Monday, 28 April 2008

Chess Reviews 44

The Survival Guide to Rook Endings
By GM John Emms
Gambit Publications
(This is reissue of the 1999 volume, with updated analysis thanks to the latest tablebases)

Rook endings are still officially the most common so it makes good sense to learn something about them. Endgame books, generally speaking, aren’t as attractive as books on openings to the average player but it’s refreshing to note the sober title; this is indeed a survival guide and not a rash claim to be able to ‘force a win’ or ‘win brilliantly’ (or anything piece of opening-book hyperbole) in Rook endings.

Study of the survival guide will definitely save - and gain - points at the chess board. There’s no doubt about it; knowledge of just the classic Lucena and Philidor positions alone will guarantee a decent return for you invested study time.

Starting with the very basics, the first position in the book leads on to a demonstration of how to mate with Rook and King v King.

Things get meatier straight away with the very famous - and highly entertaining - Saavedra Position….

White to play and win. Not as simple as it looks!

GM Emms always writes very readable books and at no stage does he leave the reader in the dark. The material has been chosen for practical reasons so it is not encyclopaedic; nevertheless, there is still a very methodical approach when it comes to building up the reader’s knowledge.
There are plenty of astonishing moves, despite the reduced material. For example, it’s amazing to find that in this position…

Lerner - Dorfman
Tashkent 1980

…there is only one winning move: 71 Rf2! The key point is that after the more obvious 71 Kb7 Kf6! 72 Kc6 Ke5! Black succeeds in ‘shouldering’ the enemy King.

The shortest section, featuring double Rook endings, misses one important aspect; with extra firepower it is often possible to sacrifice a pawn or more to massively increase the activity of the Rooks, leading to a significant increase in practical chances. The following is a classic example (curiously overlooked by endgame books)...

Sahovic - Korchnoy
Biel 1979

Black sacrificed two pawns and brought the game to a swift conclusion.

39...h5+ 40.Kxh5 Rd8 41.hxg5+ Kf5 42.Kh6 Rh3+ 43.Kg7 Rd7+ 44.Kg8 Kg6 45.Rf2 Rg7+ 46.Kf8 Rh8#

Nevertheless, this is an impressive and well-written guide and one of the most accessible and practical endgame books around. As the author says, it is ‘…a book for the survivor and not the connoisseur’!

Several exercises are given at the end of each chapter (28 positions in all). Here are a couple of samples.

The main three moves here are 1...Rd2+, 1...Rb2 and 1...Ra2. What are trhe verdicts on them?

Can White force a win in this position?

Jon Speelman’s Chess Puzzle Book
By GM Jon Speelman
Gambit Publications
GM Speelman starts off with a short introduction in which he outlines his reasons for writing the book and he whets the appetite of the reader a general discussion about tactics.

‘…There is a fairly simple message which is worth hammering home: tactics is a combination of vision and calculation; both are necessary and neither is obvious - even to the best players - during the hurly burly of practical play.’

There follows a short explanation on the subject of ‘vision’ and ‘calculation’, complete with a now-customary swipe at Kotov’s ‘Tree of Analysis’ method.
Soon, the reader is plunged into the world of tactics and there are plenty of positions to solve. The book is split into two main parts.

Part 1: The Elements

Knight Forks
Loose Pieces
Opening and Closing Lines
Overloaded Pieces and Deflections
Mating Attacks
The Back Rank
Pawn Promotion

Each section gives a number (between 12 and 34) of reasonably simple examples of the theme in question, enabling the reader to develop a skill for pattern recognition. Little clues are often given and the answers are on later pages, thus removing the curse of the (involuntary?) roving, spoiling eye.

Part 2: Tactics in Practice

Finger Exercises
Mixed Bag
Tougher Examples

The first two parts give present 48 exercises, still not too difficult, but all aimed at further developing the tactical vision of the reader. As the tests are no longer categorised, the reader must first decide what is on offer from the whole gamut of tactical possibilities covered in part 1. 42 Tougher Examples conclude the work.

It’s a bright and breezy read, ideal for a quick feel-good solving session to warm up before your next game and, provided there’s not a hoodie sitting next to you, a great way to pass the time on the bus or train.

The puzzles start off with a very elementary Knight fork but things build up nicely through the book with some tricky stuff capable of making stronger players pause for thought. Good fun!

Here’s a few of the Tougher Examples to test your powers (sorry - no clues!).

Black to play

White to play

Black to play

And finally, your chance to ‘beat’ two of the all-time greats.

White to play.

Imagine you are White against Kasparov here! Khuzman was…

and he forced a swift resignation.

White to play.

Can you KO Karpov from here?

Gambit’s book covers continue to show imagination and originality. The Puzzle Book shows a number of tactics in the guise of specimens of various dangerous-looking lotions and potions and The Survival Guide to Rook Endings depicts a lonesome Rook presumably ably surviving on a seemingly endless chessboard desert.

For the anwswers to the problems above - and plenty more - you're going to have to buy the books.

Further details of GAMBIT books are available over at:

The Hawk v RoW: 22...a5 23 Ng7+

The Rest of the World, worried by the prospect of White's Rooks being doubled on the seventh rank, opted for 22...a5. The Hawk (fresh from sharing first place in the Durham Open tournament thanks to a last-round demolition of a Grandmaster) has repled with 23 Ng7+

What should Black play now? Please vote in the usual ways. Closing date: Midnight, Wednesday 30th April.

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

The Long Weekend

Scarborough Literature Festival
The Long Weekend….
17-20 April 2008

I was delighted to be able to attend part of the Second Scarborough Literature Festival.
Real-life activities prevented me from being there for the first two days but I made up for it by booking tickets for all of the Saturday events and most of Sunday’s too.

