Chess Digest began as a hobby business in 1962 in Dallas, Texas. Ken's primary business was S & S Utility Contracting Company, Inc., but chess was an avid vocation. Since chess books were not readily available in the United States unless imported from Europe, Ken saw a need and filled it by starting Chess Digest Magazine in his spare bedroom. Working nights and weekends using an old typewriter he produced his magazine once a month.By 1997, Chess Digest, Inc. no longer published a magazine but instead had grown into a major chess book publisher and supplier with chess titles from both the U.S. and Europe. Many of the books were written by Smith himself'
Ken "Top Hat" Smith (1930--1999) was both a Chess Master (FIDE 2360) and a World Class Poker Player (3rd one year and 4th another year in the World Championship Of Poker). He believes, practices, and teaches that chess players versed in gambits can become outstanding poker players "Both are a calculated risk. As you play your gambit, you are projecting all the confidence in the world. You move all your poker chips to the middle of the table when you think you have the best hand." -Smith.
In chess, a gambit player for 33 years, Ken Smith wrote nine books and 49 articles on the Smith-Morra Gambit 1 e4, c5 2 d4, cxd 3 c3. The gambit now bares half its name from Ken Smith, Texas and Pierre Morra, France (deceased).
Smith won over 200 chess tournaments including 8 times Texas Champion, 7 times Southwest Champion, 1 time British Major Open, 1 time Championship of Mexico and 4 times Southern Open Champion.
In poker Smith won in Las Vegas the "Stairway to the Stars" tournament, Amarillo Slim's "Omaha" tournament, Amarillo Slim's "Eight or Better High-Low Split" tournament, and came in second in the "Low-Ball Draw" tournament sponsored by Amarillo Slim. These are in addition to his 2nd and 3rd place finishes in the Poker World Championship.
Excerpts from Championship No-Limit and Pot-Limit Hold'em by T.J. Cloutier with Tom McElvoy :
"Kenny (Ken Smith of Chess Digest, Inc., Dallas, TX) was a big chess player in Texas and he just loved to play poker... ...played poker for years. He always wore a silk top hat that was supposed to have been from the theater where Abraham Lincoln was assassinated; he had certification on it, too. Kenny would wear that hat in all the big tournaments, and every time he won a pot he would stand up on the table and yell, `What a player!, And that's how he got his nickname.
Smith began his new monthly publication Chess Digest in 1968. He was a great exponent of gambit play and did much to rekindle interest in opening gambits, especially his beloved Smith-Morra Gambit vs the Sicilian Defense and to a lesser extent the Goring Gambit. In return for the pawn white achieves all the classical goals of opening play very quickly, and the ancient battle of "time vs material" begins.
For the record I’m quoting his plan for improvement here. Needless to say many of the books he recommended were those he either authored or published, but as a whole his plan is a good one. Perhaps he overemphasizes gambit play and tactics at the expense of other areas, but his recommendation of playing over hundreds of unannotated master games, spending 5-10 minutes on each game, while trying to guess the next move has great merit. The goal was to build up one’s pattern recognition skills. He also authored some helpful books on the endings. There may be better books available today, but back when Smith was in business, Chess Digest was the about the only source of chess literature and his contribution to US chess cannot be overlooked.
Improving Your Chess
by Ken Smith
Behind a door that many, if not most will never look, is Romantic chess. This Romantic chess starts with the opening or defense. For example: White will play the King's Gambit, Vienna Gambit, BDG, Scotch Gambit, Danish-Goring Gambit, or the Evan's Gambit, and there are more.
Black will play the Albin-Counter Gambit, Henning-Schara Gambit, Englund Gambit, Latvian, Elephant and many more. The ones playing gambits are examining the Romantic side of chess beyond a closed door. HOW COULD YOU POSSIBLY LIVE YOUR CHESS LIFE LOOKING AT A DOOR AND NOT OPEN IT??
Psyching yourself up prior to playing puts you in an aggressive frame of mind. In most fields of competition, aggression is a virtue. Chess is a game to be played with an aggressive mentality. Grandmaster Portisch takes a walk before each round to clear his mind and prepare himself mentally for the coming game. He works on his intensity in that way. When Bobby Fischer was late for most of his games, he was taking a little extra time in his hotel room preparing mentally for the game. He also thought it might psyche-out or disturb his opponent. Whether it did or not did not matter, he believed it would.
