Secrets of Modern Chess Strategy

I finished my last post with the invitation to my readers to suggest, if they wish, a book on which they would like to hear my opinion. My very good friend IM Chedomir Micic suggested a true gem, actually two of them – Secrets of Modern Chess Strategy and Chess Strategy in Action, both by John Watson.

I will start by saying that both books are incredible. They are one of the rare modern books (published in 1998 and 2003 respectively) that truly provide something new in the sphere of chess strategy. I don’t think I was the only one who was under the impression that the last thing about strategy was written in Nimzowitsch’s My System and from then on it was just studying the great players’ games and picking up strategical ideas (for example Petrosian’s exchange sacrifice). Even though I noticed that white players started to push g2-g4 in the opening more frequently, I wasn’t really surprised by that, after all we have the Keres Attack in the Sicilian and there were several games by Fischer when he did just that. But it is not for nothing that Secrets of Modern Chess Strategy has the subtitle Advances Since Nimzowitsch. Watson managed to categorise and organise the material in superb manner. There are two parts of the book, Part I deals with Refinements of Tratidional Theory and here we have the typical elements like Centre, Pawn Minorities and Majorities, IQP etc observed through the prism of the modern practice, taking careful note of what has changed since the times Nimzowitsch wrote his classic. One of the most impressive examples is from the game Ivanchuk-Anand, first game of their match in 1992:


White’s last move was a mistake, it was better to take on d2 with the rook. But after black’s unexpected next move white is worse! After 18 Rd2 h5! we see the depth of the concept – Watson quotes Anand who says that white cannot consolidate his kingside (black threatens …hg4 and …Rh3) and is much worse. The following two moves are also very instructive:

“A sterling example” – Watson.

The second book, Chess Strategy in Action is a continuation of the topic in similar vein. Again there are two parts, only this time Part II is analysis of complete games, 35 in total. In Part I he examines concepts like The Surrender of the Centre, Hedgehogs and their Territoriality (an important advice for black playing the Hedgehog is to avoid exchanges in spite of his lack of space, because without pieces his position will lose its dynamism!), The Flank Pawns Have Their Say (here’s the chapter dedicated to moves like g2-g4 for white and …h7-h5 for black, a common occurrence in modern practice), The Positional Pawn Sacrifice, a chapter dedicated to Bishops and Knights and many more. I will give here a couple of examples from Part II that left an impression. The first one is from the comments of the game Shirov-Kramnik from 1994:

Black to move

And Kramnik’s suggestion here is 13…Rh7 14 Nc2 Nh8!! Great stuff! The following example is probably the most original of all:

The true value of the books lies in the fact that Watson managed to organise the material and show in a systematic manner how modern chess is played. The conclusion is that modern chess is concrete to the extreme (the development of chess engines is also very responsible for this development) and there isn’t a single rule that doesn’t have an exception and these exceptions are becoming more frequent in modern practice. These books are a must for every aspiring player who already has knowledge of the classical chess and is looking for a concentrated and well-chosen material from the modern chess practice.

Alex Colovic
A professional player, coach and blogger. Grandmaster since 2013.
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  • Jun 22,2016 at 10:35 am

    You're welcome mate! 🙂

  • Jun 22,2016 at 4:22 am

    Thanks, I am glad that my comment helped in making such a nice article.

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