Every Key is Different
Review by Michael McGuerty
The Inner Game of Chess, Andrew Soltis, Mongoose Press 2014, Paperback, Figurine Algebraic Notation, 324pp. $19.95 (ChessCafe Price $16.95)
Grandmaster Andy Soltis is a popular Chess Life columnist and the author of numerous classics of chess literature, including Pawn Structure Chess, The New Art of Defense in Chess, Rethinking the Chess Pieces, and many others. He was inducted into the U.S. Chess Hall of Fame in 2011.
According to the back cover blurb, “In The Inner Game of Chess, GM Andy Soltis shows that the key to good calculation is good visualization of the position in front of us and then after the moves we’re considering. Being aware of tactical motifs; knowing when to stop looking; and verifying your chosen move are essential, but they all depend on the basic requirement to see clearly what’s going on. The author discusses common obstacles to clear visualization and offers techniques to overcome them in your own play.”
The content is divided as follows:
- What Calculation Is – and Isn’t
- Trees and How to Build Them
- Counting Out
- Monkey Wrenches
- The Practical Calculator
The Inner Game of Chess was first published by McKay in the early 1990s, and, according to the publisher, “this 21st-century edition of Soltis’s celebrated work features new material and revised diagrams and analysis, while retaining all the insights that made The Inner Game of Chess an instant classic.”
So let’s take a look at what has been updated.
Compared to the first edition, McKay 1994 (third printing), the very first example, Piket-Sosonko 1993, has been replaced by a new example, Kamsky-Mamedyarov 2013. Though much of the descriptive language is similar:
M1994 (McKay 1994) pp. 4-5, Piket-Sosonko 1993:
“An amateur looking at this position will recognize the basic elements.”
“There is a lot to notice here. But the master notices quite a bit more than the amateur does.”
“The master knows this is what a winning combination ‘feels’ like.”
M2014 (Mongoose 2014) pp. 6-7, Kamsky-Mamedyarov 2013:
“An amateur looking at this position will quickly count up the material …”
“That’s a lot to see. But a master would see something else.”
“A master ‘feels’ that there should be a killer here.”
In many instances revisions to the analysis have been implemented, for example, from Reshevsky-Botvinnik, 1955:
M1994 p. 9:
Strike three, and this one is fatal. Black wanted to play 33…Nd5 but dismissed it because his g-pawn was hanging. Actually, 33…Nd5 34.Bxg7 f6! Should enable Black to draw easily because White’s bishop is locked out and moves like 35…Nf4 and 35…Nd3+ are threatened. Another two-mover missed.
No time for 34…Nd5 now because of 35.a6.
And this is the fourth two-move variation the world champion overlooked.
M2014 p. 11:
33…f6 34.Ra1 Na6?
Strike three, and this one is fatal. Black could draw with 34…Kc5! and 35.Ra3 Kc4. White would have nothing better than repeating the position (36.Ra4+ K-moves 37.Ra3).
And this is the fourth two-move variation the world champion overlooked.
Other revisions simply include updated references:
M1994 pp. 10-11:
“Of today’s generation, we can speak of remarkable calculators as different in playing style as the ‘tactical’ Viswanathan Anand and Alexey Shirov are from the ‘positional’ Gata Kamsky and Boris Gelfand.”
This is followed by the example Nimzovich-Marshall 1927.
M2014 p. 12:
“Of today’s generation, we can speak of remarkable calculators as different in playing style as the ‘tactical’ Magnus Carlsen and Hikaru Nakamura are from the ‘positional’ Levon Aronian and Anish Giri.”
This is followed by the new example Ivanchuk-Harikrishna, 2004, which replaces Nimzovich-Marshall 1927.
Other examples of this sort are as follows:
M1994 p. 79: “What Garry Kasparov considers ‘natural’ may be something that would never occur to Viswanathan Anand or Gata Kamsky.”
