Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Review of "Improve Your Chess Tactics"

by Yakov Neishtadt. Published by New In Chess, 2011.

Neishtadt has gathered 736 positions and puzzles that provide good tactics practice for club players. I can recommend this book whole-heartedly for any club player that wants to improve his or her tactical ability.

The collection is divided into two parts: a set of chapters devoted to specific tactical motifs, and an "examination" comprising 357 problems with no motif hints. Solutions for all problems are at the rear of the book. Each motif-oriented chapter starts with instructive examples that include a detailed analysis of the principal and alternate variations for each position. The chapter then concludes with problems for the reader to solve. Here are the motifs which get a chapter:

* Deflection
* Decoying
* Eliminating Defenders
* Clearing Squares and Lines
* Pinning and Unpinning
* Interference and Shutting-Off
* Pawn Promotion
* Stalemate

As a player rated about 1800, I found most of the problems in the motif chapters to be relatively easy (but rarely trivial). The "examination" problems were substantially more difficult, although I think lower-rated club players could still benefit from looking each one over for a couple of minutes, then working through Neishtadt's explanation at the end if the right move proves elusive.

Neishtadt's explanations include lucid prose as well as variations, which makes absorbing the material easier. While I had previously seen about 15% of the positions, Neishtadt occasionally presents them a move or two prior to the game situation that others had presented. This allows him to explain how the eventual loser could have avoided catastrophe by a more accurate defense. Too many tactics books (and tactics servers) emphasize the winning shots, while in fact the most important use of tactical ability as you advance in chess is to *avoid* your opponent's winning shots.

I was pleased by the quality of New In Chess' production. The binding is sturdy, the puzzles are easy to read, the principal variation of a solution is in bold to distinguish it from the alternate variations, and analysis diagrams are provided for key positions in long solutions. The answer section always repeats a starting diagram before providing a solution, which spares you the pain of having to skip back and forth.

However, not all is well in paradise:

(1) I do not understand why Neishtadt omitted so many important tactical motifs; double attack, skewers, overloaded defender, zwischenzugs (in-between moves) and discovery should be covered in any book which aspires to provide well-rounded tactics practice for the club player.

(2) Neishtadt short-circuits his analysis too frequently (almost 10% of the problems). For instance, in example #20 Neishtadt concludes "1...Qf3! forced white to resign," and then he goes on to the next problem. He neglects to mention that black must find *another* deflection to win after white defends with 2.Qf1, namely 2...Ra1! After 3. Qxa1 (or 3. Rb1 Rxb1 4. Qxb1) black mates with Qg2#. Neglecting these kinds of details can confuse the less advanced club player.

(3) Finally, his chapter on multiple motifs is a real muddle. Basically every permutation of two or three motifs is presented as a sub-chapter, and gets one or two problems. If I'm looking to practice, say, decoy and interference together, wouldn't I want more than 2 problems to work with? But why I would be looking for specific motif combinations like that in the first place? Neishtadt could profitably move all the examples and problems in this chapter to other chapters, or to the examination.

That said, with over 700 interesting problems accompanied by useful explanations, "Improve Your Chess Tactics" is a good value for the club player.

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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