My Favorite Chess Books You Shouldn't Read
Dispatch From the Friendly Skies
Best Recent Game Contest
Chess Toons En Passant
Problem of the Week Editor's Note
My Favorite Chess Books You Shouldn't Read
Recently, I have embarked on my latest attempt to study and play for the IM title. And in as much as I’ve been spending energy studying, playing, and trying to improve, I’ve spent equal amounts of time thinking about fine tuning the improvement process and schedule. How many hours a day? When during the day? What content? Which tactics website? Should I be drinking tea or lemon water during study? Too many questions, and not nearly enough answers.
I’ve also spent nearly as much time thinking (read: unproductively daydreaming) about how to improve/what to do to improve at different levels. As a full-time chess teacher, it’s an interesting question. And as a NM, it is something I get asked a reasonable amount about. Asked by people from all skill levels, ages, walks of life, etc., it mostly boils down into two generic questions: “How do I get better at chess?” (too vague) and “What chess books/things should I be studying to get better” (slightly better).
I am embarrassed to say that my answers to these questions are generally terrible and even more times actively unhelpful. My goal for this article is to provide at least slightly better advice, specifically to the second question, complete with scorching hot takes.
Chess Puzzle #1
After the wall of text, let’s do some chess puzzles! But in lieu of the traditional diagram + mate in 3, we will do something different:
What do these chess books have in common? Remember to look ahead, evaluate imbalances, blunder check, etc.
There are of course many answers, but I will give you mine:
These are some of the most highly regarded books in chess literature. They are complex, full of interesting ideas, important knowledge, and challenging exercises. The authors are some of the most influential chess players/coaches of all time.
These are the kinds of books that many chess players (myself included) will often recommend when asked “What should I study?”
Finally, in my most polite words (but my close friends have heard me say things much more incendiary) I do not like these books and I don’t think you need to, or even should, read them.
Perhaps you are already closing your browser tab right now, but I ask for you to stay with me. There is a lot I could say regarding the third point, but it mostly boils down to a few key things. First, these books are for the most part insanely hard, and in my opinion, boring. Unless you are someone with an incredible work ethic, discipline, and an all-consuming desire to improve at chess, you will very likely not get much useful or tangible results out of these books. At the master level, I long considered these books to be required reading, and have many times followed this cycle:
Start studying -> get frustrated -> fall out of study habits -> get worse -> curse the “magic” books for not making me better.
This is an important cycle in my opinion. It took me a while to realize this, but I was not setting myself up for success by studying these books. We will touch more on this after the second puzzle, but really, it’s the process of studying that is important, not the content.
Chess Puzzle #2
This next puzzle is more challenging, but hopefully puzzle #1 has brought to light some of the key ideas:
What do these chess books have in common?
Again, my answers:
These are books you (most likely) had no clue existed. In terms of quality, they range from diamond in the rough (the snake book) to dubious at best (Unorthodox Chess Openings).
These are the 4 books that have had BY FAR the greatest impact on me in terms of chess development and were mostly responsible for me reaching the 1800 USCF through only self-study and play.
These are books that I am embarrassed to say that I love, but are the kinds of books I wish I had the courage to recommend when asked “What should I study?”
I love these books BUT I don’t think you need to, or even should, read them
Some more explanation: these were books I was excited to find and read, some for very stupid reasons. One I chose to read simply because there was a cartoon snake on the book. Two I bought for 50 cents after hours scouring a library book sale. Another had deep dedicated analysis to the Amar Gambit (Nh3 e5 f4 exf4 g3!!) which for whatever reason I found both hilarious AND useful. From this interest and personal investment, I proceeded to DEVOUR these books. To this day I still revisit them, and I have probably read each from cover to cover 5-6 times. The binding are falling off, the pages are stained, there are pencils marks with my own ideas and corrections to analysis. I would read these books as a child at dinner, on the bus, at baseball practice. Almost all the famous games, tactical ideas, and strategic wisdom were absorbed through dedicated and hard work.
Simply put: there is too much chess literature and information for it to make sense to only read what everyone considers to be “the best”. Rather than what the content is, the dedication and process to studying is about 1000x more important.
If there is one take away from it, find material you enjoy, even if it is not what is widely considered “the best” (don’t be a sheep!!). In the digital age, it could be a book, youtube video, chessable exercise, whatever. It almost doesn’t matter what it is—the important, and hardest part, is to truly invest incredible time towards it. If you chose the right thing, this is hopefully easy—it interests you. Whatever you think is a reasonable and acceptable amount of time studying the material, consider doubling it. I feel like that dedication is what truly creates improvement.
You should also consider reading the snake book.
—NM Alex Fikiet, Marshall Chess Club Member
Dispatch From the Friendly Skies
Marshall Chess Club Members who have played at the club for several years will recall a former club assistant manager who was an omnipresent tournament director on weekends named Jermaine Reid. I recently reached out to Jermaine to catch up and see how his new life as a commercial airline pilot was going and to ask him if he still plays chess (tldr; he does).
