Under the Surface

Under the Surface


“The most significant difference between a grandmaster and a club player is not simply that the grandmaster calculates more accurately, but rather that he sees more deeply.” - GM Jan Markos

Our BOOK OF THE WEEK is Under the Surface by Jan Markos.

Jan teaches many elements of chess (some examples: weaknesses, the speed of the position, equal positions, opening theory, engines, and aesthetics) in a very holistic and approachable way. The elements are taught in the format of articles, organized by similarity to other articles. The main target audience is club players, especially adult players, as many things that kids would absorb intuitively are spelled out analytically to help things stick for adults. While things are explained simply enough for the club player to understand, the topics are deep enough that even masters can learn from this book.

Here is an excerpt from one of the articles from Jan’s book.

Does Time Play against You?

(... introduction text)

During the initial moves, while the pieces are not in contact, both sides try to develop and occupy the center at the maximum possible speed. However, once the armies meet, the game quite often slows down, and in some cases almost completely stops.

“In the opening, time is gold.” This rule has been banged into the heads of perhaps all of us. However, even relatively strong players have the tendency to generalize this knowledge to the entire game. They get the impression that chess is something like race, in which it is all about which side tends to realize its plan more quickly. However, this generalization is a huge mistake.

Chess is not Formula 1. Although it is necessary to play some positions quickly, it is correct to play others slowly, with patience. Speed is in many positions rather harmful.

It is very important for a player to be able to distinguish a ‘fast’ position from a ‘slow’ one. When you try to play a ‘slow’ position too swiftly or, vice versa, a ‘fast’ position too slowly, it usually has disastrous consequences.

One of the most typical ‘fast’ positions comes from the Sicilian Dragon, and is shown in the diagram below.

The local imbalances on both flanks are so big that neither side is able to prevent the opponent’s advance against their king. It is almost unthinkable, for example, that Black would decide to withdraw and simply try to defend his kingside. The king on g8 is such a great weakness in this position that it is not possible to protect it in the long run. The situation of the White king is similar. And so, “The best form of defense is attack”, applies to this position, as does, “First-come, first served.”

Now, let’s have a look at the opposite extreme. The following two diagrams are from the game:

Luke McShane - Nigel Short

Please, try comparing them and estimate how many moves they are apart. Three? Six?

In fact, the positions are thirty (!) moves apart. How is it possible that two strong grandmasters appreciate time so little that they failed to constructively improve their position in thirty moves?

The answer is, of course, as follows: it is precisely because both players are strong grandmasters that practically nothing happened on the board over such a long time.

The positions in these diagrams have a blocked character; the pieces are hardly in contact. In order to change the character of the position, there would have to be a break, which means that pawns would have to be moved. However - and this is important - one side cannot afford to move his pawns. Black’s structure includes doubled pawns on the c- and g-files; and as you already know, this formation is very sensitive with regard to moving forward. Usually, every movement of doubled pawns creates a weakness. Black, therefore, cannot open the position; he can only wait for White to come up with something. Short is aware of this, and therefore, is patiently waiting.

White, on the other hand, can open the position (with the break h3-h4; or maybe even b2-b3). However, he doesn’t hurry with the break, but maneuvers his pieces to and fro. There are two reasons for this procrastination: as well as allowing the player to choose the most appropriate moment for the break, it is also psychologically very uncomfortable for the opponent. McShane won in 163 moves.

Under the Surface sells on Forward Chess for $19.99. With our coupon SURFACE, you can buy it for only $14.99 until Monday, December 23.  Also, refer your friends to Forward Chess and they'll get $5 off.  When your friends buy from your invite link, you get $5 off.

“In his new book, GM Jan Markos focuses on important, yet often neglected, aspects of chess. He deals with this interesting and difficult topic excellently, making fine use of his chess and teaching abilities. The book is highly readable and belongs among the best chess books I have read in recent years. Although the book is intended to be read by amateurs, even grandmasters will find it interesting and useful. If you want to learn more about chess and don’t mind thinking independently, this is the book for you.” - GM David Navara

“An incredibly creative book. Markos has a host of original ideas about all sorts of chess topics and a wonderfully witty and enthusiastic way of bringing them across.” - GM Matthew Saddler

"A really original and creative work!" - GM Karsten Müller

"A fascinating book with much original instruction." - Bab Wilders