Jennifer on Gems and Best Of Print E-mail
By WGM Jennifer Shahade   
January 8, 2008
Jennifer at the Mummers New Year's Day parade in Philadelphia.
Whenever anyone rated between 1000 and 1800 asks me how to improve in chess, I always say, study more tactics! Inevitably, I'm asked to recommend specific books. Sadly, my childhood favorites, M.V. Blokh's the Art of Combination and Your Move are out of print. M.V. Blokh does have another good tactics book out, Combinative Motifs, and if you have 80 bucks to spare, you can find a used Art of Combination on amazon.

I like GM Lev Alburt's book, Chess Tactics for the Tournament Player , but it has to be used in conjunction with something else because I don't think it offers enough examples to develop pattern recognition. I also recommend Internet or computer tactic programs, like CT-ART , bots on ICC and

 Despite the large  number of choices (there are many more that I didn't mention- feel free to add your favorites to the comments section.), I've noticed that adult students find my recommendation to study tactics for hours frustrating and shapeless. These same students tend to get excited when I talk about historical chess anecdotes or tactics typical to a certain type of position.

 That's why my new top recommended tactics  book for adults is Chess Gems, 1000 Combinations That You Should Know (2007, Mongoose Press) by Igor Sukhin.   The story of chess's great masters from Lucena to Kasparov is unfolded with 1000 tactics. It's not arranged by tactical theme, as most combination books, but by historical periods and tactical ideas distinctive to those periods. 

Many of these historical positions will be familiar to tactics aficionados. But I don't think that's a major criticism cause the large majority of chess readers will not know many of the problems in the book by heart, and if they do happen to know a few, who cares? Confidence is important in tactical training. Including easy or familiar tactics in your training is helpful, not harmful.

For instance, every time I see this Rubinstein mate in four, it feels like the first time:

White to Move and Mate in 4

Show Solution

There is a lot of Chigorin in Sukhin's book. In the following puzzle, the Russian World Champion contender is on the losing side of the battle against Russian master Emanuel Schiffers:

White to Move and Win

Show Solution

Best of bonanza

It's the time of year where we look back at 2007 and rank things obsessively. I've been thinking a lot about how to rank chess moves and chess games, partly because of the 64 square tour by Bart Gibbons and an upcoming companion piece on 64 problems by Gary Kevin Ware.

It's also the time of year for contests. I added the answers to Michael Klein's holiday quiz. One interesting question was "How many Americans competed at the 2006 Chess Olympiad in Turin, Italy? The answer is 29! In addition to the 6 men and 4 women, officially playing for the U.S.A, there were 9 players from the U.S. Virgin Islands and 10 from Puerto Rico. The question "Which is the largest state in terms of population not to have a U.S. Chess League team", turned out to be more of a prophecy than a trivia question. The correct answer was Illinois. Just a day or two after the Holiday quiz was published, the induction of the Chicago Blaze and the Arizona Scorpions was announced on the USCL homepage.

I'm also a judge for the U.S. Chess League's Game of the Year competition, in which 2100$ of prizes are at stake. It turns out that I'm already the purple sheep of the competition. The other four judges, FM Robby Adamson, GM Alexander Shabalov, FM Ron Young and NM Dennis Monokroussos all ranked the following game 20th place, but I had it in 18th.


Check out the USCL blog on the 20th game , and the video by the first of Monokroussos's weekly videos .

There are many qualities that can make a game great, and as you can see from my list below, the criteria can multiply quickly.

1.    A stunningly accurate move in a dramatic struggle 
2.    A really gorgeous and decisive move, like the gold coin Qg3!!
3.    A series of accurate moves in a dramatic struggle
4.    A series of beautiful moves responded to with beautiful moves by the opponent
5.    A series of accurate moves responded to with accurate moves by the opponent
6.    A game that is important due to match or personal circumstances

The whole fun of it is trying to quantify the unquantifiable. In future weeks I'll keep you updated as to why I picked certain games, and if I've gotten any closer to identifying the perfect criteria for chess brilliance.

I was influenced by all the Best of Hoopla, and decided that CLO will host a "Best of Chess Life Online 2007." The judges and nominated articles will be announced soon. The harried pace of online journalism causes timeless pieces to get short shrift. The best of those deserve revisiting. Feel free to e-mail me with your nominations.

 The U.S. Chess League's Game of the Year Contest slowly unveils the top twenty games week by week. The suspense of CLO's best articles of the year will be released more quickly, before you forget that 2007 ever existed.

Happy New Year,