Excelling at Chess
|Price: £ 16,99
|Reviewed by: Erik
||Date: 21/5 2002
Excelling at Chess by Jacob Aagaard
The name of the chapters give an indication of the wide range of issues Aagaard takes on in this highly interesting book:
- Think like a Human - and excel at Chess
- Real Chess Players
- No Rules?
- Unforcing Play
- Why Study the Endgame?
- Attitude at the Board and other Tips
- Be Practical
- Openings, Calculation and other Devils
- Solutions to Exercises
Aagaard's main point throughout the book is that chess players are not computers and that we shall study chess by increasing
our "understanding" for the rules and concepts of the game, rather than by considering chess as pure calculation. The human beings ability to understand, extract and recognise patterns and strategic concepts from studying a position is our strong point compared to computers. Of course, humans
also have to calculate variations and to train their calculating ability.
Aagaard sums that up into the practical advice that when training and working on ones game:
"...Before you spend a thousand hours on calculating exercises you should sort out your personal style, your endgame and your openings. I believe that calculation will take you the last step up the ladder, but it will not help your first step. In other words it is easier to improve on positional style with calculation than it is to improve on calculation with positional
Watson's book: "Secrets of Modern Chess Strategy"
Chapter 3 is mainly a discussion of the validity of some of the views put forward by John Watson in his "Secrets of Modern Chess Strategy" (Gambit 1998).
Watson is often quoted to claim that there are no general rules in the way top players in modern chess understand strategy. Aagaard strongly opposes this view.
However, the relevant question is: Does Watson really claims that there are no rules in modern chess? As I have read Watson and again
for this review, he talks more about refining old rules and dogmas, than abandoning them altogether. As it often happens in academic debates like this one, a simplification of the "opponents" views makes it easier to attack and prove ones
view as superior. I am afraid that is partly what Aagaard happens to do in the chapter "No Rules?" But never the less an interesting debate.
In Chapters 6-8 Aagaard takes the issue of how one can work with a chess player's attitude toward playing and a whole range of practical tips and suggestions of how to be working on chess. All in a very "down to earth" way. Even subjects from, how (much) sleep one needs, to what and when to eat, are touched upon.
Aagaard's writing style
Aagaard's style of writing and way of presenting his views are so different and provocative that it makes it hard not to let this interfere with ones opinion of the substance of his views:
"I did not want to waste time doubting my own views, and I have tried to support them as well as I can with arguments and examples. I gave my best shot. If you have a feeling that I am incorrect you might be right - my mind is not made up and set in stone, but I did not want to waste your time by presenting precautions every third
This is definitely a big decision. Personally I prefer the precautious style of writing, as the full truth is only rarely possible to pinpoint in short statements (was that what I just did here??). And
Aagaard's book is indeed full of statements. Sometime they are much too simplistic to convince me.
As an example: When he tries to define "Real Chess Players" comparing today's top players I get a bit sceptical if the truth in the matter really is that simple:
"In my opinion Vladimir Kramnik is the player whose understanding of chess is the deepest at the moment. Kasparov's problems in their match, whenever the game slid into a technical position, were indicative of this." ... "I am not sure of whether Kramnik understands attacking chess in the way that Kasparov does. For example, I believe that had he not read it somewhere, he might not be aware that the number of pieces is almost the only thing that counts when you have a position with attacks on both sides. This kind of more subtle insights belongs to the old
His best shot?
I will allow myself to be a bit rude. I have the feeling that "Excelling at Chess" is a very fine first draft for a book. It should have had a critical read over and comments by one of Jacobs many friends, and then have been written through again. I am sure Jacob is not satisfied with the argumentation in
the quote above.
It is very difficult subjects that Aagaard addresses in this book, and I shall certainly not claim to have understood everything in
Aagaard's argumentations in the book, nor have a clear opinion about the matters myself.
It is a very ambitious book, and Jacob Aagaard deserves much credit for his willingness to put forward his personal views on how to study and understand chess. His views are not trivial.
I really don't think that this is "his best shot" as he claims in the Foreword.
However, let us see many more books from Aagaard, and also with some further elaboration on his views in this book.
A brave and thought provoking book. It has many good points and suggestions for the ambitious player who wants to work on his game. But it is definitely not a flawless book. I am
e.g. not sure if the first three chapters and the at times rather academic discussion about if there are "rules" in chess or not, is very important to the average chess player who wants to improve his play.
That aside: Still a book I will recommend.