Tuesday, 23 November 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 F├╝rstenberg. 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 and Chess Crusader)








Monday, 22 November 2021

From Chess Champion of Russia to Enemy of the People, the truth about my father.


BOOK REVIEW by Carl Portman





Nikolai Izmailov

Pages: 213

Published by: Elk and Ruby Publishing House   

2021 Hardcover, Softcover and Forward Chess


What is this book about?


The official cover text is as follows: ‘Petr Izmailov was considered to be one of the top four players of the Soviet Union in 1929 according to Yuri Averbakh, and he was ranked around number 50 in the world at the time based on chess metrics methodology. Izmailov won the 1928 Championship of Soviet Russia, reached the last four of the 1929 Soviet Championship, and had a 2/2 lifetime score against Botvinnik. He was a regular winner of Siberian regional and city championships as well as a pioneer in some openings, playing a line similar to the Makogonov Attack against the King’s Indian more than ten years before Makogonov himself.


Izmailov, like many players of his generation, fell victim to Stalin’s purges. He was arrested on spurious charges in 1936 and executed in 1937. His name was then mostly expunged from the Soviet chess press for over 50 years.


At the time of Petr’s arrest, his son Nikolai was less than two years’ old. Once the Soviet-era archives opened up, Nikolai set out to reconstruct the life and chess career of the father he never knew. This book is the result of his research over many years. It contains as complete a tournament record of Izmailov as could be found, as well as all 25 games and fragments that were reported in the contemporary press. At the time of this book’s publication in English Nikolai is a sprightly 86-year-old great-grandfather.


All games and fragments have been thoroughly analyzed in this book in move-by-move style by Romanian Grandmaster and leading chess author Mihail Marin. While his analysis is in itself highly instructional Marin has provided a comprehensive historical background to the chess openings deployed in these games, often showing their origin, contemporary treatment by such masters as Alexander Alekhine and Jose Capablanca, and how they have evolved to modern interpretation by today’s leading grandmasters, such as Magnus Carlsen and Anish Giri.  This book will hence be of interest both to practical players wishing to improve their play and fans of chess history.’




·         List of Games

·         Preface

·         Introduction – A book decades in the making

·         Introduction – to the chess of Petr Izmailov by Grandmaster Mihail Marin

·         Early Life

·         Games and Career

·         Izmailov’s Final Months

·         The Aftermath

·         Afterword

·         Appendix I – Tournament results

·         Appendix II – A brief biography of Nikolai Izmailov

·         Appendix III – Bullet chess in Tomsk


My thoughts and comments

There is precious little information out there about Petr Izmailov. I even consulted my chess ‘bible’ The Oxford Companion to Chess (Hooper & Whyld) and found that he was not listed. I have commented before, that books such as this are about much more than chess – they are history, and as such, provide information about people and events that we may not otherwise have known.  For the chess aficionado, this is extremely important.


Born in 1906 Petr Izmailov lived a tragically short life. He died on 28 April 1937, after execution by shooting. This was carried out by the NKVD, the so called ‘People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs’ of the USSR which undertook mass extrajudicial executions of untold numbers of citizens, and conceived, populated and administered the Gulag system of forced labour camps.


Izmailov’s ‘death warrant’ was signed by an NKVD Senior Lieutenant Shevelev, and hastily arranged in about 20 minutes with no hearing. He was accused of being a member of the ‘counter-revolutionary Trotskyist-fascist terror organisation.’ It seems ridiculous now but so many people were put to death under this charge.  


Let’s look at some chess. Clearly the man had chess talent and he was the champion of Siberia and indeed Soviet Russia. He could have done even more were it not for the remoteness of his residence and the fact that he had so many work commitments which cost him dear. His chess was of very high quality and he was not afraid to employ new ideas. This was the game Kosolapov-Izmailov from the Kazan Championship in January 1924.


White has just played 18.f4 threatening to fork the knight and bishop with …f5. Izmailov was too good a player to play the natural looking 18…f5 but why?




After 18…f5 White has the move 19.g4! winning a pawn. There really is much to learn about chess in this book if you play through the games with care. We can see how pawn structure is fundamental in chess and that it will inevitably be a key feature in a high number of endgames. This is also about how to play endgames without the major pieces. 


Here is another position that caught my eye. One of many, to be fair. This was a game that Izmailov lost but that matters not. What is important is the game itself. Here he is playing an opponent who was also executed in the Great Terror, Alexander Schtenger, who had the White pieces in the 3rd Siberian Championship in Novosibirsk in March 1926.


