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International Master John Watson is one of the world's most respected writers on chess. In 1999, his Secrets of Modern Chess Strategy won 'Chess Book of the Year' awards in the USA and the UK. He reviews chess books for The Week in Chess and hosts a weekly radio show on the Internet Chess Club. As a trainer, he has worked with many talented pupils, including Tal Shaked.
REVIEW POSTED BY SEAN EVANS Secrets of Modern Chess Strategy Gambit Publications, 1999, 272pp. by IM John Watson Review by Randy Bauer Randy's Rating: 9.5/10 While reviewing books, I often wonder if any of them will still be considered worth reading in another fifty years. I'm relieved to report that Secrets of Modern Chess Strategy has the kind of staying power and relevance that will bear reading and re-reading in the decades to come. International Master John Watson is a serious chess theorist and author with a bevy of good books to his credit. His books exhibit a care and attention to detail that is often lacking from other popular authors. This book surpasses even Watson's previous high standards. Secrets of Modern Chess Strategy seeks to take up where Nimzowitsch's My System left off. Nimzowitsch's book is often considered to be a seminal work that charted a new course in chess thought. Watson, who believes that modern chess thought is radically different than that of the best players of an earlier era, discusses the various issues raised by Nimzowitsch in the first part of his book, while the second explores modern methods and praxis. The first part is particularly useful for those who are not familiar with Nimzowitsch's original work. While Watson also seeks to "update" various concepts explored by Nimzowitsch in this section, the coverage isn't nearly as deep as in the second part of the book. Indeed, the first section covers just 91 pages. It is useful, however, for laying the foundation for the balance of the book. The second part of the book covers a variety of topics.Read more ›
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When a player is "cutting their teeth" as a beginner, they learn the classical principles of chess, as espoused by Nimzovitch and others; virtually ALL Grandmasters began this way. However, somewhere along the way, a transformation takes place ... and these gifted players (GMs and strong Masters) have learned that many of Nimzovitch's principles often can and should be ignored or changed in modern play. Where does one learn how modern play diverges from classical play and when to do it? What are some examples? Watson answers these questions and more, in great detail and with marvelous examples ... all without having to spend MANY years learning by yourself (if you EVER do). This book is not for beginners, but if you are an experienced player ... BUY THIS BOOK AND READ IT EVERY YEAR (which I would also recommend with Silman's "Reassess Your Chess"). If I could give this book 6 stars, I would. It is the ONLY book that I have found that does what Mr. Watson so capably set out to do (and I have several hundred good chess books). This book is marvelous! Buy it and you will be happy you did.
Watson's book is the masterpiece everyone says it is, and the few things I disagree with don't detract from the 5-star rating. His main thesis is rule independence. The book is really for strong club players and beyond, who have a good knowledge of the strategies in the Euwe/Kramer and Pachman books. It's important to understand the rules, which apply to about 80% of the cases (according to GM Gufeld), before learning about the exceptions. Alex Yermolinsky in "Road to Chess Improvement" also acknowledges that the old instructional classics found it easier to instruct with clear strategical plans, while strong players know what to avoid and try to cross the plans, so necessitating flexibility. In general, Watson makes an excellent case, e.g. with the Ivanchuk-Anand game, I think Watson's right and Anand wrong that normal pawn structure and bad bishop rules would not have helped at all, because one active rook outweighed everything else. Watson also shows some shortcomings of Nimzovich's tempo counting, and refutes Nimzo's quaint advance French lines with the move ...f6, attacking the HEAD of the pawn chain. The sections on the minor pieces are superb. He astutely points out that opposition to "dogmatic" love of the bishop pair has itself become a dogma. E.g. Flesch claims that the bishop and knight have precisely equal value, but this is a dogmatic claim about two pieces with completely different moves (p. 148). It's also clear that the B-pair does constitute an advantage in very many cases, including one dismissed by Nimzo (p. 67). A definite advance on the conventional strategy books is the advice on BvN in the opening. Most players learn that Bs like open games and Ns like closed ones.Read more ›
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This book proves to my satisfaction that John Watson is the best American chess writer alive, if not ever. He tackles the subject of modern chess strategy with depth and humor. It's fascinating to learn how chess strategy has evolved since Nimzovich, and Watson has the literary and chess talent to create a masterpiece. It's interesting to learn, for example, that Nimzovich's principle of "over-protection" is just about the only Nimzovichian idea that isn't held in high regard today. The author also notes, among many other things, that Alekhine's Defense, Alekhine's only major contribution to hypermodern chess theory, is also one of the few hypermodern openings considered by modern GM's to be of questionable soundness. This is one of the few books about which I can go into a quasi-religious fervor, telling all my friends that I can't do it justice by describing it; but if they would only give it a try, they would surely love it.
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