300 Most Important Chess Exercises: A Review

300 Most Important Chess Exercises: A Review

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Thomas Engqvist, 300 Most Important Chess Exercises. London: Batsford, 2022. 412 pgs. 9781849947510. Paper.


If you like to work through chess exercises—this may be the book for you!

Engqvist is a Swedish International Master with 40 years’ experience as a chess player, coach, teacher, and writer. He has written eight chess books. Two of his earlier books are 300 Most Important Chess Positions and 300 Most Important Tactical Chess Positions, both published by Batsford.

This book has four parts: 75 Most Important Exercises in the Opening and the Middlegame; 75 Most Important Tactical Exercises in the Opening and the Middlegame; 75 Most Important Exercises in the Endgame; 75 Most Important Tactical Exercises in the Endgame. Each section features a position with only a simple instruction on whether White or Black is to Move. Solutions to the exercises follow each of the sections of the book.

The exercises are drawn from actual games in chess history. So they are “realistic” positions. For each exercise, the author provides a “solution” which takes the form of an annotated discussion of the course of the game from the exercise position onward, providing tactical and strategic comments about what the players did—and what they perhaps should have done!

Engqvist’s comments on the moves following the initial position are valuable and instructive. To take just one example: Capablanca—Michelsen (Simultaneous exhibition, New York 1910). After 24 moves, Engqvist writes of the position: “This is one of many positions which have convinced me of Capablanca’s great genius. When I studied the game for the first time I tried to guess Capablanca’s moves before I played them out on the board. The whole game is just amazing from beginning to end” (168).

Then comes the diagrammed position and Capablanca’s (White) 25th move which receives two exclamation points. Engqvist writes: “Capablanca’s tactical ideas have a lot to do with harmony on a very high level. Here he wants to establish a more effective cooperation between the active rook and White’s queen. I expected first 25 ♕xd5+ but why help the king move from a bad square? Capablanca’s move order is more profound, principled, stronger and more aesthetically appealing. There is no reason to help the king hide on c7 and then on b8, when this escape can be prevented” (168). In five moves, it is mate in two moves.

This example gives a flavor of Engqvist’s style and indicates the type and level of instruction the author provides in analyzing a board situation. He considers next moves and explores options. Then he indicates—in this case for Capablanca—why he moved as he did.

The author makes no excuses for not providing hints or clues or alternatives. Engqvist says these would make one “too far removed from the harsh reality where you are sitting alone with a ticking clock, while trying to solve a difficult position under pressure.” “The best practice,” he believes, “is to find out on your own the possible candidate moves, just as you would in real life competitive play, and without any outside help. The key method is to learn how to think and come up with suggestions, and in that way develop your own creativity and only then compare your thoughts with the suggested solution (5). In is the author’s philosophy in a nutshell. This is why he has written this type of book. While it is not necessary, he notes, for one to have read his earlier two books thoroughly, if one has, “there is a pretty good chance that you will come up with the right idea” (6).

For each exercise, Engqvist suggests one sit before “a real chessboard” and with “pencil and paper,” “write down all the relevant ideas and variations” (6). This enables one to check the analysis again “and compare it with the new insights that have been consolidated in your mind after having repeated the positions on a regular basis.” For “every time the position is revised your thought processes should be more effective as well as accelerated due to your increasing familiarity with the secrets of the positions” (6). For Engqvist, “by learning an individual key position, you will be learning an important idea or technique which can be applied in other positions” (9). A goal of “vital importance” is “to gain a deeper appreciation of the inner qualities of the pieces, their movements, how they cooperate, and their actual value in different positions” (9). All the positions, says Engqvist have been “checked by either Komodo, Stockfish or Tablebase depending on the specific position” (12).

This is chess instruction for the hardy! While the author wants to accommodate “all levels of players” (10), there is no doubt the book’s most immediate benefits will be for those who have mastered the author’s other two books; or who are fairly advanced in the study of chess theory and tactics. For those dedicated to working toward these advanced levels, this book can certainly provide stimulating, helpful, and ultimately beneficial instruction.