Books to Enjoy

Vera Menchik

A Biography of the First Women’s World Chess Champion with 350 Games

by Robert B. Tanner

vera-picture-review

Vera Menchik a Biography of the First Women’s World Chess Champion with 350 Games is the latest effort by Robert B. Tanner. The author wrote a biography of the first Women’s world champion Vera Menchik plus all her games available at the moment. This work on the life and games of Vera Menchik fills a major gap in chess literature in the English language. In the past, only scattered games without historical context were available about Vera Menchik’s chess career. The book is a recommended choice to parents looking for an inspirational read to motivate female chess players at the K-3 level, players interested in positional chess or chess history. Finally, the chess games and annotations in this book can be use as chess training material, especially, the handling of closed positions by Menchik and her opponents are particularly useful.

I am a coach with an interest in chess promotion among female chess players. A book in English on the career of a strong female chess player with a classic/positional style and deep core values that can be use as a role model was a pressing need. Vera Menchik A Biography of the First Women’s World Chess Champion with 350 Games provides chess students with a book that explains the conditions the first women world champion endure at a time of male dominance in the chess scene worldwide. Tanner’s work shows how a female chess player can overcome obstacles from society, chess peers and ill intended journalists with a positive personality, good results over the board and hard work. Tanner was able to write a book that clearly connects Vera’s development as a chess player with other leading female players of that time such as Mary Rudge and Sonja Graf. Together, the author shows why Vera Menchik was such an important figure in the popularization of chess among women and gives the first woman World Chess Champion the place in history she rightly deserves.

Vera Menchik’s chess style was positional, but with a display of energy and drive. It is not a surprise that a strong positional player like Erich Eliskases was interested in publishing Vera’s gamesThe Times. Eliskases was a strong Austrian chess player that won twice the German Chess Championship (1938 and 1939) and was part of the German team that won first place at Buenos Aires 1939. After the II World War broke in 1939, Elikases decided to stay in Argentina and become a leading chess figure in this country and South America. In 1943 Eliskases published the book on positional chess “Decalogo del Ajedrez Positional”, a book that influenced the positional chess understanding of generations of chess players in Spanish speaking countries. That being said, it is not a surprise Eliskases was impressed with Vera’s positional play and submitted her games with annotations to the chess columnist of The Times, E.S Tinsley in July, 1936. Tinsley’s biased and unprofessional reply was an example of the unjustified treatment Vera endures from a segment of journals worldwide. In contrast, the annotations about Vera’s chess in the tournament book Moscow 1935 are more objective, despite Vera’s poor results.

About the tournament Moscow 1935. Tanner suggested that Vera’s poor performance was influenced by factors no related to chess, but after looking at the book tournament an alternative explanation may be possible. I founded that Vera’s initial games showed an unusual degree of sharpness even as black against Botvinnik in game three (12…Nd4! 16…Qd6!) but as the tournament progressed and Vera did not score, she played less active and more conservative. In the rest of the tournament Vera consistently avoided to raise the level of sharpness of her chess even if the position on the board demands it. Vera’s opponents took advantage of her lack of dynamism to prevent her from scoring more points. For example, against Goglidze (9…Bb7 when the sharp 9…c5 will provide enough compensation for a pawn with an unbalance struggle ahead) and versus Pirc as white ( 14.Rc1?, 14 g4! with an attack against black’s king). All the evaluations were taken from the tournament book. In any case, I think that some chess authors used Vera’s results in this tournament to sell the wrong idea about her true chess strength. If you go over the list of players in Moscow 1935 with attention it is clear that the best players of the world were there and that at any tournament someone has to be last.

