Review: Instructive Modern Chess Masterpieces (2nd edition)

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Instructive Modern Chess Masterpieces (2nd edition)Igor Stohl's Instructive Modern Chess Masterpieces is written in the tradition of classic chess books such as Tarrasch's Dreihundert Schachpartien and Nimzowitsch's Die Praxis Meines Systems: serious game analysis put in a broader context of chess developments over time. The new enlarged edition, published by Gambit, contains over 100 pages of new material and is a treasure for chess players who didn't know the first edition yet.

The first edition of the book came out in 2001. I remember thinking the traditional setup of the book was probably going to get it less attention than John Watson's Secrets of Modern Chess Strategy or Jonathan Rowson's The Seven Deadly Chess Sins, but Stohl's book became an instant bestseller and won several prizes, including the USCF Award for Best Chess Book. As said, the book contains highly detailed and instructive game analysis for the serious chess student. But it's also a great introduction for chess ehtusiasts who know their classics, but have always been a little frightened of modern day chess. Igor Stohl is a wonderful guide, and Instructive Modern Chess Masterpieces is a wonderful collection of games.

Igor Stohl's serious and conscientious attitude towards his readers isn't only reflected in his game analysis, but also in the way he writes about this second edition. There are, unfortunately, many authors (and publishers) on the market who do not like to say much about what exactly has changed in a second edition, perhaps fearing their readers might think too lightly of it. Stohl isn't one of them. He clearly and truthfully explains the changes:

This book contains the original 50 games with some minor amendments, particularly in he notes to the eight victorious efforts by Garry Kasparov, in view of the more recent conclusions I arrived at while writing Garry Kasparov's Greatest Chess Games. In 2005 Wilhelm Knebel found a win for White in Game 44, which definitely deserves mention. However, the focus of this new edition are the 12 new games, played from 2000 onward right up to the 2007 World Championship in Mexico City.

Well, the new games make up for an additional 130 pages in the new edition: I'd say that's pretty good value for money. As could be expected, Stohl didn't just pick some games from 2000-2007: he picked exactly those that tell the reader most about recent chess (opening) developments. Thus, it's no coincidence that among the newly added games, we find instructive and exciting encounters with the Petroff, the Berlin Wall, the Chebanenko Slav, the Anti-Moscow Slav - in other words, precisely those opening systems that have become increasingly popular in exactly those years. Here's how Shohl introduces the Anti-Moscow:

Anti-MoscowWhite has a lead in development and controls the cente. However, if, for example, Black's pawns were on h7 and g7, he would simply prepare ...0-0 and enjoy a healthy extra pawn. Therefore Black's most important concern is the long-term safety of his king, as neither leaving it on e8, nor castling to either flank fully solves the problem. On the other hand, for White it's not easy to open the position and get a direct attack, so play remains tense and complex.

This introduction does exactly what it should do: outline Black and White's main purposes and the major dilemma's of the position in a way that players of all levels can understand. After that, in a stunning 12 page analysis, Stohl delves into the game Aronian-Anand, Mexico 2007 in all its detailed splendour. After each game, Stohl provides a summary which not only focuses on the game and the opening itself, but also on its broader implications for chess theory. The summary for the game Kasparov-Topalov, Wijk aan Zee 1999, arguably one of the greatest games of all time, starts in the following down-to-earth manner:

The first part of this fabulous game shows why the Pirc is not very popular at the highest level. Despite avoiding the most aggressive continuation, notably 7.g4!?, Kasparov emerged from the opening with a pleasant position. White's queen on h6, although slightly offside (this makes the straightforward 10.0-0-0 dubious), nevertheless prevented the natural kingside casting and could be quickly reactivated. The notes show that with his king still on e8 Black had to be careful about committal pawn moves; although natural enough, 10...e5 was not too flexible and could have been postponed (...).

While not denying Kasparov's spectacular effort, Stohl finds it no less important to indicate the reasons why Topalov lost this game. It's this kind of objectivity and the author's ability to have an open mind towards all aspects of this rich game - not only the rhyme but also the reason - that makes his book such a great read. Igor Stohl's Instructive Modern Chess Masterpieces may look a bit tough at first - if only because of its size - but in fact it is a fun and very entertaining way of getting to know some of the greatest games of recent times, shown to you by one of the most all-round and respected authors around.


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