An unexamined life is not worth living.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Kasparov on my Great Predecessors - book review

This book review was written around the year 2003, when I went through Kasparov's newly published books for the first time.

The books have been widely discussed in chess forums for the last year or so, with lots of excitement, but also lots of criticism. I think the major problem with this book is that they screwed up the translation of the English title which should have been Kasparov on His Great Predecessors. Otherwise I think that all the criticism that has been directed towards the volumes I and II has been mostly coming from people who are trying to prove that this Kasparov’s work is not perfect.

While it is not perfect indeed, I think my major expectations from the book were:

- Read about the great players of the past and see their best games – achieved! I had seen some Rubinstein games before, but was interesting to see an overview of his career. I think subchapters on grandmasters who were not world champions make a really nice bonus.

- See Kasparov’s insight into the moves and evaluations of positions. Basically I wanted to see how Kasparov perceives the game position, how he approaches analysis, opening preparation, combinations. – achieved, although I wish there was more of, not because there was not enough, but simply because this is the most exciting part of the project.

- See some old analysis refuted (not sure how this is useful for me personally, or an average reader-joe, but still, this refutations are interesting) – achieved!

All games given in the book are interesting to look at, not only because they were played by great players, but because Kasparov thinks they reflect the stage at which chess was at the time. Kasparov selects games that introduced new positional plans in the middlegame, or that give insight into psychology of the players. I am sure that many games given by Kasparov are familiar to a serious student of the game. And yet from the instructive point of view, this is even better: I think going over each game analysed by Kasparov teaches more if the student has seen the game before: this reinforces knowledge of classical games, and adds a bit of finer understanding of context of the game, and the analysis behind it as well. Overall I think by working on this project Kasparov gives tribute to the so-called analytical approach to chess (initially advocated by Botvinnik). I don’t think any of the top players would spend lots of time preparing deep analysis of Lasker – Schlechter, 1910, game 10, for the whole world to scrutinize. Shirov, Anand, Kramnik prefer to publish collection of their own games, which really involves a lot less work, since they usually need to reflect merely on what they saw during the game, in post-mortem, or in preparation for the game. Exciting as that is, this is not analysis for the sake of analysis. By devoting several pages to some ancient game, I think, Kasparov is sending the message that deep analysis of games is what all chess players looking for improvement need to spend time on. The second volume (at least the Russian addition that I own) has an appendix which reviews analytical discoveries made about the games from the first volume since it was published. Few authors are so willing to go back to their old analysis and update it!

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