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Don Aldrich’s Book Reviews

School of Chess Excellence 3: Strategic Play by Mark Dvoretsky, (Edition Olms, 2002), paperback, FAN, 232 pp., 268 Diag., $25

This is the third of four planned volumes in the Olms’ republication of trainer Mark Dvoretsky’s work. However, unlike the first two volumes, almost all of what is contained in volume 3 seems to be new material. I have thoroughly reviewed all the previously published Batsford books, and do not see much if anything being repeated from the earlier incarnation. It goes without saying that the production values are on a par with the other recent efforts from Olms—grade A outstanding.

As with the previous efforts in the series, the book is divided into several sections, each section consisting of a series of lectures on specific topics, each lecture containing several questions for the student to answer along the way, and capped off with exercises involving what was just learned. Finally, or perhaps initially, each lecture begins with a well-chosen aphorism which may or may not have something specifically to do with chess, but will serve well to frame the following discussion.

The two sections of this book are ‘Positional Play,’ and ‘The Play of Simple Positions.’ The first section is exactly what it sounds like - the lectures focus on the elements of positional play, with titles such as, ‘The Two Bishops,’ ‘An Advantage in Space,’ ‘How a Plan is Formulated,’ and so on. Again, this work is not a primer. It does assume one knows a bit about positional chess, and tends to focus on more advanced topics.

As with most Dvoretsky works, there is a pronounced emphasis on concrete calculation and the idea of prophylaxis. While prophylaxis receives its own chapter, it is mentioned and emphasized through out. Though one might think that the whole idea of positional play is to get away from the calculation of variations, Dvoretsky demonstrates over and over again that sometimes one needs a tactical operation or combination to fully realize a positional advantage.

Along with the elements, there are several discussions of the problem of planning in chess. In particular, one very nice chapter explores the issue of ‘clashing plans,’ i.e., when one is working on his own plan, the opponent no doubt is doing the same. How does one determine when to continue carrying out his own plan, and when should he work on frustrating his opponent’s? And again, that leads right back to prophylactic ideas.

As per usual with Dvoretsky, the examples chosen are extraordinarily appropriate, and the textual explanations are superb. The questions posed strike to the heart of the matter, and the concluding examples are quite difficult, but attempting to solve them definitely improves and reinforces the lessons taught.

So far, this is just a really, really good text on positional play. Then we come to the second part, ‘The Play of Simple Positions.’ Now, what exactly is meant by that? In the introduction to the section, Dvoretsky defines ‘simple’ positions as those having ‘fewer pieces’ on the board, but not quite yet an endgame. For his purposes, he defines an endgame as each side having only one piece, and a simple position where each side has at least two pieces, but one class of piece is missing, e.g., Rooks and Minor Pieces, but no Queens, or Queens and minor pieces but no Rooks, etc.

The reason he deems this important, and a full third of the book is devoted to it, is that while mating attacks are quite rare, it is not yet an endgame where specific theoretical knowledge is required, BUT they do require a significant amount of technique. That is to say, with certain piece combinations on the board, there are known techniques for playing the positions. I must say that in all of my reading on chess, I have never come across this concept before, and I am therefore clueless as to the technique aspect. These chapters deliver in spades!

First, while the positions are ‘simple,’ the exercises are not. These chapters have more of the ‘along the way’ questions than any of the other chapters in this series. Every page has the ‘What should you play now?’ queries. The technique pointers are in boldface, and also are liberally strewn throughout this section.

While prophylaxis and calculation of variations are, as always, present herein, the main thrust of the section is two fold - how to convert an advantage into a won ending, and how to best defend when one is at a disadvantage. The examples deal with many of the same issues as the previous section - the initiative, planning, best use of pieces - but in the context where, instead of starting from near equality and trying to obtain the advantage, one has the advantage or disadvantage from the previous middlegame play and now needs to win, or defend.

The specific issues dealt with are seizing the initiative, active defense, how to choose the best move from a plethora of good moves, and of course, tactics. The point of this section is not that chess is played differently when there are fewer pieces on the board, but in such cases there are specific themes that are recurrent. For instance, in the tactical chapter, he shows that in simple positions, the interference theme is more prevalent than in a more complex middlegame. As he notes, remember the Lucena maneuver in the ending. It really is just a tactical trick, and an interference.

This section is quite an eyeopener. I don’t think I will ever look at the ‘pre-ending’ phase the same way again. Indeed, having worked through these exercises will create a type of psychological trigger - when one reaches this type of position, there will be a mental ‘whoa,’ this is a simple position. What techniques are appropriate here? I truly think that if one took nothing else away from this book, that alone would increase one’s strength, perhaps significantly.

All in all, this is a smashing good read, and probably the most accessible for players of all classes of all the books Dvoretsky has put out. It will absorb virtually as much work as one wants to put into it, and one will actually begin to see the fruits of these efforts in his games. Every serious player should study this book. Highly recommended.

Other reviews by Don Aldrich

Review 1: The Critical Moment, by GM Iossif Dorfman (PDF Format)
Review 2: Shirov's 100 Wins, by Sergei Soloviov (PDF Format)
Review 3: School of Chess Excellence 1: Endgame Analysis, by Mark Dvoretsky (PDF Format)
Review 4: Winning Chess Strategies, by Yasser Seirawan (PDF Format)
Review 5: Purdy On The Endgame, compiled by Ralph Tykodi
Review 6: School of Chess Excellence 3: Strategic Play, by GM Mark Dvoretsky
Review 7: Secrets of Positional Play, by Drazen Marovic
Review 8: Tony Miles: It's Only Me, by Geoff Lawton
Review 9: Chess Strategy In Action, by John Watson
Review 10: Leko’s 100 Wins, by Sergei Soloviov
Review 11: Super Tournaments 2002, by Sergei Soloviov
Review 12: French Nd2, by Lev Psakhis
Review 13: Chess Endgame Training, by Bernd Rossen
Review 14: King's Indian Battle Plans, by IM Andrew Martin

All text Copyright Alexander Baburin unless otherwise noted