Andrew Soltis has already advised us
what to do to become a chess master in his book "What it Takes to
Become a Master" (Batsford 2012). Now he is prepared to take us another step forward in
his latest work "How to Become a Grandmaster". The step between
Master and Grandmaster is probably greater than that of Amateur to
Master so this book contains "heavier" text and analysis.
It is a popular misconception that some magic ingredient is required
in the making of a Grandmaster, but Soltis does his best to convince
us that that is not so. He argues that this "promotion" can be
achieved by hard work, study, learning from experience and a clear
understanding of positional techniques. He sets out to
demonstrate the difference between moves played by Masters and those
played by Grandmasters. Given that all but thirty per cent of
the moves played in any game can be played by masters, then of these
the first twenty-five per cent can be played by any Grandmaster and
the remaining five per cent by world class players of the type of
Carlsen and Anand. It is these thirty per cent of moves that
Soltis concentrates on identifying and clarifying.
Firstly he puts forward "Mysterious" moves that a grandmaster will
play. "Mysterious" because many people have no understanding of the
purpose of the move. Nimzowitsch called many rook moves
"mysterious" If it is normal for a rook to be played to an open file,
then why does a Grandmaster ignore the open file and place the rook
on a closed or semi-closed file? Among others, he chooses the game
Shipov-Sakaev, Sochi 2004 to give one illustration of this
phenomena. In this position :
- Sakeath Sochi 2004
Black to play
The rook at h8 seems comfortably placed.
As it is on a
half-open file and is hitting a backward pawn at h3, one would
expect that the best continuation would be to double rooks on the
h-file. Now, however, Sakeath played
16. .... Rhf8! What on earth persuaded him to play this?
He had decided that the h-pawn was easy to protect but with the rook
on the f-file it was threatening White's queen after 17. .... f5 and
then if 18.Qxe6 Rf6 would win it.
This can be called a "mysterious rook" and qualifies to be a
"grandmaster" move placing it in the five percent of moves referred
Another such move is called by Soltis "Uber-Luft". We are all
familiar with a "luft" move whereby a simple pawn move such as g3,or
b3 is played to give the king a free square to move to in the event
of a threatened back row mate. With an "Uber-Luft" the pawn
advances yet another square to g4 or b4 and has the dual purpose of
an attacking sortie as well as a defence to a threat.
There are many other such moves or
manoeuvres that come as second
nature to a grandmaster, but is a struggle to find by an ordinary
Is such a gift just a question of intuition? Soltis does not
accept this stating that although he sets out in the book many
differences between a master and a grandmaster move, the book will
not make a reader into a grandmaster. This can only be
achieved by experience, knowledge, study and perseverance taking
many years to achieve that level of insight.
The text, covering 294 pages, falls into
Six Chapters, the final section being answers to various quiz
questions sprinkled throughout the other five chapters. Each
of the remaining chapters has been divided into 11 sub-sections
covering specific points. These are too numerous to list here
but an example is :-
Mystery moves @ Queen
It is noticeable that many of these
subjects are "exceptions that prove the rule". These are
significant in Grandmaster play as it is one of the main grandmaster
attributes, to successfully play a move or manoeuvre that goes
against the generally accepted standard. A good
illustration of this phenomena is the "good-Bad Bishop" section,
which is heralded by the following statement:-
"When a grandmaster looks at a position,
it may seem he is using eyes that are slightly different from those
of other players.
He sees enemy pieces entrenched on
outposts and realizes that they are really misplaced. He
notices "impossible moves" hat other players are blinded to.
And he sees "bad" pieces that play better than their "good" enemy
counterpart. We'll start this chapter with:
31. Good-Bad Bishops
The story of good and bad
bishops is, by now, a familiar one. What were once mystery
moves are routine in grandmaster games.
