My favourite chess book

by Sagar Shah
2/8/2017 – What's your favourite book of chess? This question is asked many a time, and every chess player has a book that is close to his heart. Usually it's a book that one has read in childhood and has ignited the love for the game. In case of IM Sagar Shah it was a book by Irving Chernev. In this article he speaks about what he loved about the book and also annotates his favourite game, which, to be frank, is some sort of a fairy tale!

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When I was a 12-year-old boy learning about chess, (let's say my strength would be around 1700 by current standards) a wonderful thing happened to me. My cousins in the USA sent a chess book to me. It was called the "62 most instructive games of chess ever played" by Irving Chernev.

When someone asks me the question: "Sagar, what's your favourite book on chess?" I close my eyes and try to remember all the books I have read. And I have to say, the first book that flashes in front of my eyes is 62 Most Instructive Games of Chess!

The book that was sent by my cousin had become my best companion for a month! I would sit inside a room, locked in solace, carefully opening a page of this book and make the moves on the chessboard. The annotations were not as in-depth as Dvoretsky's nor were they as humorous as Aagaard's. But there was something about this book which attracted me! It was the introduction to each game, the perfectly selected masterpieces and the wonderful words used by the author! Though Chernev was only National Master strength, his books are so well written that I would recommend them to anyone taking their first steps in the game of chess. Oh, I fell in love with each of the games in the book! I have replayed these 62 gems again and again and I still find them so beautiful, even until this date! I salute the author, Irving Chernev, for this wonderful work and I take the opportunity to bring towards you my favourite game of the book, which I have annotated! It's game number 19. Not the most accurate of games, but very beautiful!

The See Saw check, Zugzwang and other Tactical motifs

Kupferstich - Andreassen [C27]

Denmark 1953

This is what Irving Chernev has to say in his introduction: "Wonderful things go on in this game! There is a series of see saw checks that is remarkable, an imprisonment of king and rook that is unique, and a threat of mate requiring at least ten moves to execute, yet so clear cut a child could carry it out. Question: Does this game played so brilliantly come under the heading of entertainment or instruction?"

I would like to add a few things to this: This game sort of made me realize how beautiful chess was! I had previously seen devastating attacks by Morphy. There were the immortal games and the evergreen games, but somehow this one catches my fancy even today. I don't quite know what it is that attracts me to this game. I think it’s just the clarity of the combination. When it is played we are all left in a state of shock and surprise, but the beauty of the combination is such that once it is on the board, you understand its power in an instant. I think such clarity translates into chess beauty for me! A perfect game to illustrate the maxim: Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication!

