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What It Takes to Become a Chess Master (Batsford Chess) Paperback – April 3, 2012
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REVIEW: Anyone familiar with author Andrew Soltis' previous books will recognize the format of this one as well. Basically this is a collection of game fragments, organized thematically into a chapter which (here) is about the prime differences between an amateur chess player and a master. Soltis will repeatedly tag-team between explanatory prose and a game example, using the one to support the other (at least in theory). After finishing one game example, he'll move on to another. Until the next chapter of the book. Ad nauseam until the book is complete.
Chapters include: 1.)'What Matters Most' - Soltis argues that a master doesn't necessarily calculate better or farther than an amateur. Rather, the master has a better idea of what matters most in a position and hence, what's even WORTH calculating to begin with. Although I disagree with some of Soltis' claims here, this is one of the best parts of this book I admit. 2.) 'Targets' - How a master will always look for targets to attack, and if he doesn't have any, he'll try to create some 3.) 'Little Tactics' - How masters won't immediately give up on a promising line just because of a small tactical flaw. Rather, the master will try to use 'little tactics' to make his idea work, if possible. 4.) 'Sensing,' - Discusses a master's superior ability to sense things over an amateur, like when zugzwang is approaching, when a position is becoming critical, etc. Soltis' main suggestion for developing better sense is going over more annotated master games.
There's also a chapter (the name of which I forget) that discusses how experienced masters will often forgo objectively better, but more complicated, calculation-intense lines in preference to simpler, more practical moves, so long as the more practical choice still does whatever the master is looking for in the position (win or draw).
All of this is well-and-good-sounding and indeed, much of Soltis' prose is rather engaging, instructive, and practical. Unfortunately, Soltis has the rather annoying habit of trying to support his good prose with bad, or at least considerably-less-than-ideal, examples. In one part of his book where he's discussing prophylactic moves, for instance, he wants you to guess a move that Carlsen played in a Sicilian Defense game. Did you guess Ka1? If not, then you obviously didn't see all the far-fetched (for me, at any rate) plans that Soltis discussed for black that would make such a move worthwhile for white. A frustrating experience when the same thing happens time and again throughout the book. So much for the prose explanations, I guess.
What's worse is that the majority of Soltis' 'quiz' positions have the same not-very obvious solutions to them, ones that will likely take you minutes (more than 20 quite conceivably) to even come close to solving. Maybe it's because I'm still not quite where Soltis' target audience is (presumably 2000-2200 level players); maybe it's because Soltis' examples overwhelmingly draw from the absolute best players in the world, who themselves are/were many cuts above plain ol' masters. I'm not sure.
CONCLUSION: Like most of Soltis' books, the topics sound good, the prose sounds good...but the specific examples that are meant to support the prose fall short. Instead of giving examples where the solution move is challenging, yet logical and illustrative, Soltis consistently goes for examples where the solutions are just baffling, if not outright over-the heads of most strong club players. Maybe I'm still not quite strong enough of a player to fully "appreciate" his examples or something.
At any rate, this book, like the other Soltis books I've read, isn't total trash and does have its good points. Unfortunately, it also has more than its share of bad ones.
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