Tuesday, 27 April 2021



Welcome to my Chess Book Reviews blog. 

I hope you enjoy it and that it proves useful if you are deciding to by chess books.

It has been said that books are the most loyal and trusted friends that you can ever have and in this world of iPads, kindles and other electronic formats I still want to be one of the people giving a 'shout-out' for hard copy chess books. In this technological age it has never been easier to access chess online, at the click of a mouse, and this has affected book consumption.  

Chess books are an important aspect of a chess players lives. They serve as an educational and developmental tool, as well as illustrating history and culture. Some people own one or several books, whereas others have large collections assembled over a lifetime. 

Truly then, I believe in the value of hard copy chess books. Unlike electronic books, they don't lose their charge, they can be read in the sunshine, they don't hurt your eyes from watching screens and even better - they can be autographed to add to their value as a treasured keepsake. 

I want to be clear about my objective for this blog site.

I am blogging simply as an amateur chess player. I am a club and county player, former County Chess Champion (Shropshire) and I have proudly represented and indeed been Captain of my country (UK) in the NATO Chess Championships, but I remain like many of us, just an ordinary player with a lifelong passion for the game.

My reviews are written for the people who are most likely to purchase chess books. That is to say beginners, intermediate and strong players up to county level, but I am sure that even stronger players might enjoy or in some way benefit from digesting my reviews. This is a not for profit blog but reviewing chess books is something that I enjoy.

Reviewing a chess book isn't as easy as one may think. It requires a certain skill-set and I am learning all the time. One has to be impartial and objective but also not be afraid to have a personal opinion and I will not shirk from criticizing if I feel it is warranted. There should be a standard process for the task of reviewing and it can take me a while - but that is because I will actually read the book. Too many people merely flick through and I have seen some truly woeful reviews consisting literally of a couple of lines. I want to try to get into the head of the author. I want to do the best I can to explain to the reader of this blog what each book is really about and the impact it had on me personally, so that they can make up their own mind about owning a copy. 

It is as subjective as art or music, but I hope my reviews are a good starting point for people. Naturally, individuals will have their own views and opinions about the same books. I am sanguine about that...but these views are mine and mine alone. Sometimes I may use humour to make a point (how dare I?) which is not everyone's style but there we are, that's life. It is not in the scope of this blog site to enter into debates. Feel free to make your own mind up. 

For the record I have several of my own favourite chess books from the past including 'The Sorcerer's Apprentice' by David Bronstein and Tom Fürstenberg. If you can still find it, then snap it up immediately. My most prized book is a signed copy of Anatoly Karpov's memoirs which he autographed when I played him in Chartres, France in a simul in 2019. 

As I say, you cannot autograph an iPad!

Without further ado then, let's put one foot forward and see where the journey takes us. Thanks for stopping by.


Carl Portman (Author: Chess Behind Bars)







Monday, 26 April 2021

Magnus Carlsen's most instructive games




most instructive games

Martyn Kravtsiv

Martyn Kravtsiv 

Magnus Carlsen's most instructive games

1st edition (softcover, 176 Pages) £16.99

Also available as an e-book and an app-book





A reviewer should above all be honest, so brace yourself. I am not a Magnus Carlsen fan! It is quite true that he is arguably the greatest chess player in history, and he is an awesome champion. I admire his character, his ability to turn technical draws into wins, and his willingness to try out new ideas in the openings. His will to win even in supposedly dead drawn positions is almost the stuff of legend. I get it, he is brilliant. I just don’t get that excited feeling listening to him, but that is not in any way his fault. He has forgotten more about chess during one bath time than I ever knew, I am sure, and he has defended his title and stayed at the top for years. Kudos to the young man.

That said, the likes of Anatoly Karpov and Mikhail Tal have hitherto provided the mental nutrition I require to enjoy and hopefully improve my game. Perhaps it is a generational thing, yet I am not a dinosaur and I do appreciate that through my own omissions I have failed to benefit from playing through many of Magnus’s games. When I do study, I might scrutinise the swashbuckling games of Alexander Alekhine, Garry Kasparov or Judit Polgar. Yet Magnus is about much more than attack, and I know this. He is a tremendously resourceful player in defence and through his games, many chess themes become evident. I really should pay more attention to him.

