An unexamined life is not worth living.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Book Review - Positional Play By Mark Dvoretsky and Arthur Yusupov

My first serious chess book that I read about 10 years ago was "Positional Play" By Mark Dvoretsky and Arthur Yusupov. That was also perhaps the most useful book I ever read - it influenced my perception of the game in more ways that I could imagine. This book is out of print, but there are lots of other books by Dvoretsky that are similar in style, and can have provide you with the same eye-opening experience. What was different about this book? Dvoretsky's books in general don't teach you what to play - they teach you how to think. This book taught me how to

- think of what the opponent plans to do - and how to prevent his intentions

- think in terms of the number of purposes that a single move can serve - which is essential for a practical player choosing between several roughly equivalent moves

- build up longer term positional plans, but at the same time realize that it is nearly impossible to plan 20 moves ahead, so instead you have to think in terms of 2-3 move operations that gradually improve your position.

- look for typical middlegame positions, and understand why it it is useful to learn them

Initially after reading the book my play actually became a bit worse, as my entire thinking changed and it took a while to adjust. In the long term, however it allowed me to go from waiting for the opponents to blunder (which allowed me to get to roughly 1900 ELO) - to being able to play for positional goals myself.

The book consists of several articles written by several Dvoretsky, Yusupov and several other contributors. Dvoretsky sets the key themes, and Yusupov's games are great at illustrating the concepts. Looking at Capablanca's games is good for understanding why an open file is important, Yusupov's games in this book explain why one grandmaster had to give up an open file to another grandmaster (basically because there was a number of factors involved, and at some point he overlooked some tactical subtlety and had to choose between dropping a pawn and giving up a file - but that's because Yusupov was putting pressure on him).

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