Thursday, December 29, 2011

Review of "1.d4 - Beat the Guerillas!"

by Valeri Bronznik. Published by New In Chess, 2011

International Master Valeri Bronznik has burned a lot of midnight oil to help the 1.d4 player build a good repertoire against offbeat opening responses by black. He assumes that white will continue 2. c4 and 3. Nc3 or 3. Nf3 before black goes off the beaten path, although black can still essay some of these openings (like the Delayed Stonewall) against 2. Nf3. Since the black player in these unusual openings will have the advantage of familiarity with the complications that can ensue from white's sharpest continuations, Bronznik has designed his repertoire to help white obtain a stable, though often modest, advantage while sidestepping the deep complications. If you're the kind of 1. d4 player who likes the chess equivalent of a knife fight in a blind alley, some of Bronznik's suggestions may not be your cup of tea; but if (like most 1. d4 players) you're happy with a stable positional plus, I can recommend it without reservation.

For each opening Bronznik presents a chapter in three parts:
1. Introduction to the opening: what black is trying to accomplish and what possibilities white might consider.
2. Detailed discussion of the suggested white repertoire in the context of model high-level games. A few of the "games" are actually just Bronznik's analysis, although his discussion cites play from recent high-level games to justify his analysis choices.
3. Summary of the repertoire choice(s).

Bronznik's work is both thorough and well-organized. His analysis incorporates the published analysis of dozens of grandmasters, although he is not afraid to explain why he occasionally disagrees with even the most highly regarded (like Avrukh) when a recent game result or better computer analysis is available. His analysis includes plenty of top-flight games from the last couple of years, although earlier examples are not neglected when appropriate. And where black has plenty of choices for seeking to impose his will, Bronznik provides detailed analysis of white's strongest responses.
While Bronznik focuses on white's repertoire choices, he has not written a one-sided how-can-white-not-win-with-this-great-repertoire book. Against sound black openings like the Schara-Hennig Gambit (the von Hennig-Schara Gambit for American readers), he acknowledges that white cannot expect anything more than a slight advantage out of the opening. In his analysis of model games he offers improvements for black as well as for white, too. As a result, I can recommend this book for those who play the black side of any of the 24 openings that he discusses.

So you'll know the scope of Bronznik's work, here are those openings:

Englund Gambit
Soller Gambit Delayed
Hartlaub Gambit Delayed
Felbecker Gambit
Zilbermints Gambit
Dutch Benoni
The Woozle
Polish Defence
Keres Defence
English Defence
Owen Defence
Marshall Defence
Austrian Defence
Baltic Defence
Albin's Counter Gambit
Schara-Hennig Gambit
Delayed Stonewall
Snake Benoni
The Vulture
Fajarowicz Gambit
Budapest Gambit
Black Knights' Tango

With a rating of only about 1800 (based on my online play) I cannot pass judgment on the quality of Bronznik's choices, other than to say that he has obviously read widely and analyzed deeply with computer assistance to arrive at his conclusions. That said, as a player of the black side of the Schara-Hennig Gambit, I have found his analysis to be much more helpful than anything else I have read on the opening.

I can heartily recommend this book for anyone rated 1800 and up who wants a good repertoire against offbeat black responses to 1.d4, although someone rated down to 1500 could probably derive great benefit by using it as a reference. Also, anyone who plays the black side of any of these openings would find plenty of helpful material as well.

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.

You can buy the book at Amazon here.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Ron Paul and His Publications

There's a lot to like about Ron Paul. When he was a full-time medical practicioner, he provided free and reduced-price medical services to the needy. He does not think that America's strength lies primarily in its military power, as so many of his colleagues do. He champions religious liberty for Americans of all persuasions, including Muslims. And I'm just getting started.

But today I must profess that I, like James Kirchick, am deeply troubled that Paul issued, under his name, terrible racist propaganda in the 1990s. Paul disclaimed the abusive statements in 2008, saying that he had not paid sufficient attention to the Ron Paul Political Report that was written and edited by others. But I am not reassured for two reasons:

  1. During his 1998 campaign for Congress, Paul did claim responsibility for the statements, but contended that they had been "taken out of context." (So what was the context for claiming that the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. was a "world-class philanderer who beat up his paramours...and seduced underage girls and boys"? )
  2. Even after his 2008 disclaimer, Paul has continued to spin astonishing conspiracy theories. For example, Paul has continued to make appearances on the radio program of Alex Jones, a conspiracy theorist run amok. (Jones has claimed that the US government is adding chemicals to the nation's water to turn everyone homosexual so they don't have children, and that the government blew up the space shuttle Columbia as a "textbook psychological warfare operation.")  In March 2009 Jones asked for Paul's thoughts on the alleged conspiracy by NORTHCOM, the U.S. military command for North America, to take over the country. Paul responded that "the average member of Congress probably isn't a participant in the grand conspiracy." Note that Paul did not say that the "grand conspiracy" does not exist! And Paul claimed in a 2010 speech that the CIA had implemented a coup and seized effective control of the U.S. government and military (see it on YouTube here).
Even if we put the best possible interpretation on Paul's troubling newsletters by accepting Paul's disclaimers, I still think they disqualify him from the office of chief executive and commander-in-chief. Here's why:

  • First, to accept his 2008 disclaimer I must also accept that he lied in 1998 when he did take responsibility for the newsletters.  
  • Second, and most importantly, his utter inattention to newsletters that were going out under his name betrays an inability to act as a trustworthy manager of a political enterprise. How am I supposed to trust him to manage a cabinet and federal agencies, when his utter detachment from a small staff that reported directly to him allowed bitter and reprehensible propaganda to stream forth under his name for a decade?