Now, with the timely publication of this book (Magnus defends his title later this year) it is the perfect opportunity to get to know the world champion a little better through his games. He does not annotate them himself, this is done via the author, Martyn Kravtsiv, and I do have to remark that this is a brave thing to do. I mean, what would Carlsen make of it? Has he seen it? Does he think it is good, bad or indifferent? I have no idea. All the reader can do is put in the hard yards and see what happens.

What is this this book about? Let me answer that by first telling you what it is not about. This is not a collection of Magnus Carlsen’s best games, and this should be made clear. The clue is in the title; they are instructive games. There are four main chapters comprising opening, middlegame, endgame and ‘human factor’ themes. Studying such critical themes through the games of a world champion is of course a treat, but the question is, who is the book aimed at, and will the games at such an elite level simply fly over the top of the craniums of most amateur players? Well, it shouldn’t if the book is written well.

In these uncertain times when many books contain so many blitz games because of the Covid-19 pandemic it is a delight to learn that there is only one blitz game amongst the forty-two in the book. What a blessed relief. I believe that whilst such blitz encounters are entertaining, the highest quality is reserved for classical games. There are quickplay games in the book, but that’s quite acceptable to me.

In each game, there is a ‘Magnus Moment’ and the author indicates this in bold at the bottom of a diagram, so that the reader might elect to cover the page and have a go themselves. Can you get into Magnus’s head? It’s all rather good fun.

Mr. Kravtsiv provides a brief at the end of each game entitled ‘What can we learn from the game?’ This is a good learning tool and it offers important food for thought for the reader. I wondered how my own conclusions might – or might not – have concurred with his.

I should comment that much emphasis is placed on the middlegame, and the difficult task of trying to obtain an advantage or initiative in that part of the battle. Unlike many games collection books, this is not set out chronologically. Rather, the games sit under many recognized themes in the books such as development, king position, sacrifice, activity, blockade, bishop pair, counter-attack, defence, harmony and pawn play to name but a few. In this way the games are instructive not simply because Carlsen played them, but the groupings facilitate the digestion (and hopefully inculcation) behind the moves. This is the key to effective learning and I wholeheartedly approve.

I was pleased to find an index of players and openings. I was particularly interested to see that Wesley So features most often as Carlsen’s opponent and the Sicilian, Ruy Lopez and Reti are the most frequent openings. I usually like to see some photographs (even if black and white) in a book of games collections but the absence of any here does not diminish the enjoyment, and we know what Magnus looks like after all. I was too busy immersing myself in the text to look for photographs to be honest. The diagrams and text are of the high standard that I would expect from this publisher. I like the author’s writing style and Graham Burgess has done a marvellous job of translating the work.

I always bang on about having a couple of blank pages at the end of a book so that I might jot down some notes, and I feel duty bound to do so again here. My books are becoming filled with paper inserts with scribbled notes, and I would rather just annotate at the back of the book itself. I shall now provide just one example from the book. This is found in the section about endgame play and covers the controversial subject of opposite-coloured bishops. Too many amateurs (and I include myself here) tend to agree draws far too easily in such endgames, but should we? If it really is a draw, why not play on and try to find ‘the truth’ so to speak?

The light comments are my own.

Carlsen,Magnus - Lopez,Salgado St Petersburg, 2018 


1.d5–d6! White wants to relocate the bishop to d5, where it will be a very strong and influential piece. Magnus wants to generate activity. Being passive is not going to bring home the full point. This is still a very tricky position, and opposite-coloured bishops is an ending that often appears on our own chessboards.

1...e7xd6 Black’s pawn structure is shattered 2.a1–a7 2.g2–d5 is possible also.

2...b8–c8?! This is an error, 2...g7–h6! 3.f2–f4 b8–e8 4.g2–d5 e8–e5! Wow.

3.c1xc8 f8xc8 4.g2–d5 


Look at the landscape now. The key issues here are pawn structure and activity.

The White bishop has twelve squares to move to, whereas Black’s prelate only has five. Increase your own scope, decrease your opponent’. Easy, right? White should be able to pick up Black's weak pawns almost at will. Also, if Black's b-pawn is destroyed then the white pawn on b4 should be a runner.

4...f5–f4 5.g3xf4 g7–h6 6.a7xf7 c8–c3 7.f4–f5 Black resigned here. Why?