What is it that winning players have that sets them apart? I think that chess involves more than just knowing the game. What winners have that sets them apart from other knowledgeable players is intensity. Have you ever watched Jack Nicklaus' eyes during a putt? Mike Tyson's just before a fight? Earl Anthony's over a bowling shot? Something special is going on behind those eyes, something that translates into the success that each of these players has had in his given field. They are in tune with what they are doing; they're focused, and they exclude all else from their minds. Totally absorbed in what they are doing, they operate at a higher level.
This intensity and focus also is a characteristic of winning chess players. Many people know how to play and what to do in certain situations, yet they have difficulty applying that knowledge consistently at the board. Emotions take control of them. Focus and concentration are intermittent at best. Even some of the world's technically and intellectually best players remain stagnate most of the time due to flaws in this area. Lack of intensity can be fatal.
You need to get psyched up within your own mind. Get your competitive juices flowing. Get your ego involved-although it also is important to keep it under control Heighten your sense of awareness. Get your animal instincts involved. You will be amazed at the level of focus and awareness that you can condition your mind to develop.
When you truly focus your energies and apply your concentration, you will see more, and will develop a sense of feel. By definition, instincts are something with which we are born - but they also are honed with practice, sharpened by concentration, and developed over the course of many similar trials in your games.
First comes your basics: Play and Study, then Study and Play followed by Play and Study, then Study and Play. Second, develop the mentality of always trying your best - don't give up! Intensity!! Intensity!!
In the next couple of pages you will find recommended opening and defensive systems for each class of players. You will learn forcing systems that you can know as good as anyone in the world. Then as you reach high Class A or Expert, start playing the dynamic 1 e4 and maybe, if you choose, answering 1 e4 with 1...e5 but there is recent grandmaster opinion, due to faster speed limits, you should start a little earlier. Maybe a high Class B or when you reach low Class A.
In GM Andrew Soltis' 1995 revised Giuoco Piano and the Max Lange, he writes: "As the tempo of tournament chess speeds up, the ranks of players are being divided into two opposing camps based on how they approach the opening. One camp holds that in faster games, the priority should be on reaching a playable middlegame position as fast as possible - even if that risks a failure to obtain an edge for White or obtaining a small but clear disadvantage as Black. For example the elastic series of hypermodern moves (1 Nf3, 2 g3, 3 Bg2, 4 0-0 and 5 d3 or 5 b3) is not likely to get you a plus-over-minus advantage. It's not likely to get you a plus-over anything against a player of about the same rating unless you're both beginners. But it won't get you the worst of it in the six or seven seconds it may take to play those moves. The other school argues that chess is chess. This way of thinking maintains that you should always try to find the best move in a position. The most challenging move in the starting position is, by most accounts 1 e4. The most resistant answer is, arguable, 1...e5" -Soltis.
It is my belief that chess is an amazingly accurate model for many situations in life. The strategies, the competition and the challenges of living. In 1994 Nobel Prize for Economics was awarded to three mathematicians for their work on game theory, largely based on the study of such games as chess (and poker). Game theory is a mathematical model of human behavior that analyses how people make decisions in competitive situations. One of the three Nobel Prize winners, John Harsanji, was asked to join a group of ten game theorists to advise the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency on tactics. Harsanyi said, "Game theory has become a significant tool for analyzing real life conflicts."
This little essay on my personal openings and defenses is for players above the rating of 1799 that have mastered tactics and the endgame. Beginners and novices should have simple forcing openings. A little stronger players can go for the King's Indian Attack. I give you those suggestions in the following pages under "1599 and below" and "1799 and below". Then also you might prefer positional openings. These come to me only in my declining years. My FIDE rating is 2365.
If you are going to play my Black defensive system, you must have mastered tactics and have a positive attitude and the ability to draw anyone a pawn down in the endgame. This has been the secret of my chess success. Along with a strong White opening based on gambits and confidence in a Black defensive system with a gambit or an active variation of the Slav Defense. I have always had a strong, strong opening and defensive system that I know as well as anyone in the world. Then fake the middlegame followed by endgame mastery. This plan may not be for you. If not, read the next page and pick one for yourself.
