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8 Recent Books and CDs
Small Encyclopedia of Chess Openings ('ABCDE'); Z Krnic (editor); 608 pages; Sahovski Informator, 1999
NIC Yearbook #52, CD-Rom; various GM and IM authors; New In Chess, 1999
Slav Defense, CD-Rom; Nikolov Dorobanov; (ChessBase format); 4.3 hours, 1999
Mega Database 2000, CD-Rom; L Ftacnik & R Knaak (editors); Chess Base,2000
Chess Software Sourcebook; Robert Pawlack; 152 pages; Treehaus Books, 1999
Aron Nimzowitsch, A Reappraisal; Raymond Keene; 256 pages; B T Batsford, 1999 (algebraic version of 1974 edition)
The Two Knights Defence; A Belyavsky & A Mikhalchishin; 112 pages; Chrysalis, 1999
The Unknown Bobby Fischer; John Donaldson & Eric Tangborn; 191 pages; ICE 1999
This review attempts to catch up on some of the recent-published books and CDs I have received. There is no thematic connection here, and in several cases I simply wanted to make the reader aware of the existence of a product rather than carefully assess its merits.
This is a time of dramatic changes in the area of chess information (see, for example, my last review), and one sees that fully half of the above products are software-related. But chess books are also alive and well, and I suspect that most TWIC readers still rely upon them for most of their study needs. 'Aron Nimzowitsch, A Reappraisal' is the algebraic version of Raymond Keene's 1974 work. This is the last book I received under the Batsford label, as their line is now owned by Chrysalis. I have always thought that this was Keene's very best work, and it's certainly a good choice for republication, since it can now be enjoyed by a new generation of readers. Don't be put off by experiences with the author's later books; at the time of 'Reappraisal', Keene was writing a number of knowledgeable and high-quality works. In this new edition of his Nimzowitsch study, there is some revision of the original English-notation edition, e.g., an inclusion of Kasparov-Ivanchuk, Horgen 1995. I find it extremely irritating that the author and/or editor didn't even bother to mention what changes were made, who made them, whether any material was omitted, and the like. But this is still one of the better biographical/historical books around, and I can safely recommend it.
Belyavsky and Mikhachishin are strong GMs who have chosen an older and out-of-fashion subject:'The Two Knights Defence'. This is one of the first two books I've gotten from Chrysalis, the successor to Batsford. (The other book lacks credibility: it is by Gufeld and Stetsko, on what they call 'The Classical French', and as far as I can tell, it covers almost exactly the same ground as their Chess Digest book from about a year ago! That book had many faults, and not enough current references. Buyer beware.) I have no expertise in The Two Knights, but someone who plays this opening will probably at least want to see what two such eminent theorists have to say about it. The few lines I looked at seem to have some original analysis, which is good, but at the same time the authors seem unaware of important games in each variation, and they have very few recent games. The theory section of the book is thin (46 pages out of only 112 total), and the production value is below that of standard Batsford efforts. Let's hope that Chrysalis isn't just trying to discharge their inherited contractual obligations, and that they will move towards restoring the quality tradition of the Batsford line. [Late addition: I just received Belyavsky and Mihalchishin's 'Winning Endgame Strategy' from Chrysalis. It has a similar appearance, but seems a much better book in terms of content.]
John Donaldson is rapidly achieving a reputation for fine historical research. His latest endeavour, with Eric Tangborn, is called 'The Unknown Bobby Fischer'. It covers a number of areas for the Fischer fan, beginning with a section on his boyhood, including new games and stories. His 1964 transcontinental tour, covered in Donaldson's previous book 'A Legend on the Road', receives additional treatment, based upon an outpouring of information and games in response to that earlier work. There are articles by and about Fischer, reports on his simuls in the 1970s, and finally, an annotated list of writings by and about Fischer, including a top ten list of Fischer books. Quite a few tidbits about contemporary U.S. players are included, and the book should delight both Fischer fans and chess history buffs.
Now we move on to some heavier literature. Sahovski Informator's 'Small Encyclopedia of Chess Openings' ('SECO') is a one-volume condensation of the very well-known five volumes (A thru E) which make up the 'Encyclopedia of Chess Openings'. This is a well-motivated attempt to offer the average tournament player a single-volume openings encyclopedia, involving the issues I discussed in my review of NCO. Undoubtedly many players would prefer to cart around just one book (even at 680 pages) instead of five almost-equally-thick ones, even at the cost of some detail. I can't possibly review this work fairly with limited space, but I can say that in the few lines I examined, its depth was similar to NCO's, sometimes a bit greater, but with (apparently) considerably fewer independent suggestions than NCO. The book is entirely languageless, in the Informator tradition; and who prepared the various sections is not specified. As might be expected, Informant games and evaluations are liberally cited throughout, and this could even be considered a sort of 'super-Informant' compilation, stopping after the opening phase of the game. Like the individual encyclopedias, the physical quality of SECO is excellent. Keeping in mind that I have examined very few lines, this looks like a handy book for travel, and might be a good all-in-one volume for students who don't have a library of opening books to rely upon.
