Saturday, January 26, 2008

Review Of Alexei Suetin's 3 Steps to Chess Mastery

I recently picked up this chess book from the library. It's titled 3 Steps to Chess Mastery.

I tried looking up a review for the book but the comments were less than favorable (I'm not sure why).

I was actually quite surprised. Having leafed through the about 50 odd pages now, I actually found that this is quite a good book for my chess level.

GM Alexei Suetin has a knack of putting things simply and accurately.

Who is GM Suetin, you may ask? Well, Alexei Suetin is a highly respected GM in former USSR who is also a second and trainer to Tigran Petrosian for many of his most important matches, including his world championship victory in 1963. He was for many years Moscow's senior coach, overseeing the development of promising new talents.

This book combines 2 of Suetin's other works: The Chess Player's Laboratory and The Path To Mastery.

The book is published by Cadogen Chess, first in 1982 and then reprinted again 1983, 1988,1998 and 1996. Certain chess ideas may be a bit dated but the book has surprisingly aged well. It's been translated by Ken Neat.

The book is broken down into 9 main sections and I've highlighted a few subsections within these sections:

Part I : The Chess Player's Laboratory

1. Ways and Means of Improving
- Methods of Evaluating A Position, Planning, The Choice Of Move, Connection Between Opening And Middlegame etc.

2. In The Player's Laboratory
- The Test Of Mastery, Working On One's Own Games, The Technique Of Opening Preparation etc.

Part II: Work On The Elimination Of One's Shortcomings, And Other Problems Of Self-Improvement

3. Certain Tendencies In A Chess Player's Thinking
- Impulsive Thinking, Play By Analogy etc.

4. A Chess Player's Characteristic Thinking Defects
- Sense Of Proportion, Chess Culture, Loss Of Consistency, Keep Your Cool etc.

5. Direct And Indirect Consequences Of Tactical Mistakes
- Mistakes Which Are Difficult To Rectify and Errors Leading To Positional Concessions

6. The Problem Of Choosing A Move
- Combination Visions, The Harmfulness Of Routine Moves, Visual Imagination etc.

Part III: The Master Level

7. Dynamics Of The Struggle And A Concrete Approach To The Evaluation Of A Position
- A Modern Panorama Of The Chess Battle, Inductive And Deductive Methods Of Thinking, Visual And Verbal Ideas etc.

8. Intuition And Risk In Chess
- Broad Aspects Of Intuition, Restrictive Play And 'Pressurizing' etc.

9. The Various Styles And Schools Of Chess Creativity
- Problems Of Classifying Styles, Individual Playing Styles, Playing Styles And Chess Practice etc.

This book has about 190 pages in all. Keep in mind that many of these subsections are only discussed in about 2-4 pages each.

One thing I liked about this book is how Suetin lays out the details to you in a concise manner. He doesn't go through many pages explaining why he states a particular statement. He shows it to you by means of suitable game examples, historical anecdotes (and explains them why they are so).

I'll read to you a few of the paragraphs so you can have a good idea of what the book is like.

The following few paragraphs relates to what should go on in the player's laboratory with respect to to preparation.

"For a young player, wishing to raise the standard of his play, it is important, even essential, to make analysis an integral part of his home training. The starting positions from this can (and should!) be most varied (after all, in practice one has to deal with all kinds of situations). But nevertheless, the emphasis should undoubtedly be on complicated middlegame set-ups, full of tactical content. For the most part, such a criterion is well satisfied by positions arising at the transition from opening to middlegame in present-day openings. It is no accident that it is on such problem set-ups that the strongest players sharpen their analytical mastery. In this way a dual aim is achieved : the development of analytical skill, and a penetration into the jungle of a particular opening system, which one can add to one's 'armoury'.

What generally happens is that, the deeper you go into the jungle of such positions, not only does the evaluation not become clearer, but often the player is faced with an even more confused picture.

But this should not dismay the analyst.

A knowledge of highly complicated, practically inexhaustible positions opens up enormous scope for the development of the most varied aspects of chess thinking. The result is that, along with the development of analytical potentialities, the player's genuine understanding of chess grows, without being confined within some formal framework. Also, the deeper your analysis of positions in the transition from opening to middlegame, the greater the advantage you gain over your future opponents. Also in opening preparation, virtually the most important thing for the practical player is to be constantly ahead in your 'production secrets'.

Thus you should attempt to be a Sherlock Holmes of chess. And remember that each time you can get down to the essence of the problem by a combination of painstaking and inventive work, worthy of a clever detective.

It is not all positions, arising on the transition from opening to middlegame, that are full of specific content. But always, after the completion of mobilization, there arise a certain complex of of strategic and tactical problems (provided, of course, that in the opening neither side has made some bad mistake, allowing the opponent quickly to gain a serious advantage).

Therefore, when studying variations, you should attempt in particular to see the 'physical meaning' - the intrinsic strategic and tactical ideas. In short, when studying an opening (ie. in essence, a specific middlegame) you should not so much aim to remember the variations, but rather to study the most important critical positions that arise here."

This is very good advice. The book is practically littered all over the place with explanations like this.

The book also contains some very interesting insights and stories. Take for example, the following excerpt:

"Later I became acquainted with several of the training methods employed by Keres. Thus, for example, he liked to study one and same position from opposite points of view. If say, a pawn was sacrificed for the initiative, with inexhaustible ingenuity he would seek resources for the attack. But then came the 'dead point'. Keres would turn the board through 180 degrees, and with equal ingenuity and energy would begin searching for resources of defence and counter-play."

Too often we have books these days of tactics, endgames, combinations, openings, middlegames. However very few books have been devoted to combining them together so they make sense. What this book does is connects these 'dots', so to speak.

Unfortunately, I've not the chance to investigate the highlighted games mentioned in the book in depth but I think the games serve more to highlight a point (and the lines should of course be checked with computer analysis where possible for accuracy) than anything else.

The book contains many many useful tips on how to master chess and what are the steps needed to achieve success over the board.

If you manage to find this book at an old second hand bookshop, do read a bit through it and see if you like the book.

I know I certainly had.

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