7...c3xd3 8.f5–f6 g8–h8 9.f7–e7 White will mate in a few moves. Work it out on a board for yourself.  1–0

This is but one example from the forty-two games. (Why 42 I wonder?) The diligent  student will learn from this book, and with over the board chess due to return in the near future (terms and conditions apply!) there will be ample opportunity to try out any new skills. Knowledge is not power. Knowledge is potential power – it only comes to life when it is put to the test.

What can we learn from the game above? The author says that we should not rely too heavily on the drawish reputation of the opposite-coloured bishop ending. This is especially so if the attacker has an active rook, or the defender’s bishop is restricted by its own pawns. We are also reminded that endgames are primarily a battle to promote pawns, so pay attention to pawn structures. This is all sound advice.

In the final chapter on human factors, the author states that ‘No matter how well a person plays chess, he is still a human being, and not a soulless machine.’ This is quite true. Magnus has a reputation for applying his machine-like calculation and this book does bring some sort of character to the man with clear explanations and examples of play. I shall pay more attention in future.

In his introduction, the author states that the primary aim of the book is to introduce readers to major chess themes and ideas. There is no doubt in my own mind that he achieves this, and that players of all levels will benefit from this book.

I am a fan of the way this book is presented using instructive moments from the games of a great player. I do hope that there is much more of this style to come in the future. The very best annotations would of course be made by the actual players themselves, but failing this, one needs someone with the playing strength and communicative skills to hold our hand and bring a game to life. Kravtsiv achieves this and I hope to read more of his work in future.

The author, Martyn Kravtsiv is a GM from the Ukraine. He was the coach for the team that won the silver medals at the 2016 Olympiad. He also represented his country at the 2017 World Team Championship.

John Nunn (who says he learned a great deal from playing over the games in the book) gives a short video about the book online here:



Thursday, 18 March 2021

Win with the Caro-Kann




Sverre Johnsen and Torbjørn Ringdal Hansen

Sverre Johnsen and Torbjørn Ringdal Hansen 

Win with the Caro-Kann

1st edition (softcover, 240 Pages) £18.99

Also available as an e-book and an app-book





Let me me perfectly clear. I do not play the Caro-Kann opening. I rarely have. This means that I am either the wrong person to review this book because I don’t know it in any depth, or the right person because it is an opportunity to learn something new. Whatever the case I admit that I have been thinking about adding a new opening to my repertoire and the Caro-Kann was one of those candidates. Therefore, this book has arrived at a very convenient time. Bring it on.

Chess openings are like marmite. We love ‘em or we loathe ‘em. There are French Defence aficionados and Ruy Lopez aficionados. Even amongst masters, the Caro-Kann provides a fascinating discussion point. On the one hand, we hear that it is a good opening but a bit boring at times, whilst others will say it is rich in possibilities. When I was a kid, it was Anatoly Karpov who played it so I guess it couldn’t ever have been bad but the question was always ‘why’ did he play it?

This book doesn’t cover every angle in the Caro-Kann (what tome ever could?) but we have the crucial main line theory with 4…Bf4 and 5…exf6 systems. Against the advanced variation there is the very topical 3…c5 (championed by GM Keith Arkell) and …g6 is played against the annoying Panov-Botvinnik attack. There is plenty of meat to feast on then.

There are five chapters, each containing several lessons and the final chapter does cover some deviations including the interesting ‘fantasy variation’ which the authors call Maroczy’s variation. They also look at the Steiner Variation (2.c4) which can be a very tricky customer if you don’t know it. I was delighted to see that it also covered Goldman’s 3.Qf3 for White, which I play often online. I am sad to see the authors describe it as ‘not such a good move, although it has been played by some strong players.’ They are very probably right of course, but this opening once appeared in a book called ‘New ideas in old settings’ and it is a very useful surprise weapon to learn, in my personal view.  Looking further, you can even find ‘The Hillbilly Attack’ here which goes 1.e4 c6 2.Bc4 d5 3.Bb3 dxe4 4.Qh5 which is all rather mad but surely great fun.

I was hoping to find something specific about a certain line in the book – but as with other books on the Caro-Kann it does not feature. Unless I have missed it, the ‘Gurgenidze Variation’ is not covered in the early deviations section. I want to learn more about that variation which goes 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 g6.

One interesting aspect of this book is the use of ‘Theory Magnifiers’. These are listed at the end of each of the 30 lessons, so as not to clutter the book and add supplementary detail to the text. They basically point you to the pages you need to go to for specific lines to save you flipping through.

