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on July 26, 2013
This is a very peliminary review. Take this in account, please.

From time to time there are people who think have the secret for chess (I can recall Moskalenko "revolutionize your chess" series - see my review). The new book of Alexander Shashin, a physicist and chess trainer, looks to me a new approach to analyse chess positions. He works in three chess models: Tal's, Capablanca's and Petrosian's styles of playing, to try to find out how they think to find their moves and how to teach people to use these "chess algorithms" in our games.

Shashin's style of writing is like having a chat with him. Sometimes he is trying to convice the reader about the benefits of analysing a chess position using the "principles" of Tal's algorithm. He spend a lot of time working on very difficult positions from Tal's games, to convince the reader about his method to find the strongest move. The examples are really amazing and you can see the magnificent Tal in action. He was one of a kind and in fact, I don't think you can dissect this style of play, because is not only about concepts (or rules) of what to do, is about deep calculations and an amazing chess imagination of the former world champion. Tal is unique and certainly, to try to put in pieces how he plays chess looks, I repeat, a good idea to try, but I think there is no proactical algorithm to mimic Tal's style if you don't know how to calculate so deeply in the position.(By the way, I found in three games, three typographical mistkes in Tal's games. Surprising because with all these wonderful tools to edit chess contents, to make these sort of errors looks absurd).

The author works in the same manner with Capablanca and Petrosian. He tries to dissect their style and propose some sort of Capablanca's algorithm and another one for Petrosian. They are very similar in conception to Tal's algorithm but in some way, Shashin adds some peculiarities of simplification of Capablanca's style. He does the same with Petrosian's algorithm, adding the profilaxis style of the former world champion. Shashin's algorithm is some sort of an spectrum of the three analysed styles.

Shashin uses Rybka and Fritz as chess assistants, and the engines reveal many times holes in previous analysis, even from Kasparov's Great Predecessors books. This is pretty normal: chess engines are really improving since Kasparov's work.

Because Shashin is a physicist, he add to his algorithm some mathematical notation. In my opinion this is good for a computer model of trying to find the strongest move, but I don't think is very useful for a OTB player. In fact, with some friends (FMs and IMs) we tried Shashin's ideas and even with open mind from my colleagues, we didn't find a practical method for finding the strongest move.

The second part of the book is some sort of training his approach to find the strongest move on the board. He starts with some simple positions and ends with complex positions. Finally Shashin have a chapter called "Positions for self-study". I am starting this second part of the book and I want to give some credit to Shashin idea, but to me, the first part, where the author describes his method, is useless. No chess player analyse the way Shashin recommends and in fact, I don't think is a human approach. I will -anyway- give a try and I hope to rewrite soon my findings in this second part of the book.

So far, I think a good test for Shashin ideas is to program them in a real computer and see if the machine can find the strongest move using the algorithm proposed. But for a real OTB players, this books seems to be a waste of time.
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on August 6, 2013
GM Bronstein once said "The essence of chess is thinking about chess."

Alexander Shashin has thought deeply about the essence of chess, and has analyzed it with the methodology of the nuclear physicist which he is.

This book presents a coherent and logical method for analyzing ANY chess position.

The problem is, the presentation of the material the book contains could have been better.

Much much better.

Instruction by practical game-analysis begins in the text on page 18, where we are introduced to a method of determining the material value, or "m", of the position on the board...count White's developed pieces, add "one" for having the move and subtract the counted number of Black's pieces (don't add one, as Black hasn't the move).

The numerical value obtained is referred to the simple Algorithmic Drift-Chart (which may be intuitive for a physicist to understand how to read, but equates to two days worth of daunting to a determined layperson/chessplayer to decipher. Clues as to how to read the Drift-Chart are buried in the text of the book, a bit here, a bit there, rather than having a page opposite it devoted to explaining it's methodology--annoying.)

But..wait...this methodology isn't to determine "m", but refers to "tempi"-(-not tempo, but tempi)'s not how you determine parameter "t", Time...either--there's another methodology for that, counting all possible squares one's pieces can move to and dividing by all-possible-squares the opponent may move to, deriving a value from that to be compared to the Drift-Chart...the count of developed pieces ("tempi"/tempo) methodology is suddenly dropped without another useage until much later in the book, when it's suddenly resurrected with pronouncement regarding its crudity as compared to the Count All Squares method.