Izmailov had just played 26…Bd8 and the position looks complex to me. Both sides strive to attack. The question is, what did White play next?



Did you find 27.Rxf4! at all?


The book describes this as ‘a simple but elegant combination, winning material.’ Now it is all too easy to input games played decades ago into a chess engine. The simple fact is. Those players never had any of that technology and it was all done in their head. They used carbon, not silicon.


I did however, put this into my ‘Fat Fritz 2’ engine and to be fair it chose 27.Rh6 as the optimum move, giving a huge advantage, followed by moves such as 27.Bd2 or 27. Rf2.


When I put the text move in, the assessment halved, still giving White an advantage though. 1.Rxf4 gxf4 2.Bh7+ Kh8 3.Bg6+ Kg8 4.Bxf7+ Rfxf7 5.Qc8 Rd7 6.Bxf4 Ne6 7.Bh6 Rgf7 8.Rf3 Rfe7 9.Rf6 1-0


Does the book achieve its aim?

The book is about bringing Petr Izmailov’s short but rich life to the public and telling his story through the diligent research and pen of his son, Nikolai. It does just that.


What is ‘The Truth’ anyway? They say there are three versions. His version, her version and the truth. Well, the Truth here is that I feel enriched for having read the book. I felt stimulated intellectually, culturally and even spiritually. I feel lucky to be alive in these times and able to enjoy chess and life. Not so for the countless innocent people such as Petr Izmailov, killed in senseless purges. His light may have been snuffed out at the terribly young age of 30, but this book must surely do some justice to him and to what occurred. Can anyone even imagine what it would be like to have someone knock on your door one day – and lead you off to be shot? It’s man’s inhumanity to man. Pointless. Senseless. Cruel. However, Petr Izmailov left us with the legacy of his games, and for that we should remember him, and celebrate him.


Additional comments.

The book is well presented. In a quirky way the fact that some pages are in two column format (for chess commentary) and others single column (only text on the page) works well and breaks up the reading process. There are plenty of diagrams to accompany the text, which I found of great value because it was easier to follow without a physical board and pieces.


The analysis from GM Marin is light and easy to understand, so it can reach a wider audience. With plenty of Championship tables and some very rare photographs the book is sufficiently detailed to give the reader a feel for the times and more importantly for the man. It describes more than chess – it offers a view of the culture of the USSR at that time and it is quite frankly terrifying, as well as being unremittingly sad.


The time and effort taken to compile this work has been great but the result has justified the means. It is in my humble view, a worthy addition to any chess book collection.


Who is the author?

Nikolai Izmailov is the son of Petr Izmailov.



Tuesday, 12 October 2021

The Magnus Method - The Singular Skills of the World’s Strongest Chess Player Uncovered and Explained


BOOK REVIEW by Carl Portman


The singular skills of the world’s strongest chess player uncovered and explained

by Emmanuel Neiman

Emmanuel Neiman

Pages: 320

Published by: New In Chess  

2021 Softcover


What is this book about?

The official synopsis:


What is it that makes Magnus Carlsen the strongest chess player in the world? Why do Carlsen’s opponents, the best players around, fail to see his moves coming? Moves that, when you replay his games, look natural and self-evident?


Emmanuel Neiman has been studying Carlsen’s games and style of play for many years. His findings will surprise, delight and educate every player, regardless of their level. He explains a key element in the World Champion’s play: instead of the ‘absolute’ best move he often plays the move that is likely to give him the better chances.


Carlsen’s singular ability to win positions that are equal or only very slightly favourable comes down to this: he doesn’t let his opponents get what they hope for while offering them the maximum number of chances to go wrong. In areas such as pawn play, piece play, exchanges as a positional weapon and breaking the rules in endgames, Neiman shows that Magnus Carlsen has brought a new understanding to the game.


Neiman also looks at Carlsen’s key qualities that are not directly related to technique. Such as his unparalleled fighting spirit and his ability to objectively evaluate any kind of position and situation. Carlsen is extremely widely read and knows basically everything about chess. What’s more, as the most versatile player in the history of the game he is totally unpredictable.


The Magnus Method presents a complete analysis of the skills that make the difference. With lots of surprising and instructive examples and quizzes. Examining Carlsen’s abilities together with Emmanuel Neiman is a delightful way to unlock you own potential.




