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From Alekhine to Tal: Rise of dynamic play

From Alekhine to Tal: Rise of dynamic play

How you can define your style of play? Or, more precisely how you can know what do you need to be a better player? Is watching some YouTube videos enough to guide you? And, most importantly, can you trust that (strong playing??) guy that is showing you some traps from here and other fascinating games from there? Is it enough for you to spend 2 hours or so per day playing some online games, and beating some weak players, so that you can feel that you are close to those Elite players?

One part of the solution of this eternal dilemma, especially when you can’t afford the cost of the good trainer, is reading and analyzing the games of the famous players in chess history and how their styles of play revolute by time and to what extend their opponents style influence their play. This can be done using the (move by move) excellent books that the Everyman publisher offers to the chess world.

In my previous article, I reviewed Morphy’s till Rubinstein’s move by move books (except Lasker’s, as it was released just few days ago). I will continue now chronologically, in a certain way with those champions, or whom ought to be.


Alekhine move by move (Steve Giddins – 300 pages)

Botvinnik move by move (Cyrus Lakdawala – 400 pages)

Bronstein move by move (Steve Giddins – 290 pages)

Keres move by move (Zenon Franco – 465 pages)

Stein move by move (Thomas Engqvist – 498 pages)

Tal move by move (Cyrus Lakdawala – 400 pages)


The common factor of those magnificent books is the Questions & Answers approach that targets the hungry player who seeks to improve his level, his understanding of our noble game, as well as feeding him with chess education and history, as, without the later, it is nearly impossible for the player to achieve his goal.


What distinguishes each book is not just the author’ style and the themes of the games are sorted with in the corresponding book, but also the subjective view of the author as well.

Let’s start with Alekhine’s. Giddins selected the famous games of the 4th World Champion in chronological order, showing how deep his hero was prepared in the opening, as well as, the most important, the issuing middle game phase. Alekhine wasn’t shy to try new opening (at his time) or variation, but after scrutinizing it to a certain deepness he would be ready to do so. You get the feeling that you are playing against an engine where every attempt by his opponent to save his skin failed to the deep calculated and prepared variation, being a middle game or end game phase.

Giddins made a lot of comparison of his analysis with Alekhine’s ones in his famous Best Games book:


Although very few lines were improved by today’s engine analysis, this factor is of lower importance, as, Alekhine’s own comments are very instructive. Alekhine’s (My best Games of Chess) is a must read for every player. I highly recommend to use the technique of (guess the move) in reading/playing his games (i.e. take Alekhine side, hide his moves by a sheet of paper, try to guess it, with calculation of variations, write it down as if you are playing in a real tournament, then compare it with Alekhine’s ones and the corresponding comments and variations). I am sure you will realize how deep his thinking was, ahead of his time.

Reading the two books simultaneously gave me a great pleasure, especially after reading the original Alekhine’s Best Games for the nth times.

A nice touch by Giddins was the last chapter, where he included some 20 puzzles, extracted from Alekhine games.

Moving to Cyrus Lakdawala’s Botvinnik move by move, the author divided his hero’s games into 6 chapters: Botvinnik on the Attack, on Defence, on Dynamic Element, on Exploiting Imbalances, on Accumulating advantages and on Endings. Not a bad idea to categorize the hero games by those themes.

What I am sure of is that you will learn a lot of all the heros of those books, but, if you compare the number of annotation symbols, you will notice the number of (?) and (?!) on Botvinnik’s moves especially in his championship match games against David Bronstein. Why? I will answer this in a few moments.

The most important question is: Was I impressed by Botvinnik’s games? May be few did, even after reading his Best games collection (where he confessed that his tactical vision was weak to a certain extend). The Patriarch, due to his strong political relation with the Soviet Regime knew how to get profit from it, being on the preparation level of his World Championship matches or for less important events. For sure no one can deny his hard work  on analysis of certain openings, like the semi-slav, French or Caro-Kan defenses, as well as his foundation of the Botvinnik’ school and the famous players who emerged from it. But as a player, I couldn’t put him as one of my idols, may be because his games weren’t too impressive to fit my style of play or too dull or.. See my comments on Bronstein’s.

The only reason that attracted me to read the book till the end is Lakdawala ‘style of writing. It is very impressive, full of the magnet words that attracted you to keep reading. Not just in Bovinnik’s, but also in Tal’s and all in his books as well.

