John Nunn: Winning Quickly at Chess

1/20/2009 – Most chess books are full of analysis, lengthy postmortems of games that attempt to extract ultimate truth. Here is one that at first sight seems rather "skeletorial". The author includes only short grandmaster games – 25 moves or less – with short comments and just a few important variations. But as John Lee Shaw discovered, there is a clever instruction purpose behind this method. Book review.

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John Nunn: Winning Quickly at Chess

Review by John Lee Shaw

When I embark upon the review of a chess book, I always try to do so with great humility and respect. This goes without saying. But when I pick up a book written by John Nunn, I feel this even more strongly. I have had the pleasure of reading a good number of his books, and studied his games, and it is impossible to miss the fact that he knows his stuff when it comes to our wonderful game, and has contributed much towards its heritage.

I saw John at the Corus Chess Tournament in January 2008, and had the pleasure of talking to him – the first time actually that I had met him in person, and I very much enjoyed it. I took the opportunity of mentioning his Winning Quickly at Chess book, which is an expanded version of his 101 Chess Miniatures. I have had this book for quite a while, and I was honest with John: 'I am not actually sure how to review it.' John gave me an intrigued look, while I searched for the correct way to explain myself, and hopefully avoid being put on the Gambit Books blacklist.

The issue that I had with this book (which I must stress is not a flaw with regard to the book itself in any way, but is actually a very clever instructional device as will be explained) was that it consists of short Grandmaster games, of 25 moves or less. Nothing wrong there of course (unless you are the loser) but John's way of analysing them, upon first glance, seems very skeletorial. He gives comments, observations, a few important variations, but there is no lengthy post-mortem of the game like we see in many books. And this gave me some trouble with an approach for a review at first.

However, when talking to John, and when reading and re-reading through the introduction to the book, clarity began to set in. John explained that the purpose of the book was to draw the readers attention to the common causes of quick losses in chess. This is spelled out within the first pages of the book, and as far as I can see, once and once only. "I did not want to say the same thing over and over again," John told me. From there, the short games and note-like style of analysis, are ideal in helping the reader spot such serious errors, and to understand how to capitalise. Rather than bombarding the reader with tons of information that he or she does not need, John sticks to the task at hand, and just focuses on the point of the exercise.

And the point is as follows: Once a player can identify and become familiar with such common causes of quick losses/wins in chess, he or she can (1) decrease the likelihood of committing them; and equally as important, (2) more competently take advantage should an opponent commit them. Simply put, there is actually no one who can not benefit from reading this book, be it the player who is losing games quickly, the player who is failing to win games even though they know their opponent played badly, or the player who just simply wants to technically improve his or her game and iron out a few wrinkles.

The book is made up of over 250 pages, and contains 125 games, all of which see a Grandmaster commit a serious error and be punished. Tal-Uhlmann, Spassky-Larsen, Timman-Korchnoi, Kasparov-Gelfand, Fischer-Spassky, Adams-Tiviakov, the list of top names goes on. Giving comfort and encouragement to the 'ordinary' player, that such masters can also commit chess uglinesses, Nunn exhibits them and their comeuppance.

As much a master in writing as he is in the game itself, John artfully aims to light a spark in the mind of the reader, one that will help improve your game, rid you of a few bad habits, help spot a few of your opponents' and illustrate the correct way to take advantage. It is a book not just to buy and flick through, but to buy with the intention to read from cover to cover. As with any literary gem, to skip any page is to do an injustice not only to the author, but also to oneself for having had the good sense of buying it in the first place.

John Nunn: Grandmaster Secrets: Winning Quickly at Chess
Paperback, 255 pages, Gambit Publications (March 18, 2008), English
ISBN-10: 1904600891, ISBN-13: 978-1904600893


John Lee Shaw (not to be confused with the Scottish IM John Shaw) is English, and first discovered chess at school. At the time, it proved useful in saving him from having to go outside during breaks – especially if they were wet ones! It was not until several years later, during the Kasparov vs Short World Chess Championship of 1993, that he re-discovered the game, which has been a great passion of his ever since. An experienced player, having competed regularly at club and tournament level, John re-located to Holland from the UK in 2005. Since then, time for serious study and competition lacking, he has found that writing about chess can prove equally as enjoyable as actually playing it ... or almost!

 



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