·         Foreword – by Emanuel Neiman

·         Introduction -

·         Thirteen chapters

·         Index of names

·         Bibliography


My thoughts and comments

This book has a very interesting layout. The chapters are divided into a specific approach by Carlsen to phases of the game, such as Calculation, planning, Attack, Defence, pawns, Endings, tactics and exchanges to name some. Chapter 12 is entitled ‘How to win against Magnus Carlsen: The hidden defects?


Well in one sense we are never going to need this, because we are never going to play against Magnus Carlsen but I wonder how many of the top players might have paused over this little chapter which is only four pages in length, two of which are diagrams.  


I enjoy endgames, so I visited that section of the book and attempted to ‘be’ Magnus and solve some of the puzzles. There really were fun. So many ‘easy to lose’ rook and pawn endgames. This gives an insight into how good Magnus really is.


I learned more about Magnus the chess player. I can see now how he does not mind to give up a pawn – sometimes even two – for activity in his quest to find a win. This occurs, where other players would be content with a draw.


He is excellent at finding ‘backward moves’ which is something that many chess players struggle with. Let’s look at an example. In this position, what would you play?



Be honest, you never considered 7.Ng1 did you? The computer actually recommends 7.Nc1 which seems more logical to me. We don’t really learn why Magnus played this, but it was a rapid Internet game so I am not going to get hung up about it. I wonder if he would have done similarly in a Classical game.


We look at the author’s view about positives and negatives and note that the strengths are not directly related to technique. He notes Carlsen’s strong points which come under six headings, and what about his ‘hidden defects?’ Well, this is covered in Chapter 12 but there are only a couple of pages of prose, followed by 9 diagrams as examples. Not much then in terms of defects, but then he is Magnus Carlsen. Perhaps his greatest defect is his optimism, which can lead to greater risk-taking. Well, I am sure that Ian Nepomniachtchi will be interested as he is soon to face MC in the World Championship finals.


Chess games

There are plenty of games, but not necessarily beginning from move one. We pick up positions part way through, depending upon the theme and the moment of truth, so to speak. The ‘games and solutions’ section takes up over half of the book and I suppose if the reader was lazy, they could turn directly there and enjoy the feast of fun in the answers but really this needs to be looked at as a whole and requires patience and time. A disciplined approach to study will reap rewards.


Does the book achieve its aim?

The author asks at the very beginning ‘Why another book on Magnus Carlsen?’ Well, this is different because of the layout of the book and it does zero in on fundamental aspects of his game in a clear and concise way. I have to say, the introduction is a long 21 pages but it does lay the foundation for what is to follow.


My chief question was ‘Can a club player really try to be Magnus in these puzzles?’ The answer is a resounding yes. Have a go, try to get into his head. I was surprised how many successful attempts I made. Whilst the aim of the book is of course to examine MC in all his glory we should not forget that by doing so, the club player should be able to raise their own level of chess understanding and subsequently their own playing strength.


Magnus says that he wants every chess game to be an event. This book is an event in itself and one could spend many hours over this coming winter enjoying the fruits of the author’s labour.


Just to note that the paper quality and text are excellent, as always with NIC. The diagrams are plentiful but I would like them to be a little bigger. I appreciate that this would increase the size of the book and may lead to increased cost to the consumer.


I wonder what Magnus would make of this book? Personally, I enjoyed it and I intend to spend more time studying it.


Who is the author?

Emmanuel Neiman is a FIDE Master who teaches chess in his home country France. He is the (co-) author of Invisible Chess Moves and Tune Your Chess Tactics Antenna, highly successful books on tactics and training.


Praise for Emmanuel Neiman:


“An enjoyable and challenging book that will make you redress your competitive play.”  Yasser Seirawan, four-time US Champion, on ‘Invisible Chess Moves’





Saturday, 9 October 2021

Caruana's Ruy Lopez - A White Repertoire for Club Players.


BOOK REVIEW by Carl Portman


A White Repertoire for Club Players


Fabiano Caruana

Pages: 208

Published by: New in chess  

2021 Softcover


What is this book about?


The Ruy Lopez is arguably the most classic of chess openings. White immediately starts the battle for the centre, fighting for the initiative. This strategic clarity has made the Ruy Lopez, or Spanish Opening, an eternal favourite with chess players at all levels. Inevitably, this popularity has also led to a wealth of opening theory.


In this book, Fabiano Caruana takes you by the hand and lays out a complete and practical White repertoire for club players. He avoids complicated chaotic lines, but doesn’t shy away from sharp battles. Caruana loves to find and use the tactics to punish Black for risky choices.


