Customer Reviews: Winning Chess Openings
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on August 4, 2006
The author has selected openings where brief analysis is provided, some of the concepts that are important in the specific opening and then provided variations. Memorizing lines is not what a beginner should be doing. It is better to "understand" the ideas behind the openings - yes this book doesn't say "memorize openings" per say, but it that is what the actions of this book seem to call for.

Personally I feel that a beginner should be looking for "non" mechanical openings that contain a variety of both tactical and to a lesser degree positional concepts for learning purposes. The type of tactics that you will encounter at a beginning level in the openings you are using is important. I like the idea of getter a general survey type of opening book that has a good concentration of the ideas (like "Understanding the Chess Openings") along with a book that covers opening tactics (like one of a variety of Chess Trap books) is the way for a beginner to find the right openings and to gain an understanding of what they entail. You need a good variety of openings to be shown for you to get a fair grasp of what you might like - and this book falls short in this area.
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on December 25, 2006
It is not so clear exactly what this book is trying to do. It tries to set itself up as an "Modern Chess Openings" or "Nunn's Chess Openings" when listing variations but fails by being far to sparse to be of any use. It tries to provide some ideas of what is happening in the opening like "Understanding the chess Openings", "Winning Chess Traps for Juniors" or "Ideas Behind the Openings" but yet it is far to sparse with the ideas. The mix and match, trying to do cover all of these in one book is off base. Not enough ideas for the beginner or intermediate level player, Not enough lines/variations to be of any use to an intermediate or advanced player. I think three stars is rather generous, as perhaps the just beyond beginner or just under intermediate range of player might find some small benefit to this book. Some of the "Winning Chess" series books are very well done. This is one of the few books in the series that is at the bottom end.
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on December 4, 2003
Seirawan's book has a great deal to recommend it. He not only covers most of the openings and defenses you're likely to see, but gives you the reasons behind all the important moves. This is important because in any number of openings it looks like the logical move would be something completely different than what the book recommends, but in all those circumstances (or all the ones I've encountered) Seirawan shows why and how this "logical" move is in fact not so logical at all. Another great plus is that in looking at Seirawan's commentary on the openings and defenses you'll learn something about positional play rather than just memorize rote openings. Probably the biggest plus this book has for intermediate players is that, by showing us his own blunders, Seirawan keeps one from getting discouraged. Finally, he mentions quite a few books on the openings he discusses, so the book points the reader in the right directions if she's interested in a certain opening.
So now to the glaring omission: As other reviewers have pointed out, he doesn't cover the English Opening (1.c4). What makes this more than a mere gripe, besides the fact the English is a rather common opening, is that at the beginning of the chapter 7 he groups the English with the Barcza Opening, KID, and Pirc Defense as an opening he recommends and implies that he will discuss it in detail. My theory is that at one time the manuscript did cover the English and editorial pressures forced Seirawan to shorten the book, which he did by cutting his long discussion of the English, and as he planned to discuss it at length there is naturally no short section on the opening and no one remembered to include one. It seems an odd coincidence that this book and the other title in the series I happen to own (Winning Chess Strategies) are exactly the same length. If this is the case they should definitely lengthen the book in future editions, and even if not coverage of the English would be nice. It is exactly the sort of quiet opening that deserves to be discussed with the Barcza. At any rate the recommendations I've gotten say to respond to the English with a Hedgehog Defense, which Seirawan does cover. All an all despite this wart it's still a good book to help one get a grip on openings.
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on August 22, 2005
I hate to give anything by Yasser Seirawan a bad review. He is enthusiastic about chess, he seems to be a nice guy (he even exchanged emails with a patzer like me once!) and his enthusiasm and lack of pretension are just what the chess world needs. On the other hand, I can't really endorse this book, and it's an odd approach for teaching the beginner-intermediate student, which is where it seems aimed (somewhere between Pandolfini and Silman). It covers just limited lines of some of his favorite openings, often without really making clear why these lines are favored. We don't get any real insight: these are just Italian and Spanish and other openings with the standard annotations, available on the web for free, not taken very deeply (since this is for beginnerish players) and with no real indication why these are worth trying more than any others. Then, for the grand finale chapter, he reveals that he really doesn't think memorizing all that stuff is worthwhile anyway, because opening theory is always changing (true) and if you're a club player you're bound to run into people who don't play these openings just so anyway. So, he says in the last chapter, the solution is to play the Barcza, build a fortress for your king, batten down the hatches, and defend against the enemy attack. We then get into the KID!