As a chess coach, I find difficult to find modern chess games to explain positional concepts to very young players. Current chess praxis is fueled by computer assisted preparation and the nature of the game is way to concrete. A novice chess player may find taxing to grasp positional concepts in a pure form from a contemporary master game. After going over Vera A Biography of the First Women’s World Chess Champion with 350 Games, I founded that Vera’s games can be use to illustrate basic positional concepts in a pure form and that even her games prove to be a source to study the development of opening ideas! (some variations used by Vera Menchik still relevant today) Let’s take for example the game Menchik- Lasker, Moscow 1935. In this game after the sequence 1. d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 d5 3. c4 e6 4. Bg5 Nbd7 5.e3 c6 6.Nc3 Qa5 we reach the sharp Cambridge Spring variation of the Queens gambit declined. Vera’s choice was Bxf6 a move aimed to prevent black freeing moves c5 and e5. The same idea was played against my by Jorge Oquendo, a Cuban master that immigrate recently to the US (Oquendo, 2400 – Ararat 1880, Daytona Beach 2016). Oquendo used the same idea than Menchick employed against Lasker to prevent me from breaking free and slowly outplay me. In other words, the chess coach will find in Vera a Biography of the First Women’s World Chess Champion with 350 Games, a rich source of model games to teach positional chess to novice and intermediate chess players. This book is highly recommended and a must buy to parents and players below 2000 USCF level that struggle with positional chess.

Vera Menchik A Biography of the First Women’s World Chess Champion with 350 Games (McFarland, 2016) can be purchased at www.mcfarlandpub.com or at 800-253-2187

The Big Book of Chess Tactics

By Istvan Pongo

Isolated book on a white background. Perfect for adding your own graphic. Made in 3d.

Istvan Pongo is best known in the US by his book Tactical Targets vol 1 and 2, cited in the bibliography of the la Maza’s book rapid Chess Improvement (2002). This time the author aims to deliver a comprehensive book on tactics on one volume as an improved version of the two books mentioned above. The book is almost eight hundred pages long (but it does not feel heavy), hard cover, printed in high quality paper, has a red and yellow built in page markers and the page binding is sturdy. In other words, this book is a pleasure to hold and work with. The pages have two diagrams at the top of the page and the answer below the diagram, so the reader can solve the puzzle and cover the answer with a piece of paper or just focus on the diagram and avoid looking down the page. This format saves time because the reader does not need to flip pages back and forth to find the answers the exercise pages have six diagram per page.

The book is conceived following three principles, First that all the combination comes from previous games (Tal’s statement on tactics “It is unlikely that a new original combination occurs in the present stage of advance chess”). Second, that to be successful at chess a player needs first to identify the a tactical opportunity and third, after the opportunity a.k.a tactical target is identified the player needs skill to checkmate his opponent, gain a decisive material advantage or save a lost position by perpetual check or stale mate. Additionally, the chess player needs a simple but important understanding of the types of balances in chess in order to carry out a successful tactical operation and understand chess better as a whole. The book has short remarks about the career of several chess masters and tactical tips which make the book more entertaining and less dry than the Encyclopedia of Chess Combinations.

Tactics are grouped around twenty three motifs and explained with almost two thousand examples with solutions. The first theme is the double attack, the easier topic to master and the one that delivers the most victories at the early stages of any chess trainees. The double attack is without doubt a heavy point scorer tool at all levels of chess, from beginners to seasoned grandmasters. Pongo’s experience as a teacher can be trace back to the way the examples are presented, from just “observe and find” to systematically force your opponent’s pieces to ‘be in the right squares”. At the end of this chapter and the rest of the book the reader will enjoy masterpieces of tactical ingenuity. The combinations are instructive and pose a good challenge to the ambitious chess player.

This is so far the best book on chess tactics I came across in many years for several reasons. First, the books follows a systematic approach following the intrinsic elements of the theme at hand, instead of presenting the subject matter, as a single generic topic   like “pins” or forks. Second, the book is structure in a way that can be used to teach chess tactics at a different levels of chess development. The examples are pure joy to go over them and enjoy the creativity of chess players. Finally, the book is a very high quality product, a lot of attention to detail and build to last.

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