Delta K and Delta(move) are presented quite intelligibly, and "m" itself is presented intelligibly, once you realize that the tempi-thing ain't it--confused yet?

the parameter of "Safety"--which doesn't have any signifier (Greek letter, or otherwise) attached to it is deemed to be a matter of art and intuition (as it says in the text)

Yeah, this book will do that to you. No page listing all formulas--a simple addition SOMEONE should have thought of, eh? No glossary of terms.

The book reads very much as if it were cobbled together, and this analyst finds evidence supporting that hypothesis within the very structure of the book.

There's several online interviews/articles of A. Shashin's translated into English online. They bear evidence of his useage of the term "p" to signify Time, years ago. My guess is that his methodology has gone through a number of refinements and modellings over the years, and that this book isn't made of whole-cloth, but of a pastiche of previous writings.

The translation into English is superb.

It sounds like I'm ripping on this book--I'm not. It's a great book, an interesting book, Shashin is an amiable writer, and--as I said--the translation is impeccable.

The book has its structural flaws, which will confuse and bewilder the reader newly come to it. These are flaws in editing the substance of the book, not flaws in the material Shashin's presenting.

Most chess books are bought and left unread--we all know that. This book, because of its unfortunate structuring, will too-often suffer that fate.

It deserves a read; Shashin's a thinker. He's also played against some world-famous players, and was chosen by Korchnoi as a training-partner...certainly no light-weight chess-player!

Physically, Mongoose had an excellent job done of printing the book. Very nicely done, very readable type, nice paper, nice cover.

My paperback copy is now heavily annotated in the barely two weeks I've owned it--I intend to purchase a hardcover version, if that becomes possible.

Buy this book if you're interested in thinking about the ESSENCE of chess...don't buy it if you're only interested in increasing ratings--it'll take you too long to understand it's contents for it to be of use in that tournament coming up in three weeks.

I like the book. I recommend it with only the above caveats.
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on May 17, 2016
Incredible book. Very deep and hard to follow but if you ever wondered how a computer analyzes and values positions this book will give you an exact scientific idea. Great tool for studying games and positions but I am still not too sure if this would be applicable to tournament games when you are under time constraints to think and make your move.This is a book to really study for a long time before you can really begin to use it but a wealth of ideas on assessment of positions.
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on December 15, 2013

The text below is more readable, and contains graphics important to the message, on the original page of the article: [...]



In this first article I will show, in more detail than in the User’s Manual, the principle which inspired the Vitruvius’ team in the construction of the Opening Book. With the help of an example I will also show how well our Book integrates itself with the Chess Engine to produce a very original style of play.

Shashin’s theory

Alexander Shashin is a former theoretical nuclear physicist and Russian chess master who currently has completely dedicated his time to chess playing and chess instruction. He is known for his work which models chess on a Physical System.

Very briefly Shashin holds that in assessing any position on the chessboard we need to consider the following factors:
• Material (m) – a very simple notion analogous to the mass of a system.
• Mobility (p) – analogous to the kinetic energy of a system.
• Packing density – analogous to the density of a system.
• Expansion factor – the expansion factor is analogous to the potential energy of a system.

Shashin claims that these four ‘concepts’ are enough to identify the correct path to follow in any chess position (actually he does away with the concept of ‘plan’).

Now let us concentrate our attention on factors 1 and 2, and consider the other 2 factors equal for both players. We define
p= WL/BL
where WL and BL are respectively the total number of legal moves at White’s disposal and Black’s total of legal moves. p is a measure of mobility and to its every value we link a specific move selection algorithm:

A) p> 1. 25 corresponds to the TAL algorithm (attack)
• Search for an attack against some piece in the following decreasing order of importance: King, Queen, Rook, Bishop, Knight and Pawn.
• Optimal piece positioning (development – see later)
• Sacrifice
• Material gain

B) p< 0. 8 corresponds to the PETROSIAN algorithm (defensive anti-TAL play, increase packing density)
• If pieces are not well placed retreat (remember the Russian strategy against Napolean’s advance)
• Try to achieve a p value which will take us to the CAPABLANCA algorithm (C).