This one-volume and crystal-clear repertoire covers fifteen main variations, from the classical lines to the anti-Marshall (8.a4), and from the Schliemann (3…f5) to the Modern Steinitz. In an easy-to-grasp manner Caruana explains general characteristics, such as permanent weaknesses long-term goals, and is always looking for an advantage for White.


The insights of the World #2 in this classic opening, will not only greatly improve your results in the Ruy Lopez, but also sharpen your general chess knowledge. Inspired by Caruana’s ChessBase Series Navigating the Ruy Lopez.




·         Preface – by Fabio Caruana

·         Introduction – The NIC editors

·         Eighteen chapters (Eighteen variations)

·         Index of Variations

·         Index of Names


My thoughts and comments

The Ruy Lopez is an ancient opening in chess terms, and is named after a Spanish priest from the 16th Century. I believe he was eventually promoted to a bishop, but don’t hold me to that. In chess we prefer to promote to a queen! It has been played at all levels and never to my knowledge fallen from grace. This opening is fundamentally a classic fight for the centre of the chessboard.


There are chapters on some eighteen variations including the Cozio Defence, which I have always been interested in and the Breyer, chosen by Spassky for a time. Of course, there are many other variations including the classical, Zaitsev, Schliemann and Steinitz to name a few but I was most interested to (finally) take a look at the Marshall Attack, which I have known about but rarely played. Frank James Marshall popularized this line against Capablanca in 1918 but in any event the great 'Capa' navigated his way through the maze, and won. Here’s the position.



This is the classic Marshall attack after Black plays 8…d5 instead of something like 8…d6. It is true that if White accepts the Gambit, (the pawn on e5 will fall) he will be a pawn to the good, but he will have inferior development, and Black (for the price of the pawn) will be able to attack with zeal on the K-side. It is for this reason that many White players eschew the gambit and play the Anti-Marshall line which is 8.a4 instead of 8.c3 or even 8.h3. Caruana has tried them all. Caruana is generous in telling us what lines he prefers and I felt that he was ‘with me’ in a sense, talking me through the lines. This is the sign of a good writer.


He sums up where necessary and also makes recommendations. However, just because someone of Caruana’s strength plays something does not mean that you have to. We require understanding. Why play this or that move? The author helps us here, and gives plenty of other options in the variations. We are not robots and we should explore the variations for ourselves.


The text, layout and diagrams are of very good quality, as one might expect from this publisher and the book seems to me anyway to be about the correct length. I can think of some books that are three times as thick on a single opening, and one loses the will to live after a while. This book is lively, informative and not too heavy in variations and analysis. I also like the cover a great deal. I know for a fact that some people do judge a book by its cover so it helps to have an eye-catching one. This cover reflects the contents within – logical, simple and eye-catching. Nice!


Does the book achieve its aim?

It is my view that elite chess players are not automatically great writers, especially if they are trying to convey their thoughts to club players, and this book does say ‘for club players.’ Fabiano Caruana is one of those GM’s that can. I like his very succinct preface, where he declares that he wants to present a ‘basic’ repertoire for White’ and that he is aiming to explain ‘similar structures and similar types of positions.’


This is crucial. We cannot all possibly hope to memorise all of the variations in the book. That’s not practical. What the reader needs to do – as with any opening – is understand what White is aiming for, to try to develop an appreciation for the general ideas. Caruana, with his insight and straight-forward way of communicating helps us in this quest.


Caruana says that he wants the reader to feel confident about the repertoire. The question is, does he succeed? Well, that’s up to each individual but for me, a player who does not play the Ruy Lopez, I not only felt confident after reading this but I feel I might actually give it a go. I can dip in and out of the book to study up on the lines I want. What better guide is there to have than FC?

I always try to find some sort of constructive criticism about a book. After all, none of us are perfect. All I can think of - and it is a tiny point - is that it would have been nice to have had a photograph of the author accompanying his preface, but hey - if we don't know who he is by now, right?


The last line of the introduction to this book from the NIC editors says ‘By standing on the shoulders of giants, a player will enjoy great confidence in the repertoire recommended by Caruana.’


The proof of the pudding will be in the eating, but I for one feel that I can see a little further than before. If a player wants to learn the Ruy Lopez then why should this not be the 'go-to' book?


Who is the author?

Fabiano Caruana became a grandmaster at the age of 14. Ever since his majestic tournament win at the 2014 Sinquefield Cup, he has been the undisputed #2 in the Chess world. In 2018 he earned the right to challenge Magnus Carlsen in a match for the World Championship and only narrowly lost in the play-off.





