We have been shown how to think like grandmaster and how to play like  grandmaster and now we are being exhorted to calculate like grandmaster.  Danny Gormally, takes over the baton of Alexander Kotov, and here, in his first venture into chess authorship, shows how great attacking players such as Mikhail Tal, Bobby Fischer and Garry Kasparov etc. used their powers of calculation to reach the highest chess pinnacle.     

There are very few games of chess in which calculation plays little or no part.  One can imagine that great positional players such as Ulf Andersson did not exercise their powers of calculation to the extent of Kasparov.  However, there are times when calculation becomes necessary particularly when the fruits of positional play can only be gathered by calculation of the winning combination.

The big question is when and what to calculate?  Danny comes down on the side of Kotov and recommends that the tree of analysis is the best method to assess the merits of candidate moves.  This method has been widely recommended and there is little new about it that can be propounded.  However, the greatest hurdle of this method, is how to select candidate moves and in what order they should be examined.  This volume goes a long way to answer the question by means of close analyses of some games played by the great attacking players, being 42 in all with 7 of these being by the author.

Of course, the greatest analysts of our age are the chess playing engines that occupy much of our PC hard drives, and their manner of analysis is best described as "brute force" in that they will examine all possible moves in a given position and come up with the best numerical evaluation.  This method is far removed from the capabilities of we humans, but there is one power that we possess that is not known to computers, and that is "intuition."   Intuition, will allow us to prune the tree of analysis sufficiently to leave a manageable number of branches to examine in greater detail.  This power of intuition can be easily discerned when examining games of great attacking players and Danny aims his appreciation at such critical positions of the games he puts before us.

Without some literary input a didactic pronouncement of this manner of chess thinking would not be particularly appetising, but there is one aspect of the author that converts this type of analysis into more readable prose - his humour and light touch. It is pleasing to find such a method of authorship in one who is offering his first product and whets ones appetite for further volumes.

Many readers are not very enamoured of analysis that gives variation after variation without any or very little explanation. Choosing a subject such as calculation, the greatest pitfall was this type of analysis, but Danny has managed to avoid this and although he does examine many variations in given positions, he does intersperse the moves with some explanation or even an apt anecdote. I found his anecdotal approach very acceptable as it does give a glimpse into the rather mysterious world of grandmaster chess.

There was a time when I objected to the use of ECO symbols to pass judgement on the resultant positions, but now I find they are somewhat acceptable in that considerable space is saved by not having to reiterate written comments.  I am resigned to the fact that the only solution to overcome such an aversion is to learn the meaning of each symbol.  However, their use should be controlled.

The sub-title to the book is "Learning from World Class Attacking Players".  Which players does the author consider fits this category.  Well, as an opener, one cannot argue with Mikhsil Tal.  He then follows with games by Shirov, Topalov, Morozevitch, Anand, Fisher, Kasparov, Karpov, Carlsen and Radjubov.  "Karpov an attacking player!!" I hear many readers exclaim.  The author defends such a choice as he argues that it would be a mistake to call him a defensive player la Petrosian.  The cusp of his contention lies in the following:

"Karpov would seek out the tiniest weakness in his opponent's strategy - the tiniest weakness in their position - and capitalise on it with ruthless strategic skill."

The final chapter devoted to his own games is particularly interesting as one would expect from a grandmaster tracing his own thought processes  Here he does not hesitate to indulge himself in self-criticism.  He explains that he has played very few tournaments outside the UK as he is averse to flying.  However, he did manage to overcome this fear to play in the 2005 Gibraltar Masters.  Here, as well as explaining how he managed to short-circuit Simon Williams' laptop, he examines two of his games against the backdrop of when and how to calculate.  Here is his comment on completion of a game he lost to Sutovsky and another against Dreev that he won:

"After losing to Sutovsky I managed to bounce back at once with a sacrificial attack against Gary Quillan.  It seemed a lot easier to play against players of  a lower level - indeed I think I won pretty much every game I played against lower rated players than myself around about this period.  Playing 2600+ players was raising my game, forcing me to think at their levl - at times it was exhausting, but going down a level seemed much easier by comparison.  In round 7 I was paired against the Australian Grandmaster Ian Rogers.  I was able to score a somewhat fortuitous win when he blundered horribly in ac probably drawn endgame.  What did I learn against Sutovsky?  It taught me that I wasn't taking enough time in critical situations, and against players at this level, you can't simply play moves on intuition in complicated positions and expect to get away with it.  Because they calculate so well, you have to try and compete with them in this same area.  Against Dreev I was determined that I wouldn't make the same mistake.  I said to myself before the game - don't beat yourself, make him beat you.  So when the game heated up, when it becomes critical, and he was short of time - I kept reminding myself to sit on my hands, to calculate the position with a degree of discipline, not just that first move that comes into my head because I feel anxious."

He did win the game and if the notes following in his analysis reflects the volume of calculations he undertook at the board, then he most certainly maintained his self-imposed discipline.

The book maintains the high standard of production that BATSFORD have set themselves and contains 256 double-column pages in a softback edition at a recommended price of 14.99.

This is extremely good value and particularly so as the author has set himself a very high standard for any further publications.

For an example of a complete game with Gormallys' analysis click HERE


Bill Frost

March 2011