[Event "Denmark"] [Site "?"] [Date "1953.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White " Kupferstich"] [Black "Andreassen"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "C27"] [Annotator "Sagar,Shah"] [PlyCount "67"] [SourceDate "2017.02.04"] [SourceVersionDate "2017.02.04"] 1. e4 e5 2. Nc3 Nf6 3. Bc4 Nxe4 {Lets not talk too much about the opening. I am no big expert. But suffice it to say that the game becomes interesting right from move no.3.} 4. Qh5 $5 {this attacks the e5 pawn and threatens mate on f7. Black has only one logical move now.} (4. Nxe4 d5 {is just what Black wants.}) 4... Nd6 (4... Ng5 5. d4 {is too powerful for white.}) 5. Bb3 Nc6 ( 5... Be7 {is the safe way to play here. Quickly castle it out and gain a good position.} 6. Qxe5 O-O $11) 6. Nb5 $1 {The tactics are ripe even though both sides are not fully developed. Now the main issue is that the queen on d8 cannot leave because of the c7 weakness. Black has the only move now g6.} g6 7. Qf3 {White continues creating the threats.} Nf5 (7... f5 8. Qd5 Qf6 9. Nxc7+ Kd8 10. Nxa8 b6 {The computer is not too enthusiastic about Black's chances here but the second player has more space and better development. It can well be that his attack can assume dangerous proportions. Alekhine believes that black has good chances and I do not want to argue with the best in the business! in fact 50 games have reached this position and black isn't doing so badly.}) 8. Qd5 (8. g4 {could have been strong.} Nh6 9. g5 Nf5 10. Qd5 Qe7 11. Nxc7+ Kd8 12. Nxa8 b6 {is similar to previous variation. Black has some attacking chances.}) 8... Nh6 9. d4 {the threat is Bh6 followed by taking on f7. You can see how each move is a threat.} d6 {in order to meet Bh6 with Be6.} 10. Bxh6 Be6 11. Qf3 Bxb3 (11... Bxh6 {was no good because of} 12. d5 $18) 12. Bxf8 Ba4 13. Bg7 Rg8 {maybe a mistake.} ({Accurate would have been} 13... Bxb5 14. Bxh8 Nxd4 15. Qc3 Qg5 {when its black who has the initiative inspite of being an entire rook down. g2 is attacked and 0-0-0 is coming up.}) 14. Bf6 Qd7 15. Na3 $2 {A bad move conceding the initiative.} ({Better was to simply play} 15. O-O-O Bxb5 16. dxe5 $16) 15... Nxd4 16. Qh3 {White rushes to exchange queens before Black's initiative assumes dangerous proportions.} Qxh3 17. Nxh3 Nxc2+ (17... g5 {could have been an interesting choice but it's not so easy to find.} 18. Nxg5 (18. Bxg5 Bxc2 $14) 18... Rg6 $14) 18. Nxc2 Bxc2 19. Rc1 Be4 20. Ng5 $6 (20. Rxc7 Bxg2 21. Ng5 {was the right way to reach the game position.}) 20... Bxg2 (20... Bc6 {would have kept White's advantage under control.}) 21. Rxc7 $3 {A pretty rook sacrifice.} (21. Rg1 Bc6 22. Nxh7 Kd7 $16 {Black is hanging on.}) 21... Bxh1 22. Nxf7 (22. Re7+ {When I gave this position to my students, instead of the game continuation, they chose this move and I was sort of surprised that there was absolutely no refutation!} Kd8 (22... Kf8 23. Nxh7#) 23. Nxf7+ Kc8 24. Nxd6+ Kb8 25. Bxe5 $1 {Black is defenseless.} a6 26. Nb5+ Kc8 27. Rc7+ Kd8 28. Bf6+ Ke8 29. Nd6+ Kf8 30. Rf7# { What a beautiful variation!}) 22... Bd5 23. Nxd6+ Kf8 24. Bg5 $1 {I like this move! Now Bh6 is threatened.} Rh8 {Black goes passive and tries to cling onto his material advantage. This gives us a beautiful picture in the end.} ({ He had to give up his entire rook with} 24... Rg7 25. Bh6 {But even this will end the game soon.}) 25. Bh6+ Kg8 26. Rg7+ Kf8 27. Rc7+ (27. Rxb7+ Kg8 28. Rg7+ Kf8 29. Rxa7+ Kg8 30. Rg7+ Kf8 31. Rd7+ Kg8 32. Re7 Bc6 33. Rg7+ Kf8 34. Rc7+ Kg8 35. Rxc6 {was the cleanest way to win according to the computer, but how on earth will computer ever understand the concept of aesthetic beauty!}) 27... Kg8 28. Nc8 {maybe not the most accurate move. He could have done what he wanted to do in the game right away but let me not spill the beans!} Bc6 29. Rg7+ Kf8 30. Rxb7+ Kg8 (30... Ke8 31. Nd6+ Kd8 32. Bg5#) 31. Rg7+ Kf8 32. Rxa7+ Kg8 33. Rxa8 $3 Bxa8 34. Nd6 $3 {What a final position!} 1-0

Position after 34.Nd6!!

Just the most brilliant concept ever! Both the white pieces box in the black king. As the king cannot move, the rook on h8 cannot move either, and hence only the bishop can keep moving. And look at the further beauty! The white pieces are on dark squares, hence the bishop cannot disturb them! Meanwhile the white king goes from d2-c3-b4-c5-b6-c7-d8-e7 and then with Ne8 or Ne4 he gives a mate on f6. Some might say the black bishop is useless. Yes he is useless for Black, but for White he is a huge asset. Without him it would be stalemate if Black gives up his pawns! This last position made such an impression on my 12-year-old mind that I immediately fell in love with this royal game!

The article was originally published on 4th February 2014 on Sagar's personal blog - Sagar Teaches Chess.