The Informator people also offer most of their major publications in electronic form-this book, the Encyclopedias A-E, all volumes of Informant (annotated), and most of their specialized opening monographs. Unfortunately, there are no import or export capabilities in their Reader program; but in any case, older players will appreciate how using such a program beats looking up a particular ECO code in 76 separate Informant volumes! The details, including prices and downloading of the free Reader program, can be found on their web site (www.sahovski.com or www.sahovski.co.yu).
The publishers of the terrific New In Chess ('NIC') Magazine have made an important and praiseworthy decision to publish their Yearbooks in CD-Rom as well as book form. The NIC Yearbooks have long been a staple of many serious students' libraries; up to a couple years ago, I bought almost every one. They are organized as a set of 'surveys', usually around a new move in a specialized opening line, with short prose introductions by top-level GM and IM authors. There is usually only one comprehensive theory article which covers an entire line, e.g., NIC Yearbook #52 contains a lengthy article about the move 13.Nf5 in a main line of the 3.Nd2 c5 4.exd5 Qxd5 Tarrasch French. At some point, however, I decided not to spend the money for NIC Yearbooks, because I felt that the survey authors weren't adding enough in the way of ideas to what was otherwise a collection of games I tended to have in my database anyway. Other publications seemed to offer more.
But over the past year or so, things have changed for the better. First, an area called the Forum includes interesting and detailed letters from strong analysts all over the world. These contain some very original ideas. Then, more importantly, the Yearbooks began to appear on CD-Rom, beginning with issue 50. As of Yearbook 52, this CD-Rom allows you to play over every game on a diagram board, with notes and subvariations. Significantly, the games from every previous survey relating to a current survey is included on the CD-Rom, and #52 has an extra 37,000 games from previous Yearbooks. You can also use the popular chess engines Rebel and Fritz (if you have them) to analyse any position on the board. And for me, the biggest plus is that I get a copy of all the games, with annotations, in ChessBase format. To me, annotated games are the most valuable part of one's database, and now each issue provides a large new set of them, in the format I most commonly use. These new features result in a Yearbook which I will once again want to own every issue of. For more information, see New In Chess Magazine or go to www.newinchess.com.
'The Slav Defense' is an instructional CD-Rom on the Classical Slav (D10-D19) by FM Nikolov Dorobanov; Creative Chess Thought Audio is his company name. The Slav CD is a series of audio lessons which play on the ChessBase program, with all the normal options of using an analysis engine, adjusting diagram sizes, importing games and the like. It is split into 13 chapters, spanning 4.3 hours. Dorobanov gives very clear and thorough explanations of both sides' ideas, and offers more than one complete repertoire for Black in the Slav. The instructional nature of the CD probably makes it most appropriate for about 1400-2100 players, but Dorobanov has his own theoretical ideas and any Slavophile might want to hunt around for inspiration. I did find his assessments overoptimistic for Black at times, e.g., in his analysis of 7..c5 after 1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.Nc3 dxc4 5.a4 Bf5 6.Ne5 e6 7.Nf3. And there are several lines he gives short shrift to that the student might want to know more about, e.g., in the Schlecter Slav line with 1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e3 g6 5.Nf3 Bg7, the natural 6.cxd5 cxd5 7.Bb5+ is rather tricky, but Dorobanov says merely "7 Bd7 (7 Nc6)" and leaves it at that. But these are minor quibbles; there is a tremendous amount of material packed into this easy-to-use and well-produced package, and at $29 plus shipping, this seems to me a bargain and a fun way for intermediate players to learn the Slav. Remember that you are best off using ChessBase or Fritz to run the CD, but you can also use ChessBase Light, a free program available from Dorobanov's website, www.dorobanov.com. Go there also to read about the other instructional CDs he has done, and future projects.
'Mega Database 2000' is ChessBase's update of 'Megabase 99'. It contains 1,370,529 games covering chess back to the 1600s, about 37,000 of them annotated, including 467 dense opening surveys from ChessBase Magazine. The CD also includes an opening key with about 55,000 positions classified, as well as the usual ChesBase thematic and endgame keys. Although I have other, larger databases, this is my preferred research tool; it is a relatively 'clean' database, and the annotated games are valuable. The alternative 'Big Database', by the way, is essentially the same database, for about 1/3 the price, but without annotations. Chessbase has a home website at www.chessbase.com and a U.S. website at www.chessbaseusa.com.
'The Chess Software Sourcebook', by Robert Pawlack, covers the world of chess-related computer programs. The book serves a variety of functions: to describe the features of the available programs (including pictures of their interfaces); to assess the programs and give his opinion on which functions are most desirable to have; and to offer specific assistance and tips about using the programs. There's also a brief chapter about playing on the internet. Chapter 1 ('What's Available') tells us what topics are covered: Playing Programs, Database Programs, Tutorials/E-books, Internet Chess Servers, Autosensory Boards, Computer Hardware, and Chess Computers, with the first three topics getting by far the most attention. Each chapter includes a feature-by-feature comparison of the major brands. Many will find these charts (and the brief tutorials about how to use the programs) the most useful feature of Pawlack's book. Who is it for? I'm not sure; perhaps the safest answer is: anyone who is confused by the array of chess software options, and who will benefit from an overview of whats out there.