A Beginning Primer
Review by Steve Goldberg
Chess Progress: From Beginner to Winner, by Erik Czerwin, 2014 Everyman Chess, Algebraic Notation, Paperback, 334pp. $29.95 (ChessCafe Price $25.57)
Chess Progress: From Beginner to Winner, as the title suggests, is designed to take the reader from no knowledge of chess to a reasonable semblance of competency. While I am not sure that an experienced player, as the introduction states, will pore through the book to discover new layers to the game, nevertheless, this is the kind of book I would have enjoyed soaking in when I was new to chess.
With its compelling cover, hefty 334 pages, attractive layout and clear diagrams, the author brings an exciting approach to the reader, while providing a sound foundation with which to build one’s chess knowledge.
As most players can attest, chess is a game that offers a quick learning curve to those who make even a little effort. The rules of the game are rather simple, but most beginners stumble around until they realize there are some basic underpinnings to the game that need to be understood.
That is where this book comes in. Most beginner books stress tactics above all else, or may suggest a number of specific openings. Chess Progress: From Beginner to Winner takes a somewhat different approach.
The table of contents provides the first look at what lies ahead:
- Beginning with the Basics
- The Fundamental Elements of Chess Strategy
- Applying the Elements of Chess Strategy
- The Rules of Chess
- Over the Board
The initial chapter, stretching for nearly a quarter of the book, introduces the reader to the geography of the board (files, ranks, etc.), how each piece moves and captures, how a game ends, and how to read and write chess notation. A number of exercises are included to reinforce the learning process.
I will note that the solution key, toward the end of the book, could have been structured a bit easier. Although each set of exercises in the solution key has a heading indicating generally what section of the book the exercises came from (i.e. “The Board,” “The Pieces,” “Endgame”), it would have been much easier if the solution key included the page numbers where the problems appeared in the book. Another option would have been to have each diagram in the book increase sequentially (diagram 1, diagram 2, etc.). Instead, diagrams begin again at diagram 1 with each new exercise set. As it was, I had to repeatedly verify that I was checking the correct solution for a given problem.
Chapter 2 (“The Fundamental Elements of Chess Strategy”) is where author Czerwin differs from the cookie-cutter tactics approach. Before introducing tactical issues, he introduces the reader to positional elements. Subsections in this chapter cover the Opposition, Critical Squares, Pawn Structure, Weak Squares, Holes and Outposts, and Open and Closed Positions.
Again, a series of exercises help to reinforce these points.
For example, after explaining that “When the kings are not on the same file, a player can try to take distant opposition by creating a box with four matching colour corner squares,” one of the exercises is as follows:The reader is asked to find the move for White that would take the opposition, and the same for Black.
For White, Kg3 does the trick, while for Black, …Kc6 grabs the opposition.
In chapter 3, Czerwin finally begins covering tactical options, but not before discussing principles of when to exchange and when not to exchange material, and reviewing options for defending against attacks. The chapter closes with basic opening principles.
One of the tactics problems I especially enjoyed was the following:It is White to move, and the reader is asked to find the strongest tactical move, and its continuation.
White wins with 1.Rxg5. Then if 1…hxg5, 2.Qh3+ is followed by 3.Qxc8+, and the capture of a knight on the subsequent move. Even though 1…hxg5 is not Black’s strongest reply, this is a nice example of the kind of board vision necessary to find such tactical moves.
Chapter 4 (“The Rules of Chess”) offers the reader a primer for some of the practical aspects of club or tournament play, including the use of chess clocks, how to offer a draw, and how tournaments and tiebreaks work.
The final chapter (“Over the Board”) brings it all together in a very instructive manner. Czerwin goes into detail regarding how to analyze a position, and then gives an example from a specific position.
Other than my annoyance at the setup of the solution key to the problems, my only other complaint is that a number of the explanations to diagram positions contain slight inaccuracies. One or two may almost be inevitable in any publication, but even without carefully checking each and every diagram, I identified at least half a dozen small errors.
The most egregious mistake stipulates a forced mate where in fact there is a defensive move that at least staves off mate for awhile. The other inaccuracies are mild, typically misstating a square (i.e. writing Qc2 when Qb2 was really meant). The only reason I even mention these is that this can be a source of confusion for the beginning player, who may not realize that these are simply typos or mild misstatements.
Nevertheless, Chess Progress: From Beginner to Winner is the kind of book I wish had as a beginner. It brought back some of the excitement I remember experiencing with every new simple insight I gained much more laboriously.
My assessment of this book:
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by Erik Czerwin
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