Andrew Soltis

First published in 2013, Batsford have answered many chess book readers' prayers in issuing a new edition of this bestseller.  The pawn is the lowliest of all the pieces on the chess board in value but in their effect on the game they are of immense importance.  Phillidor's truism the "Pawns are the soul of chess" is quoted by many authors and Soltis now shows us why this is so.  The pawn by itself has very little impact on the game, unless of course it is a passed pawn, but in numbers pawns are of the utmost importance and the configuration of these lowly foot soldiers dictate the course of every game we play.  A lack of knowledge or disregard of these configurations is one of the main differences between a club player and a grandmaster.

Soltis puts the attention we should afford pawn structures very succinctly in the introduction to this book:

"Mastering pawn structures comes down to acquiring three traits:

(a)  Being able to recognise what good and bad structures look like.

(b) Understanding how to exploit a good one, and

(c)  Knowing how to change a structure favourably."

To make us aware of such traits, Soltis discusses the structures that can arise out of the various openings, and as some configurations are common to more then one opening he places these into groups that fall in the following chapters:

Chapter One  The Caro-Slav Family.

Chapter Two  The Slav Formation

Chapter Three  The Open Sicilian/English

Chapter Four  Chain Reactions

Chapter Five  The e5 chain

Chapter Six  The King's Indian Complex

Chapter Seven  The Queen's Gambit Family

Chapter Eight  The Panov Formation

Chapter Nine  The Nimzo-Gruenfeld Formation

Chapter Ten  The Closed Sicilian/English

When reading this book it is tempting to fly to the chapter that you think may discuss your opening repertoire and ignore those that you may consider to be outside of your repertoire.  I would advise against this as, for example, the first chapter deals with these pawn formations:


The Caro Formation


The Slav Formation

(Please note that I have placed a king in the castled position, in all diagrams.  This has been done for technical reproduction purposes and does not appear in the book.)

It would appear that this chapter only deals with the Caro-Kann and the Slav openings.  Not so! Either of these formations can also apply to the French Defence.

Before launching into illustrative games, Soltis discusses the characteristics of each formation.  Again, let the author expound on these generalities pertinent to the above formations:

   "Besides the facial resemblance, the two structures share a basic solidity.  White cannot open lines further except by means of a sacrifice (d4-d5!?) or with the help of another pawn.  For example, c2-c4 followed by d4-d5 in the Caro, or e3-e4 and d4-d5 in the Slav.

   If Black doesn't try to change the pawn structure, such as with ...c5 or ...e5, the middlegame is often slow-paced.  But Black usually wants to change it because the d4 pawn gives White advantages such as greater control of the center and good outposts for pieces at e5 and c5.  If Black competes for those squares, with ...f6 or ...b6, he creates weaknesses, as Supplemental Game # 1, at the end of this chapter, shows.

   Black has a natural outpost too, at d5.  But the structure tends to limit his pieces to his first three ranks - while White can more easily put his pieces on the first four ranks.  And four is simply better than three."

The worth of such explanation is more valuable than playing through 500 games to get an understanding of any particular opening and pawn structure.

To complete this illustration we give Supplemental Game #1 in the attached games.

Following this summary of the pawn structure, Soltis sets about explaining the strategy once the formation has been reached taking into account the actions required by both Black and white..  These are covered in sections headed:

White's d4-d5 plan

Black's ...c5

White's Anti ....c5 Strategies.

White's d4-d5

Preventing .....c5

Black's e5 strategy.

With each section, illustrative games are given with explanatory notes and comments.

Soltis uses this format with each of the chapters, making sure that the structures can apply for either White or Black.  As far as I could determine, all the main structures come under his scrutiny.  To cater for a new fashionable formation, even the Hedgehog is discussed under the Sicilian sections.

Over recent years the Open Sicilian Defence has been extensively reviewed by theoreticians and Soltis has followed this trend by devoting 69 pages to an examination of the pawn structures that arise in this defence.  In many variations of the Sicilian the strategies are for Black, an attack on the queenside, and for White, an attack on the kingside.  Herein there is a considerable use of pawns as part of the attack/defence, so there are many formations that need to be understood.   

To deal with this, Soltis uses four formations :





  Dragon   Maroczy Unbound  Boleslavsky Hole  

  Again each formation is given a general strategical introduction followed by in-depth examination of the games that follow these strategical objectives.

Thus the Scheveningen is introduced by:

   "This is the most common Open Sicilian formation and it is by no means limited to the Scheveningen Variation, which can come about viz 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 e6 for example.  The sharp Sozin and Rauzer lines rely on the same pawn structure and so does the Naajdorf when Black plays ....e6.  Variations with an early ...e6, such as the Kan and Taimanov, become Scheveningen formations after ...d6.

   If White doesn't change the pawn structure his middlegame options are largely limited to kingside attack or pressure against the d6-pawn.  Morew promising are these four plans:

   (a) White can play e4-e5, a prelude to kingside or central attack.

   (b) White can play f2-f4-f5, pressuring e6 in an effort to win control of d5.

   (c) He can launch a kingside pawn storm with g2-g4-g5.

   (d) He can try the queenside option of Nxc6 followed by c2-c4."

Following this he discusses all the options in depth with illustrative games.  One such game is given in the attachment to this review.

I greatly admire the manner in which Soltis has tackled this subject. It is clear that he has carried out considerable research to produce the format and discussions.  That this is done by one of the most respected of chess authors lends the whole discourse great credibility.  To do so the book has 286 pages.  A useful addition would have been an appendix of games and players, but the omission of this in n o way detracts from the worth of the book.

 There is no doubt that the material in this book should receive the attention of any serious student wishing to improve his play and Batsford must be congratulated in making this volume available again.

  The book has received Batsford's impeccable production attention and will grace my book shelves for many years.  It is in the category club players/strategy/tactics and has a recommended price of 15.99.

Go HERE for games

Bill Frost

August 2013.

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