A review of Chess Training Pocket Book II by Lev Alburt and Al Lawrence

Reviewed by P.P.O. Kane

Chess Training Pocket Book II
By Lev Alburt and Al Lawrence
Chess Information and Research Center / W.W. Norton
ISBN-13: 978-1889323176, Oct 2008, Paperback: 192 pages

On the face of it, this is simply a book of puzzles, of the ‘White to play and win’ variety. However, there is more to it than that.

The first chapter is ‘Getting the most from this book’ and it contains advice on ‘how to think’ (cognitive skills), an outline of various training methods and some useful pointers about chess improvement in general. There is some excellent advice about how to approach books of this kind, which is worth quoting in full:

Treat every diagram as a position in your ongoing game, not as a “problem”. Look – as in a real game – for the move to make, not for a “solution” to find. Don’t try to guess the authors’ intent. Never say “I can’t find it”, there is no “it” – but there is a move you must make.

Chapter Two is entitled ‘Tactics: the dirty dozen’ and is simply a recap of the twelve most common tactical themes and devices (pin, skewer, decoy, etc.).

The third chapter is the heart of the book, and it contains 320 key positions where you are required to find the best move. Earlier, the authors had made the point that these positions contain ‘essential’ or crucial information, ideas that crop up in practice more frequently than others. And although tactics and attack predominate, there is a good variety: endings and late opening positions, as well as positions from the middle game; technical positions where the task is to find the most efficient win; some positions that require a strategic approach. The positions vary in difficulty and are all mixed in together, not organized by theme, which is a good thing, for you do not know what problems will arise in an actual game.

Here is a position from the book, a very pretty study by Heieker:

If 1.h7 e4, taking control of the queening square, draws. So White must try to deflect the … Bd4 from the a1-h8 diagonal. 1.Ba7! Ba1 (or 1 … Bc3 2.Kc2) 2.Kb1 Bc3 3.Kc2 Ba1 Thus far, not much cop; despite White’s efforts, the Black bishop still holds sway over the long diagonal. But White has achieved one thing, at least: his king has advanced one square closer to the centre. Now comes a startling, star move, the silliest one on the board. 4.Bd4!! Bxd4 If 4 … exd4 5.Kd3, blockading the d-pawn, and the h-pawn will march on unimpeded. 5.Kd3 and White wins after 5 … e4+ 6.Kxd4! (a piece does not control the square on which it stands!) or 5 … Ba1 6.Ke4 (again with a blockade) or 5 … Kg5 6.h7. Quite elegant.

At the end, there is – as well as an index of games – an index of themes and ideas, which is very useful if you wish to use the book as a source of teaching materials. Finally, the design of the book is attractive to the eye: the mix of black and blue type; the layout of the diagrams: four per page, with solutions on the page facing; the use of text boxes for pull quotes and take-home messages. Altogether, this creates a good impression, as does the book’s compactness.

The position on the cover, by the way, is taken from the beautiful game Bisguier-Larsen, Zagreb 1965. Lev is about to play the move 17.Rxf6.

Chess Training Pocket Book II is an excellent tool for chess improvement, and is highly recommended.

About the reviewer: P.P.O. Kane lives and works in Manchester, England. He welcomes responses to his reviews and you can reach him at ludic@europe.com