|Title: Understanding Your Chess
|Reviewed by: Sune
||Date: 1/6 2004
Understanding Your Chess
James Rizzitano, an International Master from New England US, has written Understanding Your Chess. The book follows in the layout style of others Gambit Publications Ltd., most notably David Moir’s brilliant books, which are also reviewed on this site. My first reaction to Mr. Rizzitano’s book was – yes indeed! I would like to understand my chess!
I remember struggling through Mr. Alexander Kotov most excellent book Think Like a Grandmaster, when I was in my early teens. How nicely structured the tree of analysis looked, how simple a Grandmaster’s thoughts looked on paper, and how complex it was when I sat down to play. I sit at the table thinking: Why did I push that pawn; look at all the weaknesses I created? Why didn’t I grab the initiative when I had the chance? What should I do now? I have no idea what is going on, etc. In the post mortem, my limited scope becomes even clearer; therefore, it is difficult to turn down a book that proposes to help me understand my chess, learn from my games and improve my results.
It was with high expectations I sat down with the book and my chessboard. Maybe I could actually get a little glimpse of myself as a chessplayer, work on my strengths and weaknesses.
In essence the book is set up in nine Chapters:
1. Battling Goliath
2. Tactical Skirmishes
3. Opening Hits
4. Opening Misses
5. Opening Wars
6. Power of the Initiative
7. Accumulating Small Advantages
8. Runaway Tactics
9. Endgame Adventures
Each chapter features a collection of games played by Mr. Rizzitano. The games are analysed in absolute detail and often contains little anecdotes, which makes the book nicely readable. At the end of each game is a few points of Game Lessons indicating what was learned from this game.
An Example from the Book
Let us see an example from the chapter Power of the Initiative:
Game 44: Heavy Artillery
Nick de Firmian – James Rizzitano
Continenetal Chess International, New York 1982
C11 French Defence, Steinitz
Although I already had enough points for a grandmaster norm, none of my GM-Candidate opponents in this Swiss-system event officially had the title yet, so I could not obtain a GM norm, because of this technicality. I was one point ahead of the field and Nick needed to win the last-round game in order to force a tie for first place. The solid French Defence seemed like a good choice in this situation – let the opponent worry about creating an unbalanced game. I have a healthy respect for this opening as a result of having played just about every variation against over the years without achieving much theoretical success.
2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e5
A sharp alternative to 4.Bg5
4...Nfd7 5.f4 c5 6.Nf3 Nc6 7.Be3 cxd4 8.Nxd4 Nxd4
Current opening theory frowns upon this time-consuming manoeuvre and prefers the sharper 8...Bc5; for 8...Qb6 see Game 31
Three years later Nick played 10.Bf2 Nc6 11.Nb5 a6 12.Nd4 Bc5 13.c3 f6 with sharp play in de Firmian – Shirazi, USA Ch, Estes Park 1985
10.Bd3 Nc6 11.Bf2 is also possible when Black has a choice of:
- 11...Be7 12 Qh5! Qa5 12 0-0 ga 14. Qh6 Bf8 15. Qh3 with a clear advantage for white, Nunn-Sutton, Peterborough 1984.
- 11...g6 12.a3 Bd7 13.0–0 h5 14.Nb5 a6 15.Nd6+ Bxd6 16.exd6 Qb8 (Nunn – K.J. Schulz, Bundesliga 1985/85), and now Nunn recomends 17.Bh4! Qxd6 18.Bf6 Rg8 19.Qe2 with a clear advantage. Black has problems on the dark squares, but I think he can defend by playing 19...Qc5+ 20.Kh1 Ne7 21.b4 Qb6 22.Bxe7 Kxe7 23.f5 gxf5 24.Rxf5 Rg7 with an unclear position
- 11...Qa5 12.0–0 Bc5 13.Nb5 Bxf2+ 14.Rxf2 0–0 15.Qh5 g6 16.Qh6 (16.Qg5) with a slight edge for white, T.Taylor – Barth, Marshall CC Ch 1983.
10...Nc6 11.Nb5 Be7?!
Inaccurate. Black can exploit White’s misplaced dark-squared bishop by playing 11...a6! 12.Nd4 Qb6 13.Rb1 Bc5 14.c3 Nxd4 15.Bxd4 Bd7 with equal chances.
12.Bd3 a6 13.Nd4 Bd7 14.0–0 Bc5 15.c3 Qb6
Nick finds an imaginative way to fight for the initiative in a must-win situation.
16...Bxd4 17.cxd4 Ne7
A dual-purpose move which prepares to challenge Whites powerful light-squared bishop and also
inhibits the f5 break. In view of the tournament situation I didn’t seriously consider the risky pawn-grab 17...Qxb4!? 18.Rb1 Qa3; this was a practical time-saving decision because I did not think that Black’s position was inferior or required any extraordinary action.
