The new CD Dvoretsky's Endgame Manual

by ChessBase
12/17/2003 – In this week's ChessBase Workshop, we take a peek at the contents of the new CD Dvoretsky's Endgame Manual and, more importantly, try to help you determine if this Manual is the right thing for you. Read more...

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previewed by Steve Lopez

Chess instructor Mark Dvoretsky has been something of a lightning rod for controversy for a long time. Lock a dozen chessplayers in a room together, mention Dvoretsky's books, and you're likely to hear a lively argument start up in no time. You'll see this happen frequently in Interrant chess message boards when the subject of chess books comes up. People either love or hate Dvoretsky's books; seemingly there's no middle ground.

Why the dichotomy? I think there are multiple reasons. First of all, Dvoretsky is writing for a different audience than, say, Bruce Pandolfini; Dvoretsky assumes that you've been around and around the "chess block" a few score times and a certain level of prior chess knowledge/understanding is a requirement when tackling the typical Dvoretsky offering. Second, Dvoretsky delights in challenging the reader. His books aren't what chess players often disparagingly describe as "fluff". Reading one of his books requires a certain amount of commitment and dedication on the part of the reader. It's serious stuff, it's occasionally slow going, and oftentimes you have to want to finish the material to be able to get through it all.

Many reviewers (both professional and amateur) use the chess rating system as a convenient yardstick for determining whether or not the potential reader is ready for a Mark Dvoretsky book; I've done this myself. But upon further reflection I don't think this is an accurate way to assess his work. Over a decade ago, back when I was a (very) small-time chess book retailer, I sold a Dvoretsky book to one of my friends who was rated around 1900 USCF. He came back to me a few weeks later and admitted that he'd given up on the book somewhere around Chapter Three -- he just couldn't make head nor tail of what the author was driving at. My friend was no slouch, either; he was a very bright and accomplished player with more than twenty years' experience in the game. He just couldn't seem to find the woods for the trees, at least as far as Dvoretsky's book was concerned. On the other hand, I've known players rated around 1600-1650 USCF who devour each of Dvoretsky's books with great delight and derive a world of benefit from them.

All of this is a preamble to my own preview of the new ChessBase CD Dvoretsky's Endgame Manual. It's hard enough to write a preview of an instructional CD (in fact, it's my least favorite thing to do as far as ChessBase Workshop columns are concerned) but this particular CD is made doubly difficult because of the scope of the CD, the reputation (both pro and con) of the author, and the fact that it's extremely hard to advise another player on whether or not he or she is ready for Dvoretsky. It's like trying to advise a friend on whether or not he should get married -- I mean, if it's the right gal he'll know.

Further complicating matters is Dvoretsky's own definition of what constitutes the "endgame", at least as far as Dvoretsky's Endgame Manual is concerned. In the words of the author:

My own formal definition of "endgame" is: the stage of a chess game when at least one side has no more than one piece (in addition to the king). Positions with more pieces are not discussed here (except for cases when the extra pieces are exchanged).

So right away we know that this isn't going to be your standard "how to mate with Bishop and Knight against lone King"-style book. You'll need to look elsewhere for that. Dvoretsky is going to take "simple" (as least in terms of quantity of material) endgames and dissect them in great detail. Also quoting from Dvoretsky's preface on the CD:

...the notes are definitely not laconic, after all, this is a manual, not a handbook. In a handbook, a solution of a position is all one needs; in a manual, it should be explained how one can discover the correct solution, which ideas are involved.

Here, again, we spot another major difference between Dvoretsky's Endgame Manual and many other endgame books/CDs: the author isn't interested in "rote learning". Instead of presenting you with "five easy steps" for winning a particular endgame, Dvoretsky's goal is to teach you how to think about an ending, which will allow you to work out the solutions to similar, although slightly different, problems in your own games.

I'll warn you up front: Dvoretsky's Endgame Manual is not "Become an Endgame Assassin in 15 Minutes". This CD requires -- no, demands -- a great deal of work on the part of the reader. It contains over 1,100 texts and positions and while the act of loading a particular game isn't going to strain your computer's memory due to excessive amounts of variations and commentary, none of this stuff is what I'd term "lightly-annotated" either. Dvoretsky packs a lot of punch into a moderate number of words and he's not going to coddle you. He's like my sophomore Philosophy professor, who essentially required that you keep up or be left behind.

Nervous? You should be, at least a little bit. Dvoretsky's Endgame Manual is not written for beginners, nor for the lazy. If you thought Jeremy Silman's book How to Reassess Your Chess was too demanding, then this CD is definitely not for you. But if you're stimulated by some intellectual challenge, then this CD will be right up your alley.

