Andrew Soltis



     Renowned chess author and publisher Batsford have done it again.  To tackle a topic such as this - exchanging pieces - requires a very deep understanding of the subtleties of chess, and Andrew Soltis has this in spades.  Many instructional books on chess will discuss the relative value of the pieces and the effect that an exchange has on a position, but this mention is "en passant" and no book that I am aware of devotes itself solely to this subject.  But, nothing daunted, Soltis delves into this at considerable depth in a volume of 251 pages which leaves no stone unturned.

    In the main Soltis investigates exchanges of the same type of pieces i.e. queen for queen, rook for rook, minor piece for minor piece. To open up exchanges of different types of pieces is a subject far beyond the scope of this book and it would take a few more volumes to explore the depths of that particular topic. However, it would seem to me that exchanges of similar pieces is far more difficult to judge than exchanges of unequal pieces, particularly if both sides have the same number of pawns. This is a supreme test of an authors ability to select and explain examples and is an area that Soltis tackles with vigour and expertise. He limits his examinations to the following chapter headings:


Section One

Simple Exchanges

Chapter 1

Queen takes Queen

Chapter 2

Rook takes Rook

Chapter Three

Knight takes Knight

Section Two

The Bishop Matrix

Chapter 4

Bishop takes Bishop

Chapter 5

Bishop versus Knight

Chapter 6

The Two bishops

Chapter 7

Opposite Coloured Bishops

Section Three

Endgame Faceoffs

Chapter 8

Heavy Pieces

Chapter 9

Queen versus Two Rooks

Chapter 10

The Fischer, Petrosian and Capablanca Endgames

     In addition to these chapters there is a fifteen page Introduction and twenty two pages of Quiz Answers. This last section of quiz answers is a must in any modern instructional book and is a fine test of one's understanding of the subject.

    By changing like for like a lot then depends on what is left on the board and principally the pawn structures At all times one has to be in a position to evaluate the pawn structure and whether or not a complete liquidation of all pieces will leave one with a winning pawn ending. This is a lesson that underlies all exchanges and one that Soltis deals with in a masterly fashion.

     It is no surprise to note that most pages are devoted to the Bishop Matrix as this is where differences are more acute such as bishop against knight and bishops of opposite colours where the remaining pawn structures are of paramount importance.

    A good example is given HERE of how a world champion used an exchange of bishops to leave himself with a more active piece than his opponent because of the resulting pawn structure following the exchange. Having performed an exchange of this nature it is important to have some knowledge and expertise in handling the resultant pawn structure in order to ensure that the advantage gained is maintained.

    I am a great admirer of the games that Soltis filters from his database to illustrate the motif he is examining.  He ensures that the games are as modern as are appropriate to the subject, but is not inhibited from using older games if they are better examples.  "Your Kingdom for my Horse" includes games as late as 2014 and as early as 1862.  Another feature which facilitates reading chess books is the liberal use of diagrams and again this book is not lacking in this requirement.

    The subject of Bishop versus Knight has been dealt with in many books, some of which are entirely devoted to this subject.  Other subjects that Soltis deals with are not so lengthy in other volumes, but I do not know of any publication that deals with all the like for like exchanges.  That is what makes this book so unique.

    As a further level of explanation, Soltis introduces other themes within the chapters.  Thus, for example, Chapter Seven contains themes such as "Half a Bishop Better", "The Other Face", "Targets, Targets, Targets", "Pawn Winning Bishops" etc.  This categorization helps the reader to remember the theme when faced with a similar situation over the board.  HERE is an example given in Chapter Two, Rook takes Rook under the heading of "Two or Four?"  How often are you confronted with this decision and what did you decide?  It always pays to stop, evaluate and think back to the guide-lines that Soltis has established.  That will help your next move.

     Of course this decision has to be made with the other minor pieces - "Two or Four".  Having looked back at my own games I am staggered with the number of times I should have posed that question.

    This leads to another consideration, when assimilating the lessons that such an instructive book promotes.  It always helps to search out examples from your own database that exemplify the lesson that a chess author has expounded.  With modern day search engines, such examples are not too difficult to extract from your own databases.

In his introduction Soltis sets out four golden principles as guidelines.  He writes:

"In the simplest form, good trading comes down to the following four principles.  These aren't the only guidelines you can follow.  Chess isn't that easy.  But these four are the most important.

a) Exchange your pieces for better ones.

b) Trade when you are ahead in material.

c) It's not what is removed from the board that matters, but what remains.


d) Exchanges increase in importance as the game goes on.

These sound simple, if not obvious.  But being faithful to them is extraordinarily hard.  If making good exchanges were easy, almost all serious players would be masters."

These principles are well worth remembering and adherence to them will mark an improvement in your results.

This is a book that I can thoroughly recommend, firstly because the subject matter has not, in my knowledge of chess books, been collected into one volume.  Also, this is a well renowned and respected author who has employed his great understanding of chess to bring together some vital information on a rather neglected aspect of chess playing.

Batsford have used their well tried and successful format to produce this work at the recommended price of £15.99.

Bill Frost

October 2015.