Book Review: Techniques of Positional Play by Bronznik and Terekhin (Ebook)
NOTE: This review is part of a three part series reviewing the Forward Chess app for chess ebooks, this book, and Mating the Castled King by GM Danny Gormally.
I love chess books. Opening Books, Tactics Books, Endgame Books… - to me, chess books are like... pizza, when they’re good they’re great, and even when they are bad, they are still pretty good. As much as I enjoy chess books, few have changed the way I approach the game. In recent years, I can point to Watson’s Secrets of Modern Chess Strategy and Hendricks’ Move First, Think Later. I am now happy to include Bronznik’s (translator and editor) and Terekhin’s (original Russian author) Techniques of Positional Play in that list. This book is a wonderful work which will open the reader’s eyes to many positional patterns of which they were previously unaware. Unlike the previous books I mentioned, this book makes no grand overarching statements about chess theory or chess teaching. It is a more practical work, which provides the reader with plenty of positional ideas that they may implement in their own games.
To my mind, Techniques of Positional Chess might be titled “Patterns of Positional Play.” It is commonly accepted that chess skill is largely a function of one’s knowledge of chess patterns. Many books have been dedicated to attacking patterns - smothered mates, the Bxh7+ sacrifice, etc., but fewer books have been dedicated to positional patterns. Those positional patterns that are discussed are often tropes - the isolated d pawn, doubled pawns, backward pawns, pawn attack on the wing is met with a counterthrust in the center, etc. These are important patterns, but there are countless other patterns that remain undiscussed. Techniques of Positional Play fills a portion of that gap.
Techniques of Positional Chess has a simple structure; the book features 45 sections, each discussing a different positional pattern. With rare exceptions (I have no idea what section 12 is going on about...), the patterns are well chosen. One thing I liked about the examples were the use of examples in which "mundane" but practical results were achieved such as equality or a very slight advantage. Such results are important to quality chess, but they lack verve and are often glossed over. Most of the patterns are relatively common without being trite. I suspect almost any player will find an opportunity to employ these patterns effectively. The book concludes with 40 exercises for the reader to solve. The exercises are good, but as they are positional exercises, there are often alternate sound moves and ideas. Consequently, I found the exercises less interesting than the meat of the book, the patterns and examples.
The sections are extremely well constructed. Each section has roughly 4 or 5 examples and the examples are all very well chosen so as to illustrate the theme clearly in a variety of different positions. Frequently, I would think “Sure, that’s a nice idea… but I bet that would only be useful the one time…” and then I was immediately convinced of the ubiquitousness of the theme by multiple quality examples. A good example is section 16 on the “wave-breaker.” The following is an excerpt from the section on the wave-breaker. I truncated the examples to save space. The book elaborates on the key points and provides important portions of the remainder of the game.
“What we are describing as the ‘wave-breaker’ is the pawn formation f2-g3-h4 (or f7-g6-h5) and a4-b3-c2:
Setting up a wave-breaker is an important prophylactic defensive method against the creation of a potential passed pawn or an unfavorable line opening. In addition, it also prevents the opponent from gaining space on the fifth rank by an advance of his pawns.
If the attacking side nevertheless manages to break up the formation (e.g. f2-f3, g2-g4), one can at least swap off the h-pawn, thus simplifying the position and preventing for example the formation of a weak h-pawn."
Hopefully, you found this section as compelling as I. There are countless examples in high level positional play of players effectively forestalling the opponent’s advances with a "wave-breaker" or of players taking advantage of the omission. Carlsen’s games are particularly rife with examples in which he thrusts g4 at an opportune moment and establishes the sort of position trumps that the wave-breaker is designed to forestall. Consider the following example against Tiviakov.
Some of the book's themes were themes that I discovered I had used without being aware of the prevalence of the pattern. Below is an example from my own games of technique 19.
The book gives several excellent examples of this technique in practice. The most famous example is of course the following one the book gives from Karpov.
While I did find Bc2!? (not the only good move) in my own game, it took me quite a few minutes to find it, and I only did so after eliminating several alternative lines that seemed drawish to me. Had I previously read this book, I would have arrived at the correct move much more quickly and surely.
I found myself constantly reminded of excellent examples of these patterns from recent grandmaster practice that confirmed the usefulness of these ideas. Even as I write this, there is an example in Dortmund of technique no. 13 - undermining the strength of f4 with h5! in GM Georg Meier's crushing victory over Vladimir Kramnik at Dortmund. To my mind, the prevalence of these examples only confirmed the book’s thesis that these patterns are quite common and practical.
This book is outstanding, and I can wholeheartedly recommend it. The book is extremely well written, and the variations are less important than the ideas so a player of almost any level would be able to learn from this book. I think the book would provide the maximum value to a player rated around 2000. As a 2250 player, I got a lot out of this book, but some of the ideas felt familiar to me. When I was 2000, these ideas would have been almost entirely new to me, but I also would have been strong enough to put them into practice. Players rated between 1700 and 2400 should also get quite a bit out of this book.
The ebook version of this book is highly recommended. To my knowledge, there are no content differences between the ebook and the paper book. The ebook only makes it easier to play through the examples.