For many years I played at the Scarborough Chess Congress, in October, at The Corner Café. Although the Café is no longer there (flats are being built on the site), the weather seemed to be just as I remembered it (very cold with a permanent threat of rain), despite the difference of several months. However, as the activities were all indoors, the outside temperature had little bearing on proceedings.

Rather than go into too much detail about the specific works of the authors on show (a simple Google search will speedily lead you to their individual websites) I shall give a little overview of the weekend as I experienced it.

The main venue was the Scarborough Library Concert Hall - and what a magnificent room it is. Tastefully done out in purple and lilac, there were approximately 220 seats and nearly all were filled for every panel I saw.

The first one I attended featured Helen Dunmore and Deborah Moggach and was hosted by James Nash.

As this was my first such festival, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect; this panel nicely set the scene for what was to follow. The format worked very well. James made an excellent host and knew exactly when to speed things along and when to allow conversations to run their course. A general discussion with both authors was followed by a deeper talk about their individual work. This led to readings by both guests and then questions from the audience. The final part was a quick chat based on books recommended by the audience as being well worth a read.

An impressive Crime Panel assembled for the afternoon session, featuring Mark Billingham, Stephen Booth, Denise Mina and Natasha Cooper, with the latter in the role of host. A loose theme running through the hour was to show that crime writers, despite the grisly body-count, are actually nice, normal people. Sex scenes were discussed also, with Mark making the point that writers can provide detailed descriptions of horrible murders, with nobody believing the authors have ever committed such atrocities, but as soon as a sex scene is committed to paper readers assume it’s written from experience!

Blake Morrison was a very interesting guest. His early life was recently filmed ('And When Did You Last See Your Father?'); surely a mixed and interesting experience for anyone. He spoke about that for a little while but there was plenty of discussion about his poetry and his most recent novel, South of the River, from which he read a couple of sparkling and witty passages.

The final event of the Saturday was an extended (90 minute) panel with a terrific mixture of personalities. Christopher Brookmyre, Justin Cartwright and Jasper Fforde are all very successful writers with completely different styles to each other. They told how they all became writers and discussed lots of other aspects of literature before reading fascinating passages from their own books.

I have read a number of books by Sunday’s first guest, Steve Cole. A lot of his more recent writing is for young children and for his hour the Concert Hall was packed with enthusiastic Astrosaurs fans. Steve certainly knew how to pitch his talk perfectly to his predominantly young audience and his lively readings kept everybody amused and entertained for the full hour (not an easy task with children, believe me).

Carol Drinkwater came directly from her home in France for the Festival and proved to be an especially popular guest. A very natural speaker, she needed no host but had the audience enthralled by the story of her life and how she became so involved with olive trees and the genesis of her writing on the subject.

It was very interesting to hear that most of the writers don't always know how their books are going to end and in some crime cases aren't even sure 'whodunnit' until quite late on. The strong central idea is always in place but the characters often take the author in their own direction.

Another thing most authors happily agreed with: the writer's life is not a secure one and they are forever expecting someone to tap them on the shoulder and demand they get a real job!

Guests I didn’t manage to see included Ian Rankin, Susan Hill, Joanne Harris and Simon Armitage. Maybe next year!

As can be clearly seen, the Festival attracted some very big names. Judging by the amount of people in attendance and the various comments I heard over the weekend, the whole thing was a resounding success. I certainly had my horizons broadened, my enthusiasm fired and my imagination inspired. The wallet was not too depleted though, as prices were very reasonable. For example, a day ticket for all of Saturday’s events was just £19 and I think that is excellent value for money.

In addition to writing tales and tips, plenty of other insider knowledge was revealed over the weekend. For example, ‘staff recommendations’ in certain shops are actually more like paid adverts by publishers; and ‘3 for 2’ offers are financially sweetened by publishers too, to the tune of a five-figure sum. Fair enough - but it’s easy to see that big publishers are holding all of the aces in that particular selling battle.

North East England needs more events of this calibre. Hopefully, this time next year, I will be writing about the third Scarborough Literature Festival.

Well done to all concerned for producing such an excellent and inspirational event. I’m sure the hard-working staff will feel their efforts were all worthwhile.

Further information, including a list of all of the event’s sponsors and supporters, can be seen over at the website:

22 Rxb7

The Hawk has swooped and picked off a weak pawn. The position is looking increasingly poor for The Rest of the World.

Latest move: 22 Rxb7

What is best for Black now? The Rest of the World are invited to vote for the 22nd move, in the usual ways.

Closing date for this move: 6.00 p.m., Saturday 26th April.

Friday, 18 April 2008


The Rest of the World opted for 21...Qc5, saving the Queen, protecting the Knight and preventing the horrible Knight fork on d6. The Hawk's position is looking very strong, despite the fact that he is two pawns down. The White King is much safer than Black's, his development is better (all of his pieces are in play) and his pawn structure is much sounder.
Stay tuned for the next White move - then it'll be your turn to vote again.

Friday, 11 April 2008

21 Rfb1

The Hawk's 21st move of our ongoing correspondence game is: 21 Rfb1

Black would like to take the Rook with the Knight but unfortunately that would allow 22 Qxc8 checkmate as the Knight is pinned.

The Queen is under attack and great care must be taken. She needs to keep defending the d6 square otherwise White's Knight will move there with a crushing fork.

It seems that both of Black's Queenside pawns are in big trouble and the King has yet to find safety.

The Rest of the World team needs to find some very strong moves to hold this position together!

Vote now for the next Black move!
or leave a comment on this site.

Closing date: 6.00 p.m., Thursday 17th April

Saturday, 5 April 2008


The Rest of the World's top choice was 20..Rc8, activating the Queen's Rook and supporting the Knight.
Stay tuned for the reply of The Hawk!