As Black against the English Opening 1 c4, I play 1...e6, then on 2 Nc3 play 2...d5 forcing the game into a Reti or a Queen's Gambit. Get a Reti book and learn one line you like for Black. For other Flank Openings like the King's Indian Attack, Birds 1 f4, or Sokolsky's 1 b4, you must have C-1499 Winning Against Flank Openings-Tangborn.
Against the Queen's Gambit, I always try to play the Schara-Henning Gambit 1 d4, d5 2 c4, e6 3 Nc3, c5 4 cxd5, cxd4 which I wrote a book about. I have never lost with this gambit-only wins and draws. The last illustrated game is where I played it against GM Robert Byrne (Buckeye Open, Toledo, Ohio 1964). Everyone was gathered around the board to see me lose. Not so-it was a draw with great theoretical values. Most players will not let me play it by playing 3 Nf3 (1 d4, d5 2 c4, e6 3 Nf3). Then I go into a Slav Defense Noteboom Variation (my favorite) or a Semi-Slav if they will not let me play the Noteboom (they play an early White e3). Also note if White plays 4 e3 or 4 Nf3 instead of 4 cxd5, you must be ready to enter a Tarrasch Defense.
Against 1 e4, my reply has always 1...c5 the Sicilian Defense Scheveningen Variation. Get the book C-1558 The Sicilian Scheveningen For Black –Soltis on this variation. Before you can get into the Scheveningen, you need to know what to do against the anti-Sicilians on move 2. You must have Beating The Anti-Sicilian-Gallaghe rand Trends in The Anti-Sicilian
In my early years, if I knew White was going to play 1 e4, e5 2 Nf3, the Latvian Gambit 2...f5 was my choice. Usually I played this against weaker players to get a quick win as Black.
My White opening system has served me for 47 years. Now I am going to give you that system. You can copy it or use it as an example for your system. Is it for you? Unless you have taken my advice and concentrate on tactics and the art of attack, you will not be successful (you will not be successful quickly, period).
Your first move is 1 e4. Against 1...e5 you will play 2 d4 after 2...exd4 play 3 Nf3. From this position you will go either into the Goring Gambit, Scotch Gambit or Max Lange Attack. Choose one.
Against 1...c5 play my Smith-Morra Gambit, vs 1...c6 play Advance Variation or Blackmar Diemer Gambit (1 e4, c6 2 d4, d5 3 Nc3, dxe4 4 f3), French 1...e6 play the Advance Variation either the gambit line or regular advance lines, vs Alekhine 1...Nf6 the King's Indian Attack, against 1...d5 just learn a main line against the Center Counter, and when Black plays the Pirc/Modern, you are on your own as these are the hardest for me to meet.
There are two things that overpower most players when learning their opening and defensive system. Let's discuss some of the questions for help that cross my desk.
Question: Most opening books have so much material that I can never seem to learn enough of it. Can you help?
Answer: The first thing you do is turn to the Index and/or Table of Contents. You play through the moves over and over, then over again until you learn what the variations are. You learn the variations before you tackle the analysis. If a Table of Contents does not give the moves you need, go to each chapter and just learn the variation. After you have mastered the variations, play over only the main line moves in each chapter. Again-repetition is the key-again and again. After the main lines are retained in your mind, start to tackle the notes.
Question: Why can't I ever learn a complete White Opening System or a complete Black Defensive System?
Answer: There are probably two problems: (a) You don't start out with a complete system and (b) When you run into a variation you can't solve with a White plus or Black equal or can't learn how to play, you give up, and maybe give up on the complete opening or defense.
To solve (a) get a complete repertoire book for White and one for Black. Turn to repertoire books in this catalog and pick one for each side. You are not going to like some of the variations suggested - that does not matter. Learn what you are given, then and only then, change to something you like better. The secret is to learn a complete one - do you hear me? - a complete one - then and only then slip in your changes.
