An unexamined life is not worth living.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Book Review - 10 books from the library (Part 1)

I went down to the Burnaby library, and borrowed a bunch of books - mostly on the openings that I feel I might be interested in, or have been playing for a long time. I find that going to the library has its advantages over shopping for chess books online or in a large bookstore like Chapters: - Library is free! (well, in the sense that the tax dollars have been paid already anyway) - I can get bring home a whole load of books and look at them later, enjoying the comfort of my sofa - The selection is actually wider than in a store - the several Chapters branches of in Greater Vancouver at most have 2-3 chessbooks that I could possibly consider reading (maybe some day I will want to teach myself chess visually, but not quite yet). Understanding the King's Indian by Golubev, Mikhail (2005) Golubev goes over the main variations of King's Indian and provides very clear explanations of plans, move order details, historical background. Plenty of variations are given too of course; the opening is covered in a lot more detail than I could ever hope to memorize. I have a feeling that if I could go through this volume, together with Gallagher's two books on the King's Indian - I would learn more than enough to play King's Indian on my mediocre level for many years. That would of course mean drinking from the firehose for years. Review Score: 4/5 Starting out : Sicilian Najdorf by Richard Palliser (2006) Switching from an anti-Sicilian (like the one that I used to play - 2.c3) to main lines with 2.Nf3 and 3.d4 causes a player to realize that each little line he heard about ("oh yeah, I've seen the Kalashnikov - it's almost like Sveshnikov,right?") now is an entire opening in itself, with move order tricks, main lines, side lines, and so on. That's roughly the scope of my knowledge of Najdorf - I picked a line that seems reasonable and suit my style - 6.Be2, looked at several games, recorded the moves into my repertoire database, and played some blitz games online. Seems like I should be ready to face it... The problems is that all this was several years ago, so this book was a great refresher. Palliser shows the typical plans in the Be2 system, and not just within the current main line, but also gives the plans that are not considered dangerous anymore (and, of course, reasons why that's the case). Review Score: 4/5 Starting out : Queen's Gambit Accepted by Raetsky, Alexander (2006) I liked the format of the book - it helped me to refresh certain lines by just going through the chapters. It of course is too brief to serve as a reference - if I play a game in QGA and then want to check in the book whether or not I followed theory - I would not be likely able to find enough details in this book to help me out. But that's not the purpose of this introductory text. I could not find out who did the translation, or if the authors are fluent enough in English to make my ESL soul quite satisfied. Review Score: 4/5. Caro-Kann defence : the Panov attack by Anatoly Karpov and Mikhail Podgaetz (2006). Wow! Of all opening theory I know however narrow or insufficient it may be, Panov Attack is the opening I maybe spent the most time on, and I found the coverage to be very deep. Very Deep! This is a book on a branch of a major opening, but Caro-Kann is not Sicilian, and this book still has hundreds of pages on just that branch. And this is not just a DB dump either, one can see the author(s) had spent time analyzing occurring positions and games, and there is a lot of prose between the moves as well. Translation is not perfect, but works for me, since I usually can tell the exact Russian words that they tried to convert into English. The book is obviously written by Podgaetz, Karpov had likely little to do with this volume, he is rich, and does not spend time on playing in tournaments these days, so why would he spend months checking references and putting together analysis for lines he will never likely encounter as a practical player. Very impressive work nonetheless, I am thinking of buying myself a copy after library loan expires. As a reviewer on Amazon has justly pointed out though, because of the depth of the book, it may be a hard read for someone just picking up the Panov attack and trying to get a high level overview of the opening. Oh well, each book has to serve its purpose. Review Score: 4.5/5 The complete King's Indian by Keene, Raymond D. 1992 Flipping through the book I realized that I don't like the format of it and the contents is probably too outdated, so I did not go into details too much. Alas old opening books are not very useful after 10 years or more. Review Score: 1/5 Kasparov on the King's Indian by Garry Kasparov This one definitely deserves attention, as it was written at the prime of Kasparov's success with King's Indian. 9.b4 line's popularity had not really kicked in yet at the time of writing, Kramnik had not yet become a serious opponent for Kasparov, so King's Indian was his primary weapon against 1.d4. Some games are annotated in great detail, some barely have verbal annotations, but the collection is worth studying especially if one wants to build his/her repertoire around the lines that Kasparov used to champion. Unfortunately the theory has probably been all significantly revised since 1992, so there will be a need for some more research before committing to playing Kasparov's lines. Review Score: 3.5/5 In Part 2 I will review the remaining 4 books that I borrowed during that library trip: Silman's complete endgame course : from beginner to master / by Silman, Jeremy. The Pirc in black and white by Vigus, James. Attacking with 1 e4 / by Emms, John. Starting out : 1 e4! / by McDonald, Neil.

Chess metrics - monitoring personal progress - Part 2

Here is another graph I generated based on my personal collection of games - this time it's my rating fluctuation on chessplanet server in the year 2007. And that's something that Chessbase or similar products I am aware of don't even support. It's interesting to see that the peak comes in May - the time when I was preparing for the Keres Memorial in Vancouver, so I put a bit extra time into studying chess - and I suppose that extra effort caused my blitz rating to go a bit up as well.
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Monday, February 4, 2008

Chess Metrics - monitoring personal progress

Although Chessbase (Light) and similar products allow to generate a bar chart on the number of games played by a player per year, of course a geek is not satisfied by that. A true geek wants to be in full control of his own data, so I wrote my own script that generates similar graph, but with breakdown per month. It's sad to see my activity in standard time control tournaments to go down so much after 2001, but on the bright side - I was instead learning scripting for all those years, so now I can delight myself with a chart like this one :)
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