Chess Strategy for Kids.

Since I wasn't a kid I was hesitant. Boy am I glad I put away my ego long enough to order this book from Amazon. It is an excellent primer to positional chess ideas, such as pawn structure, rooks on the seventh, knight outposts, trading, attacking the castled king, and just about every other aspect of positional play, albeit presented at a level appropriate for serious novices.

The only nitpik I have with this book is that the title is completely misleading. Yes, it contains a great primer on chess strategy and, yes, it can be read and understood by motivated kids. But, it is so wrong in two ways:

  • Its contents are completely appropriate for adults.
  • Its mandate goes far beyond just a strategy primer. It introduces all the important basic tactical motifs, each with a few exercises for the reader. It covers basic and intermediate endgame principles including the opposition, king and pawn endgames, and even the Lucena and Phildor positions. Finally, it explains many common chess terms, such as zugswang, desperado, gambit, etc. 

Though it has a goofy cover, one that you'll want to hide from view while reading on the train, the contents of this book are anything but goofy.