Shirov - Dubov,
1 d4 Nf6 2. c4 c5 3
d5 g6 4. Nc3 Bg7 5. e4 0-0 6
d6 7 h3 a6 8 a4 c6 9 Nf3 exd5 10 cxd5 Nbd7 11 0-0 Qe7 12Bf4 Nh5 13
Bh2 Bh6 14 Re1 Bf4
White to play
White retained his dark-squared with
GM Evgeny Naer said this "unaesthetic move" would have been awarded
two exclamation marks 40 years before.
"But today both players and the computer
consider it without hesitation to be the strongest and necessary,"
he added in 64.
White buried his bishop at h2 and
weakened the h3-pawn. But it was his better bishop and needed
to be preserved. It was bound to emerge after
15. .... Bh6 16 Bf1.
White would justify his play with 17 Kh1
and 18 g4! That's strong for tactical and positional reasons.
For example, 18 g4! Nhf6? 19 g5 or 18
.... Nf4? 19 g5! Bxg5 20 Nxg5 Qxg5 21 Qc1 costs Black a piece.
And 18 .... Ng7 is strategic surrender (19 Nd2 and 20 Nc4 or 20 f4.
Black avoided that by means of
16 .... Ne5 17 Nxe5 Qxe5
White to play
Best now was 18 a5! e.g. 18 .... Bd7 19
f4 Qe7 20 e5. White's bishop strategy would have given him a
Basically, the differences between amateur, master and
grandmaster lies in the moves they play on the board. Thus
a master will look at a position and be able to judge a position
according to traditional criteria of material, space, king
safety and so on. A grandmaster will see the same but he
will also judge it in terms of it's potential for improvement.
To illustrate this, Soltis uses the game Torpugov-Petrosian,
Moscow 1957, which reached this position after White's 21st
Black to play 21st move
Black's piece sacrifice looks speculative. Instead
of trying to evaluate it by calculating, let's
Let's imagine how the next several moves may go.
It is easy to see how Black can improve his
position. He can double rooks on the b-file.
He can plant his knight at f5 or b4. He will
figure out how to put his queen to best use, perhaps at
a5. We can safely foresee this happening because
there is very little White can do to stop these moves.
Now consider the flip side. How can White improve
his side of the board? Nothing major suggests
itself. That indicates a trend, a big one, may
develop in Black's favor.
His command of the near future is so great that Tigran
Petrosian didn't want to allow a counter-sacrifice.(
21. .... Nf5 22.Nxd5) He slowly built up
21. .... Rfb8 22.Nb1 (22.Qe3 Qa5 23.f4
Nc6 24.Ne2? Nb4)
Soltis calls Black's manoeuvre in this game "trending" and gives
several examples of how a grandmaster's judgement is superior to
that of a master.
There are many other differences between moves that a
grandmaster and a master will make in the same position.
On a 'one for one' basis these differences may appear to be
slight but when such differences occur many times during a game
the overall difference can be immense - possibly the difference
between winning a game or losing.
A complete study of this book will take a long time as it has
318 pages but this is just the sort of hard work that makes a
grandmaster. It is very difficult to find a superior move
which seems to go counter to accepted principles of good play,
but this needs to be considered on practically every move that
is played. At times pure intuition will come to ones aid
but this will need to be checked. The principle of
considering candidate moves in a tree o.f analysis can be
curtailed by intuitive means and this is very important when
playing against the clock.
Being a Grandmaster
himself, Andrew Soltis is well qualified to expound on this subject
which he does with a nice flow of examples and clear precise
English. Whether you are trying to make this leap in title or
you are interested in what makes a Grandmaster, this is fine course
of study to follow one needs to know and study the entire contents
of the book and there is no better syllabus than this. I found
it interesting to dip into certain subjects and then study some
grandmaster games to see how this knowledge has been used. To do so
I looked at a position and then decided what I would play and then
see what the Grandmaster had played, linking this with the
explanations that Soltis offerred. It was a very agreeable
surprise when I was able to find a solution that proved the worth of
I would recommend this
book to both students studying to become grandmasters and to
inquisitive readers such as myself. At a recommended price of £15.99
this is a very worthwhile purchase.