How long did you work at the Marshall?
The Marshall? I was there for four years. I think it was 2012-2016. The majority of that time I was in college.
When did you become a pilot?
Shortly after I left the Marshall. Well, I guess I was a student pilot while in school but I am guessing you mean like professionally? So, around the time I left the Marshall. I have worked for the airline I currently work for since 2019.
What was it like being a pilot during the pandemic?
Oh, it was pretty crazy. Empty airports, empty flights, typically on our flights during that time we had more crew than passengers - like I had flights with 2 passengers and there is always four crew members. Also, having to wear a mask as a pilot was difficult. Also, like regulations to visit places like Canada or Mexico was a lot more stringent and the whole aviation industry slowed down.
So yeah it was a really crazy time.
Have you ever met a pilot who also plays chess?
Have you played any chess lately?
I kinda quit rated tournaments. Even when I was working at the Marshall I didn't play that many rated tournaments except for filler games. Now, I typically play online. So if I am on a layover or if I am at a station where I am waiting for another flight I play some chess on my ipad. I play on chess.com mostly, but I also play on lichess.org just to play games with former Marshall Board Member Cameron Hull.
CoachCam 2021 vs Crimsonfalcon 2272
(play through the game here.)
White has no attack but his position already hopeless.
17...Ng6 18. Qh5 Bxd4+ 19. Kh1 Qf6 20. Ne2 Bb6 21. Rf3? Qxb2 22. Bxg6 hxg6 23. Qg5 Qxa1 24. Nf4 Ba6 (24....Re1 would lead to faster mate.) 0-1.
What's your username on chess.com in case some people who read this newsletter want to challenge you?
My username is Crimsonfalcon.
Do you ever miss the Marshall?
While Aviation is a great career and I get to travel and again get paid to do something that I love, the Marshall will always occupy a special place in my heart. There are fewer interesting people working in aviation than there were at the Marshall. Legends like Hoffmann, Lenderman, Bonin and Kacheishvili just to name a few are all special people that I could only ever meet at the Marshall. A Special Thanks to the staff and the board for giving me the opportunity to meet such people as well as play them.
— Jermaine Reid, Former Marshall Assistant Manager
Best Recent Game Contest
The Marshall Spectator is thrilled to announce a new contest for our current members to participate in. If you have played a recent game at the Marshall Chess Club that you think may be appealing to a wider audience, please submit it with your annotations to Spectator@mashallchessclub.org. Each issue we will select the most interesting game based both on the quality of play and annotations and publish it here for our readership to enjoy.
NM Anthony Levin 2187 vs WIM Ellen Wang 2206
March Marshall Under 2400
(Play through the game here.)
This game was important to me as it was the final game in the Monthly Under 2400 tournament, and it allowed me to tie for first place with one other player. It also came at a semi-confidence crisis in my chess. I felt like I was improving, but my results didn't reflect it. This event helped boost my morale.
While I was nervous I allowed too much play on the kingside at some point, I was very nervous and took some 15-20 minutes to find 23.Be2, the engine says my advantage was never in jeopardy. Although I didn't win the computer's top choice in the end, the win was never in question.
Want to submit your games? Simply email a recent annotated game that you played at the Marshall to us at Spectator@marshallchessclub.org and you will automatically be entered into the contest.
We look forward to reading your submissions and sharing your recent brilliancies with our readership!
NM Anthony Levin, Marshall Chess Club Member
Fundraiser to Benefit Ukraine
The Marshall Chess Club Tournament Committee has approved a fundraising event and tournament to benefit the victims of the ongoing crisis in Ukraine. The Club will collect all donations and will contribute them in full to the Tvoya Opora Foundation which supports wounded and displaced Ukrainian families and was personally selected by GM Anna Muzychuk.
The event will be held in person at the Marshall Chess Club on 3/26, for details, please see our calendar.
– Le Quang Liem is the sole leader of the Charity Cup preliminaries after eight rounds. The Vietnamese grandmaster won six out of eight games so far to go into day 3 with an unbeaten 20/24 score. A full four points behind stand Magnus Carlsen and Jan-Krzysztof Duda in shared second place.
– The current issue of Chess Life Magazine (March 2022) features Marshall Chess Club Member Megan Paragua on its cover in a feature article authored by Harold Scott.
Problem of the Week
U. Ring and H.-H. Staudte, 1965
Helpmate in 4.
OK, enough with the self-destruction. Let's talk cooperation. Let's talk helpmates. In a helpmate, Black moves first, then White. The two sides work together to mate Black on White's final move. In the above problem, each side makes exactly 4 moves; White's fourth and final move mates Black. There is only one line of play in a helpmate because Black and White are cooperating to mate Black.