Good Books – Part III

Here I will discuss some books of more general character. Apart from studying the moves I have always been interested in chess history and the life of the players. What intrigued me most was how they prepared and how they thought about various problems. Perhaps understandably so, because I never had a coach in my life so I never exactly knew how things should be done. Everything I knew I learned by myself based on my own experience, so I was always seeking for some insight as a sort of check to see if I am doing things right.

The most impressive of these was definitely Russians vs Fischer by Voronkov and Plisetsky. Even though I knew the Russians were preparing collectively in general, I was still amazed to learn to what lengths they went. More than half of the book is devoted to Fischer’s ascent from 1970 onwards and how the Russians were becoming more and more worried as he approached Spassky. One of the best parts in the book is Korchnoi’s analysis of Fischer’s style, openings and characteristics. It is quite different from the analysis of the other players who were tasked with it – Tal, Keres, Smyslov and Petrosian, who obviously didn’t quite feel they should be doing that in the first place and just wanted to get rid of the task. For example, Keres, Smyslov and Petrosian suggested their own repertoire as the best way to play against Fischer’s openings! The book also investigates Karpov’s preparation for Fischer in 1975. A revelation to me was Alatortsev’s analysis and report. Alatortsev was head of a laboratory that was analysing the psychology and physiology of the chessplayers using various methods. This striking analysis included diet, sleep, physical preparation, behaviour during the games etc. I learned an awful lot from this material and I still re-read it from time to time. This book is a must for everyone who wants to know the deepest secrets of chess preparation at the highest level.

To a lesser extent Kasparov’s Predecessors that deal with his matches with Karpov (Modern Chess Part 2Modern Chess Part 3 and Modern Chess Part 4) are books of that kind. I seem to be one of the rare people who haven’t been impressed with Kasparov’s series. Yes, they are good books, but I knew most of the stories he told and I expected much more from him when he was personally involved in the games. I was eagerly awaiting the books on the matches with Karpov, after all they are the defining point of his career, so I was looking forward to some big revelations concerning his preparation process, opening analysis, ideas he had etc. Even though he does say a lot about these things, I found it insufficient. Perhaps because I know that there are many more things that he didn’t talk about. This is one of the problems when you already know a lot, it is increasingly difficult to learn new things! One of the most useful things for me what playing through all the games of his unlimited match with Karpov. Slowly, deliberately, trying to understand what was going on. And after a while I got “into” the match, started to feel the flow of the match, I started to understand the opening choices and the tension. I also did this with the other matches and for me this was the best experience from the books.

Recently I read The King by Donner. It is a collection of his essays throughout his career as a chess journalist. Some of them are amazing, some less so. Donner had a sharp sense of humour and was confident in his beliefs and didn’t shy away from publishing them, even if they were largely controversial (there is an essay called “Women and Chess” where he openly states that “women cannot play chess.”) A thing I found surprising is that most of the problems we face now (making chess commercial, the diminishing payout of the chessplayers etc.) were very much topical in Donner’s time in the 1960s and 1970s.

I will end with a real rarity – Vukovic’s books “Od Steinitza do Botvinika” (From Steinitz to Botvinnik) published in Zagreb in 1949. Unfortunately I don’t think they are possible to find nowadays.

Click to enlarge

This is Volume 1, dealing with Steinitz, Lasker and Capablanca. In it he analyses all the games from the matches for the crown. The revelation for me was the chapter on Lasker. A lot has been said and written about Lasker’s psychology and how he allegedly played inferior moves (especially in the opening) in order to get his opponents out of their comfort zone. I always found that hard to believe and in this book I found what I had been sensing all along. Vukovic’s explanation is that Lasker found it hard to get into the game, so in the beginning he was often careless and this led to mistakes. Once in a bad position he would immediately snap out and concentrate hard and coupled with his incredible tactical talent he posed very difficult problems to his opponents, who were, after all, fallible. As the game progressed Lasker was playing better and better, especially if the momentum had swung his way, and when they finally reached the endgame Lasker was at his best. I think this is the most precise explanation of Lasker’s “psychology” I have read and in my opinion one that best describes the great champion’s way of playing.

Here I will conclude with my Good Books and if you have any questions or would like to know my opinion on a book feel free to contact me. As new books come out and I read them at some point I will surely continue with my reviews.

Alex Colovic
A professional player, coach and blogger. Grandmaster since 2013.
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  • […] ended up in dubious positions after the opening doesn’t mean that he intended it. As I have already written about this, and I advise you to read the part on Vukovic’s books for better […]

  • Ebuka Udeani
    Jul 11,2017 at 12:22 am

    Nice Article GM Alex, Sir whats your opinion on The Giants of Chess Strategy by Neil MacDonald..

    • Alex Colovic
      Jul 12,2017 at 10:58 am

      Thanks Ebuka.

      Unfortunately I haven’t read McDonald’s book, so I cannot say anything about it.

  • Dec 28,2016 at 4:27 pm

    Hi Alex,

    Thanks for your response. Sorry I haven't checked back at your blog in a while! But generally I want to improve my understanding, play, and results (doesn't everyone!). I think at my level my biggest weakness is a lack of positional understanding…more than tactics, calculation, etc. – Sarathi

  • Sep 24,2016 at 7:34 pm

    Thanks Sarathi,

    As per books, all the ones I mentioned in my articles are great, but all depends what area you would like to improve. Perhaps if you tell me I can help you with more specific advice.

  • Sep 22,2016 at 7:19 pm

    Great article GM Alex! Do you have any book and/or training suggestions for a 2012 Fide rated player? Thanks in advance! – Sarathi Ray

  • Jun 19,2016 at 2:20 pm

    Hi Angom,

    You could start with Chess Fundamentals by Capablanca, as I did when I started chess, this will give you a good grasp of the game as a whole. Then I'd suggest you study some basic tactics, perhaps using Polgar's book ( which is based on her training as a child. This one can also be useful: Hope this helps.

  • Jun 19,2016 at 3:51 am

    Sir as a 1559 fide rated player what should be the books i should read for improvement, i am a latercomer, started chess at 22 that is last year.. please provide a training idea how should i approach because i end up wasting my time frusturated whenever i sit for practise.

  • Jun 13,2016 at 10:00 pm

    Chess Strategy in Action and Secrets of Modern Chess strategy ?

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