Now, aside from the fact that playing Barcza-type lines and *winning* really isn't the piece of cake he makes it out to be (just try it against a good tactical program like Fritz and watch it make pulp out of your fortress), it severely limits the interesting types of games you can play. Some people may be satisfied playing the same type of opening system every game, but that would soon lead to boredom for me. But more importantly, although I am not a grandmaster and have no room to talk, I humbly suggest that his "opening solution" is probably even trickier to master than the standard Smith-Morras and Queen's Gambits that come before it. That's because while you can control the center with both pieces from the wings and pawns in the center, making a misstep with pieces is potentially more devastating than making a misstep with a pawn. While both ways can be theoretically equal, playing each type of position is not, and classical (direct) lines are far easier for the elementary student of chess to grasp. There are also many powerful moves against Barcza that Seirawan doesn't consider--his hypothetical opponent cooperates and plays very non-aggressive moves. Again, just try playing this opening against Fritz or Chessmaster and see your position get ripped full of holes. It strikes me as odd that YS would recommend such an opening system for a player who finds variants of Ruy Lopez too much to handle! So this isn't really a title I could recommend for a beginner-intermediate player. At the same time, a more advanced player will find he already knows this material. So I'm not really sure who this book is for.

Aside from that, the page layout is clumsy, with columns that are too wide (it's easy to get lost in the moves) and the ugliest chess diagrams I've ever seen in a chessbook. Why he didn't just use the standard diagrams we see in newspapers and magazines I don't know, but these look like cutouts by a kindergarten student. I wish I didn't have to be so negative, especially since I like Seirawan so much, but this is not one of my favorite chess books. Concise Chess Openings by Neil McDonald, also available through Amazon, is a better introductory book for the beginner-intermediate student.
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on November 22, 2004
The book is very well written and does a good job at explaining the basic ideas behind many different openings. It is especially useful as a guide to selecting an opening to study in greater depth. The intended audience is definitely late beginner / early intermediate players.

The last few chapters of the book give the openings that are recommended by the author. They are the King's Indian Attack for white, King's Indian Defense as black against a queen-pawn opening, and the Pirc as black against a king-pawn opening. I have a problem with this part of the book. I've been playing these openings exclusively for about 8-10 months, ever since reading the book. I found early on that it's possible to get into a LOT of trouble quick in the Pirc, so I bought Pirc Alert (a fantastic book) and studied it in great detail for about 3 months. The author argues that these openings should be chosen because of their simplicity and lack of detailed theory. I can buy that for the KIA, but not the KID, and DEFINITELY NOT for the Pirc. The Pirc is a very difficult opening for intermediate players. Both the KID and Pirc put the black player at the mercy of White because White has several definite and clear plans that are very difficult to survive. It is tremendously important to have very detailed theoretical knowledge to play these two openings. All 3 of these openings are very passive compared to many other options. I recently quit playing all 3 of these. I'm doing much better without playing these openings because it's easier to play when I don't spend the first 4-5 moves giving my opponent free-reign to do whatever he wants. Masters might be able to walk on the edge of that cliff, but I don't seem to be able to do it. The KIA is not so bad because at least there, White is not behind by a half-move, therefore, I am slightly less than neutral toward the KIA.

I recommend the book as a general reference, especially for someone who's trying to decide what opening to play. I do not recommend taking the author's advice and adopting the KIA, KID, and Pirc. I think that it's better for less-experience players to focus on tactics, tactics, and more tactics. These openings tend to be closed (or with you running for your life...), so I think they kinda stunt a chess player's growth compared to openings that lead to more open and exciting positions.

I'd recommend learning some basic ideas behind king pawn white openings, perhaps the Italian Game or Spanish Game. Granted, it's not possible to be a theoretical opening wizard as an intermediate player, but that should not be the intermediate player's focus anyway. As Black, the intermediate player needs to have a basic response ready for king pawn or queen pawn. One could probably use the Italian Game or Spanish Game knowledge as Black also, and just play king-pawn as Black. Against a queen pawn opening, I assume that it would not be too difficult to learn a pet Queen's Gambit variation.
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on November 25, 2006
What's the point of an opening book? There are two possibilities: 1)Build a reperotoire; or 2)Teach you how to play a specific opening. Seirawan's book tries to fill both categories, but spreads itself too thin and ends up being frutstrating.

The structure of WCO is just like MCO, NCO, and all the other "CO"s: it systematically presents opening after opening, giving various explanations and lines. Seirawan's book is geared to much lower rating levels than more complicated books like Modern Chess Openings, but it doesn't cover enough CONCRETE ground to be of any practical use to any rating.

