An unexamined life is not worth living.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Seirawan – Chess Duels: My Games with the World Champions - Book Review

I got this book as a gift for Christmas, having requested it because I had been a big fan of Yasser Seirawan’s annotations since having a large collection of “Inside Chess” magazines. Having been interested in any information about chess personalities, I probably learned more new facts about world champions than I ever did in the last ten years. With great respect for fellow chess player, Seirawan reveals a lot about top grandmasters – their personal strengths and weaknesses. Particularly interesting are his recollections of various episodes involving Garry Kasparov. The stories range from those of admiration for Kasparov’s ability to calculate variations (to the point of everyone in the room being quiet from awe), to those of confrontation with Kasparov over the board, when the World Champion would knock all piece off the board by pressing the clock too hard and having to apologize to Yasser.

image Having scored well against older Mikhail Tal, Seirawan had less success against Anatoly Karpov (and no, he is not giving a clock simul here!)
Photo by Gerhard Hund

In addition to stories and anecdotes, the book is also full of analysis of all the games that Seirawan ever played against World Champions. Those games reveal the difference between a very strong grandmaster – and the great ones. And it is a very subtle difference indeed, so subtle that you need explanation from the player involved in those games to even feel it. Among other things the book shows that the champions are only human! Seirawan’s positional instincts and style have posed some problems for World Champions, but overall by virtue of being consistently better in various parts of the game – Spassky, Karpov and Kasparov have been able to post a positive score against him. It is somewhat indicative that the only game that Seirawan won against Kasparov – was won after Kasparov over pressed in Seirawan’s time trouble. It is possible to beat the best players in tense complications, but it is very difficult to outclass them, and Seirawan’s notes on every move explain the inner struggle between the players – the thinking behind choices of openings, time spent on each move, comments made by players after the game, etc – all those details that you will not find by looking at a game in a database.

image The story about young Kasparov being a devoted communist is quite interesting
Photo from Owen Williams, the Kasparov Agency

Realities of professional chess players’ life, such as the need to travel and deal with time zone differences are explained very well in the book. The history of attempts to establish chess as a professional sport, starting from 1980’s and the GMA were also interesting to read about. The clash between FIDE and Kasparov in the 90’s, Moscow Olympiad of 1994 (which I had attended myself as spectator when I was a little boy), PCA tournaments and its quiet collapse are described in a lot more details than I had been aware of. If you are chess fan - Chess Duels: My Games with the World Champions by Yasser Seirawan is a great addition to your chess book collection.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the review. The book is on my wish list :)

    keep up the good work!


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