Title: Garry Kasparov’s Greatest Chess Games: Volume 2

Author: Igor Stohl

Publisher: Gambit

Genre: Game Collection/Biography

Level: Advanced Beginner and up

There are two good reasons Igor Stohl starts his second collection of Garry Kasparov’s best games in 1994. The first reason, which Stohl mentions in Garry Kasparov’s Greatest Chess Games: Volume 2, is that 1994 marks the time when Kasparov started to use computers seriously. The switch to computers made Kasparov’s games (and following him the rest of the chess elite’s games) more concrete and dynamic. The second reason to start in 1994, which is probably connected to the first one but not mentioned in his book, is that 1994 is about the time when I, Chessbug, stopped understanding any of Kasparov’s games. Although I read the games with annotations from daily papers and serious periodicals, such as New in Chess, I just could not get it, and my sense is that this is true for other amateurs.

 

Middlegame

* chessbug@chessbug.com

 

The games would make sense in the first three moves and would start resembling chess at around move 20, but anything in between seemed totally chaotic. All the principals that I thought I understood (piece development, king safety and avoidance of long term weaknesses) were not to be seen in the games of Kasparov (and later Shirov, Morozevich, Topalov, Aronian...) What made it even worse was that most games seemed to be decided in those very moves which I did not understand. With a good annotator I could understand Capablanca, Tal, or even Karpov, but the late Kasparov games were like abstract art explained in Chinese. For this reason I thought that the greatest challenge for Stohl would be to explain the games I did not understand. Stohl handles the challenge in a most impressive way (and he even tops it with other goodies).

The first game that I rushed to see was Kasparov-Anand, as I had spent many hours with this “encrypted” game. Here are the questions I still remembered and (in parentheses) the answers I got from Garry Kasparov’s Greatest Chess Games: Volume 2. Why did Kasparov play such a dubious opening against an opponent as mighty as Anand? (Psychology, my dear Watson, Kasparov wanted to play ultra aggressive and defeat Anand just before their World Championship match) What is so wonderful about 7 Be2? (Not much, only that it has hardly ever been played before) Why didn’t Anand castle? (He probably should have castled on move 12) At what point did the game become totally won for White? (After Black’s 18th move) And, most difficult, wasn’t Anand’s resignation somewhat premature or in more direct words why the _ _ _ _ did Anand resign? (He resigns for very good reasons, which Stohl demonstrates with a couple of straight forward variations). Stohl passed the first test and I continued reading with a lot of anticipation.

 

The rest of the games were not disappointing, not disappointing at all. Stohl has the right mixture of variation annotations, verbal explanations, some psychology and background explanations, and short surveys about the development of the opening variations Kasparov used in his games. This means you can read the book in three different levels of reading: you could either skim through the games and read it as a bedtime book, or you could read it as a guide for modern chess thinking (to see how the top players of the last decade think about the game), or, and this is the best way in my opinion, you can read every game deeply, go with the annotations and beyond and gather many chess insights. Let us take one game for example and see these three options of reading. The game Kasparov – Panno, Argentina-Kasparov simul, Buenos-Aires, 1997 is a game that you can just read through and understand its place in the history of the development of the Nimzo-Indian defense or you can read it from a “positional” interest and see the work of the passed pawn and later the restricting effect of White’s h pawn on Black’s pawns, or you can try and understand another one of Kasparov’s mysterious games. The third option can be achieved only by taking out your board, playing through the game, and going through the variations that Stohl gives. For example look at the following position:

 

Can your intuition tell you that the right move is… let me give you another second to guess…

Well, Kasparov’s move here was 10 0-0-0! Why would anyone in his right mind castle on the queenside, where Black has a potential semi-open b file and White’s only defending piece is… his queen. And after Black‘s reply 10…Ne4 White’s best move is 11 Qd3! What about the f2 square? What about the bishop on g5? You must see the actual lines in order to understand what is going on here. But if you try to guess the moves and then (after you failed) you follow the lines, your ability to appreciate great chess will benefit. Moving in the same Kasparov-Panno game we arrive at the following position:

 

 

 

What is White’s winning move after Black plays his best move 34…Ba6(!)? The Answer is 35 Ke1! Would you believe it? Well I did not, but after I checked the lines and read Stohl’s explanations, I can see why it is the winning move and even grasp the logic behind it. As a matter of fact I think that the strongest point of Garry Kasparov’s Greatest Chess Games: Volume 2 is Stohl’s handling of the late middlegames and the endgames. As much as I enjoyed the explanations on the openings there is no way I can incorporate Kasparov’s way of preparation into my games (for example in the Kasparov-Panno game the novelty was on move 10 and the home preparation ended as late as move 26!) The case is different with the endgame and middlegame where the book can give you a lot, and if you go through the games thoroughly you will improve your chess, on top of having hours and hours of fun.