C) 0. 8<p< 1. 25 CAPABLANCA algorithm (strategic attack):
• Optimal piece distribution
• Pawn mobility and advance
• Exchanges
• Zugzwang
• If the position is still capablancian go back to (i) – cyclic algorithm

D) p=1.25 o p=0. 8 (boundary limits, note that one value is the reciprocal of the other) give biforcation nodes or CHAOS zones.
These are positions in which human intuition is the best recipe and consequently present the toughest challenge to computers.
Shashin has made it known that he has not incorporated his theory in a rigorous algorithm for chess engines and that he considers such an enterprise full of promise.

It is precisely for this reason that I endevoured to produce the VITRUVIUS OPENING BOOK.
From our tests on various chess engines we were able to conclude that:
• Present day Chess Engines are highly specialised in dealing only with particular chess positions
• In particular all top engines have a style very close to the PETROSIAN style as described above: rather conservative, very solid but frequently not very brilliant

And therefore tha top Chess Engines:
• Know very well how to play in PETROSIAN type of positions
• Have difficulty in dealing with TAL type positions and are completely in the dark in positions of the CAPABLANCA type and most particularly in CHAOS zones.

Taking into account the above considerations, in compiling the Book we started with a large set of high quality games and kept only those positions with positional motifs and unbalanced situations normally not congenial to chess engines (or better said to their evaluation function); then we filtered ouyt those positions which by Shashin’s criteria do not belong to the CAPABLANCA type of position or do not fall in the CHAOS zone.


Let us take the following line from the Book:
1. d4 Cf6 2. c4 g6 3. Cc3 Ag7 4. e4 d6
The King’s Indian is an opening which is notoriously difficult for all Chess Engines.
5. Cf3 0–0 6. Ae2
The classical variation, one of the strongest weapons at White’s disposal against the King’s Indian.
6... e5 7. 0–0 Cc6
The Mar del Plata o Jugoslav variation.
8. d5 Ce7 9. b4
This particular continuation was elaborated by Taimanov in the fifties: Black attacks on the King’s side, Black on the opposite wing.
9... Ch5 10. c5
According to GM Jorge Luis Fernandez, this is the sharpest continuation; instead 10. Te1 was very popular in the eighties.
10... Cf4 11. Axf4 exf4 12. Tc1
Defending the c3-pawn and pressuring c7.
12... h6 13. Cd4 a6
Blocking the advance of the White b-pawn and hence slowing down White’s attack on the Queen’s side.
14. h3
The position is getting more and more interesting. (GM Krasenkow)
14... Rh8
Grischuk thinks that here the King is safer.
15. Dd2
The normal plan for White: Rooks to the centre and presure against the weak black pawns.
15... Cg8?!
Suggested by Krasenkow
16. Tfd1 h5

Working out the value for p here we get 1.27 and we conclude that the position is of the TAL type.
Following are some assessments by human players and a selection of top engines.
17. Dxf4
Played by Ivanchuk (2746) against Grischuk (2748) at Nalchik 2009.
Only Vitruvius Human and Zappa Mexico II with Dissident Aggressor configured suggest this exchange sacrifice which by the way is considered very promising by.
Clearly this is not White’s only option, but it is certainly the most brilliant.
Let’s take a look at the alternatives:
17. Cf3 was suggested by Houdini and Critter (World n. 1 and n. 2 engines) and Hiarcs. Krasenkow gives it an ‘!’;
17. Te1 was chosen by Vitruvius Conservative, Spark and Stockfish;
17. c6 by Deep Shredder;
17. cxd6 by Komodo.

Summing up
• Zappa Dissident Aggressor and Vitruvius Human are the only engines that distinguish themselves in the treatment of TAL type positions.
• Houdini and Critter, even if their choice is altogether correct, have an opposite type of assessment.
• Zappa Dissident Aggressor is a specific configuration of Zappa Mexico II and, normally, is a much weaker engine than Vitruvius Human
• Vitruvius Conservative has a more prudent style than Vitruvius Human, but not at the Houdini and Critter level.