What better way to show that you have actually read a book that you are reviewing than by playing one of the lines from it in an actual serous match. I used one opening line in a league game on lichess the Korchnoi Variation, which is actually the Tartakower Variation. It goes 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 de 4.Nxe4 Nf6 5.Nxf6 ef. See diagram below.


Coincidentally, this is the variation that Nunn chooses on the video and it leads to some very interesting play. As with all openings, it helps to know what pieces go where and what pawn structure to aim for.

A little further into my game at move 15, we arrived at this position.

Bear in mind that I had only looked at this opening in the afternoon, and it was new to me, or at least the main ideas were. But I am really happy that at my first attempt the pieces and pawns are roughly where they should be. That pawn on h5 is important. The knight on f8 is also.  There is much more to learn about the nuances of this position – and this opening line - but that’s what time, study and practice will allow for. I should not have my pawn on b6, for example. I will know that next time. Should I ever push the pawn on to h4 is another question. Further, is …g6 safe and when should I play it?

The game ended as a draw and I gained a few rating points, so thanks to the authors for that.

Of course, this is only one variation from the book. There are plenty more and we know that it depends upon what lines White chooses also. On the third move he/she might play an advanced variation or something else and I will need to be clear about what I want to play when that inevitably occurs. This book will provide that knowledge.

By way of balance, I would make a couple of comments. These are personal preferences, but I believe they are relevant. I would have liked an index of player names at the end. That’s usually a pre-requisite these days. Also, I still like books that have a couple of blank pages at the end to make reference notes.

As ever with new releases from Gambit, you can watch a short video by GM John Nunn, about the book. I find that these videos whet my appetite, and they are extremely instructive.

You can watch the YouTube video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6K0zg1b5ETU

It might seem an odd thing to mention, but I really like the cover design and concept. It evokes a feeling of getting away from the rat-race into a log-cabin somewhere with food, drink, a chess set and the solitude required to improve. On the subject of improving, I am of no doubt that the diligent, disciplined reader will do so after absorbing all or even some of this work. I know that I certainly have already. I actually feel much more confident about playing 1…c6 now. It has done what a good chess book should – give me the motivation to investigate further.

It also demonstrates the richness of our game. You can play chess for decades, as I have, and then suddenly something new and interesting arrives to pull you back into the depths of the ocean of chess once again. I love it.


The Caro-Kann is a rare beast among chess openings. While respected as a sound and safe way to start the game, it also avoids symmetry or simplification. This allows Black many ways to keep the game unbalanced and play for a win.

Two Norwegian opening experts provide a set of options that take full advantage of this flexibility. In the main line, you are given a choice between the 4...Bf5 and the 5...exf6 systems – but both strictly in their modern dynamic forms! In the latter, Hansen is a world-leading authority, with a wealth of experience to explain the typical mistakes White makes when facing this deceptively tricky line. By studying his material, you will be well ahead of the game in this rapidly-evolving system. For instance, the critical improvements over the Duda-Carlsen game in 2020 were already in Hansen’s files from two years earlier.

The other recommended systems for Black are also aggressive and very much the ‘21st-century Caro-Kann’. It’s 3...c5 against the Advance, in which Hansen is also an outstanding specialist. The Panov Attack is answered with ...g6 lines – strategically ideal, and nowadays backed up by amazing modern computer analysis. Against the Two Knights, we are offered an ...exf6 option as well as the ...Bg4 approach. The repertoire is completed with good sensible recommendations against almost every other conceivable move White can throw at the Caro-Kann. This extremely up-to-date book has an innovative structure, with ‘lessons’, model games and theory ‘magnifiers’.

Sverre Johnsen is a chess analyst, researcher, organizer, trainer and writer from Norway. He is co-author of Win with the London System and Win with the Stonewall Dutch, two of the best-selling openings books of recent years. Grandmaster Torbjørn Ringdal Hansen is also from Norway. He is one of the founders of the chess retail business Sjakkhuset and works full-time as a chess trainer. He was the first coach of Magnus Carlsen (in 1999) and has worked with three other players who went on to become grandmasters.