To solve (b) be realistic. You are going to run into a variation you don't like. You are going to have your opening or defense fall out of favor. Grandmasters have that problem all the time. They play an opening or defense until they fear their opponent is well prepared for that particular one. Then they drop it until it is "hopefully" forgotten. But they usually go back to it since every major opening or defense is good. You do not have that problem. Pick one, I assure you it is good. Stay with it until you learn it. Don't let one or two problems in that variation stop you. Learn the best that variation has to offer and let stand a slight disadvantage as Black or equal when you are White. Research until you are complete.
Question: How can I learn all that I have to learn about chess? I already feel overwhelmed.
Answer: These feelings are normal for beginners, but strong players have them as well.
I am going to tell you a secret and it is simple: Just play, lose a lot, win a few and study a little THEN, as if by magic, chess will start coming to you. Be proud of your accomplishments within your class. You are just as much a hero when you do well with players your own strength. Then when you add a few points to that rating with a balanced study program, you are MY hero.
Give yourself a chance, master tactics. Make combination study your priority. In chess opportunity does not knock once, it's knocking all the time. You must learn to take advantage of it when it is there. Keep a book on combinations by the bed, in your car, even in the throne room. Become a destroyer.
Everyone has tactical weaknesses. It's what you do about them that counts. This series will make sure you are exposed to all the basics of checkmates, endgames, middlegames and combinations. To make sure you like this series, start with Theme Artistry.
MIDDLEGAME ARTISTRY-750 diagrams to challenge you.
THEME ARTISTRY-654 combinations to learn themes as you solve.
ENDGAME ARTISTRY-664 diagrams to make you study the tactics of the endgame.
PAWN ARTISTRY-734 pawn positions you must know. 308 pages.
CHECKMATE ARTISTRY-615 diagrams to teach you forced mates.
When you finish with all five, I will know you have the basics. You must have the basics! I am talking directly to you - to no one else when I say: you will never let your creativity come to a standstill and with each game you will try to perform beyond expectation. It's unbelievable!It's a shame!!
Watching row after row of tournament players I realize how badly, repeat - how badly - nearly every player was playing his White opening or his Black defense. With just a little study time, you can realize a difference.
Make these promises to yourself:
1) "I will learn one White opening and know it as well as anyone in the world! My White repertoire will answer any defense Black can play!"
2) "I will have a Black defense to anything White can throw at me. Of course White will get the small advantage due him with the first move, but my choice will have counterchances."
Remember you can not pick a wrong opening or defense -- all the major ones are good. It is just that they come and go because of the trend set by the Masters. They play one for awhile, then when they think their opponents have prepared, another one is brought forward. You can always be certain that they will go back to the original opening or defense after they think others have forgotten it. You have no such problem--worrying about "trends". Make a decision and stay with it.
A beginning golfer doesn't come out swinging with Arnold Palmer, nor does an amateur boxer slug it out with Mike Tyson. Yet we expect a novice chess player to play in a tournament with strong players, even masters. After losing time after time, many new players drop by the wayside. Little do they realize that with a modest study program and continued play, a miracle will happen - ALL OF A SUDDEN, AS IF BY MAGIC, CHESS WILL START COMING TO HIM AND HE WILL START TO WIN IN HIS CLASS. That is what is important, the exultation of victory, no matter what your playing strength. You will gradually edge upward. Follow my instructions and you will be a winner - even when you lose - every time you sit down to play.
No matter your strength, from beginner to master, no matter your age, ten to ninety, I want you to be a threat to anyone you play. This requires study. Here's some tips from IM Nigel Davies (Pergamon Chess) for making studying more effective:
a. Break the work up into periods of half an hour to 40 minutes: it is difficult to maintain concentration for longer than this.
b. At the end of each period, have a 10-15 minute break. Make a drink, listen to some music, or get some fresh air.
c. Make sure there are no interruptions or disturbances, earplugs might be useful! Before you start work, make sure you have all the information you need in front of you.
When Grandmasters put me on the carpet with the following reflections and recommendations, I urge you to pay close attention:
1. Keep emphasizing "tactics". This part of chess will overcome a bad opening, a poor middlegame and lack of endgame knowledge. Only until you reach "Expert" can you stop devouring everything on combinations and tactics. You put fear into your opponent when you are known as not letting anyone escape.