Black has succeeded in activating his ‘bad’ light-squared bishop by
maneuvering it outside the central pawn-chain. I had successfully implemented a similar plan earlier in the tournament (see Game 44.1).
19.Bc2 Bc4 20.a4 Nf5 21.Bf2 h5
21...Qxb4?! is risky due to 22.Rb1 Qe7 23.Rb6 Rc8 24.Qb1 Rc7 25.Bxf5 exf5 26.Qxf5 0–0 27.Qh5 intending f5 with kingside attacking chances.
22.Qb1 g6 23.Qb2 Qd8 24.Ra3 b6!
Black gains the ‘middlegame pawn opposition’ with this prophylactic move. The idea is to give Black the flexibility to lock the queenside pawns depending upon which one White advances. During the game I remembered one of the most famous examples of this useful defensive technique (see Game 44.2).
Black’s king is reasonably safe here. The alternative is 25…h4!? With the idea of …Kf8-g7 similar to a Caro-Kann Gurgenidze System. After the game continuation both sides roll their heavy artillery onto the c-file in preparation for the next battle. I have always been
partial to these types of king moves; one of my favourite examples is shown below (see Game 44.3).
26.b5 a5 27.Rc3 Rc8 28.Rc1 Qe7 29.Bd1 Rc7 30.Qc2 Rhc8 31.g4
A minor victory for White as he gains some space and forces the knight to retreat.
31…hxg4 32.hxg4 Ng7 33.Be1 Rh8 34.Be2 Rhc8 35.Bd1 Rh8 36.Be2 Rhc8 37.Bf1 f5!?
This is the obvious move to open the position for the bishops, but 38. g5!? Could be considered. 38…Nh5 39.Bd2 Ng3!? 40.Rxg3 Bxf1 and White must decide whether to exchange a set of rooks:
1) 41.Rc3 Rxc3 42.Bxc3 and now
1a) 42…Qh7!? (speculative) 43.Kxf1 (43.Rxf1? loses to 43…Qh3) 43...Qh1+ 44.Ke2 Qg2+ 45.Ke1 Qg1+ 46.Ke2 Qg4+ 47.Ke1 and now Black can try:
1a1) 47…Rh8 48.Qf2 Rh3 and here:
1a11) 49.Kd2 Rg3 50.Qe1 Rg2+ 51.Kd3 Qh3+ 52.Qe3 Rg3 53.Bd2 Rxe3+ 54.Bxe3 Qg2 and Black has a clear avantage because of the weak white a4-pawn
1a12) 49.Bxa5! (the white bishop is infewctive, so let’s sacrifice it to create a passed pawn) bxa5 (49...Rf3 50.Bxb6 I s also drawn 50.b6 Rg3 51.Rc7+! (51.b7? loses to 51…Rg1+ 52.Kd2 Rg2) 51...Kd8 52.Rc8+! Kxc8 53.Qc2+ Kd8 54.Qc7+ Ke8 55.Qc8+ Ke7 56.Qc7+ with a draw.
1a2) 47...Qxf4!? 48.Qe2 Qg3+ 49.Qf2 (49.Kd1 Rh8) 49...Rxc3 50.Qxg3 (50.Rxc3 Qxc3+ 51.Qd2 Qb4 is winning for Black) 50...Rxg3 51.Rc6 Rxg5 52.Rxb6 Rg4 looks favourable for Black.
1b) 42...Bc4 (simple and strong) 43.Qh2 Qa3 44.Qh7+ Kd8 45.Rc2 Qxa4 46.Rc1 (the black king runs away and hides after 46.Qg8+ Kc7 47.Qf7+ Kb8 48.Qxe6 Kb7) 46...Qa3 47.Rc2 Qb3 48.Rc1 Bxb5 49.Qh8+ Kc7 50.Bxa5+ Bc4 51.Qh7+ Kb8 52.Bc3 Ba6 gives Black a clear advantage.
2) 41.Bc3 (apparently best) and now Black has a choice of:
2a) Bc4 42.Rh3 (42.Qh2!? is also possible) 42...Qa3 43.Ra1 Bb3 44.Qb1 Bc2! (the clinging bishop) 45.Rxa3 Bxb1 with equal chances.
2b) 41...Qh7!? (contesting the h-file) 42.Rxf1 Qh4 and white has a choice of:
2b1) 43.Qf2 Rxc3 44.Rxc3 Qxf2+ 45.Kxf2 Rxc3 46.Rh1 is equal.