Thursday, 4 March 2021

Desert Island Chess Omnibus


Book Review by Carl Portman

                     DESERT ISLAND CHESS PUZZLE OMNIBUS               Wesley So  Michael Adams  John Nunn  Graham Burgess

Wesley So Michael Adams John Nunn Graham Burgess

Desert Island Chess Puzzle Omnibus

1st edition (softcover, 320 Pages) £18.99

Also available as an e-book and an app-book





Not another chess puzzle book! That is how I usually react when a new one appears on the market. I am clear that such publications range from fair to excellent. It should do what it says on the tin – and be a book of puzzles, but there is more to this. It matters what examples are used in accordance with the aim of the book and how the book is laid out in terms of puzzles and solutions. Sometimes it can be more challenging to find the solutions than it is to actually solve the puzzles. The beautiful thing about chess of course is the wealth of material that we can draw upon and of course if a puzzle book contains positions I have not seen before or that are very recent (or a combination of the two) then it usually works for me. If I see another Reti puzzle just one more time, I might scream. 

Some readers might think ‘Adams, So, Nunn and who? However, the discerning reader would know that Graham Burgess belongs amongst this esteemed group on merit. Not only is he a FIDE Master but a prolific (and excellent!) author in his own right. He has a head full of wonderful chess knowledge as any proper chess fan would know. Further, in my opinion he provides the most poignant line of any of the introductions in the book. He remarks that ‘It can be hard to strike the right balance in a puzzle book. The spectacular puzzles tend not to be instructive. The most instructive ones may not be too entertaining.’ This is profound.

The four authors each provide 100 puzzles ranging from fairly easy to difficult. Adams, Burgess and Nunn choose games from across a wide spectrum whilst Wesley So chooses 100 of his own games. These four chapters were (I believe) previously issued independently but GAMBIT decided to put them together as an omnibus offering which I think is a fruitful idea.

This is a historical chess book in a very strange way. In his introduction, Wesley So makes mention of the ‘Coronavirus plague.’ Who on earth a few years ago would have thought that such a shocking phrase would have appeared in any chess book? The plague? It is the first book (as opposed to magazine) that I have read that contains reference to the Coronavirus pandemic and quarantine, therefore it must occupy a special place in my collection.

I wanted to pick a puzzle by way of an example. I am not being lazy here but I see no reason why I should not use the example that John Nunn himself analyses in his online video (details further on) because it illustrates the beauty of chess and the possibilities available despite us not being able to see them. Nunn was White in the position below against fellow GM Mark Hebden and he played 55.Rxg5. The question asked of us is, was this the best way to win? Surely Black is threatening to play his rook to g1+ and if the king captures it then the pawn goes to e2 and the king cannot stop it from promoting to a queen. I shall not spoil it. I will leave it for the reader to play a few moves and have a go at countering this position and then they can check it out on the video. It's quite lovely, it really is.

You can watch the YouTube video here:


I am of the opinion that posting video samples from books is a masterstroke from GAMBIT Publications, because it provides a tantalising taster of what is to come. It also provides valuable insight into the mind of a world renowned, and hugely creative chess player (Mr. Nunn).

It is probably fair to say that Mickey provides the reader with the ‘easiest’ puzzles and it is a good thing that his selection appears first. After all we want to get into the rhythm of the book and solve a few puzzles to experience the feel-good factor, otherwise we might be put off and not venture further. That would be a shame because their is a rich seam of beauty running through the book. You have to be willing to dig and mine it. We all like to solve some puzzles in our heads, and only then move on to a real chess set and start moving pieces around when it gets too difficult. You can do that here, I am pleased to say. 

Some of the official blurb says.

If you had to choose a single luxury chess item to take to a desert island, then how about this – a superb selection of 400 puzzles to solve? Each author has carefully chosen 100 original positions, graded by difficulty and theme into four sections of 25. The emphasis throughout is on entertainment, instruction and inspiration. The solutions pinpoint lessons to be learnt and explain why plausible but incorrect solutions fail.

Wesley So presents 100 puzzles from his own recent games, many from elite events. They range from easily-overlooked but straightforward ideas to moves of great depth.

Michael Adams offers positions from his files that have inspired him over the years, and includes a section of ‘warm-ups’.

John Nunn challenges you to find beautiful tactics in recent games and studies, as well as some of his own career highlights.

Graham Burgess has scoured his work over the years for hidden unpublished gems, and includes themed sections on opening tactics and defensive ideas.

Did the book live up to the marketing? In my opinion, yes and I shall explain why. I like the fact that there is a combination of contributors – that works well. I also feel that there is a personal touch to the book and the puzzles really mean something to the players. We don’t all use computers or kindle to read our books (I never do) so having this as a hard copy book (you know, a real book) is a joy. It is currently in a very sacred place - the back seat of my car where I can pick it up and pass the time whenever I have to wait around, such as at hospitals where I am not allowed in because of Covid restrictions.

