Review: Improvers It's Your Move
In late 2013 I had just started my serious attempt at chess improvement, after suffering through many years of haphazard, and largely ineffective, chess study. I had read a few introductory books on chess strategy and wanted to tackle a book of middlegame positions where I could exercise my strategic muscles. But I needed a book written for a class C or D player in mind.
Enter GM Chris Ward's Improvers It's Your Move. This short, 144 page puzzle book seemed to be exactly what I was looking for. Apparently it is actually a sequel to It's Your Move, but purposely a bit easier than the first book.
Ward filled this volume with 50 composed problems, mostly middlegame positions but some openings and endgames too. In the introduction the author explains that his intention for writing the book is to expose club players to interesting opening, middlegame and endgame principles while tackling some fun problems.
So what makes them fun? Well, firstly, Ward is just an entertaining writer. But secondly is the original format. The book is divided into 5 sections with each section containing 10 positions (50 total). After completing a section, one can reference the scorecard at the end of the book to see how your score measures up.
More original, though, is the problems themselves. First a position is presented with the side to move. Then the author gives a few sentences of introduction to the problem and poses a question. For instance, "Assess the position," or "Should white play Nxf7?"
But the reader doesn't have to answer the question himself! He has 5 experts available who are characters introduced at the beginning of the book, each one being somewhat of a chess stereotype. There is Anxious Amy, Barmy Bill, Cheeky Chuck, Dithering Debbie, and Electric Eric. Being stereotypes, they always lean toward a certain style, aggressive, passive, overly creative, etc.
So, after each position is displayed and question posed, the 5 experts offer their opinions on what should be done in the position. The reader only has to choose which of the experts' answers is the correct one. The best answer scores 10 points though a few of the runner up answers will score a few points.
The way I used the book was to study each position and decide what I thought the plan should be and pick the best move. Then I would read the introduction to the problem and the question and come up with my own answer. Only after doing this would I read the 5 expert opinions to see which best matched up with my own answer. Then I would read Ward's solution, which was usually about 1 page of explanation. The solutions to the problems is where the instructional value of the book resides.
Here is an example.
Test 4, Question 6
"In this apparently uninspirational Symmetrical Italian Game position, can you offer a suggestion as to how Black should deal with the threat of Nd5?"
Amy is anxious to castle. She feels that her king is more exposed the longer it stays in the centre.
Bill likes the continuation 1...h6 2. Bh4 g5 3. Bg3 Bg4. Then White has to deal with a similar threat of ...Nd4, while, rather than castling kingside, Black can consider moving the queen and castling long.
Chuck feels that the best way to deal with this situation is to rule out Nd5. The best way to do this is with 1...Bb4, pinning the c3 knight and introducing the possibility of doubling White's pawns.
Debbie is so often caught between two or three moves but this time she is convinced by one move that performs two or three functions! Yes, 1...Ne7 unpins the f6 knight, controls the d5 square and, additionally, the transfer ...Ng6 might also prove useful.
Eric feels that Black cannot go wrong by maintaining the symmetry. After 1...Bg4 2. Nd5 Nd4 the game should end in a draw, but this is anyway a good result for Black.
(See the comments below for the answer!)
This book served its purpose well, allowing me to practice exercising my limited strategic understanding. In late 2013/early 2014 when I worked through the book I was a 1400-1500 level player and I averaged 66 out of 100 points on each of the 5 tests. So, I would say this book is probably just right for 1300-1700 players.