2. Every chess book should be saved and gone over a second time. There was no consensus of how much time between readings. Only that you be at a different level of strength. There must be a balance between this study and play.
3. Be exposed to different authors--even on the same subject--even on the same variation of an opening.
4. Master a complete White opening system and a complete Black defensive system. It does not matter what they are -- a complete simple one is better than an incomplete superior one.
Since this course in improving your chess was first written some years ago, there have been some important changes. First, many of the books I recommended have gone out of print, second new books have been printed, and third, in working with pupils and getting feedback from readers, I have found that not enough "intermediate" books were recommended. The "heavy" material was given too early for the lower rated players to comprehend. My suggestion to them, and now to you, is to save every chess book you buy & study it each rating jump of 200 points. At a higher level you will pick up, as well as review, all the essential material. Your comprehension improves as you improve.
Until you are at least a high Class A player:
Your first name is "Tactics", your middle name is "Tactics", and your last name is "Tactics". You can overcome a weak opening and be so far ahead in material that the endgame is mopping up. I demand that you get every book on tactics and combinations that you can afford and study it as if your life depended on it! Also, there is nothing like a complete game to school you in these tactics as well as the rest of the elements of chess.
The expression of chess talent--of chess progress--goes over a series of hills as you develop and grow towards being a better player. Some players are too slow getting over the first hill; then of course, all players eventually reach that slope of a chess hill they can no longer climb. The very essence of quick chess progress is what you study and in the order that you study it, in relation to your playing strength at that time. We want no "glitches". Those that have all the basics will not only improve faster, they will overtake and pass the ones that left out an important book.
Remember these truths--for they apply to you like no others:
1. CHESS REQUIRES TOTAL CONCENTRATION. Don't use just a fraction of your energy and clock time-keep your mind completely on the game. Play to win because no one is interested in excuses when you lose.
2. COMBINE STUDY WITH PLAY. An unbalanced program will stifle development even in a genius.
3. RECORD YOUR GAMES, EVEN YOUR SKIDDLES. Later, try to find where you made your mistakes. Loses should be concentrated on even more than your wins!
4. STUDY AND MASTERY OF THE OPENINGS COME IN THIS ORDER:.
• Forcing Opening and Defenses
• Basic Opening System
• Add Gambits
• Sharp critical lines-the so called "long variations"
• Evolution to closed lines, if this suits your style
5. MAKE MY FOLLOWING BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS A MINIMUM BASIS TO BUILD ON. There is no one best book as there is no one worthless book. You must learn to take a little from each book, hopefully learning to recognize the best from each
There are many books that will teach the moves and rules. There are a few that give the moves, rules, mates and basic pointers to get you out of the beginner stage. In this second group I recommend:
COMPREHENSIVE CHESS COURSE Vol 1
COMPREHENSIVE CHESS COURSE Vol 2
COMPREHENSIVE CHESS COURSE Volume One & Two -Pelts & Albert.
LEARN CHESS A COMPLETE COURSE -Alexander & Beach
NOVICE TO CLASS E & D
(1399 and Below)
There is a question if players between 1000 and 1399 had to take the test given in the below books E-1 and E-184---would they pass? Most of the time the answer would be, no. Those that I have tested had large holes in their chess knowledge. If you can pass and assure me that you have all those important "basics", then and only then do I say "go on"!.
There is a doubt if you are ready to move into manuals, even basic manuals, unless you can score well in the positions covered by these books. Leave out a couple, maybe the most expensive.
1. CHECKMATE -Koltanowski
2. BETTER CHESS #1 –Gillam. Teaches combinations.
3. IMPROVE YOUR CHESS #2 – Gillam. Combinations.
4. BEGINNING CHESS 300 ELEMENTARY COMBINATIONS - Pandofini. $
Now you should be ready for at least four of the six titles listed below:
1. MODERN CHESS LESSONS - Tangborn.
2. ATTACKING CHESS - Waitzkin
3. MY SYSTEM - Nimzovich (Study only pages 1 thru 101 The Elements). (Study 2nd part of book after you are rated over 1700).
4. LASKER'S MANUAL OF CHESS - Lasker
5. HYPERMODERN STRATEGY - van Reek.
6. THE GAME OF CHESS - Tarrasch.