I don’t want to get too sentimental, but I suddenly realised that I have actually played Nunn, So and Adams in simultaneously displays and lost to all three! It was my privilege. As for Mr. Burgess, I wonder if he gives simuls? I need to make it a quartet.

On one comical note I also thought about was this. I like hard copy books because you can also get ‘the author’ to sign it. In this case I would have to hunt down four people, which might mean that the task is never completed. 😩

On a more serious note, there are two constructive comments I should make. This is a personal viewpoint only, but I do like to have two or three blank pages at the end of a chess book so that I might make any notes and comments. I would beg Gambit to do this if possible in the future.

My other point is this. Browsing through the book, I wanted to know which author belonged to which puzzle. Sometimes I had to flick back to the beginning of the chapter to confirm. Just putting the author’s name at the header of each page might have been useful but again that could just be me. It is not a flaw in the book – but something that I would like.

To conclude. If you like chess puzzles – well this is a chess puzzle book. It is well thought through, the layout is easy on the eye (and brain) and it is contains a more contemporary selection of original puzzles. It is the sort of quality publication that I have come to expect from Gambit. There is much to learn about opening. Middlegame and endgame positions here, so it is not just about solving the puzzles. There's more if you want it.

Would I take it to a desert island? Well at the time of writing we are still isolated in lockdown so in a way I already have. Yes, it is another chess puzzle book and one that you would do well to snap up quickly - lest lockdown returns to haunt us all again later in the year.


Sunday, 22 November 2020

Walter Penn Shipley - Philadelphia's Friend of Chess



Walter Penn Shipley

by John S. Hilbert


Walter Penn Shipley – Philadelphia’s Friend of Chess

1st edition (softcover, 442 Pages)


McFarland Publishing


What is the book about?

It tells the story of Walter Penn Shipley, a man who was deeply passionate about chess throughout his life, who played a significant role in the activities and development of chess in the Philadelphia area, serving (among many roles) as President of the Franklin Chess Club. He could count among his friends the likes of Steinitz, Lasker, Pillsbury and Capablanca, at one point even facilitating business matters between Lasker and Capablanca as they tried to agree terms for a World Championship match. The book profiles the life of an extraordinary individual who spread the gospel of chess to players in America and beyond at all levels across two Centuries. He was a fine chess player, writer, columnist and an outstanding organiser, Walter Penn Shipley stood alone as a trusted and indefatigable man of his time. His services to chess were known throughout the world.



There are nine chapters in the book. They chronologically map the life of Shipley, explaining his background, chess club activities, the good and golden years going through the decades right up to and including his death.


What does the official Blurb say?

Walter Penn Shipley was crucial to the development of chess in the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He organized correspondence chess in the United States in the 1890s, was a talented player and was a friend of world champions and contenders. He served as the president of the Franklin Chess Club in Philadelphia at the height of its power and prestige.

This work is a complete biography and games collection of Walter Penn Shipley. It draws from original documents—correspondence with Steinitz, Lasker, Capablanca, Pillsbury and others, detailed Shipley family records—and extensive research conducted in contemporary newspapers, journals and magazines. The book contains approximately 250 games (most of them annotated), with 246 positional diagrams.


Does the book achieve its aim?

And then some! The purpose of the book is to bring this individual and his role in chess to the attention of the reader. It is evident to observe the care and dedication that has gone into doing this. I came to ‘know’ WPS throughout the book through his deeds and his chess games. It was particularly pleasing to learn that he was an exponent of the French Defence, for many years my own favourite opening with the Black pieces. I even learned some new lines. Talk about being taught by ghosts of the past.


From his birth (June 1860) to his death (February 1942) and despite many other distractions, WPS was destined to play the leading role on chess matters in the Philadelphia area and of course at the Franklin Chess Club. What lucky members they all were to have him at the helm. There are some funny anecdotes including those around his friend Emil Kemeny and lots of historical information not only about Shipley but other players of the day. There is even a consultation game from a train ride to New York involving Pillsbury, Shipley and others which I have seen nowhere else.


Towards the end, Shipley and Lasker ‘fell out’ but in a very touching story, as Lasker was dying, we learn that Shipley was actually the one that he kept close.  