DeMint's egregious violation of the 8th commandment

The pro-life movement that Senator DeMint professes to be part of rests on the foundation of traditional Judeo-Christian ethics. The Fifth Commandment--"You shall not murder"--might even be considered the cornerstone of the pro-life movement. DeMint is evidently too busy to continue reading to the end of Exodus chapter 20, though, as yesterday he ran afoul of the Eighth Commandment ("You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor"). In fact, DeMint bore false witness against 44 million neighbors: the Americans who are in such economic distress that they receive food stamps.

I was aghast at DeMint's fabrication: "Many Americans are sick of seeing the guy in front of them in the grocery line using food stamps to buy steaks." Maybe his insult against the poor is hitting me so hard because at one time I myself was a food stamp recipient. I couldn't even afford ground round, much less steak! As far as I can tell, DeMint and economic reality are in two separate universes. I have seen plenty of people use food stamps at grocery stores, but never once have I seen them procure steaks. There are members of my church who receive food stamps, and they don't use them to buy steaks either.

Most of you who are reading this have "neighbors" who are food stamp recipients, since they constitute about 15% of Americans. They're the members of your worship community, perhaps, who are struggling financially. Do you think they buy steaks and caviar with food stamps? Nine million of them are elderly and blind who depend on Supplemental Security. About nine million depend on Social Security.  About the same number are unemployed and looking for work. And about half are children. Hey kids--stop picking up those packages of sirloin from the meat department!

It is probably easy for DeMint to weave fables like this because the company he keeps does not include food stamp recipients. Recipients are, I imagine, in short supply in the hallowed halls of Congress.  Not many of his campaign donors receive food stamps either, I reckon.

But why would he pronounce such reckless slander to the press? It appears that he's trying to demonize the impoverished children, and the blind, and the aged, and the disabled, and the unemployed so he can justify a budget-cutting plan whose burden falls almost completely on the poorest Americans. In fact, $3 trillion of the cuts he proposes affect the poorest Americans, and only $20 billion (one half of one percent) affect the wealthy. And you wonder why there's an Occupy movement.

DeMint is trying to take the easy road by talking tough on deficit spending without addressing its root causes. Something you rarely hear in all the Tea Party talk is that, with the exception of three key programs, federal spending as a percentage of the national economy has not grown at all over the past few decades. And what would those three runaway components of the federal budget be? I'll save that for another post....but suffice it to say that those 3 programs have extremely well-financed lobbyists and vast constituencies. So DeMint would put himself in real political peril if he were to advance an effective deficit reduction plan that aims at the 3 runaway programs. But courage, like food stamp recipients, seems to be in short supply in the hallowed halls of Congress.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Review of "Power Chess for Kids" by Charles Hertan

I've coached chess kids for many years, and have always sought good material to recommend to students who want to make progress. For the student who is at the appropriate stage in development, Hertan's work is among the best I've seen.

Hertan teaches four "power tricks" to get better:
1. Know and use the value of the pieces.
2. The 'Quick Count' - Count the defenders and attackers to see whether a piece can be safely captured
3. Takes Takes Bang! - Make a trade to set up a winning (bang!) move
4. Check Moves Bang! - Use a check to set up a winning (bang!) move

The last 2 power tricks are a very useful introduction to forcing moves, which every chess player must master in order to become strong.

Hertan then shows how to use these power tricks with 4 different tactical motifs: forks, pins, skewers, and interference moves. The last 4 chapters contain a total of about 150 teaching positions, along with 30 exercises to reinforce the reader's grasp of the concepts.

The book closes with a useful glossary of chess terms (like "endgame" and "perpetual check") for the chess learner. The author references a forthcoming second book, which will presumably cover how to apply the 4 power tricks with other tactical motifs like discovered attack, deflection, and removal of the guard. Keep an eye out for it; it's sure to be worthwhile.

The 4 cartoon characters add zest and quirky humor, making it a fun read. I asked my teenage son, a retired chess prodigy, to read the book and give me his opinion. He said he really enjoyed it and found it helpful; in fact, he wished he had been able to read it when he was playing chess. That, in a nutshell, is why I award the book 5 stars out of 5.

That said, I must disagree with the notion that this is the most complete chess book for kids:

* It is too advanced to serve as a second book for chess learners, who need more grounding in fundamentals like not leaving your pieces unguarded, and not playing with just your queen. It also assumes a mastery of chess rules, and the explanation of chess notation is quite rudimentary.

* It does not cover some important topics, like checkmate patterns, openings, and endgames. I understand the author's desire to narrow the scope of the book, as it provides greater focus on the 4 power tricks. Moreover, middlegame tactics are the single most important topic to learn if you want to become strong. However, you forfeit the right to call the book a "complete" set of chess lessons when you exclude these other important topics. After you finish this little gem, I'd suggest the following reading program --

For checkmate patterns, you'll want to obtain Checkmate for Children: Mastering the Most Important Skill in Chess or How to Beat Your Dad at Chess. For openings, you might try The Complete Idiot's Guide to Chess Openings. And for endgames, you should consider Silman's Complete Endgame Course: From Beginner To Master.

Like pretty much every chess book, the work under review has some minor flaws:

* The terms "interpolation" and "hook-up" are used without definition, and do not appear in the glossary.

* A few examples have unexplored alternative solutions.

* Chess mastery is gained more from practice than from conceptual understanding, and this book is light on the exercises that would provide practice opportunities.

So it has a couple of warts and limitations...who cares? It's still a fun, instructive and helpful book for anyone--kid or adult--rated 600 to 1400 who wants to get better at chess.

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.