Chess Gems: 1,000 Combinations You Should Know, by Igor Sukhin
If you like tactical chess puzzles, this is a good book for you, and this is the sort of book I can see easily getting longer and more interesting over time as the influence of the chess engine on the way the game is played is taken into account in future volumes. This particular book can be read at least two ways and both of those ways I think are profitable. On the general level of its narrative, this book can be read as a narrative of the history of chess , and on that level it works very well. The book can also be profitably read, and is certainly intended to be read, as a way of improving one’s chess tactics by seeing familiar game positions and knowing how to use combinations to win tactically in these positions. This book lives up to its claim of providing (more than) 1,000 combinations that can be learned from, and this is the sort of book that one would read to improve one’s chess mastery, as a great deal of these positions revolve around keeping tempo and forcing particular moves to lead to the best possible conclusion.
This book of more than 300 pages is divided into 14 chapters that, chronologically, tell the story of chess and how its tactics developed over time. As is apparently more common in chess books than other types of books, the bibliography appears at the front, before the main contents. Each of the book’s chapters gives a narrative about how chess was played in that period along with some illustrative tactical puzzles that are shown in the narrative, with a larger amount of tactical puzzles in a “How Would You Play?” section after the main narrative and then solutions to the puzzles after that. The book begins with a look at the tactics of Shatranj, the predecessor to chess, during the Middle Ages (1). After that we move to tactics in the fifteenth through seventeenth centuries (2), the tactics of the eighteenth century (3), and that of the first half of the nineteenth century (4). At this point the pace of the book slows, as does the size of the chapters, as the author pays more attention to various uncrowned and crowned chess champions including Anderssen and Morphy (5), the first unofficial world chess championship (6), Zukrtort and Chigorin (7), Steinitz (8), Lasker and Pullsbury (9), the period of Lasker’s reign as world champion (10), the period of Capablanca, Alekhine, and Euwe (11), the time of Botvinnik, Smyslov, and Tal (12), the time of Petrosian, Spassky, and Fischer (13), and the opposition between Karpov and Kasparov (14). In the future it is likely that this book will be added to so that we can see the age of Carlsen and computer chess.
This book does two things very well. On the one hand, the book sets out to and accomplishes its task of providing a wide variety of tactical puzzles from the history of chess to improve the skill of readers in recognizing and responding to positions on the board, some of which come up frequently, especially on the amateur level where most of us play at. Many of these tactical puzzles might be considered unsound, and the author himself makes no claims that these tactical puzzles conform to any view of positional chess. There is a serious effort at exploring more lines than is common in many chess analyses, reminding the reader that if computer engines are not exactly human that there is usually a lot more going on than meets the eye. Additionally, though, the book does a great job at reminding readers that as long as human beings play chess that there will be other considerations besides tactical or strategic ones that go into the playing of chess. Many of the players in this book played with handicaps (including the removal of pieces from the board) in order to make the game more even and so that they could find someone willing to play them, and the author subtly reminds the reader that those who did not challenge themselves did not maintain their edge.
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