Saturday, November 19, 2011

Review of "Invisible Chess Moves"

Israeli International Master Yochanan Afek and French FIDE Master Emmanuel Neiman have analyzed hundreds of high-level international games to discover what kinds of moves are difficult even for the masters to see. The result is this extremely useful collection of positions, game fragments, and puzzles that illustrate the most common causes of chess blindness.

Light bulbs kept going off in my head as I worked my way through the book. "Queen circuits" are hard to see? No kidding, my only tournament loss to a non-expert this year was the lamentable result of not seeing a diagonal queen maneuver clear across the board, followed by a horizontal check to the opposite wing. Anticipating a probable result can lead to blindness? Absolutely! In two drawn rook endgames this year I've missed opportunities to punish critical blunders and collect the full point, simply because it didn't occur to me that a winning opportunity might suddenly and serendipitously appear. Best of all, shortly after I had read the section on backward attacking moves, I invested a knight in a kingside attack because I saw that a critical defense would not prevail because of a quiet, backward attacking move available to my light-squared bishop. 

Take a look at the invisible moves Afek and Neiman have classified and see how many you might have overlooked recently:

Part I - Objective Invisibility - 21 

Chapter 1 - Hard-to-see moves - 22 
A: Quiet moves - 23 
B: Intermediate moves - 27 
The desperado - 31 
C: Alignment - 36 
D: Forgetting the rules - 53 
E: Quiet positions - 57 

Chapter 2 - Geometrically invisible moves - 71 
A: Horizontal effect - 72 
B: Circuit - 74 
Rook circuit - 74 
Bishop circuit - 75 
Queen circuit - 75 
C: Changing wings - 77 
D: Backward moves - 83 
E: Backward knight moves - 86 
F: Pin and self-pin - 89 
G: Geometrical moves - 96 

Part II - Subjective Invisibility - 111 

Chapter 3 - Invisible moves for positional reasons - 112 
A: Pawn structures - 113 
B: Weakening of the king's defences - 118 
C: Unexpected exchanges - 123 
D: Unusual position of a piece - 126 
E: Anti-developing moves - 133 
F: Residual image - 135 

Chapter 4 - Invisible moves for psychological reasons - 151 
A: Anticipation of the probable result - 152 
B: Blunders in World Championship matches - 163 
C: Forward moves in defence - 167 
D: Backward attacking moves - 176

Test - 191 
Test solutions - 205 
Explanation of Symbols - 237 
Index of Players - 238

In addition to 30 exercise positions sprinkled through the text, the book concludes with 53 test positions graded in difficulty from 1 to 5 stars. My online ratings and recent OTB results indicate that I'm about FIDE 1800, yet I found the 2 star puzzles reasonably challenging. I learned a lot from working through the solutions of the harder ones, though, so don't shy away from this book if you're rated 1700 or above. Below that rating, though, you are probably better off just working through a conventional tactics book; if you have difficulties seeing knight forks and X-ray attacks, you should get those under your belt before you attack these more advanced themes. 

Excellent tactics books have flooded the market, but excellent books dedicated to hard-to-see moves have been, well, practically invisible. Thus I am willing to give this unique work 5 stars in spite of some minor flaws that I hope will be corrected in a future edition:

* The authors do not apply their criteria for game selection consistently. They state that they will generally not use examples that involve rapid time controls or time pressure, but almost 10% of their examples (15) come from rapid games or zeitnot situations. Moreover, in several of the examples the players actually saw and played the putatively hard-to-see winning continuation. Why are they in a book about moves that masters don't see?

* About a dozen of the 53 concluding test problems have hints that are too obvious. "Long diagonal" will definitely draw your attention to the winning skewer on the a8-h1 diagonal, don't you think?

* The first set of 6 exercise positions do not include a discussion of why the winning continuation should be considered hard-to-see.

* The English translation occasionally falters, using phantom words like "automatical," "profylaxis" and "devaluating."

As these flaws detract little from the book's overall impact, I heartily recommend it to anyone rated 1700 or above who wants to improve their chess vision. You may purchase it from Amazon here.

Full disclosure: The publisher provided a review copy of this book to me. I have endeavored to remain completely unbiased and helpful, and feel confident that the review reflects my commitment to objectivity.

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