The Road To Chess Improvement: A US Champion Provides Solutions To Real-Life Chess Problems, by Alex Yermolinski
As someone who is fond of chess , I have often wondered at the appeal for writing chess books for those who are chess champions or are looking to be considered as serious contenders for the world championship. Most chess books come with at least the implicit promise that reading it will provide a method that will improve one’s chess rating, through the adoption of some sort of gambit or attack or approach. This author, however, makes no such promises. It is likely that most of the potential readers of this book would not have ever heard of the author, whose rating is on the low end of Grandmasters and who made a living as a teacher as well as through earning money in various opens, and who was a solidly second-tier Soviet player before moving to the United States and enjoying the less serious competition here. So, if this book does not promise one is going to be a chessmaster, what does it offer? It offers sweat, toil, and tears and the commitment to study games and play them to improve one’s understanding of the position and be willing to analyze what went wrong and what can go better next time.
In a bit more than 200 pages, the author talks about various games. First, though, before talking about any of them he provides a discussion of symbols and looks at what this book is really about–pointing out how indecisiveness is evil and that human beings (though not computers) are ruled by emotions and not as rational as we like to think of ourselves. The first part of the book introduces the issue of trends, turning points, and emotional shifts in games (I), and takes up about 40 pages, where the author uses various games to illustrate trend-breaking tools and questions of preserving or disrupting the status quo of a game. After that the author spends almost 100 pages looking at openings and early mid-game structures (II), including the Queen’s Gambit Declined, the Grunfeld defense, the Benko, Benoni, Grand Prix, Sicilian, and Double Fianchetto. The third part of the book discusses tactical mastery and strategic skills for about 50 pages, looking at the purpose of exchanges, the author’s own miseducation, and combinatorial understanding, before ending with a brief discussion about computer chess and its recent popularity.
This book is by no means a new one–it was published in 1999, and it is the sort of book that could use some revisiting, if the author is willing and able to do so, with an expansion on computer chess given its ubiquity, as well as the joys of playing chess online. Even so, this book is a good one and the fact that the author was not a wunderkind who soared to the top of the super GM ranks allows him to speak with a fair bit of credibility to others whose chess game is more about struggling for victory and less about being a prodigy. Whether or not this book actually inspires its readers on the road to chess improvement is hard to say, but the tips the author provides are solid ones to improve in any endeavor: work hard, practice well, study one’s own actions and also study the best and what they do, and be flexible and look for the best move rather than being doctrinaire in one’s approach to chess. The advice here is generally sound, and the fact that it comes from a chess journeyman gives it a hard-worn quality that can be appreciated by those who are likely to be far from the ranks of chess stardom themselves.
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