The Complete Manual Of Positional Chess: The Russian Chess School 2.0 – Opening And Middlegame, by Konstantin Sakaev & Konstantin Landa
I must admit that I enjoyed this book, but perhaps not for the reasons the authors wrote it. There is always something instructive about looking at someone’s approach to the game of chess. Some people play chess in a heroic fashion, refusing no sacrifices and seeking to make daring tactical moves to retrieve difficult situations in counterplay. Some people play chess as if the goal is to put as many screws on others and make it as difficult as possible to overcome fortresses and gain an advantage before breaking under the continual pressure. In this particular book, the authors make it clear that physical and mental fitness is necessary to play this sort of chess, where the player attempts to become at least a bit of an engine, with an understanding of positional principles and a knowledge of how to grind out victories by avoiding blunders and laziness and inattention. Make no mistake about it, this style of chess is definitely demanding on the person playing it, and the authors are honest and upfront about those demands, including the demand to keep one’s physical stamina up as well.
The roughly 300 pages of this book’s material is divided into two parts (on positional principles in the opening and middlegame, respectively) and thirty chapters of uneven length with a great variety of games that illustrate the principles of the chapter. The first part of the book is the shorter one, with seven chapters on gaining advantages in development (1), the significance of the center (2), not making unnecessary pawn moves (3), not developing the queen too early (4), not moving the same piece twice (5), not leaving the king in the center (6), and not making unprepared attacks (7). The rest of the book is taken up with quite a few chapters on dealing with middlegame problems, such as: calculating variations (8), the fight against the piece and pawn center (9), coordination and piece activity (10), developing the initiative (11), prophylactic thinking (12), limiting an opponent’s counterplay (13), strengthening one’s own position (14), schematic thinking and transferring pieces to a more advantageous location (15), space advantages (16), exchanges (17), weak squares (18) open and half-open files (19), advantages of having both bishops (20), good and bad bishops (21), knight-bishop comparisons (22), opposite-colored bishops (23), secure points and outposts (24), knights on the edge of the board (25), wing play (26), king’s marches (27), superfluous pieces (28), loss of concentration (29), and methods of defense (30). As might be expected, the authors use a variety of games to demonstrate these principles.
There are at least a few takeaways that even a player like myself can gain from this. For one, the authors have pretty ambitious goals for this book, in they expect readers to be able to take these principles and move to the 2000 or 2200 rating levels through disciplined practice. The authors also expect the reader to read a lot of other books about chess, giving some recommendations about which grandmasters to emulate and which other books to read in addition to this one to improve skill in solving tactical problems as well as overall strategies to deal with both closed and opening positions. These are pretty heavy demands; positional chess is something that people appear to learn when they are ready to make massive gains in their chess approach. This makes sense because the author’s approach is to make the reader into a chess engine, one reason why the authors are particularly keen on the reader developing their own ability to examine alternatives to find the first winning one and to take it a while to see what the opponent can do or would want to do and not only pursuing one’s own initial plans. To be sure, this book will encourage me to read (and play) more to improve my own game.