Let's have a look at the CD's structure. Dvoretsky has divided his Manual into thirteen chapters:

  • Chapter 1: PAWN ENDGAMES: Key Squares
  • Chapter 2: KNIGHT VS. PAWNS: King in the Corner
  • Chapter 3: KNIGHT ENDGAMES: The Deflecting Sacrifice
  • Chapter 4: BISHOP VS. PAWNS: The Elementary Fortresses
  • Chapter 6: BISHOPS OF THE SAME COLOR: Minimal Material
  • Chapter 7: BISHOP VS. KNIGHT
  • Chapter 8: ROOK VS. PAWNS
  • Chapter 9: ROOK ENDGAMES
  • Chapter 10: ROOK VS. KNIGHT
  • Chapter 11: ROOK vs. BISHOP
  • Chapter 12: QUEEN ENDGAMES
  • Chapter 13: QUEEN VS. ROOK
  • Chapter 16: BIBLIOGRAPHY

Each of these chapters is further subdivided into smaller sections based on theme. For example, here's a breakdown for Chapter One:

  • Corresponding Squares: Opposition
  • Mined Squares
  • Triangulation
  • Other Cases of Correspondence
  • King vs. Passed Pawns: The Rule of the Square
  • Réti’s Idea
  • The Floating Square
  • Three Connected Pawns
  • Queen vs. Pawns: Knight or Center Pawn
  • Rook or Bishop’s Pawn
  • Pawn Races
  • The Active King: Zugzwang
  • The King Routes: Zigzag
  • The Pendulum
  • Shouldering
  • Breakthrough
  • The Outside Passed Pawn
  • Two Rook's Pawns with an Extra Pawn on the Opposite Wing
  • The Protected Passed Pawn
  • Undermining
  • Two Connected Passed Pawns
  • Stalemate: The Stalemate Refuge
  • Reserve Tempi: Exploiting Reserve Tempi
  • Steinitz's Rule
  • The g- and h-Pawns vs. the h-Pawn
  • The f- and h-Pawns vs. the h-Pawn
  • Both Sides have Reserve Tempi

Each of these sections contains an explanatory text plus replayable (annotated) examples of that theme in action (approximately evenly divided between examples from actual games and contructed endgame "studies"). And you won't be blowing through these sections at lightning speed, either. I've already spent an evening on just the first three sections; you're not going to read text such as "Now let's examine the mechanism by which the stronger side can exploit the distant opposition. It is, in fact, quite simple, and consists of the conversion of the distant opposition into close opposition by means of outflanking. If outflanking is not possible, then possession of the distant opposition is worthless" as though you're reading the print on the back of a cereal box. (And while that quote might appear complex when given in the context of this preview, it's actually quite understandable when provided in the proper tutorial context on the CD).

That's the interesting thing about Dvoretsky's Endgame Manual: the conceptual material isn't at all difficult to grasp provided that you're willing to do a little bit of work to understand it. The ideas and principles discussed aren't terribly difficult or esoteric, but they're not easily distilled down into jingoistic "maxims" such as "A Knight on the rim is dim". Dvoretsky puts the meal on your plate, but he's not going to cut your meat for you or spoonfeed you the veggies. You have to be willing to occasionally push yourself to grasp the concepts (and then apply them, using the exercises that the author also provides on the disk).

Make no mistake, this is a major addition to the body of chess literature. Unlike, say, Fine's endgame book which consists of example after example after example of various endgames in action, Dvoretsky's Endgame Manual actually takes the trouble to explain the endgames to you, challenging you to learn how to think about them and then apply that process in your own games. If this CD was to appear as a print work, it would be hundreds of pages long -- and the really wild part is that the CD covers only endgames in which each side has one piece maximum (along with multiple pawns, of course).

While this CD is definitely not "Become An Endgame Killer in a Single Evening", it will give you the tools you need to become a major monster in the endgame, that is, if you're game enough to put forth some extra effort to learn how to use those tools.

So is Dvoretsky's Endgame Manual a general CD for everyone? No way. And it's certainly not aimed at beginners. But it's not just for "strong players" either. Any player of intermediate level who's willing to do a little extra "skull sweat" can profit immensely by learning, understanding, and using the concepts taught on this CD.

The gauntlet has been thrown down. It's time for you to do a little bit of soul searching to determine if you're ready for the "next level". If you're starting to find the average run of the mill chess book a bit unsatisfying, if you've reached a plateau at which most chess books don't teach you very much, you're probably ready for Dvoretsky's Endgame Manual. This is not to say that other chess books have limited value. My point is that I can't advise you as to whether or not you're ready for this CD -- only you can make that determination. If you're ready for a bit of a challenge which will pay you dividends if you can rise to it, then you should definitely consider adding Dvoretsky's Endgame Manual to your arsenal of training tools. Just be prepared for some work, not only in effort but in time. There's a lot of information on this CD and it's going to take a considerable time investment to devour all of the material. But it'll be time well spent -- you'll realize this after you start racking up the points on the tournament wall chart.

Until next week, have fun!

© 2003, Steven A. Lopez. All rights reserved.

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