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Andrew Soltis is a much respected chess author who has a number of titles to his name, many of which have places of honour on our bookshelves.  He has now produced a volume that has all the hallmarks of a classic.

Many of us study chess to some degree or other, but most of our efforts are, I suspect performed in a rather haphazard fashion. You may well think that your methods of studying are systematic but you will discover that your previous work has been haphazard when compared to the methods that Soltis suggests in this new book by Batsford in their strategy/tactics series.

Here I must make a confession.  I became so wholly engrossed in some of the proposals that the author made, that I began to put them into practice.  Eventually I had to steel myself to return to the main purpose for reading the book - the presentation of this review.

How did this come about?  Well, let me give you the chapter headings and this will give you some idea.


Chapter One Chess isn't school
   "          Two Cultivating your chess sense
   "          Three The biggest study myth
   "           Four The right way to study an opening
   "           Five Two-and-a half move chess
   "          Six Overcoming endgame phobia
   "          Seven Learning to live with TMI*
   "          Eight How to learn more from a master game

*TMI = Too Much Information.

In all, these chapters take up 256 pages of single column text.

After a while I began to realise that each chapter, with the exception of Chapter One, was independent and could be consulted in any order.  This is very convenient as you can identify your main study weakness and resort to the authors suggestions before assimilating the other chapters in whatever sequence you may choose.

The main principle that Soltis proposes is that  we must think for ourselves.  This inevitably raises the question of how we do so in this computer age.  Soltis does not discount the use of computers but warns us against using them blindly and just clicking on moves, thus letting an engine take over our thought processes.

Having discovered that each chapter was virtually independent, I immediately went to Chapter Eight. For all the years that I have collected and read books about chess, I have been mystified by annotations to master games.  It seemed to me that the players were not making the moves that I thought were worthwhile, and the moves that they did make made little sense to me.  In my ignorance playing over such games became source of some pleasure but did not increase my knowledge or understanding of the game of chess.  Reading and assimilating Soltis' advice on this matter opened a door for me and accounts for a major part of the time I spent delving into the side issues that delayed this review.

Soltis suggests the following technique to learn more from such games:

Firstly select a well annotated and interesting game that has many features.  This is not so easy given the number of books and databases available, but he makes a selection of authors and games that he considers to be worthwhile.

Then the study process begins -

1.  Play through the game without recourse to any annotation.  This gives the flavour of the game and may well raise a number of questions in one's mind.

2.  Play through the game again, and take the text annotations into account without delving into any detailed analysis.  Again this may raise questions which are worth your further examination.

3.  Play through the game again taking annotations and analysis into account.  Having built up some understanding of the game, now is the time to test your ideas that have not been explained by the author.  This is perhaps the most important phase of your study as you can learn why your thinking was inaccurate.

4. Sum up the game in your own written words explaining the main points of strategy and tactics.

5.  Re-visit the game and notes some time later in order to retain the lessons you have gleaned.

Simple, isn't it?  But do we all study a master game in such a systematic fashion?  I fear that that most of us do not and will profit from the Soltis technique.

An example of Soltis' application of stage three can be seen HERE

In Chapter Three the author treads where most angels would fear to go - he contests Kotov's advise in "Think Like a Grandmaster" on the best method of choosing a move from a variety of candidate moves!  Although not entirely de-bunking this method he suggests that better results will be obtained by recognising patterns that will appear time and again in in many games.  These patterns may not  be identical but will contain aspects that require them to be treated in a similar fashion. Such patterns may involve an isolated queen pawn or misplaced pieces.  Once an understanding of the treatment of such positions has been acquired there is no need to employ Kotov's "tree" method of choosing a move. To a certain extent this chapter follows the thinking expounded in Chapter Two where he urges the reader to recognise the need to determine one's strengths and weaknesses in order to concentrate on improving that aspect of one's play that will provide better results.

Chapter Four will attract many readers.  We all study openings to some degree or other but what is the best method to do so?  Some of us may commit a dozen or so moves to memory, but say the author, there is little point in doing this if at the end of the moves we have memorised we reach a position that we do not understand.  He suggests that the opening should  not be studied solely with the object of memorising the moves.  The ideal is to study it with both memory and understanding in mind.

Other chapters present a fresh viewpoint on the best methods of studying all aspects of the game.  This means not just the action of studying but how to study.  I do not  recall any book that has adopted this approach.  There are many books that advise us what to study - typical pawn positions, piece disposition, endgame technique, etc - but  none that I know of that provides a method of studying.  This book breaks fresh ground and both author and publisher are to be applauded for making it available.  If you are a serious player and want advise on how to improve your game with simple and systematic study, this is the book for you.

Recommended price - 14.99.


Bill Frost

April 2010