The book contains 55 games and I think an average game would take the ambitious reader about four hours of active reading (4 hours per game was my average). As with other high quality books, the more in-depth you read the more you find places where both you and the book could improve. For example when I analyzed the game Kasparov-Ponomariov, Linares 2003, I arrived at the following position.

Kasparov-Ponomariov (variation)

Here White has just played 23 Kg1-g2 and Stohl says “White’s knight will quickly join the attack with a decisive effect.” I tried to play on and I could not make White’s knight join the attack. Desperate, I decided to check it with my buddy Shredder 9.11 who came with a different “idea”: after 23…Re2+ 24 Kh3 Rae8 25 Qf3(!) Shredder leaves the knight on d2, puts the bishop on f4 and the white queen goes on to grab pawns on the queenside. This does not mean that Stohl’s plan does not work but it only goes to show that each game in the collection is a world of rich complex ideas that will give you hours of fun. (I continued to play the position against Shredder and learnt how weak I am with a queen against two rooks, even if I have three extra pawns) From Shredder I also learnt other details about the Kasparov-Ponomariov game, but this would in no-way be a substitute to the clear HUMAN explanations of Stohl.

Speaking of “human” it is clear that no-one knows a game more than the person who actually won the game, in this case Kasparov. As much as Stohl adds to Kasparov’s previous annotations of the games, I still miss the “here is what I thought when my opponent took off his jacket” that you can get only from the player himself (and the game collections of Tal, Fischer, and Korchnoi come to mind). Still, from what I learn from Kasparov’s interviews, My Best Games by Kasparov is not on the cards, at least not in the next couple of years. If the choice is between waiting for Kasparov to write his ultimate game collection, and reading an excellent book about Kasparov’s games, written by Stohl then I easily choose the second option. I am still looking forward for the Kasparov book, and I hope it will come out one day, but with Stohl my insight of professional chess in the computer-age, took a great leap forward.

As much as I appreciate my new comprehension of modern chess, I appreciate even more what this book does on the parts that come after the computer-aided opening preparation. I know, being the amateur that I am, I will never have the time, energy or memory that it takes to even try to imitate the kind of opening preparation that 2700 Grandmasters go through. On the other hand, when talking about understanding of dynamic factors, tactical motives, endgame play or even chess psychology there is a lot I took from this book. For example, from Kasparov-Anand I learnt to play ultra-aggressive chess in critical games (knowing that both my opponent and I would make blunders due to stress). From Kasparov – Panno I learnt about Knight Vs. Bishop endings, and from Lutz-Kasparov on mating attacks in the endgame. From Tiviakov - Kasparov I learnt about the power of the bishop pair in the middlegame and the right time to exchange into an opposite-colored bishop middlegame. From Kasparov-Ponomariov I learnt about the way to open a closed position, about the timing of changing from attacking into a won endgame, and I also learnt that even world champions sometimes go for winning material with a check(22 Qxg5+) instead of adding more power to the attack (22 Rcf1!). I still hope for Kasparov to write a book dedicated to these games, and when he does I will be the first to read it, but until the return of the king, Garry Kasparov’s Greatest Chess Games: Volume 2 will supply me a great pastime and many valuable chess lessons.

The Good Things:

  • The latest collection of the latest games of the world’s greatest player ever

  • The collection is suited to players in different levels of understanding – from almost beginners to at least masters

  • The annotations are deep but not tedious and there is also some room for the reader to do his own work

The Bad Things:

  • Stohl did a wonderful work, but one still dreams of reading a new Kasparov book on Kasparov

Quote:

“Kasparov himself admits that this game [Movsesian – Kasparov, Sarajevo 2000] had a psychological background, but to understand it fully, one has to expand a bit beyond his notes…”

The Bottom Line: If you want to give a chess gift to a special friend, no matter what her or his chess level is, then Garry Kasparov’s Greatest Chess Games, by Igor Stohl, is an excellent option.

Rating: 9/10

Review written by Chessbug.

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