Moving to Giddins’ Bronstein move by move, the author made something different. He arranged David Bronstein’s games by Opening, so that it gives an insight on the creativity of David Bronstein. For the record, Bronstein was addressed by Max Euwe as (Co-World Champion) after the former tying the World Championship match with Botvinnik. Bronstein is the only player who hold that title in the history of chess (Fide didn’t exist when Karl Chlekhter drew with Emmanuel Lasker their World Championship match, but this is another story).

Now, as I did with Alekhine, I repeated the same strategy with Bronstein, by reading, in companion of the Giddins Bronstein’s, the following outstanding book:

Which Bronstein wrote in collaboration with his friend Tom Furstenberg (I had and have the honor to chat with Tom using ICC chat platform on several occasions– he still a redoubtable online blitz/bullet player).  This book, in my opinion, must be in every player’s library.

Go and read the articles and games of Bronstein in this Sorcerer’s which is written by Bronstein himself. He uncovers a lot of (behind the scene) acts, the political and sporting ones, especially of what happened in the 23rd game of his match with Botvinnik. After reading it, you will understand, dear reader, what I meant by my question above, in the pre-previous paragraph. In addition to this, you will know how Bronstein feels about the King’s Indian or the Nimzo defenses, his opinion of what Chess is, and importantly, his approach to the game, as an art, and the related psychological factors.

With Paul Keres games, Franco shows us a new approach to chess: A deeper preparation, higher technique facing stronger opposition, and a new version of Alekhine style in the hand of Keres. When reading the book, I got the feeling that the struggle is not one-sided anymore, to a certain limit, as during Alekhine era or earlier. More preparation is required, being theoretical or technical one. The scientific style of the author guides you through Keres games and the subsequent analysis of his moves keep you stuck till the last one. The initiative taken by the publisher to shade light on famous players, not necessary champions, but are like ones, is an important step in filling the gap in chess history.

After finishing reading Keres’, I intended to write the review. But before turning on the laptop, I took a look at what would be the next book to read. Oh! It is Stein move by move. In flicking some pages, I was shocked: the text font is smaller than the previous books. But if some 500 pages were spent to fill on Stein gmes, this means one thing: stop everything you intend to do and start reading and enjoying. The publisher reduced the size of the font for one reason: make the book less than 700 or 900 pages.

A lot of extra pleasure I got when the author Thomas Engqvist introduced each of Leonid Stein’s opponents in a short biography (the same of what he did in his first book – Réti move by move), so that in every game I got the feeling that I was watching the game live. The style of the author in analyzing Stein’s games is very educational, instructive and attractive. In addition, the inclusion of some modern opening theory and modern games fragments in the games is a bonus for the reader, giving him the opportunity to feel the position and what the up-to-date theory is about in this or that line.

The 60 games (and more in the context) of Stein chosen by Engqvist are very instructive in showing who Stein was. For sure he was the Master of the Risk Strategy. I can’t dare to say like Tal (no one is like Tal), but the moves chosen by Stein that characterize his style are like a mix of Alekhine’s, Bronstein’s and Tal’s ones, with the tendency to create a certain attack from nowhere, something like today’s Morozevich style (is Moro an modern Stein ?!). No engine moves, no dull moves, just creative and complicated ones, leading to very interesting plans, being a complicated middle or end game phase.

The least that I can say about this book is: a must read.

Again, it happened to me: can I resist not reading Lakdawala’s Tal move by move? I couldn’t. Usually, during reading a move by move book, I take some break by reading another chess book, or part of it, being on middle game, opening or other topic one. But, with Mikhail Tal, this didn’t happen. Helped by Lakdawala’ style of writing and his endless wisdom and proverbs, The Magician magnetized my attention for every move, comment, analysis and Q&A of Lakdawala, so that I felt a great regret when reaching the last page of it. All I can say is that I strongly agree with Lakdawala, and supporting him for his disagree with the publisher, that each of his books has been reduced to less than 1000 pages. Is it possible to dream about a 1000 pages book by Lakdawala, with an introductorily biography for each game like Engqvist books, where the hero’s name is Rashid Nehzemetdinov?

Before embarking on a new move by move one (It will be Petrossian by Engqvist), I dusted out Tal’s games collection (the life and games of Mikhail Tal – written by Tal himself), put it near Tibor Karolyi’s trilogy (Mikhail Tal’s best games Vol 1, 2 and 3), in order to read them during my time- out, as without them I would feel that I missed the beauty of chess.

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