Today we are happy to introduce a new reviewer from Chess Today - Johannes Fischer. He is CT reader and sent us the following review recently. Johannes is publisher of the German chess & culture magazine Karl (in German).
Chinese School of Chess by Liu Wenzhes
Reviewed by Johannes Fischer
Perseverance Furthers: Liu Wenzhes Chinese School of Chess: The Unique Approach, Training Methods and Secrets, London: Batsford, 2002, 288 pages, 16,99€
Women's World Champion Xie Jun, Women's World Champion Zhu Chen, several World Junior titles, and most recently a sensational win of the Wijk aan Zee B-tournament by Zhang Zhong - there can be no doubt that Chinese chess players are getting better and better. But what is the secret of this success? In his book Chinese School of Chess the long-time head coach of the Chinese players Liu Wenzhe, who came to fame in the West by beating Jan Hein Donner in a short and violent attacking brilliancy back in 1978, promises to reveal the reasons for this phenomenal success story that is not yet completed.
According to him the Chinese are particularly apt for playing chess because "the style of thinking of the Chinese people contains the shadow or reflection of XiangQi [Chinese Chess]; ... you might say that the Chinese mode of thought is implanted in their brains almost from birth. Traditional Chinese thought is referred to as 'the thinking of the Book of Changes' ... [and] the thinking model of the Book of Changes is reflected in the characteristic thought patterns of XiangQi." (22) In the West the Book of Changes is better known as I Ching, and mainly used as an oracle. It is based upon the two contradictory and complementary forces of Yin and Yang. The various combinations of these energies results in 64 different states that can be used to describe each and every situation in the world. Liu uses the parallels between the philosophy of the Book of Changes centring around the number 64 and the Yin-Yang model, which resembles the opposing forces of black and white on the chessboard, to state that chess, like Go and XiangQi, derive from this ancient book of wisdom.
In claiming China as the birthplace of chess Liu for the sake of nationalism and ideology conveniently ignores or cuts through a longstanding historical debate, which sees the roots of chess in India. His attempts to define the characteristics of a Chinese School of Chess follow similar patterns. In state-controlled countries like China successes in sport are a good opportunity to brag about the superiority of one's own nation and its political system and beliefs. Accordingly, Liu tries hard to find ideologically adequate reasons for the recent triumphs of the Chinese chess players to establish the foundations of a Chinese School of Chess. But he has problems to come up with detailed characteristics of this supposed school and has hardly anything more to offer than some general statements such as the strength of the Chinese in the middlegame, their flexibility of thinking and their general strategic skills.
However, his book is still interesting to read. Apart from presenting deeply analysed games from various Chinese players Liu also offers interesting thoughts on coaching and gives valuable insights into the methods he uses to prepare his pupils for important matches. Particularly enjoyable are his analyses though he rather irritatingly reiterates again and again how often games with certain openings appear in his database. But once the middlegame is reached, Liu shows why he is such a good coach. He writes lively and with vigour and tries to uncover the secrets of the position and the mental struggle of the two people who played the game.
But if you want to discover the secrets of the Chinese success in chess you have to read between the lines. A good opportunity to do so is the training schedule of Xie Jun when preparing for her 1991 World Championship match against Maja Chiburdanidse given on pages 161-165. This training plan comprised a total of 190 meticulously planned days. Every day Xie Jun was to follow a strict regimen which included eight hours of chess-training and in which the rest periods were only geared towards being able to continue this kind of intensive training. No diversions, no meeting with friends or going to the movies. The effort paid off: Xie Jun won the match against her more experienced rival and became the first Chinese World Champion in Chess. Thus, the secret of the Chinese School of Chess if there is such a thing is very old and no secret at all. It spells "Work". Plus the fact that by pure chance among the more than one billion Chinese there should be a certain number of talented chess players, who with the help of state supported training centres can be discovered and developed.
All in all, the ideological part of Liu's Chinese School of Chess does not convince as much as Liu's engaging, enthusiastic and entertaining writing about chess. And though the reader at the end of the book still lacks a coherent theory of Chinese chess Liu offers a number of revealing insights about the way players work and train in the country that many consider to be the chess super power of the future.