Over the weekend, I picked up a different kind of book on tactics, Andrei Volokitin and Vladimir Grabinsky's Perfect Your Chess.
For those in the 1800-2400 rating level wishing to improve their chess, this book firmly hits right on the target.
The introduction reads,"It is easy to explain the popularity of chess. The game is simple to learn, it is interesting, and after one's first victories, one can get the illusion that with a small effort, there is no reason why one should not become world champion."
The book goes on then to state,"We are not denying the value of studying opening theory or recent games, but we suggest that one must think more carefully about the relative importance of these and other factors, and the correct allocation of one's time to such essential things as developing combinative vision, calculation of variations, and the development of one's imagination."
And it is in the last 3 phrases that the book really focuses on. The book is divided into 3 sections:
1. Make A Move (positions where one must find the best move) - aimed at developing intuition and imagination in chess
2. Find The Win (positions where one must find a forcing variation, leading to a win) - aimed at testing combinative vision and calculation of variations
3. Answer A Question (find an answer to a concrete problem) - aimed at developing positional understanding and logic
The good thing about this book is that each section starts with a "taster" of Volokitin's own games comprising 23 games. But after solving these 23 games, the meat of the section lists 100 test examples.
The first 40 are aimed at FIDE master level, the next 40 at IM level and the remaining 20 at GM level.
Here the authors encourage the reader to give enough time to explore, including setting up the positions on the board and "cheating" by moving pieces around for exploration and the calculation of variations. And the idea is to solve them gradually and systematically.
There are no time limits here, no pressure for you to find the answer, but rather to develop your thinking ability. The book encourages you to do at least 5 training puzzles daily but I think most club players would be having problems just solving 2 or 3 a day.
Be warned, the puzzle positions are tough. Very tough.
To give the book a good flavour, the sections are rather brief and scant on details. The position can involve anything. For example, the first section consists of positions where the solution can be either a quiet move, a zwischenzug (in-between move), prophylactic move etc. In this way, the authors are trying to make you think as you would in an actual board situation.
Unlike other tactical books, the solutions to each section are given immediately after the section.
When I went through Volokitin's test examples, I am quickly humbled. The solutions give very concrete and extensive analysis (including variations) with small notes on why the solution is as is.
These test examples are not one trick pony solutions - they're not even three-move checkmates.
To give you an idea of how hard it is, take the following example from one of Volokitin's 30 questions (for the purpose of brevity, I've taken shorter solutions as examples):
See the following puzzle on the right. White to play.
The following solution is listed in the book (highlight between the brackets to see it):
[In sharp positions, the value of the move is considered. Here White dallied with:
and fails to find the beautiful tactical possibility:
13. Nxd5!! Nxd5
14. Nf5! Rc4
15. Qb5 Bxf5
16. Rxd5 a6
17. Qxa5 Qxa5
18. Rxa5 +-]
If you thought the above was hard, I'll throw in another slightly easier example. See the 2nd puzzle on the right. Black to play and find the win.
[Black missed the win by playing
31 ... Qb5?
32. Qg3 Qf1+!!
33. Rxf1 Ne2#
(or Kxf1 Rh1#)]
One minor defect of the book is that not every variation is given and when given, they run up to usually 8-10 ply deep with verbose explanation.
So if you're at least 1800 in strength, willing to work hard on your game, this book will pay its rewards very well.