Topics: books

Sagar Shah is an International Master from India with two GM norms. He is also a chartered accountant. He loves to cover chess tournaments, as that helps him understand and improve at the game he loves so much. He and is the co-founder and CEO of ChessBase India website, the biggest news outlet in the country related to chess.
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Peter B Peter B 2/12/2017 11:28
I really learned a lot from "Simple Chess" by Michael Stean.
pcuneo pcuneo 2/10/2017 12:22
Masters of the Chess Board - Reti
Sookhteh Sookhteh 2/9/2017 11:57
Positional play/mark Dvoretsky
Rational Rational 2/9/2017 08:31
@PEB216. Evans vs Opsahl. Symphony of Heavenly Length is its title in the book.
Jorge Shinozaki Jorge Shinozaki 2/9/2017 03:07
I love Chernev's books too and have found memories of "Winning Chess" and "Logical Chess Move by Move."
His "1000 Best Short Games of Chess" is also great.
I have many chess books including "My System", "My 60 Memorable Games", "The Life and Games of Mikhail", "The Test of Time", Silman's books, etc.
But my favorite one is Alburt's "Chess Training Pocket Book: 300 Most Important Positions and Ideas" because, in my opinion, it's the most instructive and entertaining chess book ever.
Other books I like are "100 Soviet Chess Miniatures", "Tactics of Endgames" by Jeno Ban, "Nezhmetdnov's Best Games of Chess", "Blunders and Brilliancies" by Mullen/Moss and "The Art of Combination" by Maxim Blokh.
PEB216 PEB216 2/9/2017 02:41
The most interesting chess book that I ever read was Raymond M. Smullyan's "Chess Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes." Smullyan took a topic that I had no interest in whatsoever, retrograde analysis, and presented it in such a fascinating format that I spent all night reading his book.

My favorite chess book is "Chess Secrets" by Edward Lasker (b. Dec. 3, 1885; d. March 25, 1981). This book includes reminiscences of some of the great chess players of the past (Kurt von Bardeleben, Siegbert Tarrasch, Emanuel Lasker, Ossip S. Bernstein, Jose Raul Capablanca, Akiba Rubinstein, just to name a few), thirty-two drawings by Kenneth Stubbs, and, of course, 77 games by Lasker and various other chess players. You not only learned a great deal from this book, but you were entertained in the process. This book was a true classic.

Finally, the game that impressed me the most from Irving Chernev's "The Most Instructive Games of Chess Ever Played," was the very last game in his book: Larry Evans vs. Haakon Opsahl (Dubrovnik 1950). A model game for anyone learning the Minority Attack.
Rational Rational 2/9/2017 02:32
Yes, Sagar I really love this book too. I like the title of the games, like Weak Pawns, Weak Squares and Mighty Knights for the Game Mattisons vs Nimzovich. In 60 Memorable Games the games get cool titles too like ' when the Maroczy Didn't Bind'
Would like to see this in other games collections.
sharkbite sharkbite 2/9/2017 12:20
My favorite was "How Karpov Wins" by Edmar Mednis.
GM11061969 GM11061969 2/9/2017 06:22
Frankenstein Dracula variation; 7...Nf5 looks very unusual. I like Van Perlo's "Endgame Tactics".
Magnus- I am your father Magnus- I am your father 2/9/2017 05:44
Irving David is best writer of history books.
johan1234 johan1234 2/9/2017 05:34
Nice article
imdvb_8793 imdvb_8793 2/9/2017 01:38
This really is an amazing game! (And one I'd never seen before...)
DoctorMove DoctorMove 2/8/2017 08:58
I played through this game from Irving Chernevs's great book sometime in the 1970's. I've never forgotten this game and have revisited from time to time for my personal pleasure and to shared its magic with others.

I remember the amazement I felt when I first realized that Black was powerless to stop the inexorable march of the white king up the board and checkmate with the knight. Chess is a beautiful game.

Thank you Mr. Sagar Shah for sharing your enthusiasm for Irving Chernev's great book and this immortal game!
MichaelCiamarra MichaelCiamarra 2/8/2017 06:55
I enjoyed this post and memories of the past! At his best, Irving Chernev was very gifted at explaining key concepts in simple, concise language for those learning the game. Chernev’s books are filled with almost unbridled enthusiasm for the game or position he would be annotating. You feel his great joy for chess and the respect he gave to all chess players regardless of their strength. His other classic, “Logical Chess: Move By Move” has been converted to standard notation from the original English descriptive notation and is widely available. US Chess master Jude Acers, who promoted this book on his nationwide tours years ago, considered this work one of the greatest in all of chess literature for a beginning player. Chernev also wrote a column in the 1930s introducing the general American chess playing public to a variety of endgame studies. To a large degree, Chernev introduced a whole generation of American players to the practical value and beauty of endgame studies. Thank you for this post and remembering Irving Chernev!
Papko Papko 2/8/2017 06:31
Really enjoyed that article and the game, more so because my introduction to Chess , was also a book by Chernev:"logical Chess move by move".
huzar huzar 2/8/2017 04:57
My favourite chess book is Manual dvoretzki.