Random Posts

Friday, June 11, 2010

Book Review - The Road to Chess Improvement

If you’ve followed this Blog, you have heard me make frequent mention of GM Alex Yermolinksy and this book. I wish it had been around when I was learning how to play chess. If id had been published 50 years ago, I’m sure I would have become a much better player.

Yermolinsky doesn’t offer any secret Soviet training methods or secret openings that will help you win more games. What he does offer though is advice and examples of what to study. My advice, if you are serious about improving, is to buy this book. If you are afraid of hard work though, save your money and buy something else you want. Here is an excerpt:

The Road to Chess Improvement by Alex Yermolinsky
On … important matters I couldn't get any useful advice from the classical positional theory ever since I began to compete on a mere 2200 level at the age of 14.

I'm far from blaming Capablanca and other greats for the miseducation of Alex Yermolinnsky. They can't be held responsible for the lack of development in the area of chess improeement methods decades after they wrote their books designed for beginners. Somebody or something had to pick up the slack and it wasn't there for me.

Many things have been said about the Soviet School of Chess and how it produced legions of good players due to the elaborate system of chess education. I tell you what, the picture in the western eyes is distorted. There was no building bearing such a sign, 'The Soviet School of Chess'. There were no secret methods of teaching, or 800 numbers with grandmasters standing by to provide you with chess advice 24 hours a day. 'I would have been a much better player if I had been born in the Soviet Union' , is what I often hear from underachieving chess players, and I wonder what makes them think so. In my 30 years of tournament experience I have seen a lot of bad players, and most of them lived in the Soviet Union. With that kind of attitude, those complaining underachievers would still have been bad players if they had been born in the USSR.

My highly decorated teacher, the late Vladiimir Zak, was the man who many years before my generation came around had made a name for himself by 'discovering' Korchnoi and Spassky. Indeed, he had a real knack for judgging talent, and his administrative position as the head coach of the City Pioneers Palace chess club gave him a wide pool of kids to select from. The best of the best would be taken under his guidance. Most of them would eventually reach First Category - some 1800 level, I suppose, but it's difficult to judge chess strength circa 1973 by today's rating standards - and duly stop there! Vladimir Zak couldn't help us any more. What we did afterwards and how we developed any further was largely left to the Darwin theory - survival of the fittest.

His chess strength aside, Zak religiously believed in the dogma of the classical school. In his opinion, everything young chess-players needed to know was written in stone many years ago. Any new (that would be anything after 1947) ideas were ignored or vehemently opposed when brought up by the students themselves; even the openings other than 1 e4 e5 or 1 d4 d5 were frowned upon. His training methods were simple: twice a week we played our tournament games, and once a week we would hold theoretical sessions in a classroom. During those Zak would show his beloved Two Knights Opening and we were supposed to take notes. He would also monitor our individual progress. Bothered by my rebellious 1.Nf3, Zak once gave me Keres' 'Open Games' book and told me to study it chapter by chapter. 'Studying' would mean copying variations to a workbook to be shown to the teacher. I don't think he cared if I remembered these variations; he did it in a secret hope to open my eyes to the beauty of the Two Knights Opening. I wasn't interested. Instead, I asked him about the Huebner Variation of the Nimzo. First he asked me what it was, and after I showed him the moves (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e3 c5 5.Nf3 Nc6 6.Bd3 Bxc3+ 7.bxc3 d6) Zak dismissed it with no second thoughts. He said that ... Bxc3 without being encouraged by White's a3 was always a mistake. I asked him why, and he said that the pawn being on a2 allows White to neutralize Black's threats ( ... Ba6, ... Na5) to the c4-pawn by playing Nd2-b3, and if ... Nxb3 then axb3 repairs White's pawn-structure. Deep positional insight, but I never got a chance to show him that in the Huebner the knight actually goes to e7, such as in the famous Spassky-Fischer game.

No comments:

Post a Comment