The best example I can find is in the section on Alekhine's Defence. Yasser (or "Yaz" as he's known here in Seattle) gives only a single line for the opening: 1.e4 Nf6 2.e5 Nd5 3.d4 d6 4.c4 Nb6 5.ed cd 6.Be3 Nc6 7.Nc3 g6 8.c5! and white apparently has a sizeable advantage. This isn't well supported by theory, and there are many other lines black can opt for (5...ed, 6...g6, 6...N6d7 etc.) that have better results. It's almost as if the author is unwilling to engage in a discussion of the more critical lines.

It may be argued that there is a lot of textual explanation for the openings. Yes, there is, but it doesn't mean anything if you don't know what moves to play. There is little concrete basis for how to play in the openings, so you will inevitably find yourself struggling as soon as you get to the 6th move in an opening Yaz discusses.

I'll spare it the harsh "sub 3-star" rating because Seirawan's style is very engaging and fun to read. Even given the "chessic" inadequacies of the book, it's still very fun to read, and Yasser is self-depricating and funny when he writes (his style is similar to David Norwood's).

In 272 pages, Seirawan manages only a vague definition of each opening. The book doesn't, as many reviews claim, give you a reperotoire for white or black, because there simply aren't enough variations to look at. If you want to pick out an opening for white or black, thumb through WCO. Otherwise, pick up something more specific. You could get the same value from a much smaller, cheaper text.
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on March 24, 2006
Let me start off by saying this is not a helpful book. My chess coaches always said that it is bad to memorize openings, atlease when you are rated my rating (1200). The book claims it teached you openings without having to memorize tedious lines, but that's exactly what Seirwan expects you to do! He gives you a opening, gives some brief annotation, then expects you to memorize it as well as all the side variations. This would be very useful for advanced players rated 1800 or above, but definitley not for me. The rest of Seirwans books are for beginners, so I assumed this one was too, but it's not. Also, the diagrams are ugly. The pieces look funny and are just plain ugly. Also, I looked at the pages and the darkness of the ink seems to change. On diagram it was dark, while on a diagram on the next page it was lighter. Also, the binding is not horrible, but still a little weak. Trust me, skip on this book. It won't help you unless you can memorize better than a nation vocabulary bee winner.
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on January 21, 1999
A book designed to feed upon the urge to "get through the opening." This is not an opening book; rather it gives an overview of the openings with emphasis on control of the center.
The first few chapters deal with modern defenses: 1. e4 e5 and 1. d4 d5. Seirawan goes move by move, exploring natural alternatives for White and Black. The method used is useful for the beginner, and it serves as a useful grounding in "classical" chess openings.
The next few chapters deal with openings that involve different move orders. A major drawback of the book is that it does not heavily discuss openings that start with moves other than 1. d4 or e4. 1. Nf3 is discussed (and recommended) but 1. c4 is not to be found.
Recommendations as to what to play against 1. d4 and 1. e4 as well as a recommended opening for White (1. Nf3) round out the book.
Not Seirawan's best work, but suitable if you do not understand the logic of the opening.
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on November 9, 2006
If you seriously know nothing about the opening then this book will probably help you some. However, if you already have gathered all the basic concepts (which seem to be mentioned in pretty much every chess book ever made) then this book is a waste of money. Even for the complete beginner, I recommend the recent books Openings for White/Black Explained by Lev Alburt, Roman D., etc., which can serve as both an introduction and a full course.

I thought this book would give me a repertoire, so I would know some actual openings. However, the coverage of any one opening is so minimal you definitely don't know enough to actually play it in any sort of competetive way. To repeat: this book will not teach you to play openings competetively, it is only an introduction. Seirawan briefly covers classical openings and then covers in slightly more depth his "opening solution" which is the Kings Indian Defense versus d4, the Pirc versus e4, and the Kings Indian Attack as White. First off, I found I do not enjoy playing any of those openings at all. What is the advantage of being able to play the same 5+ moves at the start of every game? Then what after that? Well these openings are not devoid of theory and once you reach the end of the first 5 moves you have just as much work to do as with any other opening; you have just delayed the inevitable conflict for the center--which means a slower, longer, duller game. Secondly, if you do like these openings you will still have to buy more books that actually cover them!

I would reccommend, even if you are a beginner, to buy the Openings Explained for White / Black by Lev Alburt, Roman D. Besides full coverage of the openings in the repertoir book, it also briefly covers some other traditional openings (just like winning chess openings). If you want an introduction you have one in the first chapter; if you want to really LEARN an opening then you have that too. Or if you already have an idea what openings your want to play then DEFINITELY don't get this book, instead get some thorough books on that/those openings.
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on July 27, 1999
GM Seirawan entertains and educates on many common openings and the ideas behind the openings in this book. I enjoyed it because as a beginner, I want to know what openings he likes and what his experiences are with the openings. I think more experienced players may find the information basic, but it's perfect for beginners.
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