Review: How Chess Games are Won and Lost

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How chess games are won and lostThere are many excellent chess books on the market. For the serious chess student, it's not always easy to choose between them. Sometimes, it's worth picking up a book by an author you don't know yet. You may be pleasantly surprised.

I didn't know that Danish GM Lars Bo Hansen was also an author of chess books. So when I received his most recent book,?Ǭ†How Chess Games are Won and Lost, published by Gambit, I had no idea what to expect. I?Ǭ†happened to know?Ǭ†Hansen's name?Ǭ†and I even remembered a game by him, since I?Ǭ†witnessed it live almost 20 years ago, when I was still an impressionable kid:

Nijboer - L.B. Hansen Amsterdam 1989

nijboer-hansen22.b3? Rxe3! 23.fxe3 Bh6 24.Re1 Qg3 and Black won.

I must admit I had not seen a game of Hansen since. This has changed now, though, because in his book, Hansen illustrates general chess principles not only by analysing games from the classics, but mainly by taking a look at his own practice.

Hansen explains in the introduction that he sees five phases in chess, as opposed to the traditional three (opening, middlegame, endgame): the opening, the transition from the opening to the middlegame, the middlegame, strategic endgames of the transition from middlegame to endgame, and technical endgames. These are also the five main chapters of the book. A sixth chapter deals with practical tips such as how to work with computers and time management.

It must be said that there is not much new in all this.?Ǭ†As Hansen himself admits, there are many other great chess books that explain?Ǭ†these basic principles. Indeed, the author quotes?Ǭ†extensively from books like Secrets of Practical Chess by Nunn and The Road to Chess Improvement by Yermolinsky.

In my opinion,?Ǭ†this is a strong point, rather than a weak one. Refering to other authors is a sign that the author does not just?Ǭ†want to show off with his own ideas, but?Ǭ†is more?Ǭ†interested?Ǭ†in the?Ǭ†search for truth. This is also apparent from the easiness with which Hansen shows his own ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú?Ǭ†sometimes rather painful ?¢‚Ǩ‚Äú?Ǭ†failures.?Ǭ†In a very honest?Ǭ†chapter on the rebuilding of your opening repertoire (and the importance of looking critically at your own preferences), Hansen explains how?Ǭ†games like the following?Ǭ†convinced him?Ǭ†that the Sicilian was 'not?Ǭ†my natural territory':

T. Ernst - L.B. Hansen Gausdal 1991

1. e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 e5 6.Ndb5 d6 7.Bg5 a6 8.Na3 b5 9.Bxf6 gxf6 10.Nd5 Bg7 11.Bd3 Ne7 12.Nxe7 Qxe7 13.c4 f5 14.0-0

ernst-hansen14...Rb8? "Already a serious mistake. In this variation, king safety is more important than pawns. 14...0-0 is correct, with sharp play."

15.exf5 bxc4 16.Nxc4 d5 17.Ne3"Black's pawn-centre is insufficiently supported to provide compensation for the pawn and the vulnerable king in the centre."

17...Bb7 18.Qa4+! Qd7 19.Qg4! f6?! "The last chance was 19...Bf6."

20.Rfd1! This prevents Black from castling, as 20...0-0 is now met by 21.Bc4!

20...Qe7 21.Bxa6! Bxa6 22.Nxd5 Qf7 23.Rac1! h5 24.Qa4+! 1-0

The point of including this?Ǭ†miniature is clearly not to show a fascinating game or analysis, but Hansen can certainly play entertaining chess, too. There are many interesting games in the book, with highly complex analysis and excellent and sometimes?Ǭ†very funny?Ǭ†commentary. Here too, Hansen uses his games mainly as illustrations of important themes he's discussing.?Ǭ†And if he doesn't think his own games can?Ǭ†illustrate something, he?Ǭ†simply chooses to show a relevant game by other players.?Ǭ†Because of this, the book makes a very coherent impression.

Another nice aspect of the book is that many illustrative games are very recent. In fact, many games in the book are just a few months old. This shows that Hansen, whose main successes were in the 1990s,?Ǭ†is still?Ǭ†keenly following the current chess scene. I had?Ǭ†missed the following recent 'rampant rook' motif:

Aronian-Gelfand Nice (blindfolded) 2008

aronian-gelfand?Ǭ†53...h4! 1/2 - 1/2

While this is a great example (which Hansen describes in much more detail than I am?Ǭ†showing here),?Ǭ†it is one of only two?Ǭ†illustrations Hansen gives for the important theme 'Mate and Stalemate in the Endgame' (the other one is from a game Carlsen-Hracek, 2007). This is in my view?Ǭ†the only real drawback of the book: because Hansen discusses so many themes,?Ǭ†I guess he sometimes had to cut on the examples, especially towards the end, when discussing the endgame. On the other hand, it's also true Hansen has already?Ǭ†written an entire book on the endgame (Secrets of Chess Endgame Strategy), so perhaps?Ǭ†it's understandable that his endgame examples are a bit sparse.

How Chess Games are Won and Lost doesn't really tell you how chess games are won and lost, of course. (If it did, it would have been the last instructive chess book to have ever been written.) But it does give you plenty of inspiring games and analysis, a highly structured and coherent overview of the most important themes in chess with good and often very recent examples, from a serious author who knows what he's doing. Highly recommended.
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