Already we can appreciate how important Vitruvius’ suggestions can be, but let’s move on to anather position in this line.
17... Ah6 18. Dg3 h4
Now g4 and the h4-pawn are weak.
19. Dd3 Axc1 20. Txc1
According to Krasenkow, the white central pawns more than compensate the loss of the exchange.
20. . . Dg5 (unclear according to Krasenkow)

p=1. 25: the position is of the CHAOS type.
Possible continuations are:
21. Te1 the move chosen by Ivanchuk and suggested by Vitruvius Human (+0.81) and Zappa Dissident Aggressor (+0.51)
21. Tf1 by Houdini (+0.18)
21. Td1 Vitruvius Conservative (+0.50)
21. Tc2 Shredder (0.00)

It is clear that in a given position different engines can and do suggest very different moves, even their assessment can vary a lot. Again both Vitruvius Human and Zappa Dissident Aggressor suggest Ivanchuk’s move, a player known for his brilliant original style.
The concluding moves of Ivanchuk-Grischuk were:
21. . . Ad7 22. c6 bxc6 23. dxc6 Ae6 24. Ag4 24. . . Axg4 25. hxg4 Ce7 26. Dd1 Tab8 27. a3 Rg7 28. Te3 Df6 29. Cf3 Cxc6?! 30. Cd5 De6 31. Cxc7? Dxg4? 32. Dxd6+- Tbd8 33. Dxc6 Td1+ 34. Ce1 h3 35. Dc3+ f6 36. Txh3 Tc8 37. e5(1-0)


The example shown illustrates:
• Shashin’s theory in a practical game;
• how the top commercial engines tend to opt for less spectacular moves, and in any case are very distant from the creative thinking of the top human players.
• that Vitruvius Human, although slightly less strong than Houdini, can assess TAL and CHAOS type positions in a very original way and suggests moves that are generally not inferior than those of Houdini.

The Opening Book has therefore been compiled precisely to underline these very special features of Vitruvius. It is no surprise that IM Robert Flesher has been very much impressed by Vitruvius, comparing its play to that of Ivanchuk! ...."
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on February 12, 2014
The book is entertaining to read and slightly original.

I liked it enough to make a chess program based on what was read.

The 5 criteria values for any position is just a gauge (like gas, tire pressure etc).

Useful for finding candidate moves.

The book is slightly Tal biased.

More work is needed.
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on September 14, 2013
The author starts by looking at Tal's style and puts forward a "Tal algorithm." Then he successively adds the styles of Capablanca and Petrosian to this basic algorithm to propose his own eclectic synthesis. Unfortunately chess doesn't work this way. By following the "Tal algorithm" you're not going to play like Tal. What Tal had going for him was deep and fast calculation, deep tactical feel (going beyond calculation and directing it along specific channels), and nerves of steel. Brilliant moves come from this deep calculation and feel and elude pedantic classification. Similar arguments hold for the styles of Capablanca and Petrosian. Capablanca, for example, had a deep positional feel that in its own way also eludes pedantic classification. This is why we consider Tal and Capablanca geniuses: we don't and probably can't understand their thought processes.

There is no "method" for finding the best move. It's like searching for the holy grail or the pot of the gold at the end of the rainbow: an exercise in futility.

If you've got to buy a book, try the recent "Study Chess with Tal, by Tal and Koblencs. It was published in German in 1978 but only now is it available in English (as far as I know). Much more fun, much more instructive.
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on July 22, 2013
This is a preliminary review. I have admired and followed Sashin's writing over a number of years. He conceptualizes three types of chess positons: The Petrosian (defending); The Capablanca (positional maneuvering) and Tal (attacking). After leafing through the book and reading the first couple of chapters, this is my conclusion. This is a great book if you are into Chess Computer programming. In fact, Shashin has produced and sells, download only I believe, his own computer program. Otherwise, the material is unwieldy. I am anxious to see some other reviews by stronger players. As indicated, this is a preliminary review.
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on February 2, 2014
The author is using a highly simplified form of a chess engine's algorithm. Absurd and impractical for humans to use. A better approach would be to study chess by going through games deeply annotated by strongest masters especially lengthy ones, The longer time spent for every game the better. This is much better than learning to assign mathematical values for chess positions.
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on September 30, 2015
BS book. Don't waste your time.
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on August 9, 2013
This book sets up a method for finding the best plan in any given situation. It is well thought out. I recommend it for club players.
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