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Useful, but Falls Between Two Chairs.
on September 4, 2007
IM Silman is the well-known author of "How to Reassess your Chess" ('HTRYC') and "The How to Reasses your Chess Workbook" ('Workbook'). In this book, Silman turns all his frustration and hair-pulling from his students into a book analysing how and why amateurs lose games. Unfortunately, Silman falls between two chairs. He did not decide if he wants to write a book about the *psychological reasons* amateurs make mistakes, or on *how to punish* such mistakes once made. Doing both at once, he also has to give an outline of his thinking technique so that the reader will understand why the moves made *are* mistakes in the first place. The result is a book which is 1/3rd excellent, and 2/3rds mediocre.
Amateurs will identify with the common psychological problems Silman presents and with Silman's perceptive comments on what kind of mistakes these problems tend to cause. For example, Silman notes amateurs are usually either terrified of their opponent's plans or, conversely, do not notivce them at all; the over-the-board result is either losing the initiative without a fight and merely reacting to the opponent's plans, or not stopping the opponent's plans in time. The good player should do neither, notes Silman: he should *objectively evaluate* his opponent's plans and decide whether, in the particular situation, stopping the opponent's plans or continuing undeterred with one's own plans takes precedent. Silman gives many other example on how common psychological flaws (such as "laziness"--"I'll just develop", for example) lead to specific chess mistakes (in this case, making "random" moves without a plan).
Unfortunately the other two parts are not nearly as good. Once we realize what psychological state caused the amatuer to make the chess mistake, we gain little insight from the fact that Silman, an IM, beat a 1500-rated player who played a dozen second-rate moves, especially when Silman deliberately makes bad moves himself just in order to give the opponent another chance to find the correct plan (they almost never do). It would have been better to write a seperate book showing games where one of the players makes one or two moves the Silman method shows are sub-optimal, and the opponents takes advantage of this. Finally, the exposition of the Silman thinking technique itself was done much better in HTRYC and the Workbook.
The result is a book which has about 1/3rd which is excellent and insightful and another 2/3rds that are not. This is not bad: most chess books don't even have a useful 1/3rd of a book in them, and the good 1/3rd in this book is very good indeed. It's only a pity there is so much chaff along with the wheat. This could have been twice the book at half the length.