2b2) 43.Qd3 Rxc3 44.Qxc3 Rxc3 45.Rxc3 Qg4+ 46.Kh2 Qe2+ 47.Kg1 Qg4+ with a draw by perpetual check; Black must avoid 47...Qd2?? 48.Rfc1 Qxd4+ 49.Kg2 Qe4+ 50.Kg3, when the black king is in a mating-net.
2b3) 43.Rff3 Rxc3 44.Rxc3 Qxg3+ 45.Rxg3 Rxc2 46.Rh3 Rc1+ 47.Kg2 Rc2+ 48.Kf3 Rc3+ 49.Kg2 Rxh3 50.Kxh3 gives new meaning to the expression ‘ dead drawn’.
38...Qxf6 39.Qd2 Bxf1
39...Ne8!? is also possible.
40.Rxc7+ Rxc7 41.Rxc7+ Kxc7 42.Kxf1 Ne8 43.Qc3+ Kd8 44.Bg3
The immediate queen infiltration leads nowhere after 44.Qc6 Qxf4+ 45.Bf2 Qxg4 46.Qxb6+ Ke7 47.Qa7+ Kf8 48.Qxa5 Qd1+
44...Nd6 45.Qc6 Nc4 46.Kg2 Ke7
Black must avoid 46...Qxd4?? 47.Bh4+.
47.Qc7+ Kf8 48.Kh3 Qf7
Also sufficient is 48...Qe7 (48...Qxd4? is risky: 49.Qd8+ Kf7 50.Qd7+ Kf8 51.Qxe6) 49.Qc8+ Kg7 50.Bh4 Qa3+ 51.Bg3 Qe7 with equal chances.
49.Qc6 Kg7 50.Qc8
Stronger than 51.fxg5 Qf1+ 52.Kh2 Qe2+ 53.Kh3 Qf1+ with a draw by repetition.
51...gxf4 52.Bxf4 Qg6
Simpler is 52...Qf6! 53.Qc7+ Kg6 54.Qb8 Kg7 55.Qc7+, again with a draw by repetition.
53.Be5+ Kf7 54.Qc7+ Ke8 55.Kg3 Ne3 56.Qc8+ Kf7
Black must remain alert and avoid 56...Ke7?? 57.Bd6+!! Kf6 (57...Kxd6 58.Qd8#; 57...Kf7 58.Qf8#) 58.Qh8+ mating shortly
57.Qd7+ Kg8 58.Qd8+ Kf7 59.Qd7+ Kg8 60.g5 Qxg5+
60...Nc4 61.Qd8+ Kf7 is also possible; then White cannot make any progress.
Black has perpetual check provided he is careful to stay on the light squares.
62.Kxe3 Qh3+ 63.Kf2 Qf5+ 64.Kg2 Qg4+ 65.Kh2 Qh5+ 66.Kg3 Qg6+ 67.Kh3 Qh5+ 68.Kg2 Qg4+ 69.Bg3 Qe2+ 70.Kh3 Qh5+ 71.Bh4 Qf3+ 72.Kh2 Qe2+ 73.Kg3 Qd3+ 74.Kf4 Qf5+ ½-½
- Select the opening appropriate to the tournament situation. Here Black could afford to play solidly and put the onus of unbalancing the position on White.
- Black’s idea of maneuvering the light squared bishop outside the central pawn-chain by playing 17…Ne7 and 18…Bb5 is a common motif in the French Defence.
- The defensive advance 24…b6! Slowed down White’s initiative on the queenside.
- White had the interesting alternative 38. g5!? Instead of 38. exf6 - the resulting
variations are very complicated but will repay careful study. Although both players’ pieces are concentrated on the c-file, the real battle is over control of the h-file.
- Remain alert at all times; the attentive 56…Kf7 enabled Black to maintain the balance.
This excerpt clearly shows that the games are analysed in great detail and Mr. Rizzitano annotations are illuminating to the reader, both as to the individual game and the surrounding comments.
A Games Collection
But back to the premise Understanding Your Chess... This is where the book disappoints. It simply does not meet the horizon of expectations, which it sets up. I do not come closer to understanding my chess, learn from my games, or improve my results. At best, I can use the games as a template for studies of my own games, however the book lacks guidance, tools, and teaching. It is simply a collection of annotated games by an average International Master.
In essence Understand Your Chess is a collection of annotated games by an International Master, played over 15 years ago with great annotations, but no teaching involved. I can only recommend this book to people from the US and in particular the New England area, who know Mr. Rizzitano and will enjoy their personal associations to the players and games of this book.
To others I will recommend picking up a one of the great classic collection of games e.g., Nunn, Fischer, Larsen,
Bronstein, Anand, Kraminik, etc.