I believe that if Shipley were alive today and he read this book, he would congratulate the author and the Publishers for this fine work. I think he would be delighted. There can be no better compliment than that. 



Walter Penn Shipley, Circa 1891

Courtesy Jeff Kramer

Concluding notes

I consider myself lucky to have read this and learned about such an incredible man. He deserves to be remembered for being a man of his time in a chess history. Shipley was a mover, a shaker - and a Quaker which seemed to give him the character to look at matters with supportive eyes and he was respected and trusted by just about everybody. As a lawyer, family man and committee member he had much on his plate but always found time for his beloved chess.

This book for me was about two aspects to enjoy. First and foremost, Shipley the man. Secondly the chess games. There are lots of correspondence games and one can imagine how long it took these games to conclude. America and the UK played cable games too and these are included here. The annotations are often light and easy to follow – just enough text to diagrams, all set out in the usual top-quality format by McFarland publishing. It’s a joy to read.


I felt as I was reading the book that I was actually there, accompanying Shipley as his chess life developed. I felt that I could have taken a seat in one of the Simultaneous exhibitions he gave or organised. I had no idea that he was friends with the luminaries of the day and entrusted with information from them all when it came to organising visits and games. What a great and true friend he must have been. He played the top players of the day and beat Lasker and Steinitz in a simul as well as Pillsbury in just seven (!) moves. True, Pillsbury erred, dropping a piece in a well-known but tricky line in the QGD, but that’s chess. He also drew with Capablanca in a simul, twice.


Some of the games may not be perfect (who plays perfect chess?) but they are great fun. I enjoyed an attacking game against a club mate, Joseph Palmer in November 1891, where Shipley was White and eagerly stormed the fortress.


1. e4 e5 2. Bc4 Nf6 3. Nf3 Nc6 4. d4 exd4 5. Ng5 Ne5 6. Qxd4 Nxc4 7. Qxc4 d5 8. exd5 Qxd5 9. Qe2+ Be7 10. O-O h6 11. Re1 Qd6 12. Bf4 Qd8 13. Nc3?! (optimistic. It may have been more prudent just to bring the knight back to f3. However, it is just possible that Shipley knew this full well but left a little worm dangling to see if the fish would take the bait – Carl) hxg5?? The bait was taken. 14. Rad1 Bd7 15. Bxc7 1-0 Sweet. Shipley’s style was actually more conservative but he had his moments, for sure. Final position


After 15.Bxc7


I could sense the sheer enjoyment that the man had for chess, so wonderfully has it been described by Hilbert. When Shipley’s colours began to fade as he aged, I  became saddened, even morose and I wanted it all to begin again. He was the yeast to the chess loaf of the day and when he passed away so did many possibilities and dreams for chess in that area.


I have read elsewhere that this book might be of limited interest to those outside the United States. I beg to differ. The motto for chess is gens una sumus – we are one family. Anyone interested in chess history and those who made it will find this book a fascinating read and I believe an inspiration. There are those that talk the talk – but Shipley walked the walk – so let’s pay him his dues and at least read about the man.


Who is the author?

John S. Hilbert is (or was at the time of writing - Carl) the senior attorney for the Office of Hearings and Appeals of the Social Security Administration. He is the author of over a dozen books and more than 100 articles on chess history.

Friday, 2 October 2020

The Chess Endgame Exercise Book





John Nunn

The Chess Endgame Exercise Book

1st edition (softcover, 192 Pages)

Also available as an e-book ($9.95) and an app-book ($12.99)





What is this book about?

That would be…chess endgames! Okay let’s peel back the skin and look deeper into the belly of the book.



There are ten chapters, after an illuminating introduction from the author.


1.   Pawn Endings

2.   Knight Endings

3.   Bishop Endings

4.   Bishop vs Knight Endings

5.   Rook Endings

6.   Rook and Minor Piece Endings

7.   Queen Endings

8.   Endings with Queens and Other Pieces

9.   Endgame Tactics

10.Test Papers


Score table

Index of Players and Composers


What does (some of) the official Blurb say?

Everyone knows they should work on their endgame play. So many hard-earned advantages are squandered in ‘simple’ endings... But it’s tough finding a way to study endings that doesn’t send you to sleep and that helps you actually remember and apply what you have learnt.

“While endgame theory books are helpful, active participation by the reader is a great aid to learning. I have spent several months selecting the 444 exercises in this book from what was initially a much larger collection.” – John Nunn

All major types of endgame are covered, together with a wide-ranging chapter on endgame tactics. Examples are drawn from recent practice or from little-known studies. The emphasis is on understanding and applying endgame principles and rules of thumb.