Thursday, 7 October 2021

The London System in 12 Practical Lessons


BOOK REVIEW by Carl Portman

The London System in 12 Practical Lessons

by Oscar De Prado

Oscar De Prado


2021 - 1st edition (Soft cover, 272 pages)



What is this book about?

The back cover wording states that:  


The London System is being played by an ever-increasing number of players, and it’s easy to see why. Against virtually every Black defence after 1.d4 it offers White an easy-to-learn and reliable set of lines. In the process, White has interesting choices between strategic or more aggressive approaches, while avoiding loads of opening theory. Ideal for players who don’t have much time to study. Creative elite players such as Alexander Grischuk, Baadur Jobava, Richard Rapport and even World Champion Magnus Carlsen have the London in their repertoire.


Following the enormous success of The Agile London System, the book he co-authored in 2016, Oscar de Prado revisits his favourite opening. The general focus is less on theory and has a more practical approach – although he does present recently played games and some important theoretical updates. De Prado avoids long and complicated variations and concentrates on explaining straightforward plans, clear-cut strategies and standard manoeuvres.


If you follow De Prado’s lessons you are unlikely to face surprises or to emerge from the opening in a worse position, and you will learn to make the right middlegame choices. Studying this book is the most efficient way to acquaint yourself with a flexible chess opening that is easy to learn and hard to counter.



·         Explanation of symbols

·         Preface by GM Pepe Cuenca

·         Twelve Chapters (called lessons)

·         Index of Main Variations

·         Index of names

·         Bibliography


My thoughts and comments

I am not a London System player. I am though an exasperated Black player who struggles to contain the system when White essays it. This book therefore is of great interest to me in a chess world where the London system is so commonplace at all levels. Some people make the mistake of thinking it is just a solid and boring opening but beware – there really are lots of traps and if Black is not sufficiently prepared, will find himself in the firing line.


The twelve lessons range from general move orders and ideas, to lines with a speedy h2-h4. There is of course a great deal more covered, including typical London System endgames and the latest theoretical developments, which in this opening is really necessary to learn.


Glenn Flear (a reviewer who I rate extremely highly) said that the book ‘Will be the reference work on the complete London System for years to come.’ That is high praise indeed from a reviewer who is hard to impress. I started to flip through the pages to obtain a feel for the contents, and then the diagrams and comments sprang out at me and held my attention.


There’s much to be interested in here. Even flicking through pages and looking at diagrams I managed to build up a speedy picture of pawn structures and themes such as opening files and diagonals.


Have a look at this example. After:

1. d4 Nf6 2. Bf4 e6 3. e3 c5 4. c3 Nc6 5. Nf3 d5 6. Nbd2 Bd6 7. Bg3 O-O 8. Bd3

Qe7 9. Ne5 Nd7 10. Nxd7 Bxd7 11. Bxd6 Qxd6 12. dxc5 Qxc5 *




The author writes ‘You might be surprised when we tell you plainly that Black is already lost now.’


What? I won’t reveal the whole story about why this assertion is made, but it begins with the move 13.Bxh7+ and indeed that ‘Greek gift’ idea is a clear and present danger.   


Then there is this after 1.d4 d5. 2.Bf4 Nf6 3. Nc3 g6 4.e3 Bg7 5.h4


This is all rather aggressive stuff played so frequently in modern chess. The book may well be written from White’s perspective, but what is Black supposed to be doing against it? At least one can study both sides of the argument here.


I do like the index of main variations at the back. It is quick and easy to play through the first few moves of the various lines and if they pique your interest then the relevant lesson number is given, so you can locate it quickly. 


Does the book achieve its aim?

It is a very well written treatise on a popular opening. I cannot in all conscience say I have compared it to any books written on the London System before but look, if Glenn Flear thinks it is brilliant then I am happy based on what I have seen to say the same. It is a complete repertoire and I am almost tempted to try the opening as White myself. This is exactly the book for me if I do so.


I do want to say something for Black here. The developing main line against the LS here has been…


Yes …b6 is definitely becoming a favourite. Therefore, I assert that this book is not only for the White player – but Black needs the information also. A very good Opening book indeed. Enjoy it, but stop playing it against me please.


Who is the author?

Oscar De Prado Rodriguez (1973) is a FIDE Master from Spain. He has successfully been playing the London System for many years. In 2016 he published, together with co-author Alfonso Romero, the acclaimed The Agile London System.


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...