"Positional Decision Making in Chess"


Boris Gelfand




When purchasing a Quality Chess product that is exactly what you get - a quality chess book not only in appearance and handling but also in content.  At the moment I am deep into their latest product "Positional Decision Making in Chess" and can confirm that the standard has been maintained and even (if this is possible) improved.

When launching "Positional Decision Making in Chess" by Boris Gelfand, a unique feature in the authorship has been introduced in that Jacob Aagaard is heavily involved in the text and approach to the subject. I will let Aagard explain his participation as set out in his Foreword.

" I am the ghost writer for this book, though the word writer does not fully explain what I have been doing.  I have analysed positions, asked questions, recorded the answers, typed in everything and applied my moderate experience with chess writing to improve the structure and order of what has been said.

Although this is all work that a writer does, the most important element is missing.  The idea of the book and the reasoning behind them comes from Boris and not me.  .......................

I have dreamed about being involved in a project like this for a very long time.  As a grandmaster I understand quite a bit of what is happening in top-level games, but obviously my understanding of the game is not at the same level as a World Championship challenger.  I have wanted to to be able to use my skills as an experienced writer and trainer to ask the right questions and obtain insights from him that you would not get if he was writing the book himself.  Actually, it was especially the "obvious" things that fascinated me about this process.  Whenever something was obvious to Boris, I knew that it might not be obvious to many others, and that his explanation would be very instructive."

This having been said, the duo have set to work in explaining and illustrating the thought processes grandmasters adopt when having to make decisions on the way they (and in this case Gelfand's) need to deal with the positions in front of them during a tournament game. To assist this Gelfand reverts to the games of Akiba Rubinstein and pays homage to the many examples his legacy aids modern day players.  Quite clearly, Rubinstein is a hero to Gelfand and this shines through his explanations of Rubinstein's games and the manner in which his influence has been brought to bear in his own practice.

The subject of positional decision making is offered in five sections:

1. Playing in the style of Akiba Rubinstein.

2. The Squeeze.

3. Space Advantage.

4. Transformation of Pawn Structures.

5. Transformation of Advantages.

As well as providing concrete analysis there is a lot of practical advise woven into the notes.  For instance, constant stress is placed upon changing the course of the play when confronted with problems or when a player wishes to divert the attention of the opponent and try to make him play in a manner to suit one's own aims.  This is very sound advise that Gelfand has often successfully employed in his own games.

In his other main work of "My Memorable Games of Chess", Gelfand puts forward very deep analyses, some of which, i must confess, is far beyond my comprehension, but in "Positional Decision Making" a lot of textual explanations has been employed which make all the notes more understandable.  I would hazard a guess that this comes about as a result of Aagaard's participation in the authorship, but is indeed very welcome. An extract from this book is provided here which illustrates this approach to the explanations.

I have a suspicion that today in our digital world, a number of books are "written" by voice actuated word processors.  This is not a criticism as I find several passages in many books that have been prepared in this manner and may well be better than a written passage as the spoken word can flow more easily than what may be a somewhat stilted version in type.  This technique may well result in books being produced far quicker than otherwise.  I haven't tried the voice actuated method as it would seem the programme has difficulty in getting to grips with my Devonshire accent.  It would be interesting to know if Aagaard did use this method in preparing this book.

Whilst taking a look at production methods, I believe that "Positional Decision Making" is only available in hardback form.  This does the contents full justice and makes it far more durable and pleasant to handle.

However, back to the substance of the book.  I have as yet worked my way through the first three sections and if this review ends rather abruptly it is because I am eager to get back to reading the remainder.  My "reading" is done on a computer, a method that many trainers frown upon, but I find that if there is no explanation of a variation that interests me in the book then I can switch on an engine and get some answers to my queries.  It also allows me to delve into variations that are not given in a book, but have crossed my rather amateurish mind.  I found this method enhanced my appreciation of "Positional Decision Making".

Gelfand has been on the chess scene for many years and can truly be called one of the elite.  The loss in his challenge for the World Championship may have looked rather simple but he was playing one of the world's greatest ever and many of the top players today would have fared similarly.  His experience shines through in the book and is well worth studying even further.  With the search engines that are now available it is easy to draw comparisons of his play with that of other grandmasters and I would urge all readers to follow all th avenues of research that are available in chess programmes.  Not only is the book a pleasant and easy read, it is very instructive and is worthy of deep study.  There are many diagrams so that with some effort it is possible to "read" a game without recourse to a board and pieces or a computer.  Furthermore a number of photographs lend additional interest to the text. 

Aagaard is an erstwhile British Champion having won the title at his only attempt.  In addition he has won many awards for chess writing and it would not surprise me if we found this title appearing in lists of "Best Chess Books". He is a founder of Quality Chess and this seems to keep him out of current chess tournaments.  Most of his writing is for players of quite a high standard and are mostly of an instructive nature.

I would thoroughly recommend this book predominately to players rated 150 - 200 ECF grading, although lesser graded players would benefit from it as well.

The recommended purchase price is 29.99 Euros which is not too much for a book of this standard.

Now I must get back to reading it.

Bill Frost

June 2015