Does the book achieve its aim?

Dr. Nunn says that he wants to encourage the reader to put their brains in high gear, both to test themselves and to learn more about the endgame. The fact that he has included exercises covering the range of chess players from beginner to master means that everyone can do this. Yes, they can learn an awful lot.

Let me just give you an example of the fun that one can have studying any position of the 444 at random.


Have a look at this position. What do you think you would play if you were Black?

Remember that these days we are all playing faster time controls so you might not have long at all to think about it in a game. If you can remember principles it can help you to make good moves. Well the move that draws for Black according to Nunn is 1…Kh1!


Now then. It is not enough just to know the move. One has to get to grips with the why. That’s how we learn. Nunn goes on to say “It is important to be aware of the general principles. Black to play would draw here by 1…Kh1! since in the case of a knight’s pawn, the best square for the defender’s king is in the corner diagonally opposite the pawn”.


Who knew that? It’s a fascinating principle and leads the reader (hopefully) into investigating this concept further with or without the chess engine.


There are many pearls of wisdom in the book and I particularly like the thorough and clear explanations to the puzzles in the solutions. These solutions incidentally appear immediately after the puzzles as opposed to being shown at the end of the book. I much prefer this method and long may it continue.


Concluding notes

Do we chess fans need another book on endgames? Well I can speak as a chess coach. I have used and re-used many positions from the most recent (at that particular time) to the very old – the works of Reti and Kubbel for example to show aspects of endgames, but the fact that this book contains recent games certainly up to 2019 means that I had not seen the vast majority (well, almost all) and it is so useful to have new material. Each time I flipped a page I found myself absorbed in the positions, some of which were from players that I know (and count amongst my friends) such as Trevor Brotherton and Nathaniel Paul from Shropshire who have a position from one of their games in Telford shown. There was therefore a real sense of the personal in this book.

I wonder, are YOU in it? Did the good Doctor Nunn select one of your games? Who knows? You’ll have to get the book and find out.

What this book did for me was to reinforce – as if I needed that – the fact that endgames are not boring. They are fun. They are fantastically rich in possibilities. You cannot tell me that any kind of magic in chess occurs in the opening. There’s more in the middlegame but in my humble view the witchcraft and alchemy are to be found in the endgame. John Nunn is one of our own. He is one of England’s evergreen and great chess inspirations, and we are very lucky to have him still writing, still sharing his ridiculously incisive wisdom with us. When I read his work - it inspires me to want to learn more. I want to get the chess set out and study. I want to lose myself in the depths of the possible and seemingly impossible. That's the mark of a notable and experienced chess author.

I particularly liked the idea of the test papers in chapter 10. I could visualize sitting at an old wooden school desk, fountain pen in hand, ink in the bottle and the chess test papers in front of me. Sitting at the head of the class in the finger of sunlight streaming through the window was the teacher, Dr. Nunn, peering over his round spectacles like a wise old owl – getting ready to say ‘turn over your paper and begin’. I would not have been his best pupil, that’s for sure but he would hopefully have given me a good mark for endeavour. It took him a long time to put all of these puzzles together so the least I – and other readers - can do is switch off the infernal chess engine and apply ourselves. Just try. Have a go. Teacher Nunn is on our side! He wants us to do well.

I really enjoyed and will continue to enjoy this book. The layout is excellent. The style is very supportive of easy learning and of course it has the GAMBIT stamp of approval.

You can watch a YouTube video in which author GM John Nunn presents a sample from this book. He will tell you why this book is a little different to other endgame books he has written.  

Cut and paste this address.


Who is the author?

As if you needed to ask! (Shame on you).

Dr. John Nunn is one of the best-respected figures in world chess. He was among the world’s leading grandmasters for nearly twenty years and won four gold medals at chess Olympiads. In 2004, 2007 and 2010, Nunn was crowned World Chess Solving Champion, ahead of many former champions. In 2011, his two-volume work Nunn’s Chess Endings won the English Chess Federation Book of the Year Award, and was highly praised by Levon Aronian (who read both books cover to cover!) when making the award presentation.



INTRODUCTION   Welcome to my  Chess Book Reviews  blog.  I hope you enjoy it and that it proves useful if you are deciding to by chess...