M2014 p. 77: “What Magnus Carlsen considers ‘natural’ may be something that would never occur to Viswanathan Anand or Gata Kamsky.”
And the reference to the computer “Cray Blitz” (M1994 p. 126) is changed to “Stockfish” M2014 p. 122.
In the section “Learning to Visualize” the example Piket-Anand, 1993 (M1994 pp. 24-27) has been replaced by Carlsen-Anand 2013 (M2014 pp. 24-28); again with similar descriptive text within the notes. The chapter “Monkey Wrenches” leads off with a new example, Nisipeanu-Ivanchuk, 1999 (M2014 p. 196), while retaining the previous example, Balcerowski-Krantz, 1966. While the “Line Blocks” section of chapter eight, deletes an example altogether: Kasparov-Roizman, 1978 (M1994 p. 264). In the chapter “Rechecking” the example Botvinnik-Gligoric,1961 (M1994 p. 285) was replaced by Sasikiran-Short, 2003 (M20014 p. 268).
Corrections to the text have also been made, for instance, the game heading Vukic-Romanishin, (M1994 p. 73) was corrected to Bukic-Romanishin, (M2014 p. 72). The end to the game Fischer -Sherwin 1957, was corrected from h3 (M1994 p. 89) to Rxf8 (M2014 p. 87). And the game heading Duras-Spielmann, 1907 (M1994 p. 209) was corrected to Spielmann-Duras, 1907 (M2014 p. 198).
Text was also added or amended to dozens of games. This often includes updates to the previous analysis, though it often only amounts to a new sentence or change of move. With regard to production the new edition has a more open layout, clearer diagrams (but no more have been added), and a broader table of contents. However, the print on some of the pages appears washed out at times and the index has been completely removed.
Thus, there are many minor corrections, but with only five new examples added (and four removed), if you have the earlier McKay edition, there is no overwhelming reason to warrant purchasing this new one.
That said, if you do not own the McKay edition, there is every reason to purchase this new one. The material is far more accessible to the average player than, say, Grandmaster Preparation: Calculation, and therefore more beneficial to actually improving your play and understanding the material and underlying concepts.
Soltis writes, “Ask a master what he actually does during a game and, if truthful, he’ll answer: ‘I calculate variations.’ He looks a few moves ahead and makes a judgment about the various possibilities at his disposal. He knows the old saying that, ‘Chess is 99 percent tactics,’ but he also knows it’s inaccurate. Chess is really 99 percent calculation – the inner game of chess.”
Let’s look at an example of how “juggling ideas and sequences allows a player to be brilliant”:
Honfi – Barczay
White to move
In this position White played 1.c4 to drive the knight back, at the risk of opening up the long diagonal that leads from f6 to b2.
Most masters shown Black’s position would look first at 1…Na3+. It meets the threat to the knight with a gain of time. The only problem is that 2.bxa3! is a simple refutation (because 2…Qa1+ allows 3.Nxa1!).
So Black tries to find a way to use the …Na3+ and …Qxb2 ideas both. And there it is: 1…Rxc4! 2.Qxc4 Qxb2+!! and wins (3.Rxb2 Na3+ 4.K-moves Bxb2+ 5.Kxb2 Nxc4+ and 6…Rxe4).
Soltis notes that “calculation may well be the most important skill a chessplayer can master. Yet more misinformation is circulated about calculating than about any other aspect of chess.” He comments that the most common kind of calculation “calls for seeing not more than two moves into the future.” And that “calculation is a skill that can be studied, learned, and sharpened.”
He ends by saying, “The goal of every calculator should be to find the method most comfortable – and successful – for them. Calculation should be the key that unlocks the inner game of chess, and each person’s key is different.” Luckily for the reader Soltis is a master locksmith who helps the reader find which is the right key for them. The Inner Game of Chess is deservedly considered a classic and modern readers owe it to themselves to find out why.
My assessment of this product:
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by Andrew Soltis
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